Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Taste of the Gunflint Trail by Women of Gunflnt Trail

I started cooking and baking before I was ten and received my first cookbook (Betty Crocker's Cookie Book) soon afterwards.  Since then I have collected over 400 cookbooks.  I am not sure exactly how many since I quit counting several years ago.  Occasionally I will force myself to part with some, but then I always get replacements.  Many have come as gifts, some are gifts to myself, and lately, I've even added some rummage sale finds.  Taste of the Gunflint Trail is an example of a cookbook I received as a gift - a birthday/Mother's Day gift from my oldest son's family.  For over a decade, my sons and some friends have traveled in May to Quetico Provincial Park in Canada for a week long canoe trip on Wilderness Lakes.  Since this trip usually happens over Mother's Day and/or my birtday, I've gotten treated to some nice gifts from Canada and the Boundary Water area. 

My favorite types of cookbooks are the ones that I can read cover to cover, the ones with some historical notes, family stories, or other written bits of interest.  The Gunflint Trail is of Minnesota wilderness lakes, some of which became part of the Boundary Waters.  The trail was home to many lodges, cabins, and outfitters, many of which had their beginnings in the early 1920's.  Some lodges were owned by the same families for twenty years or more, creating a rich, rugged heritage that can't be duplicated by today's vacation condo industry. While the summers and falls brought paying guests and long days of endless work, winters with no stores, schools, or even paved roads for over 50 miles brought isolation and hardship.  A Taste of the Gunflint Trail was a project undertaken to capture those stories of hard work, entrepreneurship, and love of nature before they were forgotten.  The book is dense with old photographs of the log lodges, their owners, and the scenery.  As I read, I felt like I was immersed in a photo album rich with local history.  Although I've nev

er been to the Boundary Waters, I have been a north woods fan since early childhood.  One of my earliest vacation memories is of our family and two aunts families vacationing in several cabins (complete with outhouses) on a northern Wisconsin lake.  I can imagine that hundreds of children (adults now for decades) who ventured to the Gunflint Trail have similar memories. 

And yes, there are recipes in this book, too.  Some are definitely in the historical category.  I will not be trying bear lard pie crust anytine soon, although the basic proportions of fat, flour, salt, and water are almost identical to my long-time pastry recipe.  Different cooks (usually the wives of the lodge owning couple) had special recipes that earned them culinary reputations up and down the Gunflint Trail and beyond.  Other recipes are simply family gems.  Now that I have savored the stories of the hardworking families that made the Gunflint Trail, I will finally search out a few recipes to share with my family.  And if you are interested in the trail, check out http://www.gunflint-trail.com/   First thing I noticed about the their website is the photo of a paved road winding through the trees.  I bet those early Gunflint businesses would have loved the luxary, or maybe not.

A Taste of the Gunflint Trail Cook Book

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine

  Birdie, in her late sixties, is shouldering the responsibility of raising two teenage granddaughters while shouldering the heavy trays of her morning shift at the local diner.  Despite some deservedly "sore, tired shoulders,"  Birdie also deems it necessary to be the main pillar of Butternut Creek Christian Church.  With a new, inexperienced minister (Adam) on the scene, Birdie finds the "mentoring" an almost full-time job,  especially when she and friend Mercedes decide the young pastor needs a wife.  Add in their concern for Sam Peterson, a wounded veteran, who has returned to his deceased aunt's home for life of self-pity and solitude, and you have a town ripe for a season of meddling. 

The quiet narration of this tale reminds me of Jan Karon's Father Tim novels.  I liked that the personal stories of Sam, Adam, and Birdie all get equal attention.  Supporting characters are also strongly developed, adding strength, compassion, and humor to the novel.  Twenty-five and right out of divinity school, Adam is seen as too young and inexperienced by Birdie and Mercedes (aka the Widows); at the same time, Adam is viewed at the oldster at the local pick-up basketball spot he finds for his stress relief.  The caring, determined Adam stays his course (the Lord's course) in both worlds, while also managing to be one of the forces that prods Sam Peterson from his self-inflicted prison.  The book moves steadily to a satisfactory conclusion with just enough unfinished business to keep readers interested for book two The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek (November 2012) and book three The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek 2013.  Jane Myers Perrine's website indicates that this will be a three book series.  I predict that the parsonage,(the large blue house on the cover) will be central to the action of the next books.. As Adam will attest, it is entirely too large for a bachelor and certainly is meant to be shared with those in need, a project he has just begun to undertake in this first book.   At this point, I would be interested in an even longer series than a trilogy as I am sure that Butternut Creek, along with Adam and his flock have many more stories to share. 
I received a preview copy of this title from FaithWords Publishing.  All comments and opinions are totally mine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick

Historical fiction can take us back to some of the world's most significant events or give us a bird's eye view of what may seem unevental ordinary life.  Had Hulda Klager, wife and mother, known that author Jane Kirkpatrick would write a fictionalized account of her life in Washington State from 1863-1960, she would have been surprised, but also pleased.  What made her life worthy of a novel?  Why did descendents and neighbors work to save her gardens and the decades old "Lilac Days" celebrations?  Read Where Lilacs Still Bloom to find out the answers..

Author Jane Kirkpatrick explains in her afterward to the book: Hulda was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary ability not only to see the details within individual plants so that she could breed for hardiness and resistance to disease in addition to color and size and scent, but also to imagine something more than the tiny pollen at the end of her turkey feather or smallest brush.  Her dedication to detail and the specifics of science and her artful imagination are what drove her to develop more and more varieties.  I like to think it was a gift she was given that enhanced through study, determination, patience, and love.

Hulda had a dream to develop better lilacs, aiming her sights on a creamy white one with 12 petals.  It would take decades of patient cross-breeding by hand and many set backs, many caused by floods, before Hulda would see her dream realized.  In our day of hybrid plants and animals, it is hard to visualize a time when her work would be criticized as messing with God's plan.  A historical contemporary of her's is Burbank and references to his work show just how revolutionary her attempts were. This book is a quiet book which shows the power behind a husband and a family's support toward a dream.  At times Hulda questions whether others sacrificed too much because she was so preoccupied with her quest, but it seems her passion was meant to be rewarded and fulfilled.  Glimpses of life in the early twentieth century and all the social changes it brought show through the narration.  Like other Kirkpatrick books I've read, the author follows the lives of seemingly ordinary people, certainly individuals overlooked in history books, to show us authentic snapshots of America's past.

Like many of you, I grew up with lilac bushes in the yard.  The varying purple colors and sweet smell shouted that spring was here (and my birthday plus the end of the school year were to closely follow). 
Unfortunately the giant bouquets my mother would place on the dining room table gave me headaches, so as an adult, I have shyed away from lilacs.  But I love them still, and ironically, my husband and I purchased a bush for the front lawn just days before starting to read this novel.  At the same time we bought some peony plants.  It is time for nostalgia in our gardens.

Kirkpatrick does not indicate that Klager left behind diaries or journals, so I must assume they are fictionalized thoughts attributed to Hulda, but I find them to be the heart and soul of this quiet, but interesting novel: Beauty matters, . . .,it does.  God gave us flowers for a reason.  I think so we'd pay attentionto the details of creation and remember to trust Him in all things big or little, no matter what the challenge.  Flowers remind us to put away fear, to stop our rushing and running, and worrying about this and that, and for a moment have a piece of paradise right here on earth.  God offers healing through flowrs and brings us closer to Him.

In this late spring/early summer time period, follow Hulda's wisdom.  Take time to enjoy your flowers or your neighbors' if you don't have any.  Find a public garden and appreciate God's creation and those human hands that labor to nuture such beauty.  To learn more about Jane Kirkpatrick's other books visit her website  I was given a copy of this title for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.

Where Lilacs Still Bloom

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ask Me Why I Hurt:The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them

Ask Me Why I Hurt  In 1999 young, naive, and enthusiastic Dr. Randy Christensen begged his superiors for the chance to head a new mobile clinic targeting homeless and forgotten teens.  Little did he realize the challenges, heartache, and positive changes that would come with the 38 foot revamped Winnebago.   It wasn't until I read Christensen's book that I realized the health dangers of living outside in a climate like Phoenix's - heats that soar past 100 in the daytime, followed by chilly nights, coupled with insects and snakes.  Everyday a homeless teen spends in the desert, parks, underpasses, and sewer runoff tunnels is a threat to their well being.  Countless times Christensen removed cockroaches embedded in ears which had caused rampant infections in compromised immune system.  Christensen tells his story with heartfelt compassion, written with modesty regarding his own accomplishments, and genuine humor to his occasional mishaps.  Within the pages are stories, we have already heard too often -- government bureaucracy and short sightedness getting in the way of truly helping individuals in need.  One young woman mentally ill with an obvious personality disorder was brought to the van over a two year period by other street kids watching out for her.  Randy and his staff could treat her for her cuts, infections, and daily needs, but could never get her into a mental health facility because she was too ill to give her real name and she no identification.  Without identification, she could not get Arizona's medicaid.  Without that, no facility would take her.  Law officials could no nothing because she did not present a threat to others. Another difficult passage to read about is his medical team's emergency trip to Lousiana following Hurricane Katrina.  I ached as he told of older poor people who had tried to get life sustaining prescriptions (heart, blood pressure meds) filled before the hurricane hit, only to be told by pharmacies that they couldn't fill the prescriptions because the required number of days hadn't elapsed.  As they waited, the hurricane hit, the pharmacies were ravaged or deserted, and the poor elderly were left behind with no medical care.  Anyone of you whose health would be compromised if your medications couldn't be refilled?  What if you didn't have the money to cover the cost if your insurance or medicare suddenly said "no" ?

 Randy's writing (as told to Rene Denfelt) covers a decade with the medical van and presents a well chosen mix of successes, failures, and personal family interludes.
You will be reminded that there are forgotten children, teens, and young adults in our country -- probably in each city and state.  Randy and Rene will introduce you to a powerful handful of people who care enough to choose jobs of service, rather than financial gain and prestige.  Join them on their personal mission of caring and healing.  This is a good read to kick us out of our comfort zones and to adjust our myopic vision of our world.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Story, My Song: Mother-daughter reflections on life and faith by Lucimarian Roberts and Robin Roberts

Lucimarian Roberts' name may be recognized as the mother of television personality Robin Roberts, but her own story earns her a place of respect and admiration all her own.  Raised in a struggling black family in Akron, Ohio, Lucimarian never saw poverty or her race as agents of certain failure.  Instead she placed her faith in God and set about using her unique musical talent to glorify her Lord.  In this short, but powerful book, Lucimarian looks back on her life.  Each reflection is accompanied by a hymn that had impacted her life and also by a short comment by daughter Robin. 

 As Lucimarian's alcoholic father lost one job after another, her mother turned to domestic jobs to keep the family fed. The young girl never pined for things or goals she could not have, but along the way, others saw her intelligence, drive, and talent.  A grade school teacher followed Lucimarian's accomplishments throughout her childhood and was instrumental in the high school helping the young black girl receive a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D. C.  I was very impressed by the structure and opportunity offered at this all black college in the 1940's.  One time First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended a tea there for young leaders of the school, and Lucimarian spent time chatting with the First Lad whose concern for all people stayed with Lucimarian throughout her life.

The book follows Lucimarian;s life from that troubled childhood to her years of opportunity in Washington, D. C. and throughout her adult life as wife of  career Air Force officer Larry Roberts and mother to their four children.   Larry was one of the original Tuskegee Air Men, only recently recognized for their WWII courage.  Twenty seven different moves marked their military career, most of them before the military was fully integrated.  Often the family would not be able to find housing on base, and many times Larry was the only black officer, making Lucimarian the only black wife.  But in every community, the family found a place to worship, found a place within the community, and quietly changed perceptions.  The strength of the family's faith in God's plan is evident in every move.  This is not a book relating how badly minorities were treated (which they were), but a book that recognizes God's hand in changing people's attitudes and His personal hand in caring for this family.  Lucimarian explains it this way: I have found the best way to change a person's prejudice is to model a Christlike life.  Only then are we able to rise above bitterness, anger and revenge.  After all, God is the Creator of us all, no matter what the color of our skin. Most interesting was her description of how the family made a home when in Turkey, even making friends with Muslim neighbors.  Most poignant is the death of Larry in 2004, the 2005 hurricane that devastated her home, and Robin's public battle against breast cancer.

Now in her 80's. Lucimarian herself faces health issues and  the inability to live alone.  Yet daily she goes to her piano bench, which she describes as her refuge, the place she goes to meet with God. 
This book would have made a lovely Mother's Day gift as it is an affirmation of the power mothers have in shaping their family's view of life and God. Most older readers will enjoy looking back at Mrs. Roberts' extraordinary life.  At the same time, I think younger people should read titles like this to appreciate those who have chosen modeling Christ rather than embracing the latest blame game.

I found myself thinking of my mother solid influence often as I read the book.  I was also busy highlighting sections to reread.  This is a small book with BIG impact!! I give it a five star recommendation.  I received a copy of this book for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.
My Story, My Song

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hearts that Survive:a Novel of the Titanic by Yvonne Lehman

Hearts That Survive
With the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic disaster, books and movies about the event are again popular.  Hearts that Survive: a Novel of the Titanic by Yvonne Lehman is one of the many new fiction titles.  Among its strengths, Hearts that Survive focuses on an under-covered aspect of the  tragedy – what happened to survivors after they left the lifeboats, boarded the Carpathia, and landed in New York City.  In Lehman’s ambitious novel, young heiress Lydia mourns a young love, but buries her grief to make a calculated, necessary decision to marry Craven, her railroad tycoon father’s top assistant.  Meanwhile a budding friendship with Caroline and her servant Bess, born on the luxurious ship and solidified on the lifeboat, grows into a true kinship.  Author Lehman  places much of the action in the Halifax, Nova Scotia community which undertook the gruesome task of retrieving floating bodies and possessions. 

Just as the tragedies of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the recent tsunamis have evoked shocked questioning of God’s presence from some, while fortifying the deepest beliefs of others, the novel’s characters voice similar reactions.  Especially strongly developed was Caroline’s decision to change the focus of her life from pampered wife (now widow) to a life of service and caring.  Her new life in Nova Scotia, thanks to a gentle lawyer, Armand is another of the book’s strengths.  However, since the novel covers a 50-60 year span, I felt the progression of the story jumped ahead with “telling” or “relaying” of information instead of actually showing it.  This was especially true in the story of Lydia and her family.  The narration style of the book let’s us see or understand the thoughts of all the characters except one – Craven.  It is always through Lydia’s thoughts and heart that we see Craven.  Therefore many of his actions remained unclear to me.   Did he love Lydia and her son unconditionally, or were his actions always calculated measures to ensure his financial and social success?  In a novel which centered only on that one couple, such mysterious confusion could be a strong writing element, but in a book which covers so many different people and generations, I felt not showing us Craven’s own perspective was a flaw.  I will admit that the author gave us plenty of actions and clues to consider.

As I’ve said already, I really enjoyed the new information (new for me at least) about Nova Scotia’s role in the aftermath of the iceberg.  However, on the whole, I felt the novel tried to do too much within the framework of the story.  The relationship between Caroline and Bess hints at the social class shift that took place in the early twentieth century, but then Bess becomes Caroline’s housekeeper and marries.  Is a change from personal maid to housekeeper really a significant social change?   Later the author tackles the dark side some survivors suffered, but she does it in the span of a few pages as the life of one young survivor is pieced together by an adult son.  This revelation was an important part of the “Hearts that survive” theme, but it comes too late in the novel and seems to be another add-on, not a true component of the book.

Using the familiar 5 star rating, I’d give this a strong 3, possibly a 3.5 – certainly worth the reading time, but not my favorite read.  I received an e-copy of this title for review purposes.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover

The Quickening  BBF - In the modern language of those who text, these letters conjure the image of friends so closely connected and dear that they will never part.  We also imagine that such friendships are based on similarities of heart and mind, a oneness that can be closer and longer standing than many  marriages.  Some of us are blessed with such deep friendships and others aren't.  Some of us had such friendships in childhood, but they faded with physical distance and the demands of adult life. 

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover is a story told by two women, but neither would understand or use the BBF label to describe how they are connected for over 40 years.  They share many of the most significant events of their lives, but not because of a friendship forged from similarities or fondness.  Like many women (and men, for that matter), circumstance and proximity brought them together.  Two lonely women on struggling midwest farms in the early twentieth century, both Endina Current and Mary Morrow embrace their early married years with dreams of possibility, only to see such hopes dulled by years of hardship and disappointment.  Mary and "Eddie" are a rocky, but significant support system for each other until the Great Depression and an unpopular government farm program begin to drive the families apart.  A fatal horse accident deepens the wedge.

Eddie and Mary alternate narrating this novel, and this format makes it perfect for an audio book, which is how I enjoyed the story.  Hoover's style is rich with the women's unique thoughts and observations, often sights, smells, and sounds that would never be present in a "modern tale."  The Quickening is a tale of motherhood and marriage, complete with stength and weakness, regrets and acceptance.  Those who must have a tale with a sweet tidy ending will not embrace this story.  If you like a deeper literary story with the untidy realism of life, then discover Michelle Hoover. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly created and produced the Food Network show Dinner Impossible and has co-authored cookbooks with his wife Virginia O'Reilly.  Angelina's Bachelors is another joint effort with Brian writing the fiction story and Virginia supplying the tempting recipes. Both Angelina and her husband Frank work for the same construction company and despite having been married for years with no children,  the couple has settled into a comfortable, loving life.  Then late one night Frank leaves bed with a hint of indigestion, heads to the kitchen for a drink, and dies -- but not before tasting just a bit of Angelina's new chocolate icing.  Left a widow too soon, Angelina has not even begun to handle her grief when the financially strapped construction company eliminates her job.  Perhaps the best scene in the book is the night that sleepless Angelina cooks and bakes her way through the dark and lonely hours.  As the resulting feast makes its way into the homes and stomachs of her neighborhood, a new business venture rescues Angelina.  Six days a week she will prepare breakfast and evening dinner for a mismatched group of bachelors, who soon become the family the young widow needs.  All is well until the city sends Angelina a cease and desist letter for operation an illegal eating establishment. 

This novel is rich with recipes and even richer with Italian family loyality.  Adding recipes that accompanies a fictional plot is nothing new, but the O'Reillys have made their recipes a prominent part of the story.  The authentic Italian recipes are so laden with ingredients and specific directions (methods) that the recipes are often more than four pages.  I have to confess that I read the first recipes in detail, but after I realized that most recipes contained ingredients I don't purchase or even have access to (veal, unusual cheeses, etc), but soon I began just skimming the recipes. I did appreciate their inclusion as education in Italian cuisines, especially those recipes prepared at Christmas.  I also disliked that sometimes the recipes appeared within chapters, not at the end.  I found this disrupted the story flow.  In all the story was a pleasant read, but I felt the "surprises" of the story were all expected and left the reading experience a little flat.


Interesting side comment: 
Have you noticed all the popular books with food themes in the past couple years? We've been told over and over that modern families do not have time to cook or to even eat together, yet books and blogs are multiplying that highlight the connection between preparing food and appreciating family and all that life has to offer. Perhaps we are being nostalgic or maybe these books will have a positive effect on our habits .  Even the apron has made a comeback, at least on book/magazine covers.  Of course I grew up in the age of aprons.  All my great aunts and my grandma wore aprons.  My mom even did when I was little.  And special occasions like weddings or showers always meant fancy aprons for those who poured punch or served cake.  Some of my first sewing projects were aprons.  Once my grandkids started joining me in the kitchen, I started wearing a chef's apron.  Since two of the girls came home with me from my job at school, we would often begin supper or baking projects right after work.  An apron meant I did not have to change clothes before starting. I am a messy cook, so I gladly embrace the return of the apron.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Support Your Library

Throughout this economic crisis I have read about libraries from Washington State, California, Boston, and even Great Britain that have faced devastating cuts and even closures.  Juxtaposed with those news articles are other articles detailing just how important neighborhood libraries have become, especially to those families who cannot afford internet connections.  Libraries have also become job search centers and community education nuggets, rich with local people sharing their expertise with fellow citizens.  I can't help but think that Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie, great supporters of libraries, would smile at the great activity in today's libraries at the same time that they wonder in bewilderment at the closings and cuts.  I've also read dire predictions that libraries will have no function by the end of this decade - all books will be e-versions, newspapers won't exist, and we can get all information through our televisions, laptops, phones, and tablets.  If libraries do exist, they will simply be kiosks, no shelves needed.  I certainly can't tell the future, but I know that libraries changed significantly in the eleven years I was a school librarian, and if you go all the way back to when I was in college for library science (1971), there are even greater differences.  However, I want everyone to consider the extra costs that technology have brought to our family budgets, along with their convience.  Cable or satellite bill?
Cell phone bill? Internet bill?  Netflix or satellite radio bill?  Apps or downloaded e-books?  Are we near the point where we will have to pay for every bit of information that we receive? If that becomes the norm, who determines what the messages are? Some pundits worry that such a time will signal the end of democracy. In a world in which we seem to be bombarded by information at every turn, such a thought appears prepostorous, but do you ever wonder about the source of your information?
What if all information came from only one or two sources, who also kept track of everything you searched and read? 

These thoughts have been in my mind  as I wandered back over dozens of editorials and opinion pieces I've read during the past months from newspapers around the world -- all thanks to an e-newsletter for librarians.  I didn't really intend to get so serious here, but I wanted to spur each of you to think about your public library.  If you use it, continue to do so, and make sure your support is vocal and visible. (More about that in a second).  If you tend to buy all your reading materials, check out your local library.  Do they have the type of books you like to read?  Ask how your library handles e-books and borrowing books from other libraries.  When I request a book from interlibrary loan, I often have it in a matter of days.  Make suggestions for new titles. 

My last thought for the day --  Find out if your local library has fund raising opportunities and support them. Naturally as taxpayers, we realize that libraries are not free, but publically supported. Most libraries try to supplement their basic budgets with wise fund raising.  I know we are asked to support a couple different causes each day and must make choices, but I can assure you that any way you support your library will have lasting results.  Our little community gets behind library fund raisers in a big way.  In fact, that is how we got our library building.  Usually the fund raisers involve food (cookie walk, spaghetti dinners) and local talent (silent auctions of crafted items).  Right now we have a spring silent auction with over 60 items up for sale.  This draws people into the library to bid and the activity is exciting.  Here is a link to the items, all garden themed, that are up for sale.  Gallery of photos  Unfortunately, you'd have to come to the library to bid.  I just wanted to share how supportive and creative a community can be.  And yes, I do have some items in the sale, but won't identify them.  They are too many other really creative donations.
If you have some new fund raising ideas, let me know.

Spring chores, grandchildren's concerts, and appointments have filled the calendar this week, but I will try to squeeze in reading time, so I can make a new book post.