The Book Charmer Book Review

Every once in a while I want a book to escape in, so I can leave stress behind. I found The Book Charmer perfect for my needs. This delightful novel by Karen Hawkins provided an afternoon of pleasurable reading. The characters were easy to like and the plot straightforward if predictable.

Multiple Back Stories

There are three central characters in the book. Sarah Dove and Travis Parker are life-long next door neighbors in Dove Pond, North Carolina. The third character, Grace Wheeler has arrived in Dove Pond with the intention of staying just a year. All three neighbors form bonds albeit with reluctance on Grace’s part.

Key to the formation of friendship is dementia. Travis’ dad passed away from the disease and Grace’s foster mom is rapidly deteriorating. The two grudgingly work through initial dislike aided by this common ground. Furthermore, Grace’s orphaned niece brings the battle-scarred vet and overwhelmed guardian together.

Book Charmer

Sarah Dove is the book charmer. She brings a touch of mysticism to the story. Books talk to her and she listens.

As a member of the founding family of Dove Pond she has strong ties to the area. Unfortunately, Dove Pond is in decline. When a book whispers to her that Grace can save the town, Sarah does everything she can to entice Grace to stay beyond the short term.

Contemporary Topics

In addition to the backstory of dementia, Hawkins touches on the state of the foster system. Grace’s determination to raise her niece stems from her own experience as an orphan. Back flashes explain how and why Grace is so attached to her own foster mother, Mama G. Thus her willingness to leave her city job for small town life in hopes of easing the confusion of dementia makes sense to the reader.

An additional topic that is touched on is the overdose death of Grace’s sister. But, despite all of these difficult topics, The Book Charmer leaves the reader in an upbeat mood. The efforts of Sarah, Grace and others give Dove Pond the spark it needs. Plus, the development of friendship between the characters showcases the power of relationships even among those hiding or running from the past.

I loved reading The Book Charmer. Readers can escape for a few hours of pure fiction. This was the first Karen Hawkins novel I have read but it certainly won’t be the last. I look forward to more in the series.

 

Econogal Replaces a Power Button Board

Recently, the power button on my HP Envy x 360 stopped working. After removing a computer keyboard for the first time ever, I discovered a hardware problem. A key component of my power button had sheared off interrupting the connection. For the last few days I literally had to open up the computer and hold the broken piece in place in order for the power button to function.

So, the arrival of the replacement part came none too soon. I ordered the GinTai Power Button Board Replacement for HP X360 774599-001 15-u 15-u001xx 15-u002xx 15-u010dx 15-u011dx 15-u050ca 15-u000 15-u110dx 15-u111dx 15-u170ca 15-u100 15-u200 CTO last week through Amazon. Click here if you need to order a replacement board.

Do It Yourself

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive with the idea of a DIY when it came to replacing the internal part of a computer. But, I am serious about creating new brain connections and I believe learning new things helps make new connections. New connections are important for Brain Health. So, I searched articles and watched videos until I felt comfortable attempting the replacement of the power button board.

There were some considerations made before deciding to attempt the replacement. First, I backed up files, folders, pictures and the like before starting anything. Second, I was prepared to replace the computer if I irreparably damaged the computer. These are things everyone should think about.

Having said that, I found replacing the power button board on my HP Envy x 360 one of the easiest repairs I have made in a long time. Furthermore, the satisfaction was tremendous. (Remember I grudgingly belong to the Baby Boom Generation.) Replacing a computer part and having the computer still function is an absolute thrill.

So, I thought I would share a step by step tutorial on how I replaced a power button board. Keep in mind I am not an authorized repair person. So, this is just for those willing to take the risk. And it is your risk.

Power Button Board Replacement

Step One

Remove the keyboard. To do this, you actually start on the back/bottom of the laptop. Tiny screws rim the outside of the back. There are also six screws with covers. Two small ovals mid-back. Remove both as well as the screws beneath. There are also four round circles. The two circles nearest the hinges are safe to remove both the covers and the screws underneath.

Bottom side of HP Envy x 360
Back of Laptop

But do not touch the bottom two circles nor their corresponding screws!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Back side of laptop with a warning not to remove to specific screws
Do not remove the two lower circle covers nor the screws beneath.

 

Step Two

Once the screws are removed, carefully flip the laptop upright. Then gently pry up the keyboard. You will only be able to lift it an inch or so because several connector ribbons. First you need to remove these connectors, including the battery connector by gently lifting up on the connecting bar. Once all are disconnected, carefully place the keyboard cover on a nearby flat surface.

Connector ribbons inside a laptop
The white and gold ribbons connect the keyboard cover to the Laptop
Step 3

Another connector ribbon ties the power button board to the motherboard. Disconnect this in the same way by lifting up the connecting bar. Then I carefully moved the end of the ribbon out of the way of the power button board.

Connected ribbon and power button board
Close-up of ribbon connector and power button board
Lifting bar connecting ribbon
Lifting bar connecting ribbon
Connector ribbon tucked aside
Gently fold connector ribbon out of the way
Step 4

The circuit board for the power button rests upon two posts that resemble a plus sign a bit more than an x. A single screw holds the board in place. Once this screw is removed, the board easily lifts out. Then the new board can be positioned over the two posts. If the new circuit board does not slide down the posts so that the two posts are slightly above the level of the board, you may need to apply a very, very slight bit of pressure.

Power Button Board
Power Button Board ready for removal
Small phillips head screwdriver removing screw
Remove screw from power button board
New power button board
New power button board
Step 5

Now it is time to begin re-assembly. Replace the screw that attaches the power button board. Do not over-tighten.

replaced screw in power button board
Replaced screw
Step 6

Reattach the connector ribbon.

Re-attaching connector ribbon to power button board
Reattach the connector ribbon
Step 7 (Optional)

I took the opportunity to remove some dust with Q Tips.

Step 8

Reattach the four ribbons connecting the keyboard cover to the internal machine. Now test your power button. It should power up the laptop.

Reattaching Keyboard Ribbon connectors
Reattaching Keyboard ribbon connectors
Screen from laptop powered on
Successful powering from newly installed power button board
Step 9

Gently press the keyboard back onto the case.

Step 10

Flip the laptop over and replace all screws and all covers which includes the 2 circles near the hinges as well as the two small oblongs in the middle.

Replacing exterior screws with small screwdriver
Replace exterior screws

 

I realize my terminology may be incorrect. But this process worked for me. If you have any concerns about replacing this part or are not willing to risk messing up your computer beyond use, I suggest you find a computer repair person. Also, check and see if this would void any warranty. My warranty expired a long time ago, so I had nothing to lose.

Nonetheless, I found this repair quite simple. And very satisfying. I am adding some additional photos below. I wanted you to see which part of the power button board broke. This tiny piece of hardware is actually responsible for my newest learned skill.

New power button board above broken circuit board
Comparison of new and broken circuit boards
ner circuit board
Close up of new circuit board with critical piece center top

 

 

 

August 2019 Wrap-Up and Labor Day Greetings

August 2019 was long, hot and eventful. So eventful that this is just now posting on Labor Day. Of course, that means the calendar has moved to September. Such is life when one is busy. Enjoy this August 2019 Wrap-Up!

August 2019 Wrap-Up

Road Trip

A road trip to the East Coast and back took up over half of the month. It was a quasi-business trip so no time to sight see. But plenty of time to observe. Since it is summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, lots and lots of road construction all along the way. However, that was not the only construction.

Small towns and big cities alike appear to be adding restaurants, stores, houses and apartments. Of particular note is the new trend of Big Box complexes. For those of you in other countries, a Big Box complex is a variation of a strip mall. Stores such as Home Depot or Best Buy anchor an area of restaurants and smaller retailers. Lots of choices for the shopper or one looking for a place to eat.

Of course no trip across country is complete without a stop at a Buccee’s. This gas station on steroids is geared toward travelers in cars. Semi-trucks are limited to the refueling tankers. Of interest to me, was the fact that attached to the fuel tanks were Help Wanted signs complete with information on pay. As you can see by the picture, the starting rates are above minimum wage. Yet another indicator of current economics.

Image of a help wanted sign
Looking for employees

Foreclosure Project

The long road trip allowed me to transport some building supplies and equipment. The newest project is coming along. In addition to finding specialized contractors for the AC, plumbing, electrical and roof repairs, we are using a general contractor for much of the work.

Econogal using a jackhammer to break tile floor
Breaking up the tile

However, we did get in on some of the deconstruction. Removing the existing tile from the kitchen floor was quite a chore. Taking the cabinets out required care since each came with under cabinet lighting. The wainscoting in the formal areas was actually a thick cardboard made to look like wood on one side. But the ancient and painted wood paneling in the fireplace room was the real deal. It too is no longer present.

The walls are down and the preliminary work is done on expanding the kitchen. I am looking forward to seeing everything progress. A walk-in pantry will anchor a peninsula with enough space for cooking and eating.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was the successful trapping and relocation of the armadillo making a home too close for comfort. These animals cannot be lured with bait. Thus it took a few days for the animal to wander into the cage.

Armadillo
Cute but destructive.
Armadillo in a cage
Ready for a new home

 

Spider Update

For the faithful readers of this blog, the mystery of the spider is partially resolved. After releasing Mystery of the Resident Spider (Click here to read) I patiently watched as the spider “ate” its web. Research leads me to believe the spider belongs to the Orb family of arachnids. They take their webs down each day.

We enjoyed the spider for the better part of a week. Then a new mystery. A double web stayed and stayed. But no spider. The only clue was a small bit of a down feather caught in the web. My best guess is the circle of life continues.

 

In the Garden

Meanwhile, the garden continues to produce. But, the successes are not the same as last year. For instance, I have only harvested one cucumber to date. Fortunately, other crops are keeping me busy. The cabbage is fantastic as are the various types of tomatoes. The concord grapes are ripening and I believe I will be making grape jelly in the next week or two.

However, my beans continue to flower without producing beans to eat. Perhaps it is the heat. We expect another triple digit temperature on this Labor Day.

 

Labor Day Festivities

A quick trip to the Front Range started the Labor Day weekend. Gathering with family from far and wide is always a treat. But, it is good to be back home for the actual day. Travelling on holidays is stressful. So returning home early alleviates the stress. Plus, the Floridian in the family needed to return home in order to prepare for a potential strike from Hurricane Dorian. Remember September is National Preparedness Month.

Hardware Issues

Finally a note on computer hardware in this August 2019 Wrap-Up. I use a HP Envy 360 for my work. It has served me well. But, the machine dates back to 2013. So it was not too surprising when a hardware issue popped up. Or maybe I should say popped off.

The on/off switch on the outside of the laptop should connect with a button which in turn presses down on a circuit. However, the inside button broke off. This tiny piece is critical. For a temporary fix, I can unscrew the keyboard and hold the button in place. But this is not very practical.

So, I have ordered a replacement power-on board. Hopefully I will find You Tube as helpful replacing the board as I did when I was troubleshooting the problem in the first place. In the meanwhile, my posts may remain sporadic.

Size comparison between a penny and a computer part
Broken hardware piece compared to a penny

 

 

 

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons Book Review

Firefighting: The Financial Crisis And Its Lessons is the three person account of The Great Recession and the steps taken to repair the economy. The individuals credited with writing the book are Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner and Henry M. Paulson. The information presented is straightforward. One of the best aspects is the use of the firefighting metaphor to explain the steps taken at the time to mitigate the panic. Furthermore, my own memory of the tumultuous time meshes with the writing. So, the information rings as fact more than opinion.

A Keynesian Approach

Those of you with an economic background can differentiate between a Classical and a Keynesian approach to economic policy. For those of you unfamiliar with the theory, click here for a tutorial. The steps taken during the financial crisis of the Ought’s clearly represent the teachings of John Maynard Keynes. The Federal Reserve led by Bernanke, and the Treasury Department, first shepherded by Paulson during the Bush Administration then spearheaded by Geithner under President Obama, went to great lengths to stop the downward spiral of the economy. Firefighting takes you step by step through the interventions.

I appreciate the book for what I perceive is an honest portrayal of the cause and effect of the crisis. The authors go to great length to posit why some firms survived while others folded.  Since I vividly remember public events as well as personal anecdotes from the time, I feel quite comfortable highly recommending the book.

Firefighting Lessons

In addition to relating the fiscal and monetary steps taken to fight The Great Recession, Firefighting puts forth warnings for the future. The authors have two key concerns. First, the three former public servants are concerned with a loss of power for both the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. They make a good case for the immediate ability by the agencies to react to future crises.

Second, the authors are duly concerned with the functionality of Keynesian economics. Government intervention in times of crisis is only one-half of the economic theory. Keynesian economics also calls for replenishing the coffers during expansions. This is not occurring. Instead of bringing the deficit down, our debt levels are increasing. Thus, the authors believe, both monetary and fiscal policy will be hampered in firefighting the next economic downturn.

The argument between interference and non-interference in the markets is central to economic philosophy. The debate between the Classical school of thought and the Keynesian Theory is reflected today in our divided politics. I encourage all to read Firefighting including members of Congress.

One of my favorite websites to share with new students of economics is the US Debt Clock. Visiting this site is eye opening. Similarly, Firefighting will also open eyes. For example, the book acknowledges the public relations nightmare of propping up AIG.

Personally, I saw and was offended by the lavish expenditures of AIG during the height of the meltdown. But I did not know the flip side until reading Firefighting. Grudgingly, I admit the intervention was necessary. Thus my appreciation of the work of Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson. Both for the book and their many sleepless nights a decade ago.

 

Mystery of the Resident Spider

Spider web

This past weekend we spotted a beautiful web attached to our back porch. Since I was busy in the garden, I did not stop to study. But I did leave the web and its’ resident spider alone. However, during a break from gardening I noticed the web was completely gone. A brief discussion ensued with neither of us recalling accidentally  running into the web. Plus the web was big enough to notice if one passed through.

Speculation abounded. Perhaps a breeze knocked it down. Or one of the many birds inhabiting our trees enjoyed a tasty breakfast. The hummingbirds use the silken strands in their nests. So perhaps they were the culprits. Maybe even the sprinkler destroyed the web. But the next day another web appeared and disappeared.

This appearance then disappearance is on day five. But I finally have an answer. Or at least a partial answer. However, I now have many more questions.

Spectacular Web of the Resident Spider

Large intricate spider web
Spiral threads make a beautiful design

Today’s web is spectacular. The photos don’t quite do it justice. While taking the pictures, a breeze blew up. Then the spider skedaddled to the safety of the roof eave. (Our breezes on the High Plains can resemble gusts in other parts of the world.) So I now know what happens to the spider. I am typing this on the back porch in hopes of discovering what happens to the web.

I am not sure what type of arachnid is constructing these webs. There are some spiders I can identify. Tarantulas are easy and are currently on the move in this region. They are most often spotted on the roadways, but do occasionally appear in the side yard. Daddy Long Legs and Black Widows are also identifiable. Wolf spiders are given free rein in the garden, and it is possible that this one is related. But I’m not certain.

Close up of resident spider
Do you know this spider?

So, I think some research is in order. The youngsters in the family might know of an app I could use, but they are not around. Perhaps, I might do a web search. But, most likely I will make a trip to my local library. The generation gap exists for me. I tend to search for answers the old-fashioned way.

Meanwhile, the wind has died down. So the resident spider has returned to the web. Maybe the breeze is not the cause of the disappearing webs after all. But, do I have the time and patience to just sit and observe? Perhaps.

The People vs. Alex Cross Book Review

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

Multiple Story Lines

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

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

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

The People vs. Alex Cross

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

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

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

Don’t Stop Believin’ Book Review

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

Key Life Events

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

Connection with the Author

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

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

Don’t Stop Believin’

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

Dealing with Dementia: Changes on Many Levels

Dealing with Dementia

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

Brain Changes

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

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

Personality Changes

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

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

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

Role Reversal

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

July 2019 Wrap-Up

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

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

Foreclosures from the Great Recession

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

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

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

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

Rehabilitating Foreclosed or Distressed Properties

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

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

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

Other Activities in July 2019

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

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

July 2019 Reading

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

Visiting The Little One

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

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

 

Battling the Summer Heat

Battling the Summer Heat

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

Early Riser

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

Hydrate Frequently

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

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

Fun in the  Summer Heat

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

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

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

 

 

Alphabet Books Galore

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

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

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

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

Board Books

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

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

Variety of Alphabet Books

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

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

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

Informative Alphabet Books

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

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

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

Wrapping up the Alphabet

Alphabet Books of many styles, for many ages.

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

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

The Last Second Book Review

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

Familiar Characters

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

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

New Villains

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

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

The Last Second

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

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

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

Disappearing Earth Book Review

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

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

Russian Background with Global Insight

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

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

Disappearing Earth

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

June 2019 Wrap-Up

June 2019

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

In the Garden

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

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

In the Library

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

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

Travel

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

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

The Home Edit Book Review

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

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

The Home Edit Process

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

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

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

Organizational Fun

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

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

Real Life Examples

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

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

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

 

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds Recipe

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

                                                 Kitchen Items

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

 

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

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

Personal Story

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

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

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

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

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

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

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

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

 

 

Rain, Rain and More Rain on the Plains

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

Wet Season

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

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

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

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

Rain and Water Conservation

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

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

Stewards of the Earth

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

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

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

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

 

 

Garlic Growing in the Garden

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

Garlic Growing

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

Learning About Garlic

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

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

Differentiating Between Soft Neck and Hard Neck Garlic

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

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

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

Harvesting The Garlic

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Drying

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

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

 

 

Cabbage with holes in leaves

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

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

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

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

Author

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

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

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

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

 

New Kitchen Herb Garden

Establishing the New Kitchen Herb Garden

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

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

Transplants from Divisions

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

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

New Plants

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

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

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

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

Diagram of Garden

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

 I hope you enjoy the slide show!

 

 

 

 

The Black Ascot Book Review

Book Cover showing a race horse

The Black Ascot

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

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

Scotland Yard

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

Shell Shock

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

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

Charles Todd

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

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

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

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

May 2019 Wrap-Up

May 2019

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

Kentucky Derby

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

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

Wacky Weather

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

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

The Love Quilt

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

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

Garlic and Greens

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

Reading Highlights

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

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

 

 

 

The Last-Book Review

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

Mystery of The Last

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

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

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

Realism

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

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

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

 

Winter Range Book Review

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

Triangle of Characters

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

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

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

Unwritten Code

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

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

Winter Range

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