The Zookeeper’s Wife ~ Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War StoryThe Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife after seeing the movie trailer. It seemed as though the book would be a fascinating read.

Sadly, I wrong.

First off, I was confused by the book I was reading. I originally believed it to be fiction, for some reason. I knew the movie was based on a novel, wasn’t sure if it was a true story.

As I started reading the book, I realized it was actually probably a non-fiction? I wish I had known that before beginning the book, as I would have lowered my expectations. (I have read excellent non-fiction books, but generally they are on a different level of writing that your standard historical fiction.)

So I settled myself into the fact that this was actually a biography of sorts, but then I began to become even more annoyed with the fact that author apparently decided it was important to fluff out entire chapters with zoological tidbits instead of writing about the actual historical figure, Antonina Z.

In a quick summary: Antonina and her husband Jan lived through the Nazi/German occupation in Warsaw, using their zoo as a stop for the Underground which concealed and kept Jews and other wanted persons safe until the end of the war.

Frustratingly enough, the book rarely actually delves into what happened. It seemed as though the writer was almost taking liberties writing about what she *thought* Antonina’s state of mind would have been during those times. She also digressed into talking about random Jews and what ended up happening to them–and these are people who one has no idea WHO they are or why they were included in the book.

The potential to write a fantastic book about Antonina was sadly thwarted by the author’s flights of fancy into descriptions of animals and their lives, instead of focusing on Antonina and her family. There is very little description of EXACTLY how the zoo was run as a stopping point for the resistance.

Admittedly there were some very interesting parts to the book, especially when the author explained about the lives of Jew living underground, but I feel that the story of the Zabinskis suffered and was neglected due to these useless tangents.

At the end of the book, I had a small realization of why the author chose to inject all these other seemingly useless and random information in her work. She described meeting Antonina’s son Rys in Warsaw years later and she asks him questions about his mother, but he does not have answers. He cannot remember as he was a young boy at that time…and certainly he would not have a grasp of the machinations of the zoo with an adult mindset.

So I believe that the author was simply unable to procure enough research to write a well informed enough book. If you want to attempt reading a WWII biography, I highly recommend Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. In fact, the thought flitted through my mind while reading–that I wished Hillenbrand had written this book as I believe she would have done it more justice.

2/5, wouldn’t attempt read it again.

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The German Girl ~ Armando Correa

The German GirlThe German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The German Girl explores an interesting facet of WWII that I hadn’t read much on — the escape of German Jews to Cuba. Unfortunately, according to historical documentation, Jews were turned away from the country and refused entrance.

This novel is the story of Anna and Hannah. Yes, the writer chose to use some literary prowess and make the names of the two main characters similar. We get it, how clever.

Sadly, despite the fascinating subject, the writer does not do justice to the story. This is a historical fiction novel so naturally one can expect the writer to take liberties with their story telling. However, the novel in itself was boring and the characters were not likable in the slightest.

It seemed some of the main character met their ultimate demise in ways that were basically assumptions. I felt much was left up in the air. I struggled to finish this book.

Just pass it by.

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Chicken Parmesan Squash Casserole

recipes

 

 

Hi all!

It’s been too long since I have posted!   Life has this funny talent of getting in the way of our best laid plans.  Our son has begun his journey into toddlerhood which has been both awe inspiring and exasperating to experience.  Keeping him busy and occupied (leave him for a minute and our place is turned to dust!) means I don’t get nearly as much time to sit down and organize my thoughts.
But now!  Here I am, enjoying some quiet time as my husband picks up some eggs with little D in tow–and I felt it was important to post this recipe.
First off–I have reverted back to my “dieting”, although I use quotation marks as I prefer not to think of it so much as “dieting”, but rather a life style adjustment.  Getting married, being pregnant, dealing with the new demands of being a mom…well, all these things truly knocked me off track of my healthy eating and that’s partially because, as I said before,  life gets in the way of our best intentions.

What’s done is done. Here I am, trying to approach our meal times with a balanced and holistic approach.  We have certainly saved money meal planning and avoiding the easy way out:  take out.

This casserole though…will amaze you.  I will warn you–it’s fairly labor intensive, but if you’re low carb, keto or Atkins, this recipe is a must try and…it is so worth it.

So once again, I have embraced spaghetti squash to create the bulk of this meal.  You want to start out with cooking your squash, whether roasting or in the microwave.  I opted to roast, cut in half, face down brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Once the squash is cooked through, pull out the strands with a fork, drain what you have gather well and set aside.

Of course, you’ll see below that almond flour was used for breading as opposed to regular flour. It is lower in carbohydrates than all-purpose grain flour and I wanted to cater this dish specifically to a low carb audience–myself.

Chicken Parmesan Spaghetti Squash Casserole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Satisfyingly close to the Real Thing

Ingredients

    For the Chicken
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ___________

    For the Casserole

  • 4-6 cups cooked spaghetti squash
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp dried parsley
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp parmesan
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • fresh mozzarella

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Beat egg in small bowl and set side
  • Mix together almond flour, parmesan, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper
  • Cut chicken into 2″ strips and dip into egg, then breading mixture. Lay to the side
  • Heat olive oil in non-stick frying pan until hot. Cook breaded chicken until brown and then remove off heat onto paper towel on plate
  • Toss strands of spaghetti squash with olive oil, parsley, salt, pepper and parmesan
  • Spread squash in 9×13 casserole dish. Lay chicken pieces on top, cover with tomato sauce and then mozzarella
  • Back in oven for 30-45 minutes until dish is warm and bubbly
  • Serve hot and enjoy!

__________

    Notes
  • Do not be afraid to cook your squash longer if necessary. My biggest mistake has been moving the squash from the oven before it is completely cooked and having to eat it a bit crunchy. Fork a piece of flesh from it if you are not sure and try it out.
  • Consider using a keto tomato sauce (you can easily make your own) or splurge on a low sugar sauce to keep carbs low
  • Use parchment paper in your casserole dish to keep the dish cleaner. I always use parchment paper when baking food in the oven–it makes the clean up so much easier and keep my pans from staining.

There you have it! I promise, this recipe is worth the time and effort to make. Of course, I didn’t think of this recipe all my own–I was inspired by I Breathe I’m Hungry and you can find the recipe here.

“PURPOSE” — Lent, Day 20

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Life.
One of the greatest gifts I have been blessed with is the birth and life of my son.

Like most parents, I want the best for him. I want him to be happy, I want him to be full of joy.
I realize how blessed I am to have been given this little life to teach and to bring to adulthood and then send out into the world.

As I have seen his needs met from infancy (food, milk, water, clothes, a home), I have witnessed him grow into a new toddler. My husband and I often ponder what he will “be like” as he ages.

We can already see the character he is developing: strong, independent, curious.

At this moment in time we are meeting his physical needs but also his emotional needs: we shower him with love and relationships.

When I think of the future though, I realize that my desire is for him to find his calling in life. So many people are deeply unhappy. I see it manifested on their Facebook statuses, in their conversations, through their general demeanor. We all have moments of unhappiness and discontent, but so many people I know seem so deeply empty and unhappy.

I want my son to know, to believe there is more in life. To believe there is a reason for his existence, for his dreams, for his destination.

I want him to know that life is not futile, that we are more than bodies seeking reason and fulfillment from materials around us. I deeply long for my son to have PURPOSE in his life.

Reflecting on how I want him to have purpose, I am only forced to ask myself the very same question.

What has my purpose in life been?
Is this truly my deepest purpose?
What is my passion?
How does my passion and purpose align?

We are never too old to ask ourselves these questions. We are never too old to evaluate where we are in life.

Is the life we are living the one HE meant for us to live?

 

And we know that is all things GOD works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Rom.8:28

 

 

DAILY PRAYER: LORD, make your purpose for my life clear to me, no matter how surprising or unexpected it may be. Give me strength to examine who and what I am living my life for. Amen.

“Abounding Grace” — Lent, Day 18&19

AnnieL grace

 

Over the weekend my husband and I have faced conflict with each other.

During difficult times in life, particularly when it comes to marriage, there a few key ingredients that are more than ever during those moments.

In the previous Lenten devotional we delved a bit into forgiveness and how it essential it is in our lives, especially when it comes to our relationships. Even as we need forgiveness to continue on together, perhaps even more importantly: we need grace.

It’s a strange term “grace”. We probably don’t truly understand it even though it affects our daily lives. We more than likely don’t think about it and talk about it even less.

But the fact is–as we practice our daily walk as believers, the essence of our belief stems on grace. Grace is shown to us in our relationship with God and, with that in mind, we are almost obliged to learn how to practice grace in our relationships with others.

The inherent definition of grace is Biblical. Merriam-Webster defines grace as “a virtue coming from God” or “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification”.

Sometimes I think we trip up on the concept of it. Grace is bestowed by God so therefore we aren’t truly privy to it? We cannot understand or comprehend it? If we aren’t God himself, then how can we be expected to completely grasp what grace is and how to extend it to people around us?

It’s very clear that grace and forgiveness walk hand in hand. Perhaps grace is the divine strength that is given to us so we may extend forgiveness. Forgiveness is a conscious act and grace almost seems to simply flow through us from above.

Is it possible that grace is given to us specifically by the Holy Spirit to gird us for forgiveness and mercy?

It may be impossible for us to truly grasp what grace is, but maybe the point of grace is not to *understand* it, but to accept it and to show it to those around us.

This means that when we are fighting and strident, when we have the moral upper hand, that we show grace and forgiveness. I believe it means we don’t “rub it in” or behave superior because perhaps we have made better choices than our significant others.

In other words—we all need grace: to give and to receive…because we’re not always going to have the “upper hand”, so to speak.

Jesus showed abounding grace in the days leading up to his death and resurrection. Let us remember that as we move closer to the Easter season…and let us show grace (and forgiveness!) to those who need it the most from us, no matter how hard it may be.

 

grace

DAILY PRAYER: Lord, send your grace to me when I need it the most. Give me strength when I am facing conflict and help me to treat those around me with love, grace and forgiveness even when I am hurting. AMEN.

“REALITY” — Lent, Day 17

reality-001

 

It’s Sunday night.  Most of us are gearing up for the week to come.  This week in particular is busy for me and I am in bed already, exhausted from my son’s scrambled sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time. On top that, the heat is once again not working properly in our bedrooms, which means another cold night with small space heaters to help keep the cold at bay.

There is a lot to be frustrated with right now.  In my life, I find that I want answers right away.  When I am in a conflict of any type, I want resolution instantly.  If I call to complain about heat, I want someone there  fixing it in a matter of hours (not days, as it happened last time).

The fact is:  there are always going to be issues and conflicts in life.  Each week brings them, whether they are small squabbles between my husband and I, larger issues like lack of heat, or even work conflicts.  This is the reality of life.

While I would absolutely love for everything to be perfect, for plans to roll out quickly, for responses to be fast and to my satisfaction, I am constantly being challenged and reminded that life…is actually a big messy series of difficulties and challenges…and that is never  going to change.

Even when we think “we’ve got it” and everything is perfect and copacetic, it’s not! Something is going to come crashing in to destroy (temporarily) our happiness or our best laid plans.

What can you do about it?
Stress and grow angry, take it out on people who love you, worry and have long sleepless nights?

The best thing we can do in life is grow and learn and change. Be like a blade of grass: flexible, surviving storm after storm.  Because the reality is that we are going to be dumped on in life over and over and there is nothing we can do about it.

All we can do is control how we respond to the situations around us.

So be flexible.  Take it each day at a time and remind yourself that you have survived all the ups and downs of life so far… There are many more to come and you will survive those too!

wind

DAILY PRAYER:  LORD, even though life is hard times and reality can really be crappy, please give me the strength to face each day head on.  Give me grace when there are storms around me, whether small or big.  AMEN. 

“FORGIVENESS” — Lent, Day 16

Forgiveness
We bring out our best, we bring out our worst.
Each day is a celebration and a struggle.
Words pour out that we meant and we don’t–
once out, cannot be forced back in.

Eat those words, we feel in pain.
Regret, despair, angry, betrayed, hurt, sad.
We never begin this way, but time and life,
push us apart and we grow away from each other.

After all the fists made of words
tearing each other down and apart,
we pause, we think, we cry, we wait
and find that love in still there.

What makes us go on?  What draws us closer?
Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is taking each others hands after the hardest times
and walking together in the same direction.

Forgiveness is moving past what we have said in anger,
moving forward in the future.
Forgiveness is choosing to trust, choosing to stay.
Forgiveness is another chance to grow together.

I forgive you as you forgive me.
We forgive each other with the example
of ultimate forgiveness in front of us.

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DAILY PRAYER:  LORD, thank you for showing us forgiveness with the sacrifice you made.  Teach us to forgive each other fully and completely so we can move forward in harmony and love.  AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

“EXILE” — Lent, Day 15

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A recurring theme in the Bible is exile.

Through multiple books of the Bible, we read about the Jews being exiled through many passages of time.  Perhaps the first exile could be attributed to Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden.  Later the Jews wander for forty years in the desert after leaving Egypt. Again, later in the Old Testament, they are exiled to Babylon as the political situations fluctuate about them.

Later in the New Testament, Jesus and his family are exiled to Egypt during Jesus’ childhood to avoid the murderous intent of Herod.  Then, as we read through Jesus’ life and ministry, we recognize Jesus’ symbolic exile from Jerusalem to Nazareth.  When he later enters Jerusalem triumphant on a donkey (Palm Sunday), we know he will be hanging on a cross in thirty days.

What does “exile” mean to us?

Webster essentially defines “exile” as a separation from one’s country or native land for political or punitive reasons, but I believe that exile is much more than just a physical separation.   The emotional exile from those we love is much deeper; our spiritual exile from God is indescribable.

The question we must ask ourselves is:  is our spiritual exile self imposed?  Have we chosen to turn away from reflection, meditation and a relationship with God?   Does it matter enough to make changes and to seek God out?

Being in exile means we are in limbo.  As the Israelites wandered through the desert for decades, so we will wander until we find ourselves in a spiritual “home”.

The truth is–we don’t need to live our lives this way.  We can reach out, we can return.

Do we want to live in limbo?  Do we want to wander through life, exiled from what we believe in?    There is no reason to remain this way.  The Israelite’s exile  was partially because old covenant, but we have a new covenant in Christ and that is what Lent and Easter is about!

Grace and forgiveness! There is no need to remain in exile anymore.

DAILY PRAYER:  LORD, if I have wandered from you, bring me back to your light and grace.  If I have an unsure of my path, show me your presence and your glory.  Amen. 

“IN SICKNESS AND HEALTH” — Lent, Day 14

loyalty-word-stock-image-2818164

Working in the health care field has its ups and downs (as every job does!), but one thing I have been able to witness multiple times are the patients who are in long-term relationships or marriages that come onto our floor as patients.

First, there was a tiny old woman years ago who stuck with me after all this time.  Her husband was admitted for some medical care and she came up to me at the desk and said with a shaky voice, “My husband is staying here overnight and I don’t know what to do…”

“What is the matter?  Does he need anything in his room?”,  I asked.

“No, no, he’s wonderful, but we’ve never been apart.  We’ve been married for forty years and we’ve never spent an evening apart. What will I do without him?”

I didn’t have an answer that would satisfy, simply said, “He will be well taken care of here”.  Inwardly I was struck by how lost she was without her husband.

Then we have patients who aren’t given a good prognosis.  They will spend the last days of their life in our care.  Many times we have spouses who camp out in the room of the patient.   We find them a cot to sleep on and they spend every waking minute with their loved one.  This, of course, isn’t restricted to husband and wife.  I will never forget a daughter who spent weeks on our unit, not wanting to leave her mother to die alone.

Even though we see the worst of patients and we are often saddened by their prognosis or mistakes they have made that bring them to this point in health, the fact is — loyalty is underrated and becomes very apparent when people are in need.

It’s very easy to be there for each other when things are going splendidly;  it doesn’t take much from us to stick around during the high times.  The reality hits when we are going through something, when physical, emotional or mental. The quality of love we have for each other, our loyalty is an important virtue.

We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.
G.K. Chesterson

In the Bible one of the greatest displays of loyalty is in the friendship between David and Jonathan.  (You can read more about that friendship here: https://rcg.org/youth/articles/1004-jad.html).  Even though Jonathan was charged by his father to find (and kill) David, Jonathan remained loyal to David to the end of his days.

Sometimes we can relegate loyalty to the back burner to avoid confrontation.  If someone is mistreating our spouse or friends, loyalty can be viewed negatively as it may require taking a stand.  However, when we fight for the people we care about, we show them how much they mean to us.

Never underestimate the power of loyalty in relationships.
After all, through our good and bad times, God always remains loyal to us.

DAILY PRAYER:  LORD, show me how to be loyal to my friends and family.  If they need my help, give me strength and wisdom in navigating difficult situations.  When my partner needs my support, help me to be aware of it and to stand by them.  AMEN. 

“Choices” — Lent, Day 13

fork

We are the sum of our choices.  Some are consciously made and some are made for us, but the majority of our daily decisions come and go with unconscious effort.  The proverbial forks in the road are not entirely noticed as we are swept into routines, habits and the auto piloting we all sometimes slip into.

As it goes the choices we deliberately make always seem to hold the most weight.  Most of the time we look back on the negative ones, analyzing their outcomes and ruminating on possible alternatives.  The what ifs.  Hopefully in doing this one can be objective, forgoing a sense of regret or feelings of bitterness.  The futility of changing the past aside, looking back and looking in can be a necessary step or steps needed to move forward, to learn and assist in future situations we find ourselves in.  Hindsight is foresight after all.  Ultimately, our schemes fall into the greater One, but to trust in this can be tricky when caught in a whirlwind of struggle.

It is easy to dwell on the bad choices made, but it’s important that we can reflect on the good ones too.  Perhaps there one may find a map or a set of directions.  The map of things done right.  May we allow ourselves to be steered by God toward deeper feelings of joy, accomplishment and success.  May we all choose wisely, or at least choose to choose wisely the next time.  The path with heart is there and always has been

DAILY PRAYER:  Lord, grant me wisdom as I face difficult (and easy) decisions in my life.  Steer me towards the path you have laid out for me.  I trust your plan for my life. Help me to learn from my mistakes so I can break free from unhealthy patterns and habits that may control me. AMEN.

-Matthew Duke