Monthly Archives: October 2014

Take Heart, by Mari Fitz-Wynn

Take HeartA couple of months ago, the adult nonfiction selector in our library system came over to my desk holding a new book, pointing to the author’s name. “Is this our Mari?” she asked. I looked at the name. “Well, I know that her last name is Wynn, and she did homeschool.” We were both amazed that a woman with whom we work every day had written a book and didn’t tell us!

Some of Mari’s older children had already started a traditional school when she and her husband decided that they want to teach their kids at home. Two of her children have learning disabilities, while others are natural students, so she has covered the gamut of learning styles and teaching methods. Take Heart: 26 Steps to a Healthy Home School is a gathering of much of the wisdom and knowledge of a mother of six over a span of eighteen years.  Mari takes the 26 letters of the alphabet and discusses a home schooling topic for each one. For example, C is for character, E is for expectations, P is for pitfalls, and S is for support groups.

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Mari Fitz-Wynn

This slender volume offers practical advice on many issues, such as burnout and unit studies, but it really glows when Mari offers support and assurance. I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Mari has been a speaker at homeschool conventions, since she is probably the quietest woman I have ever met. However, she certainly has many valuable things to say! Her sweet, calm presence shines through these pages to offer guidance when younger moms might be frustrated or discouraged. Coming from a thoroughly Christian worldview, she offers prayer and scripture to lead moms through the tough times or to offer praise for the privilege of spending our lives with our children.

Testimony time! Two of Mari’s children, a son and a daughter, have worked with us at library administration. I knew them both years before I met Mari, and they are living proof of her success in childrearing. They were hard workers, kind, respectful, and reliable— everything mothers everywhere want their children to be. We sent them off with fabulous reviews. Her daughter went on to graduate school in Australia and is now an office administrator for a local health and nutrition company, and her son is finishing up his senior year in college and working as a tutor. They were both proofreaders and editors for Take Heart.

Congratulations, Mari! Beautifully done.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Thrones, Dominations, by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh

Thrones DominationsLord and Lady Peter Wimsey have returned from their honeymoon and are adjusting to life as the most unexpected married couple in 1930s London. The former Harriet Vane finds that happy marriages may not make for great mystery writing, and Lord Peter seems determined not to allow his smooth, urbane mask to slip in society so that others would know how deliriously happy he is that Harriet finally said yes. No one can understand why a man who could have any woman in England would choose a plain, overeducated female who seems determined to continue to work for a living.

Just as the Wimseys’ marriage seems cool and rigidly correct, the Harwells seem passionately in love. He is rich; she is beautiful. What could go wrong? Perhaps the portraits that the famous artist, Monsieur Chapparalle, is painting of Harriet and Rosamund Harwell will reveal the secrets that each woman is harboring inside. Secrets will out, and misunderstandings can be deadly.

I have been a great admirer of Dorothy L. Sayers for decades. I own all of the original Peter Wimsey mysteries, have read her translation of Dante’s Inferno, one of her Canterbury morality plays (one is enough), as well as a biography of Sayers, and I own a collection of her essays called A Matter of Eternity. I particularly appreciate her essay concerning Jesus and women. Amen, sister. Sayers was a contemporary of “the Inklings,” and bristled when her name was used professionally without her middle initial. She felt that if C.S. Lewis could have two initials and J.R.R. Tolkien could have three, couldn’t a woman have one? She was an academic who started writing mystery novels late in life when her alcoholic husband was driving them into the poorhouse. Let’s face it: if it were not for Peter Wimsey, we wouldn’t remember her at all. Well, perhaps college professors would know her for her acclaimed translation of The Divine Comedy.

According to the author’s note at the end of Thrones, Dominations, Ms. Sayers had already started this novel, but gave it up to work on theater productions and the Dante translation. Jill Paton Walsh, a Booker Prize-nominated author, was asked to pick up the manuscript and bring it to a fitting conclusion. I had known Ms. Walsh before as the author of many children’s books, but for some reason, I had never paid attention to her “New Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane Mystery” series. I think I burned out on dead author remakes with all of the Jane Austenesque volumes, which vary widely in quality. Recently, however, I saw an ad for the latest in Walsh’s series, and the reviews were excellent. I was intrigued, so I requested this first volume from our library. From the first page, Walsh retains the style and wit of Sayers’ original works, with a clever mystery and welcome updates on all of our favorite characters. It was a thrill for this devotee to learn more about Peter and Harriet, particularly how their unusual relationship would fare under the censorious glare of the English aristocracy, especially Peter’s family.

Here is a series continuation that does not disappoint. I will be certain to read the other three (so far!) entries, since there are very exciting developments at the end of this book. If you are a Sayers fan, a mystery enthusiast, or love the sparkling badinage of early 20th century English writing, take heart! Here is a whole new series to savor.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Has Grain-Free Gone Mainstream?

Grain Free LogoIt used to be very difficult to find great low-carb recipes, and older low-carb cookbooks tended to rely on artificial ingredients, often sold by companies that had a corner on the market. We’ve all gotten smarter over the years, including the chefs. No longer do we switch to low-carb for a short time to lose weight. Many of us are living without grains for the rest of our lives, sometimes because The Grain Formerly Known as Wheat is making so many people so sick. Now the market is filled with cookbooks that have low-carbohydrate recipes that feature whole foods and healthy ingredients. For a diabetic, it is still necessary to analyze a recipe carefully for sugar and starch, but most Paleo and some gluten-free cookbooks can be very useful. Here are three new cookbooks for your perusal.

Stella Complete Low CarbFirst of all, one of my favorite low-carb chefs from years ago is George Stella. I have many of his cookbooks, and some of my favorite recipes are his, such as Anaheim Shrimp Scampi, Bourbon Barbecue Sauce, and New York Style Cheesecake. Mr. Stella and his family, particularly his son Christian, have been evolving over the years away from artificial ingredients and soy toward a more holistic, health-conscious approach. Christian Stella is a co-author of the latest offering, The Complete Low-Carb Cookbook. George starts off by telling the story of how his family of four lost a total of 560 pounds, and since I had read this inspiring story in the past, the best part for me is that they have kept it off for over ten years! George is a professional chef, so he had to completely change the way he cooked, while being able to create dishes that still pleased his discriminating palate. In this new cookbook, he has included some of the classics mentioned above, but he has also tweaked some old recipes to make them even better! For example, I love his Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese recipe and make it all the time, but now he has the Ultimate Mock Mac and Cheese Casserole recipe that adds chicken and bacon to the original recipe, turning it from a side dish to an entree. We loved it. Furthermore, there are loads of brand-new recipes that look scrumptious: Reuben Chicken Roulade, Claire’s Stuffed Pumpkin, and Chocolate Walnut Bon-Bons, just to name a few. He includes a nutritional analysis for each dish. One of the best things about the recipes in George Stella’s cookbooks is that, as a diabetic, I can make all of them without any changes. My old Stella cookbooks are falling apart, I’ve used them so much, and I’m sure this new one will soon be spattered and covered with notes, too.

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Ultimate Mock Mac & Cheese Casserole

 

Meals Made SimpleDanielle Walker, of Against All Grain fame, has been reviewed in this blog when her first cookbook was released. Now she has a new one out called Meals Made Simple. I have tried a few of these recipes with excellent results. As a young mom, Ms. Walker does not have time for exotic ingredients or fussy preparation, so her Paleo dishes are possible for busy people everywhere. Since Ms. Walker has struggled back to vibrant health after nearly dying from an autoimmune disease, she has done a great deal of research and is a wealth of information on how the food that we eat affects our bodies. She shares some of her knowledge in the generous extra pages filled with notes on the various special diets her readers may follow, meal plans, ingredient lists and suggestions, lists of tools needed, grocery lists, and more. This is all incredibly helpful, of course, but this book truly shines in the recipes she offers with a beautiful picture for each one.

Ever since I sank a ridiculous amount of money into a waffle maker, I have been searching for the perfect low-carb waffle recipe. It is not easy. Most are too eggy. I can make eggs in a skillet, so that doesn’t work. Others are too heavy and soggy. Danielle Walker’s Freezer Waffles are the best I have found. I did use the coconut oil, as suggested, and they came out crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Delicious. This recipe calls for 2 cups of her pancake mix, which is on another page. 2014-09-09 17.15.45I have made waffles twice so far, and I still have a zip-lock bag of pancake mix in my freezer. Very handy! I have not actually put any leftover waffles in the freezer, since, if I leave them in the refrigerator for a day or so, they seem to disappear.

Following that success, I made the Lemon-Roasted Asparagus and Brussels Sprouts. This very simple recipe combines two of my favorite vegetables and adds a light, zesty flavor that goes perfectly with fish. The Brussels sprouts were shredded in a food processor, but you could do it by hand with a sharp knife and a great deal of patience.

After that, we went Asian with her Ginger Chicken and Broccoli. We seem to have a lot of ginger in the house these days, what with our tailgating Ginger Bourbon Cocktails, so I am always on the lookout for recipes with ginger. Again, this is a very simple recipe that is cooked entirely on the stovetop in one skillet. Since I am not gluten-sensitive, I used soy sauce—which I had in the fridge—in place of the coconut aminos, and the results were fabulous. In this dish, Ms. Walker uses tempered egg yolks to thicken the sauce, and it worked! I will certainly remember that trick for the future.

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Asian Chicken & Broccoli

Dr. David Perlmutter comes from an entirely different direction from Danielle Walker, although I’m sure they’d agree on the need to ditch grains from one’s diet. While Ms. Walker takes the digestive disorder perspective, Dr. Perlmutter presents pretty terrifying scientific evidence concerning grains’ effect on the brain, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease. If you haven’t read his original work, Grain Brain, I highly recommend that you do so, especially if neurological issues or dementia are hereditary for you.

Grain Brain CookbookThe doctor gives a quick summary of his medical research in the first section of his new book, The Grain-Brain Cookbook, and then explains how to set up a new pantry, trying along the way to help the reader change his mindset about what one should or should not eat. The recipes that follow are easy and often basic. Dr. Perlmutter’s aim seems to be to show the nervous patient that she can continue to live happily and stay healthy while eating familiar foods that are naturally gluten-free or have been easily modified to become gluten-free. There are not as many pictures in this book as in the first two I’ve reviewed, but there are occasional sections with glossy, color pictures. Nutritional analyses are offered for each recipe. This book is an excellent place to start for anyone switching to a low-carb or gluten-free diet, and since the man is, after all, a doctor, he relies completely on fresh, whole foods.

All of these new resources make low-carb, Paleo, and gluten-free cooking so much easier than they were just a few years ago. The low-carb crowd, in particular, seems to have moved in the same direction that we have, going away from using artificial ingredients to create fake versions of the foods we used to eat and transforming our diets with more non-starchy vegetables and less bacon or cream. Someday I hope to reverse my diabetes to the point that I can give up the little bit of artificial sweetener I use now and use honey or maple syrup instead. I have not gotten there yet, but it’s a goal!

But wait, there’s more! One of the next books I plan to read will be Wheat Belly Total Health, where we will tackle the other issues beyond eating. This may require getting off the couch, but we’ll see.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of George Stella’s cookbook, and I read library copies of Meals Made Simple and The Grain Brain Cookbook. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. As I am a reader and reviewer, not a doctor, nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice.

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlThe movie trailers for this 2012 novel look so good that I decided to read the book. I had chosen not to read it when it was all the rage, because it sounded very negative, and because I steer clear of anything that might make adultery look excusable, but Flynn does not wink at adultery— or at anything else, for that matter.

Just in case you are one of the three other people in the world who has not yet read Gone Girl, here is the gist of the book. Nick and Amy are a happy little yuppie couple in Manhattan until they both lose their jobs and move to Nick’s home town in Missouri to care for his dying parents. Amy, whose parents have written a series of books called “Amazing Amy” based on her life, is not used to being buried in the backwoods, playing the part of a supportive wife. Their relationship begins to change, and both of them become deeply unhappy. The chapters alternate between Nick and Amy’s first-person perspectives, and we first meet Nick when he comes home to find Amy missing. As police, detectives, the media, and attorneys get involved, more and more layers of lies are peeled back, and the reader sees that nothing is as it seemed. Since we only know what the two main characters are telling us, the truth is slippery and changes according to the character’s perspective.

I was fully prepared to hate this book, but I didn’t. It is an absolute page-turner, thoroughly absorbing and challenging. Flynn creates a situation in which we can see some of the most sensational news stories of the day from the eyes of the victims. Seeing our society in this light is not pretty; we all fit in somewhere. The main characters vividly display the assumptions of twenty-first century husbands and wives. It is hard to imagine a relationship as twisted as that of Nick and Amy, but several of Flynn’s observations of wives still made me cringe. (“Oh, I hope I’ve never said anything like that!”) Then there are extended family members, the media, law enforcement, and all of the local people who flock to anything exciting in their dull, little lives. When someone is dead or missing, everyone claims to have known them intimately, to be their best friend in the world. The media people are just looking for a hook, something that will stir up emotions and even violence, whether it is true or not. When new information comes out, they will cheerfully reverse their opinions and act as if they never thought otherwise. Flynn’s observations on human nature were insightful, jarring, and fairly sickening.

I had heard that the movie had a different ending than the book, but now stories are coming out that it does not. I am generally a purist when it comes to movies based on books, but I don’t know how I feel about this ending. You will have to read the book to find out what I mean. Lots of profanity and sexual situations. Here is a novel that will keep you awake turning pages, even though you will despise pretty much everyone in the book.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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That Little Burn Might Be Telling You Something

FlamesC.S. Lewis, writing in Mere Christianity, says that a person who seems to be a grump may really be someone with a bad digestion, whereas we may believe that we are “nice,” when we actually just enjoy good health. None of us know what’s on the inside of another person, so we shouldn’t judge. At the end of all things, we will see each person without earthly complications:

All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.*

How true it is that a bad digestion can change your perspective on life! A few weeks ago, I started feeling some mild heartburn. Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but people on low-carbohydrate diets don’t get heartburn. This is a well-kept secret, but it’s true. My husband used to suffer from heartburn pretty regularly, but when he eats low-carb, he never does. Try it. You’ll see a change pretty quickly. However, it is difficult to go to the doctor with mild heartburn. She’ll look at you blankly, tell you to take Tums, and think that you’re wasting her time. But it had been years since I’d felt this burn, so I worried that something was wrong.

About two weeks ago, the heartburn exploded into fire. We had had a tailgating dinner on Saturday, with stuffed jalapeños and chipotle hot dogs, but I only had mild discomfort. On Monday, we had leftovers for dinner, and there really weren’t that many, so I thought I’d be fine. A few hours later, I was in intense pain. Around ten o’clock, I couldn’t sit down any more, and I paced the floor until four in the morning, with breaks to look up symptoms of “heart attack in women” and “gallbladder attacks.” It was awful. I actually got to sleep at about 8 AM, sitting up on the sofa.

Urgent CareNow, a normal person would go to the doctor after that, but I put it down to spicy food and decided I’d be fine. For the rest of the week, I just had that mild burn, but it was there all the time. On the following Saturday, I woke up feeling as if I’d drunk scalding hot soup, and it had scarred my esophagus all the way down, and all the way up into my sinuses. We went to urgent care—for hours. One of the first things the doctor said to me was, “You thought you were having a heart attack, so you went on the internet?” Hey, I am a librarian. That is how we roll. Every problem can be solved by research and reading. After doing an EKG to rule out heart problems (thank goodness), he handed me this little cup of nasty pink stuff that made me feel as if a dentist had anaesthetized me all the way down to my stomach. It was horribly lovely. He did a few more things, and then opined that it was an ulcer, and that I should go to my regular doctor for a blood test for h. pylori bacteria.

Of course, that led me to the internet. According to WebMD, 80-90% of all ulcers are caused by the h. pylori bacterium, and half of the people over 60 in the United States have h. pylori bacteria in their stomachs. It is the most common infection in the world. The discovery of this bacterium’s role in stomach ulcers is very recent: the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to the two physicians who established the link. Think of all the years that people used to spend drinking milk, avoiding spicy food, and trying not to be stressed! Spicy food and stress can stir up your ulcer, but the ulcer has to be there in the first place. More dangerously, untreated h. pylori infections can lead to stomach cancer.

h pylori bacterium

An h. pylori bacterium

When I went to my doctor on Monday, she did the blood test, but also sent me to a radiology clinic for an ultrasound of my gallbladder. I had never been to our new hospital or the surrounding medical plaza, and it is only five minutes from our house! Considering that we live in the hinterlands, that is incredible. I was impressed. The technician told me that she would not be able to give me the results, so I just lay there and watched the screen. Did you know that your insides are always moving around? It’s like a sci-fi movie in there. As I watched, I became concerned at the dark spots I could see, but I didn’t want to ask. Eventually, just before the end of the exam, I said casually, “So, what are we looking at?” She cheerfully answered, “This is your liver.” In my mind, I screamed, Oh, my gosh! My liver is full of holes! I must have some kind of parasite that’s digging holes into my internal organs! Then she continued, “And these dark spots are your blood vessels.” Whewwww!

After waiting several days for all of the results, my scan came back clean. I now know that my liver, gall bladder, pancreas, and right kidney are in great shape. That knowledge is somehow very satisfying. Not that we need to know all those things all the time, but the state of our internal organs is generally a mystery. The h. pylori test, though, came back positive. The definition of h. pylori sounds like a third-world disease that one contracts from living with swine. However, as I said above, it is astoundingly common. The cure is a nuclear bomb of two separate antibiotics at 3000 mg. per day, plus Nexium. Plus, for women, fluconazole and lots of yogurt. This combination has curtailed any activity outside of my house, which means that I’m working from home and not walking in the park.

NexiumAfter hanging out in my pharmacy for hours last week, I learned quite a bit about Nexium, which I will share for your edification. The urgent care doctor had called in a prescription, and the co-pay, after my very excellent pharmacy insurance, was $85. Yikes! The pharmacist told me that Nexium had recently become available over the counter, so I bought that for $20. It didn’t do much. Five days later, when the nurse at my doctor’s office called with test results, she asked me for the strength of the OTC Nexium, which was 22.3 mg. The prescription stuff is 40 mg. Even doubled, though, the OTC price is still half of the prescription price, and Wal-Mart sells it for $3 less than the drug store. Now that I’m taking the right dosage, it is my heartfelt belief that Nexium is a beautiful thing. No more pain; just a continually full feeling and the sensation that what I eat (mostly pills) is not getting all the way down. The weirdest side effect of the antibiotics is a nasty taste in my mouth in the morning, and I’m not sure if it’s the drugs or rafts of dead bacteria washing ashore on the back of my tongue. Bleh.

You may have noticed from the blog that I’m getting a lot of reading done. It’s amazing how much more time you have when you take away the getting dressed, packing lunch, driving to and from work time. I’ll keep on posting the reviews! In the meantime, I’ll try to remember C.S. Lewis’ advice and never again dismiss stomach troubles as no big deal. As a matter of fact, I keep telling my husband, “Don’t make me stressed, now. Remember that I have an ulcer.” He rolls his eyes.

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*There are so many editions of Mere Christianity, but in my 1952 MacMillan paperback copy, this quote is on page 86. It is Book 3, Part 4.

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