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Friday, October 24, 2014

Pumpkin Cornbread Recipe (w/ recipe book giveaway!)


Remember this cookbook which I reviewed last week? I've been using it almost exclusively just these past few days and have made some headway on trying out the recipes. We have enjoyed everything we've tried so far which includes:


  • Harvest Pumpkin Soup
  • Pumpkin Cornbread
  • Spaghetti with Peppers, Onions & (Italian-style) Sausage (pumpkin & tomato based sauce)
  • Pumpkin Walnut Biscuits
  • Roasting our own pumpkin. (I had help with this. I watched and learned this time 'round. I'm less intimidated now than I was before.)


We had some out-of-town company this past weekend and I had made up the pumpkin spaghetti sauce ahead of time for trying out with them. Everyone to a person loved it! And the pumpkin cornbread really is amazing.

And that brings me to the point of this post. One of you asked for the recipe and so I checked with the publisher (Storey) who gave me permission to post it. (This stuff was so good that we ate the entire pan in one sitting. It could pass for yummy cake almost!) Without further ado, here are the instructions as provided in the book:

*****

PUMPKIN CORNBREAD

Ingredients:
 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup ground cornmeal
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup nonfat milk
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon honey mixed with 1 tablespoon melted butter (optional, to brush on baked loaf)

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5" loaf pan with oil.
2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, until thoroughly mixed.
3. Whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, butter, and milk in a smaller bowl. Quickly mix this into the flour mixture until just combined. Gently stir in the walnuts.
4. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and slightly separated from the edge of the pan, and a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and brush with the glaze, if using. Cool completely before slicing with a serrated knife.

*****

Notes: I usually use stevia instead of sugar and decrease the amount of sweetener, despite the fact that that is an insult to my Texas roots. I did not do so this time though, which is why it could pass for cake!

Also, I think cornbread served as a loaf of bread it somewhat odd so I put it into a 9 x 12 Pyrex dish and cooked it for roughly 35 minutes instead.

Now, besides giving away a recipe to everyone, Storey has also offered to give away one copy of Pumpkin, A Super Food to one of you! Simply leave a comment (including a valid e-mail address) to be entered into the drawing. This contest is open to U.S. Residents only and will be open through Friday, October 31st.

Enjoy!

Again, many thanks to Storey who sent me a copy of the recipe book in order to facilitate a review. I received no further compensation for these posts and all opinions are my own (i.e., I really do like the recipes!). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How I Know God Answers Prayer, by Rosalind Goforth

This month's book club reading for the Reading to Know Classics Book Club is How I Know, God Answers Prayer. Author and missionary Rosalind Goforth introduces the book with the following statement:


"The pages of this little book deal almost wholly with just one phase of prayer - petition. The record is almost entirely a personal testimony of what petition to my Heavenly Father has meant in meeting the every day crises of my life."

I think that the fact that this book is a personal testimony and not scriptural instruction on prayer is an important clarification to make right from the get-go. If you are expecting a book that teaches more about what the Bible says concerning prayer then you will most definitely want to look elsewhere. If you like hearing personal testimonies, then this might just be the book for you.

I do have to say that my church background made this something of a difficult book to read and enjoy, personally speaking. As her personal experiences influences her thoughts and words, so mine also have a marked effect on me. This is not something that anyone can avoid but, rather, expected.  I appreciate that Goforth wants to share her stories but at the same time I can't wholly appreciate the manner in which she communicates her story. I'll try to explain why below.

First I should tell you that I struggle with missionary stories. Why is that, you ask? Aren't missionary stories beneficial to hear? Yes, I think so. However, I've seldom been exposed to missionary stories without an attempt being made to guilt me into becoming a missionary myself. Yes, yes, I am familiar with the verse which says we are to go out into all of the world and make disciples of all nations. I fully concur (because it would be stupid of me not to) but I don't think that missionary work can only take place 10,000 miles from your original home. Nor do I think that this issue of sharing one's faith needs to be such a cerebral argument. If you live your life fully alive to Christ right where you are, people will notice. It is inevitable. (Unfortunately, this is inevitable.) You are constantly living out a testimony before your household and your immediate neighborhood.

When people sit down with me (personally or as with an audience) and start trying to argue me into "going forth into all the world" I usually want to stand up and scream. (Just offering proof of my incredibly inspiring attitude, folks.) Living for Christ isn't rocket science. Thank goodness. What it is is obedience. For some most of us obedience means walking with Christ as you serve your own family a meal. It means that when you borrow a neighbor's tool and accidentally break it, you go above and beyond in offering to pay and replace it (no grumbling involved!). It's in taking a meal to the shut-in or spending an hour with a needy friend who longs for an ear to listen to their struggles. You are always witnessing to someone. (And if that doesn't already fill you with terror then I'm not sure what will.)

This all to say, I don't seek out missionary stories as a general rule because I know I am not called to go overseas for Christ. Now that I have you all wondering whether or not Goforth makes any such pleas, let me say that she did not. I just have to take the time to tell you that I have a hard time with missionary stories before I embark on telling you my opinions on this one, specifically. (I do have nice things to say about this book, by the way, but you might have to wait a second for them.)

I do have one additional issue with missionary stories and that is that sometimes missionary stories are so fantastical that they depress ye olde average Christian. Amazing things seem to happen to missionaries that never seem to happen to me. Now, this is not a problem. I do not mind this or begrudge them their experiences. However, I tense up when a see/hear of a Christian reading a missionary story and taking it upon themselves to revolutionize their own prayer life and "common existence" in order to prove that they are also the Lord's and are doing the Lord's work. In a way, I almost urge caution in reading missionary stories. You may or may not be called to a foreign mission field but if you aren't, you shouldn't feel bad about this. Live fully for the Lord right where you are. That might just be God's good plan for you.

The stories which Goforth relates to testify to the fact that God answers prayers are sometimes fantastical and oftentimes general notes of met needs. Obviously, God can do as he likes and if He wants to answer certain prayers in jaw dropping fashion He is welcome to do so and you won't find me trying to stop him. Yet at the same time, I'm still cautious about spending too much time focused on fantastical experiences. Why? Please let me explain.

To give you a little background on my own personal experiences and how they effect my reading of this book you should know that for first several years of our marriage we attended a charismatic church. We made many friends there and we liked the people very much but we did find the theology very watered down to the point where it was almost useless. (Flashing Red Note: I'm not saying that all charismatic churches are filled with watered down theology because I don't believe that to be the case. I can only tell you that it was true for the church we attended. Also I can't really apologize for saying so because all evidence which has come forth from said church testifies to weak theology.) This was a church full of people who were frequently swayed by the energetic winds of others. If someone came in and said, "I have raised the dead to life" (which, by the way, this happened) others in the church thought that they were capable of doing the same thing, to the pain and angst of others. And this could be a really long tangent so let's try to move along and allow me to simply say, I hesitate to read fantastical tales because I have seen the influence such stories have on other people who hope that they will experience fantastical things too. (After all, it's admittedly much more exciting to raise a dead person to life than to clean your bathroom in order to bless your dinner guests.)

Anyway, the point of all of the above is to say: I was on edge from the get-go with this book, wondering what sort of evidence Goforth was going to present to suggest a good prayer life. I was quickly met with reason for concern when I read the following passage. Goforth was talking about how she had a toothache that she didn't much like and so she thought to make a bargain with the Lord. She writes:

"Lord Jesus, if you will take away this toothache right now, now, I will be your little girl for three years."
Before the prayer was well uttered the pain was entirely gone. I believed that Jesus had taken it away; and the result was that for years, when tempted to be naughty, I was afraid to do what I knew was wrong lest, if I broke my side of what I felt to be a compact, the toothache would return. This little incident had a real influence over my early life, gave me a constant sense of the reality of a divine presence, and so helped to prepare me for the public confession of Christ as my Saviour a few years later, at the age of eleven."
Now, I am not discounting the fact that the Lord took away her toothache at all. But I would quickly point out to believers that God sometimes chooses to heal us and sometimes doesn't. Either which way, He doesn't require that we make deals with Him to bring healing about the thing we want, and we ought not to try and bargain. Jesus completed the bargaining process when He died on the cross in order to forgive us all of our sins and conquer sin and its effects - once and for all. There is no need to wheel and deal with God. I'm afraid that people reading this part of Goforth's testimony will think that bartering life experiences with God is a good and holy thing to do. She has the wrong idea here about who God is and who she is which I find regrettable.

It is here that I'll confess that when I was little, I made a bargain with God. I failed to keep up my end of the deal. (I know. You are surprised.) My failure made me feel guilty for years, literally. I prayed God would save my soul no less than 100 times, I am certain, based on my failures alone. If I had vocalized my fears of damnation, I am quite certain my parents would have set me to rights. However, when we bargain with God we seldom let onto others about it, so they don't understand the deep depression we fall into when our humanity shows up weak. Christians, remember the cross! With it, God bought you. You will never fall out of His hands. You are safely His forever, even if you find yourself with a persistent toothache. Your health and current life situations do not change your standing in Christ. Quit thinking it has anything to do with you. It has everything to do with Him. That should be a freeing thought and not a guilty one. It allows you to obey with joy and gladness, instead of guilt based on a ridiculous obsolete bargain. (Note: I am not saying that we do not have sins in our lives that require that we confess and deal with them; obedience is required whether the "thorn" is removed or remains. What I am saying is that if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you need not fear that you have the ability to fall out of His care and most certainly your aches and pains should not be things with which you attempt to barter.)

In having shared this excerpt, it would be remiss of me not to offer her counter-balance, which she offers near the end of the book. Mrs. Goforth relates the story of praying for a very sick boy who was near death. She gathered people together to pray for him and wrote this of the experience:

"I told them plainly that I could not say that it was indeed the Lord's will to heal the boy; all that was clear to me was that we must obey as far as we had light, and leave the rest in God's hands for life or death."

I agree with her follow-up remarks. We must obey God and pray to Him but also leave the results in His hands, knowing that whatever He has ordained is right. Our job is simply to believe in Him. This does not mean sorrow will never cross our paths. On the contrary, sorrow will become friends with us at some point or another. But again, this does not change our standing in Christ. To say it a little differently: Trust and obey. There is no other way.

An additional point of interest to me,  as relates to Goforth's theology, was in her telling the story of a man in China by the name of Mr. Wang. Mr. Wang was a proud and overbearing sort until he confessed his position as a sinner and Christ's position as Savior. The manner which God used to bring about repentance is one that is rather foreign to us in these modern times: God used a dream. Goforth writes that it was not uncommon for people's consciences to be awakened to the truth through dreams.

"This man, later on, became Mr. Goforth's most valued evangelist. For many years his splendid gifts were used to the glory of his Master in the work among the scholar class in the Changtefu district. He has long since passed to his reward, dying as he had lived, trusting only in the merit of Jesus Christ for salvation."
Here is where I differ from the more conservative among us. Many say that God no longer communicates with people in dreams. I actually don't agree with that. I believe that God's power and abilities are not limited by what I think He can do or not do at any point in history. I think it would be prideful and misguided to places limits on His powers, saying that He no longer speaks in dreams and visions in these modern times. (Also, I would say that He could raise the dead today if He wanted to. It would surely be miraculous and could totally happen. But we don't see it happening these days. That's neither here nor there for me. My main point is that if He wants to, He can.) I fully believe that God has spoken to me in dreams. During the time period in which we were attending the aforementioned Charismatic church, I dreamed a few dreams that were deeply encouraging and spiritually uplifting to me. No, they did not foretell the future. They were not visions of things unseen. Rather, they simply encouraged and blessed me, giving me courage to face challenges that were then in my life. I have also been convicted in dreams before. In summary of this point, I do not discount God's ability to use dreams and I find stories about God using dreams in this modern age rather fascinating.

The next incident she listed I found amusing. I have to find it amusing and I can't find it anything but. I'll explain why in a moment (if it's not obvious):

"One evening my husband returned from an evening meeting, which I had not attended, and told me of a woman who had come to him in great distress. She had been an earnest Christian worker, but love for light, trashy fiction had so grown upon her as to work havoc in her Christian life. She had come to Keswick three years in succession, hoping to get victory, but had failed.
My whole soul went out to the poor woman; I longed to help her."

Three evenings later Mrs. Goforth did happen to meet this woman, but did not immediately recognize her.

". . . I noticed [this woman] was in great distress, her tears spilling fast. I laid my hand on hers, and she grasped it convulsively. At the close of the meeting I said, "Can I help you?"
"Oh, no," she replied, "there is no hope for me; it is those cursed novels that have been my ruin."

. . .

Scarcely able to speak for emotion, I told her, and also of my prayer. For the next few moments we could only weep together. Then the Lord used me to lead the poor crushed and broken soul back to Himself. As we parted, a few days later, her face was beaming with the joy of the Lord."

I snicker again. It would be helpful if Mrs. Goforth had provided some examples of what kind of "light, trashy" fiction this poor, dear woman was reading. Was it Dickens?  Austen? We can have no idea.

It is true that some Christians believe that you ought not to read anything but the Bible. There are others who put strict limits on what types of fiction that they will allow themselves to read. I disagree with the former sorts completely, but have sympathy for the later. You do need to choose your reading materials wisely and well because what you read will have great influence over your thought processes and therefore your life! But do read. And I hope you will read without feeling massive guilt for having enjoyed the read.

Now that I've spent the majority of this post blasting the book, let me share two things which stood out to me as being very encouraging.

One is this:

"It is true that 'There is nothing too great for God's power'; and it is just as true that 'There is nothing too small for His love!'"

True! This is a good reminder. So often we're tempted to think that we can't approach God with things we deem Him to find insignificant. I believe He wants us to communicate our cares and concerns in every situation with Him. If we are honest about our feelings of frustration when waiting in a line to fill up our cars with gas, He can work with that just as well as if we are mourning the death of a loved one.  Honest emotions presented to the Lord over any matter are good and useful. In the hands of the Redeemer, absolutely not one little moment is wasted. Not a single one.

The biggest encouragement for me in this book came out of mixed statements that were made by both Mr. and Mrs. Goforth. Mrs. Goforth occasionally feared for her children's health and safety and wanted to keep them out of harm's way, even if that meant she would refrain from doing missionary work herself for a time. Mr. Goforth would (kindly, I think) argue that if she did not obey the Lord in her calling, then he "feared for the children" (meaning if they did not obey the Lord, he fully expected harm would come to their offspring).

Rosalind gives an example of a time when she wanted to keep the children healthy and safe and refrained from travels. "As a result" several of her children came down ill and one ultimately died. Mr. Goforth encouraged her with this (which was also encouraging to me, albeit under drastically different circumstances):

Mr. Goforth said:

"The safest place . . . is the path of duty."

This is good for me to hear for I am inclined towards worry. The flu. Ebola. ISIS. Badly canned green beans. Thieves that break in at night and steal. Death. Bridges collapsing while my car is driving over them. You name it and I've probably worried about it.

The past few days I've been reflecting on the idea that the safest place is in the path of duty. To rephrase that, the safest place is in being obedient to God and that includes "simply" obeying His commands not to worry because it doesn't actually add any additional years of life to my person or any cubits to my stature (in the right direction, I mean). "Ironically," the times in which I have been obedient to what He was asking of me - even though I personally deemed the situations  "unsafe" - turned out to truly be the safest thing. Much reward comes from obedience. Much regret follows disobedience. Allow me to also quickly say though that I do not believe that God is sitting around with an intent to harm me or my kids if I do not obey. Certainly there are always consequences for both action and inaction and plenty of scriptural passages which indicate that you will be most blessed when you choose obedience. However, I do not believe that I will be thrown from His hand if I choose disobedience. I'm back to where I started up above - my job isn't to sit around bartering with God. These are required of me as I set about pursuing His will for my life: belief, trust, and obedience.

And so I will conclude my very long thought processes on this book. I have been sitting on this post for a good week, editing and re-editing, trying to close up loop holes and address silent arguments. This post reflects my best effort to communicate my beliefs, knowing that there are still likely gaps which are not obvious to me. I welcome comments and discussion, so long as it is polite in tone.

To answer the question of whether or not I am glad I read this book well, yes, I am always glad to have finished a book. I especially like short ones which prompt so much internal debate, which this one did. Perhaps I cannot say that I loved it at face value, but I do appreciate the issues it brought up for me to grapple with.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Monday, October 20, 2014

Brer Rabbit :: A Controversial Figure

Warning: Long post. There was no way around it.

A few weeks ago, publishers and readers were celebrating Banned Books Week. I saw people online taking up the cause for banned books and encouraging the rest of us to do the same. I thought about reposting something on behalf of those declaring the right to read any book they liked but, upon reflection, I realized I couldn't do that and be consistent with my own beliefs at the same time. The fact is that there are, quite frankly, several books I would like to "ban". I think there is some sense to the idea of banning a book if you believe that words have power to influence, which I believe that they do.

Let me quickly follow up that last comment with the further clarifying statement that, although I believe it makes sense to ban books, I don't believe that governments should be the ones deciding which titles we, the people, should be given access to. I think individuals should retain the rights and capability to ban books for themselves and for their soul's health. Furthermore, I think I should have the right as a parent to ban certain books from my home and/or from my children's education experience. When my kids grow up they can make their own reading decisions as I will no longer be responsible for their reading choices. But for the time period in which I am responsible, I think it's a good idea to use wisdom in what we put before eyes and digest internally in our hearts and minds.

To give a specific example of one book I would declare a ban on for our household, and would like to see others do the same, take 50 Shades of Grey. I think that book is hideously degrading and destructive to all females of all races and all cultures. Why anyone tolerates this story is completely beyond me. I cannot see how this book serves society or the world well. I do not understand how people can rail against the unfair treatment of women on the one hand and read and support 50 Shades of Grey on the other. You can't get clean water and dirty water out of the same well. Make a choice, make a statement, be consistent.

Which ultimately brings me to Brer Rabbit. (Whew!)

Like many modern readers, I am familiar with Brer Rabbit thanks to the Walt Disney Company. Back in 1946, Disney released Song of the South which told the story of Uncle Remus and the characters of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. Raise your hand if you remember the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby! It's folklore at its finest. Now, Song of the South has since received a bad rap as our culture has (ever so slowly) changed (for the better) and we are united (with only extreme and disgusting exceptions) in our declaration that slavery is bad. Let me be perfectly clear: slavery was wrong, it is wrong, and it will forever be wrong. And yet, here in America especially, we have many stories and great works of literature which were born during the time when slavery was practiced. Do we read those stories and remember a time gone by, or do we boycott (or ban) them for containing information about things we do not like? This seems to be the hot button question as relates to Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit and the desire of some to effectively ban the story from modern readers.

Now let me set the stage for my reading of Brer Rabbit. A friend recently allowed me the opportunity to rifle through her old school books and take whatever I liked to read with my own kids. In her collection of books was a Giant Treasury of Brer Rabbit (retold from the stories of Joel Chandler Harris). I snatched the book up right quick! The kids and I read this collection of Brer Rabbit stories over the course of the past few weeks. Then it came time to sit down and write up a review of it and I began doing a little Internet exploration about Brer Rabbit and the author of the Uncle Remus tales, Joel Chandler Harris. I had no idea what amount of controversy surrounded these tales but, let me assure you, there is a great deal of it.

Let me also say that I tried to find individual book reviews on these stories but came up lacking. I checked Goodreads and people seem very hesitant to offer their opinions on it. There is a virtual silence on these stories which I find somewhat baffling (and also, truth be told, terrifying).  Why aren't people talking about this book? Should we not be talking about Brer Rabbit? Is he taboo? Will people harrass me endlessly online if I dare mention that we read and enjoyed the stories? Should I fear such things? We shall soon see. By this posting you'll see that I concluded that to refrain from talking about a book out of fear is unacceptable. You, the reader, might not like what I have to say and you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine according to rules of logic. Hence this post.

I discovered in my internet-based research that many African Americans do not appreciate the literary "works" of Joel Handler Harris. The stories, as told by Harris, were stories which he was told by African American slaves. Harris wrote these stories down into a series of Uncle Remus books. The character of Uncle Remus is based on a particular slave that Harris personally knew who told stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and his cunning actions and behaviors towards the likes of Brer Fox and Brer Bear. In fact, several slaves told Harris such stories over time. There is a question of why it is that slaves opened up to Harris well enough to share stories from their homeland, but the general consensus seems to be that Harris was a humble fellow with enough insecurities of his own that he felt rejected by society and felt comfortable in the company of slaves. It seems a reasonable explanation that he made friends and they talked.

Harris was born to an unwed mother and felt the sting of his illegitimate birth all throughout his life. He is described as being a quiet sort, bashful, who preferred the four walls of his own home to outside life and company. He worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Atlanta but eventually quit because he felt that too many requirements were being placed upon him to write what the paper wanted him to write instead of what he felt/thought for himself. After walking away from his career in journalism, Harris stuck to home and wrote over twenty books, the most popular being stories from Uncle Remus about Brer Rabbit and the lot.

The most historically worthy point in favor of the Uncle Remus books is that Harris is the first person to have documented the dialect of the African American slaves with whom he kept some company. If you read the stories in the original, you can catch the flavor of the speech patterns and language of the slaves at that point in history. (Actually, reading the stories in the original is now difficult for modern readers.) Critics and historians seem in agreement that these books are unique in writing out text, story and dialogue in this fashion which makes the books noteworthy for that reason alone. Still, many African Americans dislike the fact that Harris is credited with these tales as they came from a different land and culture and were only forcefully brought to American shores. I can understand that feeling of irritation. Except, at the same time, almost all older legends have been documented by someone or another, and not always by the original source. I'm a little hesitant to take up that offense against Harris because plenty of people of European descent told tales to each other before they were ever written down. I think you will find this a fact in most any culture and I don't find myself begrudging the eventual source. I'm usually grateful to be able to hear the story at all and that's my own viewpoint on Brer Rabbit. I think there is room to be glad that Harris wrote them down and preserved them in the off chance that they would be lost.

Could an African American have written them down for us at a later time? Yes. That could have happened. We can most definitely trace the stories back to Africa but they were written down by Harris. I guess you could complain about that. Before I move on from this complaint, it would also be remiss of me not to note the fact that the Cherokee Indians also had similar tales which were published before the Uncle Remus books were published. Harris also acknowledged this when speaking of "his" stories. Again, it does not seem that he tried to cover up or shy away from these facts.

The second concern about the books lies in the character of Uncle Remus. You cannot get away from the fact that Uncle Remus is a slave. In the introduction to the Giant Treasury of Brer Rabbit, there is an Introduction given by Anne Hessy who says:

"As the racial stereotypes of the nineteenth century are inappropriate today and may be offensive to many contemporary readers, we have eliminated the storytelling Uncle Remus and the little boy." 

We're back to the fact that words and stories do have influence and power over the reader. That is why you have to read wisely and well and make individual choices about what you read, why you read it, and even sometimes when you read it.  Some individuals of any variety of descents might choose to ban Uncle Remus for being "inappropriate and offensive" because he is sterotyped. A publisher might choose not to publish a certain work for that reason and I think that they would be within their rights to make that choice. It is only when they decide to be preachy about the fact that I'm going to rise with an objection.

As relates to Brer Rabbit, as a matter of history alone, these stories are interesting. They contain unique characters and rollicking dialogue which is hard to find elsewhere. The books do represent a part of who we have been in the past and I think while you absolutely should correct mistakes in the past, you shouldn't then go about denying that the past ever was. (You could try to do so but it would be folly.) If you don't remember, if you don't know what happened before you, then you are more likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Looking at my own individual life choices, I can look back and say that I have made certain mistakes. I really don't want to re-live them. I really wish other people wouldn't remember them. Yet, at the same time, I recognize that my past is as it is for a reason. I do not see those mistakes as purposeless but purpose-filled and I do strive to remember them so that I will make better choices in the future. Likewise, I think scrubbing out half of the Uncle Remus tales, leaving us only with Brer Rabbit, is a similar mistake. Why are we not trusting young readers to imagine the past and ask what they would have done differently? Why would we not offer them talking points and a chance to learn from the mistakes of someone else instead of leaving in danger of having to experience the wrong for themselves? We need to learn from the past. In order to do that, we must also know it. This is our history and it cannot and should not be re-written. Are we likely to be ashamed at parts? Yes, as we should be. But a sense of shame has never hurt anyone as much as sheer ignorance.

To the question of whether or not Uncle Remus is stereotyped, again people would be foolish not to acknowledge the fact that he is a slave and his relationship to the young boy is unavoidably one of servant and master. However, Harris doesn't seem to intentionally write the character out to be the sort who doesn't have his own mind and strength of spirit. Still, this is how we are introduced to the character in the opening paragraph of Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings:

"One evening recently, the lady whom Uncle Remus calls "Miss Sally" missed her little seven-year-old. Making search for him through the house and through the yard, she heard the sound of voices in the old man's cabin, and, looking through the window, saw the child sitting by Uncle Remus. His head rested against the old man's arm, and he was gazing with an expression of the most intense interest into the rough, weatherbeaten face, that beamed so kindly upon him."

At that moment, Harris launches into the first tale of Brer Rabbit as overheard by Miss Sally. Reading through the other mentions of Uncle Remus in the original work, we see him "thoughtfully stroking" the young lad's head, or preparing to smoke a pipe, or "having nothing to do" therefore having time to tell a story or being busy with some job and telling a story while working. Uncle Remus is also referred to as a "darkey" on a few occasions which definitely makes the modern reader cringe. In the story explaining why the possum has no hair on his tale, Uncle Remus refers to some young slaves making use of the "N" word which makes us cringe even more. Certainly that is odious and offensive to our ears (and also, I agree, inappropriate) and I can see why a publisher would want to cut that out of a storybook for young audiences.

Toward the end of the book there is mention that Uncle Remus had to be coaxed to tell the stories but Harris leaves the distinct impression that the decision to relay the stories lies squarely with Remus. He doesn't have to tell the boy anything, but he chooses to.  If he wanted to make the boy behave a certain way or make him wait to hear a tale, he did so. The boy does have some known-to-us control but so does Uncle Remus. I'm not saying this to justify Uncle Remus's position in society, or the position of the boy at all. To make a slave of a man is unacceptable.  What I'm trying to do with this post is lay out the facts of how Uncle Remus is presented in the original work so that you, the individual, can decide whether or not you would ban his character altogether, sticking only with the direct stories about the animals. I didn't appreciate being told by the publisher that Remus was inappropriate without allowing me to understand the reasons why. Simply removing him from the text without explanation is, in my opinion, a bad call.

So here we beg the question: do we ban Uncle Remus as being inappropriate? I would say no. I say he is not inappropriate, but he does represent a society and a figure which we look back on with a certain amount of pity and regret. But just because you or I might look back sometimes with pity and regret doesn't mean we have to move forward with it. We must know the past and also leave it there, gleaning from it as much as we can and moving on. The idea is to make better decisions as we move forward. Uncle Remus may indeed be offensive to modern audiences and therefore it is good to remember him! Let us never make a decision as a society which will create another Uncle Remus.

I think it is interesting that publishers tout the importance of reading banned books but at the same time publish severely edited books which effectively ban half of the storyline without explanation or example. That just seems to be remarkably inconsistent. Let the individual decide to be informed or not, as they see fit.

I'm also not saying any of the above because I missed out on Uncle Remus in our reading of Giant Treasury of Brer Rabbit with the kids, although I do not think that they would be hurt by the introduction in the future when they are better able to grapple with who Uncle Remus is and what he represents. As Hessy also says in her introduction, the stories of Brer Rabbit stand alone and stand alone well. We enjoyed them as they were provided to us. In fact, the kids enjoyed them so much that they created a new game which they play together called, "Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox." (I don't understand the rules, exactly, but I do know that it involves a lot of running and laughing.)

These are rich stories which I am very glad to have shared with my kids. They are a part of our culture and I don't think they ought to be banned to the point where we forget them. Yes, the stories were born in Africa. But then they came to America where they were written down. Do African Americans "owe" Harris a debt of gratitude in this? No. Did he received the recognition of being an author? Yes, but in the introduction to the 15th edition of Uncle Remus, his songs and his sayings, Harris was also quick to give credit where credit was due. Again, by many accounts he was a humble fellow who didn't fit within the society he knew and found a kinship with some slaves who, apparently, delighted to share their stories with him. He mentions these remarkable people and never once claimed these stories as original works. He simply took up a pen and wrote down what he had been told. The rest truly is, as they say, history. And I want my kids to know it for what it was, exactly as it was. With such knowledge, the future, I trust, will look quite different.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin, A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year, by DeeDee Stovel

Notice: I'm posting this review before I have had a chance to make any of the recipes contained in this cook book for two reasons:

1. I want to make every recipe in this book and it would delay the review considerably if I stopped to do so; and
2. I read this month's book club read and one other book which both require a good deal of thought. Growing a little tired of editing and re-editing soon-to-come posts, I'm going to stop focusing on those other books and think about pumpkins instead.

It should be noted that I like to cook (and bake, which I think is a funny thing to distinguish). I enjoy putting together meals for my family from scratch. Yes, it does take a heaping lot of effort and many hours of planning and preparation but I do believe it is worth it. (Except I really was frustrated when I spent an hour on a meal recently that flopped. Royally frustrating.) You have to be willing to live and learn in the kitchen and not be afraid to experiment.

It should also be noted, as part of the introduction to this book, that I was suspicious of pumpkins growing up. I think the only reason that is so is because we only ever ate them in pie. If you don't like pumpkin pie, you probably don't like pumpkins period, right? I (now) say wrong. (Although I do like pumpkin pie, it wasn't my childhood favorite.) I think it was actually Jamba Juice which expanded my pumpkin horizons. Suddenly pumpkin seemed versitle! (If you can put it in a smoothie and make me love it, the chances are that I will love it in other forms as well.) When I saw Pumpkin, a Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year in Storey's line-up, I knew I had to check it out. And oh wow, am I so excited by all of the possibilities contained within the pages of this book.

To start, this cookbook is just plain gorgeous. I love the glossy cover with full-colored photographs. The inside of the cook contains no photographs so you have to enjoy the ones you see on the outside, but I think they perfectly set the stage. Frankly, I had my doubts concerning the merits of a book all about how to cook with pumpkins but I hoped. I was not disappointed. I am not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that pretty much every single recipe in here is useable. There are no strange or exotic ingredients included. It's all "down home" cooking with practical meals which are able to be enjoyed by the entire family. There are very few recipes in this book that I think my children wouldn't like, and those would be the ones in which blue cheese is listed as an ingredient. (Blue cheese and pumpkin!? I wouldn't have dreamed it up myself but my brain explodes with excitement just thinking about it!)

Here are a list of my top favorite looking recipes which I intend to try out very shortly:


  • Pumpkin cornbread (So easy. How can it be bad?!?!)
  • Pumpkin blizzard (milkshake). (Who could say 'no'?)
  • Southwest Chicken Pumpkin Soup
  • Harvest Pumpkin Soup
  • White Bean, Chicken and Pumpkin Chili
  • Winter Salad with Maple Pumpkin Dressing
  • Cannellini Bean & Chicken Salad with Pumpkin Dressing
  • Mashed Potatoes and Pumpkin
  • Wild Mushroom Pumpkin Risotto
  • Apple, Cranberry, and Pumpkin Stuffing (YES!)
  • Pumpkin Pizza (!) with Gorgonzola
  • Cheddar Pumpkin Tart
  • Northern Italian Pumpkin Lasagna
  • Banana Pumpkin Nut Bread
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies (with Apricot sauce, if you like)
  • So. Many. More.

Although I have listed several recipes which specifically mention chicken, I want to point out that Stovel includes recipes for lamb and pork as well.

DeeDee Stovel points out that it wasn't until she began cooking with pumpkin that she noticed how versatile this food is and how easily it can adapted into our  regular diet. After reading through these recipes, I am convinced. I love also that she introduces the book with a description of the different types of pumpkins that there are and gives instructions for the many ways which you can cook them. (To date I have only been brave enough to use a can opener to retrieve my pumpkin, but she's making me think I could do it from scratch.) Stovel uses both canned and fresh pumpkin in these recipes so if you feel intimidated by the idea of getting to the meat of it, perhaps you shouldn't be. (I'll tell you whether or not you should be in a week or so.) Stovel has made me excited about incorporating pumpkins into our meals more frequently this fall and winter. Of course, her goal is to encourage you to use pumpkins all year 'round but I can only wrap my head around one thing at a time. First, we skin the pumpkin (or whatever you call it) and then we learn to eat it all year long. (To my current way of thinking though, pumpkins are one of the glorious aspects of fall. There are other yummy foods to be enjoyed at other times of the year.)

Would I recommend Pumpkin, a Super Food? In a heartbeat. As I say, the recipes are numerous and ingredient list common. I know I am going to find this book useful and I suspect it would be a great hit with other cooks who also like to think in terms of seasons. Note: it is incredibly cheap (as far as cookbooks go) on Amazon.

Many thanks to Storey publishers for sending a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jane Austen Tea Party

For roughly one year (give or take) I, and several friends of mine, conspired to throw a Jane Austen Tea together. Three weddings and one baby later, two of us managed to pull it off. (One of us having married and then moved away! Sniff.) Excepting the moment during preparation when we realized that we had told our guests to arrive thirty minutes earlier than the time we were operating by in our minds, it all seemed to be a great success. Yet another literary tea party to check off the Themed Tea Party Bucket List.

There is not much to say in the way of a description of the event, but I do have pictures to share. Mostly our goal was to achieve some degree of elegance inside my log home. Here are a few things we came up with:


  • You'll (maybe) remember my review of Tea With Jane Austen. This informed me that one of the most popular teas to have drunk in Jane's day was green tea, so naturally we served that. That tea was quite a popular choice, followed by Republic of Tea's Lemon Chiffon Cuppa Cake Tea. I'm quite sure Jane didn't experience the wonders of cake tea in her day and more's the pity. (ha) My current favorite was also served - Republic of Tea's Caramel Vanilla black tea. It is so incredibly delicious.
  • The menu was comprised of Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup, pumpkin and blueberry scones, ham & pesto cheese puffs and roast beef w/ blue cheese wraps.
  • My friend created a Jane Austen literary quote quiz wherein we tested to see how familiar our guests were with Jane Austen's works. (Some of them are way more knowledgeable than me, by the way!)
  • The Sense & Sensibility movie soundtrack played in the background. (This is really a very pretty and soothing soundtrack which allows for conversation to be had over it.)
  • My friend is rather a wonder with paper crafts and she made a huge assortment of bookmarks for our guests to choose as a party favor.

Here are some of the pictures of the event.


I also learned how to carve out a lemon and make lemon bowls. Yes, it is hard at first but I got faster as I went along. The bowls contained a nutty quinoa salad with garlic sauce.



The dessert we left to professionals. We picked up a Spice Cake from a local bakery (Market of Choice) and also served Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels. Oh yes. If you live locally and go into our Trader Joe's attempting to find said Salted Caramels you might be disappointed. If they are sold out, check in with me. I might have, um, stocked up.


We had a great time planning this tea and pulling it off. Yes, it did, in fact, spur us on with ideas for future teas (and other parties) because the party bucket list is long.

I love doing/hosting things like this!



******

Other tea related posts:


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

Years and years (and years) ago, my brother gifted me with hardback editions of the first three Redwall books.  Ungrateful sister that I am, I put them on my shelf and committed to reading them . . . soon(ish)Soon came this year. This to say if you ever gift me with a book and fear I'll never read it, just think of Redwall! It took roughly 15 years for me to get to this one. Assuming I have fifteen more years of life, the chances are high that I'll eventually get to whatever that book is that you would like me to read. Although, truly, hopefully I'll improve on that time table! (I do love my brother, by the way.)

I read Redwall this year because of the aforementioned Facebook challenge wherein I invited six people to recommend a title for me to read, promising to read whatever they suggested. Stephanie from Simple Things put forth Redwall as her title of choice thereby ensuring that it would be read this year. Indeed, it has been done.

This first title in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques was first published in 1986, although it was written many years prior to that. Jacques wrote the story of Redwall for the children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool. He worked as a truck driver, who delivered milk to the school, when he decided to write a beautifully descriptive story to entertain the children there. Eventually, he showed his story to his former English teacher who read it, loved it, and submitted it to a publisher without Jacques' knowledge. Now his stories are available to entertain the world.

Yes, I was entertained by this story about the mice of Redwall. I was entertained and encouraged, but more on the latter in a moment. First, it was entertaining meeting this group of woodland creatures who live in and around Redwall Abbey. It was exciting to watch them band together  - with all of their strengths and weaknesses - to defend the Abbey and the surrounding countryside from an evil foe. This world that Jacques created in Redwall is under attack from a hideous villain, Cluny the Scourge. Cluny is a horrid evil rat who is eager to claim the Abbey as his own, no matter the cost. The story is full of adventure, heartache and the glory of ultimate victory. This book contains some mighty fine story telling, that is for sure.

I really loved this story for the bold adventure which it is. Jacques rallies his woodland characters to rise to a difficult occasion. An evil enemy who lacks mercy or a conscience is among them. Cluny's mission in life is to seek, kill and destroy. He doesn't let anyone or anything get in his way. There is truly only one thing that frightens him and that is the story of a legendary mouse warrior who once defended the Abbey from another attack. This same story which causes Cluny to grow weak in the knees has the opposite effect on one young Matthias mouse. Matthias has grown up in the Abbey and is inexperienced at life, let alone heroics. However, when evil comes knocking, Matthias grows in courage and bravery and becomes a true leader of the woodland animals.

Redwall Abbey is a peaceful place and the Abbott who is in charge is not interested in waging war at all. However, the Abbott also wisely concludes that war is unavoidable and ultimately decides to trust Matthias with the necessary defense of all that is good and right. Young Matthias shows great bravery and does, in fact, save the Abbey. However, this does not happen without loss of life on both sides following some rather harrowing escapades. This is a messy tale in that Jacques doesn't hold back when describing battle scenes and death. There are blood and guts aplenty. At the same time, it is not gratuitous violence by any stretch of the imagination. The good guys are working hard to defend and protect what is good. The bad guys are out to crush good with evil, just like in real life.

As I mentioned earlier, I found this story not only entertaining but also encouraging. Now, Redwall is not a Christian book but I am a Christian reader and I view this book through my own worldview. Just as Matthias rallies his friends to be brave, we Christians also must rally defend truth and do what is right in the face of a great many evils which daily stare us in the face. I loved Redwall because it painted a picture of a war against evil but also did not allow evil to triumph. In fact, evil will never be triumphant in total. It is impossible that that should be. In the battle against good (God) and evil (Satan) the right to the last triumphant word has already been claimed. Satan did not win that. Jesus has won the victory but there are still battles to be fought and is our right and responsibility to fight them.

As a Christian, of course, I see a great analogy in this story. We Christians are so tempted to play the part of the Abbott in this abbey and deny that the enemy could be so determined to truly wish for and seek out our utter annihilation. Yet, our complete annihilation is exactly what Satan wants. He lulls us in peaceful moments, attempting to convince that bad things can't really happen to us. And if we do not believe that bad things can happen then we don't begin to believe that we are in need of a Savior. Satan's words of peace are false advertising distracting us from true salvation. True and lasting peace only comes in a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must believe this. (John 6)

God's victory is absolute and final and Satan will meet his ultimate demise just as Cluny the Rat did. Still, we are required to daily wage war sin. We must remain steadfast in Christ, acting not as the Abbott who is quick to sit down and rest, but as Matthias in believing that we must remain vigilant and alert. We must behave as Constance the Badger does in this story, knowing that Satan is a frustrated restless beast. He will keep on fighting his losing battle and we will hurt from that. But we can also take courage from and find relief in the fact that, ultimately, sin and death have both been conquered (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). We must just remain steadfast. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Again, I do not see Redwall as being an analogy of any sort. I simply view it through the eyes of my worldview and that made it quite the exciting and enthralling read. (Although, too, I should be quick to point out that it's an exciting read on its face. My reading "bent" just added an extra layer of meaning for me.) This all explained,  I am looking forward to passing this book off to my kids to read. Due to the intense battle scenes, I don't know that I would hand this book over to Bookworm1 (age 8 this month) right away but I don't think he'll need to wait forever to read it. It is good to make sure he's ready for the battle scenes though before he dives on in.

I also look forward to reading on in the series so perhaps when I put up the Facebook Challenge next year, someone can stick the sequel from the Redwall series on my list. (*wink*)

Thanks, Stephanie, for causing me to finally pull it down and read it. And thank you, Christopher, for gifting me with it in the first place. I'm sorry for taking so long to get to it!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Bookworm Snippets

Little update on life and reading as relates to my own little Bookworms.

*****

Bookworm1 will be turning eight this month, even though that hardly seems possible.

We are enjoying our own private reading time lately, whenever we can find some time away from the siblings. Jonathan is now reading through the Harry Potter series but after finishing Book 1 he agreed that our oldest could read it as well. (After reading the second book though, we both agreed that Bookworm1 will need to wait until next year to read the second title.)

A friend of mine told me that her mother allowed her to read one Harry Potter book a year from the age of eight on up. (Although when she was 12 I think she was allowed to finish the series.) That sounds like a good plan. I like the idea of allowing the reader to age with the characters and so that is our current plan. It's been very enjoying for me to be able to start the series all over again. It helps with the pain of having finished already. Heh.

Besides whatever it might happen to be that I am reading to him at the time, he is also reading chapter books independently. I try to keep his list updated here but we're a bit behind. He's been racing through books faster than I can keep up with him lately (which I am totally not complaining about)!

*****

Bookworm2 is now 5 and 1/2 and is interested in everything in the entire world. Most recently he has wanted to learn more about Vikings and so I poked around and came up with a couple of titles for us to read.


Leif the Lucky


Viking DK Eyewitness Book


Bookworm2 is probably the most "nagging" reader, always standing nearby with a book in hand asking you to read it to him. This is also not something I complain about. It's a good "problem" to have!

*****

Bookworm3 (girl, age 3) pretty much gets stuck reading whatever the brothers want to read which isn't always fair but it does seem to be what happens unless there is some intentional reading time set aside specifically for her. I have to remember this and take time out to sit on the couch and invite her to choose her own books. She is just as happy to be read to as her brothers which is nice.

One book which I bought for her recently was The Ultimate Hairstyle Handbook: Everyday Hairstyles for the Everyday Girl because her hair is getting thicker and longer and she usually likes me to create "princess hair" for her. I'm not very equipped at doing that, having absolutely no practice whatsoever. (Hair has never been my thing, but her sake I am trying my best to learn! I thought this book might help.)


For a little while there we were sitting and looking through the book together. She would get to pick out a hairstyle and then I'd try it out. Here are some of our attempts:






I found this book really useful as it gives step-by-step instructions and lots of pictures! If you are looking fo for a hair "how to" then this is one you might wish to consider!

******

Lastly, there is Bookworm4 (age 2) who also loves to read. He really loves Roger Priddy's Happy Baby books (which I have raved about a time or two). I am still 100% sold on these books. Every single one of my children have enjoyed them. If you are looking for a new baby gift, check out the Happy Baby Books (sometimes Costco has them in sets).

With Bookworm4 I especially appreciate them as he is learning English and it is helpful to have some basic words to point out to him (i.e., hand, foot, cup, shoe, etc.). Great books! I'm glad he likes them.


And that's a little update on where the Bookworms are in their reading at present!

I'll be linking this post up to Amy's Read Aloud Thursday later on this month.

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