Monday, June 13, 2022

The Patron Saint of Second Chances ~ my review


Christine Simon’s novel, The Patron Saint of Second Chances, is pure delight to read. It’s beautifully written, touching all the senses and brilliantly painting all the quirky characters. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and warmhearted. The story also has intergenerational drama, humor, and heart.


Here is the main silliness: Modern-day Italian villagers in all earnestness make a movie, improvising (ex., the star’s cameo appearance is to be a cardboard cutout sailing by on a Roomba), flying by the seat of their pants creatively and technologically, and seeing no illogic in the movie’s being both a James Bond-like thriller and a musical comedy. Simon writes so many sight gags with perfect comedic timing.


Main character, middle-aged Signor Speranza’s stomach twists in knots when the junior plumbing inspector, “this giant toddler with his clip-on tie,” informs him that if his tiny Italian village of Prometto could not pay 70,000 euros to repair the pipes, water to the village would be cut off. All 212 residents would lose their homes and have to move. Self-appointed mayor Signor Speranza, desperate to avoid this fate for his venerable village, and also desperate to avoid having to tell his neighbors this bad news, prays to Saint Vincent, patron saint of plumbing.


Saint Vincent is the first of many saints Signor Speranza, a faith-filled man, calls upon. When in need of additional saints for specific pickles he gets in, he consults his Compendium of Catholic Saints. When he cannot find a saint for deliverance from an angry butcher, he prays to Our Lady, Comfort of the Afflicted. When his book shows St. Barbara as patron saint of death by cannonball, he figures she might not be too busy these days, so he can ask her for favor in other messes.


And messes he makes! He tells his neighbors one little white lie, which spirals out of control. In rapid succession, Plan A morphs into Plan B, which becomes Plan C, and so forth. The aforementioned homemade movie is the main ruse Speranza cooks up to raise the needed 70,000 euros to save Prometto. Nothing goes as planned.


The Patron Saint of Second Chances is a fast-paced story, superbly ridiculous and charming. It is no accident that Signor Speranza’s name means hope. I wonder what patron saint we can pray to for my hope that someone makes this book into a real movie.


The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon is, IMHO, funnier than Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, which ranks pretty high on my list of humorous stories.


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Surrender to Love by David Benner ~ my review

 As I read David G. Benner’s Surrender to Love, my bookmarks alternated between a highlighter pen and a tissue. I highlighted aha moments I would want to return to and wiped many tears. On page 17 Benner says, “Surrender involves relaxing, and you must feel safe before you can relax.” He is speaking of surrender to God’s perfect, unconditional love.


In this slim (109 pages) book, Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality, Benner admits that surrendering oneself involves terrifying vulnerability, but he makes a case for why Jesus Christ is completely trustworthy. And he shows the benefits of increasing intimacy with God.


I love the concept of relaxing in God’s love. So different from fretting and striving to please Him. I love Benner’s intimacy images, such as snuggling with God. He stresses the transforming power of God’s love. Our purpose on earth is to learn love.


Benner’s chapters conclude with “For Further Reflection” to help us on the love journey. Surrender to Love is a beautifully written, encouraging, and enlightening book.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers ~ my review


The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers begins with the exciting danger of parkour across city rooftops as Roman Velasco crouches, rolls, and leaps to escape arrest by Los Angeles police for spraying graffiti on public buildings. A young man and world famous artist now, Roman reverts to the gang tagging of his troubled teens to express what he feels most deeply about. Back in his studio, he hires quiet, serious Grace Moore to keep the business of his art organized so that he can paint pieces to sell to eager art-world fans.


From their first meeting, sparks of both friction and attraction fly. Roman and Grace have very different temperaments, morals, and priorities. Further, his angry atheism constantly clashes with her humble Christian approach to life. Indeed, as Rivers reveals the backstories of Roman and Grace, the reader glimpses a very real spiritual battle.


I enjoyed this novel very much, mostly for the story of two love interests slowly getting to know each other within community. They each had friends who had their backs. The searing pain of Roman’s and Grace’s childhood losses was difficult to read, but the healing redemption of that pain was uplifting. Rivers courageously, realistically portrays sexual desire and temptation in a pure way. And she also shows challenges as well as benefits to following Jesus. The Masterpiece has some engaging subplots I have not mentioned here. Despite heartbreak, kindness is everywhere in this novel.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Nub watch 2022 ~ just five days later


Only five days after last week’s nub watch, I feel much more encouraged that spring might actually be here to stay. As our temps jumped from 30s to 80s ~ in one day, of course, this being Chicago ~ our perennials leapt wide awake from their beds.


 A few mornings ago when I went out to get the newspaper from the lawn, I felt momentarily disoriented by seas of yellow in my peripheral vision. Looking up and around, I was never so surprised to see yards and prairies full-blown-out with neon dandelions. The day before, all was green, the next day, bright yellow. Time to check my gardens. Yep, they, too, had had overnight spurts.





An added bonus was the intoxicating fragrance of Judd Viburnum blossoms, also an overnight sensation. I remember twenty years ago when we were choosing a Viburnum for that spot, I traipsed around Chicago Botanic Gardens and the gardens at Cantigny with a little note pad. I climbed up into garden beds ~ probably stepping over “Please stay on the sidewalk” signs ~ to stick my nose right in their blooming Viburnums. I had to be careful not to inhale bees. I jotted what Viburnum variety had the best fragrance. My research paid off. Every spring, if I get to plant annual pansies and snapdragons with Viburnum perfume wafting around me, I consider myself a lucky gal.

Welcome, Spring!

Friday, May 6, 2022

Nub watch 2022


I’m really struggling to imagine spring as winter lingers into May. Sigh. My first thought as I look at a desolate fern garden with just little brown bumps here and there and almost completely black dirt the length of the garage where lilies of the valley exuberantly leafed green last summer, is “This is depressing.” The garden seems to be taking its sweet time to peep out this spring. But finally this week, I have a little bit of hope in the form of one (count ’em, one) fiddlehead and some muguet nubs!




Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Beaded Ubuhle Beauty


Beads! These wall hangings are entirely tiny glass beads!

Welcoming us as if to South Africa, gentle, lilting rhythms of Bholoja’s “Mbombela” set a quiet mood in the Paine mansion’s main gallery. Awestruck by this immense wall hanging, I wandered wide-eyed to it without even reading the background placard. I felt a mixture of sorrow for Christ on the cross and curiosity about related scenes such as the Garden of Gethsemane and the resurrection-symbolizing rainbow just behind the cross. This artwork’s sheer size was symbolic of the grandeur and import of the inspiring event. That it drew me irresistibly, viscerally, said as much.


My appreciation grew when I did go back and read the placards explaining this art form. “Beadwork and the Art of Independence” is a traveling exhibit of the intricate designs of Ubuhle women, who sew shimmering glass beads on black cloth. Fulfilling the founders’ vision for traditional beading skills to provide financial independence, these rural women live and work together just north of Durban. A single panel can take ten months to complete. Ubuhle means “beauty” in the Zulu and Xhosa languages.


Another panel especially captivated me. Here is a photo of part of Zandile Ntobela’s “Cherry Tree” beaded design.



Just as we enjoyed the vision of Nathan and Jessie Paine to create beautiful gardens, we enjoyed incredible woodworking and design elements inside their home. During our visit, the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh showcased glass beadwork of South African Ubuhle women, whose art was also the lovely result of two people’s vision.

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