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

 

 

 

The Defector Book Review

I found The Defector by Daniel Silva intense. In fact the further into the book, the harder it was to put down. It was the first book I have read by Silva. If any of you follow Silva closely, you may have read the novel a decade ago. Since the book is over 450 pages and upon my dad’s bookcase, The Defector was the perfect companion for my week of waiting rooms and just plain waiting.

Book Series

The Defector is part of a book series. The series revolves around Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon. This particular thriller has a very large cast of characters. Indeed, I was a bit lost at first. Perhaps a reader needs to be more familiar with the series. Regardless, I found the story entertaining and I am glad it was close at hand.

Revenge for The Defector

The plot line revolves around the disappearance of the defector Grigori Bulganov. Unlike most men in hiding, Grigori flaunted his presence in London. Thus it was easy for the Russians behind his kidnapping to trick the Brits into believing a re-defection occurred.

However, Gabriel Allon did not fall for the ploy. He sets out to find the truth and the cloak and dagger commences. The twists and turns of the story were only outnumbered by the bodies left in the Israeli spy’s wake.

As referenced above, I believe reading the earlier novels would have helped. Silva does try to weave previous books into the narrative. But, I personally needed more. The large cast of characters demands a familiarity by the reader. One that I did not have.

Revenge is a great motivator. In The Defector both sides of the fight are driven by this most dangerous of emotions. As a consequence many lives are lost. The deaths are brutal but I did not find the writing too graphic. It is designed for entertainment with just a bit of politics thrown in. And lots of action.

Daniel Silva

Even though the novel is set in the 21st Century, Silva likens the fictional Russian government to the post-monarchy dictators and revolutionists of the early 20th Century. While a few scenes take place upon American soil, the bulk of the story occurs east of the Atlantic Ocean.

Silva’s writing subtly and not so subtly hints at the true differences between socialist and capitalist countries. He pulls no punches. Even a first time reader easily discerns his political leanings. In this respect Silva reminds me of the late (and in my mind, great) writer Helen MacInnes. Both write strong plot driven spy novels with plenty of twists and turns. Furthermore, both are unabashed proponents of freedom.

I am not sure how I have missed Daniel Silva’s previous novels. Granted thousands of books are published each year, but I should have discovered this series long ago. I enjoyed The Defector. Now I need to check out his previous works.

Book Cover of Daniel Silva's The Defector

 

 

 

October 2019 Wrap-Up

The October 2019 Wrap-Up showcases a roller coaster month with many highs and lows. But that seems to be the status quo for me. In fact a long time ago, a wise man told me that life had to have a few low points in order to enjoy the good times. Perhaps living on the High Plains offers the steadiness I crave in response to the path my life takes.

October 2019 In the Garden

The big garden is only partially ready for winter. Unexpected trips back East made it difficult to complete all the chores before the snows began to arrive. Garlic was not planted nor were the onion seeds I like to put out in order to have an early spring crop. However, I think there will be some self-sowed plants popping up next March.

I am quite worried about the trees and bushes in the yard, especially the old peach tree. The late September freeze was harmful. Extreme temperature swings have happened before and it never bodes well for the vegetation. The yard is stressed when a high of 92 degrees Fahrenheit is followed by a low of 14 degrees just 36 hours later. The last time this happened there was a lot of winter kill.

Bumpiest Ride Ever

Both spring and fall are accompanied by severe weather here in the United States. In the fall months, one often experiences the cold fronts sweeping down from the Arctic. Toward the end of the month on the way to Kentucky, my flight encountered turbulence. The type where you definitely needed a seat belt on.

Catching up on my Twitter feed a few days later, confirmed that the bumpy ride was not unique to the plane I was on. Bumpiest flight ever was posted on multiple accounts. I am very grateful the plane landed safely and amazed at the skills needed to operate these flying machines. But, I can definitely see the appeal for a better connected train system.

October 2019 Hobbies

Acrylic Painting from a Mountainside down to the Plains
A New Perspective

Just a few years ago, I began dabbling in acrylic paints. I was at a conference with my husband and the wives had a break-out wine and paint session. I loved how relaxing it was, and not because of the wine. So, I set-up a small work space in the front room of my house.

The latest painting is finished. It is the first that I have a name for-View of the Plains. Since I usually paint the mountains in the background, I thought I would reverse the scene. It was quite difficult. I have a long way to go in my development and really need to focus on the correct techniques. But I find the painting a wonderful avenue for expression. I just wish I had the talent of my great-great grandmother.

Waiting is the Hardest

We are still awaiting the final lab report from my Dad’s surgery. Unfortunately, the early test confirms the presence of cancer cells in the breast. Now we wait to see how advanced the disease is.

Serendipitous is the word that comes to mind regarding the timing of events. October 2019 saw many groups getting out the message concerning the early detection of breast cancer. Furthermore, support for those afflicted is everywhere.

Pink is everywhere. I am not sure when the colored ribbons for various cancers began, but the pink color has been adopted by sports players to T.V. announcers to paramedics and businesses. Many media outlets ran stories concerning this disease. I am particularly appreciative to CBS, my Dad’s go-to source of information. Their highlighting of male breast cancer was very helpful. Now we just wait.

Observations and Thoughts From a Surgical Waiting Room

Breast Cancer Ribbon
Not for Women Only

Surgery is difficult for both the patient and those in the waiting room. Some waiting rooms have more tension in them than others. A waiting room for elective surgery for example does not throw off the same stressed out vibes as one reserved for emergency room surgeries. But you find a mix of personalities in both.

Unfortunately, I have been in more than my share of surgical waiting rooms. So I have experienced both the life and death feeling as well as the mere anxiety that something could go wrong even with a fairly healthy patient. I tend to be the quiet one waiting in a corner. Although one time I was the only one waiting. Hospitals always have some level of noise in the background.

Elective Surgery

Today I am waiting on an “elective” surgery patient. But many, especially during this month of breast cancer awareness, would question the term elective. Unfortunately, a close member of my family found a lump in the right breast. It is being removed as a type. At 31 mm it is somewhat size-able. Why was it not found in a routine mammogram? Because most men do not undergo routine scans.

Yes, a male member of the family is having a tumor removed. I am thankful that during this month of breast cancer awareness, various media outlets including CBS, stressed that men can get breast cancer. This spotlight motivated the patient to not put off getting help.

Obviously, at this point in time I do not know if the tumor is cancerous. His doctors were in agreement that the lump needed to come out regardless of unknown toxicity. The needle biopsy that can be a prelude to removal was skipped. Perhaps the family history played a part in this. Or a belief that a quickly growing tumor needs to come out before it causes problems.

Waiting Room Patient Confidentiality

Back to the observations. This particular waiting room uses numbers instead of names to give the standard updates of when a patient goes into surgery or is in recovery. The numbers are displayed on a screen similar to those that show arrivals and departures at an airport. Instead of comments such as On Time and Delayed, this board posted Pre-op, Procedure-In-Progress and Recovery alongside a long number. Only the patient’s family knew which number represented their loved one.

There is a mixture of singletons as well as clusters of families waiting to hear the magical words that the patient is in recovery. Additionally, several languages fill the room. Along with the snores. More than one individual has fallen asleep. Not surprising since most of the same day surgeries require an early check-in. I woke the patient at 5 A.M. in order to make the drive for a 6:30 arrival and a ten in the morning surgery. The process is lengthy which can add to the stress.

Final Thoughts

In my case, I am not as worried about the procedure as I am about the final diagnosis. For an eighty year old, my Dad is in fantastic shape. He still lifts weights and exercises regularly. So the surgery should go well.

It is the findings that are concerning. Cancer or no cancer? If cancerous how far along? Difficult when you are the only surviving child. So many decisions to be made by the patient. So many by the caregiver. I am hoping for the best case scenario. Only time will tell.

 

 

Board Books at Halloween and Anytime

Alphabet book highlighting fruits and VegetablesThis weekend I will spend some time with the youngest member of the family. So I have picked out a handful of board books that I think will entertain. Youngsters can enjoy books from a very young age and board books are perfect for chubby hands as well as drooling mouths.

Halloween Board Books

Since Halloween is just around the corner, two of the four books are holiday related. The first of these is titled Peek-A-Boo. It is published by Simon & Schuster under their Little Simon imprint. This is truly a board book for the very young with virtually little writing but lots of drawing. Ellen Appleby is the illustrator. Each page has a different type of Halloween costume. This book is a great way to prepare little ones for their first Trick-or-Treat experience.

The second book could easily be attacked by the anti-capitalist crowd, but I love it. The Cheerios Halloween Play Book is another production by Little Simon. Lee Wade is the author. This Halloween-themed board book has an interactive component. Each page spread asks the child to fill in empty spots with Cheerios. I only wish this book had been available when I had toddlers at home.

Instructional Board Books

The remaining two board books are among my favorites. The first is one of the alphabet books I reviewed earlier. Click here to read that post. Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert is one of the Red Wagon Books by Harcourt Brace and Company. I have owned it for over twenty years and it was a favorite of my youngest child.

Each letter of the alphabet is represented by one or more healthy, delicious fruits or vegetables to eat. The author manages to creatively portray an edible item even for the “difficult” letters. I consider Eating the Alphabet a classic. Every home should own a copy.

The final selection is simply titled the horse. The book was originally published in Italy. The author is Emanuela Bussolati with illustrations by Carlo A. Michelini. This board book is more advanced with the text.

Basic information about horses is given regarding the types of horses, their markings, as well as how to care for them. The author shows the many places horses live and the type of jobs they perform. This is a perfect book to read before visiting a ranch, farm or even a race track.

Books All Life Long

I believe books are an important part of life. So, board books have an integral place in the family home. Occasionally, they do fall apart. But many others can last for decades and for multiple generations. Those like Peek-A-Boo are primarily an early introduction to words or themes. But others, like the horse impart far more information.

All have a place in the home library. Reading to a child, even one that has yet to form words, is an essential first step toward education. Learning is more than attending school. While one can learn without reading, the written word makes life for most of us so much easier.

If you have an infant in your life, buy them a board book. Read to them and let them handle the pages. Board books are the first step in a journey that should last a lifetime.

Four Board books
Four Favorites

 

Green Tomato Pickle Relish Recipe

Econogal’s Green Tomato Pickle Relish

Since I had an overabundance of green tomatoes at the end of this year’s growing season, I tried several new recipes. One that I am sharing today is for a Green Tomato Pickle Relish. I found the handwritten recipe in one of my recipe boxes and so have no idea of the origin. I tweaked it a bit as well.

This mostly sweet relish does have small super-hot peppers placed in the bottom of the jar along with a fat garlic clove. This can be modified to suit your preferences. The prep requires an overnight draining period so planning is essential.

My stock of cheesecloth was depleted so I substituted coffee filters to make the Bouquet garni of spice seeds. This trick is a great time saver. I used two coffee filters, filled with the spices and then twisted the top and secured with kitchen string.

Spices wrapped in coffee filters to make a bouquet garni
Shortcut to make a bouquet garni

The Prep

The recipe calls for finely chopped vegetables so I used a food processor instead of chopping by hand. While this cut down on the prep time, it still took about 45 minutes to chop 10 cups of green tomatoes, 2 cups of green peppers and 2 cups of onion. But the prep time the following morning was almost nil.

In the morning, drain the vegetables while bringing the liquid mixture to a boil. Add vegetables and return to the boiling point then quickly remove from heat.  Place garlic glove and two small hot peppers in the bottom of each jar. Then you are ready to can and process.

2 hot peppers and a garlic glove at the bottom of a canning jar
Place peppers and garlic in bottom before adding green tomatoes.

Maybe a total of 45 minutes is needed on the second day. So the entire time of actual prep and cooking is an hour and a half divided by an overnight rest in between. Makes 7 pints.

Ingredients for Green Tomato Pickle Relish

About 5 lbs. Green Tomatoes finely chopped to make 10 cups chopped

5-6 Green Sweet Pepper finely chopped for 2 cups chopped

2 lbs Onions finely chopped for 2 cups chopped

½ cup canning salt

1 quart Cider Vinegar

2 Cups Sugar

2 Tbs. Mustard seed

1 tsp whole cloves

7 large garlic cloves

14 small hot red peppers

2 paper coffee filters

Instructions for Green Tomato Pickle Relish

Day One: Finely chop tomatoes, peppers and onions. Sprinkle with canning salt and let sit overnight.

Day Two: Drain vegetables. Make a bouquet garni by placing mustard seed and cloves in the center of doubled coffee filters. spices wrapped in a coffee filter to make a bouquet garniTwist shut and secure by tying string around the top. Combine vinegar and sugar in a non-reactive stock pot. Add bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Remove the bouquet garni then add vegetables and return to the boiling point. Immediately remove from heat and pour into hot, sterilized jars. Add lids and bands and then process in a water bath for ten minutes. Add appropriate time if you live at altitude.

This green tomato pickle relish is great served over hot dogs or bratwurst as well as alongside roasted meats. Enjoy!

Green tomatoes in a food processor
Finely chopping green tomatoes is easy using a food processor.

 

 

Lights All Night Long Book Review

New literary voices are fun to discover. Lydia Fitzpatrick’s debut novel Lights All Night Long will appeal to readers of multiple genres. Unsolved murders lurk in the background of this novel exploring contemporary issues.

Exchange Student

The protagonist is high school exchange student Ilya Alexandrovich from a remote part of Russia. The town is connected to an energy company which arranges exchanges of students to a Louisiana town also revolving around an energy company. Hence the title Lights All Night Long.

Fitzpatrick utilizes flashback chapters to explain how and why Ilya arrives with a burden. The change of location keeps the story line straight. But there are many similarities between the two towns which reach far beyond the refineries. One could substitute for the other.

Contemporary Issues

The author subtly presents the split between students who become engaged in learning and those that fall prey to outside sources. There is a large presence of drugs in both towns and the writer successfully demonstrates the many forces involved in drug abuse. Along with the use of drugs and alcohol, the novel touches upon teen sex as an outgrowth of the disengagement of students from school activities.

Murder Plot

Entwined with the story of Ilya and his brother Vladimir are a series of brutal murders. A major twist occurs when Vladimir confesses to the crimes. But Ilya does not believe the confession. Furthermore, he is determined to prove the confession was coerced.

Lights All Night Long in America

Ilya’s exchange family is given the contemporary stereotype of Evangelical Christians. But the oldest child, Sadie, does not quite fit in. Yet, she has her own reasons for staying out of the hardcore drug scene.

Between Ilya and Sadie, Fitzpatrick demonstrates through the actions of her characters the close binds of family. Both youngsters rise above the drug drenched culture found in many places today. But both are loyal to those captured by drug addiction.

Lights All Night Long is an excellent debut novel. The chapter flashbacks are a key part of the story. Lydia Fitzpatrick does a good job of moving the story along during the flashbacks and the current day chapters. The twists and turns in the murder plot keep the reader turning the pages.

But what I liked best about the book were the characters. At first glimpse many seem stereotypical. But they are not. Each develops into a complex human being. Perfection does not exist, but neither does total failure. Above all, there is love.

 

 

 

Overload of Green Tomatoes

Table full of produce harvested just before a killing frost
An abundance of green tomatoes

The big freeze last week left me with an overload of green tomatoes. Many of them are ripening while just sitting on the dining room table. But I need alternatives. So, I started searching through my recipe boxes. Family recipes are the best. Especially those handed down from generation to generation just like in the novel I reviewed, The Recipe Box.

At one time I used a recipe written down by a neighbor to make Green Tomato Jam. However, it used canned pineapple from the grocery store and lots of sugar. I also have a good green tomato relish recipe. Currently, it is at the top of the list for using up the tomatoes.

Online Recipes

While the green tomato relish makes a great presentation as a Christmas gift, I have a lot of tomatoes. So I started searching the Internet for recipes. One of my favorite recipe websites belongs to Deb Perelman. If you have yet to discover Smitten Kitchen take a look.

Another site I frequently visit is The Spruce Eats. I am very tempted to try the Green Tomato Cake recipe. Some days you just feel like having sweets. Actually, quite a few recipes from the posting 15 Fabulous Green Tomato Recipes are calling out to me.

Ripening Green Tomatoes

Quite a few of the tomatoes are turning red. We are enjoying the heirloom slicing tomatoes. In addition to processing a bunch of the green tomatoes today, I plan to dehydrate a batch of Romas that have ripened.

It is nearing the end of the canning season for me. Although my favorite Small-Batch Preserving recipe book boasts of year-round production, I hang up my processing hat shortly after the first freeze. To be honest, the cooler weather pulls me toward the quilting room instead of the kitchen. But, first I need to can the green tomatoes.