Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jan Karon's Mitford novel, To Be Where You Are ~ my review

To Be Where You Are (Mitford Years #14)To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fans of Jan Karon’s Mitford series will be pleased to know this 2017 novel, To Be Where You Are, continues the stories. Chapters alternate between Meadowgate Farm with Dooley’s and Lace’s family/veterinary practice and the town itself with Father Tim and the motley Mitford crew. Briefly, Dooley and Lace face financial and artistic challenges in the process of adopting Jack as their own son. Father Tim and townsfolk rally around some who need help with a variety of problems.

When I read a Mitford novel, I appreciate Karon’s light touch with life’s highs and lows. The plot in this novel feels like real life. I hold my breath with the characters’ pains and sorrows, breathe easy with their joys and celebrations, and laugh with their silly human foibles. But I do not wig out over anything, because Karon infuses the plot with an “It is well with my soul” mentality.

Although I feel grounded in a Mitford story’s realness, I also feel challenged. I could appreciate and trust God more in order to approach life’s realities with more thankfulness and certainty that “It is well with my soul.” I could show up with a casserole or cake more often when I know a family is having a hard time. One attraction of a Mitford novel might be that it inspires readers to aspire to make the world a better place, one small kindness at a time.

Just as Dooley and Lace were adopted in previous novels, in this one, they adopt Jack. In To Be Where You Are Karon repeats the adoption concept and describes again what they were adopted out of and into. It’s an apt picture of Jesus’ inviting us to be with Him now and forever just by admitting we are sinners needing to be saved by grace and wanting to be with Him now and forever.

I liked a few sweet moments when a character said to a loved one that all he or she wanted was “to be where you are.” That’s love.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Macaron madness

So, blog post here is pretty similar to my Facebook post yesterday. My dear friend Connie and I made macarons. After perusing four recipes, two of which I had tried before, we landed on one from The Daily Herald. It was the winning recipe after the local cook had experimented twelve times. After doing it twice, I understood why it took her twelve times to get it right. So after yesterday, I’ve done it three times, and I can tell you right now, I will not make it to twelve times. I won’t even aspire to twelve! Macarons are lovely little delicacies. When savoring one, you know you have had a treat. Macaron making, however, has variables way beyond me.

Ladurée, look out! Connie Macaron Komora (yes, she has officially changed her middle name to Macaron) and I, Jane Ganache Hoppe, will be stiff competition. Well, maybe not today but someday soon, we will move right next door to your famous bakery in Paris and give you a run for your money. Granted, Ladurée, you sell 15,000 gorgeous, perfectly domed, exquisitely colored, 36-flavored, luxurious macarons PER DAY, and Connie and I spent four hours TODAY making 48 lopsided, misshapen, cracked-meringue macarons in both vanilla and chocolate flavors (count ’em, two), both with a sublime dark chocolate ganache filling (count it, one flavor).

But you know what, Ladurée, I bet Connie and I had more fun. We laughed when we accidentally poked holes in the meringue. This happened a lot. We laughed when the macarons were so bulgy, they rolled around on the plate instead of sitting flat. Yes, we had a great time. And you know what, our macarons melt in the mouth, same as yours. Maybe we’ll stay right here and let you have the international macaron market.

Thanks to my French friend Françoise for giving me the fun macaron tablier et torchon—apron and dish towel—a few years ago after I went crazy for these cookies in France. Although Parisian bakeries' macarons are more famous, my taste buds favored macarons from Ortholan in Montpellier.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning

Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of MeaningFreefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning by Rebekah Lyons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rebekah Lyons' memoir, Freefall to Fly, contains some nuggets of wisdom for women especially. She asks insightful questions about, for example, where we nurture others but not ourselves to the point where we are unable to dream big for ourselves. Only read this book if you will ponder those important questions. I bookmarked seven of her questions that I want to explore further in order to make some changes. The memoir itself is a quick read, but the pondering will take longer ~ and be worth it.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My review of Frances Mayes' novel Women in Sunlight

Women in SunlightWomen in Sunlight by Frances Mayes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frances Mayes' novel Women in Sunlight reads like a Tuscany travelogue for middle-aged women. In a way, Women in Sunlight resembles Mayes' 1999 memoir, Bella Tuscany, with the addition of fictional characters who choose a Tuscan adventure at pivotal points in their lives. What Newsday said about Bella Tuscany applies here, too: "A love letter to Italy written in precise and passionate language of near poetic density ..."

One narrator in the story is Kit Raine, an American poet who has lived in Tuscany thirteen years when Camille, Julia, and Susan come from America to rent the house next door rather than move into an over-50 community in the U.S. An unnamed omniscient narrator tells how each woman reinvents, rediscovers, and blossoms among Tuscany's many pleasures. Each emerges from her backstory changed in positive ways.

I get a little confused when the narrator switches, but I can roll with that. Italy's history, art, natural beauty, and cuisine serve as muses for all the women, as well as the men they encounter. As much as I enjoy vicariously traveling to Tuscany, I find its perfection a bit tiresome. Mayes presents everything as glorious. That the women glow in their transformations affirms their courage to step out. That everything about Tuscany glows, however, is a little hard to swallow. Lastly, it seems unlikely to me that every character is as well-versed in Italian history, literature, and art as Mayes is.

That said, one reason I enjoy reading just about anything by Frances Mayes is her knowledge of Italian history, literature, and art. Not to mention cuisine! While reading Women in Sunlight, I often felt I was in over my head in the literature and art history departments. But that's okay; this stretches me. Traveling to Tuscany with Mayes gives a reader an understanding of Italian culture and customs that a mere tourist cannot gain. Yes, Women in Sunlight truly is "A love letter to Italy written in precise and passionate language of near poetic density ..."

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

My review of Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2)Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charles and Caroline Ingalls take their family, Mary, Laura, and baby Carrie, by covered wagon from the big woods in Wisconsin to the prairie near Independence, Missouri. This second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's series again shows pioneer resourcefulness and contentment with simple pleasures. This book has the added intrigue of Indians and soldiers and federal government interference. Also interesting to me are instances of neighbors helping neighbors build barns, dig wells, and nurse sickness. Although the family had coins, pioneer economics consisted mostly of bartering services and trading furs for goods like a plow and seeds.

I have mixed emotions about Wilder's portrayal of her parents' strict discipline. On one hand, my stomach knots whenever Laura reminds herself that "children should be seen and not heard." That feels harsh and oppressive to me. On the other hand, my heart is quieted by her tenacious desire to obey out of a visceral understanding of her dependence on her Ma and Pa for protection and provision. This seems like a critical spiritual submission lesson.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Scrapbooks, Unfinished

My recent posts have a retro component. The reason? As we clear out my parents’ house, we find boxes of papers, photos, letters from the last century and a quarter. Little by little, we sort through, so I live in someone else’s past a lot lately. Today I went through a box of what apparently was going to be a 1994 travel scrapbook. Or maybe my parents compiled the scrapbook, and these scraps were left over, I don’t know. The latter is more likely. But the trip was a France tour, so this box held extra interest for me.

High points of Paris, Normandy, and Brittany traced on a pink photocopied map, the 1994 tour guide’s instructions, my parents’ tour badges and Paris Visite passes, some unwritten picture postcards, and lots of bilingual brochures. Since my dad was the one conceiving this scrapbook in his head during the tour, I found two of every brochure. I’m not sure I can explain his logic (He thought he was Noah?), but given that in general my dad liked to save and my mom likes to pitch, I am pretty sure collecting doubles was my dad’s doing. Another clue is the page headings printed on his dot-matrix printer. Another clue is the huge number of newspaper clippings on the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day. Mom and Dad’s tour, which included D-Day beaches and museums, was about a month before this anniversary. Both my parents served in World War II, but Dad had a special interest in D-Day.

This project produced a couple of Notes-to-Self :

  • Finish my own scrapbooks. My dad probably did finish memorializing this 1994 trip and I’m now just seeing stuff that didn’t make it into the scrapbook. But I have unfinished scrapbook ideas and materials that I feel sad I did not put together.
  • Decide on a statute of limitations on travel scrapbooks. If a trip is ??? years ago, and I still haven’t done the book, let it go.
  • Do the book. Pitch the leftovers.
  • I may have inherited my father’s “presentation gene.” When I approach a farmers’ market display of roses, my mind automatically frames a photo. As I stroll through a museum, my mind classifies lessons and reactions into themes to better explain it to someone. I usually pick up a brochure (just one) to help me remember later. I feel giddy to find some goofy visual like rabbit stickers or a die-cut Renault to put in my scrapbook. I like the idea of presenting my trip in an organized and creative way to show, but especially to treasure the memories.

I wonder sometimes if my father honed his “presentation” skill during the decades when his antennae were tuned for story problems to present in the eleven mathematics textbooks he wrote. I can just imagine him screeching to a halt at a random construction site to note how he could use the angles of a gabled roof in a geometry illustration. 

Me, I have no excuse. I must have inherited this tendency to present a story, as well as to keep stuff attached to happy memories.