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Greenbean went to France

To be specific, Greenbean went to Paris.

That Paris. Oui!

And now, for some observations and pics. Per my usual, I have broken these down into categories.

The People

  1. I was expecting French people to be rude, given all I’d read and heard. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We found the French delightful, conversational, fun, jovial, and good-humored. The only rude people we encountered were tourists from other countries–and I’m taking to you rude American woman who cut in line with your two loud-mouth children at Notre Dame.
  2. Also, the French are a well-put-together group of people. They dress well, carry themselves well, love uniforms, and are incredibly fit. The only overweight people we saw were . . . tourists.
  3. But . . . the French smoke. A lot. We were unable to get away from the noxious fumes of cigarette smoke. It seemed specifically bad in restaurants. No one was smoking indoors, but it was summer and windows were open and sidewalk cafes and  . . . fumes!
  4. Most everyone spoke English. We never had a problem communicating.

The Food

  1. My new favorite cheese is camembert. Love that stuff. They serve it after the meal to cleanse the palate. Yum.
  2. Oh, and crepes. I had a honey crepe in front of the weird obelisk at Concorde. The guy who made it was funny and wore a little hat.
  3. Duck confit. I had it twice. The ducks on the lake better watch out, because I might just have to try and make that at home.
  4. Baguettes. Every. Meal.
  5. The coffee was good, but they don’t give you a lot of it.
  6. I ate the snails, but wasn’t specifically enamored with them. They tasted earthy to me, like some varieties of uncooked mushrooms.
  7. Perhaps my favorite was the macarons. I especially liked the pistachio.

The Sites

  1. The Eiffel Tower is really tall. Four hundred feet taller than my beloved Space Needle and five hundred feet taller than the Washington Monument. Of all the things we saw, it was the hardest to navigate the lines, waiting, and the top. It was so crowded at the top that it wasn’t as enjoyable as you’d expect.
  2. We did the Louvre in one day, and we saw all the floors and all the exhibits. All. The. Things. The big time exhibits were nice, like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, but the Egyptian exhibit and the paintings on the top floor (where no one else was) were some of my favorites.
  3. We visited Notre Dame, but my favorite was Sacra Coeur in Monmarte. I actually had a genuine spiritual experience there. It was nice, and unexpected.
  4. We skipped Versailles.
  5. It took a while, but we eventually conquered The Metro. I think I’m as much an expert on the Metro right now as a tourist from another country can be.
  6. The Louvre is monumental, but the D’Orsay is more enjoyable because its size is manageable.

Extras

  1. One of the highlights of our trip was watching the new Mission Impossible film, most of which was filmed in Paris, in Paris! That was way cool. The best part was the commercial before the movie started for a doctor who specialized in lice removal.
  2. I thought Delta provided great service getting there and back. Charles De Gaulle Airport is easy to navigate.
  3. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Latin District and the night time boat ride on the Seine. Both were extremely pleasant.
  4. We’d been told that going in August would be a drag because people would be gone and the shops would be closed. We didn’t experience that at all. Everything was open and the weather was perfect.
  5. On the plane ride home I read a great book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr In Mao’s China. I’ll probably blog about it tomorrow.
  6. The French way of having supper late, like around nine at night agrees with me.
  7. The picnic we had by the fountain under the Eiffel Tower will stay with me as one of the sweetest memories with my family.

And now, some pics!

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A statue of Apollo at the Louvre. Looks like he is taking a selfie, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?
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This is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “John The Baptist”. He looks like Loki, a bit, and we thought it would be a great movie, Tom Hiddleston as Loki AS JOHN THE BAPTIST. Think about it.
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Even heretics go on vacation

Hungry Children

I sat in a meeting today whose sole purpose is to end hunger in our county. We call our selves the “Hunger Alliance” but I prefer to think of us as the Rebel Alliance.Unknown

There was a large discussion today–most of our time–over a particular phenomenon that none of us quite understood. It has come up in the past two meetings. Here goes:

  • At least 30% of our community has food ‘insecurity’–which means they do not have a steady, stable source of food.
  • In the summer, public schools provide free lunches. I believe this is a no-questions-asked free lunch to any child or family who wants it.
  • Last year, they even put the lunches on a bus and drove them to the outlying communities.
  • No one comes.

One school official said her school was a half-mile from apartments where many students live.

No one comes.

People are hungry. We know they are hungry. The food is right there. No one eats.

What we kept coming back to is the question why? There is all this free food out out there, for the taking. There are two possible avenues for a reason. One, it is a physical problem with logistics. Two, it is a psychological problem involving perception.

Let’s start with the physical possibility. Some suggested it is because the students are left at home, parents go to work, and the children are told to not leave the house. A second physical problem is transportation to the school. a third thing that people suggested was that people didn’t know about it and therefore we need to do a better job of getting the word out. There might be other logistical problems, but these seem like the biggest.

The second option, the psychological one, is more interesting to me because I think it has more traction. There are at least two of these. First, people have a stigma about eating at the school in the summer. During the school year, all children eat, and no one knows if the kid eating the meal is getting free or reduced (which 50% do) or if the parents just prefer to have the hot lunch option for the student. Anyone eating in the summer would automatically be ‘outed’ as receiving free or reduced. Second, its school. People don’t want to go to school during the summer, even for a meal. Even if they were giving away steak dinners, no one would go to school to eat.

I don’t know if we can crack this nut. It is probably beyond our pay grade, if you know what I mean. We are working with volunteer organizations, churches, food-banks, and the public education system. There are multiple layers of bureaucracy to deal with. I suspect we are stuck with the status quo for at least the foreseeable future. This reality breaks my heart. The idea that there are children who are hungry just because the calendar says it is July troubles me.

There is really only one real solution here. That solution is year-round school. It makes the most logical sense to solve the food shortage. I am in favor of year-around school for academic reasons as well, but this is the reason that might eventually get people thinking.

I’d be interested to hear your opinion, so I have turned comments “On” for this particular post.

THE GIVER: A BOOK REVIEW

Actually, this is a book review of The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry. There are four books in all, even though most people are only familiar with the first one because it is on many high school reading lists, and also because of the unfortunate movie. I say unfortunate, not because I didn’t like it. I liked it, before I read the book. I liked it because Jeff Bridges is so good in it and the narrative pacing is tight. But after reading the books, I decidedly hated the movie adaption as it seemed to miss most of the main points of the book(s).

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The four books are, in order: The Giver, Finding Blue, Messenger, and Son. I enjoyed them all, but Gathering Blue is the best, by far, of the four. A tiny disclaimer here, I read the bulk of these while on vacation on the sugar white beaches of Destin, Florida underneath a yellow umbrella enjoying the perfect ocean mist. Environment can often dictate how one feels about the art being consumed.

 

What I Really Liked

I really liked the way in which Lois Lowry develops characters. Jonas, Kira, Matty, and Claire are each complex, believable, and likeable adolescents. I really liked that there are two male and two female leads, providing balance to the narrative arc. Jonas is the dominant character, but for my taste Kira is the best character. The opening pages of Gathering Blue provide such a rich description not only of her physical situation but also of her emotional, psychological, sociological, and spiritual condition that one feels as if they’ve known Kira their whole life. At least I did.

Some of the tertiary characters can be shallow at times, or even clichés but I can forgive that because the MC’s are amazing.

There are two other things I really liked, and both are unique to these books. One, I loved the vehement pro-life message woven through the novels. I don’t mean this in a political sense, because Lowry is not writing from a Christian worldview. I mean in the sense that life, in all its stages, is viewed as precious and honored in the book. This life is often viewed as fragile in the midst of a world that would destroy the weak, the unwanted, and the old.

Two, I really liked the almost prophetic nature of the books set against our contemporary times. This is particularly true in Messenger. It was written in 2004–twelve years ago, but there is a major character in that book who acts as a strongman attempting to build a literal wall around the village to keep the flow of migrants/immigrants from coming in. There are other nearly prophetic elements as well regarding the ethics of medicine, redefinition of family units, and many other things.

 

What I liked

I liked the readability of these books. There are four of them, but I read them in the time of a regular novel. The easy reading is  part of the YA nature of the books, but also it is part of Lowry’s clear writing style. She does not use a lot of words when not needed.

I liked the recycling of characters–I try to do this in my own writing and greatly admired it in these books.

I liked the “Question authority” feel of the novels. I have learned that some schools don’t allow these books because they encourage a questioning of authority and, to some extent, rebellion in the face of evil. I like that about these books. Too many people automatically trust “The person in the white lab coat” or the “Guy behind the desk” when in reality these people are often wrong, or worse, manipulative. Experts might be smart, but they also have agendas.

I like the way she uses symbolism, metaphor, and allegory to connect with me as a reader.

 

What I Didn’t Like

There was one part of The Giver Quartet I didn’t like. This is true of almost every book–there is always something that doesn’t settle right with me. The last book, Son, feels too rushed. I actually think Lowry should have written more on Claire’s transformation in a stand alone book, and then wrote a fifth book to finish out the storyline. She jams too much into the last book.

That’s it, that is my only complaint.

Final Evaluation

Loved the books. They are suitable for all ages, but are ideal for young adults. People who enjoy Harry Potter, fantasy, science fiction, character stories, dystopia, and tales of good and evil will enjoy these excellent reads.

CHRISTIAN ARTS FESTIVAL: THE ATHANATOS EXPERIENCE

Yesterday we wrapped up the first (I hope) annual Athanatos Christian Arts Festival. Or, as I prefer to call it, Dragonfest. Here are some highlights.

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ACM Authors Michael Pape, Joe Courtmanche, Anthony Horvath, and Greenbean holding the Mic

Incredible Content

The strength of the Festival was the high quality content offered. There was far more going on that I could personally attend, but I sat in on writing seminars, music seminars, art seminars, historical analysis, and theology. Needless to say, I had a blast. Joe Courtmanche’s seminar on global threats was sobering and riveting, Rob Cely’s theology of Zombies thrilled, Paul Benett’s first person narrative in costume, no less, of a civil war Johnny Reb was riveting, Hillary Ferrer’s seminar on art not only introduced my daughter to Potato Jesus but also encouraged me in my artistic endeavors, and John Ferrer’s tour de force presentation on the historical paradigms of holocaust lead to a challenging contemporary application. The nerdiest one, which might have been my favorite, was the science fiction seminar lead by Dylan Thompson, which could have been titled Jesus and Philip Dick.

And the music! We heard so much quality live music from Celtic to rock, but what I particularly liked was from classical guitarist Alyssa Caitlin and bass ukulele pop musician Alma, who reminded me a little of Erin Ivey.

This is just the stuff I was able to attend. So much more was going on. I hope some of it was recorded for the interwebs.

My Presentations

I wasn’t only a consumer at the festival, I was also able to share. The opening day I gave a talk on the nature of stories, and then I used the eight 2016 Oscar nominated films as a template to discuss the application of story. Then I pivoted to the Bible, and showed the Bible’s use of these classic story motifs. I finished the with three different takes on the Jesus story in church life today.

In the evening I gave a longer talk, but it was mostly about writers wants and needs–particularly the idea of needing to stretch ourselves in our craft and the importance of taking the reader into consideration. Friday I participated in two panel discussions, as well as a talk on my research about child sex trafficking for The Little Girl Waits.

Finally, I was privileged on Sunday to speak during our worship experience as we walked through the Stations Of The Cross.

Wisconsin

The festival was in a field in Greenwood, Wisconsin. I have never been to Wisconsin before, so this was a genuine treat. We drove in on Wednesday from Eastern Minnesota and took the back roads. What a lovely place! It felt like we were driving through The Shire. This thought was reinforced with every Amish horse drawn buggy we encountered.

I ate cheese curds for the first time. They tasted like soggy mozzarella sticks.

There were lots of Green Bay Packer references.

The people were nice–not gregarious like home–not naturally talkative like back home, but they were polite, respectful, and helpful. They kept saying I sounded funny, but I told them I left my translator back home.

The Biggest Payoff

The biggest blessing, though, was spending time with other Athanatos authors–the other horses in the stable–so to speak. Hanging out with Tony Horvath wonderful. He is the mastermind behind the curtain pulling all the levers, the brains behind Athanatos publishing, and getting to spend quality time with him was worth it all.

Looking forward to next year.