Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Most Inconvenient Marriage (Regina Jennings)

I swear - this might be one of my new favorite books (I have a runnings list). 

The other day, I was looking for something good to read and so I was browsing Amazon for Christian Fiction. Anyways, low and behold, this is the book I came across.

I scrolled down the page to read the reviews and I liked what I saw. Seems like this story is getting some good press (for a good reason). Considering I haven't read anything by Regina Jennings before, I might just have to keep an eye on any new books she puts out.

Let's get to the chase...

Here the BCC:

Abigail Stuart Thought She was Jeremiah Calhoun's Widow.But Jeremiah Calhoun Is Very Handsome, Very Alive, and Very Perplexed.Most Inconvenient Indeed. 
With few options of her own, nurse Abigail Stuart agrees to marry her patient, a gravely wounded soldier calling himself Jeremiah Calhoun. They arrange a quick ceremony before he dies, giving Abigail the rights to his Ozark farm and giving Jeremiah the peace of knowing someone will care for his ailing sister after he's gone--a practical solution for both of them. After the war, Abigail fulfills her side of the bargain--until the real Jeremiah Calhoun shows up, injured but definitely alive, and wastes no time in challenging Abigail's story. Abigail is flummoxed. After months of claiming to be his widow, how can she explain that she's never seen this Jeremiah Calhoun before? How can she convince him that she isn't trying to steal his farm? And will she find a way to stay, even though this practical arrangement has turned into a most inconvenient marriage?

Anyways - why was this book so good? I laughed a lot and I couldn't put it down once I picked it up. Not to say that this book is entirely comical in content! By no means! My heart ached for Abigail, but sometimes I wanted to smack her for the stunts she pulled. She's a fantastic heroine. And Jeremiah - my O my. That boy. Equally well characterized.

There is a point in books where you place yourself in the shoes of one of the characters, and you feel the plot the way they experience it. Every scene between Abigail and Jeremiah... I'm be as red as a tomato at times, but I'm also a sucker for medical history, I loved the bits about massage therapy during the Civil War. I'm not even sure if it was massage therapy - but something along those lines (I ought to know since I tuck medical history into my own manuscripts, but I don't. Oh well).

I'm such a picky reader. But the friendship between these two, fighting against horse thieves and trying to help Jeremiah's sister, is so fun to read.

Pick up a copy of this book if you enjoy a good Civil War/Reconstruction Era Christian Romance.

Find it on Amazon
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Find it on GoodReads

I'm a new fan of the Amazon Kindle Matchbook. I have the kindle app on my laptop. So what I do is I buy a paperback copy of the book (I'm a sucker for a hardcopy!) and then I get the ebook for just a few dollars. It works well for me because what I do is I go to google books and I read the first few chapters of a book I'm interested in. But if it's a good read, I can't wait for it to come in the mail, I have to finish it immediately, so with matchbook, I get a cheap ebook copy.

God Jul

I've got a mixed heritage - believe me, I'm an American melting pot. A simple explanation of my heritage is I'm half-Swedish and half a whole lot of something else (French, Welsh, Hungarian, German). However, because I'm mostly Swedish, I've grown up fairly familiar with that side and all of the traditions that go with it.

Over the years, I've spent a lot of time looking into what a "Swedish" Christmas looks like. And so, with the Christmas season upon us, I thought I might share what I've learned. Maybe you too might want to carry out a "Swedish Christmas"?

Click here: adorable vintage footage of a Swedish Christmas
Click here: (favorite of mine) Swedish Christmas video

Here's what I have. God jul och gott nytt ar! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

And don't forget to put a candle in your window to light the way for the Christ Child!

Sankta Lucia

Across Sweden, and in many American towns, a holiday known as "St. Lucia Day" is carried out on December 13th. The oldest daughter of each household with her maids and star boys bring a breakfast of coffee and "Lussekatt"(Lucia buns) to the other members of the home. As they walk through the house, they sing carols, particularly, "Sankta Lucia." It's a breakfast in bed celebration that has roots that trace back to Italy and Ancient Rome. 

Swedes adopted the tradition, possibly because of the "Lusse" folklore - a battle between light and darkness during the Winter Solstice. But with the arrival of Christianity and Lutheranism, a new tradition was born. 

When the story of a young, virgin martyr from Italy came to Scandinavia - a woman who worked to help persecuted Christians - they were immediately drawn to the image of her attaching candles to her head (to light her way and keep her hands free). This story morphed into the tradition now practiced, mostly by Swedes, but throughout Scandinavia. 

In Sweden, it is common for a pageant of sorts to take place to chose a local "St. Lucia" representative. There is also a national St. Lucia who is chosen, culminating with the "Globen Luciakonsert" in Stockholm (I've included some links). 

Swedish Lucia for Dummies (official Swedish video)
Full length video of the 2012 Luciakonsert (youtube)
10 min clip of Luciakonsert
Hear Lucia Song sung in Swedish (great music video)

Night walks with heavy steps
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky . . . 

Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Jultomte & Julbock

Like most Swedish Christmas traditions, the roots are tied up in folklore. But to be sure, they do have a sort of "Santa Claus." This Santa grew out of the Swedish lore of Tomten - little elves/trolls that inhabit the farms of the countryside and help with the chores. They were especially fond of children. 

the Jultomte is their Christmas Tomte. He brings gifts to the children. 

Drawing his sleigh is a "Julbock" or Christmas goat. This goat began with a history as a prankster, but he now accompanies the Jultomte. 

Swedes keep their Julbocks near their trees on Christmas - but why? Well, they make these wonderful little animals out of straw and red ribbon to watch over their Christmas festivities - he's the Christmas police of sorts (making sure everything is done correctly). But in his early days, Swedes didn't want him in their homes! 

One Swedish tradition is to sneak a Julbock into a neighbor's home and place him beneath the tree without being caught. The only way to get rid of the goat is to pass him off in the same manor to another unsuspecting family. 

Risgrynsgröt (Julgröt)

After Christmas dinner comes dessert! I don't think Swedes have ever been known for their food - Lutefisk? no thank you! - but I find this tradition rather sweet. (not all rice puddings taste very good, but if it's done right, it can be very good).

The day before Christmas, mothers make a rice pudding, or Julgrot. A single almond is dropped into the pudding and stirred in.

When the pudding is served after Christmas dinner, every person at the table secretly hopes to find the almond in their pudding. Why? Because the person who finds the almond in their pudding is rewarded!

There are two traditions about the almond.

1. If you find the almond, you will be the next to marry (much like catching the bouquet at a wedding)
2. You will be granted a wish.

One of my favorite storybooks as a child was "Annika's Secret Wish," which follows a young girl hoping to get a wish by finding the almond. A very sweet story about siblings.


Jul is the Swedish word for Christmas or Yule. Lotta is a term that refers to the time slightly before dawn. In many Swedish Free Churches, Swedish Baptist Churches, Swedish Covenant Churches and Lutheran churches who hold to their roots, Julotta is a service that is held early Christmas morning around 4am (some services are done at 6 or 7am).

I suppose waking up so early to greet the day seems strange to us, but the concept of Julotta is much like a Christmas Eve Service or a Catholic Midnight Mass. Some churches even put on Julotta, late on Christmas Eve, ending the service at midnight.

With Sweden being situated so far north, most of the churches were very cold and poorly heated. No church member arrived early on purpose, nor did they stay longer than necessary. Folklore tells that the dead have a Christmas service at midnight and would attack you if you arrived early. But the primary reason was heat.

After the service, Swedes would rush back to their homes to open gifts.


Lussekatter (Lucia Buns)

Temp: 375 degrees
Cook time: 15 mins
Yield: 20 buns

1 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp. saffron threads, finely crumbled (or 1 tsp. powdered saffron) 
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg white
raisins or currants to decorate
1 package dry yeast

Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 mins to an hours (this intensifies the saffron flavor)

Heat milk to a light boil, turning off heat when it reaches the scalding point (with small bubbles across the top). Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool until "finger-warm" (still quite warm, but just cool enough to touch). Stir in yeast and let sit for 10 mins.

Mix 3 1/2 cups flour into liquid. Stir in 2 well beaten eggs. add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough (just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don't want to add too much flour).

Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coast all sides. Cover with a clean town and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a racquetball) and roll into "snakes." Shape snakes into "S"-shaped buns or other desired shapes. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the town again, and allow to rise until doubles (about an hour).

Decorate buns with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 375 degree oven about 15 mins, just until brown.

Pepparkakor (ginger cookies)

Temp: 375 degrees
Cook time: 6-8 mins (beware, they burn easily)
Yeild: 75-100 cookies

1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup light syrup* or molasses
Almost one cup sugar
3 ½ oz butter
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups (as well as some for the rolling out)

Melt the butter and the syrup on low heat. Let cool before adding the other ingredients. Work the dough well. It’s important that the spices are freshly milled. Let the dough rest overnight in a cool place so the spices have time to fully develop their aromas. The resting will also make it easier to roll out the dough.
Roll out the dough and cut out shapes with gingerbread cutters. Bake in the oven at 375ºF for about 6-8 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily.
This dough can also be used for a gingerbread house. Just roll it out slightly thicker. 
*You can buy light Syrup (ljus sirap) at Ikea. You can also use ”Lyle’s Golden Syrup” that you can find in British food stores.

Risgrynsgrot (Julgrot) or "Rice Pudding"

1 cup regular long grain rice
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
4 cups half-and-half
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp butter
Cinnamon stick
1 whole almond

For garnish:

warm cream

In a heavy saucepan combine rice, butter, water and salt. Bring to boil and cook covered for 10 minutes. Or until water is just absorbed. Add half-and-half and cinnamon stick to above. Bring to boil, stirring continuously. Let simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. The half-and-half should be almost absorbed. The results should be creamy and tender, not mushy. Add the extra butter, and some cream for extra richness. 

Before serving, hide the almond in the porridge. Serve hot with warm cream, cinnamon and sugar. Whoever gets the almond will get married within the year (or a wish).

Now, these two are some family breakfast favorites that came out of the Hilmar (Swedish) Covenant Church where my dad's family attends...

Try you hand at:

 Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry jam and powdered sugar

Swedish Cardamom Rolls

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Learning Experience Truce

I'm a bit disappointed in my peers.... the insults and criticism aren't getting us anywhere.

It's not such a hot topic once you graduate High School, but growing up, I was very privy to the great home-school v. public education debate. And indeed, it's quite a hot topic, even now among Christians. I would even venture to say that a parent's education choice is often equated with good versus bad theology. 

I'm only twenty years old, but I think I have a perspective to offer. 

1999 - 2002 I attended a public elementary school
2002 - 2003 I was homeschooled
2003 - 2004 I went back to a public school
2004 - 2005 I homeschooled again
2005 - 2007 I went to a public charter school
2007 - 2008 I attended two different Christian junior highs
2008 - 2010 I attended public high school
2010 - 2011 I took a year at home through a charter homeschool program
2011 - 2012 I went back to my high school and graduated and graduated with an "A average."
2012 - Today I attend college at a Christian University with a great scholarship as a History Major
I'm not trying to prove anything with my long resume of different school experience, but I just wanted to start off this piece by saying that I've had the opportunity to see every side. Almost every piece I've read that discusses the argument has been very one sided and I'd like to offer a more well rounded point-of-view. 

My word isn't law. I'm not a fountain of wealth. But I'd like to think that my experience might be of value to this controversial subject. 
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" Phil. 1:9-10
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Rom 12:2
 Before I say anything, I'd like to offer my parents point of view. As you can see, I've attended a variety of schools, none of which really fit a single category. I suppose that this is highly uncommon. Most parents have some opinion about the best way to educate their children - homeschool, public school,  or christian school. So why did my parents put me in all three situations?

Well, Those two verses I shared above? That's a pretty good description. If you get a chance, go and read this article. It goes into far more detail. But simply put, my parents were always involved; we were always talking. Whatever my teachers taught me, we would discuss it at home. The idea was exercising wisdom and discernment through a Biblical worldview in every situation.

Once we grow up and leave home, we will be faced with a very broken world - filled with Christians and non-Christians alike. Having the ability to access and act in those encounters is important.

Public School:

Honestly, I didn't have many Christian friends when I attended public school. Most of my Christian friends I only saw at church-related gatherings. I heard plenty of cussing during those years, I got bullied, and I had friends who didn't share my morals (drinking, smoking, extramarital sex). This is probably a very scary thought for many parents and students. But don't think that's all that happened during those years.

I love my non-Christian friends. They are kind, incredible, hearty people. Every time I talk to them, I see someone God created and loves - I've done my best to show that to them. I learned a lot about sharing my faith during my years at a public school. When I was bullied, the school came alongside me and defended me, but I also learned a bit about confrontation and conflict resolution - especially with people who are difficult. Those years really stretched and pushed me.

I love the Christian college I'm at right now, but I do miss conversation with non-Christians, NOT preaching to the choir, and the way my heart breaks every time I see someone who is a creation of God and doesn't even know it.

That Brandon Heath song, "Give Me Your Eyes," is like an anthem when I think back on High School
All these people going somewhere, why have I never cared? Give me your eyes for just one second. Give me your eyes so I can see, everything that I keep missing. Give me your love for humanity. Give me your arms for the broken-hearted. Ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me Your eyes so I can see.
My public school was pretty good, as far as academically rigorous. I was challenged in some areas and I enjoyed the teachers who taught my favorite subjects. I guess I'm a fairly literate person. I love reading. I know a lot about history. I have a general understanding of Math and Science.

But here is something that most of the articles Ive read about school choice that won't address: Public school fits my learning style.

I'm an extremely externally motivated person. I work well in a competitive classroom environment. I take in information best by reading and taking notes and then hearing a lecture and copying down the powerpoint. I get excited about group projects or individual presentations where I get to share something that I care about with a group.

Christian School:

I know a lot of people who are huge advocates of Christian education. Some even call it the alternative to homeschooling for those parents who don't have the wherewithal to homeschool. I suppose that's a valid claim. I can't say it's a bad option - I have attended Christian schools and I even now attend one by my own volition.

But Christian schools are not the catchall solution to a Christian education. I think you can develop a Christian worldview wherever you attend.

To be frank, some of my experiences at a Christian school were terrible. It's often said that church is a hospital, not a monument to perfect people. So surrounding myself with other believers was not an escape from "mean people." One of my greatest hurts from Christian school was inflicted by a well-intentioned teacher. Christians have their hurts and hangups too. And not all students who attend Christian schools are believers.

But that said, attending a Christian school taught me a lot about loving God's church - warts and all. In Romans, Paul says that it's easy to love people who are kind to you, but Christ showed his love for us by loving us while we were STILL sinners.

On the upside. I got a lot out of the small class size. Two of my favorite teachers are from my years at Christian schools. They were amazing ladies. I didn't have a lot of friends among my classmates (due to the small class sizes - Christian school kids can be a bit clique-ish) but some days I would spend hours with my teachers talking about subject material, art, books, etc. They were an incredible encouragement to me.

Home Schooling

Some of my best friends are homeschooled. I've been homeschooled.

I have to laugh as I write this, however. Remember what I said about being externally motivated? Well, one of the qualities of a good homeschooler is being internally motivated/self-driven. The second requirement is a very-well structured environment.

Put simply, My mom and I couldn't quite manage those two things. We flopped all over the place and I learned how to talk my way out of anything and everything. I did better when I tried again my Junior year with the Charter program, but I think that because we had an Education Specialist (ES) checking in on us monthly, there was a bit of an accountability factor that kept me going.

Honestly, in order to get work done, my mom and I had to simulate a class-room style lesson plan. I would watch videos of teachers lecturing on each subject.

Homeschooling taught my mom and I a lot about prayer and depending on God to get us through.

But I missed seeing my friends every day. Certainly I saw them at youth group and we'd get together on a regular basis, but not as much as I would have liked. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the same experience every homeschooler has. I know many who are heavily involved in co-ops and get a lot of the class-room experience that way. They see their friends more often than I did. And I know that many of them are extremely active in extra curricular activities where they meet all kinds of people.

But honestly, homeschooling didn't suit me very well, my mom and I just weren't very cut out for it. Now, you could argue that we should have tried harder - that may have made a difference. But I think home-schooling made my mom tired. Putting together my schoolwork was a lot on top of being a wife and homemaker. I think she got more accomplished during the day when she had a few hours to herself while my brother and I were at school.

On the upside! I took voice lessons while I was homeschooled. That was incredible. Through the Charter, we had free curriculum available to us. I could have taken any language I wanted to, technically, if I hadn't already started on Spanish. And those funds counted towards those voice lessons.

For English, I had more choice over the books I wanted to read. While my parents and I were often frustrated with my public school's choice of fiction (Catcher In the Rye, Siddhartha), my mom and I hand-selected the books we wanted to read. Don't get me wrong, they were literary classics, but we got to toss out a few with questionable content. My junior year, I read "My Antonia," "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "The Great Gatsby," and one Christian book called, "Peace Child."


I've had both positive and negative experiences in every learning environment. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer about what the "most Biblical" choice is. I think that the real answer lies in seeking God in everything you do. Look for Him in every person you meet, every circumstance you face, and every idea you are presented with. Remember that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he called us to share the gospel with others. So no matter what school option you choose, seek opportunities to share your faith. And also, remember that everyone has a different learning style that is better suited to different learning environments.

Make the best of whatever type of schooling you are involved in. God will use you and take care of you WHEREVER He puts you.

Can we call a truce?