Valentine’s Day is Special

Valentine’s Day is special to me. Not for the flowers, or the cards or even the chocolate candy that my sweet tooth often craves. But for the birth of my father. If he did not exist then naturally I would not be here. Life is precious.

Mom and Dad

My parents, like many couples that have passed their 50th Anniversary have a special relationship. One cultivated by time. Shared accomplishments tempered by disappointments. Shared losses dulled by new joys. My hope is that her dementia does not cloud her understanding of today’s double celebration.

Growing up, Valentine’s Day meant a heart shaped birthday cake for Dad. Double chocolate with both cake and icing originating at one point in time from the cocoa bean. But at our house Betty Crocker did her share of the prep.

Valentine’s Day 2020

This year marks my Dad’s 81st celebration. I am not there in person but will be mindful of the love and guidance I have received over the years. Hopefully, his card has arrived. It is pretty darn hard to find those Birthday/Valentine’s Day combination cards.

Dad recently endured the last of his radiation treatments for the male breast cancer he is battling. The following day he made a five hour drive to see his brother who is also struggling with serious health issues. I talked with both men that day. Brotherly love emanated over the phone line. But I am sure the visit was bittersweet. It is hard to say goodbye.

Share the Love

The cynics I know view Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday. They cringe at the expense. But, the day can be celebrated on a budget. Dining in can be more romantic then going to a restaurant.

Furthermore, not everything needs to be purchased. I still remember my 4-H group making Valentine’s cards for the residents in the nursing home. The cost was not great but the joy was priceless.

Valentine’s Day is special. Share the love with family and friends. Life is finite but love is always expanding. Happy birthday Dad and all the other Valentine’s babies out there. If you can’t have a heart shaped cake this year look for heart shaped cookies- I think I will go make a batch.

Double Valentine's Day Themed Wreaths on an entrance
Happy Valentine’s Day

The Peanut Experiment

There was a smattering of snow on the ground this morning. Just enough to know moisture fell overnight. But my peanut experiment was already started. So I will just carry on.

Why Peanuts?

The High Plains is known more for grains. Legumes planted in the area tend to be soy or pinto. Peanuts are not grown commercially in this area. But they can be grown in the home garden.

I first planted peanuts in 2018. A nursery in a nearby city of 30,000 had some peanut plants for sale. Impulse buying struck and a four pack of peanuts made it into the cart. They survived in the raised bed but only a handful of peanuts were harvested.

peanut in raised bed
2018 Peanut Plant

Last year, I returned to the nursery specifically looking for the plants. After finding them, I doubled the purchase amount. The plants joined the garden on Mother’s Day. A late frost a few days after nipped the garden and delayed the growth.

However, the end result was a positive one. The peanut harvest yielded over a pound of peanuts. Not bad for about six feet in a raised row. So this year, I am hoping for another successful season.

The Peanut Experiment

Peanuts need warm soil and a long growing season. Starting the seeds indoors should help me get a step up on the planting. Plus, I will know before May if my starts are viable. If I fail, I can always make the two hour trip to the nursery for the professionally grown bedding plants. (Yes, a two hour drive gets you to a “nearby” city.)

After last year’s harvest, the peanuts were hung to dry in the garage much like the garlic. I then sorted through the crop before storing in a recycled flour bag. Pods that looked iffy were pulled aside. My thought was to use those for seed.

The Method

Last night after extracting the peanuts from the culled shells, I questioned the viability of the seed. So, I pulled some of the good pods from storage. As you can see from the pictures, they look much better before soaking.

I then decided to create the peanut experiment. I divided the nice looking peanuts into two groups. One half was soaked overnight and one left dry. Further, all the poor looking peanuts were also soaked overnight. I was amazed at how much they plumped from the soaking.

I picked the best six from each group for planting. Each type is in a separate container and the containers are clearly labeled. Small pebbles were placed over the drainage holes. This keeps the soil from escaping during watering but allows for drainage.

The same seed starting soil is in each of the containers. The soil was moistened before the seeds were place about 1 ½ inches deep. Additional soil was scattered over the seed. It should be noted that I did not use an inoculant. I want a baseline to measure by. Inoculants can be beneficial, but that is another post!

During the day, the growing pots will be kept near a South facing window because I do not have “grow” lights. Last year, my started seeds were placed on boxes and the boxes stood beneath the LED light above the cook top overnight. Once seeds have sprouted, I may repeat this if the stems seem spindly. However, the larger seed pod makes me think this will not be needed.

Legumes and Soil Enrichment

In addition to enjoying the peanuts as a snack, growing legumes is good in the garden. To be honest, the harvested peanuts are secondary to using the plants as nitrogen fixers. Peas are also good for the soil, but they seldom last past late June as the heat becomes too much.

However, the peanuts thrive in the heat. Their pretty yellow flowers attract pollinating insects. Last but not least, they remind me of the Deep South.

Enjoy the slide show.

  • Peanuts in shell
    Culled Peanuts set aside for seed.
  • Shell peanuts for eating
    Peanuts originally saved to eat
  • Bag of Peanuts
    Bag of Peanuts
  • Shelled peanuts poor quality
    Shelled peanuts from culled group.
  • Peanuts soaking in measuring cup
    Peanuts soaking overnight
  • Shelled peanuts
    Shelled peanuts from edible group
  • non-soaked peanuts
    Non-soaked peanuts
  • Soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from culled group
  • Edible soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from edible group
  • Three groups of seed
    Comparison of soaked and non-soaked seeds
  • Pots Labled
    Pots Labled
  • Small rocks plugging holes in bottom of pots
    Rocks plugging holes in pots
  • Pots and rocks
    Getting ready to plant
  • Seed Starter Soil in Pots
    Adding Seed Starter Soil

Force of Nature Book Review

Jane Harper scores another win with Force of Nature. This second novel featuring Federal Agent Aaron Falk follows in the footsteps of The Dry. Plot twists keep the reader in suspense throughout. Best of all, Harper’s characters are so real and like-able, this reader was dismayed when the suspicion focused on one of the individual’s I most connected with among the potential culprits.

Remote Australia

The setting for Force of Nature is the Giralang Ranges, a remote area of Australia. Ten individuals from a company that Falk is investigating are on a corporate retreat. The group is divided evenly by gender and each team is sent on a different route. The purpose is to create a bond. But the women’s group is late to the rendezvous. Finally, four of the five women return, battered by the force of nature. Snake bit, concussed, bruised and stories that don’t quite add up equate a less than optimal outcome for the missing woman.

Of course, Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper rush to the scene when their inside informant is the one who turns up lost. The remoteness of the area along with the topography and vegetation of this fictional National Park make finding the missing woman difficult. Furthermore, the duo can’t be certain how their investigation of the company is involved.

Force of Nature

Jane Harper weaves a wonderful plot. Her pivoting between action and reflection is well done. Also, her sub-story of teen bullying and sexting adds just the right amount of uncertainty. Both kinship and friendship undergo excruciating stresses during this team building exercise when the women face the force of nature.

If you have not read any of Harper’s novels, I urge you to look for them. The writing is outstanding. I have yet to read her latest, but I am sure it will be every bit as suspenseful as Force of Nature. Jane Harper is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I plan to read her next, The Lost Man, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

February Freeze

Striped cat atop a cat seatOut here on the High Plains of the United States it is not unusual to have a mild January followed by a February freeze. It appears that 2020 will maintain that historical pattern. So, even though Groundhog Day was pleasantly mild, the frigid weather is upon us.

This past weekend it was really hard not to stick some seeds into the ground. Perfect weather for puttering around in the garden. Temperatures reached into the upper 60s and lower 70s. But the forecast was for a quick turn-around. The lows over the next few nights call for single digit temperatures and even possibly below zero.

Sure enough Tuesday morning brought snow and cold. The much needed moisture is welcome. So far, the snow is gently falling. Beautiful to look at and not as dangerous for livestock.

Furthermore, the weather pundits are predicting another storm and then another. This change in pattern is one that often occurs, bringing moisture along with the February freeze. After many years as a transplant to this part of the world, I have finally learned not to let January fool me.

Indoor Activities

For the most part, kids still have school although there were a few two hour delays. Individual school administrators determine how much time if any the kids have for outdoor recess. Determining factors include outside temperatures and whether or not the wind kicks up. Wind chill is dangerous in this part of the country.

Here at the house, I will keep busy in the quilt room with a break every once in a while to look for results from the Iowa Caucus. (Quite the Public Relations disaster.) But poor Sophie will be housebound. Her choice not mine.

Sophie’s Story

Sophie is the fourth cat I have ever shared a home with. My policy is only one animal at a time. (Gold fish are exempt.) One of my nieces found her as a tiny weeks-old kitten at one of the farm buildings. No mama or other kittens in sight. Frigid weather much like the February freeze we are currently experiencing. And if my memory serves right, a spot of snow.

Sophie was near death. But with bottle feedings from family members and meds from the local vet, she survived. She is small for a cat. In fact at four years, Sophie looks closer to nine months. Additionally, Sophie is the most loyal animal I have ever been around.

February Freeze Keeps Sophie Inside

Most days, Sophie is anxious to go outside. She likes nothing better than to accompany me around the yard chasing rabbits and jumping for grasshoppers. But, on cold days she doesn’t venture far. Add snow to the mix and she refuses to venture out. Instead she perches by the window and watches the snow come down. This February freeze is no exception.

Cat looking out at February freeze

 

January 2020 Wrap-Up

January 2020 has come and gone. I truly hope the month is not a harbinger for the rest of the year. January 2020 has been a bit tough on a personal level, quite rough on a national level, and downright disastrous on a global level.  But perhaps this numeric alliteration of a year will yet turn positive for all.

Delays in the Hobby Room

The newest quilt I am working on has been at the same stage for two weeks now. Multiple trips out of town combined with a tune up of my favorite sewing machine hampered my progress. So as the month ends, I plan to replace a concentration on fitness with the prioritization of quilt construction.

Although January temperatures have ranged from single digits to the 60’s, February tends to be more seasonal. Even if the month proves to be as mild as January 2020, my goal is to spend at least twenty hours a week quilting. This should be doable.

In the Kitchen

Most of my canning activities naturally take place during harvest. But in January 2020, I twice made Econogal’s Granola and dry canned the jars. There is a lot of concern over dry canning. My plans are not to use the process to store long term, but to increase the time my granola will stay fresh. On both occasions, the lids sealed nicely.

If you read the post on the granola, you will note that only six cups of oatmeal are involved. Thus, the output is not great. Since my family loves granola, I think this method will work for me. Of course I live in a very dry climate, so mold on food is almost non-existent.

In the Library

The month of January 2020 featured mystery and mayhem in the books read. Entertainment galore. My non-fiction reading was almost non-existent. So I need to strive for more balance. But sometimes a temporary escape from the stresses of life is best.

We continue to read the Ivy Malone series which I just recently discovered. I like finding books that appeal to different personalities. Book series are also favorites because I feel a familiarity to the characters from page one. Writers of good characterization are enviable. Plotting is relatively easy when compared to the challenges of bringing an imaginary character to life. Much less imaginary life forms.

Which brings to mind Nora Roberts 2019 release Of Blood And Bone. I am waiting for my turn to check-out the last in the series. I highly recommend the books in this series.

January 2020 National and Worldwide Events

Hopefully the sense of foreboding prevalent the first month of 2020 will be swept away by an upbeat second month. This can be the case if the impeachment process is properly conducted. The United States of America is a republic. The citizens elect representatives to govern. Currently, I have faith that the individuals representing me will make the right decisions. If not, there is the ballot box.

On the global front, this corona virus does concern me. While I personally am at low risk, I am apprehensive about the spread for both people and economies. The emerging markets are a prime target in both categories. Trust again comes into play.

But, individuals can also calmly get prepared. For starters, try to have a week to ten days of groceries on hand. This may seem impossible for families that are struggling and live week to week and paycheck to paycheck. But it is doable. Next time there is a two for one sale at the grocery store, put the second on a storage shelf saved for just-in-case.

Second, viruses can attack anybody. While not a medical professional, I have raised a passel of kids. I know sick days are inevitable. However, those who are run down fare worse. So, get plenty of sleep, exercise moderately, and drink plenty of fluids.

Most importantly of all, practice habits of good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Keep the kitchen clean and the linens fresh. Self-monitor your health. If you are feeling ill or unwell, keep your distance from others until you feel better.

Mental Health Practices

Many on social media are fretting about events beyond our control. Anyone extremely distressed should consider seeking professional help. We need to remember January 2020 is but a moment in time. So, I urge all of you to find a way to unwind from the stresses. The individuals in this house found it helpful to read. If you need some recommendations, scroll through the selections In The Library. I for one am looking forward to February 2020.

 

 

 

Invisible book Review

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney was released in 2004 but is a newly discovered series for me. And I enjoyed this murder mystery featuring retiree Ivy Malone. The novel falls into the category of entertaining vs. suspenseful. My first GOL (giggle out loud) occurred on page 13. A good omen in my opinion.

Ivy Malone

The novel opens with Ivy and Thea, her neighbor and fellow widow, visiting a cemetery, which has been vandalized. Unfortunately, the day is too much for Thea and she succumbs to natural causes. This leaves Ivy adrift. She no longer has a sidekick to experience life with.

Thus, Ivy begins to feel invisible. So she decides she can scout out the cemetery, cloaked in her figurative invisibility, to find the vandals. Her nightly stakeout of the graveyard entertains with just a touch of slapstick humor. But hoodlums are only the beginning.

Murder Plot

While Ivy is occupied with the nightly visits, Thea’s tenant Kendra disappears. Since Ivy is looking after Thea’s house she redirects her snooping to discovering what happened to the mysterious young woman.

Ivy forms a bound with a young police officer, Dix, due to the fact his grandparents lived down the street long ago. Even though Dix does not stay in charge of the investigation, his presence remains as Ivy tries to bring him back into a spiritual relationship.

McCourtney weaves a lot of Christianity into her characters as well as some romance for both the young and the not so young. Chemistry abounds between multiple characters with one of my favorite combinations that of Ivy and Mac MacPherson. Mac, while not central to the story certainly adds some spice.

Invisible

Ivy does not let anything slow her down. Her leads take her on several trips to Arkansas. But the excitement occurs when she returns home to Missouri and comes face to face with both the vandals and the murderer. Naturally, she comes out on top, at least until the trial.

I enjoyed the book to the extent I plan to check out the next in the series when I return Invisible. These fun reads have a definite place in my reading rotation. They offer a break from the seriousness of life. Much like a sitcom. But unlike sitcoms, the books remain on the shelves for new readers to discover instead of facing cancellation.

 

Of Blood And Bone Book Review

Of Blood And Bone is the second in the Chronicles of The One trilogy by Nora Roberts. I reviewed the first in the series, Year One, two years ago. This sequel came out last year but I am just now reading it. This delay had a purpose, because I can now go from the second installment to the finale without a large gap of time.

The tone Of Blood And Bone is a bit different than its predecessor. The initial novel centered on survival whereas the second book in the trilogy is a coming of age novel. To be truthful, I liked the sequel better than the start of the series. Perhaps because the back story was already known. Or maybe from the possibility of romance foreshadowed for the last book in the trilogy. Regardless, I really enjoyed Of Blood And Bone.

Fallon Swift

The center of the novel and indeed the trilogy is Fallon Swift. She is The One. Her birth ended the first of the series and her passage through puberty is the focus of the second. I love the character. She is an uncanny and hence otherworldly, yet she is human too.

Roberts has created a compelling persona in Fallon. She is mature one moment and immature the next. So like the teenager she is, caught between child and adult. Her lessons with Mallick are important for both plot and character growth. The pages fly through the telling.

Return to New Hope

Even though Of Blood And Bone has a very different tone, the climax once again is centered at the outpost called New Hope. History repeats itself with yet another of Fallon’s blood and bone meeting their end.

But before that happens, the reader reconnects with many of the original characters. Since fifteen years have passed, the babies are now front and center. And romance stirs.

Of Blood And Bone

I thoroughly enjoyed Of Blood And Bone. As stated above, I rate the novel above the first of the series. Furthermore, I am anxious to get my hands on the finale-The Rise of the Magicks. Now that the entire trilogy is out, I can see how one might binge read from start to finish. If only I were snowed in with no chores to do! Some binge watch television, but my idyll is to binge read by the fireplace!

Fantasy and futuristic fans should add Of Blood And Bone to their book lists. But, there is plenty to like for those who prefer a coming of age story. Best of all for those of us who love romance, there is a promise of just that for Fallon Swift.

 

 

In Defense of the Reader

Recently, a finance guy I follow on Twitter was very derisive of a claim that someone had read 300 books in one year. I was so disgusted by his sarcasm I almost un-followed him. But I didn’t. I find much that he writes thought provoking. And I don’t know the context or reason for his mockery. However, the whole Twitter feed prompted this post in defense of the reader who was mocked.

Books Read in 2019

Last year I read between 50 and 100 books. I try to review a book a week, but that did not always happen due to various circumstances. Additionally, I do not review each book read. From time to time I even don’t finish a book, but that is a rarity. But as a blogger that tries to review a book a week. I read a lot.

So would someone working in the publishing field. Editors, agents and literary scouts most likely read far more than I do. But, readers are not limited to just one field.

Learners

Books can be divided into many categories. Two of the broadest are fiction and non-fiction. Students read many, many non-fiction publications through the course of their lives. I remember the copious amount required for my master’s degree. One would think I would need a reading break during the Christmas break.

I did, from non-fiction. As soon as a semester was over I immersed myself in fiction. Often I would read two or more quick murder mysteries a day. Or binge on Janet Evanovich for much needed laughs. Diane Mott Davidson was a favorite too. I loved the characters and the recipes. In defense of the reader, I posit that all reading does not need to be non-fiction. Or thought provoking.

Maybe, just maybe, if the adults in my beloved country would occasionally read for fun we would not have the divisiveness that has begun to haunt the presidential election years. As well as the other years. Perhaps snarkiness (if covfefe can be a word why not snarkiness!) would abate.

Parents

I believe the most voracious readers of all are parents. My kids from oldest to youngest are eight years apart. I can remember going from one to another each night reading books as diverse as Dr. Seuss to Roald Dahl. Most nights involved over an hour of reading to them. Those of you who love economics as much as I do will understand I found the time spent reading to the kids far more valuable than an hour or so of television. In defense of the reader who claimed 300 books, I am sure some of those years I read thousands of books.

Perhaps the author of the original snarky comment’s intent was to stimulate responses. Many people use Twitter just to create controversy. I prefer to use that particular social media to stay abreast of news in the world. But I know many, such as the finance guru who spurred me to write this post seek attention through likes and comments.

In Defense of the Reader

From the amount of response generated, he achieved his goal. Aside from those who also doubted an individual’s ability to read almost a book a day and the supporters who brought up parental reading in defense of the reader were the following arguments:

  1. Books are expensive thus the original claimant was wasting money. My response: I know I spend more than the average person on books, but I also regularly visit the public library. Occasionally I visit the Little Free Library in my neighborhood. Libraries exist to reduce costs for the public.
  2. Many hours a day, up to eight would be required to read a book a day. My response: Reading speeds do vary, but for the most part I agree, reading takes time. However, there are others beside myself who choose reading over the television each evening. Time management is after all, basic economics.
  3. Not that many good books the world. My Response: To be honest this comment left me speechless.

Final Thoughts In Defense of the Reader

My final thoughts stemming from the Tweet are varied. How much of social media exists purely to divide the public? Does this happen in other countries? I ask this because much finger-pointing is going on in America regarding outside influences in our elections.

On a local level, the divisiveness does not seem threatening. My neighbors vary in political beliefs but all would pitch in together in face of adversity. We see this each time we experience a blizzard.

So why is this not the case on a National level? Perhaps those involved in the Twitter fest over whether someone can read 300 books a year should take a step back, and read. My recommendation would be any of the Helen MacInnes books. Click here for a review of one of my favorites.

If you are an active poster on any social media, I urge you to think before you post a response. The negativity I see is not healthy. Nor is sticking one’s head into the sand. I believe in the power of reading. Books expose the reader to all subjects. From philosophy to science fiction, autobiography to history, books contain knowledge. I posit more time spent in a book and less watching television or monitoring social media will go a long ways in allowing one to understand the complexities of our world.

Invitation Only Murder Book Review

Invitation Only Murder by Leslie Meier is a good addition to the Lucy Stone series. With the exception of a few scenes, most of the characters are new to the reader. As such, the book does not seem repetitive. Instead, the novel ranks among my favorites of the series.

Island Adventure

Most of the novel takes place on a privately owned island off the coast of Maine. “Fletcher’s Island” was purchased by super wealthy Scott Newman who restored multiple buildings on the island. His purpose was to create an off grid idyll in an effort to protect the environment.

The Newman family contains two sets of twins, Parker and Taylor, twenty-something sisters are involved in the family business. The younger set are Fred and Walter. Filling out this family dynamic is Lily, step-mother to the elder twins and mother of small boys.

Also on the island is the Hopkins family. Inhabitants of the island for generations, the Hopkins’ now work for the Newman family. This is the perfect set-up for conflict and tension. As well as finger pointing once a murder occurs.

Invitation Only

After viewing the restorations during an invitation only event, Lucy returns to the island to write about the successes of the Newman family. Unsurprisingly, Lucy finds a body along the coast and the plot thickens. Naturally, the heroine survives a number of unpleasant tasks. And unsuspected attacks. Before long she regrets her invitation only acceptance.

Leslie Meier

Meier does a good job of writing the story and keeping things fresh for her loyal readers. I first started reading this series decades ago when my children and Lucy’s were both young or twinkles in the eye. Now both of us have four adult children and the kinship remains.

Although a series can get quite formulaic, Invitation Only Murder broke slightly from the mold. Meier deftly incorporated contemporary issues into the story without making the text preachy. Instead, the topics seemed on point to me.

If you are looking for an easy entertaining read, look for the Lucy Stone book series at your library or favorite bookstore.

 

Successes and Failures

Often I talk about the roller coaster of life. The first time I remember the use of this phrase is when I was receiving counseling from a minister. A series of miscarriages had me feeling quite low. I felt such failure. But, my minister likened the successes and failures we experience in life to a roller coaster. In short, one had to overcome one’s failures in order to enjoy one’s successes. He also helped me realize we can’t control all of nature nor all of life’s events.

Ups and downs naturally occur in life. It takes skill to navigate through the peaks and valleys. And in my case it always helps (and helped) to have someone to talk things through. Over the years I have been blessed with good clergy and caring academic counselors. Luckiest of all I married my best friend.

Albertus Magnus College

Perhaps the best advice for dealing with adversity came from my college adviser. Sister Charles Marie was the head of the Business and Economics department when I attended Albertus Magnus College. I was struggling with many personal issues my senior year. Of course these issues affected my studies.  Her advice included working hard in order to keep my mind busy and to concentrate on positives. She also suggested I could cope with the problems by breaking tasks into smaller amounts. In other words not to bite off more than I could chew.

She also talked about work-life balance before it ever became a thing. (I earned my degree a long, long time ago.) But she wasn’t the only person at Albertus Magnus College that offered support. My cross country coach was a tremendous backer even though she had her own personal problems to deal with. She was an early proponent of exercise being great for matters of the mind as well as the body.

Their advice worked. I earned my degree. Life continued.

Passage of Time

Time acts as a regulator for feelings of failure. Things I failed to accomplish as a youth seem inconsequential now that I have been seasoned by the passage of time. Long ago I realized the importance of persistence. It is impossible (at least I believe) to go through life without failure. However, success can be achieved after failure. This is something to keep in mind if you are unfortunate enough to be a member of the trophy generation.

I believe one should keep trying to improve. This may mean more education or more patience. It definitely means forgiving others as well as yourself. Until I leave this earth, or as long as I am mentally able, I plan to keep trying, keep improving and keep making amends for my transgressions. Even when my memory differs, I need to understand the importance of perception. Yes I admit I do care what others think. Furthermore, I believe we need more caring in this world. Consideration of others is lacking at this point in time.

Successes and Failures

While my failures are many and I know they will continue, my successes are not inconsequential. At one time I was told the odds were against my carrying any child to term. Persistence allows me to delight in the four wonderful adults all spawned from my womb.

Relationships are difficult. So is raising a child. Indeed life itself provides endless adversity. Throw in a special needs child, an early death, a divorce or a job loss and the doors open to failures large and small. The challenges of life are diverse and immense. But a person needs to look at successes and failures from a macro point of view.

The absolute key to success is Not the absence of failures but the willingness to face failures and to make corrections in an effort to overcome those failures. Most importantly, acknowledging the fact failure sometimes can’t be remedied, but life does go on. And can be even be better. We just need to keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

The Deception Book Review

Mixing romance, action, and social awareness is a difficult task. But Kat Martin attempts this cocktail with The Deception, her latest in the Maximum Security series. For the most part, the novel is a success.

Action-Packed Plot

The Deception begins at a Dallas honky-tonk where bounty hunter Hawk Maddox is meeting with a snitch. On his way out of the bar he is attracted by Kate Gallagher. She is dancing the night away while trying to drown out her sorrows. Kate comes to her senses before hooking up with Hawk.

Then fate intervenes. Kate is determined to find the person responsible for her younger sister’s death. Research leads her to Maximum Security. And back into the arms of Mr. Maddox. The bounty hunter is also a private investigator and goes by Jason in the office.

The two begin working together. Their investigation winds across Texas and the seedy sides of Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Martin is accurate with her geography, capturing the rougher areas of these large cities.

Social Awareness

The underlying story is one of human trafficking. In addition to Kate’s younger sister, the pair discover a number of victims killed in their attempts to escape the organization that has turned them into sex slaves.

One of the best parts of the novel occurs over half way through. A virginal thirteen year old is introduced to the readers. She is given her own point of view. As a reader, I became very involved. This plot development created urgency. Would the trafficking ring be exposed in time?

Problems with The Deception

For this reader, there were a few problems with the novel. The juxtaposition between the romance and the action was difficult for me. The Deception is not a sweet romance. So, I found it difficult to go from the consensual bedroom scenes to the action scenes of both brothel and street walkers.

Additionally, I found the chemistry not quite right. Also, I felt the author did not quite succeed in her character of Kate. No way would I hit the dance floor following a trip to the morgue. Furthermore, her friends were more like afterthoughts. Lastly, I found it hard to believe she had never met her stepmother nor her half-siblings.

This is the first Kat Martin Book I have read. The Deception held my interest long enough to finish. But I am glad it was a library check-out.

2020 Resolutions

Two years ago I wrote a post with tips for keeping New Year’s Resolutions. Last year I skipped the process, and I did not follow through. In fact I can‘t even recall the goals. So, for my 2020 resolutions I plan to follow a similar path to 2018 in an effort to once again experience success in achieving my goals.

Therefore, I am once again publicly sharing my goals. Putting the 2020 resolutions in print so to speak, deepens the commitment. I am also making them measurable. It is easier to note progress in this way. However, I am also limiting the goals. 2019 was a real roller coaster ride for the family. Hopefully there will not be a major surprise like my Dad’s breast cancer diagnoses. But if the unexpected keeps a constant presence in my life, I would like to have some simple resolutions to ground me.

Goals Related to Econogal

The Econogal blog is near and dear to my heart. So I want to continue strengthening the website. Thanks to the wisdom of a fellow blogger from South Africa, (Click here to discover her blog) I no longer stress about the exact number of posts. However, I do want to make improvements.

To achieve this goal, I plan to spend 30 minutes a week on what I call the backside of the website. Perhaps I will update the header design or tinker with the page background. I will most certainly complete a check of all links. I have already discovered that restaurants can and do go out of business. Thus, their websites become inactive.

2020 Resolution Influences

Two people have influenced my resolution thinking this year. The first is Former Miss Colorado Madison Dorenkamp. Click here to read my interview with her from last year. Madison is a blogger and has just released a post 100 Things Project (Click Here) that I find intriguing. As a Millennial, Ms. Dorenkamp has the energy to succeed in her 100 Things Project. I look forward to following her through the year as she faces her challenges and discovers life.

My other “influencer” is the man I live with. He is a regular reader of the Wall Street Journal. In the last Saturday edition of December 2019 the paper published For the New Year, Say No to Negativity by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister. For those who do not subscribe, the gist of the essay is that negative statements and actions are so strong that it takes four positives to counteract the damage.

I am borrowing from both these individuals. Instead of 100 things, I am going to focus each month on a personal challenge. I will share my experiences in my Monthly Wrap-Ups Section. You may have noticed this new category. I worked on the backside last week to populate the category with my old posts. I do not know what each month will center on, but January is on fitness.

The last of my 2020 Resolutions is connected to positivity. Although I do not think I will turn into a Pollyanna, I will strive not to stress myself or others through negative thoughts and actions. It will be interesting to see how well the rule of four works.

Summarizing Econogal’s 2020 Resolutions

  1. Work 30 minutes per week on the backside of the Econogal website.
  2. Monthly challenges that are shared with the readers of the Econogal website.
  3. Destress my little part of the world through positivity for myself and others.

Of the three resolutions, the last will be the hardest to quantify and measure. But, I think it will be the most important. There are many clichés about the journey of life. One of my favorites is to remember to stop and smell the roses. I hope to share plenty of roses in 2020.

Dozens of Yellow roses
Remember to stop and smell the roses!

 

Quantum Book Review

Quantum by Patricia Cornwell is the first of a new series. The protagonist is Captain Calli Chase. Chase is both a scientist and a security officer for NASA and is based at Langley Research Center in Virginia. The novel involves murder and intrigue. But, the greatest take-away is the great advances in technology with application both on the ground and in space.

The plot revolves around the secret placement of a quantum node on the ISS. For those not used to the space jargon and seemingly endless acronyms used by NASA and other governmental agencies, ISS stands for International Space Station.

The opening pages are laced with acronyms and not all are easily identified. Thus, a start to a new series weighed down with both backstory and jargon. For me, this approach made enjoying the novel difficult at first. However, by page 50 mystery and murder appear and I am hooked.

Close- knit Characters

Cornwell has created a cast of characters that is tightly woven. For example, the earliest scene involves Chase and NASA police Major Fran Lacey. Later, it is revealed that Lacey and her son live adjacent to Chase and her parents thus creating quite a compound.

Furthermore, Chase has an identical twin Carme (pronounced Karma) who figures prominently in the story yet is more an apparition than a person. The backstory Cornwell weaves provides rationality for the diverse personalities of the twins. Additionally, Carme is a prime suspect in the murder and mayhem that occur. Of course this creates conflict and tension for the protagonist.

Quantum Leaps of Technology

A major plot point is the secret placement of a quantum node on the ISS. To be honest, I did not know if this was real technology. An Internet search concludes the technology exists. Click here to see if you can understand the theory.

The novel also addresses other cutting edge technology such as the exoskeleton suits used by the military. My first encounter with this product came in Break Point by Richard Clarke. Click here for a review of that fact laced novel.

It is obvious that Cornwell spent much time researching this field. She weaves details of the technology as well as the security protocols in place to guard advances and advantages of the U.S. governmental agencies. The book is fictional, but just how much truth supports the novel?

I recommend this book with the caveat that the jargon and initial pages are a bit tough to read. Those readers interested in the ongoing research into quantum physics will find an excellent tale weaving fact into fiction. Cornwell’s latest mystery is worthy of reading.

 

 

December 2019 Wrap-Up

December 2019

The last wrap-up of the year is always difficult and the December 2019 Wrap-Up is no exception. So much is crunched into the last 31 days that I don’t know quite where to start. Perhaps a chronological account is best.

I arrived home to the High Plains just a few hours before December 2019 began. The first few days back from an extended stay in Florida were ones filled with chores and catching up with local based family. A home inhabited by a workaholic for five weeks without his faithful sidekick in residence is a home needing just a bit of TLC.

Keeping Traditions

Bowl with Spode TreeAs discussed in an earlier post on Holiday Traditions, I pull out the Spode Christmas Tree china on the first of December. This year the familiar task helped ground me. These same dishes will return to storage New Year’s Day during breaks in watching parades and football games.

I detoured a bit from tradition with the Christmas tree. Over the last few years I had experimented with both a white and a gold artificial tree, the latter a table topper to mixed reviews from family members. The December 2019 tree was a real tree. I went a step further and used family made ornaments and multi-colored lights. The decision was a positive one. My only offspring able to make it home searched the tree with delight to find the personally made ornaments.

Christmas Tree lit with multi-colored lights
A new look for Christmas

Christmas parties are always a part of the year end festivities. This year was no exception. Needless to say, lots of good food was consumed. The relatively mild weather has allowed me to counter the calories with long walks.

Update on Breast Cancer Treatments

Breast Cancer Ribbon
Not for Women Only

My Dad started his radiation treatments this month. It was quite a process as those who have been through it well know. His biggest complaint so far has been the tattooing. There was some difficulty with the breathing (or holding it) during the early sessions. He is retired Army and his hearing has taking a bit of a beating. Fortunately this issue has been resolved with the use of a technician with a lower, deeper and perhaps louder voice.

Dad remains upbeat about his prognosis. I think he is past the stigma, if any on his part, of being a male with breast cancer. I appreciate the fact he allows me to write about his condition and progress. Breast Cancer is best fought when caught early. Since most men do not get routine mammograms, the detection is more difficult. Just knowing it is possible could be helpful to someone out there.

Book Reviews

I released a second annual book review only to be very impressed with the next two books I read. Click here for the 2019 recommendations. I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It is perfect for binge reading. In addition to This Tender Land just reviewed, I have read the latest Janet Evanovich and am working on the first of a new series by Patricia Cornwall. The former was a delightful fun read, the latter is quite technical and centered on our potential journeys into space.

The Garden

The extended stay in Florida coupled with some other fall trips meant I missed my fall planting of garlic. So I popped some cloves in the ground on Boxing Day. The weather was sunny and mild with a forecast of rain turning to snow for the following days. We will see what happens next summer.

I also cleaned up some of the raised row garden and put down a straw mulch for the remainder of the winter. A little bit of the Swiss chard remains green under a hoop tent. But not enough to harvest. My experiments in the garden will most likely continue for a couple more decades.

In the Quilt Room

Quilt strips before sewing in mauve, blue gray and off white
Beginnings of a quilt

Winter weather means a return to the quilt room. I am currently in the cutting stage of a new quilt. The quilt will have grays, mauves, pinks and a few greens and blues in the marbled Bali prints I am including. I love the feeling that comes along with creativity.

Since I will have another great nephew in the summer, I need to start the design process for another small quilt. I love designing even more than the process of quilting. I am not sure what pattern I will choose yet, but it may be in the form of transportation, just not another Train Quilt like I made for his brother. He will need his own. Click here to see the Train Quilt.

2020 Resolutions

I am still working on my New Year’s resolutions. In 2018 I was successful in fulfilling those resolutions. But I fell a bit short in 2019. Perhaps the difference was not making the goals public. So I plan to post my 2020 ideals next week. That gives me a few more days to make my final decision on just what I should strive for next year.

I hope your December 2019 was merry and bright. I admire those who stay upbeat even in the face of adversity. Perhaps I can come up with a concrete way of measuring tenacity and include that in my 2020 resolutions. Happy New Year everyone.

This Tender Land Book Review

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is a brilliant tale worthy of reading. However, I am not sure how to categorize the novel.  Perhaps it belongs to the coming-of-age genre, or maybe included with the mystical. Nonetheless, this story of faith or lack thereof is a compelling one.

Krueger uses the Great Depression as the backdrop for This Tender Land. The story weaves through many complexities of life as it follows four young vagabonds down river. They struggle not only with life and death but also good and evil.

The Storyteller, The Genius, The Giant and The Princess

Odie is The Storyteller of the four. He describes himself as the imp, the one always dragging others into trouble. This reader found a tremendous depth of character in one so young. After a series of disastrous events, Odie sees God as a Tornado God- one that wreaks havoc everywhere. His older brother Albert, The Genius of the Vagabonds concurs.

The other two leading characters are Muse and Emmy; The Giant and the Princess. Muse is a compelling character. He is an orphaned Sioux Indian made mute when someone cut out his tongue after killing his mother. Krueger expounds on the unjustness encountered by the American Indian, deftly weaving the history of the Plains Indians into the story.

Emmy the Princess is just a little girl. But she is a mystic and so many events in the story as well as the Faith questions revolve around this young orphan cherished by the others as a sister.

This Tender Land

This Tender Land presents the harsh realities of the Great Depression. The reader visualizes the Hoovervilles, the Indian School, the Revival Tent, even the Brothel with clarity. Indeed this reality lends the depth desired for inclusion in an English Lit class.

Even though parts of the story may make one uncomfortable, the struggle with faith is an important one. This Tender Land in the end is more than just a story of four young vagabonds escaping an untenable life.  The tale is wrought with the meaning of life. One that Krueger points out is worth living regardless of the heartache along the way.

Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 is upon us. This holiday season, shortened in the United States by a late Thanksgiving, is almost over. The next eight days will be full of baking, feasting, and visiting with friends and family. A frenzy of activity before the quiet days of winter march on toward spring.

Last Christmas I was fortunate to have all my offspring around me. Only one will come home for Christmas Eve. Another will join us for Christmas Dinner. Although attendance on Christmas Day will be smaller than usual, we anticipate spending time with the newest and youngest member of the family.

Shy of seven months, without a doubt she will have no memories of her own. But, she will absorb the love of family. By good fortune, both sets of grandparents live in fairly close proximity. So both families will create an abundance of memories.

Holiday Traditions

I love traditions. This year I continued a long tradition started many generations ago in my mother’s family. A Christmas stocking was made for the newest member of the family. You can read about the project by clicking here. Other traditions revolve around the dinner itself.

My husband will make a corn casserole for dinner. The recipe was passed down to him by his father. We love it so much we make it about once a month during cooler weather. The holidays don’t seem complete without it.

I will make a cranberry-orange sauce. The freshly made sauce is one both our maternal grandmothers made.  Also on my list are baked goods. The pecan pie is challenging for I have not mastered pie crusts. Truth be told I am tempted to cheat. I need to make one more run to the grocery store and I might, just might, buy a roll of pre-made pie crust.

Baking For Christmas 2019

However, dinner rolls are best when made from scratch. I will not be making my gluten free rolls, since the family member with allergies will be elsewhere. But if you need a recipe for Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls click here.

Instead I will use a recipe that will allow me to do most of the work today, keep overnight in the fridge and then pop in the oven tomorrow morning. Thus, fresh rolls without waking in the middle of the night! I will endeavor to take pictures so that I can later post. Bread Illustrated was reviewed a couple of summers ago and it is still one of my go to cookbooks. This make ahead recipe for dinner rolls was adapted from the honey-wheat dinner roll recipe found on page 133.

Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree lit with multi-colored lights
A new look for Christmas

I did break with tradition in one area, the Christmas tree. Usually, I decorate an artificial tree with white lights. The ornaments are themed. Lots of angels, wise men, nativity scenes and even crosses. But this year is a departure from the norm.

For starters, we bought a real tree. Yes, falling needles and all. The pine smell is wonderful. And the watering has not been too much of a hassle.

I decided to use an array of light strings. So the white is accompanied by red and green. Some of the lights have covers. Peppermints, hot peppers and poinsettias along with Ohio Star quilt lights make the tree pop with color.

The ornaments differ as well. Truth be told, I am feeling very nostalgic this Christmas. Instead of the themed ornaments, I dug out family oriented decorations. A few date back to ones I made during summer vacations at my grandmother’s house. Others can be attributed to my kids. Masterpieces made at school, either Sunday or secular. Each are treasures and treasured. Perfect for my needs this Christmas.

Felicitations to All

Many readers of this blog are from overseas. Traditions vary from country to country as well as among the many different religions. If you are celebrating a holiday now or in the near future, take time to treasure both the present and the past. For my fellow Christians, I wish you a very, merry Christmas 2019.

 

 

Jan Brett

Serendipitous Event

Illustrated Tiger  by Jan Brett on Book CoverRecently, I traveled a few hours to a city of 100,000. The purpose of the trip was last minute Christmas shopping. The first stop was a Barnes and Noble where I expected to spend at least an hour. I ended up staying all morning.

I noticed a big travelling bus as I parked. It was hard to miss, taking up a large spot just outside of the store. The sides of the vehicle were covered end to end and top to bottom with beautiful illustrations. Tigers were prominently featured.

The store had a normal crowd for a Thursday morning. Young mothers with toddlers and retirees made up the bulk of the customers. The only noticeable change from any other day was a doubling of the staff. However, it was anything but business as usual.

Since I was Christmas shopping (I love to give books) I wandered throughout the store. Eventually, I made it to the back where the children’s area is located. A large display featuring tigers was surrounded by an open area and then some chairs at the back. Just in front of the display was an easel and a blank pad of paper. A demonstration was clearly in the making.

Those of you very familiar with children’s books may recognize the presenter, Jan Brett. Her wonderful illustrations have captivated children for many years. But her appearance and actions at the book signing far exceeded my expectation.

Jan Brett

Shortly before the author took center stage, a school bus full of fifth graders arrived. They sat quietly in the open space that had been cleared for them. Most of them cross-legged but a few at the back up on their knees for a better view. Their good behavior was well-rewarded.

Jan Brett did not read the story. Instead she gave them a lesson in drawing. But first she introduced her husband and explained his job as a member of the Boston symphony. This too incorporated instruction.

Since she is promoting The Tale of the Tiger’s Slippers, she drew a tiger. Like many artists I have watched, she began with a rectangle and a sphere. But then she explained how an eraser is part of drawing.

Brett shared her travel experiences as she worked on her sketch. She talked about the importance of seeing the animals in nature. But all along she was giving tips on how to draw. She also gave encouragement.

An Inch an hour

Brett told the audience that it takes a lot of time to work on her illustrations. She took her time with the tiger she was drawing. Best of all, she shared some of the ways to let creativity take over. Time and practice were words she used over and over. She explained how it could take an hour to fully develop an inch of drawing.

She is an artist first. But she became a writer at the urging of editors. I found that part of her talk particularly inspiring. My understanding is that she is self-taught in art and bases many of her stories on ancient folk tales. But she likes to use animals for main characters instead of people.

People Person

Jan Brett is clearly a people person. She visited with each person-kid or adult- as she signed the books. I was next to last in line and asked if she signed board books. The answer was affirmative and she explained that most board books have a page for the child’s name.

I love the Jan Brett books in my home library. I am in awe of the person. Yes she was performing. But she was a genuine person, as was her husband. Both took their time to visit with a perfect stranger. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across this appearance. It was an experience that I will relish for quite awhile.

 

 

Before We Were Yours Book Review

Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours has been on my To Be Read list for over a year. In fact, the book resided on a coffee table much of that time. Each time I passed by I thought, I really need to start that one next.

I finally did. I am sorry I waited so long. Before We Were Yours belongs on my top books of the year list I released last week.

Past and Present

Wingate uses the tough to write but a joy to read when done right technique of rotating between the past and the present. The current storyline revolves around Avery Stafford. She is a lawyer and dutiful daughter of South Carolina Senator Stafford who is battling cancer.

A further contemporary story line involves her paternal grandmother who has recently been placed in a senior care center due to her dementia. Both aspects of the present day story appealed to me. They hit close to home.

Avery runs into May Crandall, a ninety-year old at another facility for seniors and Wingate begins to dovetail the past history of Crandall into the present. Crandall’s past is not pretty as she was a victim of the scandalous Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Even though the story is fictional, the TCHS existed for several decades.

Lisa Wingate

The author is outstanding on multiple levels. The writing is crisp. Plot lines are so believable it is hard to remember this is fiction. Finally, the characters tug at your heart strings. For those prone to tears, you will shed some.

Before We Were Yours is another winner by Wingate. The novel is well-researched. But what most impressed me was the way this reader was invested in both story lines. The transition between Avery’s story and May’s flowed smoothly. Each time one chapter ended and the other began, I readily switched back to the other story line. There was not a favorite, one story did not outweigh the other-at least in my mind.

Before We Were Yours

The historical aspect of Before We Were Yours begets many questions. Did orphanages fall by the wayside because of this scandal? Is this how the Foster Care system began, a better alternative? Or just a different option, fraught with different problems? Furthermore, a Pandora’s Box of questions could apply to modern day solutions of unwanted childlessness.

Before We Were Yours deserves a place in any library, public or private. It is entertaining and informational. I highly recommend this book.

 

Joyful News!

My family received joyful news this week. The multiple  scans of bone and body showed no cancer spread beyond the one lymph node for my Dad. So, he begins radiation treatment next Monday. For those with more experience than I, it will come as no surprise that in preparation for the treatment he was tattooed.

His first comment to me was “Why would anyone willingly get a tattoo?” I chuckled since I agree, but also have multiple family members with tattoos. Methinks the tattoos are either generational or a fad. Hopefully I will never Have to be tattooed.

Holocaust Survivors

Perhaps my aversion stems from the first time I saw a tattoo. My Mom had stopped outside a store in a strip mall near the beach to talk to an elderly lady she knew. I was young, innocent and curious. (Grade school but I don’t remember which year other than at least 3rd grade.) The lady had some numbers tattooed to the back of her hand.

I flat out asked why. This may have embarrassed my Mom, but her friend seemed glad I asked. She had been a child in a concentration camp during WWII. She gave me my first lesson in the terrors of genocide. Perhaps this is why to this day I read so many stories with a WWII setting. I feel a real connection. And I don’t want to be tattooed!

Cancer

That feeling of connection is the same with cancer. Once you personally know someone who is facing or has faced cancer, you become more attuned. This not only holds true for cancer but other diseases as well. This connectedness can generate both positive and negative feelings.

Thus, it is no surprise that I was extremely stressed out over the last weeks. The unknown is always scary to me. The extent of  Dad’s cancer was unknown. The days felt overly long. However, the docs’ moved fairly rapidly in diagnosing my Dad.

I have supported various funds fighting cancers and diseases I have been personally affected by. And even some causes that I have not had a personal involvement with. I bought into the 1000 Points of Light campaign posited by the late President George H.W. Bush. I feel an obligation as well as a desire to help. I don’t want to leave it to others. Donations have not always been monetary. Time and personal effort have also been given to various causes.

Joyful News

The better than expected results are truly joyful news. My thankfulness will be displayed in many ways. The least of which will be in the form of donations to my favorite causes. Foundations tied to supporting those affected with Breast Cancer will of course figure into the equation.

But there are many ways to express joy. Writing and painting allow one to share the joy. So does designing. Singing and praying also express joy. We often pray when we need something, but thankful, joyful prayer is just as important.

As I said above both positive and negative emotions are generated from a connection. My connection to cancer began as a child. Treatments back then were few. Outcomes were seldom good. This is not the case today. Furthermore, my Dad detected and acted quickly. Thus, in his case the outlook is good. The joyful news is certainly welcome at any time. But it definitely makes this holiday season one for the memory bank.

Breast Cancer Ribbon
Not for Women Only

 

 

 

The Gifted School Book Review

Book cover of the Gifted SchoolThe Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger caught my eye. The inside jacket narrative piqued my interest. Finally, the author’s writing style kept me glued to the pages. I finished this 400 plus page book in one sitting.

Since the publishing date is 2019, there is a good chance the book was written prior to the college admission scandal that opened eyes in the United States to the fact admissions are anything but equal. While The Gifted School centers on admission into a public middle school, the same ploys to gain a spot for one’s offspring is evident in fiction as in reality.

Character Development

Holsinger does an excellent job of developing all the characters. The women are upper middle class and the plot really follows the entwined lives of their four families. A side development revolves around the family of a woman who cleans house for two of the families.

The four women have been close friends since a Mom and infant swim class. The children are about to enter middle school. A new public magnet school which will focus on gifted and talented children is about to open. Thus, the competition begins.

Elitism in America

In not so subtle ways, the author explores the concept of elitist education in America. While I did not see the big twist in the plot, I did accurately guess which of the children would gain admission to the school. Three of the seven won admission. In some ways I would have added a fourth. But realistically, having three make it in was against the odds.

Holsinger does use his characters to show how education can improve one’s status. He also paints an accurate picture (as illustrated by the college admissions scandal) of the lies and underhanded actions parents will go to in order to provide the edge often needed for success.

The Gifted School

In the case of the three students admitted to the school, all were well deserving. Of those not admitted, a case could be made for most of them as well. The testing and then portfolio process was not random in the book. However, in many Colorado Magnet and Charter schools the process is one of a lottery. But that would not make for an entertaining tale.

The key point of The Gifted School however is the many arguments that such a school triggers. I felt that the author shared the opposing viewpoints. Although as stated above, I felt I could read his bias.

The major twist in the story, I did not see coming. Brilliant plotting by the author results in an “aha” by the reader once a key relationship is revealed. But the other characters also reach a climax in their stories. With the exception of the character of one of the middle school kids, I felt very satisfied with the outcomes.

Furthermore, I feel the author has made key points about education and about friendships. Society in the United States is very competitive. Often, competition is a double-edged sword.

I highly recommend The Gifted School.

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019

 

Compiling the list for Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 is proving quite difficult. One reason is the number of books read. Over the past 12 months, a book read and reviewed each week was the goal. A few weeks I read more, but that was offset by a stray week here and there where nothing was reviewed. And one week where nothing was even read.

Furthermore, if I use the same format as Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2018 (Click here to read.) I need five fictional entries and five books in the non-fiction category. Herein lies the problem. I am short in the non-fiction category of books I care to recommend. But, the number of books for the fiction side is too numerous.

Statistical Favorites

Bloggers have many tools at their disposal to analyze the posts they publish. The backside of a website is quite complex, but also useful. Basic analytics include the number of times a post is accessed. The book with the greatest number of clicks is The Only Woman in the Room, a fictionalized account of the life of Hedy Lamarr. Heads You Win was a close second. I enjoyed both and both are on my list, but not at the top.

Debut Novels

I love discovering new authors. So each year I look for debut writings. Quite a few caught my attention in 2019. Allison Schrager’s An Economist Walks into a Brothel leads the way in the non-fiction category. The fictional counterpart listed in Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 is Disappearing Earth which is the debut work of Julia Phillips.

Other outstanding new voices include Lydia Fitzpatrick with Lights All Night Long, and Maura Roosevelt’s Baby of the Family. Each provide food for thought while entertaining the reader. I highly recommend both.

Almost There

I have six titles that were in contention to make Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019. Each is worth the read. Look for them at your nearest library or book store. In no particular order: Last Woman Standing, Break Point, The Break Down, The Last Second, The Black Ascot and Only Killers and Thieves.

Since I am short on the non-fiction list, I offer one combined list. The designation follows the title. As with last year’s list, Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019 reviews can be accessed by clicking on the title.

 

Top Ten List

 

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips                                                       Fiction

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick                                            Fiction

An Economist Walks Into a Brothel by Allison Schrager                    Non-Fiction

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center                                     Fiction

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer                                                             Fiction

Baby of the Family by Maura Roosevelt                                                  Fiction

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman                                                  Fiction

Don’t Stop Believin’ by Jonathan Cain                                                     Non-Fiction

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict                                 Fiction

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons by Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson, Jr.    Non-Fiction

November 2019 Wrap-Up

November 2019 was a difficult month from an emotional standpoint. My Dad’s breast cancer diagnosis meant many trips to medical facilities as well as meetings with various providers. There is one more scan to run before treatment can begin.

The radiology oncologist assures us that radiation treatment will not slow him down much. The current plan is four weeks of treatment to the chest wall. My Dad has opted out of chemo at this point in time. As an octogenarian, he feels chemotherapy will be more harmful than helpful. I will support his decisions as well as any second thoughts he may have.

Normal Routine altered for November 2019

As a consequence of supporting my Dad through his surgery and scans, I was away from home the entire month of November. Thus, normal fall activities fell by the wayside. Instead, I was able to see more of the action on the foreclosure than I anticipated. I also enjoyed the warm Florida weather. Multiple days of snow were missed. But not the single-digit weather. It is too bad snow needs colder temperatures. I like the tranquil look of fresh fallen snow.

My reading efforts included a couple of longer books. They were great for the waiting rooms. But I plan to indulge in a couple of quick fun reads this week.

Christmas Stocking

Working on a Christmas stocking certainly helped to alleviate the stresses of November 2019. I hope the newest member of the family will cherish the stocking for years. This is the first attempt at making a felt stocking and I am quite pleased with the result.

The kit made the creation fairly simple. The most time consuming part was attaching the sequins and beads. I now understand why completed stockings are so expensive.

Applique Snowman and cardinals on felt stocking
Finished Felt Christmas Stocking

Conflicted Feelings

It is with a clash of feelings that I traveled back to the High Plains from Florida on the last day of November 2019. I have missed my home. My husband and my cat have missed me. But I feel conflicted about leaving my Dad on his own. The winter months can make travel difficult, so quick trips across the plains are sometimes delayed due to highway closures.

However, I am confident that my Dad is not only capable but in a great frame of mind to undergo the daily radiation treatments scheduled for the remainder of the year. He has support of family and friends in Central Florida. He enjoyed the Thanksgiving visit of his first great-grandchild and will have many visitors in the next six weeks.

We all face mortality. A belief in God helps one accept life’s path. The prayers and wishes from the readers of this blog have been greatly appreciated by my Dad and by me.

 

 

 

Stress Relief, Art Therapy, and a Felt Christmas Stocking

This past week was quite stressful as I accompanied my Dad through his various medical visits. My blood pressure which is usually quite low spiked a bit. So, I turned to art therapy. Since I am away from home I cannot access my quilt room nor my acrylic paints. So I began working on a felt Christmas stocking for the youngest member of the family.

As discussed in Economical Christmas Traditions, each generation is welcomed by the grandmother making a felt Christmas stocking. This is my first and there has been a bit of a learning curve. But, so far I am quite pleased. The felt Christmas stocking is almost finished.

Artistic License

The kit for the felt Christmas Stocking features a snowman surrounded by cardinals. As soon as I spotted the design I knew this was the one-my Dad loves cardinals. The stocking is a positive reminder of his love now and in the future.

However, I am making a few color changes. Instead of the ice blue vest and two-toned green scarf, the snowman will don a vest of fuchsia. Additionally, the scarf is now K-State purple with an accent of the fuchsia used in the vest. I also switched out the green ribbon on the top hat with purple felt.

The bright fuchsia color reminds me of the bright pink of Stargazer Lilies. This is the lily often seen on Kentucky Oaks Day. Churchill Downs honors breast cancer survivors on Oaks Day. For me, using the color in the stocking will always remind me of this time spent with my Dad; A time of courage and of love.

The purple color so familiar to Kansas State University graduates belongs in the home of two alumni. Perhaps their little one will attend school there. At any rate, the colors are favorites.

Tips for Felt Christmas Stocking Construction

Felt Broom with stitching for straw
Narrow handle cut on fold to eliminate stitching.

The stocking kit came with almost everything included. Construction is by hand-sewing not machine and a needle is provided along with the various colors of floss to correspond with the felt. Good lighting is suggested. Late one night I thought the pale pink floss was white.  But I don’t think the mistake is noticeable.

There have been a few do-overs. I re-cut one of the bird’s heads as well as the brim for the top hat. The kit has a bit of wiggle-room for mistakes, but not much. The biggest challenge for me is keeping the beads and sequins from scattering about. I can see a use for little plastic containers if one was to create many items like this.

I also purchased a small pair of really sharp scissors. The smaller pieces would be difficult if not impossible to cut with either large scissors or a rotary cutter. Many, many curved pieces are involved in the pattern. Also, when possible as with the broom handle, I placed the pattern on the fold thus eliminating a seam.

Art Therapy as Stress Relief

Several of my college cross-country teammates were psychology majors. I credit them with introducing the concept of using art as stress relief. New England winters were not always conducive to running a 10K to decompress.

An alternative is art. I am grateful for the felt Christmas stocking tradition. This craft-work is fulfilling the artistic fuel my body and brain need at this point in time. Concentrating on the instructions as well as adjusting the pattern to fit my expression of color is having a calming effect.

The change in stress levels is so dramatic that I think it may be a key to the anger and stress that rears up in our society today. Creativity and completing work with one’s own hands provides a feeling of accomplishment. This sentiment is a positive that counteracts the negative. Perhaps the simple action of creation and enjoyment in art can provide the stress relief needed in today’s world.

 

 

The Personality Brokers Book Review

I struggled with The Personality Brokers:The Strange History of Myers-Briggs And The Birth of Personality Testing written by Merve Emre. Biographies were my bread and butter as a grade-school reader. I have read several this year, although some were a bit fictionalized. The Personality Brokers is my least favorite. But I did not expect it to be.

Subject Matter

Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers are the subjects of The Personality Brokers. After suffering multiple miscarriages, the elder Briggs compensated by focusing on her only surviving child, Isabel. Emre provides great detail in the early successes of Katherine Briggs both as a mother and as a published writer.

The dual biography is also adept at giving the reader a glimpse of how the Myers-Briggs personality test sprang to life. Katherine Briggs is portrayed as a determined woman with eccentricities. The odd behavior is reflected in her studies of children other than Isabel as well as her infatuation with Jung’s philosophy as well as with Carl Jung himself. It was not surprising to discover her diagnosis of dementia.

Isabel Briggs-Myers survives her mother’s child-rearing experiments. But she does not escape the author’s contempt. Merve Emre depicts Isabel as a Jill of all trades and master of none. I think this is a bit harsh. Briggs-Myers developed the personality assessment mid-20th Century. While women were beginning to work outside the home in part due to WWII, it was by no means common. Briggs-Myers worked tirelessly to promote the typing still in use today.

Merve Emre

The author was previously unknown to me so I did a bit of research. She is an alumnus of both Harvard and Yale and currently attached to Oxford University as an Associate Professor. So her credentials are weighty.

Her background is in English. This explains why I can find no fault in the writing itself. My criticism stems from my belief that biographies are historical in nature. As such, I am uncomfortable with an author freely interjecting personal bias. Throughout The Personality Brokers, Emre shows disdain.  For example, after quoting Briggs-Myers from a letter comparing a need for personality evaluations and careers to the fit of shoes, Emre writes:

Here was a fairy tale with a perfectly modern twist—the glass slipper screened, scrutinize, and labeled before it ever touched Cinderella’s foot, the employer restless to find the right match; the whole thing an example of the same romantic capitalist pursuit that Adorno had denounced. (p.135)

A further glimpse into the motivations of the author is found in the final chapter. During a course to become certified in “type” in hopes of gaining access to personal papers of the mother-daughter duo she writes:

Other times I played an extreme version of my ENTJ self: Brash, snobby, impatient, cocksure, a real bitch. I wanted to see who I could irritate and, more telling, how the conflicts that might arise between me and my fellow types would be resolved. (p. 265)

The Personality Brokers

I plan to look for other books involving the subject matter of The Personality Brokers. Merve Emre did pique my interest in both the Myers-Briggs exam as well as the women behind the letters. I would like to discover more about the field as well as the individuals.

My experiences with the different types is limited. While I concede that Emre has legitimate criticisms of Myers-Briggs, I disagree with her tactics and conclusions. Literary criticism, or criticism of any type, when tied to an agenda, loses its’ bite.

Waiting and Wondering

Today is the day we finely get to meet the oncologist my Dad has been referred too. It seems like an eternity since the surgery. The waiting and wondering of the last two weeks is almost over. Naturally, there has been a bit of stress.

Dealing with Stress

However, our moods have been fairly upbeat. I attribute this to a couple of things. First, the day after the surgery he felt up to walking. So we did. But we took it easy. A fifteen minute saunter around the neighborhood would be a more apt description. The following day the walk lasted a few minutes longer.

Now Dad is back to his normal pace and time. Thirty minutes of walking at a good pace. Last night he walked on his own while I made an early dinner. He had a club meeting to go to.

He has not resumed lifting weights, but my guess is the surgeon will give the green light next week. The physical activity helps keep the spirits up. Plus, he believes it helps him sleep at night. Octogenarians benefit from exercise and good sleep too.

Family Support

A second positive during this period of waiting and wondering has been support from family and friends. My Dad’s siblings talk with each other on Sunday afternoons. I believe this tradition started when they were in college. For the oldest two, the college years took place in the 1950s. Long distance calls were not common and of course cell phones and their unlimited calling plans non-existent.

Fortunately, staying in touch these days is easier. So the phone calls have been more numerous. The brothers are commiserating since each is now battling cancer. Their younger sister is offering support through prayers and advice.

In my case, my biggest support is my husband. He flew down over the Veteran’s Day holiday. Even though the visit was brief, my spirits were buoyed. I just wish the distance wasn’t so great.

My kids have texted and called and my daughter-in-law has shared videos and pictures of the youngest member of the family. The little miss has mastered rolling over and cut her first tooth. Wonderful milestones to offset the waiting and wondering.

Friends

Support from friends played a big role during the last sixteen days since the surgical waiting room. On a couple of occasions my Dad joined friends for lunch. And he stays active in his Lodge meetings. He also continues to visit my Mom in the nursing home. Unfortunately, her dementia makes support from that quarter flighty at best.

Since my friends are distant, the support comes from phone calls, including a timely one yesterday regarding the purchase of Kentucky Oaks tickets. The email from Churchill Downs had gone to the Spam box. Fortunately, my time block to buy is later today. Kentucky Oaks Day highlights the fight against breast cancer. Survivors march along the track prior to the race for three year old fillies. I love Oaks Day. Attendance next year will be exceptionally meaningful.

Reading and Researching

Most of my reading the last two weeks has been via the Internet. Armed with preliminary lab reports from his mastectomy, I am reading mostly so I can follow the conversation he will have with the oncologist this afternoon. I am very grateful for the thorough website of the American Cancer Society. Male breast cancer is not common.

The waiting and wondering will continue after today’s appointment. But, I am hoping for an action plan of a sort. Obviously more testing will be done to see if other areas of the body have been affected.

I am not sure how much fighting my Dad will do. Side effects of cancer treatment vary by type as well as by the individual. Whatever decisions he makes, I will support. It is the least I can do.

Breast Cancer Ribbon
Not for Women Only