Thursday, November 17, 2011

Airmen & Islands


I just finished reading Eoin Colfer's book, 'Airman' last night. What a fantastic read! I know my boys will love this book. I think my sixth grader could enjoy it now, the others when they are a little older.

It is an adventure book, but with some really great character inside-the-head 'who-am-I-really?' moments. It had a really great feel to it. The main story is about young Conor Broekhart who lives on the fictional self-governed Saltee Islands just off the coast of Ireland. He is raised in the shadow of the palace and becomes bestfriends with Princess Isabella. It looks as if their friendship will blossom into something more, when the evil, usurping villain strikes. Conor is witness to the assassination of his king, and is ultimately blamed for it. He is carted of to the notorious Little Saltee prison, located one mile away on an isolated, barren, scrap of an island. There, he goes through two torturous years. But his desire to fly and to escape keep him going. The story of his inventions and his escape and eventual vengeance on all the villains great and small kept me reading. And of course, I wanted to see his name cleared and him reunited with his loved ones. I thought this was a great tween to YA book for boys and girls. The tension building up to the ending kept ratcheting up a notch, but was resolved with a satisfying ending.

The beginning of the book was a little longer than I usually like, but it laid the groundwork for all of the characters, their motivations and even for the flying machines. Overall, really great!

'Airman' reminded me of another book I read this fall, 'The Floating Islands' by Rachel Neumeier. It also has flying men and islands wanting to be independent from the mainland. The flying and magicmaking and dragons put it squarely in the field of fantasy. But I couldn't help but notice the similarities. Trei is a boy who has one desire, to become one of the karujai, the flying guardians of the floating islands. There are challenges and even imprisonment for Trei as well. There was also a strong female protagonist in this book. We see her more than Princess Isabella in 'Airman'. Trei's cousin Areane wants to use her talent to become a famous chef, a position that is only held by men. But it seems she has talent for more than spices when she stumbles into the palace of the magicians who also protect the island. It is wonderful storytelling that weaves together Trei's and Areane's different paths. Each has a pivotal role  in saving the islands  from a mainland  invasion that saps the magic from the islands.

Both were a bit slow-moving at the beginning, but held great promise that was fulfilled with great satisfaction by the end. Nothing PG-13 in either. There were some rough beatings in 'Airman' and talk of killing and the ability to kill one's enemies, but no blood or gore. Most of it is psychological and in the framework of self-evaluation and survival. Something that is part of becoming a man...finding out what kind of man you are and what you can handle and where you set your limits. Really a fine book for middle school and up.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have really enjoyed watching Vocalpoint and the other groups in the Sing-Off on television this fall. Some of the groups have done an amazing job with theatrics, vocal effects and amazing harmonies. But Vocalpoint is still one of the lead groups with a consistent quality that the judges have recognized each show.

I enjoyed this little Mormon Message, hearing the boys share some of their thoughts about the show and the sacrifices that have been necessary to be on national television every week with one (or two) flawless songs. I am a singer, but I am not the caliber of singer that can sing such tight harmonies with no instrumental accompaniment all while moving, dancing changing key and rhythm.

Wow! Blow my socks off!

But what touched my heart was the message that the boys were trying to share: One can lead a faith-led life no matter where that life may lead you.

Wasn't it perfect that they ended with the lyrics "Christ the babe was born for you. Christ the babe was born for you."

Thanks for sharing your testimony, gentlemen and sharing happy, truthful music."

You've done an amazing, outstanding job. Bravo Vocalpoint!

A Book of Mormon Story

What a wonderfully illustrated, heartfelt story of scripture, conversion and testimony. Had to share. The Book of Mormon and the Bible bring peace, a spiritual center and strength to my life. So grateful for prophets and righteous people who have gone before.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ozark Medieval Fortress

Just spent several hours at the Ozark Medieval Fortress today.

Wow! What a great experience! This fortress is a castle being built from scratch here on American soil in the northern reaches of Arkansas, just an hour south of Branson, Missouri. This was an idea that came from the French project started about ten years ago. It will take about 20 years to built the castle in it's entirety. You can go to  to get all the info. Some people may not want to travel three hours to see "only" the foundation of a castle, but that was really only part of the attraction.

We started with a tour from the Visitors center, and circled through the woods.
James - the tour guide extraordinaire

 I really enjoyed the tour; I learned so much, even though I've been researching the middle ages for a couple of years now. The guides were well-informed and made intelligent comparisons with modern times so that various concepts could be understood. There was a motte and bailey fortress built on the grounds that I was not expecting. It was such a lovely surprise. The guides explained the changes to the palisade style fort from Roman days to our forts in America that were used as defense from the Native Americans.

There was a weaver and her various dyed wool, sheep (one could feed them for a $1 a bag ), a garden with the various kinds of plants (food, medicinal, dyes, spices) and then we came to the quarry. I really enjoyed seeing the guide there explain the way to find the seams in the rock and demonstrating the breaking of dolomite limestone from the quarry itself and then into smaller pieces. I learned what a "man-sized" stone was. And no, it wasn't 2 meters high.
Jacob- the quarryman

Then, we arrived at the castle sight. And even though there was no part higher than ten feet, it was still very impressive. All of the foundation was laid out and since it was on a hillside, some parts were higher than others. We could enter some of the towers' ground levels. It was amazing the workmanship on the stone, especially the doors and arrow-loop windows. I got into a wonderful conversation with one of the stonemasons and he was quite helpful and very informative.
Brad- the stone mason

 He explained the ratio mix of the mortar (lime and sand mixed with water) and how it was actually cheaper for them to import the lime from France than to get it down the road. We talked of masons and the amount of men needed to build a castle and the length of time required. The whole while, he was on the wall, working and I was squinting up at him and his co-worker.

There are nine people employed to work at the castle site, including the quarrymen, the masons and the guides.
 Anthony- Mason, rope-maker, quarry worker (Jack of all trades)

Others are volunteers who give their time to come and demonstrate their crafts. One such was the knight, Sir Eric and his squire, Brom. I had a lengthy conversation with the both of them about their armor, weapons, heraldry (the colors and pictures on their shields) and all sorts of other things. Sir Eric told me he had been doing reenactments for years and when he moved from the west coast, found Arkansas lacking in numbers when it came to medieval enthusiasts. Not many others in northern Arkansas wanted to spend their free time in sword-play. So he recruited a young friend of a friend ... and soon he had himself a squire. They did some great hand-to-hand combat with full chain mail on Sir Eric and leather armor on Brom. They used wooden weapons, but I'm sure their bruises were real enough. In the end, both were fantastic sources of information.
(Wish I had a photo of them, but unfortunately, I forgot my camera!)

There was also a young tour guide, Luke, who I discovered was their resident blacksmith. He worked the bellows and hammered out iron, showing us how he was working on some Damascus steel knife blades. Some of his work was for sale in the gift shop. It was great to see him work
. Luke- the blacksmith

Then in the gift-shop, I spoke with Mardie who takes tickets, runs the cash-register and seems to keep things running.
She was a fountain of information and so accommodating. She had some great suggestions, reading-wise and gave me a little more background on the whole castle project. She really "sold" the place with her enthusiasm. And when she demonstrated the little model trebuchet (a sort-of slingshot catapult) built by Jean-Marc Mirat (the Frenchman who owns the land the castle was built on), well, I was "sold" on that too. I had to bring one home for my boys.

So, I'd like to say a great big THANK YOU to the wonderful folks at the Ozark Medieval Fortress and for all the extra time they gave today in teaching and sharing. It was a fabulous experience.