Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Here is my family's 2005 Christmas picture. From left to right: Mom, Ben (23), Dad, Hannah (19), and me (21).

We are all having a nice break from work and school. My dad, mom, and I, who all teach/tutor in some form and fashion, are enjoying a break from students. My sister, who will transfer to the University of Georgia next month, is glad for a break from being a student, although she is voluntarily continuing to pore over her language books through the school break. . . My brother is home for 3 weeks or so, before moving out to Seattle to begin his job with Microsoft. He just graduated with a master's degree in computer science from Georgia Tech.

Saturday my family is heading up to Indiana to spend Christmas in Hoosierland, as we do every year. That's right: I'm a Yankee. My parents were both raised in Indianapolis, where Ben and I were also born. We moved to Georgia when I was a baby, but I've spent every Christmas of my existence in Indiana. I love traveling to visit relatives over the Christmas season. The added chance of seeing a White Christmas is also a plus although, while I love the beauty of snow, I do hate the combination of wet and cold, and limit my close contact with the stuff.

We're driving first to Indianapolis, my parents' old stomping grounds and where my dad's parents and 4 of his 5 brothers still live. Then we'll head 2 hours south to Hanover, the little town where my mom's parents grew up, met, and married, and where they retired several years ago. We'll see two of my mom's sisters and their families, who live in the neighboring town of Madison, but my mom's other two sisters and her brother won't make it to Hanover this year.

On our way home we'll stop in Kentucky to spend a night with our good friends the Trues, who have five daughters. Their oldest daughter Lydia, who has been one of my best friends since I was 6, recently became engaged, and we'll have a fun time talking over details and discussing color combinations for the quilt I'm planning for her and Quinton :).

Another good childhood friend, Erika, is flying into Atlanta on New Year's Eve and spending the night with us before we drive her up to Tennessee to rejoin her drama troupe. She spent two nights with us earlier this week before flying out of Atlanta to see her family in Virginia. While here she took our Christmas picture (above).

As they often do, my parents will spend their anniversary driving home with us all from our Christmas visit. This year is special, since it marks 25 years they have spent together. I am thankful that the Lord chose to bless me with parents that have had a strong marriage. One thing I never doubted growing up, even when my parents had disagreements, was that they would always stay together. In our modern world where too many marriages crumble, I am thankful for their example.

Amongst all the busyness of the next few weeks, our church's new pastor starts on New Year's Day. Please pray for our church, that the transition will go smoothly and in a Christ-honoring direction.

I won't be on the internet much in the next week and a half or two, but I wanted to wish all my friends in blogdom a very Merry Christmas! Among the hustle and bustle of Christmas, make sure not to forget the very first gift of Christmas, the Lord Jesus Christ, and please stop with me for a moment in remembrance of the holy babe in the manger.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A 12 year-old girl, e-mail forwards, and my Seven 7's

When my family first got e-mail when I was 12, I was in a group of about 8 girls who e-mailed back and forth. We gave personal updates by e-mail, but mainly we swapped forwards and surveys. Over the months I accumulated (digital) files upon files of e-mail forwards with touching poems, heartwarming stories, and funny pictures that I could not do without.

I enjoyed the pretty pictures people had created using only a qwerty keyboard, and I enthusiastically perpetuated the "virtual snowball fight" that came my way. My e-mail life was deeply changed with every inspirational poem or testimony I read, and I automatically hit forward like any dutiful middle school e-mailer. My friends knew they were my friends because of the cute teddy bear I forwarded them; I knew they were my friends when they followed the instructions at the end of the e-mail to send it back to me. I proclaimed my faith by forwarding "Jesus Loves You" e-mails, not daring to not send them on, since that would be "denying my faith", as the end of the e-mail threatened. I also stopped the spread of untold numbers of viruses by warning my friends of their existence. I helped raise money for cancer research, for poor people in Africa, and for orphans in the Amazon. I was one busy humanitarian, all with the click of my mouse.

. . . And the chain letters that promised rewards. I did become dubious of those relatively quickly, after my forwards did not yield 70 postcards from around the world, $100, a free trip to Disney, or a partridge in a pear tree. Some of them were hoaxes, no doubt, but they couldn't have all been fake!

Microsoft never even followed through with their promises of cash for every friend who I forwarded their e-mail to, and each person my friends forwarded my e-mail to, and each person those people forwarded their e-mails to, on down the line. Hey, I knew my math, and I could work exponentials. There was tons of cash to be had using this payment method, but not a penny did I receive, even after all the trouble I went to in helping Microsoft test their new e-mail tracking software. Believe me, when my brother starts working for them in February, I'll make sure he gets old accounts settled.

Then there were the surveys. . . I think in the course of about one year I filled out every survey known to man (er, middle-school girls) at that time. I've always loved sharing personal information in a question-and-answer format, so I reveled in all the surveys that came my way, even writing a few myself - the lengthier the better. I spent hours and hours filling surveys out and reading them, until I realized how much of a time-waster they were and how similar they were all starting to look :). It must have been about the time I answered the question "What is your favorite entree?" for the umpteenth time that I started thinking:

You know what? This is getting old. Everyone I am sending this to already knows my favorite entree (umpteenth times over) as well as my favorite side dish and dessert, and they know that I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate or white.

It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't have to fill out another survey; the world would keep spinning, the birds would continue their tweeting, my computer would still deliver my e-mail, and my friends could even deal with not knowing the answer to the single, solitary new question on the latest survey. I've often wondered since then if Lydia, Angel, Brooke, Jessica, Christy, Sarah, or Sarah ever led a harder childhood because they never found out whether I put on my shoes and socks in a sock-shoe-sock-shoe order, or a sock-sock-shoe-shoe order. I can only assume they have forgiven me.

Okay, but in all seriousness, I did outgrow my excessive e-mail forwards phase after a while, and I can look back on it now with a laugh. I've since that time sent on very few e-mail forwards and filled out very few surveys. I've nicely reformed my e-mail habits, thanks to a few sessions of e-mail forwarders anonymous (EFA).

My name is Susan, and I am an e-mail forwardaholic.

A part of me still loves to fill out surveys, though. I admit to liking those online quizzes that calculate your IQ, personality, or the character you are most like from a book or movie. Mind you, I don't go around searching for them on a regular basis, but if someone links to one I am apt to take it.

I'm Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia, by the way.

The umpteenth identical e-mail survey sent to the same friends is pretty pointless, but I think a good, basic, short survey is a good way to get to know people. That is why I was glad when Lydia Hayden tagged me in the "Seven 7's" survey. I'd seen the survey on a few other blogs and thought it looked interesting, so without further ado, here are my seven 7's (some of these shameless stolen from Lydia).

Seven 7's

Seven things I hope to do before I die:

Have a more disciplined lifestyle
Have a meek and quiet spirit
Practice a consistent, meaningful quiet time with the Lord each day
Be wed to a godly man and raise godly seed
Live to see my children's children serving the Lord and raising up godly seed
Mentor young women
Create a home environment that is warm and inviting, and practice hospitality as a lifestyle

Seven things I cannot do well:

Play sports
Be spontaneous
Fake my emotions
Tell a lie
Be really confontational in person
Drive a stick shift ;)
Hold my tongue

Seven things that would attract me to my future husband:

Tall stature (at least 5'10" but over 6' would be better)
Love of the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength
Intelligent (especially in the fields of math, science, and theology)
A gentleman in dress and manner
Down-to-earth (can laugh at himself and acknowledge when he's wrong)
Understands and holds to sound Biblical doctrine
Has a vision for his life and his family and wants a whole lot of kids :)

Seven things I say often:

"Right. . . "
"Isn't math wonderful?"
"Does that make sense?" (tutoring situations)
"Why?" (tutoring situations, getting students to clarify their reasoning)
"That's another one of my soapboxes. . . "
"But I digress. . . "
"There's nothing I would rather do."

Seven authors, books, or series I love:

Bible (especially Genesis, Romans, I and II Corinthians, Phillippians, and Hebrews)
Elisabeth Elliot (especially The Mark of a Man)
Elizabeth Prentiss - Stepping Heavenward
Corrie ten Boom (especially The Hiding Place)
L.M. Montgomery (especially the Anne books and the Story Girl books)
Jane Austen - any and all of her writings
Louisa May Alcott (especially An Old-Fashioned Girl)

Seven movies I watch over and over again:

The Andy Griffith Show (Do tv shows count?)
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
(extended editions, of course)
The Sound of Music
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven people I want to do this (in alphabetical order, of course):

Mrs. B

Those without blogs, feel free to comment to this post instead. Anyone else who would care to participate can share their responses in the comments section.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

An appropriate graduation gift for a mathematics major. . .

We had way too much fun making this clock for my brother Ben's girlfriend Stephanie. She graduated today from Georgia Tech with highest honors in the area of Applied Mathematics. We knew she'd appreciate such a fine piece of clockmanship.

We are considering marketing our creation ;). Included with each clock, which can be personalized to your own favorite mathematical equivalences of the digits 1-12, would be a tri-fold brochure on the wonders of 144, 8128, and phi (Hannah's, Ben's, and my favorite numbers, respectively). Note the prominent location of these three numbers in the clock face, and also the time suggested by the placement of the hands.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Answers to Questions on Magic in Fiction

Mrs. B asked me for my opinion on books such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, so here it finally is.

I grew up loving The Chronicles of Narnia, having them read to me and eventually reading them myself. The Christian elements in them are so strong: creation, fall, antithesis, promise of a seed, betrayal, sacrifice, resurrection, redemption, etc. I also have grown to love The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the past few years, and find great Christian themes in it as well, albeit not as strong. While Harry Potter certainly has many noble, moral themes in it, I find it to be in an entirely different class, and although I have seen two of the movies, I have never read the books, nor plan to read them or watch any more of the movies.

First off, I think care in choosing books related to magic is a good thing, and I certainly believe that anyone who has doubt when reading a certain book would be better not reading it (Romans 14:23). I am not advocating making people read a series of which they feel uncomfortable. I would, though, like to explain how I personally feel about magic elements in fiction.

Second, I am fully aware that I have readers both to the right and to the left of me on this issue. I am merely giving my honest opinion on the matter, which I have formed after much thought, prayer, and research. You can disagree with me and that's fine. Just hear me out :).

One thing I've been pondering recently (concerning an unrelated issue) is that our moral assessment of a situation should be approached quite differently if it is an assessment for ourselves or for others. For ourselves, we should err on the side of safety, choosing not to do anything we have misgivings about, and choosing to do anything that we feel we may be required to do. In regards to assessing the actions of others, we should use the opposite approach. We should err on the side of safety by giving others the benefit of the doubt in areas of which we are not certain. I admit I am the first to fail in this regard, so I say this in all humility.

Back to magic in fiction, let us first of all go to the Bible for a few relevant verses:

Deuteronomy 18:10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you.

This verse shows that witchcraft is a serious offense before the Lord, and not to be taken lightly. As such, anything related to witchcraft should be carefully considered (note I am not saying automatically discarded). Now obviously there is a big difference between practicing witchcraft and reading about it (or watching a movie about it). But that doesn't mean they are incomparable. God cares about what we think, not just what we do:

Phillipians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Here we see that not only should our actions be controlled in holiness, but our thoughts as well. God is the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:30) not merely our actions. So whether or not one is actually participating in the act of witchcraft is not the entire issue; the issue is whether one is willingly subjecting himself to reading or viewing something that is an abomination to God. I won't spend any more time on this aspect now, except to say that this is precisely why I am so picky in my choice of movies, and why I almost never watch TV.

So now the question is not whether it matters if one reads or watches immorality, but if any of these book series fit that description. Furthermore, one must differentiate between different portrayals of filth. It is one thing to read a movie like Pride and Prejudice, which although containing a subplot concerning a wild young girl running off with an officer, treats the incident like the shame and immorality it is. It is quite another to watch a movie where such an act is treated as fine or even noble. My problem is not so much the presence of sinful acts, as it is the portrayal of the act as right or wrong; I like my lines to be clear, not blurry. If sin is portrayed in a "neutral" or positive light, then it is a mockery of God's law.

Furthermore, sin that is portrayed in such a way as to tempt others to fall into it should be avoided, particularly by those (like children) who are more prone to such temptation. Shortly I will expand upon this, but for now it will suffice to say that if our right hand causes us to sin, we must cut it off. Drastic measures must be taken in our sanctification.

So now that we've established that (a) sorcery is an abomination to God, (b) we are held accountable for our thoughts as well as participatory acts, (c) sin must be portrayed in a proper light, and (d) we must particularly avoid portrayals of sin that will tempt us, what about the three series that are before us?

Doug Phillips wrote an excellent article on magic in fiction. Make sure you get through the whole article before you draw conclusions on his own opinion. His article is a longer version of what I stated just above, namely that we must not subject ourselves for entertainment sake to a favorable depiction of immorality.

I also found another excellent article by Steven Greydanus that contrasts Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. This really is a masterpiece and if you have the time it will clearly explain to you the differences that I see in the three series. Below I will outline a few of the main points of the article to explain the differences between the series, but if you want more detail you will have to read the article in its entirety.

I will say that Doug Phillips' article is a little farther to the right than I am, while the other is farther to the left. I am not by any means saying I agree 100% with everything in these articles, but I do respect both of these Christian men for their honest, thoughtful opinions on the matter. Both articles are a good read if you have the time.

The above referenced article by Steven Greydanus focuses mainly on point (d) from above - we must particularly avoid portrayals of sin that will tempt us, although touching on the other points, especially (c), as well. He explains how the three series are different in this respect, forwarding seven "hedges" or safeguards that exist in the latter two series of books, but are noticeably absent in the former:

At the very least, then, these seven “hedges” disprove the claim of some Harry Potter fans that parents cannot consistently disapprove of the magic in Harry Potter while approving of Tolkien and Lewis.

Here are the seven hedges in Tolkien and Lewis.

1. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.

2. Reinforcing the above point, in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fictional worlds where magic is practiced, the existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science — even if most of them might have as little chance of actually encountering magic as most of us would of riding in the space shuttle. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a world in which magic is a secret, hidden reality acknowledged openly only among a magical elite, a world in which (as in our world) most people apparently believe there is no such thing as magic.

3. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are numbered among the supporting cast, not the protagonists with whom the reader is primarily to identify. By contrast, Harry Potter, a student of wizardry, is the title character and hero of his novels.

4. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis include cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on their protagonists: Frodo is almost consumed by the great Ring; Lucy and Digory succumb to temptation and use magic in ways they shouldn’t. By contrast, the practice of magic is Harry Potter’s salvation from his horrible relatives and from virtually every adversity he must overcome.

5. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are not in fact human beings (for although Gandalf and Coriakin are human in appearance, we are in fact told that they are, respectively, a semi-incarnate angelic being and an earthbound star.) In Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, while some human beings (called “Muggles”) lack the capacity for magic, others (including Harry’s true parents and of course Harry himself) do not.

6. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis emphasize the pursuit of magic as the safe and lawful occupation of characters who, in appearance, stature, behavior, and role, embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, mysterious, remote, unapproachable, who serve to guide and mentor the heroes. Harry Potter, by contrast, is a wizard-in-training who is in many crucial respects the peer of many of his avid young readers, a boy with the same problems and interests that they have.

7. Finally, Tolkien and Lewis devote no narrative space to the process by which their magical specialists acquire their magical prowess. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in the least encouraged to think about or dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic. In the Harry Potter books, by contrast, Harry’s acquisition of mastery over magical forces at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a central organizing principle in the story-arc of the series as a whole.
I think it important to note that the portrayal of magic in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings is limited to two types of people. First, in the two above mentioned series magic is limited to those beings that are clearly portrayed as evil. Second, it is limited to those beings gifted these powers by Aslan, the "powers for good", the Creator, etc. in a made-up world where these figures represent God, unlike a portrayal in the real world where they would represent opposing powers to God. "Magic" powers are not in and of themselves evil; it is when they are used contrary to an ordination and blessing from God that they are indeed a mockery of God's power. Witchcraft is evil because it breaks down God's created order and hierarchy of powers and is an attempt to displace God from his rightful place as ruler and sustainer of the universe. This is where I believe Harry Potter falls short, not recognizing nor safeguarding the power and sovereignty of God over the laws of nature and the universe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

2 more days! . . . and my ramblings on teaching and tutoring math :)

I haven't had a great deal of time for blogging recently. At least, not time to write some deeper posts that require time and effort. It took me 4 days just to post a brief review of the Narnia movie. I am still planning a more detailed response to queries about Chronicles of Narnia/Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter, but I haven't been able to work on it much. In the meantime, make sure to check out Lane Keister's response to the concerns about C.S. Lewis that are raised by Keepers of the Faith. He provides a kind yet solid response to concerns about C.S. Lewis. Also on my blog draft list is a post on Santa Claus, which I would like to post sometime during the Christmas season. Other posts also drafted and waiting to be completed.

These past few weeks, but especially the past week, have been busier than before, with extra students added to my tutoring schedule (Am I supposed to do miracles with a student's math average with 3 weeks before finals?) and the excitement of friends in town for Narnia. I've also been working a bit on Christmas presents and finishing So Much More, so I could return it when our friends came down. Then we had Christmas cookies to make and decorate to bring to Ashley's on Saturday after her church's Christmas program, plus another Christmas program to attend on Sunday evening. Then I decided to make cookies for my students tomorrow, so more baking and icing today.

I'm almost done with the semester! I have one more day of teaching tomorrow, followed by three tutoring sessions afterwards, then miscellaneous paperwork and two more tutoring sessions on Thursday. Then I'm done until January :). Yay! I am thankful for the program for which I teach, and for my tutoring students, but I am ready for a break. Two weeks ago after 5 tutoring sessions in one day (until 8:00, which is unusual) I had nightmares all night long that I was tutoring geometry and trying to explain proofs to a student who did not have a clue how to do a proof. All in all, though, if I must earn an income (part-time though it is), I'm thankful I can do it with my favorite subject :). I still haven't found the time in my classes to explain the wonders of 144, but I'll have to make time sometime this year. Perhaps I'll have time tomorrow in Geometry, as we are not doing a great deal. . . I also have a geometry student begging for me to explain to him why we cannot trisect an angle with a compass and straightedge, but I have tried to explain that vector spaces are a little beyond the scope of a high school geometry course. . .

While I'm on the subject of math, I have a semi-random math thought of the day. I've been trying to lay low with my geeky math posts, but I've held back long enough. I say "semi-random math thought" because it is a little related to a project (read Christmas present) my family is working on right now. I first had this thought back in the spring, but it resurfaced this evening during a family math conversation.

Did you know that 0.4999999999. . . (ellipses denote repeating infinitely) rounds to 1? :-D I was quite delighted when I realized this earlier this year. I love collecting random fun facts about math. It looks like it should round down to zero (assuming we are rounding to the nearest integer), as it begins with a 4 in the tenth place. But the key here is that 0.4999999999. . . is exactly 1/2.

There are a few ways to show this. I will provide two.

(1) 0.3333333. . . is exactly 1/3, undisputed as far as I know. This means that 3 times 1/3 must be 0.9999999. . . . As 3 times 1/3 is 1, we know that 0.9999999. . . is equal to (not just approximately) 1. Now if 0.99999999. . . is equal to 1, than 0.09999999. . . is equal to 1/10, which means that 0.4 + 0.099999999. . equals 0.49999999. . . and also 4/10 + 1/10, or 5/10, or 1/2.

(2) Let n = 0.4999999. . .
Then 10n = 4.99999999. . .
10n - n = 4.99999. . . - 0.4999999. . . which equals 4.5, or 9/2
10n - n also equals 9n, so 9n = 9/2
Solving for n gives n = 1/2

To complete the explanation as to why 0.49999999. . . rounds to 1, we must merely note that since 0.499999999. . . repeating is exactly 1/2, it must round up to 1, as per standard rounding rules. :-D

Isn't mathematics beautiful? *becomes teary-eyed*

I'll close with a picture demonstrating what happens to poor unguarded pieces of paper in our house. This particular work of art was created by Mother Dear on the back of an old envelope.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Movie Review for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I just had to post a picture of Hannah hugging the lampost :). Her lampost-hugging caught on the next day during a walk through our neighborhood. It seemed that every lampost we passed was hugged by one person or another*.

*Disclaimer: No lamposts were harmed in the process. Furthermore, the author of this post was merely a bystander in this activity and took no active part in the proceedings.

The picture with all 4 girls is of Lucy Pevensie, a dryad, the lampost, and the White Witch. I thought all the costumes were quite creative, especially the lampost hat that really turned on!

Whew! What a blur of a weekend. I planned on typing up my review on Friday, but various events prevented me until this morning. I took a 3 hour nap yesterday to finally recover from my loss of sleep on Thursday. I now feel refreshed and back to normal :).

So, did I like the movie? Well, yes, I definitely did! I also do have nitpicks to share, but overall I would say I very much enjoyed it and felt it was overall faithful to the original story. I will first share the pros of the movie, then the cons. If you haven't seen the movie and don't want details, then don't read my review :).


- The acting was excellent - considerably better than the BBC production.
- The special effects were good, and the centaurs and fauns really looked real. No cartoon winged horses in this adaptation :).
- The scenery was breath taking and fit my mental image of Narnia. The rendition of the castle of Cair Paravel was especially beautiful, although more regal than I had imagined. The mermaids leaping out of the water was a nice inclusion.
- The costumes were well-done. I especially liked Susan's and Lucy's Narnian dresses and the Narnian armor for battle, with the Red Lion emblem engraved on the metal. Very real looking. The start of the battle, with the two armies lunging towards each other, really looked like Pelennor Fields :).
- The story and overall message was preserved. The themes of sacrifice, redemption, loyalty, etc. were still very much there.
- There were a few little details, added for the bibliophiles, that were nice: the moth balls falling out of the wardrobe as Lucy opens it up and the book titles in Mr. Tumnus' library (Is Man a Myth?, etc.). I also thought the effect of Jadis' icicle crown was neat. It slowly melts as the movie progresses, symbolizing her gradual loss of power.


- One costume I did not like was Jadis'. Her dresses were really oddly shaped, as if the top was stuffed with styrofoam or something of that sort.
- The beavers were a tad annoying, but okay. The BBC beavers, while really corny looking, were much more loveable and faithful to the book.
- The depiction of the dryads was a little odd, imo. They were kind of a whirlwind of flowers that came off the trees. Hard to describe, but not to my liking. I especially did not like that the dryads told Peter and Edmond of Aslan's death before the battle.
- Peter's battle stance was odd - the way he held his sword was abnormal.
- The book quote "battles are ugly when women fight" was instead changed to "battles are ugly" when Father Christmas explains to Susan and Lucy that they are to use their weapons only in great need. This leaves the audience wondering why he told Susan and Lucy this, but not Peter. The quote would have been better left out completely since they decided to distort it.
- Aslan didn't seem to have the same aura that he does in the books. I can't put my finger on it, but something was missing. He was much more life-like than the BBC puppet, though ;-).
- Many scenes seemed rushed and undeveloped. It would have nicer if more time had been allotted for lingering.
- Finally, and perhaps most notable, it struck me as rather selfish the way the Pevensies spent almost the whole movie trying to get out of Narnia and the conflict as quickly as possible. They kept talking about getting home and leaving the problems to other people, etc. Not the same feeling one gets from the book.

Well, there you have it. My own list of pros and cons to the movie. I definitely have some complaints about the movie, but far fewer than I anticipated. Overall it was faithful to the book, and this is one movie I will definitely want to get on DVD. I'd be interested to hear anyone else's opinion of the movie.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Narnian Dryad

The birchgirls in silver, and the beechgirls in fresh, transparent green, and the larchgirls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.

Hannah and I had too much fun tonight at Goodwill, finding a dryad costume for her to wear to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Zeglen girls, who are coming with us, are also planning to come in costume - Lucy Pevensie, the White Witch, and the Lamppost, tentatively. The rest of us are going without costumes. I had considered dressing as a dryad, but wasn't satisfied with any of my costume options. Hannah, sweet sister that she is, wanted me to be the White Witch, but I've declined. She thought I'd be perfect for the part. She quickly clarified that I have the pale complexion and tall figure. Smooth recovery, Dear :).

The Far East

Since the wisemen likely did not visit Jesus as a newborn, in our house I make sure that the wisemen of our nativity scenes are in "the far east," having just started their journey in search of the Christ child. Here are our wisemen, lined up along the eastern wall of our main room. They'll arrive in time for Epiphany :).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teddy Roosevelt on Motherhood

I'm currently reading through So Much More, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin. So far I am quite enjoying it. I found the following quote from the book, by Teddy Roosevelt, to be quite interesting. Truly he believed that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Hard to imagine a modern-day president giving a similar speech.

In 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the nation on the
importance of motherhood, he revealed a mature understanding of the biblical

No piled-up wealth, no splendor of material growth, no brilliance of artistic development, will permanently avail any people unless its home life is healthy. . . unless the average woman is a good wife, a good mother, able and willing to perform the first and greatest duty of womanhood, able and willing to bear, and to bring up as they should be brought up, healthy children, sound in body, mind, and character, and numerous enough so that the race shall increase and not decrease.

There are certain old truths which will be true as long as this world endures, and which no amount of progress can alter. One of these is the truth that the primary duty of the husband is to be the home-maker, the breadwinner for his wife and children, and that the primary duty of the woman is to be the helpmate, the housewife, and mother. . .

Into the woman's keeping is committed the destiny of the generations to come after us. . . The woman's task is not easy - no task worth doing is easy - but in doing it, and when has done it, there shall come to her the highest and holiest joy known to mankind; and having done it, she shall have the reward prophesied in Scripture; for her husband and her children, yes, and all people who realize that her work lies at the foundation of all happiness and greatness, shall rise up and call her blessed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

TIME on Books v. Movies

Here is a portion of a TIME article comparing recent film adaptations to their respective books. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is among those featured, and I have copied the related parts here:

-- Winner: Book

CHALLENGES: Right off the bat, the screenwriters had to commit sacrilege by tinkering with a beloved children's classic. They also had to wrestle with a strongly Christian plot that flirts with Sunday-school didacticism and had to keep kids interested despite a noticeable lack of exploding spaceships.

HOW THE BOOK WAS BETTER: Director Andrew Adamson Hollywoodizes Lion with a dreary, rote chase scene and "punches up" C.S. Lewis' dialogue with a pair of tiresome beavers with Cockney accents who engage in sitcom-style banter.

HOW THE MOVIE IS BETTER: Whereas Lewis let World War II stay in the book's background, the movie opens with a stark, scary shot of Luftwaffe bombers pummeling London. It's a daring stroke that brings out the dark strata of loss and violence that lay beneath the story. Lewis also soft-pedaled the book's climactic battle between the forces of good and evil; the movie makes it the set piece readers have always wanted. "It'd be a crime not to show a fight between a centaur and a minotaur," says screenwriter Christopher Markus.

DEFINITIVE VERSION: Nothing will ever touch the subtlety, mystery, power and charm of Lewis' novel. But this Lion is still a noble beast.

I have to admit the bit about the "sitcom-style banter" of the beavers does leave me a bit uneasy. How typically Disney, although supposedly Disney has nothing to do with the making of the movie, just the distribution. I can stomache very few recent Disney cartoons, as recent Disney cartoons are usually driven by humor, not by plot. I prefer some meat myself. I do hope the beaver side-show proves to be miniscule.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Above Our Bonus Room Door. . .

I rarely darken the door of a movie theater, but I'll be at the December 8th midnight showing for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We have our friends from TN coming down, as well as Ashley, and my brother Ben and his girlfriend Stephanie. Friends from KY and AL couldn't make it because of transportation issues, but it'll still be a good time.

Visit this Swedish site to see a 9-minute supertrailer of the upcoming movie.

I have hopes that this adaptation will best the old BBC version. The cartoon winged-horses just never were my style. Then there were the beaver costumes - or were those furry sacks of potatoes? I still enjoy the old BBC version occasionally for old-time sake, but it definitely would never win any cinematography award. I do love the theme music, though.

Speaking of the BBC version, they showed it a few years back on public television and completely took out the whole "crucifixion" and "resurrection" scene. Needless to say, it made for a confusing and very different story. That's close to (but not nearly as bad as) Jesus Christ Superstar, which didn't even have a resurrection. May I not recommend that movie? There are some movies you just wish you could erase from your memory.

But back to Narnia. . .

My sister is - How shall I put this? - rather fixated on Narnia. She's been in kind of a daze of anticipation for the last several months. She's been known to hug lampposts in public. The sign above our bonus door was her idea, as well. I consider her to be a Narnian traitor, though, as she subscribes to pre-wardrobe orderology. I know - shocking! She actually advocates and defends the practice of placing The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a post-orderologist myself, let's just say that we've exchanged some words on this subject. I still love her, though.

I'm just glad that they are releasing the movies in the traditional order. It is getting harder and harder to find a bookset with the correct order now. I had to find mine at a yard sale for $2 :-). I know, the sacrifice! I'm still on the lookout for another traditional set for Ashley. But then, even if I did find one, I just might have to hide it until she gets a traditional nativity set. . . none of that Epiphany nonsense ;-).

Sunday, November 27, 2005


My family had a great time over Thanksgiving break with long-time family friends. We started the tradition of spending Thanksgiving with them several years ago, after they moved to TN, and we've kept it up ever since. I always look forward to getting to spend Thanksgiving with the Zeglens and all 7 of their children :).

The middle 3 girls are my and Hannah's special friends, and we love to do fun things with them! This summer we had "Susan Garrison's Homemaking Camp" in which we sewed, baked, and cooked. We've done cake decorating as well, and plans are in the works for baking whole wheat bread in the future. We also enjoy watching our older brothers play with explosives - a standing Thanksgiving tradition :). This year featured two hot-air balloons and a flame-spurting potato gun.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Walking in a Winter Shoppingland. . .

We Can Have Christmas All Year. . .

>>>>Enter Nostalgic Christmas Music<<<<

Has anyone else noticed how the Christmas season keeps getting longer and longer? It used to be standard for stores to pull out Christmas decorations and merchandise the day after Thanksgiving. Santa Claus (more on him in a later post) appeared at the mall right after Thanksgiving, but certainly not before. The Christmas season was understood to reside after Thanksgiving Day and before New Year's Day. No more is this the case, however; after all, five weeks just isn't long enough to spend walking in a winter shoppingland. . .

Perhaps it's all a ploy to glaze over Thanksgiving, the only remaining holiday that has not been largely secularlized. It's hard for the secular community to embrace a distinctly Christian holiday like Thanksgiving, so they've managed to largely overshadow it with Christmas. After all, giving thanks implies a greater being to whom we are thankful - dangerous ground to tread. So now, as soon as Halloween (err, Reformation Day) is over, out come the Christmas decorations, the candy, the advertisements, the Santas in the malls, and the badly-done popular renditions of once-revered Christmas carols, broadcast over the loudspeakers in every store.

Before I continue, I would like to make clear that I love many things about Christmas. I look forward to the Christmas carols, the traditional decorations, Christmas letters and pictures, exchanged gifts, visited family. This time of year is a special time to remember the miracle of Christmas: the virgin conception and birth of Jesus Christ. That is the part of Christmas that I love; however, that is not what this post is about.

The shopping frenzy that will peak over the next month truly makes me ill. The stores all vie for the consumer's money while the run-down consumer frantically tries to buy presents for everyone on her shopping list. Making a list, checking it twice, gotta find out who likes marbles or dice. Consumerism is coming to town. . .

My favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I find myself identifying with Charlie Brown whenever I watch it. Just like him, I become disillusioned every Christmas season because of the pervading commercialism. Maybe I should just face the facts, like Lucy charged Charlie Brown to do:

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial
racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.

Then there is Sally (Charlie Brown's sister), the poster child for the American Christmas spirit:
Dear Santa Claus, How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your
wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I
want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible.
If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How
about tens and twenties?
The greed displayed by all - but especially kids - at this time of year is disgusting. As Sally told her brother: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Too many kids actually think that Christmas gifts are a "right," not a privilege. Too many parents feel that in order for their kids to have a good childhood, they must lavish them with excessive gifts each Christmas. I have heard people honestly list as a major reason for two incomes the ability to buy a lot of presents for their kids at Christmas time. I kid you not.

I am not against gift giving, and I especially like exchanging gifts with people I love. I think it is appropriate (although not necessary) for parents to give their children a few gifts at Christmas, symbolizing the first Christmas gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a fun tradition for siblings to exchange gifts, if the stress is on thought rather than size of gift.

I don't have a problem with gift giving if it doesn't become "Let's see how much we can lavish on our children so they have good childhood memories and love us (and Santa) lots" or "Ho-hum; I know I need to get a gift for Sally since she'll give one to me, but I haven't a foggy clue what she would want as I hardly know her."

In my extended family, in the past we have drawn names for gift giving with cousins. That worked well, although it got out of hand when the gifts became $30, $40, even $50 gifts! It also became very rote and unmeaningful as the cousins grew older and it was harder to find a gift that would be both appropriate and appreciated.

Of course there are always gift certificates. . .


Really, I would have loved to have been in on the business meeting of the first store that offered gift certificates.

Tom: Many people come into our store and leave without finding the right gift. How can we make them buy their gifts at our store, even if we don't have the items they want? Some of the customers are even talking of just giving their friends money for gifts. If that happens, then there's no way to make sure they spend it here.

Harry: I know. Let's make up little pieces of paper called certificates that give people shopping money to spend at our store. For example, a person can by $5 worth of our merchandise with a certificate that someone else bought from us for $5.

Tom: C'mon. That'll never work. Why would someone pay us money so their friend has to spend their money at our store? What person would want money that has to be spent at a certain place?

Harry: It might work. We just have to put the right spin on it. "
The gift that's always the right size" or something like that. What do we have to lose? Better yet, let's make an expiration date on the gift certificates, so if they don't get used by a
certain date then we get paid for nothing.

And the rest is history. . .

*Disclaimer: I have probably given gift certificates as gifts before, and I don't mind receiving them as gifts. If you have given me (or someone else) a gift certificate in the past, I hold no grudges against you, especially if the alternative was a light-up Rudolph nose. I am just trying to expose the illogic of this practice that advertisers have made popular. There is no logical reason why a cash gift is tacky in our society, but a gift certificate is not. I do think that one reason to give a gift certificate would be to introduce someone to a store of which they had never heard.

The following are a few modern-day scenarios that will likely result in a gift certificate purchase:

Scenario 1: You picked Bob the sales clerk's name in the Secret Santa drawing. You've spoken to him once since you started your job, and all you know about his personal life is that he's married and hates golf. What are you going to get him for a present?

Scenario 2: Your extended family has a tradition of purchasing gifts for all the cousins. You have a teenage niece who lives on the other side of the country. You've seen her once in the past 5 years. Last year she received bath products, the year before was a designer candle. What are you going to get her for a present this year?

Scenario 3: Your aging parents are comfortably retired in their dream home. They do not want for any material things. You have given them a fruit basket twice before. What are you going to get them for a present this year?

A century ago the idea of a gift certificate would have been laughable, but there are cultural reasons why gift certificates are so popular today. It is primarily because Christmas gifts today are often not meaningful gifts for people with whom one is well acquainted. It's easy to think of a meaningful gift for someone who is close to you, or someone who has great needs, but in our society this is not often the case. Americans are so wealthy, and many people honestly do not need any material possessions.

Handmade items, such as jams, jellies, quilts, pies, etc. are a lost art to many, and our instant gratification society encourages fast gift shopping as much as it does fast food eating. I don't think that handmade items are equivalent to thoughtful gifts, so please don't get me wrong. I do think handmade items are a nice (and often superior) gift, and I do prefer to give handmade gifts myself. I think thoughtful gifts can also be purchased from a store, though, and many of the best gifts are free. I delight in giving and receiving gifts that reflect thoughtfulness behind them. This is the purpose of giving gifts, to show loving thoughtfulness to another.

Unfortunately gift giving has become a chore in our society as it has become out-of-hand and distanced from personal touch. Sad that such a nice tradition has been so marred. The religious significance and the time-honored traditions of Christmas has been so overrun by the commercialism. It makes me want to break into a nostalgic tune.

I'm Dreaming of a Lite Christmas. . .

As a Christian, I give gifts as a small picture of The First Gift of Christmas. I've always thought it would be neat to place gifts in a homemade manger, rather than under a tree. I am not opposed to trees, but I think it would be neat to use a manger, maybe in addition to a tree decoration. The First Gift of Christmas was placed in a manger, so it would be appropriate to place gifts to one another in a manger, since these gifts are to symbolize The First Christmas Gift. It would help us remember why we are giving gifts in the first place.

This Christmas season, I will likely have the urge at some point(s) to shout as Charlie Brown did: Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

I am thankful that there is an answer to that question, and we aren't left to wonder. Thank you, Lord, for the Linuses in the world, who are there to remind us what Christmas is all about.


Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you. Lights, please.

(A spotlight shines on Linus.)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving, one of the few holidays that has not been largely secularized and commercialized in America. Thanksgiving was instituted by the Pilgrims in thanks to God for bringing them through the first winter in the New World. Thanksgiving is still a time to spend with family and friends, fellowshipping together through the breaking of bread and the giving of thanks to the good Lord above for his provision over the years.

My family has spent the last several Thanksgivings with our long-time family friends from Chattanooga, the Zeglens. Our closest relatives are about 500 miles away, so we are thankful to be able to share this holiday with the Zeglens. We will be enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal with them, and plenty of fun throughout the day. They have 7 kids, and my sister and I always love spending time with the 5 youngest, ages 13 and under. I am sure several rounds of cards and a game of prince and princess hide-and-seek are on the agenda for tomorrow.

During this season of thankfulness, I am thankful for. . .

Daily Bread

May I be thankful for this and much more, not merely on Thanksgiving, but all through the year.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Title Confusion

In the past year or so I've been pondering quite a bit the place and use of titles such as Miss, Mrs., Mr., etc. This is mainly because I am now at that age when I am an adult (and a college graduate), yet I still don't fully think of myself as one. If I meet anyone remotely older than me who is married, then I automatically call them by their last name, Mr. or Mrs. ______, yet more and more often I meet married adults who are 10 or 20 years older than me, and they ask me to refer to them by their first name.

My confusion has increased over the past semester as I am now teaching for a homeschool program that I have been familiar with for quite some time. Although I never attended there, my family has known the headmaster (and other involved families) for years, and I still refer to him as Mr. Meents; I would not feel comfortable doing otherwise. The other woman who teaches math for the program, though, is older than the headmaster, yet I call her by her first name when not in the presence of students.

But the saga continues. You see, I know several homeschool families who send their children to the program. One of my Algebra I students (obviously several years younger than myself) grew up with me in the same homeschool group, yet she now has to call me "Miss Garrison" instead of "Susan". Her older brother still calls me Susan and thinks it's funny that she now refers to me, even at home, as Miss Garrison. There was originally a strong possibility this year that two girls who I know very well - one I consider a friend, the other is one of my sister's friends - would be in my statistics class, which didn't end up garnering enough interest to materialize. That would have been even stranger to be in a position of authority over two girls with whom I have such a close acquaintance (and are closer in age) and to have them call me Miss Garrison. I know several other students in the program, but only the one girl whom I actually teach, two counting the sister of one of my sister's friends.

Then there is the tutoring I do on the side. Do I introduce myself to my tutoring students as Miss Garrison, as Susan, or just leave them to guess? I've been introducing myself as Susan, but I can see that it is strange or uncomfortable to some students.

And ah, yes, the Mrs., Miss, Ms. controversy. I avoid Ms. since it is a product of the feminist revolution :). In college all female instructors without a doctorate, even if married with their husbands' last names, were referred to as Ms. _______, pronounced "miss". A few wrote their name "Mrs.", but most opted for the elusive "Ms." in both writing and speech. I spent a good deal of time in the public schools last year observing and teaching, and never was a female teacher verbally referred to with the title "Mrs". The high school teachers, unlike the college instructors, did not mind writing their names "Mrs.", they were just never referred to by this title; it was always verbally "Miss", whether married or single. I'm not sure if this was from feminist influences or a product of southern culture. . .

I have found it very amusing to observe the differences in which my students and their parents refer to me in writing. I introduced myself to my classes as Miss Garrison and the same was written on my syllabus and all mass parent-student e-mails. All of my students verbally address me as "Miss Garrison". By e-mail, though, I have had students refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" on numerous occasions, as well as the most popular "Ms. Garrison". Rarely (I hazard to guess never) has a student or parent addressed me in writing as "Miss Garrison", although I sign every mass parent-student e-mail with this title. To individual parents I often sign my e-mails "Susan Garrison"; some reply with Mrs, most with Ms, and one or two with Susan. To the two parents whom I have long known, I always sign my name "Susan", and they respond in kind.

What brought on this long meandering was the recent slew of progress reports I just e-mailed today. I individually e-mailed an Excel grade spreadsheet to each student, with grades and averages, and wrote a short personalized e-mail signed "Miss Garrison". One of the parents has already e-mailed back to "Mrs. Garrison", which I find amusing since in the e-mail to which she was replying I signed my name "Miss Garrison". Granted I am not offended, nor will I lose sleep over this. I really don't care if all my students and parents refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" - though that is my mother's name ;). I just find the whole situation interesting to ponder.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Thanksgiving is 10 days away and I've been seeing Christmas decorations for weeks, since well before Reformation Day ;). I'm going to scream! It's all part of the vast consumerism plot. Look for my post on consumerism coming November 25th. . .

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cooking From Scratch, Part III: Whole Wheat Flour and Honey

Read Part I: Beef Stew and Cooking from Scratch here.
Read Part II: Cream Soups and Broths here.

For those looking for healthy choices when cooking from scratch, try using whole wheat flour and honey (or other natural sweeteners) in place of white flour and refined sugar.

From my first post on cooking from scratch:

The overwhelming problems Americans have with their health today is
largely due to poor eating habits. I'm not just talking about Big Macs and Coke
(term used generically in Atlanta for any soda) here. Just look at all the
chemicals listed on the back of most food packages today. Processed foods
contain so many by products. By putting unnatural products into their body
systems day in and day out, Americans are eating themselves into a plethora of
health problems and an early grave. For example, 40% of all cancer is caused by
lack of fiber, easily treatable with a well-balanced, natural diet.
Lack of fiber is mainly due to the current American diet, full of white flour and other fiberless foods. We need an adequate amount of fiber in our diet to maintain a healthy digestive system. One of the best ways to get fiber is to eat whole grain foods such as baked goods made with whole wheat flour, cornmeal, bran, etc. After wheat kernels are milled, they rapidly lose nutrients, so the whole wheat flour one buys at the store, while superior to white flour, is still far inferior to fresh ground flour.

My family has a Whisper Mill that grinds wheat kernels with electric power. Any flour we do not use immediately, we store in the fridge in a ziploc bag. Storing it in the fridge helps the flour retain nutrients for an extended period of time, and prevents the wheat germ from becoming rancid. We used to store our flour in the freezer until I read that freezing whole wheat flour destroys most of the vitamin E.

We often replace part of the flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour so the texture of the food is not drastically altered while still providing some fiber. When I make homemade pasta (with a machine) I usually use 1/2 white flour, 1/2 whole wheat. I've varied results with my attempts at pasta, but when it works it is tasty, healthy, and economical.

Mr. Baggins said:
On the cancer issue, researchers have found that the number one cause of cancer
is sugar: white, processed sugar. The solution? cook with honey. Of course, you
have to use less (says my wife), but it is much healthier. And get the raw
uncooked variety from a local apiary, not the processed honey you get in a
grocery store. It tastes soooo much better, not to mention being much healthier
for you.
We also use honey as sweetener in many recipes, either as a replacement or as part of the sweetener for the recipe. If you do use honey as a substitute, you need to use less honey than sugar, as Mr. Baggins' wife said. I use about 3/4 cup of honey to replace 1 cup white sugar. It varies for each recipe, though. Molasses and brown sugar are also good alternatives to white sugar. We've never bought unprocessed honey, but my sister and I would like to try some soon. I've heard from many people that it is superior to the store variety.

Breads, rolls, and heavier cakes and cookies are good foods to start with when trying whole wheat flour and natural sweetener. Don't try making an angel food cake with whole wheat flour and honey - it's not going to work!

It's difficult to find good recipes that don't sacrifice flavor for nutrition. I've tried some recipes that are supposed to be so tasty, but in all honesty the food tasted more like horse food than people food. Two cookbooks I have for whole foods recipes are Whole Foods for the Whole Family and Whole Foods from the Whole World, both published by La Leche League. I've had varied success with their recipes. Some are really good and some are really bad. My favorite healthy recipes are mostly ones I've adapted from a regular recipe.

Here are a few healthy recipes my family enjoys:

Whole Wheat Bread

8 c warm water
1 c honey
2 1/2 T salt
3 T yeast
approximately 24 c wheat flour

Before I make this recipe I grind two full loads of flour in our mill. This will make enough for the bread, with some to spare to store in the fridge for later use. Add honey, water, 1/2 of the flour (one load), and yeast to mixer (we have a Bosch with dough hooks). Mix on #1 (low). Add flour until sides are clean. Add salt. Knead on #2 for 8 minutes. Knead some by hand. Form into 1.5 lb loaves or into rolls. Let rise until almost twice height of pan (the rising time varies quite a bit for us). Bake at 375 for 22 minutes. Bake any rolls for 10-15 minutes.

Oatmeal Cookies (my sister and I had fun creating this recipe)

3 eggs
1 1/2 c raisins
1 t vanilla
1 c butter, slightly softened
1 c brown sugar
1 c honey
2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
2 t baking soda
3 t cinnamon
3 cups rolled oats

Beat eggs well, add raisins and vanilla, let stand 1 hour to soften raisins (optional). Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and raisins. Whisk flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon, and add gradually. Add oats. Chill in refrigerator for firmer cookies (recommended). Spoon dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes.

Oat Muffins

1 c water
1 stick butter
3/4 c honey
2 c oat flour (grind rolled oats in blender)
1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c buttermilk

Combine water, butter, and honey in 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Mix dry ingredients together. Add to honey mixture; mix well. Add eggs and buttermilk; mix well. Spoon into muffin pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Top with cream cheese frosting if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting (this was surprisingly good!)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2-4 T honey
1 t vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter in bowl until fluffy. Beat in honey to taste. Add vanilla; mix well.

Cooking from Scratch, Part II: Cream Soups and Broths

Read Part I: Beef Stew and Cooking from Scratch here.

I hope to post on cooking with honey and whole wheat flour tomorrow, Lord willing. For now I'll address cream soups and broths.

Mrs. B asked:

Is there a particular cookbook that you like that has SIMPLE home-style recipes? (Alot of cookbooks these days have weird stuff in them).

I haven't found many cookbooks that I really like, and I would love any recommendations others can give. I mainly find my recipes online or get them from other people. I have greatly enjoyed one cookbook I picked up at a yard sale last year. It is called Old-Fashioned Home Baking, published by Better Homes and Gardens. Oodles of recipes from scratch: different breads, breakfasts, desserts, etc. The apple ladder loaf in the book is so good! The Joy of Cooking is also a good staple to own. I have a collection of cookbooks from yard sales and usually find one or two good recipes per book that I end up trying and liking. I figure a few dollars for one or two recipes is well worth it.

I have not experimented a great deal with substituting other products for canned cream soups, as I mainly find new recipes instead.

Mrs. N suggested using a white sauce (recipe found in any basic cookbook) as a substitute for cream soups:
It is very easy and economical to substitute a basic white sauce for cream of
mushroom/celery/chicken soup. It is just flour and milk cooked together until
thick. You can make it by first making a roux which is equal parts butter and
flour cooked together in a pan (usually 2 Tbs each) and then whisking milk into
it. Most of the time I don't go to that much trouble and just thicken the milk
with flour and add my favorite seasoning. Easy.

White sauce is actually what was used for centuries before The Great Campbell's Soup Takeover. Some of you ladies who took home economics in middle or high school may remember being taught how to make a white sauce because it is "the base for so many dishes". Only thing is, most people don't make those dishes anymore, or just make similar ones with canned soups. A classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking still has recipes with white sauce.

I have used a recipe for chicken flavored white sauce in a recipe for enchiladas, and it was delicious. The lady who wrote the recipe said the sauce can be substituted for an equal amount of undiluted cream of chicken soup. Here is the recipe:

Chicken Flavored White Sauce

3/4 c butter
3/4 c flour
4 c chicken broth
1 t salt (if broth is unsalted)
1 c dry milk powder (optional)

In saucepan melt butter. Add flour and stir. Add broth, salt, and milk powder. Stir with wire whisk. Cook until thickened.

Chicken broth is an excellent addition to recipes like the one above, and gives flavor without sacrificing health. I started experimenting with homemade chicken broth 3 years ago, at the same time I started buying and cooking whole chickens. My first attempts were very weak at best :(. I learned the hard way that ingredients like carrots, celery, onion, and herbs and spices really were helpful for achieving a tasty broth.

When I make chicken broth, I normally put two large chickens (5-6 pounds) in a large stockpot and cover them with water. Turn the burner on (eye for those in the South ;) ) to high. Meanwhile cut up a few stalks of celery (leaves are especially flavorful) and a few carrots and add to broth for flavor. Onion is also a good addition. When the water comes to a boil, skim off the scum that rises to the top and turn burner to medium low. Add various seasonings or spices: salt, pepper, thyme, nutmeg, parsley, bay leaves. Salt really adds flavor, but don't overdo it. Thyme is good, but can be overpowering if used in excess. Nutmeg is definitely my favorite flavoring for any chicken dish.

I let the chickens cook until they test done with a meat thermometer. I remove carrots, celery, bay leaves, etc., and take the chickens out of the broth and debone the chicken, saving the meat for future use. After cooling and deboning the chickens, I return the carcasses to the broth for extra cooking. I think this extra simmer really helps add flavor. I have also found that simmering uncooked chicken (broth) gives better flavor then simmering a chicken carcass (stock), although both is preferred if possible. If the broth is too watery it can always be reduced by cooking it down to a lower volume. Obviously with 2 chickens I get a lot of broth in one go-around, so I freeze most of it in gladware for future use.

Here is one of my favorite from-scratch recipes. I found this chicken pie recipe on the internet, titled "Rachel Lynde's Chicken Pie." How fun, since I love Anne of Green Gables :). It has become a family favorite. The sauce made for the filling could easily be used for other recipes as well, perhaps in place of cream of chicken soup. The sauce is made with a basic roux (fat and flour, cooked together) with chicken broth whisked into it. This chicken pie recipe is genuine comfort food :). Mmmm, good.

Chicken Pie

4 c chicken broth (I use homemade)
3 carrots, cut into bite size pieces
2 potatoes
2 cut-up ribs of celery
2 1/2 c cubed cooked chicken
1 onion, chopped
3/4 stick butter

6 T flour
1/4 t each, thyme and nutmeg
parsley to taste

2 c flour
2 1/4 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
6 T butter or shortening
1/2 c grated cheddar
2 eggs
approximately 1/2 c milk

Filling Directions: In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil, add vegetables and cook on med low uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to large bowl with slotted spoon, reserving broth, and add chicken to vegetable bowl. In separate pan cook onion in butter over med low heat, stir in flour, and stir 3 min. Add 3 c reserved broth in a stream, whisking. Bring mixture to boil. Add thyme, and simmer sauce, stir occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in spices, then pour sauce over chicken mixture, stirring gently until just combined. Transfer to greased 9x13 glass baking dish. Filling may be made 1 day in advance if covered and chilled, or further in advance if frozen. My family likes to double or triple the filling, and freeze the extra in ziploc bags.

Crust Directions: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in shortening to resemble coarse meal. Add cheddar and toss mixture. Into measuring cup, break 2 eggs and add enough milk to measure 3/4 c total. Beat mixture with fork. Add egg mixture to flour, stirring to form dough. Roll out on floured surface. Cut out rounds and place over chicken mix. Bake at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until filling bubbles and biscuits are cooked and golden.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Beef Stew and Cooking From Scratch

Stew is one of those foods that belongs in the fall and winter :). I love a good homemade stew, especially during the aforementioned seasons. My family enjoyed a tasty homemade stew tonight with homemade bread and biscuits. Mmmmm, good. The bread was made with fresh-ground whole wheat flour and honey, so it was healthy as well as good. The biscuits, well, let's just say they tasted good :).

I love cooking and baking, and I especially love to find recipes that are all from scratch. I have long fought against the tide of prepackaged, processed, "meals in a box." I avoid recipes with cream of mushroom soup like the plague. Have you ever taken a look at the quantity and quality of ingredients listed on a can of cream of mushroom soup? And who needs chicken buillion cubes when one can make chicken broth from scratch; oh, so much healthier, and the flavor will actually be chicken and vegetables instead of sodium. Run-of-the-mill canned chicken broth actually sets my heart racing from the high salt content.

Cooking from scratch is becoming a lost art in our society. Sad. I heard of one homeschool mom who, when communicating that she cooks for her family every night, was asked by other homeschool moms if she was Amish. I've known people to be surprised to find that I actually make foods like cake, gravy, and lasagna from scratch, rather than from a box or packet. Then there are my experiments with homemade pasta, admittedly varying in success and definitely a waste of time in the eyes of most people. When it works, though, it is far superior. There is also a sense of satisfaction from making a food or a whole meal with basic ingredients, rather than pouring some water over powder, stirring, and popping it in the oven.

Now, I am not above occasionally using processed food of some sort, but if it was up to me it would be limited to very little or none. I admit that brownies from a mix are often equal in taste to the real deal, albeit less healthy - but then who's going for health with brownies anyway? Few other foods can be matched, though, by processed or boxed imitations.

The overwhelming problems Americans have with their health today is largely due to poor eating habits. I'm not just talking about Big Macs and Coke (term used generically in Atlanta for any soda) here. Just look at all the chemicals listed on the back of most food packages today. Processed foods contain so many by products. By putting unnatural products into their body systems day in and day out, Americans are eating themselves into a plethora of health problems and an early grave. For example, 40% of all cancer is caused by lack of fiber, easily treatable with a well-balanced, natural diet.

Ironic that a chocoholic is writing this. . . But then, I'm also a carrotholic. Three pounds of carrots in one day is my record :). Some day I'll be able to see in the dark. . . and I'll have very healthy teeth.

I have not even touched on the toll America's fast-food lifestyle has taken on family life. For most people, daily family meals are all too scarce today, replaced by individual heat-and-go meals as members of the family run from one event to another. The family table was once the hub of American family life and the focus of each evening. I'm thankful and blessed that my family still enjoys dinner together more often than not. If you are feeling inspired to cook a little from scratch, may I suggest the excellent beef stew that my family enjoyed tonight?

Beef Stew

1/2-3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
2-3 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 T oil
4 c water
4 cups cubed potatoes (I leave on the skins)
1 t parsley
1/2 t thyme
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, cut into small pieces (about 1 cup)
1-2 onions, sliced
frozen peas and corn

Mix flour, salt, and pepper and use to coat beef. Heat oil in stockpot until hot; add beef and remaining flour mixture. Cook and stir until beef is brown. Add water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add remaining ingredients except peas and corn. Cover and simmer 1-2 hours, adding peas and corn 10 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaf before serving. Enjoy!

Monday, November 07, 2005


I love autumn :). Isn't it wonderful that God made our world full of color? The leaves are starting to turn here (though this picture originates farther north) and are absolutely gorgeous.

A few years back someone in my family was looking out the car window admiring the autumn colors, exclaiming "pretty trees" over and over. Someone else in my family mistakenly heard "thirty-twos" instead and was rather confused by the exclamations. The term has stuck, although I can't remember exactly who the involved parties were.

The above picture of thirty-twos was taken from the back porch of my aunt's house. Imagine having a view like that. Any guesses as to where the picture was taken? The water in the background is part of a well-known body of water in the U.S. and the bridge (and surrounding town) recently were featured in a little-known film (named after the town) that starred two actors who have each separately played a major role in a blockbuster movie. The town is small and little-known except for the film and the sport around which the film centered. Two of my aunts live with their families there, and my mom's parents live in the neighboring town where they grew up.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Square Dancing

Bow to your partner way down low; bow to your corner too. Circle left around that ring, circle left you'll do. Left allemande your corner, come back and do-si-do, left allemande your corner, and do a right and left grande. When you meet her, swing and promenade. . .

My sister and I had the privilege of learning some square dancing this past month, over the span of 4 two-hour lessons. I am acquainted with several families from the church near us that hosted the lessons. I met them through a series of providential events, and am thankful for the blessing of occasionally fellowshipping with these like-minded believers. I have long wished to learn square dancing, but never thought I would have an opportunity like this. The lessons this past month were in preparation for the church's Reformation/Thanksgiving celebration this weekend, and tonight was the square dancing. My sister unfortunately had to miss the event because of a previous engagement, but I was able to go and had a great time.

Square dancing is so much fun! Western Square Dancing, which is the type I learned, is kind of confusing at first because of all the different moves, but it gets easier with time. It was easier to learn square dancing with a group of people that were also new to it, so I didn't feel completely alone in my mistakes and confusion :). Growing up, my brother was known for making comments connecting me with the Klutz company, but we won't go there. . .

Square dancing is also great exercise - one of the few forms I enjoy, in fact. I love to walk and play basketball and volleyball, but that's about it in the exercise category. I will not start in on my hatred of other forms of exercise, particularly running ;).

Square dancing is great fellowship as well. Just as David danced before the face of God, so we, as Christians, can use dancing as a form of worship. It is sad that dancing has been ignored or rejected by so much of the Christian community today. Such a beautiful thing has been lost! Unfortunately dancing can be greatly misused and corrupted, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water! Dancing was created by God as a means to worship Him, and it is also a way of covenanting with fellow believers, bonding as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unfortunately men are all too scarce at such events, not merely at this particular square dance gathering. In the case of this event, I think the problem was more due to the male/female ratio at the church, which is rather low. I am aware from others, though, that a shortage of male dance partners is a general problem. Our society has duped our men into thinking dancing is a dumb activity, not to be participated in by "real men." Real men don't dance. Sad that our men have bought into this. It was once considered to be a duty of men to attend and offer themselves as dance partners at social functions. Consider the two opposing examples of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley, both Jane Austen characters.

. . . Prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever
seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball -- and at this ball,
what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you --
but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to
my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a
partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.

- Lizzy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 31.

I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance of Mr. Knightley's coming
and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me; and when
there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the
noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to
feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth.

- Harriet, Emma, Chapter 11.
I was pleased, throughout the lessons as well as the dance tonight, with the willingness of the other women to rotate in and out of the dances so all of us could have the opportunity to dance and learn the steps. We were able to make the most of a lack of partners, due to everyone's willingness to make sure no one was excluded.

I was even more impressed, though, by the willing and cheerful attitude displayed by the men, and their willingness to remain in the dances even after they began to tire. For those unfamiliar with the stories of Pride and Prejudice or Emma, it is important to note here that neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Knightley like dancing; however the latter willingly made himself available in an act of chivalry, while the former preferred to wallow in his pride and contempt.

Keep in mind that the majority of the "men" who attended the square dance lessons and dance were under the age of 15. How many boys that age do you know that would not only come to a square dance but willingingly spend the night dancing with girls and women of all ages, some they don't even know? It makes me smile when a gentlemanly young man of 12 or 13 years steps up to me and says, "Miss Susan, do you have a partner? May I have the honor of this dance?"

Now that is my idea of a well-bred young man :).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Reformation Day!

For those who are scratching their heads, Halloween is not the only holiday celebrated on October 31st. Today is also Reformation Day, as a few calendars still note. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famed 95-Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. This act was the catalyst for what became known as The Protestant Reformation.

I was rather disappointed when I recently mentioned this fact to a group of friends and I was met with blank stares. They were discussing plans for a Halloween Party, and I countered by
inviting them to my exclusive (think "me, myself, and I") Reformation Party instead. I got puzzled looks, like "Oh, here Susan goes again. Another one of her soapboxes. . ."

I have in the past trick-or-treated and attended "Fall Festivals" (a euphemism for Halloween Parties hosted by churches and schools, for those unfamiliar with the term). Tonight I won't be doing either, no surprise since I am a little old for such events. But then, I also don't plan on participating in these events with my own (hypothetical) children. Why may you ask would I deprive my own children of that rite of childhood? Don't I want them to have a good life? As R.C. Sproul Jr. would say, "yes, but not the world's definition of 'the good life'".

As I set forward in my previous post on Christian Culture, Christians are to establish a separate and distinct culture in the world, as they are conformed more to Christ's image and as they fulfill the dominion mandate. Participating in a pagan holiday like Halloween certainly does not jive with this mandate of cultivating a separate culture for Christ; instead it merges the world's culture with the church. We are to replace the world's culture, not merely "Christianize" it.

Evangelical Christianity has adopted the philosophy of taking aspects of the world's culture and "Christianizing" them. Take a look at evangelical music, fiction books, clothing, movies, and other forms of entertainment for a sampling. Often we spend so much time "Christianizing" perversion that we would be better served by discarding it instead. The movie editing industry is a good example of this.

I admire those who take great pains to edit perverted movies for profanity, sex, nudity, and violence, but in all honesty a lot of the movies that are edited are just not worth watching even with the editing. I could pick on many movies, but I'll choose Titanic. My applause for editers that removed graphic sex, nudity, and profanity from the film, but they were still left with a movie brimming with an ungodly message. They would have done better to ignore the movie altogether or make a new film on the Titanic that was historically accurate and morally upright.

Christians have likewise tried to clean up Halloween by removing mentions of witches, even moving a celebration of the holiday to the previous Saturday and calling it a "Fall Festival" instead, thus seeking to make the celebration "neutral." We leave the candy, the costumes, many of the same terms, but leave our witch costumes at homes. Is the holiday neutral, though?

Not for a high priestess of Wicca that our local paper interviewed. As she said, for her and other witches, Halloween is a sacred time. Fall Festivals? Fine with her:

Zoeller [the witch] doesn't mind that some schools hold "fall festivals] instead
of Halloween carnvials because of pagan associations. As long as people are
celebrating the harvest and the change of seasons, they're celebrating
important facets of Wicca, she says. "That's the important thing, no matter
what they call it.

I've never been to a Fall Festival that resembled the meeting of a coven, but as this witch notes, even a "neutral" festival for Halloween celebrates important facets of Wicca. I'm not talking about any gathering that takes place in fall. I'm specifically talking about events that are meant to be "alternatives" to Halloween by "cleaning up" the holiday.

If we've managed to remove all pagan aspects of Halloween from our "Fall Festival" celebration, then what reason do we have left to celebrate? The reason left to celebrate, sometimes unspoken but usually admitted, is to fit in with the secular American culture. After all, who wants to be labeled a wacko for not celebrating a holiday, even if it is a pagan one? We're not supposed to be different from the world. A city on a hill is a bit much, after all. . .

Now tell me whether the seed of the woman or the seed of the devil is ahead in this culture war.

The Second Corinthians passage on being unequally yoked with unbelievers is most often cited in reference to marriage, but the original intent was likely much broader and I think applicable to issues like the celebration of Halloween. The following passage underscores the importance of the antithesis, as it was established in the Garden of Eden and carried throughout the Old Testament and then through the New Testament:

14Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has
righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
15What accord has Christ with Belial?
Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16What agreement has
the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God

"I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I
will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Therefore go out from their
midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing; then
I will welcome you, 18and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and
daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

On October 31st, rather than yoking with unbelievers and participating in a pagan holiday - whether the unedited or edited version - Christians can instead celebrate a genuinely Christian holiday - Reformation Day. As I mentioned, October 31st is the day Martin Luther posted his 95-Theses and launched what became known as the Protestant Reformation. The general ignorance and apathy of reformation history is truly saddening to me. Every Christian should take the opportunity to learn about the great men who came before us, purging a very corrupt Christendom from heresy and paving the way for the religious freedom and clarity we enjoy today.

I am currently enjoying a biography on Martin Luther. It has taken me a great deal of time to read through it, as I have not been diligent in my reading of late and I am trying to savor it, rather than speed through it. There are so many weighty quotes to record for future ponderance. It was eye-opening to experience through Luther the newfound truths of the gospel, as he shed the shackles of Catholicism for a salvation by faith alone. It made me so thankful for men like him who established and nurtured the true gospel. His own hunger for truth was used of God to change the world.

What Karl Barth said of his own unexpected emergence as a reformer could be said
equally of Luther, that he was like a man climbing in the darkness a winding
staircase in the steeple of an ancient cathedral. In the blackness he reached
out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope. He was startled to hear
the clanging of a bell.

We owe to men like Luther the championing of the five great Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide - the scripture alone is standard, to God alone be the glory, salvation is by Christ's work alone, salvation is by grace alone, justification is by faith alone. These are truths that most protestants take for granted, yet they were major issues in Luther's day. The reformers risked their lives that we may know these truths and be freely taught them today.

Who can hear the bold words of Luther at his hearing at the Diet of Worms without being moved?
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the
authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my
conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant
anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help
me. Amen.

I encourage you to take the time sometime soon to study the men who risked their lives so that you might worship God today in spirit and in truth. Study Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others and be thankful for the undeniable influence they have had on Christianity. We are reaping the rewards of their dedication several hundred years ago.

Tonight, while most of Americans are dressing up in costumes and participating in a holiday of pagan origins, this reformed girl will be finishing her biography on Martin Luther and thanking God for the events that He orchestrated from one seemingly insignificant act that happened on this day almost 500 years ago. . .

Soli Deo Gloria