Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Books read in May

(Note: How can May be over already???)

The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge--A reread, but it's been such a long time that it was like the first time. I always enjoy Elizabeth Goudge (The Dean's Watch was my favorite), but there is something about her books that strikes me as slightly "off." I can't put it in words, but whatever it is, it keeps me from adding EG to my "life list" of favorite authors. That doesn't stop me from reading her, of course.

Out to Canaan by Jan Karon--A reread, because 2yo C. dragged it off the shelf and dumped it in the living room. After revisiting Mitford, I couldn't resist...

Light From Heaven by Jan Karon--the latest and last Mitford novel. I got this for Christmas, and although I peeked at the first chapter, I've left it alone until now. I was saving it to read in Poland. Well, I'm in Poland! I love the Mitford Series, and consider Jan Karon the best writer of modern Christian literature that I have read. Most Christian fiction doesn't deserve the title of literature, but I think Mitford does...

A Girl From Schindler's List by Stella Muller-Madej--true account of a Holocaust survivor. Because I live in Krakow, where the events from Schindler's List took place, and can identify many of the streets and places named, those stories are especialy poignant. (I only found this book available in French and German through Amazon!)

But I Survived by Tadeusz Sobolewicz--another holocaust survivor story. There were a few copies at Amazon, but it was not available as a new book.

KL Auschwitz Seen by the SS--Accounts from three German officials assigned to Auschwitz, including the first commander, Hoess. I borrowed these three books from someone who purchased them all at Auschwitz. I'm not sure these books are widely distributed or easily obtainable. Some of them are actually published by the Museum of Auschwitz.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens--I thought I would finish this book in May, but I haven't. I'm well past half-way, however, and the sad truth is...I haven't enjoyed this book as much as I usually enjoy Dickens. I'll try to finish it soon.

"The Secret Garden" and "The Queer Feet" by G.K. Chesterton--Another couple of "Father Brown" stories.

Anielka by Bolesław Prus--I checked Amazon and other sources for Prus, too, and I find that practically none of his work (including this book) has been translated into English, but he is a well-known classic Polish author. In fact, too classic, I think, for my purposes. I am reading in Polish primarily to improve my Polish, and turn-of-the-last-century language probably isn't the best choice for this purpose. At any rate, I've read 2-1/2 chapters this month, and I can tell what is going on in the story. I already know it has a sad ending...

Teacher in America by Jacques Barzun--I finished this book this month, and although I blogged about it earlier, I think I "blogged too soon," because after I got past the boring (to me) part about universities, it got really good again. The last couple of chapters were fascinating. I will be reading more Jacques Barzun, for sure.

The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter--Another reread, by one of my all-time favorite authors. Too bad I don't like her books as much as I used to!

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke--I slogged through this to preview the series for my 12yo daughter. This is the sequel to Inkheart, which I haven't read, but I don't think it would have made any difference. I do not much care for fantasy literature anymore, although there was a season of my life when I enjoyed it more than anything else. I won't give this to E. until I obtain the first book in the series (how I ended up with #2 in the first place is more than I can tell), but I'm not reading any more of it. If you like the genre, I suppose it's okay, but I don't think it has enduring qualities.

What do I plan for June??? Well, I must finish A Tale of Two Cities and Climbing Parnassus (which I don't think I touched this month). I will continue working on Anielka. Apart from that...it's up for grabs. J. wants me to read Les Miserables, but I definitely won't start that before I finish Dickens. Another Chaim Potok novel? The latest Jostein Gaarder?

Zobaczymy! (Polish for "we'll see!")

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why I haven't been blogging...

Many things have been pushed aside in the last couple of weeks, as I've been preparing for an Event. This Event is (was) a Ladies' Tea--the first such undertaking of our work here in Poland. Until a couple of years ago, we had no need for such an Event, because there was only one lady attending our services, and we visited back and forth all the time. Now, we have a number of ladies who attend services (some believers, some not), and I thought the time had come to host a ladies-only Event. And so was born the idea of a Ladies' Tea. I wanted to make an Event of the occasion, because I wanted to attract as many as possible. I did not want a didactic Bible study, nor did I want to introduce frequent meetings that would put off, for example, working mothers who do not have room on their plates for one more obligation. At least one of the ladies I planned to invite has a husband hostile toward her "church" activities, and I knew a personal invitation to a special event would make him more willing to allow her (albeit grudgingly) to attend. So, I planned an evening of fellowship, spiritual conversation, and dainty refreshments served with various teas.

Several weeks ago, we handed out invitations. (The picture on the invitation was taken by my dh, and the tulips were blooming in our backyard.) Much too late, we discovered that the date we had selected was Polish Mother's Day, and one of our church ladies would be away on vacation that day. And who could have foreseen that the new Pope would come to Krakow the very weekend of our tea? But, we went ahead with our plans.

We (my co-worker and I) selected a menu and a theme, and I began to write a short devotional, which I translated into (imperfect) Polish myself, and then began practicing aloud. I organized a cleaning schedule, and enlisted the services of J, E, and K. We washed windows and floors, I bought flowers, and I kept practicing my Polish "speech." I baked some delectable cookies, including Lemon Love Notes, and practiced my Polish. On Friday, May 26, everything was finally as ready as it could be, and I practiced my Polish devotional a few more times. It was only about 5-10 minutes long, but I'm sure I spent 10 hours preparing for it.

At 7:00, my guests began to arrive, bearing gifts according to Polish custom. I received two boxes of chocolates and a gorgeous bouquet of peonies. When everyone had come, we had six Polish ladies, and two Americans besides myself. Those numbers may seem small to the uninitiated, but for Poland, that is awesome. The ladies were delighted with the tea set-up, and amazed that my co-worker and I had made everything ourselves--"Even the mints!" (Just cream cheese mints--an easy recipe, but unusual to them.)

We had lots of food and fellowship for a while, and then we had a short time of "organized" activity. I had asked each lady to bring a personal treasure to share, and we did that. One lady had a whole folder, which she said was only a small portion, of the letters and cards her teenaged daughters had made for her when they were small! I had the largest treasure--an afghan my 91-year-old great-grandmother crocheted for me when I was married. That was nearly 18 years ago, and it still looks new, because I do treasure it and use it for special things, not daily. And one lady who had forgotten about this activity said that she had come with her greatest treasure--indicating her daughter, who was with her.

I followed this up with my oh-so-practiced-but-please-Lord-let-it-bless-someone-anyway devotional based on Matthew 6:13-21 and Matthew 13:44. After I finished, one lady told a cute joke that followed up the theme. (Note to self: learn to tell jokes in Polish.) Then we had prayer requests, and I had asked someone else to pray aloud for each one, because I wasn't up for praying aloud, off-the-cuff, in Polish. We lingered then, enjoying a bit more tea, a few more goodies, and the "afterglow" of a wonderful evening of fellowship. The ladies were surprisingly touched by a small gift we had for them--heart-shaped pins affixed to pretty cards that my co-worker had made.

I am so, so, so pleased with the way that this went, and this will not be the last such event. Two people told me that the devotional was well-done and spoke to them, and that was all I wanted. I know it wasn't grammatically perfect! So today, I finished washing up and putting away the dishes, and the kids got to feast on the left-overs--dainty, heart-shaped sandwiches, homemade cookies, and tiny fruit kebabs. I'm so glad it's over--it has consumed my time and attention recently--but I am so glad I did it, and I'm already making plans for the next Event.


Friday, May 12, 2006

But one can try...

Today I've been reading from Prus again. I'm on chapter three of Anielka, and I ran across this:

Życie człowieka nie wystarcza na odczytanie tysiącznej części książek, jakie są w jednej literaturze.

Roughly translated, it means "The life of a man will not suffice to read the thousandth part of the books in a single literature."

Which doesn't seem to stop some of us from the making the attempt, does it?

And incidentally, I figured out how to get the Polish characters here on my blog, so I no longer have to cringe because I'm writing a Polish word with English letters. It makes me very happy, even though it will not make the slightest difference to my non-Polish-speaking readers.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jacques Barzun

Why have I never heard of this man until recently? How did I miss him?

Born in France in 1907, Jacques Barzun came to the United States for his education at the age of 13, and as far as I can tell, became a full-fledged American. He was fortunate enough to have had Mortimer Adler and Mark Van Doren as college instructors at Columbia, before they went to Chicago and instituted their Great Books program. He became a teacher himself for many years, and a prolific author. Most recently (2003, I think) he published a massive historical work called Dawn to Decadence.

I was "accidentally" introduced to him, because I picked up a 50-cent book entitled Teacher in America a few months ago. Here are a few of my favorite quotes and tid-bits from the book:

"You know by instinct that is is impossible to 'teach' democracy, or citizenship or a happy married life. I do not say that these virtues and benefits are not somehow connected with good teaching. They are, but they occur as by-products. They come, not from a course, but from a teacher; not from a curriculum, but from a human soul."

"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition."

"Thinking means shuffling, relating, selecting the contents of one's mind so as to assimilate novelty, digest it, and create order. It is doing to a fact or an idea what we do to a beefsteak when we distribute its parts throughout our body."

"There should of course be no distinction whatsoever between reading and studying, and all serious reading should be done pencil in hand, with a book whose ownership allows of its being marked up."

"Literary taste, not to speak of talent or genius, cannot be fashioned out of whole cloth at school. It must make a beginning at the mother's knee and be nursed on the hearth."

"What do they know of science who only science know?"

"Like most living things, art can stand an enormous amount of manhandling or it would not survive a week."

"For I believe that a true relation to art is like the slow subtle growth called Education. It takes a lifetime of self-discipline and indefatigable passion to achieve."

"I pinned all my faith on this 'theoretical instruction' of American Youth in European tongues. I now know what it means. It means that boys and girls 'take' French or Spanish or German for three, four, or five years before entering college, only to discover there that they cannot read, speak, or understand it. The word for this type of instruction is not 'theoretical' but 'hypothetical.' Its principle is 'IF it were possible to learn a foreign language in the way I have been taught it, I should now know that language.' " (As an American who had to learn a foreign language, I find this very funny indeed.)

"The truth is that good reading does not come out of systems, just because each great book--if it really is great--establishes its own language, manner, and point of view. A great book is in effect a view of the universe, complete for the time being. You must get inside it to look out upon the old familiar world with the author's unfamiliar eyes."

"Acquire the taste for reading and you will keep on even if it means learning Braille."

"All great books are imperfect, having been written by fallible men, ignorant of dialectic; and all great books are perfect, having in them the quintessence of passionate thought."


After thoroughly enjoying the first two-thirds of so of this book, I got bogged down a bit. The latter part deals mostly with universities, and much of what was written about the university as it was and how to fix it in 1944 simply doesn't apply to the way things are, now, 60 years later. The system has veered so much further down the wrong path that Mr. Barzun described in 1944 that his suggestions are hopelessly outdated now. It would take a much, much stronger medicine than what he suggests to return the mainstream universities to anything resembling genuine liberal arts institutions.

I also find his views on education for women rather outdated, but this made me laugh out loud: "I have heard many pathetic resolves taken by girls about to be married that 'they would read ten books a year so as to keep up.' " Personally, I would find it nearly impossible to read only ten books in a year, and I furthermore am acquainted with many, many women who read at least as voraciously and widely as I do (and many more so!). So, I was slightly nettled by his epithet about "pathetic resolves." I know just as many non-reading and ill-informed men as I do women. And I suspect Mr. Barzun does, too!

I just have a few pages left to go in this book, but I am finding these last bits so outdated and sad that it is hard going to finish it. The proposals for how radio (not television, mind you, in 1944) might be used to bring culture and education to the general public are just too hopeless. Radio was the pre-cursor to television, and I would gladly do without the entertainment and educational advantages of television if it were possible to return to a time before this medium did so much harm to our culture. If only!

I shall be reading more of Jacques Barzun in the future, along with one or two other authors he has suggested. He'll be 99 years old in November of this year, and I hope to wish him a happy centennial in 2007. Our culture could use 10,000 more like him.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Danuta's Walnut Cake

It was a good cake. A really good cake. One of the many cakes that Danuta made for us over the years. Cakes and soup were her specialties and to my knowledge, there were no recipes written down, nor did we ever have exactly the same cake or the same soup twice. She had a general idea of how to make things, and she made them. If you especially liked a cake or a soup and tried to pin her down about the recipe, she would try to explain it to you, but when I attempted to follow her directions, the end product never tasted like the original, nor was it half so good.

This particular cake, Danuta told us, was a nut cake, and would we please try it and tell her how it tasted? (She never ate her own cakes and she didn't like soup!) Of course, we would be glad to do that. Bring it on, we said. It was a very unusual cake--very nutty, not too sweet, and quite moist. Would she please tell me how to make it.

Danuta: "Well, you give about 30 decos of crushed nuts."

Me (scribbling on a piece of paper): 30 decos? How many cups is that?? Never mind, I'll figure it out. What kind of nuts?

Danuta: Any kind of nuts will work. I used walnuts. (Note: walnuts grow around here in Poland, and at certain times of the year they are very, very cheap. This cake is expensive if you buy ground nut flour.)

Me: Okay, walnuts. I'll use walnuts, too. (It was a good cake.)

Danuta: This recipe has no flour, but I did give some bread crumbs.

Me (not sure I am hearing correctly): No flour? This cake has no flour? And you put bread crumbs in it?

Danuta: Yes, maybe three or four tablespoons of bread crumbs. And five eggs.

Me: Okay, ground nuts, bread crumbs, and FIVE eggs?

Danuta: Yes. You must separate them and beat the white part. Give the yellow part to the cake first, and then the white part.

Me (trying to translate this into recipe terms and scribbling some more): Okay, I think I understand. How much sugar?

Danuta: Not too much sugar. A little bit is enough.

Me: Not 30 decos?

Danuta: No, no, no! Oh, that would terrible. Just a little bit of sugar, maybe one third of a glass.

Me (writing "third cup sugar"): Okay. What else?

Danuta: You should give two spoonfuls of baking power, heaped up. Bake it until it's done, but not too hot.

Me (already knowing she doesn't have a temperature gauge on her oven): Nothing else? Just nuts, eggs, baking powder, a little sugar, and...breadcrumbs?

Danuta. Yes, I think that's everything. Was it a good cake?

Me: It was a wonderful cake! I want to know how to make it. It was practically the best cake I've ever eaten.

I tried to make that cake, and failed miserably. I didn't have my nuts ground finely enough, and I didn't understand what she meant by "bread crumbs." I just made my own, and it wasn't right. I didn't know at the time that you must buy breadcrumbs which are made from unsold, dry bread, and that they are nearly as fine as flour. After that failed attempt, I didn't try again. Danuta made the cake once or twice more, a little different each time, and never quite as good as that first one, but delicious just the same.

Now, fast forward some five years into the future. Danuta passed away two years ago, just two weeks after my youngest child, C, was born. After moving back into my home in Poland, I was sorting and cleaning, and I ran across that original, scribbled recipe. Understanding now how it was meant to be made, I tried again, and made the cake for a fellowship at our Polish church.

I changed a few things. Because I eat low-carb, and many low-carb recipes use nut flour, I knew this mostly-nuts-and-eggs cake would be fairly low carb. I left out the bread crumbs and used artificial sweetener. After making those changes, I naturally had to test the cake before serving it at church. Mmmmmm. Not bad at all! It's the kind of thing that tastes even better the second day, so when I took it to church, it disappeared in short order. Danuta knew what she was doing.

Here is the recipe, exactly as I scribbled it in pencil on the back of a sermon outline:

Walnut Cake

30 decos crushed walnuts
5 yolks, dash salt, 1/3 cup sugar} beat together
add walnuts
2 tsp. baking powder heaping
3-4 tbsp. bread crumbs
whip 5 egg white, mix in
Low heat

It was a good cake. Thanks, Danuta.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Books read in April

84 Charing Cross Road, by Helen Hanff--I know this is considered a sort of modern classic, but I have never read it before. I read it in one afternoon, and my heart was both fed and wounded. It's definitely a book-lover's book, and it wouldn't hurt to be an Anglophile as well.

Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan--I started this book in March, but let it lay so long that I went back and read the whole thing again from the beginning in April. I have read all of Amy Tan's other books, and I think The Joy-Luck Club is still my favorite, but this was interesting, too. I love the glimpses into Chinese culture in her books, and she give you something to think about. This title is so strange, but it makes sense if you read the book and think about it. (If you are very particular about references to immorality, you might want to skip her books, but she is not graphic.)

Education in Antiquity, by H.I. Marrou--Actually, I only read a few chapters at the beginning of this one. It's a very long book, and it was too much to continue along with Climbing Parnassus and Teacher in America. So, this will be an on-going project.

Climbing Parnassus, by Tracy Lee Simmons--I'm only 2/3 of the way through this one, so I'll reserve my comments until I finish the book. So far, most of what I've read agrees with my conception of classical education.

The Last Juror, by John Grisham (a reread)--Yes, I am a Grisham reader. I have read them all. He tells a good story.

My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok--This is the first book by Potok I have ever read. It is a real pleasure to discover an author like this, and to know that there are many more books by him that I can enjoy. I bought four Potok titles (all at the Half-Price Bookstore in Dallas, which might spark a memory for a couple of you), but I will not read them all at once. No, I will save them and savour them. And put a couple more by this author on my Amazon wish-list.

Teacher in America, by Jacques Barzun--I'm thoroughly intrigued by Jacques Barzun, and this book has been enlightening to read in many ways. As I blogged earlier, my list of "books to read" has been swelled by reading this one book.

The Gillyvors, by Catherine Cookson--a complete waste of time, but it was there on a day when I didn't feel well and didn't want to think. And now it's in the "discard pile."

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens--I'm only about 8 chapters into this book. It takes me a while to get into Dickens, and then I usually rush through to the end. I didn't have time to do that yet, but this will be the next book that I finish.

Anielka, by Boleslaw Prus--This is my Polish book. I have given up underlining words and looking them up later. It takes too long. Now I only mark and use a dictionary as I go along for words that I absolutely have to know. Otherwise, I take the meaning as best I can without worrying about what I'm missing. So, I only got through one chapter, and here is my narration (in English): Anielka has spent a long (summer!) day with her governess, and is enduring an excruciating geography lesson, in which she is reciting mundane facts about the population of various Italian cities. Her teacher won't release her even one minute before five o'clock, but finally five o'clock arrives, and she is free. She calls to her dog through the window (he has been waiting for her outside), and he jumps in through the window, causing the governess to call Anielka a "dzika dziewczynka," or "wild girl," and remind her that she is behind other girls her age--Anielka is thirteen. There is also some information about the governess in this chapter, in which we get the idea that she doesn't much like her job, but figures that there are worse things she could be doing during the summer than tutoring in the country. (And I only looked up 4 or 5 words as I went along!) I will read more than one chapter in May, really I will.

"The Blue Cross," by G.K. Chesterton--Just one short story from my new "Complete Father Brown," which has 51 stories. This is the first Father Brown story I've ever read.

I also read bits and pieces from the Charlotte Mason series, Norms & Nobility by David Hicks, and Ruth Beechick's A Biblical Psychology of Learning

There might have been the odd bit of other reading here and there, but that is most of it. I see that I'm not necessarily going to have all my books neatly finished up by the end of the month, but then...I never promised that I would. I do think I'll get the Tracy Lee Simmons and Jacques Barzun books finished in May, and I will allow myself to read just one more of the new fiction books I brought from the states. I've actually started four other books, but didn't include them in this list, because I didn't get far enough to feel that they counted.