Friday, January 30, 2015

A Review of the "Blue Penguin and the Sensational Surf" DVD featuring George Takei as Blue Penguin

In Eileen Wacker’s seventh installation of the Fujimini Adventure Series, all the beloved animals of the island are buzzing with excitement. It is the grand opening of the new Fujilimini Island Swim and Surf school, and everyone is busy getting ready for the big day. Everything is going great, until news of a Kappa arrival hits the shore. A Kappa is a creature that can be found in Japanese folklore. Another name for the mythical creature is a “river-child”. The potential arrival of a Kappa is worrisome for the occupants of Fujimini Island because they are known for their naughty, mischievous behavior and tricks. However, the Blue Penguin is set out to impress with his surfing skills and does not want anything to get in the way of his perfect plan- including a Kappa- so he ignores the warnings and proceeds with his opening. And, of course, the Kappa does arrive to make some trouble, but the Blue Penguin is too busy showing off to notice. So when Silver Bunny goes missing, all the animals on the island will have to ban together to figure out a solution. 

This book provides humor and demonstrates valuable lessons as well as integrates elements of Asian culture and folklore. The author’s use of a Kappa is not only culturally significant but also very creative and unique, especially when it comes to children’s literature. Not only does the book teach a valuable lesson of the potentially negative effects of being a show-off (in the case of the Blue Penguin), it also demonstrates the value of teamwork, second chances, and peaceful conversation when trying to solve a difficult problem, rather than resorting to anger or violence. 

In addition to the book on paper, you can also bring the story to life through the DVD, featuring George Takei as the voice of the Blue Penguin. The DVD is an excellent way to draw children into the story, through both words and visuals. The voices are fun and fitting for the characters, which makes it even more enjoyable to watch. The use of animated books unites the learning reading provides with the fun pictures and sounds give. Overall, the DVD was extremely well done and an awesome addition to the Fujimini Adventure Series. I would recommend it to anyone looking to encourage a reluctant reader to become more interested in what books can offer. With the new additions of Ebooks and Books on DVD, a whole new window of learning opportunity is opened and hopefully will draw in many more little reading lovers. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Review of Lisa Genova's "Still Alice" by Author Eileen Wacker

Still Alice is one of the most potent and engaging books I’ve read in a long time. I devoured in one day, crying my way through the novel. I thought the writer was smart in setting up the story. It wasn’t beautiful life described and then goes bad. From the first scene, she forgets a word in a lecture and how to get home from a run. The reader is instantly drawn in. The characters around Alice, namely John, Anna, Tom, and Lydia, were developing precisely right. We knew just enough about them to make the story move. The reinforced and provided a mirror so we could see the sides of Alice more clearly.

Alice is an extremely accomplished woman by anyone’s standards. One of the most esteemed Psychology professors at Harvard. But it was interesting to see, even before the Alzheimer diagnosis, she had weathered challenges and shifted priorities a few times. She speaks of how her priorities shifted more than John’s after children. She changes them again when she discovers she is sick. She wants to sabbatical with John and she wants to be with her family. John is a very consistent figure. He works a lot. He has always worked a lot. He doesn’t work to hurt her but his passion for his work has always been his priority. Although Alice understands this intellectually, this still hurts her feelings. But he is extremely supportive at the same time. Liked the realism inherent in his character.

I loved the middle of the book as we see her disease and suffering through her lucid and non-lucid self. I had to put the book down when she wished she had cancer instead. It was very powerful. And telling her children. And the history with her own father. Her contemplated suicide. Her letter to herself. All compelling.

Finally, Still Alice was a smart read for me. I learned something. There was the right amount of technical language. The reader can absorb it but it doesn’t take over the story. The painful journey is story. I highly recommend the book and will definitely see the movie.

-Eileen Wacker

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova is now a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore. The film has won a variety of awards including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, a Critic's Choice Award for Best Actress, and a Screen Actor's Guild Award, and been nominated for even more.

The Origins and Rich History Behind Taekwondo

In honor of the upcoming addition to the Fujimini Adventure Series, Silver Bunny and the Secret Fort Chop, I took a peek into the rich history behind the Korean martial art. Viewed as both a martial art and a way of life, knowledge of the evolution of Taekwondo is extremely important when understanding the practice of the martial art itself. 

The name is derived from the three Korean/Chinese words “Tae”, meaning foot, “Kwon”, meaning first, and “Do”, meaning way of- so Taekwondo literally means “the way of the foot and fist”. Although the name wasn’t used until 1955, elements of the art has been in existence for over 2,000 years. Many historians believe that the roots of Taekwondo originated from the martial art form known as t’aekyon. It began to evolve after the introduction of several Chinese and Japanese techniques following Japanese control in Korea. After liberation from the Japanese, martial arts flourished with combinations of both Japanese and Korean styles and techniques.

It was then that the style of Taekwondo we know today began to develop. During this time there were five major martial art schools, also known as Kwans. They were the Mooduk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Change Kwan, Chungdo Kwan, and Songmu Kwan. Within the schools themselves, there was a wide variety of styles that differed greatly from school to school. 

So beginning in 1946, an attempt was made to unify and standardize training styles and methods. It was in April of 1955 that the unified style known as Taekwondo was born following a meeting between a board of instructors, historians, and prominent members of society. Then in 1962 the Korean Amateur Sports Association officially recognized the Korean Taekwondo Union, now known as the Korean Taekwondo Association

Today, Taekwondo has grown to an international sport and art that is practiced in over 190 countries. 2000 was a very exciting year for Taekwondo after being recognized as an official event in the Olympics

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Preparing For the Year of The Sheep

The Chinese New Year, one of the grandest and most important holidays of the year, is arriving February 19th, so before then there are some key things you can do to prepare! The Chinese New Year, sometimes referred to as the Chinese Spring Festival, has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years, originating during the Shang Dynasty in the 17th to 11th century BC. As you probably suspected, a holiday dating back that far in history comes with many traditions. A number of the traditions, of course, revolve around the time period when the holiday has officially begun, but some of them involve the days or even weeks beforehand. After all, a holiday this important requires some preparation! 

A huge part of the preparation and celebration of the New Year is to ensure that the upcoming year is a year filled with luck and happiness, so how exactly does one prepare to make their year the best one possible? Certain traditions repeat each New Year, but others depend on the Zodiac sign that will be represented during the upcoming year. 2015 welcomes the Year of the Sheep, more specifically the Year of the Wooden Sheep, so several of the preparations for this holiday will be unique from ones in the past. 

The key to winning the attention and empathy of the Wooden Sheep for a year of good luck and happiness is to understand what the Year of the Wooden Sheep means. As Eileen Wacker points out in her article, “Get Ready! The Sheep Are Coming”, the sheep are the artists of the Zodiac. They are kind, sweet, and generous. As a sensitive creature, the sheep is happy when surrounded by kindness and peace. If you know someone who is a sheep (anyone turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, or 72 this year), tell them you love them and you will be rewarded with loyalty and passion. 

In addition to the Five Elements, (Earth, wind, fire, water, and wood), colors are also often represented as part of the Zodiac signs. Since the sheep is a herbivore, green is the color that will be represented this year. This means that this year, all things green are good (yes, even vegetables for our picky eaters!). In the coming weeks of the New Year, drink green tea and embrace the peace and serenity that the sheep loves so much. 

The next way to prepare for the Year of the Sheep is a crucial one. Despite the association of sheep with farms, the sheep does not like anything to be dirty, but is rather quite a tidy animal. To please the sheep and welcome a year of good luck, be sure to de-clutter your home and office. Make room for the good luck to come by dusting and sweeping your entire home. In addition, clean out your closets and make sure the entrance way to your home is well lit. 

The next way to prepare for the New Year is a tricky one if you live in a cold part of the world, but still just as important. For a period of time each day all the way till February 19th, open your windows. This allows the “stale air of the past” to exit your home and invites the fresh air of new opportunities to flow inside. 

Use the time before the holiday to do some soul searching. Set some goals and figure out what you would like to accomplish this year. Remembering that the sheep loves peace, serenity, and kindness, avoid being moody and pessimistic this year. Also knowing that the sheep also loves generosity, perhaps donate things you don’t use anymore or don’t need while you are decluttering your home. Being as kind and positive as possible in the weeks leading up to the holiday will increase your chances of good fortune during this upcoming year. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Understanding the Meaning and Purpose of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Animal Signs

Most people have heard about the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals and may even know which sign is theirs, but many do not fully understand the origin, meaning, or purpose of the signs. The Chinese Zodiac and Lunar cycle can be confusing due to their intricate nature but as the Chinese New Year is approaching, it is important to understand exactly what they mean. 

Rather than January 1st, the day of the 2015 Chinese New Year begins February 19th because it follows the Chinese Lunar Calendar system, based on the movements of the moon. The coming of February 19th will mean the beginning of the 4712th Chinese year- wow!

The Chinese Zodiac was created as a system for counting years. The ancient time division was most often based upon the number 12; one ji equals 12 years, one year equals 12 months, and so on. This was most likely due to the fact that ancient people observed that there were 12 full moons in each year. So it makes sense that there would be 12 animal signs given to this counting system.

Where it starts to get even more complicated is that in addition to the 12 signs, the calendar is also connected to the five elements, (Earth, Water, Wood, Fire, and Metal). So each year is not only given an animal sign but also paired with one of the five elements. So 2015 is not only the Year of the Sheep, but more specifically the Year of the Wooden Sheep, because this year falls on wood for the five elements. This gives way to even more meaning and predictions for the upcoming year. 

The 12 Zodiac signs are purposed to represent a systematic plan of future events and actions, in other words it helps people to predict what is to be expected for that upcoming year. Or, if one knows their “sign”, it helps them to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and perhaps even their fortune. 

How Did the Chinese Zodiac Animal Signs Originate?

As the Chinese New Year approaches, we are reminded of the importance of the Chinese Zodiac animals and how each year is represented by a different animal sign. It is no secret that there is a long standing relationship between the Chinese culture and these 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac- but when did this relationship first develop? And what was its purpose? 

The Chinese Zodiac, also referred to as Sheng Xiao, was originally created as a counting system for counting the years according to the Chinese Lunar calendar. The ancient Chinese observed that there were 12 full moons per year, developing a link between time and astronomy- what many of us now may think of as astrology

It was during the Han Dynasty where the order and characteristics of the 12 animals became considered a direct influence on the lives of people. It became believed, and still is today, that depending on the year of your birth you became associated with one of the 12 zodiac animals and this knowledge could yield predictions on everything from your personality and habits to what kind of year lies ahead of you. 

The year of your birth, or your animal year, is known as your Benming Nian. Based on the Chinese New Year, your animal year only comes about every 12 years- making it a very special year for you! 

So if it is your animal year, how can you ensure that the fortune it brings about is good and not bad? The Chinese say the best way to ensure good fortune during the arrival of your animal year is to wear red on the New Year as well as a necklace purchase by someone else- it doesn't count if you buy it for yourself!