About Barbara H.

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Friday’s Fave Five

FFF birds on a wire

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

We’re at the last FFF of February already! It’s been a fairly comfortable week weather-wise. I haven’t gotten everything done that I wanted – I’ve discovered that sometimes after a very busy week, I’m not always up to par the following week. But other than that it has been a good week.  Here are the best parts of it:

1. Mittu’s birthday. Always a joy to celebrate my daughter-in-law.

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2. New bird feeders. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago using Amazon gifts cards I had received for Christmas. This was part of what I spent them on. One was to replace a “squirrel resistant” kind I had gotten at W-Mart which the birds didn’t seem to like. I don’t mind if squirrels nibble a little, but they tend to drain the things every other day. So I got a bigger version of a little one I had that the birds have liked. I didn’t take a photo of it. I also got this clear one that attaches to the window with suction cups. We had a small globe-shaped one there, but it was so small that occasionally a bird would get caught in there and flap around trying to get out. This is more open, so that shouldn’t be a problem. They haven’t found it yet, but I trust they will. One sad side effect of having to cut down our backyard trees last summer is that we have fewer birds around. 😦

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3. Getting out of jury duty – not me, but my mother-in-law’s caregiver. My husband wrote a letter about how much we needed her and what a problem it would be for us if she was out on jury duty, and she took it down to…wherever you go to take care of such things, and they removed her. Yay!

4. The Word Swag app. I normally only get free apps for my phone, but my son told me about this one. It costs a little bit, but I have used it so much it has more than paid for itself. You can search it for photos you want to use or upload your own, add your text, try out different fonts, filters, positions, etc. I use it often for graphics for blog posts, but earlier this week I used it for this excerpt from an Emily Dickinson poem:

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5. Four years cancer free. It was four years ago this week that my husband had a cancerous kidney removed. After I realized that, memories returned of some of the Lord’s mercies at that time. We had gone in to get a CT scan and biopsy of something else the urologist was concerned about that turned out not to be a problem at all. But the CAT scan revealed a tumor in Jim’s kidney. I happened to be there because Jim had been told he wouldn’t be able to drive home. That turned out not to be the case, either, but it allowed me to be there to hear the doctor’s discovery on the CAT scan, diagnosis, prognosis, etc. This kind of cancer does not respond to chemo or radiation, so he was spared either of those treatments. The only down side of that is that if this same cancer should metastasize, chemo and radiation would not work on it, either. Thankfully this kind does not usually spread. It’s not impossible, and I don’t take for granted that it won’t (though I hope and expect it won’t), so I am thankful each year for freedom from cancer.

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A word about “negative” book reviews

img_1931I’ve seen more than one blogger say that if they can’t write a positive review about a book, they just don’t write one. And I can appreciate that. But while I don’t want to come across as unduly critical and nitpicky, I think it’s important to be honest and disclose when a book has issues. Here are a few reasons why:

I appreciate honest reviews myself. A number of times I’ve gotten a book due to rave reviews from a blogger only to be surprised by a sexual scene or something a little off. When I look at Amazon reviews of a book, I look at a couple of the positive and a couple of the negative. Granted, some of the negative reviews there are ridiculous, but even that gives me an indication that if that’s the only bad thing someone has to say about a book, then it’s likely to be ok. On the other hand, I’ve saved myself the exposure to a sexual scene by reading some of those reviews.

Since readers have told me they have bought books based on my recommendations, I feel a responsibility for how I present them. Several readers have told me they appreciate my book reviews for that reason: they have a good idea what they’ll be getting into if they pick up a book I have reviewed. I would feel awful if someone read a book I recommended and then came back to me dismayed because they ran into something objectionable.

But I also like to be honest in my reviews in the hopes that the author will take it as a constructive criticism. I know most authors won’t see my reviews, though I have heard from a handful. And I have seen some authors’ blogs where they brush off any kind of criticism. In fact, one Christian author I don’t read any more due to sexual scenes in her books had a post expressing woundedness over the criticism she was receiving instead of taking it to heart. I don’t know why she feels compelled to be so explicit in books that are otherwise very good, but you’d think that, since readers object to it and she’s losing readers because of it, she’d scale it back a bit. Maybe she has more readers who say they like it.

If I were an author, I’d want to know if readers thought part of my book dragged in places or didn’t make sense or whatever. Hopefully most of those issues would have been worked out by having people read and critique the book before publication. But if any remained, I’d want to know to improve my future writing.

I tend to be a bit harder on Christian fiction, for a number of reasons. Books written for the King (which Christian fiction should ultimately be) are held to a higher standard. I’ve heard people summarily dismiss Christian fiction as being poorly written. I have to smile when they say that about all Christian fiction, because I think to myself, “You haven’t read it all.” There is some poorly written Christian fiction, but I wouldn’t say the percentages are higher for this genre than any other. Nevertheless, because I have heard it so criticized, I want it to shine and be the best it can be and prove the naysayers wrong. Also, since Christian fiction portrays spiritual truth to some degree, it needs to be in line with the Bible, or else it is not truly Christian fiction. I know there are some areas of controversy in Christendom, and I don’t have an issue with a different opinion in most of those cases. But when it comes to bedrock inarguable truth, like who Jesus is and how one comes to know Him, whatever a book shares about that needs to be clear. I said before in The Gospel and Christian Fiction that I don’t feel every Christian book necessarily has to have a conversion scene or to fully present the gospel, but whatever it does say needs to be clear and accurate.

And, obviously, Christian fiction should be the one place Christians can be assured of clean reading. That doesn’t mean there should be no sin in a book, as I said in Edgy Christian Fiction. You don’t have a plot without conflict and you generally don’t have conflict without sin. But how it’s presented makes a lot of difference.

No one likes everything about every book. When I read blogs whose book reviews are constantly filled with gushy praise, it makes me a little suspicious, especially if they disclose they’re getting their books for free in exchange for a review. It sounds like they’ve found a way to support their habit. I know that’s not always the case: some people are just naturally more effusive than I am. But I have gotten books based on those kinds of recommendations only to be disappointed.

I do generally avoid books that I don’t think I am going to like in the first place. That’s one reason I don’t usually accept unsolicited books for review. I get requests from time to time based on the fact that I write about books a lot, and at first I would check the sample chapter or link provided, and most of the time they’d be pretty awful. I’m not going to accept a book like that and then have to write negatively about it (besides already having plenty of books stacked up to read anyway).

So I am expecting to like most books I read and fully planning to write a positive review. But if I come across something that jars for some reason, I am not going to “trash” the book or the author, but I’ll likely mention it. Not every little thing: for instance, in one book recently, the author kept describing a certain expression by saying that the space between the person’s eyes narrowed. And I tried to picture what that would look like, and wondered if people could actually do that. It struck me as odd, especially as the author used that phrase several times over. If I were asked to critique a book, I’d mention something like that. But in a general review, that kind of thing doesn’t affect the overall quality of the story, so I don’t see a need to mention it.

My reviews here are different from what I’d write if I were writing for a magazine or newspaper. Those would be a lot more concise. Here, I’m reviewing the book but I am also writing down what I thought about it while it is on my mind so I can remind myself if I come back to it later.

Even in mentioning problems in a book, I try to express that in a civil way without sounding like I am just trashing the book or author. I have seen Amazon and Goodread reviews that would make an author cry for good reason. There is no need to be hurtful and go into attack mode.

I’ve also read reviews at these other places that reveal that the reviewer just didn’t “get” something about the book, and their negative opinion is based on a misunderstanding. I hope that is not the case with my reviews, but as I am human, it’s very possible. I do welcome different opinions.

So that’s why I sometimes mention negative features of a book. I don’t read with red correcting pen in hand just looking for things to disagree with, but if something stands out that I think affects the quality of the book, or that I think would be detrimental to readers, I’ll mention it in, I hope, as kind a manner as possible. Sometimes explaining that takes a bit more space than the good things I want to bring out about the book, but, unless the negative is really bad, I hope to portray the book in its best possible light.

 

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Book Review: These Happy Golden Years

happy-golden-yearsThese Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder covers the time when Laura, at age 15, starts teaching school, to the time of her marriage at age 18.

It’s incredible to us today to think of someone teaching at age 15, before they have even finished high school. I don’t think that was the usual course even then, but a need arose, and Laura had passed the teaching examination and was willing to go.

This term was one of the most difficult of her life. The school was twelve miles from her home, and she boarded with the superintendent. His wife was sullen, mostly silent, and seemed to resent Laura’s being there. Later Laura heard her complaining about everything, not just Laura, so she knew it was just that she was unhappy in general rather than just resenting Laura. The woman was probably clinically depressed from what I can ascertain. At one point in the middle of the night she threatened her husband with a knife, but he talked her down. The conditions of both the house and the school were fairly primitive. The walls and floor of the school had cracked through which the cold seeped in. Sometimes Laura let the students do their lessons around the stove. Laura never really liked teaching, but it was a way she could earn money to help keep Mary in the college for the blind.

She was concerned that her youth and small stature would be a problem in trying to teach and discipline students who were bigger and older than she was. And indeed it was, but her parents’ good advice and her own ingenuity helped her over those hurdles.

The only thing that made this time bearable was the fact that it was only for that one term, plus Almanzo Wilder came and picked her up every Friday afternoon, took her home, and brought her back every Sunday. When her students referred to him as her beau, she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, and told him she was just riding with him to get home, not because she had any interest in him. She expected he wouldn’t keep coming after that, but he did.

Finally the term was over and she was back at home, attending her own classes, which she had been able to keep up with by studying on her own. On weekends a lot of the young people paired up to go sleighing around town. Laura was feeling lonely and out of it when Almanzo came and asked if she’d like to go with him. Thus started a habit that continued on, riding the sleigh in the winter and the buggy in the spring and summer. Laura was not afraid even when Almanzo was breaking new horses in with the buggy, and she had to jump in as Almanzo could only pause for a few seconds before the horses took off again.

She taught two more terms of school in different places, continued with her own schooling, helped at home. Mary came home for a couple of visits. I enjoyed seeing Carrie mature and the relationship between her and Laura grow, as well as the rejoicing in the family when any one of them received something or had a good opportunity. Pa would have liked to move the family on again where the land was less settled, but he didn’t. Her descriptions of a couple of dresses Ma made, with all the detail, layers, lining, and bustle, made me very glad that fashions have changed since that time!

Almanzo was a quiet, not pushy, but persistent suitor. Laura didn’t give him much encouragement, as he was ten years older. At one point when someone called Laura a young lady, “she was startled” and had not thought of herself in that way and “was not sure she liked” it. But when Nellie Oleson tried to horn her way in to his attentions, I think perhaps Laura understood then just how much she actually did care for Almanzo. In Pioneer Girl, she wrote that after he had been away for a few months, “I hadn’t known that I missed him, but it was good to see him again, gave me a homelike feeling.” The way they got engaged was both sweet and funny.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when she’s admiring their new home, particularly the spaciousness and organization of the kitchen and pantry that he had crafted for her.

I very much enjoyed this reread of this book.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook

liw-cookbookWhen I saw The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook among the resources on Annette’s site, I had to look it up. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, but used copies are available. I got mine for less than $4.

This is different from The Little House Cookbook, compiled by Barbara M. Walker, which shares recipes mentioned in the Little House books. This book was the result of finding Laura’s “home-made cookbook, waterlogged and wrinkled” “among reams of the yellowed papers that are a witness to her writing life” (p. vi).

Her cookbook was in the form of a scrapbook, which I enjoyed since I did mine that way as well. But hers was literally made of scraps. “The Wilders were extraordinary in their thrift and ingenious in recycling useful items. Laura’s cookbook exemplifies her careful economy…Recipes were pasted over pages of a cardboard-covered invoice book used by Almanzo while he was a fuel oil deliveryman in the early 1900s” (p. vii) as well as a calendar page and the back of letters. I tried writing notes on the backs of used paper in college, while money was extremely tight, and I couldn’t stand it. 🙂 It just seemed too confusing and messy. But for Laura this was probably a lifelong habit stemming from when they didn’t have money to get extra paper, or in some places where they lived when she was a child, there was no extra paper to be had.

It contains her owned penned recipes, “clippings from newspaper food columns or magazines,” meal ideas, “cooking advice from her mother…and daughter,” and even a tip about setting colors in cloth to avoid fading.

This cookbook doesn’t include the cooking advice or tips, but it does include several of Laura’s recipes, photos of Rocky Ridge farm, where Laura and Almanzo lived the bulk of their adult lives, by Leslie A. Kelly, and some commentary by Laura biographer William Anderson. I enjoyed seeing the photos of Laura’s home.

I even learned some things about Laura’s adult life that I hadn’t known before, like how she came to write columns for the Missouri Ruralist (its editor was a meeting where Laura was supposed to speak about raising poultry, which she had been asked to do because of her success in that endeavor. She could not attend but wrote out her speech to be read there.) Plus she took in boarders for a while (which they actually did portray in the “Little House: A New Beginning” TV series). The house had a lot of windows, and Laura would have “curtains hung straight at the sides, leaving the views undisturbed…’I don’t want curtains over my pictures'” she explained. Rose remarked, “She has windows everywhere, not only in her house but in her mind” (p. 144). She had a “behemoth” cookstove “circa 1905” which served her “for over a half-century” (p. 46). They later added a little electric stove for use for something quick or when it was too hot to use the cookstove, but she generally preferred the latter. In fact, the recipes had to be configured and tested in a modern kitchen for the book so they’d be more accessible to those who wanted to try them.

I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Almanzo.”While the careers of Laura and Rose brought renown to the Wilder name in journalism and literature, Almanzo was known as one of Wright County’s best farmers. Making Rocky Ridge farm productive was not an easy task; much of the land was stony and untillable. But Almanzo worked magic with the stubborn soil.” He was written up in the news for having a cow that produced “twenty-four pounds of milk at one milking,” “heads of wheat over seven inches long,” and a “fifteen-inch tomato.” He was both “a judge and a participant” in the Agricultural Stock Show and won many prizes (p. 56).

The recipes are primarily good old American cooking – meat loaf, chicken pie, chicken and dumplings, various side dishes, breads, desserts and beverages – with a few “adventurous” foreign-influenced dishes. Some of the entrees are not what we would call heart-healthy today. 🙂 But I have a few marked that I want to try, as well as a few from the different sections. The recipe she shared when asked for a favorite was her gingerbread, which I’d like to try some time, as well as Lemon Spice Puffs, Lemon Sticks, Whole Wheat Bread, Scalloped Corn Kansas, Farmhouse Stew, Gingernuts, and Applesauce Cake. The only one I have made so far is the Apple Upside Down Cake in her honor for her birthday.  I think I’ll leave the Liver Loaf, Chilled Meat Loaf, Glazed Beets, Dandelion Soup, and Lima Puree to others, though. 🙂

Reading her recipes while seeing photos of her home and hearing tidbits about her life was like a little visit with her. I think any Laura fan would like this book as well as anyone interested in vintage recipes.

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Friday’s Fave Five

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It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Another week is down for the count. Here are the best parts of mine:

1. Valentine’s Day, both the sweet expressions of love from my family and the opportunity to do some special things for them. I shared more detail about it here.

2. Temporary fixes. On Wednesday my washer stopped working right in the middle of doing laundry. It would fill and drain but wouldn’t agitate or spin. I always hate to break such news to my husband, knowing it will involve time and/or expense to fix. When he came home, he unplugged and looked at it and he and Jesse Googled the problem and the make and model, and it looks like just a less than $10 part is needed, so that’s been ordered. And somehow he got it to work enough in the meantime to do a few small loads, so I got some essentials washed, and everything else can wait til the part comes in.

And I thought of the contrast between hearts and flowers and cards and candy on Tuesday night and dealing with broken washers on Wednesday, yet they’re all expressions of love that I appreciate.

3. Timothy magnets. We had a preemie NICU photo of him on the refrigerator, and Jason and Mittu got these more recent photo magnets done through Photo Barn.

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4. Chips and dip – just plain Lays chips and french onion dip. I probably need to find a healthier afternoon snack, but these have been hitting the spot recently.

5. Mammogram and bone density tests are not favorites in themselves, but it’s nice to get them done (one reason I am late posting today). And…I already got a phone call that the mammogram results are ok, an even bigger fave.

It’s been a busy few days, so I am ready to settle back with some coffee and a Valentine cupcake and visit with you! Happy Friday!

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Book Review: Two Roads Home

two-roads-homeTwo Roads Home by Deborah Raney is the second in her Chicory Inn series (the first was Home to Chicory Lane, reviewed last year). The series focuses on the Whitman family: empty nesters Grant and Audrey, who have turned their home into a bed and breakfast, and their four grown children and their families.

This second book focuses on oldest daughter Corinne, though all of the family is in the book. Corinne is married to Jesse, who has a good, well-paying job which allows her to comfortably stay home with their three daughters in a nice, big house. Jesse is very good-looking and very outgoing, and they’ve had talks about how sometimes women see his interactions as flirtations when he hasn’t meant them that way.

But on a business trip with a female colleague, it finally happens. He hasn’t led her on or flirted intentionally, but she acts towards him in ways that make him feel uncomfortable. When he confronts her and tells her that he is not interested and he is happily married, she turns the tables on him and files a a complaint with their boss against him for sexual harassment.

As Jesse and Corrine deal with the implications of this, several odd things begin to happen that make them realize that more than just Jesse’s job is under threat.

Part of the book reads like a mystery, but the part I liked best was the realistic interactions between family members. Though they all love God, they have misunderstandings or occasionally rub each other the wrong way, like we all do. Audrey wants to be the “quintessential grandmother,” but she feels her children don’t understand that running the inn is the equivalent of a full-time job. Two of the sisters’ housing situations is changing, one moving up and one moving down, and there are very human feelings portrayed there. Sometimes the siblings are too sensitive, sometimes not sensitive enough. I felt that their trying to work through these things in the best way was genuinely portrayed.

All in all it was a good read, and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

Genre: Christian fiction
Potential objectionable elements: The physical side of Jesse’s and Corinne’s marriage is mentioned a few times, but there is nothing explicit and no “steamy” scenes.
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Valentine’s Cards

We had a lovely Valentine’s Day. We’ve always made it a family day. We’ve tried once or twice going out for dinner, but the restaurants are so crowded it took a long time and wasn’t enjoyable. A few years ago for Valentine’s Day I used the recipe for Li’l Cheddar Meat Loaves but shaped the loaves into hearts, and that has become a tradition. (Note on the recipe: I use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs, only about 1 1/2 Tbs of brown sugar instead of 1/4 cup, and I omit the mustard because it gave it more of a BBQ flavor).

It’s also become a tradition to make heart-shaped cupcakes…

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..and peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s heart candies on top.

img_0083I received flowers and candy from my dear husband and cards from him and Timothy.

img_0084Jason and Mittu and Timothy also gave us these cute magnets from Photo Barn.

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I’ve also been making my own cards the last few years, and I know some of you like to do the same, so I thought I’d show them to you. I collect card ideas on Pinterest – I have one board for cards and one for Valentine’s Day. So when I have occasion to make a card, I’ll scroll through those for ideas plus the Cricut Design Studio. My generous husband gave me a Cricut Explore a few years ago, which can be hooked up to my laptop. They have “make it and take it” designs, which will allow you to cut the needed elements piece by piece and tell you how to layer them (the computer sends the design straight to the Cricut). Or, if you have an idea of your own, you can search for particular things, like “mug,” and it will show you several designs to choose from and then you can cut them out with the Cricut. So I peruse a lot of these ideas beforehand and see which one seems to “fit” the ones I am making a card for. I seldom copy a design exactly. Some times, like last Christmas, I don’t use the Cricut at all; this time I used it for every card. Of course, many things, like a mug, can be cut out without a machine like this. I can wing it with some things, but not so much with others. 🙂

So here’s what I came up with for this year:

For my husband:

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For my oldest son, who lives out of state:

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I had planned to put something like “Sending love your way…” on the front, maybe on one of the clouds. But I thought this looked balanced as is, so I put that on the inside.

For Jason, a coffee aficionado:

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For Mittu (it’s nice to be able to do one girly one. 🙂 ):

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I was particularly excited about this one for Timothy. He likes anything on wheels right now, and I had seen one design with a dump truck with hearts in it that I was planning on using. But when I saw the design for an excavator, I had to use it. He’s very much into excavators right now (and it is so cute to hear him say it) thanks to this guy, and can even name all the parts.

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I was thankful to find stick-on letters (for sale half price!) for that one and the next one at Hobby Lobby.

This was Jesse’s. From the time he was very little, he’s always had a bright, happy spirit, so this seemed perfect for him.

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And this was for Jim’s mom. My machine had some trouble with the small cuttings – I think maybe I need a new blade, but I didn’t have time to run out for one. There were four hearts layered for this one.

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I enjoy making these as my gifts to my family.

All in all we had a great day. 🙂