The Calculus of Change

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The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb follows Aden through her senior year of high school as she meets, and immediately falls for a Jewish boy named Tate. This novel confronts real teenage issues in an honest way, letting the characters make mistakes and deal with the consequences. Nothing in life is perfect, and this book reflects that.

The Calculus of Change begins with math. Calculus, actually. Aden loves calculus and the idea of “infinitesimal change”.

“Small changes in several steps makes sense to me because it feels like I can somehow control it. I am in charge of getting numbers and symbols where they need to go… What I can’t control in real life is the sudden, catastrophic change that often comes without steps or warning and makes life insufferably different. Like a dead mom. Calculus? Calculus is change I can wrap my head around.”

Throughout the novel we see Aden dealing with body image issues and the ideas of change and control. At the beginning of the book, Aden is desperately trying to keep things under control in her family as she helps her brother with his relationships and walks carefully around her dad’s mood swings. She slowly comes to realize that there are many things in life that can’t be controlled; like your mom dying of cancer.

On the other hand, she also realizes just how many things she can control—like choosing to love herself and make healthy decisions to deal with grief and her relationship with Tate.

Just compare these two parts of the book, one from the beginning and one from the end:

“[Maggie’s] wearing a loose, high-cut top and leggings, and I can see her thin—her stomach—because her arms are reaching up to wrap around Tate’s neck. My eyes water involuntarily at the sight of them together. Kissing.”

“This transformation—it’s like I’ve finally found a way to anchor my body to my soul…. What I see isn’t perfect, but it’s mine. And as I look at myself, I think, I look beautiful because I’m strong.” 

I will say that this book left me feeling a little sad. Not all of my questions got answered (not because it was a bad ending, but because life changes can only happen one at a time) and not everything was perfectly happy. But Aden’s growth was so real and honest that I loved seeing her inner strength shine through.

My other favorite character was Aden’s best friend Marissa. Marissa is thin and popular when Aden is not, but the two girls support each other through every up and down. They choose to love each other even when they make mistakes. One of the best moments in their friendship is when Aden picks up Marissa after a party (and a heartbreak). In their little gestures, we can see how much they mean to each other.

“We need comfort food.” I say. “Greasy diner or donuts?”

“Greasy diner,” she says.

“Good choice.” And I squeeze her hand again. She squeezes back.

This book comes with its sad and heavy moments, but I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good contemporary novel about growing up and finding peace with who you are.

Magi: Sinbad no Bouken

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Adventure of Sinbad (or Magi: Sinbad no Bouken) is an anime coming from the same author as Magi and works as a prequel to the longer series. This show is only 13 episodes and is a fun fantasy/adventure anime focusing on world exploration. Yet, in many ways I found myself being disappointed in the plot and characters.

Our hero is a young Sinbad who sets out on his mission to start a new country that fights for justice for all citizens (this goal comes from his backstory: his father was killed when he was sent to war unwillingly). To do this Sinbad seeks power from mysteriously appearing landmarks called Dungeons (inside of which resides a fabled ‘King Power’). He also explores the many countries near him and meets their citizens (usually gaining a comrade or two along the way).

For me, there were three problems with this anime.

1st: Plot holes and Time Jumps

Several times throughout my viewing of Sinbad I found that the plot jumped rapidly forward during the most interesting and pivotal moments. Key examples of this are when Sinbad is working to capture the first dungeon and when he is given a month to get 1,000 gold coins.

During his dungeon capture, he successfully escapes the first room and when the door opens we see a long hallway with some more dragons still lurking inside. Instead of giving us the chance to see more of his resolve and cleverness to escape and make it to the throne room, the plot skips slightly forward and he is suddenly in the throne room. I realize this anime has a rapidly moving plot, but I was expecting him to fight for it at least a little more fiercely.

Again, when Sinbad arrives in the country of Reim, he is given an ultimatum by a merchant named Haran. In order to join the union and legally sell goods in Reim, he must have 1,000 gold coins for the fee, and this must happen in one month’s time before Haran returns to the city.

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So, Sinbad is left in an unfamiliar city with a nearly impossible task to complete. This sounds like the perfect challenge for our clever and resourceful hero, right? But suddenly the plot skips forward again and we see that one month has already passed. Does Sinbad have the gold coins? No. Furthermore, (seen when he is riding through the city with Haran later and doesn’t even know what the Coliseum is) he seems to know literally nothing about the city he supposedly spent a month living and working in.

I realize that this is just a short anime series developing Sinbad’s character, but the plot jumps left me confused, disappointed, and skeptical of Sinbad himself.

 

2nd: World Exploration and Setting

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One of the best things about this anime is the world exploration. Journeying along with Sinbad means we get to see the new people and countries he does. We got to meet the fierce warriors from Imuchakk (a country covered in ice), and the clever merchants from Reim, as well as the citizens of Sinbad’s home country Parthevia.

Yet I would argue that this exploration doesn’t go far enough. We meet these characters and places, but just barely. We are given a stereotype of them and forced to use that to fill in the rest of the information.

For example, the audience is informed that Reim is a country of merchants and traders, yet the only person we really interact with is Haran (later revealed to be from a different country himself). What do the actual people of the country act like? We might never know, considering that every other character who appears is a filler character with no real personality.

 

3rd: Character Motivation

Finally, the character motivation in this series seems unbelievable and completely unrealistic. I found myself unable to shake off my disbelief to fully enjoy the anime.

Let’s start with Sinbad himself. From the beginning, the audience is informed that a special person has been born and that Sinbad has a special power and is a completely unique person who will change the world.

Ok.

That’s fine.

But I need proof.

His goal is to create a new kingdom that will be kind to its citizens. Who will rule this new kingdom? Sinbad himself, of course. My issue is not just that he seeks power, but that nothing in the series seems to even try to make this realistic and show him what a long, hard battle that will be. It’s one thing to have a goal. It’s another to just get handed power because you were born “special” and then to never learn to use it in a cautious way (because… he’s Sinbad, and normal rules don’t apply, I guess?)

The other characters have motivation issues as well. In the Imuchakk arc, we are introduced to Hina (later, Hinahoho) who is trying to become a warrior by killing an Abare Narwhale. Sinbad accidentally steals this moment from him, which leads Hina to seek power from a recently appeared dungeon in order to prove himself. He goes in, actually passionate and determined to prove himself. Yet, by the end of the arc (when Sinbad has captured his second dungeon), Hina has a sudden change of heart and recognizes that he will never be king. He now sees that Sinbad is the true King-Vessel and his destined master. (All in the course of a single episode!)hinahoho

Overall, I did think this was an entertaining and interesting anime. I enjoyed watching it, but I was disappointed with some of the plot holes. This might be because the animators had to tell the story in just 13 episodes (I haven’t read the manga), or it might be because this is just supposed to function as a kind of prequel. But if a story has such an interesting premise, I feel it’s a waste to not explore that more.

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If you love fantasy adventure stories this might be a good anime to watch! But if you are looking for something a little more serious and thought-provoking this is not the show for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michigan Legends: Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City

Dunes

Looking out at crystal-clear, sparkling water made me feel as though I might actually be on a tropical island, not the (sometimes) chilly shore of Lake Michigan to hike Sleeping Bear Dunes.

My trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes last week didn’t feel as steeped in history and legend as I expected (after reading up about the legend surrounding the dunes) since the dunes don’t seem to form any specific shape when you are in the middle of hiking them. Still, I loved connecting to Michigan’s history and exploring the various habitats surrounding the dunes. There was a forested area, complete with tiny toads hopping all over the hiking path, the sandy dunes themselves, and the rocky shoreline.

During my hike, I spent several hours walking along the shore, looking for unique stones or washed-up pieces of smooth driftwood. (I successfully found a large piece of dried coral and shoved it in my hiking pack. The extra weight was worth saving the pock-marked rock to take it home.)

Shoreline

The beautiful and sad Native American legend surrounding the dunes centers on a mother bear, Mishe Mokwa, and her two cubs. A fearsome fire pushed the bear family to the shores of Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin side where they were driven into the water to escape the flames. (Other versions say it was a great famine instead that drove them to the water).

They swam for hours, desperately trying to reach the opposite shore. By the time Mishe Mokwa reached the other side, she realized that her cubs were not strong enough, and, exhausted by the long swim, had sunk deep into the depths of the Lake. The heart-broken mother bear lay down on the shore to wait for her children. Eventually, the Great Spirit (called Gitche Manitou) put a spell of slumber over the mother bear and drew up the sand to cover her, forming the dunes along the shore. (Alternatively, she is also said to have laid there so long the sands naturally blew over her). Two islands were raised where the cubs drowned, North and South Manitou.

This is meant to explain how the islands and dunes came to be, and to recognize the specific shape of the dunes, which, especially in older photographs, resembles a sleeping bear, laying down on her side. (You can even see her ear sticking up!)

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I was also able to explore Traverse City. The city was beautiful and full of hiking paths, beaches by the bay, and delicious food. My favorite moment other than hiking the dunes was definitely exploring the city and finding all of its unique features.

Travler’s Tip: Ask for places to visit around the city at a local resurant!

After eating at a restaurant in town called The Franklin, we got some tips about the best beaches to visit (North Bar Lake, located along the dunes and right next to the lake was beautiful and uncrowded), and the best food to eat (a sandwich called The Gobbler from Mary’s Kitchen Port tasted great after walking all over the city). (And I got to eat it by the bay!)

 

Traverse Bay

Sources: This website and this website were both very helpful and have lots of good information about the legend!

 

Mulberry Jam (Or Not)

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The berries on the mulberry tree were so ripe that even just touching the tree branch shook several of them free. The ground around the tree was littered with fallen berries and both my fingers and the bottoms of my shoes were quickly stained purple from the sweet juice. My plan was to use my full Tupperware container to make my first batch of homemade jam.

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Mulberry Jam

My first attempt at making homemade mulberry jam didn’t go exactly as I expected. I’m sure that many experienced jam makers know this, but jam needs something to help thicken it, usually pectin.

When I initially googled mulberry jam the first recipe that popped up was this one.

Here’s a closer look at the ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups mulberries, rinsed (the tiny green stems do not need to be removed)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water

As you can see, there is no pectin mentioned. So I continued on, oblivious to my error.

I did change the recipe a bit, switching the sugar for homemade honey (you have to use less honey than sugar) and added a little lemon juice. If I were to do this again, however, I would use even less honey and add more lemon to bring back some of the tartness of the fresh berries and reduce the overpowering sweetness.

The first step in making jam is to put your mason jars into boiling water to sanitize them. This should take about ten minutes.

 

Then, combine the ingredients in a medium saucepan (I added 2 ½ cups mulberries, and 1 cup honey, along with 3 tablespoons water, and the juice of 1/3 of a lemon). This must be brought to a boil for one minute before dropping it to simmer until it loses the foam. (The recipe says about 7 minutes).

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Once your jam is cooked, it should be transferred into the clean mason jars, sealed, and cooled at room temperature for several hours before you can use it. Make sure all your jars have a good seal on them! You should hear a pop as they cool, which means they have fully sealed.

By the time I started transferring the “jam” into the jars I was beginning to see that I had not made a jam, but a mulberry syrup. I held out hope that it might thicken more as it cooled, but, sadly, it did not.

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Still, even if it doesn’t work as a jam it does work as a syrup! I plan to use it on pancakes, in yogurt, and as an ice cream topping.

Overall, I was surprised at how easy it is to make homemade jam. I loved making a small batch of fresh mulberry jam, even if it didn’t work out perfectly. The sweet smell of mulberries and honey lingered in my kitchen for the rest of the afternoon.

So that’s the lesson of the day, folks! Make sure you use pectin when you make jam. At least I know for my next batch.

🙂 Sarah

Girl, Wash Your Face (and Other Good Advice)

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A mix of motivational, honest, and funny, Girl, Wash Your Face exposes some of the lies we believe about ourselves.

Author Rachel Hollis debunks lies like “I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon” (Chapter 13) and “I am Defined by My Weight” (Chapter 17), spending time discussing everything from pregnancy to becoming a career woman. Her goal is that in exposing these lies, we can recognize a deeper truth: That we are responsible for who we become and how happy we are.

One of the biggest draws of this book is the openness Hollis uses when she discusses topics, even ones that are considered taboo (like Chapter 7: I’m Bad at Sex). In a marketplace that tends to avoid the nitty-gritty details of what many women believe to be major issues in their lives, Hollis doesn’t shy away from these conversations.

For example, in Chapter Five: Loving Him is Enough For Me, she is real about what makes a relationship work (communication, respect and most importantly, self-respect) and what anxieties women go through in life.

I also loved reading her stories related to stress during Chapter Three on the lie, “I’m Not Good Enough”. Hollis explains that at nineteen she got Bell’s Palsy and half of her face became paralyzed. This happened again during a vacation to Paris, during which she posed next to the Eiffel tower, eye patch and all (since her eye couldn’t close by itself). These severe physical symptoms came on as a reaction to the stress she put herself under trying to prove her worth to herself.

In a culture of “hard work now = success later” and the mentality that you must be doing something to be accepted, I could definitely relate to what Hollis was talking about. She explains that,

“Learning to rest is an ongoing process. Like any other lifelong behavior, I constantly fight the desire to slip back into the role I’ve played for so long… I learned that I am a recovering workaholic, but through this process, I also learned that I am a child of God—and that trumps everything else.” (30)

Truly learning to find that balance of work and rest takes some commitment. It’s not about spending time doing nothing (although that can be important too), it’s about finding those soul refreshing actions that rejuvenate you for the next challenge.

I also loved how Hollis walks through life with you by opening up her life to you. She shares some of her toughest moments and biggest challenges in this book, including her five-year-long journey towards adoption. Her stories are so impactful because they are lessons learned the hard way, and battles won only after a long fight towards victory.

After having several heart-breaking moments with her foster care experience, Hollis and her husband, Dave, turned to independent adoption and began the waiting process all over again. Hollis shares,

“During those months we waited, I walked in faith. My steps weren’t bold or filled with the bravado I’d had at the beginning of the journey nearly five years before. My faith walk became cautious and unsure. I blindly stumbled my way down a path I could not see. I chose to move forward because, while I knew I would find pain, I also knew I would draw strength. I could look at the six months prior or five years in total and choose to be angry. Or I could look at the whole long journey and recognize all that we’d been given.” (173)

Though the path may be difficult, Hollis encourages women to walk in faith and to take those steps to meet their own goals. We are the only ones who have the power to truly change our own lives. Not our moms. Not our best friends. Just us.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a motivating and honest book about the realities (and the lies) we face on a daily basis. I hope you read it and feel your own power to conquer your fear, win your battles, and meet your goals. I know I did.

“Rise up from where you’ve been, scrub away the tears and the pain of yesterday, and start again… Girl, wash your face!” (213)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Bird

wild bird

Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen is a contemporary young adult novel exploring how we become broken and how we can piece ourselves back together again.

Wren is a troubled fourteen-year-old who ends up at a wilderness survival camp in the Utah desert as her last chance to turn her life around. She’s gotten a little lost and found herself involved in drugs, underage drinking and distanced herself from her family.

Part of Wren’s story involves her turbulent relationship with her family. She has an older sister, Anabella, who is “perfect” in the ways Wren is not: looks, grades, and friends. When the family moves, she abandons her sister for a quickly made friend group and won’t even talk to her sister at school. Wren is forced to find her own way, one that leads her to a disastrous friendship with a girl named Meadow.

Van Draanen uses Wren’s brokenness and her broken relationships to expose what it means to become truly vulnerable and honest with yourself. Wren must stop running in denial and face her mistakes with an inner strength of character that frees her from her past.

“There’s a wisdom passed through the ages that says that if we walk far but are angry as we journey, we travel nowhere. If we hold grudges as we scale mountains, our view remains the same.” (237)

Wren’s journey into her very core takes readers into a soul parched for friendship and understanding. Over time she realizes that these needs won’t come from an angry, embittered heart but only one that has achieved an understanding of itself. Learning to know who she is, not just who she was, enables her to create a future for who she could be.

“And then, unexpectedly, tickling me from inside, I recognize a long-lost feeling. The one I looked for whenever I got stoned or drunk. The one I tried to corner by outsmarting Anabella, my parents, Meadow. The one that kept drifting past me, promising me I would find it right…over…there.

…In the desert, making food in the dirt, and somehow, against everything I’ve said and thought and expected, it’s found me?

I laugh out loud. It’s so ironic. But there it is. Happiness. Happiness from inside.

… I can do stuff. And knowing that — owning that– makes me feel… unstoppable. … This is who I want to be.” (272)

Part of the beauty of Wild Bird is the realistic and human way each character is written, exposing individual flaws and their attempts to improve and grow. By the end of the book, we recognize how much her family has begun to prioritize each other over the other things in their lives.

When seeing a handwritten letter from her mom, Wren understand just how much her family has begun to change too.

“…all the letters in between flow together, connecting letters into words, words into thoughts, thoughts into love. I can just feel it, coming off the page.

I don’t know why seeing a letter from my mom in her own handwriting means so much to me, but it does. …Maybe it’s because I feel like she touched the page, didn’t just press print. Maybe because it means she listened.” (304)

Finally, one of the most powerful quotes of the book happens just before Wren’s most vulnerable moment:

“Today I’ve been considering how life’s journey is not about the distance we move our feet, but how we are moved in our heart.” (237)

Wren has the courage to face her past and take that always uncertain step towards the future. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantastic story of a girl getting a little lost in order to be truly found.

May we all be moved more in our hearts. May we all find our place to be wildly free.

 

 

Grace and Grief (Some Traveling Mercies for the Road Ahead)

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During the fall of this year, my family suffered one of its biggest tragedies: the death of my 20-year-old cousin after a sudden car accident. Sitting in the hospital room, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins we waited for news.

He was driving to work on a Friday in early November when he got into a head-on accident with another car. Both drivers were essentially dead on impact, but we wouldn’t find this out until Sunday after the results about his CAT scan came back. No brain activity.

Driving to the hospital with my sister, I spent the next 48 hours in a constant stream of prayers that sounded a little like this, “Please please please please let him be okay. Heal him, Lord. Please please please please. I’m so afraid.”

I felt like all the air had been pulled out of my lungs. The small hospital room felt so loud, and I was so angry. I wanted a hug, I wanted to cry into someone’s shoulder. But I also wanted to be alone where no one would look at me, touch me, or try to speak to me. I was hit with waves of low-level panic.

It didn’t feel real. I was convinced for several months that I would wake up and someone would tell me my cousin has just gotten home from an extended vacation, plane tickets and suitcase in hand.

 “I’m pretty sure it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

For the first time in my life, I was face to face with the monster called Grief. I won’t say I know what grief is like for everyone, but for me, it meant feeling like I was constantly dragging myself through life. I would show up and force a customer service smile until I was allowed to go home again. This stage also involved a constant feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few weeks. I slept all the time.

Then came the next stage. The sleepless stage. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep and ended up getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I was losing weight and feeling sick nearly every day. How could I move towards ‘healing’ when I could barely survive a day of work?

“Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of the living spirit.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

I slowly, very slowly, came to see that just letting yourself exist in the present moment without forcing yourself to do or be or change the sadness and pain lets you accept, fully and with compassion, your hurt.

“…if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Life is not easier now. I still think that maybe if I travel far enough I might just bump into my cousin on his permanent vacation. But I have healed, physically and emotionally, to a point where I can feel happy and peaceful. Even if I don’t understand the why or how of grief, I do understand a little bit better just how God works in our most broken moments.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18, NIV

As I cried on my bedroom floor at four in the morning, Psalm 34:18 reassured me that God truly saw me and my family during our time of deepest need. Even if things didn’t work out the way we expected, He continually reminded me of His presence next to us in our darkest moments.

This event has taught me one thing more than any other: people are the most important thing in the entire universe. When the worst happens it’s going to be your closest family and friends sitting in that hospital room with you. Stay close to those who are important to you, and don’t ever let them forget how deeply they are loved.