Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

Gluten Free Roll split apart to show texture
Great texture inside

Gluten Free Rolls

Although no one in my immediate family is gluten intolerant, a few of the extended family members have a problem digesting wheat. So at family gatherings such as Easter Brunch, I whip up a batch of Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls. Now the trick is to keep from eating them all before tomorrow. This recipe is that good!

The base flours for this recipe are white rice flour and almond flour. The hardest ingredient for me to find is xanthan gum. Thyme and basil, the herbs used, give the rolls an earthy flavor. To be honest I don’t know why these gluten-free dinner rolls are so soft. I am just glad they are. I have eaten a few gluten-free hockey pucks in my time. But this recipe always works.

There are a couple of key tips. First of all there are a lot of ingredients. Gather them up before you begin. Then put each aside after adding. Second, the poolish really expands so make sure you use a medium to large bowl for that prep step. Third, freshly grinding the thyme leaves into powder really adds to the taste.

White rice flour atop a liquid yeast mixture.
The poolish just after layering flour on top.
Spillover of poolish mixture
The bowl was not large enough to hold the mixture as yeast expanded. Use medium to large bowl.

Ingredients

2 TBS. dry active yeast
1 TBS. sugar
2 cups almond milk divided with each part warmed to 100-105 degrees
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 cup almond flour
¾ cup corn starch
1TBS. xanthan gum
1 tsp. salt
1 TBS. baking powder
¼ cup chia seeds
¼ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. dried basil
2 large eggs
¼ cup butter melted
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

 

 

Poolish

A poolish is the secret of bakers. Basically, it gives the yeast time to percolate. In the case of the gluten-free dinner rolls, the poolish has a specific time period; 30 minutes to two hours. I usually wait between 1 ½ to 2 hours.

For this recipe, make the poolish by combining the yeast, sugar, and one cup of warmed almond milk. Then sprinkle the white rice flour evenly across the liquid. This should form a seal over the yeast base. Then let rest for 30 minutes up to 2 hours. There will be bubbles of the liquid yeast base breaking through the flour layer.

Yeast bubbled through flour
After 1 1/2 hours

Batter

When the poolish is ready, mix the remaining dry ingredients in the stand base of an electric mixer. Pour the poolish, the second cup of warm almond milk, eggs, melted butter, honey, and apple cider vinegar and mix at a very low-speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated. This should be about 30 seconds. Then scrape down the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.

Turn mixer on high and mix for 3 minutes. The chia seeds should be evenly distributed, flour totally incorporated and the dough consistency will be similar to a quick bread, but not pourable.

Grease muffin pans and an individual 3 x 5 ½ loaf pan. Then using a small cookie scoop, make clover leaf-shaped rolls by placing three level scoops in each muffin slot. Scoop remaining batter in loaf pan. Then place pans in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.

Using cookie scoop to create rolls
Create clover leaf rolls by placing three small scoops into each muffin tin.
Rolls and bread fully risen
After 45 minutes to rise

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the rolls for 18 minutes and the loaf pan for 22 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Rolls cooling on a rack.
Cooling on a rack

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted Book Review

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Apparently interest in the Holocaust extends to far away Australia. Setting his tale in rural Australia, Robert Hillman weaves a tale of love between Auschwitz survivor Hannah Babel and sheep farmer Tom Hope. The protagonist, Hope lend his surname to the underlying tone of the story. But not without multiple periods of anguish.

Hannah is not the typical love interest. For starters, she is a dozen or so years older than Tom. Furthermore, she naturally carries tremendous emotional baggage due to her experiences in World War II. Realistically, one can say she is running from her past. She hopes to leave the loss of loved ones behind. But she is struggling to bury the past.

Of course Hillman first created a situation of heartbreak for Tom. Naturally, the past threatens the future. The subplot adds some drama as well as subtle commentary. The reader glimpses the author’s thoughts on religion.

The love story is complemented with everyday description and events of rural Australia during the late sixties. Politics of the time are seen through the character of Hannah. Her character is deep and complex. Hillman is successful in creating reader empathy.

Comparison of Styles

Robert Hillman reminds me of the late author Kent Haruf. Both share stories that cannot be pigeon-holed into a genre. Both are descriptive with their settings. Finally both present subtle messages within their writing.

Hillman is a storyteller. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted allows the reader to spend a few hours engaged in a heartwarming tale. The writing flows and most of the story is plausible. The flash back passages may bring tears to your eyes.

I bought The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted after seeing it on the To Be Read list of a fellow blogger. I enjoyed reading it and was glad to have a coupon to defray the cost. If you have such a list, I encourage you to add The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted.

Procrastination Strikes Again

Here it is Thursday and my non-Friday post is yet to be written much less published across cyber space. I can only blame myself. I have plenty to write about and really don’t feel like I have writer’s block. Instead, this week I resemble the lady in this You Tube video on Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. Click here to watch.

Long List of Things To-Do

Lettuce among onions in a garden
Five Star Lettuce

My list of projects seems unending. Spring has arrived. On the high plains spring is beautiful but all too short. The flies and the mosquitoes have not hatched so outdoor eating is delightful. We still have a danger of frost through Mother’s Day but cool weather crops can and have been started. Plus the garlic and onion sets planted last fall are maturing.

But there is also plenty of weeding and pruning on the to-do list. Plus our town hosts a clean-up weekend each spring. Volunteers, including students at the local community college, go around every street and remove yard debris, unwanted broken furniture, appliances and other cast-offs. This occurs next week, so that to-do has to be done.

Curtain To-Do List

The curtains still need to be made for the kitchen and breakfast room. But I have run into a snag. I normally work with cotton fabric. So I am having trouble adjusting to the knit I want to use for the drapes above the window. I like the effect of the soft material hanging from the rod.
Of course, much like the video above, I had to stop on making the drapes and curtains since I needed new rods. Living in such a small town, rods fitting my needs are not available. For those online shoppers reading this, I could not easily order online because the space between the window edge and the corner wall is only an inch and a half.

So the curtains were put off and thus no post on the kitchen redo-yet. Last week’s trip to Florida gave me an opportunity to physically see and measure the finials on new rods. On my way to the airport, a 200 mile drive, I stopped at a big box store and found some hardware that will work.

But, my drill is too big for the space. Now I need to stop and find a small hand-held one. I know I have one somewhere. Plus I need to find the charger. Yes I resemble the above video.

Miscellaneous To-Do List

I procrastinated 24-hours in contacting the powers that be at Miss USA. I want to interview one of their contestants for this blog. But first I need permission. I hope to hear back today. She is a small town girl from around these parts and has made the transition to life in the city. No small feat.

For those of you in the city, imagine growing up in a town so small that THERE ARE NO STOPLIGHTS! Now imagine this young lady competing in the Miss USA pageant. Dreams can come true.

Also on my to-do list is to get things organized enough in hopes of throwing a Kentucky Derby party. It is time to break out the mint julep recipe and find a Derby Hat. Plus, I picked up a horse based novel to read and review.

Easter

As a Christian, I celebrate the religious holiday of Easter. I am writing this on Maundy Thursday. This day commemorates the Last Supper. Since I am an alumnus of Albertus Magnus College, I have fond memories of Easter week. Not only was it a second spring break, but the campus truly rejoiced in the renewal.

This year I will not travel for the Easter feast. A relative in town is the hostess. So I am delighting in the fact I can stay home. My task is simple. Bring the pea salad and the rolls. One of the roll recipes is for soft gluten-free dinner rolls. I will share this on Saturday. If you are interested, the hardest to find ingredient is xanthan gum. The two flours used are rice and almond.

Plethora of Posts

The next month or so will bring a plethora of posts. In addition to writing about the Kentucky Derby party and the Miss USA contest there will be recipes, book reviews and garden tips. Unlike this week, I plan to spread out the information throughout the week. So look for posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at least through June.

My apologies to those of you on my email list who will receive messages three days in a row. I know that can be annoying. But the only time back-to back messages should come out this summer will be the end of the month wrap-ups.

Good luck to all of you with to-do lists. Remember, the word “no” can be used by those of us over the age of two. Happy Easter to all those who celebrate the season.

An Economist Walks Into A Brothel Book Review

Book Cover, Blue background yellow print An Economist Walks Into A Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places To Understand Risk

Allison Schrager caught my attention with the title of her book on financial economics and risk. An Economist Walks Into A Brothel does indeed include an analysis of the legal sex trade in Nevada. The topic is a hook, but the analysis and writing keeps the reader engaged. Schrager uses a variety of industries to explore the multi-faceted topic of financial economics.

Brothel-nomics

Schrager starts her treatise with a discussion of risk. Financial risk is not just in the stock markets but also in everyday business. And everyday life. The exploration of mitigating risk in the sex trade allows the writer to introduce the concept of risk in an industry not many of us are familiar with.

A few basic concepts such as supply and demand are introduced in this section. But most of the focus is on finance, which Schrager states is the science of risk. Thus, from the start, the topic of An Economist Walks Into A Brothel is clear.

Toward the end of this introductory section are Schrager’s five rules of risk. These are as follows:

1. No Risk, No Reward
2. I am irrational and I know it.
3. Get the biggest bang for your risk buck.
4. Be the master of your domain.
5. Uncertainty happens. (Schrager, 14-17)

These five concepts are the heart of the book. They are supported by a gamut of economic theory from behavioral economics to diversification to uncertainty. Key premises to understand how the world works.

Diversity in Examples

The use of the wide variety of industries cited by Schrager in order to illustrate her topic serves multiple purposes. First, the diversity (in addition to the Brothel hook) of industries provides a way to reach out to a wide audience. Second, the varying businesses support the notion that risk is inherent everywhere, not just in the stock market. Third, this approach offers a way for the layman to comprehend economic principles.

Studying a legal brothel in Nevada begins the book. But other industries utilized include but are not limited to retail electronics, horse breeding, big wave surfing, Hollywood and the United States Armed Forces. Kat Cole, one of my favorite CEOs and Gun Runner, one of my favorite race horses also figure into the narrative. Thus, Schrager turns what may be considered a dull topic into an engaging and informative read.

Risk

An Economist Walks into a Brothel is a comprehensive look at risk. While there are some charts and concepts that knowledge of economics serves as an asset, even those without an economic background can gleam Schrager’s points. She is thorough in her knowledge of the topic and her approach is such that the general public will understand the book.

Even if you are not in business, the concepts of risk apply to the many decisions life posits. So I believe you will gain from this book. Since it is a recent release your library may not have a copy yet. But it can be found in bookstores and online.

The initial business analyzed is legalized sex and naturally there are comparisons with the illegal trade. However, the topic is treated in such a way that I feel the book is still appropriate reading for mature teenagers. The focus is on the business and not the types of services provided.

Recommendation

In fact, if I were still teaching at the community college, I would require my business and economic students to read An Economist Walks Into A Brothel. So, consider gifting this book to those who prefer non-fiction as well as anyone interested in finance. In the case of this work by Allison Schrager the risk is worth the reward.

Additionally, for those of you who prefer online, Schrager has a website. You can access it by clicking here. Consider signing up for her newsletter. I did and I look forward to her twice a month posts.

Econogal’s Florida Observations

Often when people meet, a common question is where are you from? For my husband, it is an easy answer. We live about a hundred miles from his birth place and with the exception of his college years and the first years of our marriage he has always lived within an hour or two. On the other hand, I lived in six different places by the time I was 18 and 10 places by the time I married. Thus, my answer varies. Sometimes I say the East Coast, but most often my reply is Florida.

My residency in the Sunshine State was divided between Gainesville and Daytona Beach. One of my fondest memories is of the bus driver detouring through Greek Town during Homecoming week. As a first grader I loved seeing the decorated floats and chanting for the Gators. But just before third grade we moved to Daytona Beach. New memories were made.

Now I live in a land locked state. Fortunately, the open plains remind me of the ocean. The rippling “amber waves of grain” do give me a sense of home. Plus I make frequent trips to Florida. My family lives there.

Birthday Celebration

This week marks the 81st birthday of my Mom. She currently resides in a nursing home in Central Florida. My Dad visits her every day. Unfortunately, her physical and mental condition are such that she needs more care than can be provided at home. On the plus side, she still enjoys leaving the nursing home on occasion to eat out.

Since one of her favorite food groups is Bar-B-Q, we took her to a nearby restaurant specializing in this Southern delicacy. The food was great. Perfect for a birthday celebration. The place quickly filled up. Unfortunately the table behind us turned over during the meal. Unfortunate because a family with an unruly child occupied the table as we were half way through the meal.

Dementia

Dementia in its various forms changes the personality of the individual the disease strikes. In my Mom’s case, we are pretty sure she has Alzheimer’s. Loud noises can be quite confusing. So, the screaming toddler was not ideal.

At first, I felt bad for the mom behind us. She was holding down the table while her husband and older child waited in line. But that changed once he joined her. Neither one could quiet the kid. Nor did they take him outside. (The standard procedure at one time when dining in public was for one parent to take the unhappy child outside until they could behave.) Moreover, they made little attempt. So we cut our dinner short and took the dessert back to the nursing home.

To be honest, my Mom handled the incident better than I did. She was a little snappy at the restaurant, but regained her birthday glow once removed from the situation. A benefit in this case of short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, my mind kept replaying the scene for several hours. I am not a confrontational person, but I sure would like to figure out a nice way of telling someone to take their unhappy child out of a restaurant for the times when this situation occurs. Does anyone have a proven technique or suggested comment?

Handicapped Access

The only other problem with the dinner out was getting out. My mom is wheelchair bound. The restaurant had tables that were placed fairly close together. Not a problem when empty as it was when we arrived, but tough once seats are pulled out. We made it through, but if there was an emergency, like a fire, the process would be a bit scary.

A good tip for arranging tables, whether in a restaurant, setting up for a conference dinner, or even when planning a wedding reception centers around chairs. Pull the chairs out from nestling under the tables. Then walk through the aisles with one arm extended. This creates a space wide enough for wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers to get through.

The downside to the business is less seating. But, in the long run the customer service created by the set-up is beneficial. Handicapped access is one of the key things we consider when taking Mom out to eat. We do this often. So those restaurants that make a point of getting in and out less stressful receive repeat business from us.

Since Florida is a magnet for retirees, it is not uncommon to see wheelchairs and walkers. In the city of Mickey Mouse, strollers are also abundant. Businesses definitely need to consider accessibility for all. And not just because of the legal aspect. It is good business too.

Last Woman Standing Book Review

On the surface, Last Woman Standing by Amy Gentry is a novel about the male dominated industry of stand-up comics. But in this case the protagonist and comic is a woman of color. Dana Diaz is the central character of this complex story of fame, success, psychosis, the #MeToo movement and revenge. At the beginning of the story Diaz is on the run from her past. At the end she owns her future. But an amazing tale fills the center.

We meet Diaz onstage at an Austin comedy club. Bombing. Badly. A lone woman’s laughter gets her through the performance. Amanda Dorn introduces herself afterwards. She is a techie who lost her job after filing a sexual harassment suit against a co-worker. As a victim of sexual harassment, Dorn recognizes Diaz as another target of unwanted advances.

Gentry’s plot takes a step toward revenge at this point. The two women engage in payback, with a twist. Each goes after the other’s aggressors. Concurrently, Diaz is achieving success on the stage. Perhaps her accomplishments trigger her consciousness. She begins to regret her actions and tries to cut ties with Dorn.

Austin to L.A.

The re-location of the story from Austin to L.A. mirrors the mental changes in both Diaz and Dorn. Our protagonist becomes more grounded and Dorn more psychotic. At this point in the story, Gentry begins providing twist after twist in the plot.
The revenge extracted by Dorn on behalf of Diaz takes a deadly turn. Moreover, Amanda’s psychosis becomes more evident.

Diaz turns to Jason Murphy, a childhood friend. The two search for a way to combat the control Amanda Dorn has over Diaz. Once again there is a major twist in the plot.

Without giving away too much, a final victim falls to the avengers. But this time someone is held responsible. But is justice served? Read Last Woman Standing to find out. The novel delivers so much more than sheer entertainment.

Many books reflect the current events of society. New York Station reflected the politically influenced 2016 national elections in the United States. I personally think the #MeToo movement served as a catalyst for Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing.

Online Cyber Harassment

Sexual harassment has been present for eons. Now the harassment reaches cyber space. Online bullying includes sexting, trolling and stealing personal information from various web sources. These attacks can be every bit as harmful as physical attacks.

Recently, a reader sent me a link with a very valuable article. The website vpnmentor.com published a lengthy, informative article on cyber security aimed specifically at women. The post The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women written by Sara Levavi-Eilat provides detailed steps on protecting one’s privacy online.

If I were still teaching at the local community college, I would incorporate this article into the curriculum. The information is comprehensive and very helpful. As an individual who values privacy I cringe at how much information is posted on the various social media sites.

This does not mean one cannot belong to any or utilize the many apps out there. But please use good judgement. The article written by Levavi-Eilat and produced by an all-woman crew will help regain your privacy and offers a way to safeguard against aggressors without resorting to the tactics employed by the key characters in Last Woman Standing.

Sexual Harassment

Contrary to the many jokes heard in stand-up comedy routines, sexual harassment is not a joking matter. The worst case scenario occurs when harassment turns into assault. Protect yourself. Click on and read The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women. Then think twice before you upload that next photo onto social media. Women should not need to worry about how our image is used. But the sad truth is we do.

Last Woman Standing is a good vehicle for this message as well as being an entertaining novel. The question posited is who has your back? When it comes to an online presence, each individual can do a great deal to protect themselves. Set limits on your social media apps when possible. Proactive behavior is essential. To steal a line from Sargent Esterhouse on the long-ago T.V. show Hill Street Blues-“Let’s be careful out there.”

March 2019 Wrap Up

March 2019

The old saying is March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. This year, the month is leaving like a lion cub. Yesterday, a skiff of snow on the ground greeted the dawn. But spring is in the air in the form of singing robins and tiny crocuses.

Kitchen Update

The refreshing of the kitchen is almost complete. New wall paper, a new chair rail and a back splash are complete. Only a change in curtains is lacking. But the material for the curtains has been purchased. Surely there will be a cold day or two in April allowing for completion of the curtains.

Tile Back splash being torn out
Tearing Out the Old

There will be a post dedicated to the new kitchen and breakfast room. The labor is intense but the result is great. Unlike the current trend to have one huge open space, I like the coziness of a kitchen and breakfast room nook.

Garden

There were a few days toward the end of March 2019 that resembled a lamb. I took advantage of these moderate temperatures to put up the deer fence and rabbit guard. I made a modification to the fence. I no longer need to move the recycled skirting. Instead I have a gate made from a stiff wire mesh.

The only downside is the height. At about five feet, a deer could jump it. But, I am hoping there is not enough distance for a running start. There is also the possibility that a raccoon could gain entrance. They are aggressive critters.

I think I planted too much garlic last winter. Plus we have had more moisture than usually, so little if any winter kill occurred. There is probably enough to take to a farmers market, but I have never been a vendor so I do not know what is involved.

Spring crops have been in the ground for almost a week. So I expect to see new shoots soon. Peas, radishes, beets, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard and kale must have loved the thin blanket of snow. The newest tree to the yard, a North Star Cherry was planted just in time for the wonderful moisture.

I like to plant trees this time of year. April still has some freezing weather, but none of the triple digit weather that occasionally pops up in May. The young transplants have a tough time with hot weather. Dry wind added to high temperatures can be a death sentence before the plants have a chance to establish themselves.

Quilting

I am making steady progress with the hand quilting of the Love Quilt. For the most part I am quilting a quarter-inch from seams and along pattern details. But some of the fabric needs extra. So, using a chalk stamp, I have added rows of hearts. A king size quilt has been layered and is ready for the quilt stand.

Finally, I have designed a two-sided quilt. One side will have the Train Quilt pattern with a twist. The other centers on a panel. Taking cues from the many Trip Around the World Quilts I have made, squares will radiate from the panel to give a natural shading effect. I am quite excited to begin the piecing.

I hope your March 2019 has been as productive as mine! I am off to a baby shower, a great opportunity to continue my Lenten promise of connecting with others. Happy Spring!

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More Book Review

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!

Book Cover of I Ain't Gonna Paint No More!I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont with illustrations by David Catrow has been around for a while. The book made its debut in 2005. I just read it for the first time on the recommendation of someone working with elementary school children. This book is a winner.

The story opens up with a youngster getting in trouble for painting all over the house. Enter the mom. The paints are taken away and put on a very high shelf. Of course any enterprising kid knows how to circumvent that obstacle.

Thus, the focus of this board book changes from a kid painting the walls to painting himself. All while singing a familiar tune. Adult readers will automatically sing the chorus as they read the repeating phrase. Perhaps this is how I missed the kindergarten humor the first time through.

Beaumont uses rhyming words in a clever way from this point forward. For example, one line the kid uses is “Guess there ain’t no harm if I paint my…” turn the page and he has painted his arm. This theme is carried out from head to toe and in between.

Until the story reaches a part of the body 5 year olds find hilarious.

Generation Gap

I hate to admit I had a generation gap moment. The first time through I kept repeating the phrase I ain’t gonna paint no more, no more. I ain’t gonna paint no more in my head. Truth be told I can sing the tune but can’t remember the song. Perhaps this is how I missed the punch line. Lame excuse I know.

But now that I get the humor, I too want to read it again. The finish certainly brings a smile to my face. I can just imagine preschoolers and early grade school students rolling on the floor with laughter. This book is great for storytelling. Repetition of words makes it a candidate for a learning to read book as well.

Overwhelmed by Spring Projects

Chair rail under construction.
Spring is officially here by the calendar. The weather outside sometimes agrees. We have enjoyed some warm afternoons the last few days on the high plains. But this season is unpredictable and there are several chances for snow over the next ten days.

Perhaps the hardest part of spring is dividing the time up between indoor and outdoor projects. For example, the breakfast/kitchen revival I have been working on is almost complete. The new back splash will be grouted today and a pencil trim will be installed between the counter top and walls. Yet the pleasant spring weather is calling my name.

Garden Forays

So, I have squeezed in some work in the garden. The fence that I take down in the winter is back in place. While this adds to my labor, the temporary deer nets and recycled rabbit guards are no match for the harsh winter winds.

At some point a permanent fence will go in. But, I am still researching both what will be allowed by my small town and what I think is economically reasonable. Until then, the re-establishment of the garden fence will be on my spring project list.

The above work took most of a weekend, delaying the inside work. Additionally I have squeezed time to start a new asparagus bed. While the old one still produces, the trees now shade it quite a bit. So, I found a sunny location for a second planting. Asparagus are among my favorite vegetables and I hope to have a better harvest in a year or two.

Some of the Five Star lettuce went to seed last year and two plants emerged. Since I rotate crops, these were transplanted into the row for “leafs” as the row they were occupying will be earmarked for my root vegetables.

Quilts

In addition to the remodel and the garden projects, I am working on two quilt projects this spring. The Love Panel quilt is near completion. But I just sandwiched a king size Lover’s Knot Quilt. I will begin quilting it soon. (I hope!) Plus I still have another baby quilt to design. The goal is not to have too many unfinished quilt projects.

Spring Cleaning

Last but certainly not least on the list is a thorough spring cleaning of the house. The garage was done in early March. But I still have work to do in the basement. I confess, a lot of items make their way downstairs when I just don’t know what else to do. Many are items that I think will be useful someday when kids move into houses of their own. Some are items that I am overly sentimental about. Still others, like the back patio furniture need an indoor home for a few months.

But it is time to reclaim my basement. Two boxes of books are now ready to go to the local library book sale. The patio furniture will have to weather any spring snows. I did manage to toss enough items to fill two trash bags. (Really hard to do.) I have made some progress but still have more to do.

Physically Overwhelmed

All these spring projects are taxing. I certainly haven’t needed a trip to the gym for a workout. The wallpaper and new chair rail included lots of squat repetitions. The back splash tile put the shoulders to work. Hammering and more squats were involved with the fence. My body aches from head to toe.

Weight lifting occurs whenever I move the wet saw into place. Or rearrange boxes in the storage cabinets. The only thing lacking is cardio and I did sneak in a two-mile run last weekend.

Staying busy is easy when all your helpers have left the nest. Each spring the projects loom. Somehow everything is accomplished. But I yearn for my helpers, even though they all have busy lives elsewhere. Each learned the value of hard work through various spring and summer projects. Now they have their own projects to finish.

Crucible Book Review

Crucible

The latest action adventure from James Rollins is Crucible. This complex tale stretches geographically from the United States to Europe, particularly but not exclusively, Portugal. But the time line begins in the era of the early 1600s.
The novel begins with a brief flashback to the Spanish Inquisition and the extermination of witches. A priest serving as an Inquisitor takes possession of an amulet. The significance of this prologue becomes evident in one of the many twists and turns of Crucible.

Out of necessity, the first part of Crucible contains quite a bit of action spanning the two continents. Rollins incorporates a large number of characters into the novel. Thus, turmoil is used to introduce many of the key players. Furthermore, I had trouble pinpointing a single protagonist.

Equal Opportunity

Both men and women characters are villains in Crucible. The same can be said of the heroes. The dual story line between a home invasion and kidnapping in the United States and an assassination of female scientists in Portugal merges relatively early in the story line.

Gray and Monk are government agents. They were absent during the home invasion but directly affected. Monk’s wife Kat is in a coma but his two girls along with a pregnant Seichan, Gray’s significant other, are missing. The men are directly involved in the action. So are the women. Science and medical advances play a significant part of this narrative.

Rollins is masterful at weaving the scenes involving neurological treatment alongside the chase for the kidnappers. But even more powerful is his approach to artificial intelligence. At times, the character of Eve gets the nod for protagonist. Eve is not human. Yet.

Artificial Intelligence

Mara Silviera is the creator of Eve. She is alive only because the preliminary test of Eve was at a remote location during the attack on the science lab. The two are on the run.

The race to develop artificial intelligence is the center of Crucible. Fiction is mirroring reality. James Rollins does an outstanding job of blending fact with fiction. Eve’s character is pure fiction. But, we are on the threshold of developing many Eves. In actuality, we may already be there. Rollins treats this subject matter with the seriousness it deserves all while spinning a thrilling tale.

Once again, an action adventure thriller provides food for thought as well as entertainment. The twists and turns keep the reader enthralled. The author ties up the many tangents. The bad guys meet their just rewards and the ending is happy for the good guys. What more can you ask for? Perhaps a sequel for Eve.

Sneak Peek at the Breakfast Room

Sneak Peek

Those of you following Econogal for the personal snippets in addition to the book reviews will enjoy this sneak peek at the re-freshening of the kitchen and breakfast areas. I don’t consider this a major remodel. But it is taking some time. My deadline is March 29th.

Changes

Vining fruit wallpaper on a breakfast room wall
A view of the old wallpaper in the breakfast room.

The key changes involve color scheme and tone. The before wallpaper was a print of vines and fruits. The paper had a gorgeous border and coordinating curtains. Since the original counter top was a medium blue everything blended.

But, in the early part of this century a major remodel of the kitchen included adding Corian counters in the kitchen. The counter top is now gray. I like the color and pattern and am happy with the surface. So, at this point I do not want to change to quartz counters. Yet a new look is appealing.

As you can see by a sneak peek at the pictures, the change in wall paper is dramatic. The homey country feel which was good when the kids were growing up is gone. Now, there is a striking flair to the breakfast room. The wallpaper reflects my artsy nature. But the highlight is the new chair rail.

Wall paper up without the chair rail.

Creative Additions

As discussed in the post Path Not Taken, my training is business, but my passion is design. I am at a point in my life where creativity can take a front seat. The breakfast room and chair rail are demonstrative evidence.

Picking out wallpaper is tricky. Often I use a wallpaper border either as an accent or to blend everything together. In the case of the wallpapers I chose for the kitchen and breakfast room refresh, no border accompanied the patterns. Indeed the bold print was marketed by a different company than the textured paper used on the bottom of the breakfast room and throughout the kitchen. Wall Quest and York were the two companies I used.

So, I needed something to tie the papers together. A chair rail provided this connection. But, this chair rail is tile, not wood. Taking another sneak peek at the pictures, one can see two tiles were used to create the chair rail.

Chair rail under construction.

Tile Tips

The inner tile, produced by Glazzio, came in 12 inch sheets. But at the show room, the tile was shown in a 4 inch strip. Thus, my idea to use it as a chair rail might not have materialized if I had simply seen the large sheet. To achieve the effect I wanted, the tile needed to be cut in strips.

The tile saw chipped some of the tile. But my acrylic paints covered the chips. One could cut the strips by hand (using scissors and snipping around the links) to eliminate the chips, but then one would need to cut the individual links for half pieces. In my opinion this would create a dangerous situation.

Both a laser level and a hand level were used to ensure the chair rail was installed correctly. The laser level allowed me to draw a pencil line atop the wall paper as you can see in this picture. Then I used a hand level as I installed each piece.

Instead of standard tile adhesive I used a clear silicon adhesive made by Onyx. This was left over from an installation of Onyx showers and sink tops. I did not want the white adhesive seeping through the basket-weave. But I still wiped immediately with a sudsy rag. The soapy water was changed often.

Cutting Tile

I save the tile cuts for last. So in the case of the breakfast room, I worked each wall until I needed to make a cut. Then I worked on the areas requiring cuts. Fortunately, the long wall was done without any cuts. But, there was a change in the basket weave.

Since I am always budgeting, I did not by a piece for each linear foot. However, the basket weave did not repeat evenly. So, on the long wall a point was reached where the interlocking tile ran out. At this point, I butted two different weaves and then filled the gaps with small pieces. The filler pieces were created with the original tile cuts. Always save the cuttings. You never know when they will come in handy.

After the basket weave was in place, I affixed the Questech Jolly pencil trim to top and bottom. Again, I used the hand-held level as a double-check. The bottom pencil required more “holding” time to adhere without sliding down. The cuts into the corners were the most difficult.

Final Touches Needed

Curtains and curtain rods are still needed. Currently, I do not know what I am going to use. However, I like how the existing wood work really pops. The chandelier continues this. So I would like to find curtain fixtures to continue this feel. As for curtains. I am toying with the idea of burlap. Stay tuned!

Painting Secrets Book Review

Painting Secrets written by Brian Santos is a must have book for the Do It Yourself crowd. Santos, also known as The Wall Wizard has multiple DIY books on the market. You can also find his videos on the Internet. Additionally, he gives demonstrations across the country.

Painting Secrets

The self-help guide Painting Secrets spends the first 75 pages prepping for the actual paint job. The tips in this first part of the book include an excellent section on color selection. Santos does an outstanding job of explaining variations in color. Furthermore, he gives good tips on choosing colors that will work best for you.

Then Painting Secrets begins divulging its many tips to ensure the project is a success. Included in this long section on prepping a room for painting are methods for stripping wallpaper. Santos shares his secret recipe for wallpaper stripping. He also includes a dry method for removing vinyl wallpaper. His methods result in a quicker process.

Santos goes into great detail on how to repair walls before painting. He covers everything from small cracks to large holes in the sheet rock. Also, tips are provided for working with plaster. Perhaps the best part of this section are the many tricks of the trade shared. But I also liked the information on needed tools.

Painting 101

Santos shares his professional painting skills in a thorough manner. He begins by teaching the reader about the many types and grades of paint. Then he moves onto the best tools for the paint and the job. Also presented is detailed instruction on how to measure and estimate the amount of paint needed.

Each tool described receives a description of use or uses. The Wizard includes warnings and quizzes throughout the book. Many are tied to the proper use of the tools needed for the job.

Then, the book turns to the actual job of painting. There is a right and wrong way to paint. This section discusses loading paint onto the various tools as well as how to lay the paint onto the surfaces. The recommendation for painting an entire room is to have two people on the job.

Finally, Painting Secrets covers paint effects. Included in this section are decorative finishes such as faux and ragging. Santos shares his Wall wizard Glaze recipe along with tons of tricks and warnings. The techniques are divided into positive and negatives depending on whether you are adding or subtracting a top layer.

I highly recommend this book and am fortunate enough to have discovered it in my local library. This title along with similar titles are easily found online or in bookstores if your library doesn’t have a copy. Painting Secrets is just the book a DIY needs to get the project done right.

Path Not Taken

Often books focus on the path not taken such as The Little Paris Book Shop. Other times an author may provide more than one ending like the Choose Your Adventures my kids used to read. Or entirely separate plot lines like Heads You Win. In life, the fork in the road takes us down very different paths.

In my case the path not taken was not forging a career in New York City. My undergraduate degree came from a small women’s college in Connecticut. Thus, during a few very formative years, New York City beckoned to me. I still remember crossing the GWB (George Washington Bridge) for the very first time.

Trips to The City during those college years were infrequent but not rare. The vibrancy of New York is enticing. Favorite haunts included the museums near Central Park, Wall Street and the World Trade Centers (My fond memories of Windows on the World atop Building 1 defy the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.) and last but not least the Garment District.

I love the Garment District. Too short to be a runway model, I focused on the fabric. Every texture, color and design pattern can be found. Additionally, there are stores that sell nothing but notions. Ribbons, buttons, lace, zippers and threads to adorn any design.

Much has changed since my college days. I met my husband, a farm boy, at one of the land grant universities west of the Mississippi. I have only been back to New York City four times and two of those visits kept me on Long Island. But on one visit, I shopped in the Garment District and mourned at the site of the towers.

Changes from the Path Not Taken

Marriage is a major fork in the road. In my case a very major fork. Even though we lived in major cities the first three years together, the remaining years, over 30, have placed us in small towns. Towns of ten thousand or less are very small by my standards. I am a city girl at heart. Furthermore, the employment options are a bit limited.

Investment brokerage firms are not standard in rural America. Post Internet that is not a problem for investing. But employment in that career path is limited. So, I ended up teaching at a community college in the Business/Information Technology department. This actually complimented the other major path change.

Four children takes you down a very definite path. The needs of others becomes an essential part of life. Celebrities and movie stars manage large families. But my bet is they have a lot of help in the form of nannies, housekeepers (or at least a cleaning lady on a regular basis) and drivers. I had none of these, although I did carpool on occasion and even participated in a babysitting co-op in one town.

I concentrated on raising my family during these years of my life. But sacrifices occur if this is the path taken. My writing took a back seat. For several years I drove close to two hundred miles to participate in a writer’s group on a monthly basis. This gets old. As the kids grew so did the demands. The writer’s group had growing pains of its own, so I stopped making the trip. My family was happier. The writing took a hiatus.

New Forks

The kids are all adults now and busy choosing their paths. But, I still live in a small town. So some options are not feasible. New technology allows me to write. Blogging is not equivalent to important American Literature but it fills my need and I enjoy it.

However, design work is limited. The demographics of the area I live in are not conducive to earning a living through interior decorating. This is unfortunate. Somehow, I have the ability to throw together colors, textures, and patterns and the end result is amazing. Perhaps all the time spent designing quilts spilled over into other areas.

Thinking of the path not taken is fraught with what ifs. For example, if I had stayed in New York and chosen work in the Garment District instead of Wall Street, would I enjoy the process of design today? Actually, enjoy is an understatement. Creative design work whether a quilt or a back splash, defines me at this point in time. I love what I am doing. But would it be the same if I had followed another path?

That question is unanswerable. But I know the answers to others. I would never trade my time spent raising children. So, the path not taken remains a mystery. We have choices to make. Some are emotional, others are financial. Occasionally, a choice is made for us.

Each time we take a fork in the road we start down a new path. Can we backtrack? Perhaps to some degree. But we cannot erase the past. Thus the path not taken twenty years ago would not be the same now. If by chance the road loops around a second time and then you choose the other fork, the experience will differ. Thus, a path not taken remains unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Woman in the Room Book Review

Marie Benedict’s historical novel The Only Woman in the Room provides an insight into the genius of movie star Hedy Lamarr. Since the point of view is that of Hedy herself, this is not a biography. The dialogue and thoughts are a work of fiction. So the events portrayed in the book are based on fact, but not all are proven factual.

The Only Woman in the Room opens onstage in 1933 Vienna. Thus, the reader discovers the actress at the young age of 19. But she is already an international figure. Furthermore, Benedict begins the story at what is now known as a critical point in history: Hitler’s build up to war.

Benedict’s style of writing keeps the reader intrigued. The pace is quick. I read the book in an evening. The insight into Lamarr created a desire to learn more. A brief Internet search led me to the conclusion that once again a historical female figure only received partial recognition for her contribution to society. In Lamarr’s case, the fame she received as an actress is really a side note.

I have not read any work by Marie Benedict before. But from the author’s note as well as the testimonial blurbs on the book cover, I believe her writing niche is one which brings the lives of important women to light. Thus Benedict is the perfect author to spotlight on International Women’s Day.

Historical significance needs time to develop. Fortunately, Hedy Lamarr lived long enough to begin receiving recognition for her scientific contributions. Unfortunately, her patents lapsed before she or her family reaped the rewards. But, The Only Woman in the Room reveals none of this. The book focuses on the decade from 1933 to 1942. These were pivotal years for both history and for the woman herself.

The Only Woman in the Room

The title refers to the time Hedy spent married to Friedrich Mandl. Lamarr’s first (of many) husband was considerably older than the protagonist. As an owner of a large munitions company during a time of unrest, Mandl was wealthy and well-connected. According to The Only Woman in the Room, he entertained both Mussolini and Hitler at his home. Hedy, at this time not working as an actress, and was a fixture at these gatherings.

As stated in the novel, the men overlooked the presence of Lamarr and discussed many technicalities of war weapons in front of her. This included flaws in the munitions systems. Furthermore, the heroine divined the true danger to individuals of Jewish heritage. Thus, the novel provides a set-up to Hedy’s flight from Europe and a motivation for her scientific inventions.

Patent Pending

The end of the novel creates a need for more from the reader. I was totally fascinated to know and learn about the life of Hedy Lamarr. I wanted more. How did Hedy and her Mom get along in their later years? Why did the military not jump at the invention? Did she invent anything else?

Unfortunately, only ten years are covered by the novel. But, Benedict does convey the true worth of Hedy Lamarr. She was not just a pretty face. Perhaps the biggest travesty is it took this novel for me to realize the important contribution Lamarr made to this communications revolution we enjoy. Bluetooth, WI-FI and even cell phones all descend from her patented invention. Kudos to Marie Benedict for sharing the importance of Hedy Lamarr by writing The Only Woman in the Room.

International Women’s Day

March 8th is known as International Women’s Day. In our small town it is celebrated with the delivery of yellow roses sold by the local Zonta International Club. I am the delighted recipient as well as a buyer this year.

There are many ways to celebrate this day honoring women across the planet. Take a yellow rose to a woman who has impacted your life in a positive way. Share with your children accomplishments of your mother. Read a book about contributions a woman has made in history. The Only Woman in the Room is one I would recommend. Happy International Women’s Day!

Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras Beads hanging from tree and fence
Beads adorning a house and tree in New Orleans, Louisiana

As an individual raised in a family that attended church on a regular basis, I celebrate religious holidays. So Lent, Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday are no exceptions. However, as a child I celebrated Lent differently than I do now.

Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Of course, there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday-the start of Lent and Easter Sunday. But apparently SOME days don’t count. The purpose of Lent is fasting. A religious fasting, not a diet fasting. (Fasting as a diet is a trend.)

Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is also Fat Tuesday. But I confuse Mardi Gras with the entire Carnival season. I think I am too old to enjoy the debauchery of a New Orleans Mardi Gras. But, the city definitely knows how to usher in Lent! Mardi Gras Day parades in the New Orleans area started this morning at 8:00 a.m. If you happen to be in New Orleans visit my NOLA blog post for some good restaurant recommendations.

Fat Tuesday-Deadline for Resolution

I began sacrificing during Lent in college. Before that, Lent was a countdown to Easter, but the churches we attended did not emphasize the fasting. Then, I attended a Catholic college and thus adopted the tradition of giving up something for Lent. Upon moving to the town where I now live, we chose to raise our family in a Protestant church that also observes sacrificing during Lent.

Most of the time I have no trouble deciding what to give up during Lent. Many years it has been some form of sugar. Last year, in no small part due to reading The Case Against Sugar, I gave up all sugars. The year before, I gave up stress. Tough for someone with a Type A personality. Both years were eye-opening.

However, this year I am procrastinating. So much so that I re-read my post on procrastination. It reminded me that I can reduce stress by making a decision. Additionally, I asked for input on one of my social networking accounts. The two replies suggested adding something or reducing time spent on social media. Well, it was my first post in 2019 so I don’t think I am spending too much time there. Maybe not enough, since I missed the birth of a child to someone I hold dear.

Time is running out. Since I consider Lent as a time of improvement as well as sacrifice, I plan to add something to each day. Missing the news of a little ones arrival hits home at just how reclusive I have become. So during each day of Lent I plan to reach out and touch base with someone I care about. Especially if I have not communicated with that person in a while.

I will even jump the gun and start on Fat Tuesday. This commitment has lots of flexibility. I can pick up the phone, drop a note via snail mail or direct message someone. But it will be a different someone for 40 days. Who knows? Maybe I will invite one of you over to dinner. I am now looking forward to the challenge of Lent.

The Third Gate Book Review

I am a big fan of Lincoln Child so I checked out The Third Gate for reading on a snowy weekend. Even though I find mummies super scary, I gave The Third Gate a try. I am glad I did. Child once again delivers.

The protagonist of The Third Gate is Jeremy Logan. In addition to teaching classes at Yale, Logan is an enigmalogist. Logan has been contacted by an old classmate, Ethan Rush. Dr. Rush runs a clinic which studies near death experiences. But he is also involved on an archaeological site in Egypt. So Rush acts as the intermediary between Porter Stone, the financier of the search for an ancient burial-place, and Logan.

Logan’s job is to determine if the series of incidents at the archaeological site are human driven or other worldly. Both are possibilities since the burial site has its own curse. Indeed both scenarios come into play.

The Third Gate Setting

The setting of The Third Gate is the Sudd. Child does a great job in describing this moving swamp of the Nile. (But if you need a visual click here for a short You Tube look.) This particular pharaoh’s tomb is underneath the murky water. Of course, this adds to the novel’s suspense.

Curse

As an enigmalogist, Logan is on hand for key parts of the dig. He is expected to solve the puzzle of the numerous accidents. But he is also on hand to aid Dr. Rush’s oversight of a near death survivor’s communication with the other world.

Another key character is Dr. Christina Romero an Egyptologist. She is a scientist skeptical of Logan’s talents and beliefs. The two clash but form a friendship over common values.

Lincoln Child has written a book that explores both human and otherworldly good and evil. The pace of the book keeps the reader turning pages. Those of you that seek out scary mummy stories will love The Third Gate.

 

February 2019 Wrap Up

Action-packed describes the twenty-eight days of February 2019. The month started out with a refurbishing kitchen project. Perhaps a better description is a face lift. The work continues as you can see from the pictures. A two-week drive across the country to celebrate an eightieth birthday contributed to the action of the month. Throw in some reading, quilting and garden planning and the end of February 2019 is nigh.

Kitchen Project

Textured dark wall paper on lower third of wallThe old wallpaper is history. A mixture of warm water and vinegar in equal parts aids in the peeling. I found spraying the wall with the mixture and waiting just a few minutes helped a lot. The timing is important though. After ten minutes, the paper was almost dry. (I live in a very dry climate.) So it is important to treat small areas at a time. I used about two quarts of vinegar in the process.

The next step involved applying a new coat of wallpaper primer. Once that was completed I marked the breakfast room wall to indicate the division between the two wallpapers. So far only the bottom paper is up. The top is on today’s schedule. The chair rail will be tile. But this tile came in square foot sheets. So I asked my favorite contractor to assist in cutting the tile.

A strategy is needed for the tile. Because the tile is a Koala Gray basket weave tile, which you can view here the application will be complicated. I think we have a solution, but I haven’t reach that step yet. So it is still a bit of an unknown. But the tile is cut in thirds and it is ready and waiting.

I also tore out the old back splash. Murphy’s Law dictated the last tile off pulled off a chunk of drywall. However, my contractor is lined up to do the repair. In the meantime, the remaining tile adhesive scraped off with a bit of elbow grease. Hand scraping tile glue from wallAfter that was completed, I coated the wall with KILZ 2 acrylic. I plan to use a mixed tile design here that I am quite excited about. Additional pictures will be forthcoming.

Back splash area after a coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic applied.
A coat of KILZ 2 Acrylic prepares the surface for repair.

Cross  Country Trip

In the middle of February 2019 (and the kitchen project) I drove across half a dozen states or so to reach the warm, sunny climate of Florida. Since I was not born there I am not a native. But, I spent much of my childhood in this state and consider it home. Of course much, like some is a qualifier.

I prefer to travel by car or train because you can see so much of the countryside. Yes, there is a need for air travel-so my hope is the U.S. Congress does not seriously consider a proposal to outlaw that mode of transportation. But, when time permits I opt crossing by land. I shared much in my Travel Thoughts post.

February 2019 Hobbies

Our weather at home has been cold and snowy. So, very little time was spent outside. I pruned the grapevines one day when the temperature reached the upper fifties. But most of February 2019 was spent indoors.

Quilt top before layeringI am currently hand quilting the Love Panel Quilt. The next baby in the family is due in early June. I think she will enjoy the bright reds and pinks. Even though I use a machine to piece the quilts I make, the hand quilting relaxes me. It takes a bit of extra time.

February 2019 Books

Many reading recommendations arrived in February 2019. Some I have completed. But I was thrilled earlier this week to receive a package in the mail from a fellow book lover. She gifted me with The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Both look fantastic. The non-fiction work I am now reading is Jeff Gerke’s The First 50 Pages.

My library check-outs are Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. I loved her The Thirteenth Tale which I read many years ago. Also, The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict caught my eye. The latter, Like the Heather Morris book above are fictional accounts of true people and events.

Even though February 2019 is a short month, or perhaps because, I accomplished quite a bit. My goal is to have the kitchen project wrapped up by the end of March. My hope is the below zero temperatures will then be history, at least until the next winter season rolls around. I am anxious to return to gardening.

The Cuban Affair Book Review

Book cover with palm tree and ocean on frontIntrigue, espionage, or thievery? With a tad bit of a love story thrown in, each describes The Cuban Affair. If it weren’t for the publication date, late 2017, one would think the book was written in response to the 2018 American election results. Subtle and not so subtle references to millennials’ acceptance of communism and/or socialism are scattered throughout the novel.

Author Nelson DeMille uses a first person protagonist, Daniel MacCormick to narrate this action adventure. MacCormick, or Mac as he prefers to be called, is a veteran of the war against the Taliban. His first mate is Jack, a Vietnam vet. The two men charter The Maine, a 42-footer, out of Key West.

A Miami based Cuban lawyer approaches Mac for an unusual charter, a fishing competition in Cuba; part of the thawing of relations between the two countries. But there is a catch-or two. Jack will skipper the boat while Mac flies into Cuba. He is to provide back-up to Sara, a Cuban-American architect. So, the pair join a Yale alumni organized cultural exchange group.

Cuban Affair of the Heart

Sara’s goal is to steal back property titles and hidden money before full relations are restored between the United States and Cuba. She needs a love affair as cover for her departure from the group. For Mac’s part, he may just be falling in love. But can he trust her?

The action adventure has a major plot twist. Both Mac and Jack utilize their combat skills. There is deceit and lots of political commentary. DeMille is clear with his warnings about communism. I hope this book reaches the crowd in America warming to the Marxist doctrine. The picture DeMille paints through his description of poverty and hardship in Cuba is accurate. Everyone making the same wage only benefits those running the government. The Cuban Affair provides a good look at the economic woes of communism.

Fact or Fiction

A quick call to my favorite military historian as well as an Internet search left me unsure of the factual basis of the major plot twist. Plausible, yes. Possible, maybe. But actual fact? I will leave that for you to decide for yourself.

The Cuban Affair is a good read. Thanks go out for the recommendation. The action adventure genre is not one that I read on a regular basis as I prefer mysteries. But, I enjoyed the writing, the characters and the message. DeMille provides a male point of view of romance. No hearts and flowers, lots of basic human needs. This is not a sweet historical fiction romance. The Cuban Affair captures your attention on many levels. Give it a try.

Travel Thoughts

Rand McNally Large Print Road Atlas
Road Atlas- a good back-up to GPS.
The past two weeks I drove from the heartland of America to an Eastern Seaboard state. And back. So, I plan to share some of my travel thoughts now that I am once again ensconced in cold winter weather. My trip to Florida was to celebrate a family milestone and to deliver some canned goods, a quilt and other items.

Airlines don’t particularly like canned liquids as carry-on items. Shipping overland can work for the food items if they are processed correctly, but I just don’t trust anybody to deliver my quilts. I consider them works of love as well as art. A bonus this trip was returning with two very old quilts from my mom’s side of the family. Both need some TLC. (Tender Loving Care)

The Southern Route

Travelling thousands of miles across country by car during winter requires flexibility for me. I dislike driving in snow and am finally wise enough not to drive on ice. (Age does have benefits, and experience is one of them.) Thus, a February trip dictated a southern route.

There are multiple paths to cross the country when the Sunshine State is the destination. Much of the time I opt for a 45 degree angle. The tangent cuts out some of the mileage. But the first of my travel thoughts was to reach the deep south as quickly as possible. This took me via Interstate 10, a route I had not traveled in many years.

This highway runs from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. While I have not traversed the far western parts, I am very familiar with the Eastern half. But, I did forget just how much of that is bridges and causeways. Unless you have a fear of heights or driving across long expanses of water, this is a pleasant drive in good weather. However heavy rain can create a negative experience.

The second of my travel thoughts revolved around Travel Safety issues. Since I was travelling alone, I wanted to stop each night before dark. This meant dividing the drive as equally as possible. I tend to drive at the speed limit so the complete drive takes about 26 hours, give or take an hour. This equidistant concern meant by-passing relatives and staying in hotels. During the summer, the longer days allow me to drive longer and further. Thus, no need for the equal legs.

Flexibility

The key component of the winter trip is flexibility. While I did have a specific date to celebrate, my arrival and departure around that date was flexible. Since I consult weather maps and forecasts on a regular basis, I knew just what sources to use.
My favorite Internet site for both radar maps and written forecasts belongs to the National Weather Service. Their warnings are accurate. The site is a secure one, which I value.

Also, I routinely visit the transportation sites of various states to keep updated on road conditions. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation website is a treasure because it offers links to the surrounding states. This was very helpful as I traveled across that state. It offered great flexibility in planning my route returning home as a series of winter storms rolled across the country.

People

One of the key joys in travelling across the country are the people. I tend to stay in smaller towns and stop for fuel in these locales as well. Of course, size is relative. But each night spent on the road was in a town with a population under 20,000. Clerks young and old offer good tips. Favorite restaurants are always discussed. Furthermore, the clerks are cognizant of road conditions.

Many of the places I passed through have doubled or tripled in size since I was young. Their small town feel and charm is beginning to disappear. However, towns on the high plains look like they are losing population. Other small towns in the deep south are also struggling with retaining residents. A location on an interstate does not guarantee economic growth.

The cities are bigger and busier. Fortunately, one of my travel thoughts was to pass through the large cities on weekends and holidays. The one instance where that was not possible, flexibility allowed me to pass through at a non-rush hour time. In my opinion, the drivers in the cities were more stressed and not as courteous. But, my small town bias may be clouding my judgement.

Interstate Travel

I tend to favor travelling on good state highways and U.S. highways as opposed to the Interstate. I made the exception this time. Driving in the winter can be iffy and I wanted four lane divided roads. One of the interesting aspects of the drive was the placement of hotels by the big chains.

Another, was the rise of super convenience stores. I stopped at a Buc-ee’s along Interstate 10 and was amazed at the sheer size. Dozens of fuel pumps and the inside looked like a Cracker Barrel on steroids, just no tables to sit at. Lots of food choices all freshly prepared before you. Goods from fishing to kitchen to beach. I could have shopped for an hour.

Final Travel Thoughts

Before I travel across this great nation again, I need to buy a good quality digital camera, or upgrade my five-year old phone. Of course, I also need to somehow think as a photographer. Many missed opportunities along the way.

Travelling across the country reminds me of the diversity of this nation. In one locale I was in the minority, in others a majority. But most places I was among a very mixed population. I stayed within my comfort level. For the most part this meant keeping my introvert traits. Not striking up any deep conversations. Maintaining pleasantries and only asking pertinent questions.

Playing it safe.

Break Point Book Review

Break Point kept me reading into the night. The novel by Richard A. Clarke is a fast paced thriller complete with competing spy agencies from various nations. As is the case with many books in this genre, Clarke keeps the reader guessing with his many plot twists. But the edge of your seat action and sci-fi elements really set the story apart.

The protagonist is an analyst for one of the alphabet agencies in Washington, D.C. Susan Connor is height challenged and frustrated with Jimmy Foley, a NYPD detective her team has been saddled with. But her boss throws the two together to track down the party responsible for disabling the East Coast power grid.

In addition to the quick paced action, I love the characters. Especially the women. They are smart and courageous. When Susan faces danger, Jimmy is off on his own assignment. She is not bailed out by a man to the rescue. I also like the fact that she has a mentor, Professor Margaret Myers, who challenges Susan to fulfill the mantra Facts, Gaps, Theory and Analysis.

The plot is multi-layered. In addition to old-fashioned bombs, tactics include cyber war. A further twist involves politicians and wealthy businessmen leery about artificial intelligence and genomics. Throw in a corrupt general or two from multiple nations both friend and foe and Break Point delivers the action.

Break Point

This was the first book of Richard Clarke’s that I have read. My research indicates he writes both fiction and non-fiction. Break Point is clearly fiction. But I did find the Author’s Note at the end of the book quite interesting. He weaves futuristic ideas into the plot. Apparently the future is now. Just a tad bit scary for me. Make sure you take the time to read this supplementary information.

I recommend Break Point to any reader favoring action and deception. I also believe women will like and identify with Susan Connor. The geeky Soxter, a hacker is a good supporting character, and unlike Susan, I liked Jimmy Foley as well. The many minor characters added to the plot twists.

Clarke was so knowledgeable that I plan to look for some of his non-fiction books. Of course I think his fiction was quite enjoyable. Break Point was published over ten years ago, so check your local library first.

I want to thank one of my loyal readers for this recommendation. With all the reading material out there it can be easy to miss something worthwhile when it first comes out. Somehow I missed Break Point, but I enjoyed the eye-opening thriller. Biotech discoveries are a two-sided coin and society has much to think about. Thus, Clarke’s novel provides entertainment and reflection. Definitely my kind of book.

Daydreams of the Aging

You’re So Very Welcome

I can’t quite remember the quote about bravery and aging, but the gist is that growing old isn’t easy. Nor is watching someone with dementia or like condition. I am not there yet so I can’t give a first-hand account. But something I witnessed today at a nursing home put a new spin on aging. For the short-term, a differentiation between the sexes based on the experiences of yesteryear.

It was a beautiful morning and several of the residents were enjoying the open air of a back porch. Among the group were a pair of 80ish folks. Each was accompanied by a family member. And each dozed off and on. But here the similarities ended. In my opinion the differences hinged on sex. As in male or female.

DayDreaming

I do not know the background of the gentleman. But he is certainly of an age to have experienced the draft. Therefore, from what happened I suspect he saw battle. The solitude was abruptly broken with a cry of “he has a knife, watch out.” It took his family member some time to calm him down. He gradually became aware of his surroundings. But we all experienced his terror albeit briefly. From the conversation, it seems these day terrors were recent, after a fall.

On the other hand, the second day dreamer I know a great deal about since I belong to her. She is suffering from dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s. She did not comment on the outburst from her co-resident. Instead she drifted back to sleep.
But the next time she awoke she too spoke out into the quietude: “You are so very welcome.” These pleasant words were accompanied by an infectious smile. I truly hope when I reach this stage my daydreams are similar.

Much is known about the aging process, but there are still mysteries. I am very interested in the aging of the brain. However, until today I had not considered how the sex of the individual might predispose the symptoms. I am sure there are studies but I have not looked for the research. If any of you know, please share in the comment section.

Women: From the Maternity Ward to the Battlefield

Of course there are instances of women in the midst of battle. The review of We Band of Angels discusses the story of the nurses caught in the Philippines during World War II. The late 1970s ushered in an era of women and matriculation at the military academies. So it is possible that instead of a bias from gender, one needs to look at experience. But some experiences do come with a gender bias. Men may be present during childbirth but they still do not undergo labor.

All in all it was an eye-opening day. PTSD is present long after the stressful experience. How this affects our brains as we age and the triggers, such as a fall as we get older is something I plan to research. I also wish to find scientific studies involving gender and aging. Even though it may be redundant, I still hope my aging has daydreams ending in “You are so very welcome!”

Organic Hobby Farming Book Review

Organic Hobby Farming

Andy Tomolonis shares gardening knowledge and so much more in his text Organic Hobby Farming: A Practical Guide to Earth-Friendly Farming in Any Space. Even though the sub-title includes the term any space, most of the book is geared toward gardening on a slightly bigger scale than most households. However, the author himself lives in suburbia. Thus, anyone can gain from Organic Hobby Farming.

The first six chapters focus on the organic. Tomolonis starts with evaluating the land. He gives tips an assessing both grounds and property structures. He focuses on small amounts of land. The book includes tips on finding farmland. Furthermore, questions to ask about zoning if you plan to stay within city limits are included. Also, references to websites and agencies both in the United States and in Canada that provide further information are cited.

After extensively discussing elements needed for a good property to farm, the second chapter turns to tools of the trade. Again the information is useful and the tips provide actual value to your pocketbook. In addition to describing various tools, both hand and machine, the author shares how the implements must be cared for in order to comply with organic farming.

Soil Care

Chapter three discusses the science of the soil better than any book I have previously read. The diagrams and photos gave a great understanding of soil composition. The information given by ph table and the points on soil typing are easily understood. Tomolonis incorporates the natural ways to improve soils into the chapter. This informative chapter includes composting, soil sampling and testing.

Calendar of Farm Chores

Organic Hobby Farming gets to the heart of organic gardening in chapters four, five and six. Chapter four contains a calendar of farm chores. Tomolonis shares the fact he is in zone 6 and explains how readers in other zones can adapt the information. Each month goes into detail what needs to take place on the farm (or in your yard) that month. For example, the book highlights floating cover crops during cooler weather and pests and diseases once the temperature warms up.

While chapter 5 extends the discussion on bugs and distinguishes beneficial from bad, the information focuses on individual plants. Not every vegetable known to man has its own spotlight. But the book details those typically grown at home or found at a farmer’s market. Also, the chapter discusses herbs.

Tomolonis gives great information on each highlighted edible. He begins with the basics. The reader learns about the plant family, key points about sowing, growing times and harvest lengths. Then Organic Hobby Farming details soil temperature, ph needs and germination.

The author indicates the ease of growth, shares varieties and my favorite, discusses companions. (For more information on companion planting, click here.) But the information does not stop there. Tomolonis gives tips on growing, pests, diseases, challenges and harvesting. He concludes each synopsis with marketing tips. Organic Hobby Farming is geared toward selling produce.

Chapter six focuses on berries and fruit trees. A caveat about what can be planted gives readers a glimpse on why this chapter is quite a bit thinner than the preceding one. The advice is good and Tomolonis is spot on with the information shared. However, if you want to grow grapes you will need to find another source.

Switching to Animals

The author begins discussing farm animals and their potential income in Chapter 7. Chickens are the topic of this chapter. Tomolonis shares the requirements to label both eggs and meat organic. This is timely information for those living in America. Across this country, many cities are allowing chickens back into the backyard. Organic Hobby Farming is a great resource to read before you build a chicken coop.

Next in the animal section is a chapter on honeybees, rabbits and goats. After chickens, these three animals are most likely to be found on a small homestead or even in suburbia depending on zoning laws. Once again, the author provides outstanding information in the “Easy Does It” sidebars. Other tips and tricks are abundant throughout.

Organic Hobby Farming Marketing Tips

The final two chapters are business related. Tomolonis has one chapter with information on marketing your organic produce. Much like the beginning chapters much of the information shared is specific. Quite a bit of time is spent on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). These co-operatives are located across the country.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the book is the last chapter. Tomolonis stresses the importance of developing a business plan for your Organic Hobby Farm. The advice is good. If you plan to sell any of your produce, or even just have honeybees, you need to think about liability issues. I found this chapter as important as those focused on the crops.

If you are serious about gardening, especially organic gardening, I encourage you to buy this book. It is quickly becoming a go-to book in my home library. Andy Tomolonis provides great information applicable for any serious gardener.

Boondocks Connections

Living in the boondocks as I do, one has to put up with frequent interruptions in modern communication connections. Bandwidth available for use of the Internet is considerably less in sparsely populated areas. Additionally, cell service, even though on alternate frequencies, is spotty in rural areas. The commercials for national carriers brag about 99% coverage. I think the one percent without coverage all live in the boondocks.

Frustrations abound for anyone trying to work from home living in a rural location if that work includes communicating via Internet. The website Tech Terms does a nice job of explaining how bandwidth works. Their analogy of sending varying amounts of sand through a tube gives a great visual.

In our little town, Fridays and weekends when the kids are home from school are peak traffic times for the Internet. First thing in the morning is also tough. Perhaps people are checking their email or searching for overnight news. For someone trying to work, the slowdown or inaccessibility is quite frustrating.

But are there any solutions? There are a plethora of articles on the subject. An online article on the site The Conversation titled Reaching rural America with broadband internet service posits several ideas. But all come with a cost. Obviously, if connecting the rural areas of the country made a profit, the connections would exist. Just how much of the cost should be subsidized? And who pays for the subsidy?

Cell Service

The internet is not the only spotty connection affecting rural areas. Within 30 minutes of my small town in just about any direction are pockets of no service. In fact, one country home, built just yards from a large carrier transmission line is without access to landlines.

The spotty coverage results in a danger for those needing emergency services. Out of area travelers beware. No service readings are common. Calling for roadside help may be impossible, if any national branded help is even in the area. Often the roadside assistance carriers in rural areas only contract via reimbursement. Thus, a company will require a payment at the time. Then you file the claim with your roadside insurance company. Even just for a jump-start. A far cry from the service found in our cities.

Those of us living in the boondocks understand the difficulties in communication. Most of the time we make do. But productivity can suffer. Furthermore, to stay on top of things we must be organized and plan ahead. For example, students with online classes run the risk of not completing assignments on time due to sketchy connections. Therefore, individuals must complete tasks beforehand. Thus, in actuality rural students have less time to complete the work.

Work Arounds

At this point in time, residents of the boondocks must make do. Jobs dependent on glitch free connections are not an option. But with careful planning most other careers are doable. Writing is a good example. As long as one stays ahead of deadlines, submissions can be made.

Origin of Boondocks

A side note for the history buffs, boondocks came into use in The United States of America at the turn of the 20th Century. The word originates from the Tagalog word bundok. The Tagalog people and language hail from the Philippine Island of Luzon. At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, war broke out between the United States and Philippine nationalists. The nationalists did not care for any authority and desired independence. The war was very bloody with losses on both sides.

Just recently, church bells appropriated by U.S. troops were returned to the Philippines and the people of Balangiga. For a complete story read this NPR story. Returning the warehouse stored bells makes sense to me.

A great information source discovered while researching the origin of “Boondocks” is a “retired” website established by the State Department. There is no ongoing maintenance but the site is chock full of historical information. You can access it by clicking here.

 

Pandemic Book Review

Book cover of Pandemic by Robin CookPandemic by Robin Cook opened my eyes to the dark side of the biotech world. Protagonist Dr. Jack Stapleton, a New York City medical examiner, fears an influenza virus is the cause of a sudden death on the subway of a young woman. He is wrong about the cause of death. But his instincts are on target.

Stapleton is married to his boss, Dr. Laurie Montgomery. There is quite a bit of tension in their relationship. Both at home and at the office, tempers flare. Jack begins to shut his wife out. In the end this puts his life in jeopardy.

Organ Transplant

At the center of the plot is a young heart transplant patient. The reader watches her race along the subway platform in order to catch a train. She makes it. Her heart beat returns to normal. Then death strikes. The first symptom is a chill followed by breathing difficulties. She dies before reaching her destination.

The autopsy reveals a heart transplant, with the heart in fantastic shape. But the lungs are filled with pus. Stapleton hypothesizes death by virus, but pathology tests are inconclusive. To make things worse, the patient is a Jane Doe. Stapleton, unwilling to face problems on the home front, buries his troubles in his quest to identify both the woman and her cause of death.

Characters

This was the first Robin Cook novel I had read, so all the characters were new to me. But to existing fans there are both recurring and fresh faces in the story. For a new reader, the returning characters were not as richly developed as the newbies. Only the stress of living with a special needs child defines the relationship of Stapleton and Montgomery.

CRISPR/Cas9

The acronym CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Cas9 is a protein. A better explanation of this genetic breakthrough than I can give can be found in this video from University of California-Berkeley

Cook uses the novel Pandemic to introduce the promises of CRISPR/Cas9 as well as the serious consequences of the misuse of technology. The possibilities remain to be seen. But, birth defects such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are among the targets for this technology.

Mirroring Trends

I found it unsurprising that a billionaire capitalist was the villain of the story. Nor was I surprised that the communist leaning millennial son saves the day for both Stapleton and the world. Yet, the virus was concocted by the son. Definitely some mixed message in this book.

Cook even throws in some comments from the son of how divisive America is as compared to a more unified younger Chinese population:

In dialogue, the young man states: “We Chinese university-age generation are all on the same page, whether we are in school in Wuhan, or Canberra, or Paris, or Boston. We are of the same mind-set to truly make China great again, pardon the hackneyed phrase. Whereas here in the USA there is depressing divisiveness and a kind of anti-immigrant neotribalism that is getting progressively worse, in China we millennials are coming together.” (Cook, 2018, page 372)

My economic background understands mixed economies. Capitalist societies have some socialism within the market. The same holds true for the other “isms.” I tend to cringe when I read praise for Communism and Socialism. But we have a generation raised after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fears of yesterday disappear as time marches forward.

Pandemic is worth reading. Cook brings attention to a rapidly changing world. Yet, pausing to think about the consequences of the change has merit. Let me know what you think of this novel.
For those of you interested in learning more about gene therapy the following website is informative:

https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

January 2019 Wrap-Up

January 2019 Wrap-Up

The first month of the year flies by for our family and January 2019 was no exception. In addition to the many birthdays celebrated, a new great-nephew was born. He is the recipient of The Train Quilt which you can read about by clicking here.

New Projects

Winter is a great time for indoor projects. I live too far north to count on any extended outdoor time. This year has been colder than last, so the pruning of the grape vines is still on the “to do” list. But, I am still spending some time perusing through the seed catalogs both online as well as the hard copies received in the mail.

Tiles being knocked off from wallLest you think I have been lazing about, I am sharing some photos of my latest remodeling project. This is an easy remodel for the most part. I am stripping the wallpaper in the kitchen and breakfast room. Additionally, I am replacing the back splash over the cook top. Unlike the popular home remodel shows on television, I am striving not tear up the dry wall behind the tile.

My old wallpaper was beautiful. In fact one of my youngest daughter’s acquaintances once remarked on the homey feel the kitchen had. But, the wallpaper was over twenty years old and was dating the house.

In my travels, I had noticed the use of textured wallpapers in many of the hotels I stayed in. So I decided to look in that direction. I found some scrubbable paper with texture. As I am just starting on the tear down, I plan to provide full details in a later post.

Tile and wall paper samples in gray tones.
Some of the samples for the kitchen re-do.

Hobbies

The new projects include two of my hobbies. I have started a new acrylic painting. Usually when I paint a landscape involving mountains, the perspective is one of looking up. But this time I am attempting to look down from the mountain top. Definitely tricky.

I am also working on the design for a two-sided quilt. One side will be a panel quilt with a Bohemian look. The other side will be a modified Train Quilt. The train will be a circus train. Not politically correct, but fortunately newborns know nothing of politics.

Reading Selection

The seasonable weather is also offering a chance to whittle down the pile of books to be read. Of course this pile will never disappear since I continue to visit my local library and the neighborhood Little Free Library. But reading is one of my greatest pleasures. So no complaint intended.

Books read and not yet reviewed include the latest Stephanie Plum book (Look Alive Twenty-Five) from Janet Evanovich, Breakpoint by Richard Clarke and Everything for Everyone by Nathan Schneider. Two books reviewed but not yet posted include Pandemic by Robin Cook (which will appear tomorrow on Econogal) and Organic Hobby Farming by Andy Tomolonis.

I continue to read the Wall Street Journal. Our household receives magazine subscriptions as Christmas gifts, so I enjoy both The Economist as well as Better Homes and Gardens. Visiting the garden used in the latter publication was a highlight last summer which you can read about by clicking here.

While visiting my local library, I noticed a list of New Year’s resolutions for young readers. A full-page of resolutions centered on ways to expand reading. For example, the resolutions included reading a biography and reading various genres. I like this idea. So, I plan to incorporate some of the resolutions into my reading habits.

As always please feel free to share recommendations.