The Importance of Using Face to Face Communication Technology Amid a Pandemic

This week, I realized the importance of using face to face communication technology amid a pandemic. While many are ignoring the need to socially distance due to Covid-19, those that are self-isolating often face other consequences. But loneliness, sadness, and perhaps even early stages of depression can be combatted with the use of face to face communication technology.

Most weeks I stay busy, very busy, and the work keeps the negative feelings at bay. But every so often a down day occurs. Usually this helpless feeling is triggered by an event. This latest occurrence was triggered by an octogenarian in the family having a rough day as well.

I am limiting my travel because of the virus. This impacts those I usually travel to see. Even though I make numerous phone calls, the face to face aspect is missing. One of the older family members does not own a cell phone and the other has an Apple while I have an Android.

But in recent weeks I was able to use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) with great success. In the first instance, a third family member, also an Android user, facilitated the conversation/video chat. But I am most excited about the second use of face to face communication technology.

Zoom

Earlier in the month I bought a license for Zoom so one of the organizations I am involved with could offer a hybrid meeting experience. We are (or possibly were since the caseload of Covid-19 has exploded in our county over the last week) meeting in person at a local restaurant. But some members choosing to self-isolate were missing out. Even though Zoom offers a limited amount of time for free, the purchased plan is ideal for longer connections.

Millennials may not relate to just how hard it is for someone in their eighties to download an app to a computer. But the process is indeed difficult for a brain not wired from a young age on today’s technologies. So, I was quite excited that my Dad succeeded in downloading Zoom this week.

Face to Face Communication Technology

I did have to coach him through the installation via phone. It took the better part of an hour. First, you have the download and then the install. But, the complexity does not end there. The next step is the interface. For a full ten minutes, I could see him but he couldn’t see me.

After talking him through the steps, he finally allowed the computer to use the audio and access the incoming video. The look on his face when he could finally see mine was priceless. The ensuing conversation via VoIP boosted both our spirits.

As big believers in practice makes perfect, we are going to connect via Zoom again this morning. Once he gets comfortable with the process, we will extend the invitation out to other family members. I realize many have been doing this for months. But not everyone is an early adaptor.

If you are self-isolating I urge you to consider face to face communication technology. Zoom is just one of many VoIP’s available. Disney showcased this technology in one of their “rides” back in the 20th Century. I am glad it is a household reality in 2020.

This photo was taken earlier in the year on our first excursion after lockdown. For more photos from the Vail Valley trip click here.

Fall is Finally Here

Fall is finally here on the high plains. Simple signs tell me without looking at the calendar. These signs are so clear, I understand how the inhabitants from long ago knew winter was nigh. Birds migrating, trees turning color, plants yielding less and less, and night approaching faster and growing cooler.

Fall Migration Path

The geese are honking as they fly overhead. Their flight path on a straight North-South directional, an internal compass to envy. Each group numbers in the dozens and they are a familiar sight. And a sign fall is finally here.

The blue jays are also flying south, although they sometimes stay a day or two. Starlings which overstay their welcome in the spring return briefly as well. We have also been a stopover to Bullock’s oriole and western kingbird and a variety of warblers and finches. Some are return visitors. But many are new. The expansive fires of the West Coast and newer fires in the Rocky Mountains are pushing many birds east.

Mysterious Visitors

Among the plethora of visiting birds in the past few days were this pair of talkers. I captured them on this video. Unfortunately, the wind masks the unique call. My guess is they belong to the woodpecker family. If anyone can identify them please share in the comment section.

The area we live in is along a river-although many would question that designation with the low water flow this time of year. Indeed just a hundred miles to the east the water dries out from time to time before resurrecting itself another hundred miles or so to the east of that location. We truly live in the Dust Bowl.

But the river is dammed just to the west and along with a handful of natural lakes that haven’t all dried up, the water provides a good stop along the migration route. In addition to that, this East Coast gal planted trees by the dozens a quarter of a century ago. Plus, pyracantha and Russian sage which also attract the wildlife.

The fruit trees; peaches and cherries and the non-bearing pear, along with the chokecherry bushes provide a splash of color. A squirrel has wandered up from the nearby town park to harvest the acorns from the oak tree. The evergreens will provide protection for the small birds who winter here-they have yet to arrive. Red buds and shademaster honeylocusts have dropped their pods and show signs of turning golden. Leaf raking is also in the future.

Fall Gardening Chores

Much of this week focused on fall chores in the garden. Peanuts were dug as were the second beds of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Yields from the big garden were satisfactory but just and the outside boxes a little less. The rains have been few and far between. The last recorded rain was two tenths of an inch on September 11. So over a month ago and no rain is in the forecast.

However, we have a chance of a frost on each of the next three nights. So, I was tasked with harvesting tomatoes. These plants are still flowering like crazy. Thus the added chore of gathering ripe, not so ripe, and green tomatoes commenced.

The smallest of the green tomatoes were gifted to my niece’s chickens. I will process the larger green tomatoes, both Romas and heirloom slicers into chow chow. Batches of salsa and spaghetti sauce continue on a regular basis but now that fall is finally here the days of fresh sauce are behind us. Fortunately we will have canned goods to enjoy this winter.

Only a few eggplant were ready to harvest. But the plants were full of purple blossoms. They are the tenderest plants, so they were removed from the garden into the compost. The cucumber vines and bush beans were also removed from their place in the garden. Several weeks have gone by since the cukes have bloomed. The pole beans remain for another day.

Carrots, beets, rutabagas and the brassicas remain. I did place a hoop covering over the artichoke. Perhaps it will overwinter with a blanket of straw underneath the canvas. A rosemary plant and some Swiss chard share space under the hoop.

The wires are from a bought covering from a season ago. But the material tore in the high winds of last spring. I am using canvas on one end and a synthetic tarp on the other end. The experiments never stop!

Fall is Finally Here

The most enjoyable part of the last few weeks have been the many evening meals indulged on the back porch. On the occasions without wind we even turned on the fireplace above the waterfall fountain. In these times of external strife it is important to balance life with small pleasures.

Fall is finally here. Fireplace at dusk

 

 

 

 

The Day It Finally Happens Book Review

Book Cover of The Day it Finally Happens

Intriguing is the best way to describe The Day It Finally Happens by Mike Pearl. This well researched and annotated book combines fact with fictional what if questions. Or maybe, just maybe, not so fictional. In fact each and every chapter seems impossible until Pearl explains how entirely possible each scenario is. Be prepared to be scared-or at least unsettled.

Topics Covered

Pearl covers a wide arrange of topics. There is literally a subject to peak anyone’s interest. He opens with a discussion of abolishing British Monarchy and ends with The Last Cemetery running out of space. I read the first two chapters in order before cheating the rest of the way through the book.

In this day of pandemic, the chapter on antibiotics no longer working drew my eye. (Much like the blue cousins to the coronavirus dancing across the cover.) Then I was off to coverage of super volcanoes and Internet outages. Perhaps Pearl had a purpose for his content order, but I quite enjoyed skipping from topic to topic. And I learned a lot.

Chapter Set-Up

Each of the chapters in The Day It Finally Happens begins with a set of scaled questions. The four queries are the perfect way to set the stage. First is “Likely in this century?” with a yay or nay answer. Then Pearl has a plausibility rating on a scale of 1 to 5. The last two questions are more open ended and entice the reader to delve into the scenario. From this point, the chapters were introduced in a variety of ways. But after each opening, Pearl explained how each “impossible phenomena” could become possible.

Interviews with experts in the field anchor the author’s arguments for each chapter. Plus, Pearl discusses a variety of technologies that currently exist. These revelations (at least for me) are of the shock and awe variety. The chapter on The Day Anyone Can Imitate Anyone Else Perfectly is downright eye-opening. Current technology far exceeds that imagined by George Orwell of Aldous Huxley.

The Day It Finally Happens Hooks and Keeps

The best part of The Day It Finally Happens is the wide variety of topics covered. There literally is something for everyone. This book has made my list of books to give at Christmas. In fact multiple copies may be given. Mike Pearl is a writer to keep an eye on.

Chapters on Saudi Arabian oil, slaughterhouses and the last human driven car will appeal to multiple family members. The research in each chapter will keep the reader hooked. If you are in search of an informative well written book that applies facts to the implausible, buy a copy of The Day It Finally Happens.

Open pages illustrating end of oil
Illustrated page showing fish

Bread Pudding for Two

Recipe: Bread Pudding for Two

I developed the following recipe of Bread Pudding for Two in an effort to keep the calorie intake down and the waistlines from too much expansion during these pandemic times. Also, I am placing the recipe ingredients at the top in response to a comment disliking the need to scroll down past the dialogue. Be assured plenty of pictures and instructions can be found after the ingredients and recipe.

Ingredients:

1/3 Cup of Raisins
2 TBS of Bourbon
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
4 Slices of Bread
2 TBS Butter-melted
2 Eggs- beaten
1 Cup Low fat Milk
1/3 Cup of Brown Sugar

Instructions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soak raisins in the bourbon and sprinkle the cinnamon on top. Slice the bread into cubes. Place in 8 x 4 baking pan. Evenly pour butter over the bread cubes. Beat eggs, mix in milk and brown sugar. Carefully pour over bread. Make sure all cubes are soaked. Pour raisin mixture on top and press gently. Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes.

Some Tips and Tricks: Bread Pudding for Two

This recipe is fairly easy to prep. About fifteen minutes tops, unless you have interruptions. However, this is plenty of time to allow the bourbon and cinnamon to soak into the raisins. I used Woodford Reserve which we have on hand. I have toured their distillery and love their bourbon balls. But of course your favorite bourbon will work just as well.

If you do not have any bourbon on hand, a substitution of vanilla will work. But I would cut the amount in half. Additionally, whole milk or 2% milk can be substituted for the low fat milk. In this case the amount used would remain the same.

I cube the bread instead of tearing it. This is a personal preference. Using a bread slicing knife makes quick work of this step. Drizzling the hot butter over the bread eliminates the possibility of cooking the egg mixture prematurely.

Egg Mixture

The egg mixture is the glue that holds everything together. So, make sure the egg is well beaten before adding the milk and brown sugar. Since we are advocates of the Case Against Sugar, this is not a sweet bread pudding. If you want it sweet you will have to increase the amount to your liking.

For those worried about serving a dish with alcohol, the time in the oven is sufficient for the alcohol to burn off. Yet, the bourbon flavor is very evident in this recipe. Again, you may want to adjust to your liking.

I hope the following pictures help!

Step One: Soaking the Raisins

Step Two: Cubing the Bread

Third Step: Egg Mixture

Step Four: Ready for the Oven

Step Five: Finished Bread Pudding for Two

September 2020 Wrap-Up

September 2020

The September 2020 Wrap-Up will get a bit political due to the first of the 2020 Presidential Debates. If you can call last night’s debacle a debate. But in loyalty to the many followers across the globe, I will save my observations on national politics until the end. After all, this post is a wrap-up of the entire month not just the next to last day.

Travel Returns

September 2020 included two out of town trips. Both via automobile. The first was a trip to Kentucky. This journey included an overnight stay in suburban St. Louis, close to my high school home.

The hotel practiced Covid-19 precautions with a seal at each door which indicated if entry had been made after cleaning. I managed to forget my hanging bag and needed to buy some replacement clothes. Fortunately, the mall I haunted as a teenager was located at the same Interstate interchange. Unfortunately, the mall was all but abandoned.

The one store open was a Macy’s. I arrived 40 minutes before closing. Thanks to the wonderful customer service-all with Covid-19 consciousness- I was able to replace the outfits needed for the following two days. The only time I have ever encountered an equally outstanding service has been at a Nordstrom’s. Kudo’s to Macy’s for filling a need. The successful shopping trip helped mitigate the sadness of seeing a once vibrant shopping mall in such dire straits. 

We then enjoyed an outdoor dinner at an Italian restaurant in a nearby strip mall. The tables were well spaced and the food was excellent. The weather which can be quite muggy in St. Louis was perfect. The following day we continued on to Kentucky.

Kentucky

In a normal year, I make a minimum of two trips a year to Kentucky. Because of the pandemic, my spring trip was cancelled. Things are still not normal, but business can only be put off for so long. So, I am mitigating the risk factors as much as possible.

First, I do wear masks, especially indoors. On this trip, we packed a cooler with snacks and drinks. We never entered a fast-food restaurant. All sit down meals were outside-or in one case in a large tent with open sides. Bathroom breaks while travelling were made at highway rest stops. Finally, we washed hands and utilized hand sanitizer frequently.

One highlight of the trip was revisiting the Kentucky Champion Oak Tree first discussed in the May 2019 Wrap-Up. This trip I took the following video in hopes of giving readers a better idea of how grand this tree is. Please enjoy the YouTube video at the end of the post.

Another highlight was finding a wonderful specimen of an Ohio buckeye tree at an equally wonderful Indiana rest stop. America has many fantastic places within her shores.

Buckeye Tree September 2020
Buckeye Tree From Indiana Rest Stop

Our return entailed a fifteen hour drive on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Almost a full month later, no signs of illness. Again, we were as cautious as could be without practicing total isolation.

Wyoming

Just this past weekend, I attended a conference in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Again, I mitigated risk as much as possible. Time again will tell if I was successful or not. But my true concern from that trip was the wildfires spreading across the Western States.

The pictures in the slide show below are from that trip. The air quality was horrific. The index AQI on Saturday was 184. I have never been in this situation before. It was horrible. Our climate is suffering.

September 2020 In the Garden

Twice, my garden escaped the threat of frost. So production continues. Although some plants show signs of running there course. Half of the potatoes and half the sweet potatoes have been harvested. The Roma tomatoes continue to flower but the heirloom tomatoes are just maturing what is on the vine. The peanuts need another week before digging.

Fall crops are thriving. Rutabaga, broccoli, and cabbage are now established. Hoops are in place around the artichoke and rosemary. The canvas covering goes atop on the evenings before the threatened frost. Once the freeze begins, the canvas will remain even during the day.

September 2020 In the Kitchen

Of course a robust garden calls for much canning and freezing. In addition to the traditional jelly, pickles, salsa and spaghetti sauce, I made ketchup for the very first time. The taste is wonderful. But the process was quite time consuming. Over 11 hours from start to finish!

I realize it is much easier to by what I can from the store. But the satisfaction I derive from canning is priceless. Furthermore, I firmly believe my preserved goods are healthier. I control the inputs. All my recipes are reduced in both sugar and salt. 

I am closing the traditional part of the end of the month Wrap-Up with a slide show highlighting the various events of September 2020. The political discussion follows the multi-faceted slide show. I have placed the You Tube video at the end-in hopes of neutralizing my diatribe with the calming effect of nature.

 

 

American Politics

Those of you who wish to tune out here, I will hold no grudge. I absolutely hate politics as I am a bit blunt and haven’t quite figured out the art of persuasion. Or perhaps, I just feel everyone is entitled to their own opinion so why bother to force mine on others. However, I do feel the need to comment on the first of the Presidential debates.

Last night was disgusting. It was not a debate. Instead, three-yes, three- old white men failed America. Old in attitude more than with age. I say that because I am friends with a 98 year old that shows up to work daily at her retail clothing store. But, I digress.

Neither of the candidates nor the moderator fulfilled my expectations last night. They were horrific, each in their own way. My comments on each are below. These are my opinions.

President Trump

Quite simply, the President forgot to be presidential. He lost the respect of many voters last night. Maybe not his key supporters, but the many swing voters that awarded him the election in 2016. Not only did he fail to engage in a meaningful debate, he lost at least one voter when he declared the elections would be rigged if he lost.

This strikes at the heart of the matter for me. Either you believe in the system or you don’t. Our system is a good system, not perfect but good. As such I believe in it. If I did not, there would be absolutely no reason to vote! Our election will not be rigged. My county has used mail ballots for years. The system works. President Trump you should not insinuate a system is rigged if you lose. But, not if you win?!?

Former Vice-President Biden

While I was a big supporter of the former Vice-President when he ran for election in 1988, an election he had to bow out of due to health issues, I was not satisfied with his responses last night. (Although his demeanor was stellar in comparison to the other two.) He refused to directly address the questions about the civil unrest we are currently experiencing in this country on at least two occasions. This concerns me.

Furthermore, Mr. Biden, you have not allayed my fears that the far left controls you. I will not vote for socialism. You stated you were opposed to the New Green Deal, but you failed to explain The Biden Plan. Our national debt is out of control. Raising taxes is not an answer in itself. Spending cuts need to be made as well. We are running out of time before the tipping point is reached. The Debt Clock is ticking.

Chris Wallace and Fox News

The biggest failure of the night belonged to the third man, Chris Wallace. The role of a moderator is not an easy one. I know this from personal experience. But, Mr. Wallace totally failed in his effort last night. Many steps could have made the outcome better. First, a reviewing of the rules of the debate at the start, along with a statement of consequences for breaking those rules.

Second, wording of the questions in a manner not trying to create a division. Furthermore, stating the questions in a straight forward manner, not alluding to whether a candidate would be pleased by the topic. Also, making sure the candidates stay on topic. Many, many times the questions were ignored in favor of a talking point.

Finally, the presenters of the debate have the technology to mute microphones. I know this is possible at a small rural facility where I moderated a contested school board election. Why did Chris Wallace and Fox News FAIL to use this option? My disgust is greatest for their failure to bring the American public a legitimate platform to evaluate the candidates.

Jo Jorgensen

The winner in last night’s debate? Perhaps Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate on the ballot in all fifty states. If you try to go to her website jo20.com you may need to be patient. The demand has been so great to find an alternative to the two men above that the server is a bit slow processing.

While I have voted third party in the past, I had not contemplated voting that way in 2020. Until last night. I tend to be a fence sitter. We actually have a great amount of power. Year after year we decide the outcome of elections.

This year I may sit on the fence until Election Day. In the meantime, I am researching Jorgensen. Perhaps she will win my vote. For those who say it will be wasted, that may be true, but at this time I would feel tremendous angst voting for either of the men representing the ruling parties. Perhaps the leadership in both the Democrat and Republican parties need to take note. Elections are won, one vote at a time.

I do plan to watch next week’s debate between the Vice-Presidential candidates. I doubt they will get out of hand, but in the end it is the Presidential candidate that will end up as the leader of the United States of America. Not the Vice-President.

A big thanks for all who made it to the end of this long opinionated post.  September 2020 was certainly full even in the midst of a pandemic. To all American readers, please vote your conscience. We are indeed at a pivotal point in history.

The Woman in Red Book Review

The Women in Red is the debut novel from Diana Giovinazzo. This book is historical fiction but the author remains true to the historical facts in the life of Anita Garibaldi. Well researched, The Women in Red weaves a tale of adventure, independence and hardship into the love story of Anita and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The author concentrates on Anita. Thus, The Women in Red first depicts Anita in childhood. Then the reader follows the story across the South American continent to Europe during the early to mid-1800s. Anita is a feminist before there were feminists. But such is the life of a woman in a land of conflict.

Brazil

Anita’s story begins in Brazil. She rides as a gaucho alongside her father. Then the first tragedy of her life strikes and she must move with her mother to the coastal city of Laguna. Away from her beloved horses. On the cusp of womanhood.

In Laguna she is forced to marry a lazy, drunken cobbler. The marriage is a disaster. Eventually, her husband joins the Imperial cavalry. Anita refuses to follow him into battle as was traditional. She sees freedom in his absence.

The Ragamuffin war in Brazil is a major theme in The Woman in Red. Because of her upbringing, Anita sides with the rebelling gauchos. She lives independently, working in a hospital and protected by her marital status. Then fate intervenes.

Giuseppe “Jose” Garibaldi

The exiled Italian, Giuseppe Garibaldi is that fate. Garibaldi is a mercenary. He has been recruited to battle the Brazilian monarchy. His fleet of ships command attention in the Laguna harbor. Garibaldi himself looms large over the populace of the coastal city.

Even though Anita is technically still married, she falls in love. So does Garibaldi. Their life together and their love for each other fills the remaining pages of the novel.

The Woman in Red

Anita Garibaldi is a critical part of the general’s success. Her accomplishments vary from her skilled horsemanship to that of a persuasive orator recruiting troops for her husband once they reach Italy. According to the novel, she is responsible for the red shirts of the Uruguay “redshirts.”

Most of The Woman in Red follows General Garibaldi’s feats and defeats as seen through Anita’s eyes. But she is a crucial part of the action. The author portrays Anita as an equal, not subservient. This is a key component of the novel.

Diana Giovinazzo

The Woman in Red is an outstanding debut novel. Giovinazzo shares in her author’s note where she has condensed the timeline in Anita’s life. The historical facts are accurate. Anyone whose interest of Garibaldi is piqued by the story will find collaboration in the historical accounts. But, this story focuses on the love between Anita and Jose.

In addition to her writing, Giovinazzo hosts the weekly podcast ‘Wine, Woman and Words’ which can be accessed by clicking here. Those of you searching for additional reading material may want to tune in. I look forward to more historical fiction from Diana Giovinazzo.

Rainy Day Fund

Creating the Rainy Day Fund

Creating the Rainy Day fund is both harder and easier than it sounds. Yes, quite the dichotomy. Saving money is hard because we have a consumer led economy. Consumption makes up about seventy percent of the United States Gross National product (GNP). Thus spending money is pushed in our society. Unfortunately, this is antithetical to creating a rainy day fund since savings is seen as a leakage to consumption. And thus detrimental to growth. But my premise is savings is a necessary part of an efficient economic system.

The current pandemic is an excellent example. Temporary lay-offs have stretched to six months. Companies big and small are in financial distress and so are the families of their employees. Keynesian economics fought back in the U.S.A. with the PPP program and monetary payments to a good portion of the working population.

But think how a rainy day fund could have eased the burden on families, companies and government at all levels; local, state, and federal.

Steps to Creating a Rainy Day Fund

The key step to creating a rainy day fund is to live within your means. Money spent must be less than money earned. This sounds simple, but many, many people do not follow this principle. Why? Perhaps there is confusion on needs versus wants. Or maybe individuals who have satisfied the lower steps of Maslow’s Hierarchy through spending, believe the upper levels can be reached through more spending-they can’t, but that should be discussed another day.

Needs versus Wants

However, drilling down into needs versus wants is a critical first step in creating the rainy day fund. A simple exercise helps illustrate this concept. Get out a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column write down everything you need to buy in the next 48 hours. Maybe you are out of milk or your gas tank is empty, these types of entries are what you are striving for. In the second column, write down everything that must to be purchased in the next month. Again, only write down what is absolutely needed to meet the basic needs of water, food, clothing and shelter. Finally, use the third column to list everything your heart desires. These are your wants.

Now compare the columns. Do you have the funds to cover the first two lists? If not, what is your plan? These of course are necessities. They relate to the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Those individuals not able to meet the needs of these first two columns should evaluate why they can’t and make changes in lifestyle. Seeking help from professional financial planners may be warranted.

If you do have the needed funds, how much money is left over? And what do you do with it? My observation leads me to believe most people start buying things off that third column until there is no money left. Unfortunately, a few keep buying on credit even after all income is spent.

Delaying Gratification

The first step to creating a rainy day fund is to hold off on purchases from that third column. However, delaying gratification in our society of instant everything is now an alien concept. And there is a place for convenience. Restaurants with drive through windows have weathered the pandemic storm better than others. Plus the adage of time is money comes into play with respect to buying clothes versus making them. However, self-sufficiency comes into play with saving for a rainy day.

Expenditures from that third column in the above activity need to occur after a financial cushion has been established. First you must pay yourself by saving the extra money, not rewarding yourself with new shoes or a pumpkin latte. So how much is left over after paying for your monthly needs? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the recently released consumer expenditures for 2019, about 15% of income is available for discretionary spending.

To Econogal, this is disheartening. As you can see by clicking here for the report, the necessary expenses include Housing at 32.8%, Transportation at 17%, Food is 12.9%, Personal insurance and Pensions take out 11.4 percent. 8.2 % is spent on Healthcare and 3 % for Apparel and Services. Add everything up and the average household has spent 85.3% on needs.

The numbers get gloomier from here. (Hence the nickname The Dismal Science for economics.) Let’s say you recently graduated from high school and the only job opportunity due to the pandemic is paying minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. Looking at the numbers, income is $1160 a month or $15,080 a year. If you are frugal and don’t buy anything from column 3, savings after one year will amount to $2262 which is less than a two month cushion. Furthermore, even I am not that frugal.

Frugality

So how can one get ahead? After all, the above numbers reflect living within ones means. Two components are needed to increase the rainy day fund. Frugality and productivity. The BLS statistics are an average. Individual expenses vary. As do needs and opportunities to save. Each person can choose where to beat the average. From a personal standpoint, housing and transportation are where I beat the average. With the exception of one period of less than three years, I have never spent more than 25% of income on housing. Thus, I enjoy an 8% advantage over the average. In the above minimum wage example that would yield an additional $1200 for discretionary income.

In my opinion, the categories which yield the biggest potential for beating the average are Housing, Transportation, and Food. Aim for a cap of 25% on housing. This should include utilities. But savings can be had by eliminating items such as cable or satellite.

Transportation is another item to look at. What are the options? Can you carpool or take public transportation? In America we seldom walk to work. Even if we live close to work. The campus I taught on was less than half a mile away. Many days I chose to walk and more often than not I was asked if I needed a ride.

Carpooling, walking and combining errands into one trip have the benefit of cutting gas expense. But the fuel tank is only part of transportation cost. Wear and tear on the vehicle shows up in the price of new tires and oil changes. Another benefit to reducing transportation cost is environmental. Just something to think about if you want to reduce your global footprint. Europe and much of the world is way ahead of America in regards to transportation as a percentage of household expense.

Productivity

The second component to increasing savings and thus creating a rainy day fund is productivity. Technically, productivity is measured by dividing outputs by inputs. With respect to labor, if your cost for labor exceeds the money gained from selling the output of labor then you are in trouble. But that is at a corporate level. What about the individual?

How does one measure their own productivity? Earned wages reflect a person’s productivity. Minimal skill levels usually correlate to low pay scales. In the above example of the minimum wage annual income, a pay increase is unlikely without the development of skills via experience or education. Or both.

But an increase in wages does not automatically create a rainy day fund. In fact, economic theory argues that increased wages leads to increased consumption. An individual making $20,000 will spend 85% of their income as will a person making $100,000.

So can an Individual put money aside? We circle back to delaying gratification. Thus, creating a rainy day fund is independent of income amount. Instead, self-discipline is the key to accruing savings. Delay buying from that third column in your early years of earning a living.

Self-sufficiency

Additional ways to save money tie to self-sufficiency. This gets a bit tricky especially in a service based economy. Self-sufficiency also is counter to specialization. But I think it is time to discuss how self-sufficiency can add to the rainy day fund.

One of the economic textbooks I used began with an illustration of how the author is more productive spending his time as an economist versus mowing his yard. He posited that someone making $50 an hour should never mow their lawn because of opportunity cost. Hiring someone to mow costs less than $50. So the economist is ahead of the game by hiring the service to mow while he works.

There are problems with this theory if you are not self-employed. (And even if you are!) The college I worked for only paid me for 40 hours of work. No overtime. None. So in my case there were many hours left in the week. (Even when I did work extra hours.) I had more money for my rainy day fund when I used those hours productively around the home.

At one point in time I investigated hiring someone to come into my home and clean for three hours a week. The lowest price quoted was $50. So to this day I do my own housecleaning. That is at least $2600 a year not spent on a service. Extra savings for the rainy day fund.

There are 168 hours in a week. Even if you sleep for a third of those hours, that leaves 112 hours. Subtract 40 and you have 72 remaining. Put those hours to productive use and you will have a rainy day fund in no time at all.

Rainy Day Fund-Important Regardless of Age or Income

Life is not predictable. Hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes and even once in a lifetime pandemics are unexpected but naturally occurring. Natural disasters are not the only challenge in life. Accidents, illnesses and layoffs are part of life. The longer we live the greater chance of facing multiple challenges.

A rainy day fund is necessary. If you do not have a fund do not delay. Set aside money on the next payday. The more you earn, the greater amount you should have set aside. Returning to a lower standard of living is not fun-but sometimes necessary. Remember delayed gratification and productive use of time are the key components of creating a rainy day fund.

Wizard’s Daughter Book Review

Wizard’s Daughter combines magic with witches, wizards, ghosts and unearthly realms with Regency England. Catherine Coulter is a masterful writer regardless of which genre she chooses. Her tales are part romance and part adventure.

Sherbrooke Series

Even though Coulter is one of my favorite authors and the Sherbrooke Series is also much loved, Wizard’s Daughter escaped my attention when it was released over ten years ago. However, a positive side to the pandemic is discovering many books I previously missed upon publication. Wizard’s Daughter is quite the mystical escape. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Nicholas Vail

The young Lord Mountjoy has returned to England after learning of his father’s death. He is the oldest and inherits what is tied up through primogeniture…and nothing else. All monies were passed onto three half-brothers.

But that is not the only thing that draws him back from foreign shores. He knows it is time to find the girl who has haunted his dreams since he was a small boy. She is now a grown woman, and a ward to Ryder Sherbrooke.

Wizard’s Daughter

Found near death as a small urchin Rosalind has no memory before her rescue. Not even of her identity. Yet, as soon as she spies Nicholas across the room at a ball she knows he is the one for her.

Their whirlwind romance takes on an unearthly mystery. Clues to the hidden secret swirling around Nicholas and Rosalind appear through coded passages in a book and strange visions to both Nicholas, Rosalind, and Richard, the oldest half-brother.

Paying a Debt

Behind the many secrets surrounding the young couple is a generational debt to be paid. Both must travel beyond the pale to rescue a young boy from an evil witch. Along the way they must navigate along a path filled with flying dragons, wizards and mythical beasts.

The many visions delivered in England come to pass. And yet the outcome is twisted. For in the realm beyond the pale things are not as they seem.

Catherine Coulter

Ms. Coulter is a prolific writer. Earlier reviews include Paradox, The Last Second and The Devil’s Triangle. She covers many genres and each story is a treat to behold. Wizard’s Daughter is an excellent example. Coulter combines regency romance with mysticism and the end result is an entertaining tale for fans of both genres. I enjoyed both the romance of Rosalind and Nicholas along with their adventure in a mythical realm.

After the Disaster-What happens then?

Responding After the Disaster

 

After the Disaster response is a topic not seen much in National Preparedness Month releases. Most of the time people talk about preparedness in terms of how to prepare for natural disasters. But, little is out there with information on what to do after the disaster occurs. What happens then? What are typical problems that arise?

Personal Safety and Wellness

The first thing to assess after the disaster occurs is personal safety and wellness. This will vary depending on the type of event. Currently in the United States, residents on the West Coast are dealing with fires while the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic seaboard are in the midst of hurricane season. Both situations have short and long term impacts. Immediate concerns revolve around human life. Long term repercussions are numerous and include clean-up, mitigation of loss and adjustment to new circumstances.

Wildfires

Fires produce a multitude of problems. In addition to the burn damage is the impact on air quality. Evacuation is essential if you live in the path of the fire. But many individuals may have underlying conditions that make smoke filled air difficult to breathe. Anyone in this category needs a supply of N-95 masks at the very least. Unfortunately, demand is high due to the concurring pandemic in 2020.

If you are not in the direct path of the fire, the air quality is still a problem. Air filters are needed for home, office and transportation. Instead of changing these filters after so many months, check often to ensure replacement occurs when needed.

Keep windows and doors closed tight. If you have an attached garage, after exiting the car, close the garage door before entering the house. Consolidate trips to reduce exposure.

Once the fire sweeps through an area, wait for the okay to return home. Why? Because hot pockets may exist. Also, routes in and out of an area may be compromised and firefighters need priority.

Clean up-After the Disaster of Fire

Ironically, a home that is not burned to the ground can cause more problems than one which is a total loss. A partially burned home is dangerous to inhabit if there is heavy smoke damage. Soot is a byproduct of fire and causes problems with both the respiratory and circulatory systems. In the long run, soot may contribute to cancer.

Therefore, cleaning indoor surface areas is one of the first things that need to happen after the disaster of a nearby fire. Ideally a professional company specializing in fire clean-up could be hired. But, if cost is prohibitive or demand too great and a company is not available, the clean-up can be done by the home owner. But I would not recommend this.

If you do choose to clean-up the fire damage on your own, please research the methods needed. There is more to cleaning soot than wiping away the grime while wearing a mask. Proper masking, good ventilation, and knowing the correct cleaning agents is essential.

Outside cleaning is also difficult. Embers may be present beneath charred wood or brush. Wildfires displace wild animals, so that is also a concern. Instinct drives animals to safety, but often that safe place is far from the original habitat. In cases of total destruction, the wildlife has to find new habitat. The current fires are pushing birds thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, burn scars can lead to future flooding. So long after the fire is put out, danger remains. The National Weather Service has excellent advice for those living near burn scars which you can access by clicking here.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes are not just wind events. Flooding from tidal surge as well as from rain can do much damage. After the storm passes there are precautions to take while cleaning debris. Good work boots and heavy gloves are a must.

Wild animals are a key problem after a major flood producing storm. Rising waters push various animals out of their habitat. So, not only will mice, rats and other small animals seek shelter on dry land around homes, so will their predators. Snakes are a particular danger as they can blend in with the debris found along the outer edges of the high water marks. Gators have been found swimming in backyard pools. Seek help to relocate predatory animals.

In addition to the aforementioned boots and gloves, flood clean-up tools for outside the home include rakes and chain saws. The rakes can serve two purposes. First, they can pile the small branches and flood debris. Second, they serve as a distance tool for any snakes or other small creatures which may cause disease-especially those that succumb to the flooding.

Tree after hurricane cut up with chainsaw
Chainsaw was needed after the disaster of a hurricane.

The wind is not the only factor in trees falling. Waterlogged roots create instability. The combination can be deadly. Chain saws can make quick work of downed trees. This heavy equipment needs to be used by an experienced person. The chain saw itself can cause harm if used improperly.

Generators are also useful for after the disaster. Electrical outages are common after a major storm. While whole house generators which are wired directly into the home are ideal, they are also expensive. Portable generators are more cost effective but have several limitations. They are harder to use and proper storage of fuel as well as high fuel quantities needed create problems.

After the Disaster-Finances Needed

The best thing a person can do to prepare for the financial after effects of a natural disaster is to have a rainy day fund. While home and auto insurance is important, few policies cover all expenses after a disaster. Personal savings are a must. In a large event, Go Fund Me Pages will not be the solution. Individuals and families will need self-reliance.

A rainy day fund is not the same as investments in the stock market or real estate. Cash is king for emergencies. In my opinion, six months of expenses needs to be tucked away in a low interest savings, checking or money market account. Additionally, a limited amount of cash in small denominations along with some coin need to be carried with the person or in the home. By limited, maybe a week’s worth of expenses.

Electronic payments via credit or debit card will not work when the electricity goes out. Store clerks will often only do business with cash carrying customers. And there will be places not willing to open shop at all.

Building a rainy day fund will be the topic of next week’s post.

About A Rogue Book Review

About a Rogue by Caroline Linden is one of the most satisfying regency romances I have read in a very long time. Even though the novel is not a sweet romance, and the spice is red hot, the characters are heartwarming. The romance is real. Those who prefer chaste passages of lovemaking should skip those passages, but not the book.

All About a Rogue

The story centers on a rogue. A distant heir to the dukedom of Carlyle, Max St. James seizes his chance to turn his lifelong misfortune into fortune. A small stipend offered in exchange for cleaning up his act allows him to search for a long lost and hidden relative and to create a better future for himself.

Max is all business as he pursues his fortune through a partnership in Tate & Sons. Since the last of the Tate’s only has two daughters, Max’s offer as a business partner and as a son-in-law is accepted. Sort of.

An Exchange of Sisters

Max offers marriage to the oldest daughter. Unbeknownst to him she is already in love with the vicar. She elopes and he is presented with the younger daughter. He gambles and he wins. But not without a lot of patience and fortitude. The willingness to earn his bride’s love by waiting for a wedding night is refreshing to a reader in this modern time of instant gratification.

Bianca Tate is married to the business. She works developing glazes for the pottery. And she does not want the handsome rogue taking any part of the business away from her. Vowing to hate the scoundrel for eternity, she too acquiesces to the marriage. But, she is willing to sacrifice to keep control of the family industry.

Patience Outlasts Disdain

Both characters are quite like-able and the attraction between them is not forced. Linden’s writing flows as does the plot. The rogue is truly one of the good guys and Bianca is a strong, intelligent woman. And very forgiving.

Readers who love regency romances will fancy About a Rogue. This is the first of Caroline Linden’s books I have read. But it will not be the last. I just hope Libby has more available by Caroline Linden.

From Summer to Winter-Changing Seasons on the High Plains

Two days ago it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius and now the chill feels cooler than the 41 degree Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) and we have gone from Summer to Winter in 48 hours. This temperature swing is not unusual for the High Plains. But the timing is a bit earlier than usual. Since I moved to this part of the world, the earliest snow, a mere dusting, occurred back in 1995 the third week in September. The latest seasonal switch occurred about a half dozen years later on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Two days ago the forecast was calling for snow and a frost. So many, many hours were spent in the garden harvesting everything ripe, or close. Now the forecast has backed off a wee bit. A slight chance of sleet but the temperatures should stay above freezing. The work is not wasted, and the delay-if it happens- will allow the melons to ripen.

The harvest was focused on tender plants. Those that freeze as soon as the thermometer registers 32. So a plethora of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers were plucked from the garden. Batches of salsa, spaghetti sauce and Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata filled the house. Jars cluttered the counter tops. And the smell reminded me of all the Sunday Italian meals I enjoyed during college.

Summer to Winter Chores

Not all the crops were harvested. The melons are a risk, but they need another three weeks to ripen. The sweet potatoes are still growing like gangbusters and also benefit if the temperatures remain above freezing. Likewise with the potatoes and the peanuts.

The beans are at a variety of stages. A small amount were picked from the bush beans ahead of this summer to winter action. But the pole beans I left unpicked. Both the Cherokee Purple and the Blue Lake Pole are heirlooms. They are setting seed now. This year’s Cherokee Purple plants were grown from seed saved off last year’s plants. They are a mainstay in my garden.

I mounded straw around the artichoke, just to be on the safe side. Plus, that area of the garden is slated to have the frost hoop. Hopefully, the double coverage will protect a few key plants from this first wild summer to winter swing. While the Rosemary can handle temperatures down into the teens, the basil will not last the night if the temperature wobbles around the freezing point.

These next two nights are critical for the garden. I am hoping for a near miss. But if the freeze happens I will begin getting the garden cleaned up for the colder months.Harvested Peppers Summer into Winter

 

 

August 2020 Wrap-Up

Wrap-Ups can be hard posts to put together and the August 2020 piece is no exception. In addition to the bucolic happenings in my rural part of the world, many events of note are occurring elsewhere. Unfortunately, the news from outside my hamlet is both disturbing and distressing.

Civil Unrest

Most significant from my point of view is the continuation of violence in American cities. Perhaps readers living outside of the United States see the civil unrest as more of the same. But my perception is different.

Some of my earliest memories arise from the year 1968. A year in American history marked by assassinations and protests. The issue of civil rights for African Americans played a significant part of the unrest in 1968 and is a key component to 2020 protests. Additionally, young people in 1968 as in 2020, formed the heart of the disruption. The Vietnam War also played an important part in the history of 1968. The prevailing uncertainty of 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both years also share the aspect of a Presidential election.

However, in my mind the unrest is different in this year of perfect hindsight. The divisiveness is uncivil. Finger pointing and name calling have given way to bricks, Molotov cocktails and most upsetting, bullets. It seems to be Blue Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter. And God help you if you try to insert All Lives Matter. Those three words are akin to the kiss of death. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Political pundits and others claim outside influences. Multiple countries have been stipulated. This concept dates back to the cold war. Author Helen MacInnis posited this type of psy-ops in many of her books. This is a theory bandied about but to date no solid proof.

Covid-19

The pandemic continues. Much like an ocean tide its’ intensity ebbs and flows across the globe. An area or country is thought to be past the danger when new infections pop up. As of yesterday there are 8 confirmed cases of re-infection. I fear we are far from the end of this virus.

Covid-19 has also caused conflict, and not just here in the United States of America. Mask or no mask, closed borders, restricted travel, herd immunity or flattening the curve, each approach finds opposition among the populace. Each individual must weigh the risks because collectively most nations have failed to balance the health danger with economic collapse. The end result is a failure of both.

Furthermore, the rush to find a cure is problematic. First is the shortened time period and reduced number of trial participants in order to put a vaccine on the market. This leads to the second problem of public skepticism.

In authoritarian run countries, the citizens will not have a choice. The vaccine will be required. In places where individual freedoms are core to the culture, the government(s) must convince the public that the vaccine is safe. This will not be an easy task in countries such as the U.S.A. where the response has been ambiguous at best and disastrous in some states and localities.

Financial Crisis

A distant third in the list of national and global concerns is the financial crisis. The debt levels in the United States are spiraling upward as can be seen in the debt clock by clicking here.

Perhaps more concerning to those with an economic background is the changing role of the Federal Reserve. In the past, the primary role of the Federal Reserve has been addressing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. This is no longer the case.

Perhaps due to the political climate in Washington, D.C. the role of the Federal Reserve is evolving. An excellent discussion of this change is in the latest newsletter from Allison Schrager. Click here to access her website and sign up for her newsletters. Or click here to read my review of An Economist Walks into a Brothel.

August 2020 for Econogal

August 2020 contained many days of triple digit temperatures. Yet the garden kept producing vegetables. I was able to read quite a few books, scientific papers and blogs. In addition to working on quilts, masks were made as it seems we will be wearing them for a bit longer.

August 2020 In the Garden

The garden continues to produce much of our fresh produce. Green beans, eggplant, Swiss chard, cucumbers, beets, onions and tomatoes made regular appearances at the dinner table. On occasion, enough ripened simultaneously to preserve.

The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving is a life saver for a home gardener. I do not have space for multiple rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, for example, and it is nice to put a small amount up at a time. This winter we will enjoy opening the garden bounty as well as sharing s Christmas gifts.

I spent a few hours picking grapes at the home of a relative. My own grapes are not yet ripe due to a late freeze. I love grape jelly. However, it has been a bit difficult finding the low sugar pectin. So the full sugar recipe was also utilized.

Visitors to the garden were beneficial insects, bees and spiders. So far, no orb spiders with their distinctive web. But spiders are welcome additions to the garden. I just need to remember where the webs are.

I also had human visitors to the garden. Three family youngsters brought me honey and sand hill plum jelly. I sent them home with enough Swiss chard to make Swiss chard with Raisins and Almonds. As they left, air hugs were exchanged. Such is life during a pandemic.

August 2020 In the Library

I read a variety of novels this month and reviewed the best of them. This month I concentrated on books that were either uplifting or offered escape. Sometimes you need a mental break from the difficulties of life. A balance of entertainment keeps one grounded and ready to face life’s tasks.

Non-fiction continues to be a struggle. Perhaps the scientific and business articles I am reading need an offset of light hearted fiction. Plus, my reading is predominantly from Libby or Kindle. I have yet to make an appointment to browse at my library. A requirement now that Covid-19 is making the rounds of our small community. Nor have I had the pleasure of wandering around a book store. Usually these two places are my sources for non-fiction.

August 2020 In the Kitchen

We continue to create new dishes in the kitchen using fresh produce from the garden. However, I am glad Econogal is eclectic versus solely based on food. I either forget to take pictures, or take pictures and forget to write down the recipe. So you can guess what will feature in next year’s resolutions.

Hobbies

I am so glad I learned to sew many years ago. The quilting offers inspiration. I love working with colors.

But the ability to make my own masks is wonderful. I do not like the elastic around my ears. Nor could I find any until just recently. So my masks have ties. Plus, I can color co-ordinate masks to my outfits. Many sacrifices need to be made with regards to the pandemic, but fashion doesn’t need to be one!

Sisters by Choice Book Review

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery is the perfect book to chase away the blahs brought on by this pandemic. Mallory combines relatable characters with realistic story lines and satisfactory conclusions. The themes of finding oneself and inner peace are just what one needs to counter these stressful times.

Cousins are Sisters by Choice

A trio of cousins are the heart of the novel Sisters by Choice. The reader quickly learns how closely tied the relationships are. Sophie, the driven CEO reaches out to Kristine when her business literally goes up in smoke. The latter is on the next plane rushing in for support.

The remainder of the novel focuses on individual growth for the two cousins along with that of their “niece” Heather, daughter of the third cousin-Amber. If one were playing which one is not like the other, Amber would be the answer. An unlikeable character, yet she is pivotal to the third story line.

Romantic but not a Romance

The main thread revolves around Sophie. Mallery’s choice of an ambitious, forceful female executive for a protagonist is by design. The author’s goal is to develop her main character beyond the stereotypical hard-nosed, autocrat characterized by many when describing a successful woman. She succeeds on many levels.

Sophie develops a relationship with yoga instructor Dugan. The initial attraction is physical, but Dugan’s insight into the business world forces Sophie to evolve as a manager and as a person. There is just a touch of romance in the story line, but the focus remains on personal development.

Amber and Heather

The mother-daughter relationship between Amber and Heather is ripe for psychoanalysis. Amber, the oldest of the three cousins, is an unappealing character. Perhaps this is intentional. Her flaws remain throughout the story and serve as a backdrop. By contrast, twenty year old Heather is a charming foil character.

Heather is torn between loyalty to family and her own ambitions. Furthermore, her friends are on two differing paths of growth. But she feels stuck as in a time warp. Her story line has a satisfactory conclusion.

No more Stay-at-home Mom

Kristine is on year sixteen of being a stay-at-home Mom. But she wants more. She has a dream of owning a bakery. Now that she has a chance of chasing that dream she encounters push back from male family members. Especially, husband Jaxsen.

I quite enjoyed this thread. Kristine is a strong woman. Her goals threaten her marriage and her comfort zone. But what I like most about this plot is the support she receives from her mother-in-law. No stereotype from Mallery!

Additionally, character development is seen in Jaxsen. Unlike the other two threads, he is not portrayed as the omnipotent male. Jaxsen has his faults and his vulnerabilities. He truly does not understand his wife’s need to call something her own.

Categorizing Sisters by Choice

Sisters by Choice is hard to characterize by genre. Romantic relationships are present, but it does not belong to the romance genre. Since Heather is the only character on the cusp of adulthood, the book doesn’t quite fit the coming of age category.

Yet most of the characters show personal and emotional growth.

Susan Mallery

Even though Susan Mallery has written one hundred fifty books and counting, this is the first novel I have read from her pen. (Or perhaps word processor/laptop. Time is fleeting.)  It won’t be the last. Stories with warmth and positivity are a great antidote to these troubling times. If you are unfamiliar with Mallery, click here for her website. Put this author on your TBR list as well. Life is a roller coaster. Outstanding fiction enhances the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Girls of Paris Book Review

Pam Jenoff masterfully blends history and fiction with The Lost Girls of Paris. Background for the story is the recruitment of young British women as agents for Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. Jenoff’s characters are all fictional as is the plot. The story is spellbinding.

Two Protagonists

The storyline alternates between Marie Roux and Grace Healey. As does the time period. Marie’s story takes place during World War II. The plot revolving around Grace occurs  shortly after the war is over.

Marie is a single mom, half-French, recruited by the SOE. Much of The Lost Girls of Paris revolves around her recruitment and service during the war. She is a compelling character. Fluent in French, she is perfect to place as a radio transmitter into Occupied France. But she is not a natural spy.

On the other hand, Grace is hiding from her family in New York City. A “war” widow she is trying to come to terms with life and its’ cruel twists.

Eleanor Trigg

The only connection between the two is Eleanor Trigg. She recruited Marie and ran the section in SOE that oversaw the female recruits. Trigg is killed in an auto accident in NYC and Grace stumbles upon her belongings. There are twelve photos, including one of Marie, of the SOE agents that went missing during the war. These pictures of the Lost Girls of Paris, act as a catalyst. They motivate Grace to seek out the story of both Eleanor and the lost agents.

The Lost Girls of Paris

The thread involving Marie was captivating from the start. On the other hand, it was harder to engage with Grace’s story at first. This most likely arises from the intrigue and danger faced by the operatives. In comparison, the background story of Grace is sad, but not extraordinary.

Yet, Grace clearly grows the most. She is determined to discover the mystery behind the disappearance of the Lost Girls. And Grace finds herself in the process. Even though a romance is hinted at, she opts for independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Girls of Paris. Pam Jenoff creates a wonderful piece of historical fiction. Buy a copy or find one at your local library. I checked mine out on Libby. This novel would be a great gift for those interested in World War II or with a likeness for this genre.

 

 

The Quiche and the Dead Book Review

Kirsten Weiss is the author of multiple series, including the Pie Town mysteries of which The Quiche and the Dead is the first publication. Valentine (Val) Harris is the owner of Pie Town. She is a recent transplant to San Nicholas. She followed her fiancé to the small town; only to be jilted once her life savings were invested.

Val is barely making ends meet and sleeping in a closet at the restaurant when tragedy strikes. One of her best customers, Joe, owner of the nearby comic store drops dead after eating a breakfast quiche. An interesting cast of characters, including employees Charlene and Petronella, along with a handful of leading citizens, among them Val’s ex-fiancé, make solving the death tricky.

Quiche and the Dead Flouting the Law

As is often the case with cozy mysteries, Val and her cohort Charlene don’t necessarily operate within the legal boundaries. The two do a little “entering” of Joe’s house seeking clues. Joe himself was a bit of an armchair Sherlock Holmes. So the two believe his sudden death is linked with one of his cases.

Their madcap antics solve Joe’s “cases” one by one. Along the way they have more than one run-in with local authorities Officer Carmichael and Detective Shaw. Weiss has developed her characters well. I will be interested to see how relationships develop in subsequent books from this cozy mystery series.

Kirsten Weiss

Weiss is a prolific writer. She has numerous books across several genres. Additionally, she is a blogger with a user friendly website.

Her writing encompasses mystery, magic, and both urban and historical fantasy. Individuals may wish to become members of the Raven(ous) Society via her website and receive free content. She also has courses in various types of witchcraft (including kitchen) which you must be 18 to access. Click here for Ms. Weiss’ website.

Ms. Weiss’ The Quiche and the Dead is my first experience with the writer. Since I like cozy mysteries I will look for successive stories in the Pie Town series. I checked this book out on Libby.

 

 

Eggplant-This Week’s Meal of the Week Star

This week, eggplant was the main ingredient of our star meal of the week. Pre-Covid-19 we only ate out once or twice a week so the Stay-at-Home aspect did not really impact our meal time. However we have kicked things up a notch to paraphrase a favorite chef. The Big Garden is beginning to produce more than just greens and we are really enjoying the fresh produce,

Eggplant-This Week’s Meal of the Week Star

The Big Garden has only two eggplant plants, reducing our supply from last year. So as of this week I have yet to can any. But we are reaping enough eggplant to want to mix up the preparation a bit.

Today I looked up eggplant recipes online. Easily catching my eye was a Bon Appetit article citing 57 recipes.

So I found one that I could make without a trip to the grocery store. Most of the ingredients came straight from the garden. I did make a few tweaks. A key component in the original recipe is Labneh- which is a strained yogurt/cheese concoction. I only had ½ cup yogurt so I blended that with sour cream and added some Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning and called it good.

Econogal Fails as a Cooking Blogger (Again)

Of course this dish was so good there were no leftovers. And no pictures. But I am sharing my version of the recipe anyway. The pictures would be similar to those in the above website. We did make a few adjustments. The older I get, the less I worry about making recipes exactly as called for. (The exceptions are all related to baking.)

Need a Name

This dish really needs a good name. Even Bon Appetit just used a description to name the dish. Maybe a reader can help. Naming kids and animals is tough, naming meals is nigh impossible. The key ingredient is the eggplant but the grilled lemon just about stole the show. For now I will just name it No Leftover Eggplant! We ate every last morsel.

No Leftover Eggplant

2-3 Eggplants- Cut into ½ inch slices

Small Red Onion- thinly sliced

Whole Lemon-sliced approx. 1/4 inch thickness

1 Cup Mint-chopped

1 TBS White wine vinegar

2-3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tsp  Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning

1 Small garlic clove minced

½ Cup yogurt

½ Cup sour cream

 

 

Directions:

Lightly oil grill. Coat eggplant and lemon with Exra Virgin Olive Oil, grill eggplant for 5-8 minutes and lemon for 3-5 minutes. While the eggplant is grilling, thinly slice the red onion, chop the mint and combine with one tablespoon each of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and white wine vinegar. Add the Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning and the minced garlic.

 

Mix yogurt, sour cream and arrange on plate. Layer the  eggplant on the yogurt mixture. Cut the lemon slices in half and stir into onion and mint topping, tossing well. Pour atop the eggplant. This served two hungry adults as a main dish. Enjoy!

 

 

Girl Out of Water Book Review

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman is a YA (Young Adult) with some depth. Anise Sawyer is a seventeen year old surfer girl looking View of Pacific Ocean from atop a cliff.forward to a summer on the waves before starting her last year of high school. Life is good—or at least as much as it can be for a teenager with a Mom who floats in an out of life with years between visits.

But Anise arrives home after a wonder filled day of possible summer love and friendship to news that her last summer of high school will be spent in land locked Nebraska. Her Aunt Jackie-her mother’s sister- has been severely injured. Both Anise and her Dad fly out to help with the three cousins.

Coming of Age

Girl Out of Water is definitely a coming of age story. Anise changes from a carefree teenager to one with responsibilities. She must face her own disappointments while caring for her young cousins, twin boys and their sister who is embarking on the teen years herself.

But author Laura Silverman throws extra wave curls at Anise. As her young protagonist becomes more involved in her cousin’s lives, Silverman introduces a solid thread of diversity to the story. Anise meets single-armed adoptee Lincoln. And starts to lose touch with her surfer buddies back home.

Girl Out of Water Themes

There are several themes running through Girl Out of Water. First is one of non-traditional families. Anise has a mom who floats in and out of life. So, Anise hopes to find some understanding while staying at the home her mom grew up in. Her cousins, having a father who had passed away, now worry about losing their Mom. Finally, Lincoln is an adoptee who has moved many times in his young life. His roots are not tied to a geographical location.

Another theme is meeting new challenges. Surfer girl endeavors to learn skateboarding. This is a greater challenge than Anise first thought, but she wants to best Lincoln. Yet in the end Anise falls for Lincoln even though he is always eager to find new places. Her complete opposite. Of course Anise just yearns for the ocean.

Lastly, Silverman writes of introspection. Anise realizes at the end of summer that she did not keep in touch with her surfer friends back home. She becomes fearful that she may be her mother’s child after all.

Recommended Readers

While Girl Out of Water would fit the definition of a sweet romance-no sexual scenes, I still hesitate recommending for very young teens. There are scenes involving heavy drinking and allusions to drug use.

But, Silverman does a nice job of illustrating the strength of diversity. Furthermore, her message on the importance of family and not necessarily the traditional family unit is solid. These messages are a positive. So, I believe Girl Out of Water is appropriate for mid-teens and up.

However, I found a few circumstances hard to believe. As a parent, I would not readily allow a seventeen year old daughter travel by car from Nebraska to California with an eighteen year old male. Sex talk or not.

Nor did I understand the self-doubt of Anise. But perhaps it has been too many years since I was a teenager. Friends are important. But as so wonderfully illustrated by the character of Lincoln, self-worth is key.

July 2020 Wrap-Up

July 2020 Wrap-Up

In these pandemic times each month stretches into a year and July 2020 is no exception. Our little corner of the world tripled in virus cases this month. Yet we have only had one new case in the last ten days. This is a good example of how the disease spreads- in fits and starts.

I struggled with my emotions a bit in July 2020. I live in a rural area and many still feel like the virus is unreal, even a hoax to an extent. So, I isolated as much as possible. And I kept my spread sheet current. I am tracking daily new cases in counties of interest to me. My hope is the numbers will help me evaluate the risk of certain actions.

Travel

The only travel outside of my county in months was the quick trip to Vail Valley over the weekend of the 4th of July. Click here to read how we mitigated our risk. It has been almost a month since our risky celebration. No ill effects so far.

As those who follow me know, I like to travel. So, this pandemic is really curbing my style! It has been interesting to hear from others that also are afflicted with wanderlust. Cautionary tales of planning as well as the willingness to call an audible are emerging. In the end it boils down to risk averseness. Each individual needs to understand the risk/benefit ratio.

Staying away from hot spots and following health protocols diminish the risk, but the danger from Covid-19 remains. Thus I am still aiming to strike a balance.

Weather Anomalies At Work

For decades the weather pattern in my part of the world has been one of rains in April, May and June. The 4th of July usually marked the end of the moisture and the beginning of triple digit heat and winds close to tropical force levels. But July 2020 is following the pattern seen more recently.

The wind and heat were abundant in June with a much lower rainfall mount than “average” but this last week in July 2020 has brought monsoon type rains and pleasant temperatures. Last night we enjoyed our backyard fountains and fireplace. No wind and cool, but not cold temperatures. The forecast for the next ten days is similar.

I hope these daily temperatures continue. The garden thrived on the over two inches of rain this week. My tomatoes struggle with triple digit temperatures too. So the respite is welcome.

My canning chores have begun. Beets and cucumbers have been pickled and a batch of mixed fruit jam made. Grape harvest is not much more than a week out. Plenty to keep me busy as we begin the last full month of summer.

The homegrown veggies are a staple of our evening meals. Eggplant and Swiss chard comprise a major part of the current menu. The peas are about done but the beans are starting to take their place. If you don’t currently have a garden, consider planning one for the next growing season. Now is a good time to finalize the fall crops. Kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are among the crops I have begun for a fall garden.

July 2020 Reading

I continue to borrow books from Libby, the library app. We have also bought some to read through Kindle. I have a backlog of reviews. My feedback from loyal readers is that two posts a week with an occasional third is just about right. So my blog has been a little off in the timing this month with some reviews posted on days other than Friday.

I did read a children’s book explaining the coronavirus published back in April. So much has been learned since then. I also continue to read research papers from across the world. I truly appreciate Google translate, this tool allows me to read in my native language.

Looking Forward

August will be spent working in the garden, quilting, reading and enjoying my corner of the world. I have two places to keep track of for possible trips in September. Striking a balance remains important. I do not envy the local elective officials and their task to decide the best way to keep educating our young.

Enjoy the pictures and stay safe from this virus everyone!

Volunteer Garlic Bunch
Volunteer Garlic-Hardneck Variety

Flower among a Planting of tomato
A gladiola growing alongside a tomato.

Tray of drying basil
Drying Basil

Fire glowing in outdoor fireplace
Our back patio retreat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrylic painting landscape view from car window
An acrylic painting titled Getting an Early Start

Rainy Day on the Plains

Today it is a rainy day on the plains. The weather has been gray with off and on showers. Some rain is a light pitter-patter mixed with occasional down pours more like the coastal rains of my childhood. We have had so few days of total rain. So I am soaking up the rain figuratively while my gardens are enjoying the literal aspect.

Inside Activities

The rainy day calls for inside activities. Household chores are ever at the ready as is catching up on reading and quilting. About the only thing not on the table is baking. The humidity tends to throw off my baking whether it is bread or sweets such as brownies or a cake. Many times an August rain will disrupt the bakers competing at the county fairs.

But to be truthful, I have spent a bit of time out on the porches-or during the down pours-tucked inside watching and enjoying this rainy day. This occurs when you grow up in an area with  a 50 inch rainfall and move to a locale that averages only 15 inches a year. You miss the rain.

Hand quilting is a good activity for a rainy day. One can look up from the tiny stitches from time to time without missing out or making a critical error. The cool air blowing in from the porch windows is mitigated by the quilt layers.

Rainy Day Benefits

One of the best benefits is not needing to water for a day or two. Or even three if it rains all day. Conservation of water is critical in this part of the world. Every bit of rain helps.

The moisture also helps with the weeding. Even the big garden that has few weeds will sprout one or two now. But they will be easy to pull since the ground will not be hard packed from the drought.

Best of all, this rainy day on the plains will help the farmers. The wheat has been harvested so the rain is falling at an advantageous time. Corn, milo, and sorghum will shoot up overnight. And this deep soaking rain will help prepare the soil for the next winter wheat crop.

Falling rain on a garden and driveway

The Girl He Left Behind Book Review

I have been looking for a true romance for several months and The Girl He Left Behind fits the bill. Beatrice MacNeil writes a heart tugging story of love lost and once again found. Far from being formulaic, the story is complex yet enjoyable and rewarding in the end.

Willow Alexander

The protagonist is only child Willow Alexander. Willow is sharp. And she is loyal. She also carries her burdens internally with nary a word to others. The book reveals the story line through her flashbacks.

Marjorie MacInnis and Graham Currie are her closest friends from kindergarten forward. The three grow up along the coast. One moneyed and doted upon.  Another surrounded by familial love. The third finds solace in the other two. Many of the flashbacks focus on pivotal events as they reach maturity.

Over time, Willow and Graham grow beyond friends. They become betrothed lovers. Then the day of their wedding, Graham fails to show up. Life then takes a turn for the worse for Willow. First, she suffers an irreplaceable loss. Then her father dies, followed by her mother.

But life goes on. Since this is a tale woven around the past, the protagonist is shown in a different phase of life. She has endured many losses. Willow is a solid citizen. Yet she doubts her own innocence.

The Girl He Left Behind Timeline

The beginning of the novel starts with yet another tragedy for Willow. She thinks she has accidently poisoned her employer and his invalid wife. And she is ready to face the consequences. From this point on is the rewind of Willow’s life. Her positive childhood becomes full of woe once left standing at the altar. The question for the readers is one of absolution and reclamation.

Did she poison the couple? Can she remain in the same small hamlet with the return of Graham? Can she find love again?

True Romance

The Girl He Left Behind is a rich romance. The machinations of others tear the young lovers apart. Denied true love they make their way in the world.

MacNeil tugs the heart strings as her heroine faces one tragedy after another and the years roll by. Now forty, Willow is faced with the return of Graham to their small hamlet. He too has suffered over the years. Their reunion is not smooth.

This reader appreciated the elements of forgiveness and empathy weaved into the story. The Girl He Left Behind is very fulfilling. I highly recommend this novel for all lovers of romance. The Girl He Left Behind is a recent release, so it may not be in your local library yet. This book is a keeper and well worth buying. Find a copy and enjoy!

 

 

Seed Saving Tips and Tricks

I began seed saving just a few years ago and I still have a lot to learn. But I have had quite a few successes and thought I would share some tips and tricks. If you have additional information feel free to comment below.

Why Save Seed?

While some may practice seed saving to cut down on expenses, my primary reason is the fact seed producers like fashion designers change-up their production lines. While I like trying new varieties (or buying new shoes) I don’t always want to let go of my favorites.

Both my Five Star Lettuce and my Genuine Heirloom Marriage Tomatoes fall into this category. Locally, the plants are no longer sold. In fact, I can no longer find the seed for the tomatoes available on line. So seed saving allows me to keep planting and eating my favorite produce.

Seed Saving Experimentation

For me, a key to success in sowing saved seeds comes from experimentation. The Peanut Experiment from this past spring is one example. Peanut seeds do not need to be soaked prior to planting. In fact, my findings showed they germinated better when they were not soaked.

I have made a note of this in my gardening log just in case I forget this fact over the winter. Other experimentation with seed saving is also remembered and used. My Potato Experiment using a bag to grow the spuds was a bust. The potatoes do much better in the ground or in large boxes.

Self-seeding Crops

Of course, I also have areas of the garden where annuals are allowed to self-sow. The most notable is the Italian parsley patch. In addition to the plants dropping seed at the end of the season, I occasionally give the parsley and similar plants such as marigolds a hand by dragging my hand along the seed head and sprinkling the seed in the bed.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Make sure seed is ready to be picked and saved. The seeds need to have progressed beyond the green stage. Letting the seed dry on the plant is best.
  2. Store the seed in a cool, dry, dark place. Do your research. While a refrigerator drawer may seem ideal, better places exist. Seed Potatoes should not be stored below 50 degrees F., so this eliminates the fridge.
  3. Make sure the seed is clean. This does NOT mean washing. But brush extra dirt off and remove excess vegetation.
  4. Label your seeds.
  5. Do not keep damaged seed.
  6. If keeping garlic cloves for seeding, choose the biggest cloves.
  7. Store small seeds in envelopes.
  8. Larger seed can be stored in burlap or in the case of beans, plastic containers with room for air flow.

Pictures

I am still learning about saving seed. This means taking chances. For example, beet seed and Swiss chard seed can easily cross. Commercial growers do not have their production close. I have saved seed from two types of beets, Chioggia and Detroit Red. I also saved red and white stemmed Swiss chard. We will see what happens with my saved seed from these family crops next spring.

Enjoy the pictures.

Seed heads of lettuce
This dandelion effect on the lettuce indicates the seed is ready to harvest. The small black seeds are at the base of the puff bloom.
Close up of lettuce seed
The black seeds are easy to spot at the base of the puff ball.
Lettuce seed and seed head
Leaf lettuce. The seeds form at the base of the flower. The chaff can be separated much like wheat or it can stay mixed with the seed until planting.
Two types of beets
The differing beet varieties are easy to spot by contrasting colors. But the seed looks identical.
Beet stalks with seed.
Beet seeds, Chioggia on left and Detroit Red in the middle. A beet wintered over, hence the ability to save seed.
Beet root
A look at the beet root. I did not try to eat this wintered over beet.
Green beet seed
This beet seed is still green and not ready to harvest.
Immature seed heads
These seed heads are still green. No seed can be collected at this stage.

Vail Valley Escape

Last week we escaped the triple digit heat with a retreat into Vail Valley of the Colorado Mountains. We did as much as we could to mitigate the chances of catching Covid-19. Only time will tell if we were successful. But it was a much needed break from the past few months.

Vail Valley House Rental

There were several pieces to our mitigation strategy. First, we rented a house from Gore Creek Properties. This actually turned out to be an economical decision as well. Because we had four generations, we would have needed three motel rooms. Our rental price was about half of the motel cost.

Perhaps the owners had the three story home backing onto Gore Creek priced at a discount since the Vail Valley area had just re-opened days before. Or, the cost was lower because the location was in East Vail. Whatever the reason, we benefited.

The house itself dated to about the 1980s. Since there were three levels, the generations each had their own floor. (The fourth generation having recently reached the ripe old age of one, had to share with her parents!) I believe this spacing along with the multiple outdoor spaces offered many beneficial health benefits: Both physical and mental.

Packing In and Out

A second piece of our strategy was packing in our food. Four coolers of food sustained us through the stay. It helped to have both a spacious kitchen and an outdoor grill. Of course cultural differences popped up. As “Westerners” our bar-b-que night consisted of burgers, grilled sliced herb potatoes, and hot dogs. The lone Southerner was surprised. In the southern part of the United States, bar-b-que means pulled pork and brisket along with slaw and potato salad. We muddled through.

We did have to pack out a few items as a result of one of two trips into the town of Vail. Our first outing was a Sunday morning Farmer’s Market. Even though we went early, we did encounter some crowded situations. However, in Vail Valley the majority of individuals wore masks.

Our best buy at the market in terms of taste was a delicious, if pricey, blueberry pie. One of the best I have ever tasted. Sometimes you do need to pay up for quality.

Most of the pictures in the slide show come from this foray into town. The second visit to the more populated part of Vail Valley was a trip to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Again, a majority, but not all, had masks on. Even the kids.

Mountain Air

There is something to be said for the pureness of air at elevation. The altitude is in the 8000 foot range. Fortunately, everyone from the toddler to the octogenarian fared well. The adults enjoyed biking, hiking and running while the youngster ruled from her stroller. I have fond memories of the area from the Extreme Hike fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis a few falls ago.

While I do not plan to participate this year, the fundraiser is ongoing. You may click here for more information. Hopefully, important organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be able to survive Covid-19.

Taking Risks in Everyday Life

Granted, taking this trip to Vail Valley was a risk. We did our best to limit the danger. As I discussed in May in the blog post ‘Striking A Balance’, individuals need to be responsible; Every day and especially during this pandemic.

We wear masks in public. As individuals, we practice social distancing. And we strive to keep healthy with an appropriate level of exercise.  Most importantly, we are striking a balance between total isolation and ignorance of how quickly this virus can spread. Family gatherings can be dangerous.

In our case, three of the attendees had recent negative tests for Covid-19. Two live in an area where testing is limited. But they actively practice social distancing and good hygiene.

I hope those who don’t believe in this virus change their minds. Currently, we just have one family member fighting the disease. She picked up the virus working as a camp counselor at a summer camp for kids. Others we have known with the virus have recovered. Unfortunately, one did not.

Apparently we are too early in this pandemic for everyone to know someone who has either survived or died from Covid-19. I still am questioned on whether I “actually” know someone who has caught the virus. I tell them I not only know individuals who have it, I know someone who died from it.

Rest in peace April.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Book Review

Kim Michele Richardson brings the proud and impoverished inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky to life in her latest work, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Even though a few liberties are taken with historical events, Richardson accurately portrays the bigotry towards the Blue people of Kentucky.

The Book Woman

Cussy Mary is the Book Woman. She has blue skin due to the genetics of methemoglobinemia. As part of the plot, her condition is discovered by researchers in Lexington and is tied to similar findings among Alaskan and American Natives. However, the reader needs to overlook the fact that the book has the scientific research done during the Great Depression. In actuality the work was not completed until the 1960s.

A nickname for Cussy Mary is Bluet. Her employer is the WPA as a Kentucky Pack Horse librarian. She faces danger in her work from both man and nature. The patrons along her route receive nourishment for their minds even as they face starvation. Cussy Mary is devoted to her work.

Racism and Poverty

Two key themes in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek are racism and poverty. The term coloreds in 1930s Kentucky lumped African-Americans and the Blues of Eastern Kentucky together. In the story. Cussy Mary and fellow book woman Queenie, who is African-American, look out for each other. Both characters manage to overcome the burden of racism. And both women also escape the abject poverty of the times.

Poverty is color blind. The fate of the Appalachian families during The Great Depression is sobering. Richardson is a master at pulling the heart strings while describing the starvation of the times. But she also has the reader cheering as her characters unite against the immoral legalities of the time.

A key outcome has the townspeople acting against injustice through the ballot box.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was released in May of 2019. Before the protests turned riots of 2020. Yet, the timeliness is incredible. I hope those that have protested lawfully read this book. Kim Michele Richardson speaks to social injustice eloquently. A cross section of society supports Cussy Mary. Furthermore, justice is meted through the ballot box. Something to keep in mind this election year.

So, I highly recommend The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The writing is excellent. And the characters are compelling. This is a book worth reading and giving.

 

June 2020 Wrap-Up

Writing was a bit thin for Econogal during June 2020. Instead, I read, gardened and quilted. I also kept track of Covid-19 in various United States counties. Unfortunately, I also witnessed via television a lot of civil unrest in my country. All components added to a lack of writing.

Beastly Weather in June 2020

I love my adopted home of the High Plains except for a few weeks in late July-early August when the wind blows and the temperatures are in the triple digits. Unfortunately, those weeks came during June this year. We have low humidity, but the winds are often tropical storm strength. This creates a very unpleasant atmosphere.

We were fortunate enough to receive a bit of rain. Twice we had rainfall of one half inch and the third rain was three tenths of an inch. While the amount was about half of average it was welcomed as the measured precipitation in May was measured in one hundredths. The next two months are our rainiest, with approximately 2.5 inches expected each month. As you can see from the photo, our neighborhood is praying for rain.

Decprated sign saying Pray for Rain
Pray For Rain

Quilt Room

I spent a lot of time in the quilt room during the month of June 2020. Two quilts have been sandwiched together and are in the process of hand quilting. A third is still in the piecing process. My quilt room is in the basement which helps provide a cool location to hang out.

Piecing is time intensive. Even though I use a machine in the piecing, the work can take weeks depending on how many pieces are involved. Some quilt designs have over a thousand pieces. The one I am working on now is just in the hundreds. Five of the blocks are called The Courthouse Square and the other four are a variation on the Rail Fence.

In the Garden

June is the first month of harvesting nearly every day. Herbs are gathered just before blooming and dried. In addition to the cooking herbs of sage, thyme and oregano, I also cut lavender. It smells wonderful and I can use it dried in teas next winter.

I lost my battle with the flea beetles this year. They devastated the brassicas. However, my lettuce crop was outstanding. Even though the early triple digits brought on early bolting in the big garden, the side garden is still producing delicious greens of many varieties.

The first of the beets were picked. I used one of my favorite recipes from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving. We love opening our pickled beets on cold winter days. For some reason, the beets struggled at first but now they are growing quickly.

Cherry Harvest

While the old cherry tree was loaded with cherries, harvest was just so-so. Usually the birds split their feastings between the cherry trees and the mulberry trees. This year a frost nipped the mulberries so naturally I had intense competition for my cherries. I did make one batch of jam and enjoyed cherry pie and cherry smoothies.

The younger cherry tree just had a handful of fruit. This is just the second summer since planting. The goal is for it to reach a good harvest before the old one stops producing. I would love more fruit trees but am grateful for the two cherry and two peach trees.

Covid-19

June started with six million Covid-19 cases worldwide and ends with over ten million cases and half a million deaths. I fear we are only at the beginning. At least in the United States.

Draining is probably the best way to describe the feeling I have with respect to the virus. I am being careful. Yet I even hate to type that. Here in America the virus has become political. I am dismayed. A pandemic should not be viewed politically. Especially one so far reaching.

So I have not posted much June 2020. Instead I have read and researched about the virus. Regretfully, biology is not my strong suit. Microbiology seems alien. The only microbiologist I personally knew died years ago, at a far too young age.

I fear we will start to see more and more cases and even deaths among our younger population. The protesters and rioters are not immune to this virus. Covid-19 is truly non-discriminatory. June 2020 was just the start to a long, long summer.

 

The Blue Moon Book Review

If you like good old fashioned mysteries without the mayhem of murder, you will love The Blue Moon by Lorena McCourtney. This entertaining tale revolves around the mystery of a necklace which may or may not be known as the Blue Moon.

The Blue Moon Plot

The novel opens with the discovery of a beautiful necklace by protagonist Abby Stanton. Apparently, the jewelry had been taped to the underneath of a desk drawer. Thus, the mystery begins. Abby wants to track down the rightful owner.

This proves difficult. Multiple people step forward once a value is attached to the necklace. Apparently, an appraisal of three million brings out many. Even rumors of a curse do not slow the number of presumptive owners.

Among the many claimants are a couple of dangerous types. They are not working together, but as rivals. One even dognaps Mary Stanton’s service dog.

Characters in The Blue Moon

Abby and her sister Mary figure prominently as independent women. Both also have a romantic interest featured in the story. But as this is a work of Christian fiction, the relationships are earnest not steamy.

The two sisters face danger head on. Finnegan the service dog aids in his own rescue. But the theme is one of intellectual feats versus action packed adventure.

Pacific Northwest

The setting for the novel is the Pacific Northwest. Travel is just as likely by boat as by car. This factors into the story line on several fronts. McCourtney brings the area to life through her descriptions of the climate and topography.

Christian Fiction

The Blue Moon is a bit more scriptural than other books by Lorena McCourtney. As this is the first book featuring the Stanton sisters’ that I have read, I do not know if this is the norm. Passages of scripture are weaved throughout the novel in addition to the lead characters’ upstanding moral characteristics.

Overall, The Blue Moon reminded me a bit of the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries I read as a child. The two men who died prior to the start of the story were NOT murdered. Truly, the plot revolves around the mysterious appearance of the Blue Moon necklace and its ownership.

Christian fiction may not be for everyone, but it has been soothing to my soul during these stressful times of uncertainty and unrest. I read this book through the Libby App. The book is enjoyable and an easy read.