The People vs. Alex Cross Book Review

After taking a multi-year hiatus from reading the Alex Cross book series by James Patterson I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. If you are wondering why I stayed away, my reason is quite simple. The books were becoming way too scary! Thus, I had trouble sleeping. Especially after Patterson’s release of Cross Country. However, I missed the characters as well as Patterson’s writing. So, I picked up The People vs. Alex Cross. I am glad I did.

Multiple Story Lines

Patterson weaves multiple story lines together. First, Alex is on trial for murder. This part of the plot hearkens back to a previous book. One that I did not read. Yet, my enjoyment of The People vs. Alex Cross prevailed. Then there is the current case. And the current case is one that Alex shouldn’t be working on. But, of course he gets involved anyway.

For those not familiar with the Alex Cross series, Cross is a crime fighter with a background in psychology. He is married to his immediate boss and lives with his grandmother and three kids. All play a part in the book series. Featured in The People vs. Alex Cross is Ali, the youngest of his offspring.

The current case revolves around young missing blondes and various websites portraying harm to them. Thus, Patterson links the story to a current problem in technology, the dark web. For example, Patterson includes in his plot details on how video uploaded to the web can be altered. Even computer geeks can be fooled. This plays a major part of the story.

The People vs. Alex Cross

Furthermore, the theme of doctored video footage is carried across to the second story line. Incriminating evidence of Cross’ wrong doing in the form of video recording is presented to the court. But the precocious Ali discovers how an unaltered tape contains false information. Sometimes you can’t believe what you see.

Patterson’s viewpoint on police shootings is revealed to the discerning reader. However, this does not interfere with the book. Politics is an underlying theme and not a focal point.

Above all, I enjoyed The People vs. Alex Cross. Mostly because there is plenty of action and I could handle the suspense level. The struggle of good vs. evil lends interest for the reader. But no nightmares! Patterson includes just enough technology to pique one’s interest in a new type of sleight of hand. I find it absolutely amazing what can be achieved with today’s technology. And the technology lends itself well to the thriller genre!

Don’t Stop Believin’ Book Review

Don’t Stop Believin’ is the title of a great song from the 1980s. It is also the name of a memoir I just finished and highly recommend. Jonathan Cain wrote the book. He also wrote or co-wrote countless lyrics. Many belong to songs you know and love.
But the book is not just a who’s who of ballad bands from the 80s. In fact, the early parts focus on events that shaped Cain into the man he is today. Cain has a tremendous memory, so the story begins before he reaches kindergarten. The words flow. Just like the music. There is homage to his working class background and the strong religious upbringing.

Key Life Events

As with all of us, there were key turning points in Cain’s life. He shares these with the reader. Perhaps most significant is one that occurred in grade school. A catastrophe began shaking his personal faith. Yet, or perhaps because, his passion for music continued to soar.
The memoir makes it clear that success did not happen overnight. There were starts and stops and re-starts. Cain very much paid his dues. He also made his share of mistakes. The personal story is as compelling as the information on what it takes to create music. Notes so memorable that you keep humming them in your head long after you retire for the night.

Connection with the Author

To be honest, I love the music of the 80s but I am not one for recognizing the band members. I remember a time in the late 70s when working at Howard’s Ice Cream in Daytona Beach, my co-workers freaked out over a pair of “long hairs” parked out front. One headed for the package store and one came over for  an ice cream cone. I remember this because the man tipped me more than what I made in an hour. Turns out he was one of the Allman brothers. But I digress.

Jonathan Cain is in the same light. I picked up the book because I liked Journey and was interested in the topic. I could not believe how many connections lay within the story. He wrote one of my all- time favorite songs. Plus he shares how he was touched by the life of a youngster with cystic fibrosis. (Read here for more on the same subject.) Finally, he has connections to the same part of Central Florida. His wife preaches at a church just a handful of miles from where I type this now.

Don’t Stop Believin’

The message in this book is one of not giving up. Furthermore, an important message for Christian readers is that God doesn’t give up on his believers. I found Don’t Stop Believin’ informative, entertaining and inspirational. I highly recommend this book.

Dealing with Dementia: Changes on Many Levels

Dealing with Dementia

Today I am focusing on the many challenges of dealing with dementia. For anyone looking for a scientific based posting, this is NOT it. Instead, these are my personal reflections of coping with the dementia my loved one faces. Thus, I am writing anecdotally, but perhaps you will find my experiences helpful.

Brain Changes

As a layman, I find the workings of the brain fascinating. The brain is the control center for our bodies. Thus, we cushion the heads of babies, wear helmets if playing football or riding cycles, hard hats on construction sites and numerous other activities in the hope of preventing damage to the brain.

The brain can be impacted by other factors. I have read several of Dr. Daniel Amen’s books on the brain. His books, Change Your Brain Change Your Life (1996) and Change Your Brain Change Your Body (2010) were life changing for me as well as one of my offspring. Amen details how diet and exercise can affect the brain in addition to brain injury. Click here to visit his website.

Personality Changes

I have a hard time grasping the science behind how changes to the brain affect changes to one’s personality. But, I believe this to be true. My family member has not gone silent like so many. However, her sentences are non-sequitur at best. Under the worst of circumstances she makes absolutely no sense and gets frustrated if you cannot follow her thoughts. I get frustrated too. And very sad.

On the other hand, she still has a great smile and she smiles often. Furthermore, she continues watching TCM and the old movies with enjoyment. Recently we watched the version of Seabiscuit with Shirley Temple. She was fully engaged to the point of skipping the ice cream hour. She always enjoyed going to the races at Tampa Bay Downs so she connected to the movie.

Other changes revolve around games. Board games and card games were favorite past times. The whole family could spend hours playing Spinners and she belonged to multiple bridge clubs. But now the attention span needed to play is gone. Participation is limited to games where she can be guided.

Role Reversal

Individuals who are dealing with dementia in a parent also deal with a role reversal. This is my case. I have the power of attorney and am second in line as health advocate. Care decisions are stressful. As a result, I am already planning for my future. Just in case.

July 2019 Wrap-Up

My July 2019 began and ended in Florida. But the whole month was not spent in the Sunshine State. In addition to driving a southern route from the High Plains to the East Coast, I also spent a short time in the State of Indiana. As a result, my writing suffered a tad bit.

In addition to visiting family, I have embarked on a major project. Along with a family member, I am working on bringing a foreclosed property back to life. The house has some problems, but it is structurally sound.

Foreclosures from the Great Recession

The United States is still working through a backlog of distressed property. This particular home has been empty the better part of a decade. As with many of these properties, the house was purchased as is. We did pay for some inspections. We were not allowed to turn on electricity or water. Therefore, we planned on major overhauls of these two functions.

Many homes built on slab during the latter part of the 20th Century have problems with the pipes. Thus, we were not surprised by the need for re-piping. This is achieved by piping through the attic. Another of my Florida relatives had just had this done. Thus, I was familiar with the pricing.

For the most part, the electrical system was in good shape. But, the air conditioning was shot. I can’t imagine a house in the interior of Florida without air conditioning. The replacement is scheduled for later this week.

Much of the remainder is cosmetic. My family member, with a little design help from me, will tackle this. The process has been interesting.

Rehabilitating Foreclosed or Distressed Properties

There are many, many distressed properties. Homeowners for one reason or another fail to maintain their homes. Under the best of circumstances, the houses fall into mild disrepair. But the worst cases result in foreclosures with a loss of equity and the ruin of credit.

It is hard to determine exactly how many properties are falling into disrepair. Not all end up as foreclosures. I thought a neighboring house had also been abandoned due to the evident neglect. However, an elderly couple, (possibly on a fixed income) reside in the home. This is anecdotal. But may happen more often than one would believe.

Unfortunately, a certain stigma is attached to buying such a property. A few contractors have refused to work with us. Perhaps there is a feeling that we are gaining from someone else’s misfortune. Perhaps they do not understand the gratification which comes from making something bad into something good. Currently, I see little if any monetary gain, but that may change.

Other Activities in July 2019

Of course, the summer months mean time in the garden. I am delighted in the continued success of the Raised Row Garden. The cabbages are gorgeous and the beets delicious. I will not be home for the County Fair. So no blue ribbons this year.

I plan to be home in time for some major canning mid-August. In the mean-time the garden is being watered by the man of the house. He reports the eggplants are abundant and tasty in eggplant parmesan.

July 2019 Reading

Unfortunately all the travel and planning have cut into my reading of novels. (I am always reading, just not always for fun.) This month websites and design magazines have stolen the show.  I may need to borrow an idea from my favorite South African blogger and keep posting with Just A Paragraph if life remains hectic. If you like blog reading, visit her website at despatchesfromtimbuktu.

Visiting The Little One

Perhaps the best part of July 2019 was the 24 hour trip to the Front Range. I was able to spend some tummy time with the newest member of the family. She makes such funny faces, I predict she will have an amazing personality.

Thank you to all my loyal readers. I appreciate your bearing with the less than regular posts. But, I wouldn’t trade this experience for much. Life is interesting when it is unpredictable. Bringing a foreclosed home back to life certainly qualifies as making life interesting.

 

Battling the Summer Heat

Battling the Summer Heat

Things are heating up in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer is here and so is the heat. So I thought I would share my tips for battling the summer heat. Most are common sense. But sometimes when we are in the thick of things we forget to utilize our brain sense.

Early Riser

Growing up I was always a night owl. Consequently, I tended to sleep in. But now I am an early riser. The first hours of the day are the coolest. The semi-arid region I live in takes all night to cool down. But around 5:00 A.M. it is almost pleasant. The upper 60s and low 70s (Fahrenheit) are a relief from the 100 plus afternoon temperatures. It also helps to have an early sunrise. We live on the far Eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone so dawn comes very early.

Hydrate Frequently

A second key to battling the summer heat is to drink plenty of liquids. Most of the time I prefer water. However, there are occasions when you might choose something else to hydrate with instead of water. Extraordinary exertion may indicate a need to supplement water. You know your body best, and if you have any questions consult an expert.

In addition to drinking liquids, don’t forget to eat! I know I have encountered days where it was just TOO hot to eat, but starving oneself is never good. Instead, look at increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Experiment with new recipes. Last week I made chlodnik for the first time. This chilled soup is especially good with beets and cucumbers fresh from the garden.

Fun in the  Summer Heat

Battling the summer heat can be fun. Our city pool has evening open swim hours. This is a great way to cool down. Taking in a movie matinee is another way to escape high temperatures. A bonus occurs if the movie prices are reduced at this time. Other indoor activities to keep one busy include bowling, rambling through museums or art galleries, and a great American past-time, going to the mall.

This summer heat has given me a great appreciation for the countries and cultures that practice siestas. Closing down in the mid to late afternoon makes great sense. But, I don’t see many around my part of the world adopting that habit.

Whatever methods you use battling the summer heat, enjoy the warm nights. Time does not stand still. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere will be here before you know it.

 

 

Alphabet Books Galore

Alphabet books are among my favorites. They are great to read to young children, but alphabet books can be geared to any age. Some are really best appreciated by adults.

The earliest memory of an alphabet book is Dr. Seuss’s ABC. As a six year old, I read this book countless times to a younger cousin on a long car trip. Needless to say she learned the alphabet just shy of turning three. I am not sure how my aunt and uncle withstood the repetition.

Cover of Dr. Seuss's ABC
A well loved book.

But I was absolutely tickled when one of my kids received a copy from my cousin at birth. As you can tell by the condition of the book, it was well read.

Board Books

I love to read board books to the young ones. The pages don’t tear and the books can handle an occasional tooth. Some of the alphabet board books in my library include A To Z by Sandra Boynton and Cyndy Szekeres’ ABC. Boynton’s book uses an animal and a verb to illustrate each letter, ex. Dinosaur dancing. Szekeres has multiple examples and illustrations for each letter.

My all-time favorite is Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. Maybe it is the gardener in me that holds this book in such high regard. Little tykes love recognizing the different foods they eat. The author includes produce grown in many parts of the world. The names are written in both upper and lower cases. She even found one to represent X.

Variety of Alphabet Books

Once we move past the board books, the types of alphabet books expands. A holiday favorite is B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner and illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Wilner utilizes the alphabet to share this Christian story of Christmas. I love this book.

Two artsy alphabet books are in the collection. The first is I Spy: An Alphabet in Art devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait. Each letter features a classic artwork. The art is identified on the bottom of the page with the letter. The opposite page has a copy of the art. Not all the objects are easy to spot.

Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City takes a unique approach. Each letter is found in a photo such as the one to the left. It is amazing how shapes in the world around us can resemble letters (and numbers.) Artists like Johnson see the world through a different lens.

Informative Alphabet Books

I have two of Lynne Cheney’s alphabet books. I highly recommend both. First is A is for Abigail: The Almanac of Amazing American Women. This great book covers everything from athletes to the Industrial Revolution to suffragettes to First Ladies. I love the ways she represents the alphabet. The other Cheney alphabet book I have is America: A Patriotic Primer. Similar in style, the book will easily entertain an upper grade schooler.

For younger readers, The Alphabet Atlas by Arthur Yorinks showcases countries around the globe. A fun fact is shared about each country. The text is fairly simple. But the hidden jewel in this book is the artwork. Each letter was designed by Jeanyee Wong. She drew her inspiration from the quilts that serve as the illustration and representation for each letter and corresponding country. Thus Adrienne Yorinks earns my greatest admiration in creating these works of fabric art. This book is truly a must have for quilters.

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book is written by David M. Schwartz and illustrated by Marissa Moss. It is hard to categorize this book by age or grade. The concepts are late grade school to junior high/ middle school. But the writing is fairly easy to understand. Therefore, students in upper elementary grades should find this easy to read. This should definitely reside in a school library as well as the home.

Wrapping up the Alphabet

Alphabet Books of many styles, for many ages.

As you can see from the photo with the collection of books, I have just touched the surface. So I will close out with a book I look forward to reading often in the coming years. Eve Shaw’s Grandmother’s Alphabet tells the reader that Grandma can be anything from A to Z. Each letter depicts a variety of occupations. This is a book geared toward the early reader but not a beginning reader as it has lots of vocabulary words young kids will need help sounding out.

I love alphabet books, so if you have one to recommend please share!

The Last Second Book Review

Authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison writing the Brit in the FBI series have released a good summer read in The Last Second. Even though the plot leads us to the far corners of the world, the story line is easier to accept than that of The Devil’s Triangle also written by the duo. You can read that review by clicking here.

Familiar Characters

FBI agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine (Mike) are on vacation. Shortly after a visit with old friends Grant Thornton and his wife Kitsune, they spring into action.  Drummond and Caine leave their European vacation to go to the rescue of Grant.

Thornton is acting as bodyguard to Jean-Pierre Broussard founder of Galactus Space Industries. Broussard’s hobby is finding treasures lost at sea. He has just found the Holy Grail when he is betrayed. The Holy Grail is stolen and the ship’s passengers are left for dead.

New Villains

Ellison and Coulter believe in equal opportunity. Once again the bad guys are bad gals. Ex-astronaut Navaeh Patel believes she was rescued in space by aliens called Numen. Her henchwoman is Kiera Byrne. A formidable bodyguard with an IRA background.

The two women must be stopped. Not an easy task when one is a brilliant scientist bent on contacting the aliens who saved her life.

The Last Second

This action adventure novel would make a great movie. The twists and turns and subplots keep you turning the pages. Naturally, Drummond and Caine manage to solve each problem they encounter at the last second. Since there are multiple scenes leading to the apex, the duo have plenty of opportunity to display their skills.

There are a few subplots that touch on current events. First is the commercial space race. Second is the concern of an EMP. This type of weapon would send current civilization backward in time. New characters include a terrorist who in reality is an agent deep undercover. Thus, the authors stretch the imagination.

The Last Second is an easy read. The book is a great way to escape on a summer afternoon. The fast paced action dovetails with the two main themes. Saving an innocent life with the Holy Grail and the halting of space junk with the EMP are ideas with multiple layers. Coulter and Ellison give the reader something to ponder after the tale is told.

Disappearing Earth Book Review

The debut novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is both compelling and complex. Her writing captures the nuances of life. The reader is exposed to tragedy and loss, maternal love, stoicism, anguish and hope.

Disappearing Earth begins with the kidnapping of two young girls on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their disappearance is threaded through the stories told month by month for the following year. To a certain extent each chapter could stand alone. Yet there is a connection. Sometimes obvious, and other times only as the novel unfolds.

Russian Background with Global Insight

While the stories involve women from the Kamchatka Peninsula, a remote area of Russia, the stories are cross cultural. There are male characters, but the driving force for each story is a female. Phillips captures the hopes, dreams and fears women face. Lost love, adjusting to motherhood, missing children and divorce are just a few of the themes covered.

Global insight offers readers a chance to bond with the characters. It is easy to imagine the same stories taking place in your own backyard. Each chapter pulls at the emotions. The women in the novel may be fictional but their dilemmas are real.

Disappearing Earth

An underlying theme is how women cope with adversity. After the kidnapping, one would expect the novel to focus on the mother of the missing girls. However, her story does not appear until the end. Instead, Disappearing Earth focuses on a large number of characters, each coping with difficulties in their lives. The characters overlap just enough to allow the novel to flow.

Julia Phillips has an engaging writing style. Her characters come to life. They are the richness of Disappearing Earth. This is not a mystery per se. The kidnapped girls are a background noise for most of the novel. The true wealth of the book is the global appeal and recognition of how women across the Earth have so much in common.

I highly recommend this first novel by Julia Phillips. If you would like to know more about the author, visit her website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

June 2019 Wrap-Up

June 2019

This month has been a whirlwind! New family member, second year production on the big garden, and travel to multiple states. Most of the travel has been business related, but the end result was a very busy June 2019.

In the Garden

Highlights of the garden are the leafy greens, peas, radishes and a few early beets. But the star of the show was the garlic harvest. The heads vary in size, but at least half are what I call grocery store quality. Since the total is in the hundreds, I am set for a while. Some are still drying along the garage wall, but I have earmarked some of the early harvest for long term storage. These heads of garlic are in a burlap bag in cool storage of a basement room.

The big disappointments of the garden was a lack of maturing spinach and the small crop of sour cherries. While I know the latter is a result of the late freeze, I am not sure why I am having trouble growing spinach in the big garden. I will try a fall crop and hope for a better outcome.

In the Library

In addition to the books reviewed, I have read the latest “Brit in the FBI” from the duo comprised of Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison. The Last Second was action packed. I also read another fictionalized biography of a woman in history. Karen Harper’s American Duchess revealed much about Consuela Vanderbilt unknown to me. Much like The Only Woman in the Room, the author acknowledges that the book is a work of fiction.

Keep posted for reviews of the above. Additionally, I am reading quite a bit on the latest and greatest in kitchen and bath counter tops. I have engaged in working on a foreclosure and the house needs quite a bit of updating. Hopefully I will be able to share some before and after pictures.

Travel

All of the trips I made were to places I had already visited. However, an overnight trip to Salina, Kansas was eye-opening. Most of the time I have just stopped for gas as I was passing through on one of the two Interstates that bisect the town.  I enjoyed spending the night there and will feature this small city in a future post.

Time flies when you are having fun. June 2019 flew at supersonic speed. Very appropriate for this fifty year anniversary of Apollo 11. For those of you looking for a scholarly account of the Apollo mission I highly recommend Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations: The NASA History Series by Benson and Faherty. Fair warning, the original edition is so lengthy that when NASA re-released the book it was split into two volumes with distinct titles.

The Home Edit Book Review

Reading The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals felt like I was listening to a conversation between authors Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. Perhaps it was the introduction which gave a glimpse of how they met. Or maybe it was the first person point of view. The end effect was a book that felt like you were part of a conversation.

The Home Edit takes household organization to a whole new level. I love the approach taken by Shearer and Teplin. Instead of jumping into the fun part of buying organizational units for the home, they have a straightforward approach to editing your home life.

The Home Edit Process

The first step in the process posited by Shearer and Teplin is to take everything out of the space undergoing an organizational face lift. By everything, they emphasize every single thing! Then, once all the items are out, group like things together.

Then comes the tough part, the editing. Writers understand editing often means cutting out or reducing words. Well, the same thing applies to individuals implementing The Home Edit. After everything is taken out of the space, purging is required.

Shearer and Teplin give solid advice on reducing the amount of “Things” in storage. Letting go of all the items we accumulate over the years can be tough. But I liked the common sense approach they took.

Organizational Fun

Measuring each storage space is critical for the organizational plan. Then, the next step to the Home Edit is the fun part. Armed with the measurements, Shearer and Teplin send you shopping for containers. This is a key part of the plan and sounds fun to me. The authors suggest utilizing containers for all the groupings made during the home edit process.

Another key aspect of their shared organizational process is ROYGBIV. For those unfamiliar with that acronym, sorting or grouping colors in the order of the rainbow, This concept carries throughout the house. Clothes, toys, and even food can be grouped using ROYGBIV.

Real Life Examples

A bulk of the book features real life organizational examples. The authors suggest beginning with organizing drawers and working up from there. They even provide a list of easy versus difficult parts of the home to organize.

In addition to photos providing lots of inspirational examples, the authors give a few tips. One of their basic tips for keeping an area organized is the one thing in one thing out motto I talked about in a Fall 2017 post which you can view here. Reducing the amount of “Things” needing storage is key to an organized home.

I found The Home Edit inspirational. Since I have never been to a store that specializes in containers, I am anxious to visit one. Most of the ideas shared by Shearer and Teplin are ones that can be adapted to suit individual needs. If you are someone that doesn’t know how to get a handle on clutter, this is the book for you.

 

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds Recipe

I love this recipe based on sautéed Swiss Chard. Beth shared the recipe with me last summer. She had adapted the recipe from The Gourmet Magazine. Now I am sharing my version which has been further tweaked. My almond tree is not producing nuts yet, and I have not learned to dehydrate grapes into raisins. But the onion, garlic and Swiss Chard are products of my garden.

                                                 Kitchen Items

                                     You will need the following items from the kitchen to prepare the dish. Cutting board, sharp knife, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a skillet with lid. I use a cast iron skillet. Optional tools are a garlic press and a hand held food chopper. If I am cooking alone, I utilize the last two items. However, my husband prefers cutting everything up with his chef’s knife.

 

Ingredients

4 to 5 large leaves of Swiss Chard, leaves finely sliced and stems chopped
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup raisins
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS balsamic vinegar

Directions

Heat olive oil on medium until warm. Saute the minced garlic and chopped onion until the onion is translucent. Stir in the almonds. Then stir in the Swiss Chard. Cover with lid and reduce temperature as needed. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until the chard is wilted. Stir in raisins. Finally stir in the balsamic vinegar.

I use a scant two tablespoons of the vinegar. This recipe serves two hungry people. I have omitted salt because I think the balsamic vinegar is the only needed flavoring for the fresh ingredients.

As you can see by the picture, the sautéed Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds yields about a cup per person. We enjoyed a summertime meal of a turkey sandwich with fresh lettuce from the garden. Later in the summer we will naturally add slices of tomato. Also from the garden were golden beets. The pickle was made from last summer’s cucumbers with a recipe from Small Batch Preserving. But the best part of the meal is the Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds!

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

Today is the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association uses this day to generate awareness for the disease. The topic of Alzheimer’s is a tough one for me to write about. I have a close family member suffering from this memory thief. So, I thought a book review of Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s was an appropriate choice.

Personal Story

Slow Dancing with a Stranger tells the story of Dr. Harvey Gralnick, the husband of Meryl Comer. An extremely intelligent man, Gralnick was able to compensate for the disease at work for quite some time. However, behavioral changes at home signaled to his wife that something was off.

Some of the details shared by Comer hit home. She shares her frustration of a doctor ignoring her concerns and diagnosing the problem as a combination of stress and depression. In essence, the medical providers stuck together. {Fortunately, when my family member was assessed, it was by a panel. She charmed the pants off the eldest male in the room. (She minored in drama.) He found her vivacious and felt the problems with memory and mobility were natural aging. However she scored poorly on the tests.} Thus I could emphasize with Comer.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

A good amount of Slow Dancing with a Stranger discusses the difficulties in caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. Comer discusses the many types of care she sought out for her husband. Her shared experiences are valuable to others. The decision on the best way to care for a family member with dementia is incredibly hard. It helps to read about another’s experience.

The decision on type of care may change as the patient progresses through the stages. Comer tried a variety of approaches. This insight is perhaps the most helpful part of the book. While no two patients experience the disease the same, it is helpful to understand the different steps in the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

Comer focuses on advocacy for Alzheimer’s in the latter pages of Slow Dancing with a Stranger. I found this part of the book uplifting. Since she was a former television journalist, Comer was contacted by the PBS News Hour to spotlight her struggle caring for her husband. After much soul searching, she agreed. The airing of the segment spotlighting Alzheimer’s re-opened doors for Comer. Friends and strangers alike reached out. The end result was non-profit work focused on early recognition of Alzheimer’s as well as ways to delay if not prevent the onset of the disease.

Since all proceeds from Slow Dancing with a Stranger directly support Alzheimer’s research I strongly encourage each of you to purchase a copy. Then buy a second copy and give to a friend, family member or to your local library. If you have a friend or family member suffering from this difficult disease, reach out to them and their caregiver today; The Longest Day.

 

 

Rain, Rain and More Rain on the Plains

Rainy days are rare in the part of the world I live in. But rain has fallen four days in a row for a total of just over two inches. Considering our annual average rainfall is 15 inches, the rain over the last four days is significant.

Wet Season

April, May and June are the rainy months for our section of the High Plains. Snow often falls in April which hinders the garden. This year we had the frigid temperatures but not much in the way of measurable snowfall. Then May continued the cooler than normal temperature with a last frost on the 21st of the month. Unfortunately, the month was also dry. Just over an inch of rain watered the garden.

Thus you can understand my excitement of two inches of rain in just four days. The historical average has taken some hits this decade. The beginning featured a carryover of the drought that started in the late ‘00s. The lowest total precipitation for our county occurred in 2011 when just over six inches of rain fell. This was in the middle of a run of years where the rain total fell below ten inches.

Perhaps the ongoing focus on world economics kept this serious drought from the spotlight. This time period was actually drier than the Dust Bowl years. Our area lost a lot of population to the Front Range as individuals and families moved to where jobs could be found.

Fortunately 2015 heralded the end of the drought. The area received over 21 inches of rain. Everything turned green. The High Plains are beautiful with this amount of moisture. The wheat grows tall and the heads are laden with grain. The key to the harvest is a drying period in the weeks before harvest. That might be a problem this year.

Rain and Water Conservation

Since twenty inches of water is a banner year, we are accustomed to conserving water in our part of the world. Unless high winds and/or very hot days pop up, the garden will now not receive water for a week. During dry spells of little to no rain, I water the garden early in the morning. Soaker hoses are the preferable method since our winds carry the spray from sprinklers astray.

Plantings also come into play. After very dry winters and springs, the only flowers in the garden are the perennials. The food crops need the water. So no pretty annuals. The yards tend to brown during a dry year as well.

Stewards of the Earth

I believe gardeners are stewards of the Earth. Both water and soil conservation are important. Rain is welcome in my pat of the world but other areas are receiving more than what is wanted. Those areas with greater annual rainfall need to keep an eye on hard surfaces. Pavement keeps the rain from soaking into the soil. Thus dangerous runoff and flooding is a concern.

We have flash floods when a thunderstorm dumps inches of rain in a short amount of time. So even here in a sparsely populated area, street flooding can occur. The years (few and far between) of heavy spring rains can cause the creeks to look more like streams.

So hardscapes in the garden need to be thought out. Our recent patio addition has flagstone laid upon a gravelly sand. Additionally, a drain pipe was inserted to allow excess water to flow under the herb garden into the lawn.

During yesterday’s rain we looked for ways to improve drainage. We will make a few adjustments to the section of the patio covered by pavers instead of flagstone. The pavers serve as a flat area for the grill to roll out on. Our high winds necessitate moving the grill to a sheltered place when not in use. In fact, it is time to tackle that project since more rain is forecast for this afternoon!

 

 

Garlic Growing in the Garden

Cabbage and garlic side by side
Companion planting of garlic and cabbage

Garlic Growing

Late last summer I went overboard ordering and planting garlic. For years I just used the kitchen garlic that had begun to sprout. Needless to say my past results were lackluster. But this year I have garlic growing in the main garden, garlic growing in the herb garden and garlic growing among the flowers. Truly garlic is everywhere.

Learning About Garlic

I am still learning quite a bit about garlic. Some of my resources include the following books; Organic Hobby Farming and Garden Secrets. I also consult two key websites. The first is www.sustainablemarketfarming.com and the second is www.thespruce.com and I highly recommend both. To be honest I planted the garlic late last summer without much thought.

Last August through November was a bit of a whirlwind and I made several mistakes from an organizational point of view. First of all, I did not label garden signs with the types of garlic. I planted multiple varieties of both soft and hard neck garlic. I did try to keep the types separate. But I did not organize them in such a way that those in one row were soft neck and another was hard neck. Fortunately, nature provides some clues.

Differentiating Between Soft Neck and Hard Neck Garlic

The two types of garlic growing in the garden appeared at the same in the early spring. But in early May, scapes appeared. Hard neck garlic sends a scape up three to four weeks before the bulb is ready to harvest. The scapes are considered a delicacy. I don’t recall ever eating scapes before this spring. They are delicious!

Additionally, the scapes allow one to determine which garlic plants growing are hard neck. This is important because another key difference between soft neck and hard neck is the storage life. Soft neck garlic stores two to three times longer than hard neck. Since I have a large amount of hard neck, my family and neighbors will share in the bounty.

Another way to determine the type of garlic growing in the various gardens is by the stem. Hard neck garlic has one central stem. It is quite sturdy and straight. The soft neck varieties have leaves that are more pliant. Their stems tend to fall over much like onions when they are ripe.

Harvesting The Garlic

Since I have a large amount of garlic and most of the garlic growing is in the raised row garden, I bought a garden fork this spring. I am not sure how I have lived without one! The fork loosens the soil which makes harvesting easy. Because of succession planting I was careful harvesting two of the garlic groupings.

In one of the soft neck beds, I planted some cucumbers by seed. Two cucumber plants emerged before harvest. So extra care was called for around those plants. I also inter-planted cabbage among some hard neck garlic.

I harvested the garlic from around one cabbage head before noticing the beneficial properties of the garlic. The cabbage plants came in a six pack. So I split the pack and three small plants are among dill and near the chocolate mint. My research indicated this deters the moths that lay eggs of the cabbage worm. The dill strategy was a failure but the garlic has worked like a charm.

Cabbage with holes in leaves
Cabbage planted near dill under attack
Cabbage plants in a bed of garlic
Little to no leaf damage on cabbage planted with garlic.

 

 

Garden experiments are important even when they are accidental. The photos show how little damage the cabbage planted among the garlic has compared to the hole riddled cabbage alongside the dill. I will definitely combine cabbage and garlic again.

Drying

Currently I have over one hundred garlic heads drying in my garage. I live in a very dry climate so this is possible. However, from what I have read, fans are used in areas with greater humidity. I still have four groupings of garlic growing in the garden. So, I am watching them closely to make sure they do not over mature.  Garlic left in the ground too long creates cloves that pop out of the skins. This ruins the ability to store the garlic.

I have learned a lot from this garlic crop. This has been a big success so far. However, I won’t know for a few months just how well the bulbs store. I have read several conflicting reports on how to best store the bulbs. Thus, I need to experiment and see what works best for me. Let me know your garlic tips and thoughts in the comment section below. I hope you enjoy the slide show. 

 

 

Cabbage with holes in leaves

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

Elephants Can’t Fly by Charlotte Christie is a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. This board book is beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe. The gray she uses for the elephants is both a cool blue and warm and fuzzy at the same time. But it is the inspirational words of Christie that makes this 2017 book such a find.

Elly is a young elephant. Naturally, she loves to explore like any young offspring. She observes nature and she tries to imitate. All the things one will see in a youngster.

Christie begins the story giving examples of things elephants can’t do. But then the story unfolds and Elly achieves the impossible. All because no one told her she couldn’t. Thus this simple story is also very meaningful.

Author

A quick search on the Internet yielded little information about Charlotte Christie. The first hit brought up the actress. Adding writer to the search bar brought up a young writer looking for an agent. Then the addition of the title resulted in numerous places to buy the book and a matching stuffed elephant.

A similar search for Cee Biscoe brought up lots of information. She illustrates children’s books. So finally, I searched for Jellycat Books, the publisher of Elephants Can’t Fly. Jellycat is a company specializing in plush toys. But they also sell baby gifts and under this category are some board books, including two about Elly. But the two have different authors. (Same illustrator.)

So, I am no closer to discovering Charlotte Christie the author. I hope Elephants Can’t Fly is not her only book. If it is, I hope she writes another. Because the message of Elly and her willingness to try is the key to this lovely story. If you know anything about the writer of this wonderful children’s book, please share in the comment section.

I love this story and can’t wait to read it to the newest addition to the family. Even newborns can be read to. Thus, I have written her name on the book plate provided on the first page. Tonight I will hold her and read to her for the very first time. Welcome to the world little one!

 

New Kitchen Herb Garden

Establishing the New Kitchen Herb Garden

Last year’s garden extension was the raised row garden which fills a great bit of space in the side lot. But this year’s addition is a new kitchen herb garden. It is located on the back side of the new patio. This allows the new kitchen herb garden to face east. The patio wall provides shade from the afternoon sun. Always a bonus out here on the high plains.

The poured concrete raised garden has a PVC pipe running beneath which allows the patio to drain. Currently the planter is hand watered. This keeps me checking the progress of the plants in the new kitchen herb garden.

Transplants from Divisions

Two of the plants growing in the garden are divisions from existing plants. The lemon balm was relocated in the fall of 2017 from a spot now incorporated into the patio. Then in the fall of 2018, the plant was divided and a small amount placed in the new kitchen herb garden. I was very excited to see it appear this spring. We use lemon balm in our hummus.

Our other transplant was a division of chives. These herbs are the first to appear in the spring. They are an easy plant to divide. I have them centering the bed. If you have never divided plants, chives are a great plant to practice on.

New Plants

Perennial herbs are the focus of the new kitchen herb garden. I have two types of sage in the garden. The common sage is a perennial while the pineapple sage may or may not make it through the winter. This is a first year for me to grow pineapple sage and I can’t wait for the red blossoms. The local hummingbirds will love it.

The thymes, a lemon and German will winter over easily. I love using thyme in my cooking. The two types give me a savory and a citrusy option. I also have two mints, an orange mint and a Corsican mint. The Corsican is very low to the ground with extremely small leaves. I will need to keep an eye on the orange mint since I do not want it to overtake the entire box.

Tender perennials like the stevia and lemon grass will be interesting to watch over the winter. The placement of the new kitchen herb garden might create enough of a micro-climate that they make it through the winter. Of course, the type of winter will have a say as well. The same holds true for the two rosemary plants and the lavender.

My lone annual is a purple leaf basil.  I planted it in front of the chives for a dramatic effect. The textured deep purple leaves are perfect in front of the lavender blooms of the chives. The majority of my cooking basil remains in the side garden. We live on basil in the summer so the dozen traditional plants would over- take the new kitchen herb garden.

Diagram of Garden

Diagram of new kitchen herb garden
Diagram of New Kitchen Herb Garden

 I hope you enjoy the slide show!

 

 

 

 

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd is an historical murder mystery. The book takes its’ title from the 1910 Ascot races. Because of the death of King Edward VII, all attendees at the Ascot races wore black. The murder takes place following a race day.

The accused, Alan Barrington, disappears after the inquest and before the case goes to trial. The majority of the book takes place 1921. This allows the author to incorporate bits and pieces of history from The Great War.

Scotland Yard

In 1921, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge receives a tip. Alan Barrington has been spotted back in England. Rutledge convinces his superior to allow the old murder case to be reviewed. Even though Rutledge was not involved in the original Black Ascot murder investigation, he wants to bring Barrington to trial.

Shell Shock

Inspector Ian Rutledge begins the review by getting to know the victims as well as the accused. His investigation involves interviewing past Inspectors and witnesses. Many of these individuals were mentally and/or physically affected by The Great War.

Rutledge also suffers from shell shock. During World War I, Rutledge loses a close colleague. But the ghost of Hamish “talks” to Rutledge throughout the book. When the issue of the inspector’s shell shock takes a pivotal turn midway through the book, so does the case.

Charles Todd

Charles Todd and his mother Caroline team together to write both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series. Even though the list of published works is long, this was my first time reading a Charles Todd book. It will not be my last.

I love the combination of historical events and fictional murder mystery. Even though the Ascot races did not figure prominently in the book, naming the novel after the 1910 races was appropriate. A true blackguard caused the motor car crash taking the life of one and severely injuring another.

The expert writing not only kept the reader turning the pages, but also created a stand-alone book. I did not feel as if I were missing something by not reading previous titles featuring Inspector Rutledge. The intrigue of the plot combined with the well-developed characters made this one of the best reads of the 2019 year. I would not be surprised to find it on my end of the year list of favorites. (Click here for the 2018 list.)

The Black Ascot is highly recommended. Buy or borrow a copy today.

May 2019 Wrap-Up

May 2019

While May 2019 is not officially in the books, the time is nigh. To avoid two posts in one day, I am writing and posting just a bit early. Considering the number of things that have already occurred this month, an early wrap on May 2019 will not hurt a bit.

Kentucky Derby

We began the month preparing for a Kentucky Derby party. Among the recipes whipped up were a Derby Pie from Racing to the Table and Bourbon Brown Sugar Nuts from the May 2019 edition of Better Homes & Gardens. The party was a great success despite or perhaps because of the outcome of this year’s race. Our weather was perfect as we migrated to the back patio after the telecast.

Not long after the Derby, I traveled to Kentucky. I was fortunate enough to take pictures of a 300 year old bur oak. Visit the slide show at the end of this post to see this amazing tree. I have a twenty year old bur oak in my yard. The trunk is only a foot in diameter. We are quite a bit drier in our part of the country, but if it lives 300 years, maybe someone will marvel the way I did over the tree in Kentucky.

Wacky Weather

The spring months on the High Plains of the United States are full of surprises. May 2019 is no exception. Last year I planted some tomatoes in the ground in late April. But this year I suspected would be one with a late freeze. I was right. The morning of May 21 I awoke to a frost in the garden. Immediate losses include eggplant and melon. I suspect further losses. Two of the tomatoes and half the peanuts look iffy. Fortunately, most of the herbs are close to the house. A micro-climate exists in their location. Not a single basil plant was lost.

Just a few days later, spring thunderstorms brought hail and a few small tornadoes to the region. We were spared both. The total rainfall for the month was 7/10th of an inch. Steady winds of 30 M.P.H. with gusts above forty dry things out in a hurry. Watering is essential.

The Love Quilt

I am approaching the finish line with The Love Quilt. I think I will finish before the newest addition to the family arrives. But it will be close. I like to hand quilt. Weaving the needle back and forth through the layers calms me. But the process is very time consuming. If or perhaps when arthritis strikes, (Some stiffness is occurring) I may need to invest in a long arm sewing machine.

The design of the next quilt is complete. So, I will begin the process of cutting and piecing once I finish the current project. The next is a challenge because it is two sided. The quilt design will need to be an allover pattern.

Garlic and Greens

The garden harvest for May 2019 consisted of greens-multiple types of lettuce- radishes, onions and garlic and garlic scapes. I have a bumper crop of garlic. I have only dug the ones in the front flower bed. But I have begun the process of drying and curing. Using the garlic scapes as an indicator, most of the bulbs will be ready the second week in June. I have never before had such success with garlic. The raised row garden concept is incredible. If you have not read my review of the book by Jim and Mary Competti, click here. My yields have increased exponentially. I love their website as well, Old World Garden Farms.

Reading Highlights

This month my reading focused on various blogs and websites I follow. I find first-hand accounts of what works in the garden quite helpful. But I also like to read blogs from around the world. Since I live in a rural, isolated area, the online community of bloggers keeps me connected.

On the book front, look for this Friday’s review of The Black Ascot. I loved this historical murder mystery. My gardening took a backseat Memorial Day because I spent hours reading this Charles Todd mystery. Definitely a page turner! Enjoy the slide show.

 

 

 

The Last-Book Review

The Last by Hanna Jameson has a mix of mystery combined with the psychological aspects of a nuclear war. The protagonist is Dr. Jon Keller and the premise of The Last is that these events are captured in his journal. Keller, a historian, believes he is describing the end of the world. This writing ploy utilized by the author works.

Mystery of The Last

During the process of survival, the small group of humans stranded high in the Alps comes across a dead body of a small child. Cause of death is unknown, but time of death approximates the nuclear attacks across the globe. Keller is determined to find the truth.

His obsession with the mystery combined with the stress of surviving the nuclear blast create a study in psychology. Keller and other survivors handle the events in a variety of ways. Hanna Jameson has written a book that straddles genre lines. The survivalist theme focuses more on mental health and less on day-to-day needs. She accomplishes this with her setting, a high end Switzerland resort.

Thus, The Last offers much to readers not focused on end of the world scenarios. The cast of characters is diverse. Keller interviews each for his journal. Again an excellent format by author Jameson. The reader connects with the characters. The mystery slowly unravels as the individual back stories are revealed.

Realism

For the most part the book is plausible. The fears of the characters, including those with visions of ghosts, ring true. Communication after the blast continues via social networks. It seems even a series of nuclear attacks cannot defeat the Internet.

However, there were a few points requiring a suspension of belief. This includes the end scenario. A functioning city is not far from the hotel. Here the murderer is himself murdered. The journal entries may be used to justify the actions. But Keller does not write the final entry. His refusal to address a rotten tooth has endangered his life.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is entertaining. The book would be great read for a beach or mountain vacation. The psychological components are intriguing. While there are some violent scenes, much of the book focuses on the mental challenges individuals face after a world changing event.

 

Winter Range Book Review

Winter Range by Claire Davis depicts the harsh environs of Montana cattle country. The story takes place during winter in the midst of a long drought. Davis is accurate in her portrayal of both land and people. The disturbing plot conveys the many nuances of living and working in a rural, isolated small town where events are dictated by nature and the weather.

Triangle of Characters

Ike Parsons is the protagonist of Winter Range. He is a transplant, not a native of Montana. Parsons is the sheriff and he takes his job seriously. He runs afoul of the western code of live and let live.

But the job did not bring him west, love did. Pattiann is his wife. A daughter of a long time ranch family, she met Ike while back East for school. She is complex. Still angry that the ranch will pass down to the male heir, her past relationship with Chas Stubblefield creates an added twist to the conflict.

Stubblefield is a villain. Or a man down on his luck. It all depends on perspective. His herd of cattle is starving. His debts are too great and he has been cut off by the bank and the feed supplier. The conflict becomes critical when the sheriff interferes.

Unwritten Code

Winter Range provides a look at personal conduct in the rural areas of the western United States. Life is impacted by the harshness of nature. Hot summers and cold winters combined with rainfall that may not even reach a foot in one year create a demanding climate. Thus, the inhabitants face challenges not found in urban areas.

This hardscrabble life dictates a different outlook on life. One of non-interference. A man’s property (or family) does not brook interference. Thus, a belief that Stubblefield has a right to let his herd die. Since Parsons is an outsider he does not share this view. So there is a showdown.

Winter Range

Claire Davis has written a book that is disturbing to read. There is violence both man-made and natural. The secondary characters round out the book. But the triangle between Ike, Pattiann, and Chas centers the story. Winter Range is both a commentary on the western way of life and a tale of love and expectations.

Miss Colorado USA-Madison Dorenkamp

Madison Dorenkamp is Miss Colorado USA for 2019. She just competed in the Miss USA pageant which was held in Reno Nevada. The following is an interview via email. I hope you enjoy reading about this remarkable young woman. She is a genuine person. Hardworking and determined, Madison Dorenkamp is a great representative of the Millennial generation.

Interview Questions

Econogal: What has been the most stressful part of the pageant process and how did/are you coping with it?

Madison: Oddly enough, planning outfits was super stressful to me. I didn’t really have many outfits that I felt fit correctly, expressed my personality, and worked for the occasions at Miss USA. Leading up to Miss USA, I bought outfits that I felt expressed my vibrant, flirty personality. To keep everything organized I took photos in every outfit with accessories so that when I got to Miss USA I wouldn’t have to stress about it at all.

Econogal: Going forward, what do you hope to give back to the Miss USA pageant and to the State of Colorado?

Madison: I am trying to do as much with this title as I can. I am doing my best to make connections, set up sponsorships for the girls who come after me, and attend as many events as I can. I think it is easy to watch the Miss USA pageant, and feel like that is not a real girl. I hope to make those who meet me know that it is possible to be a real girl, and make your dreams come true.

Goals

Econogal: I remember you had two goals when in my classroom. Earning a four year degree and becoming Miss Colorado. Now that you have achieved both of these, have you made new goals? What are they?

Madison: I have so many new goals. I have prioritized my health and fitness, and am keeping that as a permanent goal. I have come to realize that eating healthy and exercising really do affect all areas of life. My short term goal is to be the best Miss Colorado I can be while balancing my full time career and continuing to be successful at it. My long term goal is to be a very successful lifestyle entrepreneur. I want this to include my blog/brand, a cookbook, a novel, and someday a restaurant or coffee shop. I like the hustle, and unknown, and knowing that I can inspire someone every day, even if it’s just one person.

Tips

Econogal: Do you have any tips to share on achieving a work- life balance?

Madison: Good luck (lol), but really I don’t know if that exists. I try to block out some me time usually this is from 5-9am. During this time, I take a workout class, maybe take my dog for a walk while listening to music or podcast, and I meditate. I try my best not to be on my phone before 9am; however, that doesn’t always happen. I love my job, and being Miss Colorado, and am constantly thinking how grateful I am for my life, but when it comes to a social life, I don’t really have one unless it involves taking a workout class together.

Econogal: What message would you like to send to your supporters?

Madison: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Every time I went on stage, including at Miss Colorado, I told myself one word, grateful. I believe that gratitude towards everyone who has supported me, and continues to support me is what has made me able to reach my goals. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I have received from everyone.

Final Comments from Econogal

Each decade I remain on Earth, I hear more and more disparaging remarks about the younger generations. In the far reaches of my memory I remember similar comments about my generation. One of the reasons I like blogging is the connection it gives me to other individuals braving the technological changes in our world. These changes may be daunting for me, but nothing new for the Millennials.

Madison Dorenkamp and her generation entered this world on the cusp of a technological generation. Cartoons such as the Jetsons showcased a make-believe lifestyle of robots and self-driving modes of transportation when I was a kid. Now the reality is one of robots not only vacuuming the home but truly able to run the home.

Thus it is inspiring to see individuals such as Madison striving to make a difference in their world. I love the hashtag #ownyourdifferent that Ms. Dorenkamp uses on her Instagram accounts. I admire Madison and the many, many Millennials in my life for their hard work and dedication to their specific goals. The future is bright.

Miss Colorado USA

If you would like to follow Miss Colorado USA 2019 you can search for MissCOUSA on Instagram or access her website at www.madisondorenkamp.net both are entertaining. The ‘In the Kitchen’ section of her website has a recently released recipe for Vegan Rice Krispy Treats.

I would like to thank the wonderful staff at Miss USA for arranging this interview. I last saw Madison Dorenkamp in October of 2017, but I love the ability to follow her successes on social media. Another bonus of technology. Thank you for the interview Madison!

Baby of the Family Book Review

As a debut novel, Baby of the Family shows tremendous effort by Maura Roosevelt. The book is complex. The author explores a number of social and economic issues. But the key message of this coming-of-age Great American novel is the importance of family-even a dysfunctional one.

Economics of Old Money

Although his death occurs at the beginning of the story, the character of Roger Whitby, Jr is instrumental to the plot. His life is a reflection of many third-generation moneyed Americans. There is pressure to build upon the successes of those before. But Whitby was unable to handle life’s adversity. So success eluded him. Thus, downward mobility commenced.

Fathering nine children from four wives added to the complexity of his life. The reader barely glimpses the offspring from the first marriage. So their financial status is unknown. Instead the focus of Baby of the Family is on Brooke Whitby, the youngest surviving child of the second wife; Shelley Whitby ,Roger’s youngest biological child born of the third wife; and Nick Whitby, the adopted son from the fourth and final marriage. The novel centers on the social lives and finances of these three characters.

Baby of Family #2

Brooke Whitby is the most grounded of the three. She is a nurse in Boston. Her parents’ marriage fell apart shortly after the death of her younger brother. Brooke has contact with her older siblings but is not close to them or her mother. Flashbacks give the reader a glimpse into the unraveling of her immediate family.

But the main social thread for Brooke’s story is her sexuality. She is a pregnant bi-sexual who is jilted by her same-sex partner. She has decisions to make. Her partner’s parents are minor characters important to the plot.

From an economic standpoint, Brooke is self-sufficient. But, the reading of the will displaces her. Brooke’s wages will not allow her to remain in the Back Bay (very old money) area of Boston. So added to her relationship crisis is a need to find a new place to live.

In her late thirties, Brook is considerably older than Shelley and Nick. Her compassionate nature ties her to Shelley and by extension to Nick. More mature than the younger siblings, the reader is witness to Brooke’s struggle for self-actualization as Baby of the Family unfolds.

Baby of Family #3

Shelley Whitby is the protagonist of the story. She is the connection between new and old. At just twenty-three she is not handling life very well. Her mother is mentally ill; her father long out of the picture. Shelley is lost. And very messed up.

But her character tugs at the heart. Upon hearing of Roger’s death and disinheritance, she drops out of a prestigious liberal arts school late in her senior year. She was already failing.

Shelley runs home to an empty New York City abode. Her mother is absent, whereabouts unknown. She immediately looks for a job she is qualified for. Her choices are prostitution or as an assistant to a blind architect/author. She lands the job with Yousef Kamal, the author, but she justly suspects her surname played a role in her hiring.

Shelley’s story is intriguing and heartbreaking. And also a bit sickening. Her relationship with the Kamal family gives great credence to the #MeToo movement. Maura Roosevelt excels in tying current social issues into the lives of her characters.

Baby of the Family

A year younger than Shelley, adopted son Nick Whitby is the baby of the family. His connection to the rest of the Whitby offspring is tenuous at best. He is an angry young man. He sees his mother’s marriage and his subsequent adoption as the actions that destroyed his happy childhood. Thus it is easy to understand his anti-capitalist beliefs and actions.

Nick is involved with a group that lands a terrorist label. After an incident literally blows up, he runs to Shelley knowing she will hide him. She does. But she withholds the information of their father’s death.

Social and Economic Issues

The author tackles key issues. Family dysfunction is first and foremost. Income inequality plays a significant role as do a host of sexual issues including fidelity. Other social issues include the value of a liberal arts education, work ethic (or lack thereof), alcoholism and mental illness.

But above all, Baby of the Family is about familial love. Roosevelt shows how extended families can still share this type of love. The dynamics between Brooke, Shelley and Nick ring true. Sibling bonds are every bit as important as those of parent and child.

Maura Roosevelt

Throughout the novel, the author posits the question “Are you one of THOSE Whitby’s?” As a Roosevelt related to “Those” Roosevelt’s she has a basis of knowledge on how succeeding generations are impacted by wealth or success. Her learned insights are apparent in The Baby of the Family. Thus, her background lends authenticity to the story. America is a country of both upward and downward mobility.

But it is the character development that drives the reader forward. One is easily caught up in the individual lives of the Whitby siblings. The dysfunctional family dynamic is always present. Yet the main characters endure.

This novel is long and complex. The perfect book for college literature classes and book clubs. Busy readers may want to opt for the audio version. Baby of the Family is a tremendous first for Maura Roosevelt. Hopefully the first of many.

Kitchen Remodel

Tile back splash
The new back splash

There are times when you want to update part of the home without making major changes. This was the case with the kitchen remodel I recently completed. The minor changes included wall paper and back splash. I also added a chair rail in the breakfast nook. The end result is a space that feels brand new.

The replaced wall paper dates from the turn of the century. I love it. The back drop of fruits gives a homey feel. But the best part is a wall paper border with an irregular edge. This adds a touch of class.

However, the kids have flown the coop. So, creating a vibe of comfort, reliability and permanence for the kids to come home to after school is no longer a need. Instead, we want to signal our ongoing vitality with a 21st Century vibe.

Out with the Old

I highly recommend utilizing the tips in Painting Secrets if you need to take down old wallpaper. Otherwise, stripping the old wallpaper is an arduous task. Not fun at all.

Removing the old tile back splash was another story. Quite a few of the tiles came down intact. One was a bit pesky and there was damage to the dry wall beneath. I made an effort to carefully remove the tile. But I can see how one could release some pent-up energy by smashing down the tiles.

Close up of tile demolitionMore Tiles Knocked OutPlastic scraper taking off dried adhesive.Back splash dry wall with coat of KILZDrop Cloth underneath tileView of wall paper between cabinets and countertopFruit border with straight edgeWall paper and curtains with trailing fruit designOpen Doorway Bordered by Wall Paper

Prepping for the New

Preparation is essential for success in a kitchen remodel. Surface repairs were the first element involved. While I could fill in nail holes, I had a contractor repair the damage to the drywall above the stove. He also relocated wiring for a vent that vented to nowhere. A new LED light bar replaced the vent.

Then, I used a wall paper primer over most of the wall space. Sealer was applied atop the drywall repairs. These added steps add time to the project since a drying and curing time is essential.

Other preps included assembling the needed tools for the job. In addition to a wall paper brush and a wall paper roller, an Exacta knife with a blade pre-scored to make snapping the dulled end off easier is essential. The use of multiple rulers including a yard stick and plastic rulers greatly help with measurement.

The plastic rulers are 2 feet long and six inches wide. Their original use along with the cutting mats is for quilting. I found both types excellent for doubling as tools for wall paper.

Finally, I picked out un-pasted wall paper. So wall paper paste was a must. I used some re-cycled heavy-duty plastic to book the wall paper. Un-pasted wallpaper is quite different from pre-pasted in prep and handling. There are pros and cons to both.

Tile Preps

The tile back splash and chair rail utilized the above rulers. Also needed were levels, tile adhesive and a wet tile saw. The old adage measure twice and cut once applies for all tile applications. It would have also helped to have multiple sets of hands since the tile application was on a vertical surface. Most important of all is a drop cloth to catch all the shards.

Since I was tiling alone, extra time was spent holding the tile in place until the tile adhesive had begun to set. This would be very tough for a beginner. As it was, a few choice words escaped while working on the back splash. Thankfully no one was around to hear.

Pattern Choices

The tile choice takes precedence over the wallpaper. Tile has permanency. It is harder to replace. I chose an Italian tile for the back splash. Décor Prism Mix is made by Fiordo Industrie Ceramiche and sold through Panaria as part of their Genesis collection. The measurements are metric. The size in the kitchen back splash is 20 x 20 cm. (This converts to just under 8 inch square.)

The tiles remind me of quilt patterns and are very neutral in color. But I did not like the online examples where they butted up against one another. So my design resembles a sampler quilt.

I separated the various designs of the Décor Prism Mix with sashes of Gemstone Cool Listello Tile (519 A) by Florida Tile. Then with just one sheet of Florida Tile Silver Aspen Art Bliss Mosaic I connected the sashes. The entire back splash is framed by Questech Jolly Wrought Iron Egg, a pencil thin edging.

Chair Rail

The chair rail also utilizes the Questech tile. It serves as a lower and upper edging to Koala Grey Basket Weave Matte Glass Tile. This tile also comes in sheets. But I divided the tile into thirds for a railing. Acrylic paint covered the cuts in the tile.

Two different wall papers adjoin the chair rail. Below the tile edging is a textured wall paper by York. The Tuck Stripe Unpasted High Performance Wall paper is scrubbable. I bought the paper in two colors, Black/Grey for the lower half of the breakfast room and Beige for the kitchen.

The second wall paper in the breakfast room is made by Wallquest. They have an ecochic line which is environmentally friendly. The paper does have a large repeat. I ended up rotating back and forth between two rolls to avoid waste. I did have to piece one very small area. The piecing went well-I can’t even tell! This paper is also un-pasted and needed booking.

Booking wall paper is easier than instructions sound. The booking allows the paste to set-up enough to stick to the wall. There are some great online videos found by searching the term wall paper booking.

Kitchen Remodel Time Table

The time table for the kitchen remodel was about a month. I needed to make a visit to Florida during the renovation. This extended the actual loss of use. Fortunately we have a dining room in addition to the breakfast area so we could enjoy all our meals there.
Overall time was also extended by a one man workforce.

I love working on projects. Perhaps it is the satisfaction of completion that drives me. Unending tasks such as dishes and laundry are not fun. But designing an updated interior is. Unbeknownst to me while picking out tile is the resurgence of the Americana look represented by the back splash. Either that, or like many things in life, the style becomes noticeable once you have adopted it. I hope you enjoy the slide shows.

Tile back splashBreakfast table

Racing to the Table Book Review

Cook book page with recipes
Page with Kentucky Hot Brown Recipes
Cook Book Pages
Cook Book Pages

Cookbooks are well used in my home. I like to look through them to get ideas for everyday dining as well as special occasions. One book I use a lot this time of year is Margaret Guthrie’s Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America. The book covers recipes across the country tied to various race tracks. But there is much more to this book.

Race History

Woven among the recipes are a plethora of pictures. Each helps illustrate the horses, cities and sites surrounding the multiple race tracks highlighted in the book. For example, photos of horses exercising in the Pacific complement the recipes and stories of Del Mar Race Track in California. A photo of the blanket of roses is included in the chapter on Kentucky recipes.

Most of the text centers on the recipes and their origins. But a brief history of how the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks began can be found as well. Other snippets of racing lore make this more than just a cookbook. However, I really like the recipes.

Favorite Racing to the Table Recipes

Guthrie did an outstanding job compiling signature recipes from the various race tracks. She includes both a traditional and modern take on the Kentucky Hot Brown. I have tried them both. In this same section of Kentucky favorites you will find a recipe for Burgoo. This regional dish is a must try.

The Louisiana dishes have a definite New Orleans flair as Fairgrounds race track is based there. If you like gumbo, shrimp or crayfish this section is for you. The desserts are mostly fig-based which is a fruit often spotted in that part of the country. The recipes from the New York section contain several winners from Saratoga Springs. Two of the savory recipes come from a restaurant in Saratoga Springs only open six weeks a year. My bet is some of the herbs are bought at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market.

Cook Book Value

I realize many people only use online sources for their recipes. But I find great value in cookbooks. I love perusing through books such as Racing to the Table. They have a permanent place in my home. Racing to the Table by Margaret Guthrie is an odds on favorite and my pick of the day.

 

April 2019 Wrap-Up

Cabbage planted among garlic plants.
Cabbage inter-planted with garlic.

Typing with one hand is quite slow. But when you jam a finger, it becomes necessary. Thus, my writing has slowed down a bit. But I did want to catch everyone up on April 2019 events.

April is one of the nicest months on the high plains. Mosquitoes and flies are few and far apiece. The afternoons are sunny and warm. But the evenings can be crisp. Furthermore, these last few nights the temperatures have dipped into the 30’s (Fahrenheit) which is a bit colder than I like for this time of year.

My quilting is on hold until the right hand recovers. The lower temperatures mean the time to garden full-out isn’t quite ready except for a few cool weather crops. I did plant some cabbage among the garlic. Perhaps the pungent smell will deter the flea beetles this year. I do not plan to expand the garden any this year. Instead, I want to compare year one and year two to see if the inputs and outputs are similar.

Reading

Fortunately, I can turn pages with my left hand. Recent books include The Last, and Baby of the Family. The former I thought was a murder mystery, but I think I misjudged the genre. The latter is a first novel and is quite good.

I am also catching up on some of the magazines and periodicals that cross my path. Finally, I am discovering new blogs and websites. Thank you readers for the suggestions that you have sent my way. I love the online community even though I doubt I will meet many face-to-face.

Peaceful Patio

Most of all, April 2019 was spent on my back patio. I know it is not very adventurous. Nor does it make for a fascinating blog post. But the time spent reading and relaxing gives me great satisfaction and a sense of peace. Sometimes I am alone, other times I am joined by my husband and Sophie the cat.

Whether you’re in the city, a suburb, or live in a rural location, take the time to enjoy the surroundings. The changing of the seasons is inspirational. Spring and its promise of life is uplifting. Those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, get out and enjoy it!