"Apples To Oysters"

Apples To Oysters - A Food Lover's Tour of Canadian Farms by Margaret Webb

Margaret Webb is a food writer who for this book traveled across the country visiting farms and restaurants and talking to the farmers who work long, hard hours to produce the best product possible for our tables. She listened to their stories of getting started, trying to maintain what they had built and to their hopes for expansion. In too many cases it seems that it's a losing battle with every imaginable thing against them, but they are passionate people and their stories of dedication and perseverance are both moving and inspiring.

The book is structured like a meal, in three courses. "Appetizers" takes in oyster farming in Prince Edward Island., Grand Manan (NB) dulse and the scallop fishery in Nova Scotia. "Mains" covers Newfoundland cod, Manitoba pork, Saskatchewan flax, Alberta beef and Yukon potatoes. The last section, "To Finish" takes us to British Columbia for apples, Quebec for cheese and Ontario for icewine.

What stands out to me in this book are her remarkably vivid descriptions. She does so much more than just tell you about a place - she puts you right there with her with wonderful detail. She makes it an exciting journey by taking part in the actual work of each farm and telling us what that's like, and by using vibrant language that makes every scene come alive. When was the last time you read a book about farming that was actually fun? This one will have you breathing in the salt air of the east coast and feeling the warm earth on your hands as you dig up a Yukon Gold potato. It was almost as good as a vacation. Well, maybe not so much for her.

Reading this book will leave you hungry so it's a good thing a couple of recipes are included at  the end of each chapter for anyone who can't wait to get to a restaurant where these products are featured. The book will tell you where those restaurants are as well. I haven't yet tried any of the recipes but the Yukon Gold fries (oven made) are on my menu for this week.

I wish this book was required reading for every Canadian so we'd all have a better idea where our food comes from and how much work goes into producing it. Full of eye-opening stories and a lot of information, it was never dry but fun to read from beginning to end. Try it, you'll like it. :)

"The Taste of New Wine"

The Taste of New Wine by Keith Miller

A book about finding spiritual renewal, it seems to be directed more toward those who are in leadership positions in the church. It's central theme is the awakening of lay people to new purpose, a new relationship with Christ, and to their true position as ministers of the gospel, but I think Miller's purpose was to show church leaders that this is a movement that has already begun and to encourage them to get on board.

The problem is that as church members, most of us have always assumed that evangelism and witnessing are the job of the paid ministers and pastors and we have happily let them them take responsibility for that, even though it contradicts what scripture tells us about all believers being ministers of the gospel. The real job of the salaried minister or pastor is to equip the laypeople to go out and live a life of evangelism. The church I hold to has long taught the priesthood of all believers so this wasn't new teaching to me.

It was written in 1965, but truth is truth in any era so it didn't feel outdated. In my copy there were three blank pages so sections of the text were actually missing. Unfortunately that meant not knowing where he was going with certain points or not finding out the ending of  a particular story he was telling. It was hard to stay interested with those huge gaps but I finished it because it's been on my shelf for a long time and I wanted to get it done.

"Tell"

Tell by Frances Itani

This is a funny book. Well, not funny ha ha, but funny different. Several of us at book club didn't enjoy the first half but later found ourselves thinking what a good book it was. We talked about various aspects of the story but never came up with a reasonable answer as to why it took us so long to get into it. When I think back on the first half, I don't think I disliked it, but it didn't draw me in even though it's a good, solid story.

It begins with a prologue - then chapter one starts a year previous to that.  Prologues can be a little off putting at first because they don't relate to what's going on in the beginning of the story. I even tend to forget them once I get into the story. At the end of the novel, though, I find it satisfying to go back and reread them because of the clarity they bring.

There are two main story lines. One is about a returning WW1 soldier, Kenan, who is suffering from PTSD (they didn't call it that then) and his wife, Tress. Tress is trying to hold things together as her injured husband adjusts to life without the use of one arm and with considerable damage to his face. The other story line is about another couple, Maggie (Tress's aunt) and Am, whose marriage is slowly disintegrating in the silence which for years has surrounded a tragic loss.

The setting is a small town in Ontario, the prominent feature of which (for this story) is a skating rink built on the frozen bay. The main characters all spend time alone and with companions on the ice, which becomes a place of solace to many of them. It represents a sort of freedom from the lives in which they are trapped.

Having begun with a prologue, the book ends with a letter summing up the changes that have taken place in the year since the end of the story. It's both happy and sad, as life always is.

I love the title: "Tell". I think the author is telling us that talking would have made everything different. If Maggie and Am had shared their pain in words it might have kept them from growing apart and made it less likely that one of them would stray. For Kenan and Tress, telling is what makes it possible for them to accept the changes in their marriage and move forward.

I recommend this book for it's good story, well-constructed characters and enjoyable writing.


"Home"

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Anyone who has read "Gilead" will know the characters of this book. Gilead told the story of that time from one man's point of view; "Home" tells it from another. If you think that sounds dull, think again. I was quite hesitant to read this because Gilead was so incredibly beautiful that I was sure nothing could measure up. I don't know what I was thinking. It's a different book with it's own beauty and the two shouldn't even be compared. It's like asking which is more perfect, this perfect thing or that perfect thing.

They are different character's stories set at the same time in the same place. It was curious, and intriguing, to read about something happening that I'd read before from a different perspective.  Each book stands on it's own, but reading Gilead first took this story to another level, giving me a broader understanding of every character's actions and motivations.

In "Gilead" retired Rev. John Ames tells of his growing up years, the loss of his first wife and child and how, in his later life, he came to be married to a younger woman and having a child with her. His neighbour and best friend of many years, Robert Boughton, also a retired Reverend, is a major part of his life. In "Home", the Boughton family's story is told. Rev. Boughton is a widower with several grown children, one of whom - his daughter,Glory - has returned to Gilead to care for him as his health declines. The major story line is the return of his son, Jack, who hasn't made an appearance in 20 years. Jack had been the misfit, the one who always did or said the wrong thing, who found trouble wherever he went. He tells Glory that when he was a child, he had watched the rest of them and wished he could live in that house the way they did, could come and go like he belonged there. He did belong there, but he never felt it.

I don't think I can adequately express how I feel about these books. Actually, it's not so much how I feel about them as it is how they made me feel. I fell into them and did not want to come out. The writing is hauntingly beautiful. The author's insight and honesty about what it is to be human make this one of the most gently realistic stories I've ever read. I think anyone who reads it is going to find something of themselves in here. There's a ring of truth about these books that is sweet relief in a society numbed by the phoniness of Kardashians and other false realities.

As corny as it sounds, reading "Home" felt like going home, both because the place and characters were familiar and because the writing is so comfortable. It just feels right, like it fits. I love these books and can't recommend them highly enough.

Still - Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis

Still - Notes On A Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

This is the personal story of Lauren Winner who was raised Jewish and later converted to Christianity, an experience she wrote about in a previous book "Girl Meets God". In the beginning days of her journey with Jesus she felt His presence and talked to Him easily, but life got hard and things began to fall apart. She lost her mother just before she got married, then her marriage failed. Anxiety, grief and guilt took their toll and doubt crept in. She questioned her faith and the very existence of God. This is her journey through that darkness.

It's rare to find an author who can be honest about her personal life while still maintaining discretion. Ms. Winner does it beautifully. She admits to doubts we all have and hide, but in her admission there is tact and grace. There is no wallowing. There must have been some of that in her actual experience but she's a good enough author to leave it out of her book. Her writing is intelligent, honest and clear in a way that has you nodding your head and recognizing yes, you've been there, or maybe are there now.

Her graceful candor is a breath of fresh air to one who has read too many I-have-all-the-answers books. She works her way through this "mid-faith crisis" by putting one foot in front of the other. She keeps breathing, working, living, though much of it seems pointless at times. In her own words "...I continue to live in the world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wonder. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze."

"Still" was not written as a how-to manual for getting through your own periods of doubt, but it is a light for the darkness. Hope is necessary for survival and it is strengthened when we hear of someone else going through a crisis similar to ours and surviving with faith intact. You will find no pat answers here; what you will find is encouragement to carry on, and that is far more valuable.


"Quite a Curiosity"

Quite a Curiosity - The Sea Letters of Grace. F. Ladd ed.by Louise Nichols

Grace Forrest was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1864. At the age of twenty-one she married Fred Ladd, captain of a sailing vessel, and traveled with him around the world for most of his sailing career. They raised their young children onboard until they were old enough to be at school full time.

This book is a collection of letters that she wrote to her father from various places around the world. Included are a few that he wrote back and some of her daughter Kathryn's memories. By the time Katheryn was born, steam ships were handling most of the trans-atlantic crossings so her memories are mostly of sailing up and down the Atlantic coast of North and Sound America, making her own experience different from that of her brother, Forrest, who saw the world in his early years.

I can barely imagine what it's like to raise a toddler on a ship but the Ladds seemed to have have no problem with it. They took care of medical emergencies, weathered storms at sea and celebrated Christmas with gifts and festive meals. The pictures of their living quarters are impressive so I know they had some creature comforts, but still, it would take a strong woman to live that life and feel comfortable raising her children on the sea. I have nothing but admiration for this woman.

Grace collected "curiosities" from the places she visited, hence the title. She and her husband made friends of other sailing couples they would meet in various ports and even visit between ships when they were at sea. In port she did the tourist things, shopping and seeing how the natives lived, then writing of her father to tell what they had seen and done.

I was born and raised on the east coast of Canada and lived here all my life but had never heard Grace Ladd's story, so I was thrilled to come across this book. It's a fascinating look at sailing life in what is called "The Golden Age of Sail" and at the personal details of domestic life and child-rearing at sea. A great read, indeed.      
 

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