Going Rogue Book Review

Number 29

Book Cover with teal background and Janet Evanovich Going Rogue in large type with gold coins scattered across the cover.Going Rogue is Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel. Loyal fans will be delighted. Because the book fleshes out old characters with more in-depth personalities. And Stephanie Plum is showing growth as well. As usual there are several laugh out loud moments from the delightful supporting cast.

Missing in Action

The story opens up with bail bonds office manager Connie Rosolli missing and three Failure to Appear (FTA) accounts lined up for skip tracer Plum to chase down. Complications quickly arise as one of the skips is Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella. The Sicilian grandmother able to wreak havoc by giving those she despises the “evil eye.”

Kidnappers contact the office wanting an exchange. A valuable coin was put up for collateral. The trade is simple, Connie for the coin. But the coin is missing from the evidence room. One of the skips palmed it. Millions fall into the wrong hands and the madcap chase is on.

Going Rogue

Evanovich keeps her Stephanie Plum character fresh after twenty-nine iterations by fleshing out established characters and introducing new ones. In Going Rogue, Grandma Bella becomes more than just an evil eye throwing Nonna. She is a bit more rounded and a bit more human in her treatment of Stephanie. But just a tad bit.

And the character of Stephanie Plum continues to mature. Although she is still divided between her feelings for Joe versus Ranger (the key tenet for the series) her behavior is more virtuous…to a point.

Furthermore, the protagonist is finding herself. Going Rogue replaces the unhappy with work vibe with an acceptance of the career path. Quite refreshing to be honest.

Pure Entertainment

Books serve many purposes. The Stephanie Plum series is designed for entertainment. These books offer a much-needed release from the realities of life. Evanovich is a pro at instilling complete personalities into secondary characters. Her love triangle between Stephanie, Joe and Ranger is classic and can divide households.

Best of all, this series stays fresh for the many loyal followers. If you have not read any of this series, I encourage you to begin with the first. You will have plenty of reading material to last for the near future. Each addition is a fun read.

November 2022 Wrap-Up

Away From Home

November 2022 entailed traveling through thirteen states. But most of the time was spent in Kentucky and Florida. Overnight stops included the states of Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. All in places familiar to me as part of my “Travel Safety” mindset. Not all of the travel was alone. I had company for the better part of the trip.

However, I am looking forward to staying put in December. Hopefully all the kids will make it home for Christmas. This will be the first holiday gathering since the pandemic began. During the pandemic we gathered twice- for a memorial service and a wedding. A familiar theme for writers.

Hobbies on the Road

Completed Stocking

As a quilter, I often travel with a small quilt in the final stage-the hand quilting. This is true of this trip. All that remains is the binding.

However, for this trip I also brought a Bucilla stocking. The extended stay in Central Florida allowed me time to start and complete the cute snowman for the newest member of the family. I think the stocking will be loved.

Keeping track of craft items while traveling can be tricky. For this November 2022 trip I kept the two projects in the same tote bag. Large enough to carry both items and small enough to carry into hotel rooms at night. Both the quilt and the stocking may have small monetary value, but each is priceless.

November 2022 In the Library

Travel also gives me great opportunity to read. Four books were reviewed in November 2022. (Click on each title for the individual review: The Displacements, Thank You For Listening, The Last Thing He Told Me, Love Marriage.) And another completed and still another currently in the reading stage. Plus, numerous children’s books are ready for gifting. They deserve a review as well.

Weeding in a Garden

November 2022 included weeding in a garden. A Florida garden, the warmer climate allowing work in this late fall month. As one ages, it is difficult to keep up with the yardwork. And that is if one is actually inclined. In my dad’s case, he prefers the jungle look. All I can think is… a habitat for snakes. So, a backyard jungle has gone through a partial transformation.

But the majority of the work took place in the front of the house. Wandering vines were removed, pine needles swept and accrued sand removed from the driveway. Now he has a safe path to the mailbox. Plus, the communal sidewalk is clear for the neighbors to traverse.

Of course, the hurricane was responsible for the twigs and small branches littering the lawn. Mother Nature contributed to the wild appearance.

Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving was small but very nice. Spending time with family is important to me. A focus on togetherness has always made the day special. The lovely Florida weather was an added benefit. So, even though Thanksgiving was early, the day helped set the tone for an upbeat end to November 2022.

Love Marriage Book Review

2022 Release

Book cover of Love Marriage. Alternating pink and green color blocks with all caps for title

Love Marriage by Monica Ali is an intense book. Not because it is an action thriller or mystery because it is not. Instead, the novel takes a deep look at expected social mores and what really lies behind closed doors. Most importantly, Love Marriage is all about the title. What is love? What is marriage? And are they the same?

A Mix of Cultures

Yasmin Ghorami is engaged to Joe Sangster. The Ghorami family migrated to Great Britain from India before Yasmin and her brother were born. A physician father and stay-at-home mother. Traditional family with a Love Marriage. Or so the story goes.

The Sangster family is Joe and his ultra-feminist and very famous mother. His father was absent for most of his life. So, the couple both grew up in Great Britain but virtually in worlds far apart. Thus, it is quite understandable that Yasmin has the wedding planning jitters.

Love Marriage Theme

The author spins stories of love and marriage, success and failure, and most importantly, of self-awareness. The growth and maturity of the younger generation featured in the novel is moving. Furthermore, an understanding of life events aids in the self-awareness for both Yasmin and Joe.

Monica Ali provides depth to her characters through interactions with secondary characters. And with the side stories, such as with the birth of Jasmin’s niece. And with the secondary characters themselves. Love Marriage takes a deep dive into relationships. What is normal and what is true. Ali also shows how siblings raised in the same household have differing views on the family dynamics.

The writing is peppered with humor, allowing the reader to absorb the intensity of life.

Recommendation

The intricacy of family relationships is the heart of the story. Much like real life, the past is at best rose-colored, at worst, blocked from memory. But love remains. If you are looking for a story deep with meaning, Love Marriage fills the bill. The characters are complex. Self-awareness abounds. Happy endings? The readers will decide that one for themselves.

 

Bending the Rules when Crafting

Snowman Stocking

Bucilla felt stocking with snowman holding a string of multi-colored old-fashioned bulb lights
Almost Finished

Bending the Rules goes against my nature. I grew up on the era when cheating-on anything or anyone- was not acceptable for anything or by anyone. The shame was incredible even without the tar and feathering of colonial days. So, I was definitely a child that colored INSIDE the lines.

But now I color without any lines at all. So, it is not surprising that I am bending the rules with my current craft project. A Bucilla stocking for the youngest grandchild is almost complete. The instructions for these stockings are complex and run multiple pages. Since this is my third stocking, I now make “adjustments” to the required steps.

Important First Steps

In late grade school our teacher gave us a task. The single sheet of paper was full of simple steps to the assignment. The first step was to read all the instructions before beginning. Second on the list was to take out a sheet of paper. Third, we were to write our names on the top left page. Next, we were to number the lines from one to twenty. The list went on with the final instruction: Complete the first three items and then wait for further instructions. Many were tricked by this lesson in following directions.

The stockings begin with the same first step. Read all the directions first. And yes, I remembered my grade school experience and read all the instructions first. But then I start bending the rules. For example, under the general directions the requirements are to separate the color strands of embroidery floss and then cut each in half. I don’t cut the threads in half until I need that color.

However, I do follow the directions of cutting out each felt piece as needed and not at the beginning. A few of these shapes are so small, I can see them getting lost easily. So, you can see I choose which directions to follow.

Bending the Rules

I now use an added felt piece to back the front of the stocking before starting the craft work. My tendency is to make tight stitches which are not ideal for embroidery of any kind. And disastrous when working with felt. The additional piece provides needed sturdiness for my needlework.

A secondary use for this added piece is to hide the applique stitching. Few stitches carry all the way through to the second piece. I believe this will add to the longevity of the stocking. Christmas goodies will not snag or pull on the interior threads nor will chubby toddler hands. These stocking gifts are meant to last a lifetime-not just survive the childhood years. Two pieces of felt cut in a stocking shape

Minor Changes

More bending of the rules began with the second stocking made and continue with this third one. On each I have replaced a provided thread skein with a color I felt coordinated better. I am very picky with my colors blending together. A carryover aspect of my quilt designs.

Next, I followed my own rules with respect to the tops of the lightbulbs. These pieces were incredibly small. So, I embroidered each before cutting any out. This gave me a bigger piece of felt to grasp while stitching. Then, I kept the lightbulb tops open and sewed them shut around the “cord” of thread. Again, I sought added stability. These extra steps were time consuming.

Yellow felt with outlines of bulb clasps, bending rules by keeping in one piece
Bending the rules by embroidering before cutting into individual pieces
Back side of yellow felt showing stitch knots
Thread and knots must stay within the outlines.
Tiny felt lightbulb with tops still apart.
Bending the rules by leaving top open until sewing black "cord" in between edges.

Finally, I diverged from the rules with respect to areas requiring a stuffing. The suggested polyester fiberfill is good for large pieces. But for the smaller pieces I have transitioned to using leftover quilt batting. The flat cotton layers still give the shape body but are so much easier to use. In this snowman stocking, the berries would be a nightmare to stuff any other way.

Small red felt circles with a flat layer of batting atop one.
A flat batting gives enough dimension to the small berries.

Learning Curve

Everything we do involves a learning curve. This third Bucilla stocking proves the adage. I encountered very little frustration and the pieces have melded into a beautiful Christmas treasure and tradition. So much easier than the first stocking made in 2019. I am looking forward to this Christmas with guarded anticipation.

The Last Thing He Told Me Book Review

Pure Mystery

Book cover of The Last Thing He Told Me words written in cursive covering sky above floating houses in SausalitoLaura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me is a thrilling, moving novel of love in the face of lies. The need for family and the sacrifices one makes for that family is the heart and soul of the book. The outcome will move you to tears.

Emotion aside, the story is a fascinating mystery without being a who-done-it. Murder is not the theme. Instead, protecting family is. And yet, the protection comes at a cost. Can the protagonist give up the love of her life to provide stability to a teenager? A sixteen-year-old angry at having a stepmom?

Love at First Sight

Hannah Hall meets Owen Michaels when he accompanies his boss to check on a custom order. Hannah is a woodturner of high-quality furniture. She lives in New York City. Owen is a computer coder. He lives in Sausalito. They connect.

Two short years later, Hannah is opening the door to their houseboat. A twelve-year-old hands her a cryptic note from Owen. And the hunt begins. A hunt for Owen and a hunt for the truth. The search is hampered by her estranged relationship with her stepdaughter Bailey. But they both are desperate to find Owen and the truth.

Their search leads to Austin, Texas and unfathomable revelations.

False Identity

The Last Thing He Told Me uses flashback chapters to offer an explanation. The author easily moves the reader in and out of the present. The voice always of Hannah. But Laura Dave is masterful at conveying the heartbreak of all three principles through action and dialogue. The reader aches for both main and secondary characters. This is quite an accomplishment with a single point-of-view.

Moral questions are asked and answered by the characters as they push for the truth. The only constant for young Bailey is the determination of Hannah to find the answers. Gradually, albeit reluctantly at first, the teenager learns to trust her stepmom in the face of abandonment.

Recommendation for The Last Thing He Told Me

This book moved me to tears. Love and self-sacrifice always tug at this reader’s heartstrings. The plot is plausible and the settings act as reminders to any travelers of the highlighted cities. However, the characters are the heart of The Last Thing He Told Me.

And the ending…is it happy or sad? I can see book clubs and literature students taking either side. Read it and decide for yourself. This book is on my buy list.

Notes on the Weather: Two Weeks of Travel

Driving Cross-country

Snow on a back patio
October Snow

Two weeks of travel allows one to make notes on the weather from varying climates. The trip began in the Colorado mountains. A week of almost daily snow falling from the sky along with snow cannons is creating a base for the ski runs. A check of open resorts can be gleamed by clicking here.

Descending down the mountains, cold air gave way to warm. The High Plains were still dry, but if moisture came it would be in the form of rain. Instead, Halloween was a beautiful fall day as I crossed Kansas into Missouri. If better notes on the weather were taken, exact temperatures could be shared. But highs in the 70s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the 50s (F°) were the rule for the first few days of November.

Kentucky Visit

A crowd forms around the paddock at Keeneland Race Track
Trees dropping their leaves at Keeneland Racetrack.

A full week spent in the Bluegrass State proved weather can be variable. Kentucky showed signs of a lack of moisture. But not the drought conditions of more western states. (Missouri appeared to be the worst.) The temperature swings from the upper sixties to upper seventies in the afternoons with lows ranging from 42 F° to 60 F° at night.

Dry conditions were underscored by an extremely windy day on Saturday of Breeder’s Cup races followed by just a sprinkle of rain. Then, the fall weather returned full force. Hopefully the next big front to blow through will have less wind and more rain.

Notes on the Weather: Last Minute Change

My two weeks of travel itinerary changed due to the approach of Hurricane Nicole. The side trip from Cincinnati to Columbus, Ohio was cancelled. Perhaps next summer will afford me some time to visit the area.

Light winds accompanied me through the Appalachians as I drove southeast from Kentucky through Tennessee into Georgia. Glorious orange, red and yellow fall colors returning the further south I drove. The only negative was the heavy traffic on Interstate 75 as I neared Atlanta, Georgia. An alternate route would be preferable if time was not of the essence.

One hate’s driving toward a hurricane, but it is preferable (in my mind) to driving IN a hurricane. I am sure storm chasers would disagree. Fortunately, Nicole stayed offshore as Americans voted.

Notes on the Weather: Hurricane Nicole

Bucket crane trimming broken branches from Hurricane NicoleMy arrival in Central Florida preceded Nicole’s by about eighteen hours. The winds became stronger as we both approached the area. Since, this was a Category 1 storm the wind gusts were on par to those I experience frequently living on the High Plains. I have always wondered why the Weather Channel does not send Jim Cantore and his co-hosts out to my part of the country on a more regular basis. Perhaps, it is the lack of storm surge. More likely blowing dust is not as easy to film as crashing waves.

We battened down the hatches and stayed inside as the storm rolled through. “Minimal” rain of just 2.3 inches accompanied the strong winds. Some small branches came down, including one that pierced the pool screen. A few neighbors lost bigger branches, but no trees toppled in this neighborhood.

The rain amounts varied. Since both of my Central Florida family members take notes on the weather, I can report 5 miles to the Northeast the rainfall was 4 inches. Such a difference is normal in this part of the world.

Small branch piercing top of pool screen
Limited Damage

Political Observations

Driving cross-country allows me to personally observe what is going on in the United States. In the days before the mid-term elections, campaign signs proliferated. In the absence of a presidential election, most of the candidates were unknown to me.

A few key notes. The many, very conservative areas of the country on my route have taken down the signs supporting former President Trump. Dozens of signs remained long past the 2020 election. Numerous ones as late as July 2021 promoting a Trump 2024 run. All of these are gone. I found this very interesting.

Second, the Commonwealth of Kentucky elects their judges. This differs from where I live. We just vote to retain judges after they have been appointed. So, Kentucky has a plethora of campaign signs each election. This has always gladdened my heart-democracy in action. But do large contributors to a judge’s campaign create a “Get Out of Jail Free” situation? Something to ponder.

Finally, radio coverage of the mid-term elections is excellent. I was impressed as I traversed southward listening to the various local stations. More facts and less hype were the norm.

Economic Observations

My economic observations are related to notes on the weather. In Missouri, which is experiencing drought I noted cranes along some riverbeds. Perhaps for dredging. And some stream beds were bone dry. I lived in this state during my high school years and never witnessed this before.

The first new construction I encountered was a three-sided hay barn in Southern Indiana. So, no evidence of building in the first four states I drove through. Then I arrived in Kentucky. From anecdotal appearance, the economic slowdown is not stopping construction in the Bluegrass state.

New houses, additions to houses and commercial businesses were all observed in various stages of development. As long as each is completed, the area may escape the downturn. States to the south of Kentucky did not have as much activity. But more than those previously encountered to the west.

Notes on the Weather

A country as vast as the United States has many climate zones. November ushers in snow and cold in many parts. Thus, construction is seasonal in these areas. And is grinding to a halt.

States such as Florida are warm year-round but do have a wet season to contend with-along with hurricane season. I will be in Central Florida for a few weeks and will watch the overdue change to the anticipated dry season. Nicole was not the first November hurricane to reach the state. An unusual but not unprecedented storm. Notes on the weather will continue as I pay more attention to climate.

Thank You for Listening Book Review

Romance or Love Story?

Both a romance and a love story, Thank You for Listening is an enchanting story with depth. Julia Whelan’s experience as a screenwriter and audiobook narrator provides the necessary background to pen this delightful book. My only question as someone who has never heard an audiobook, do the books end with the phrase thank you for listening?

Plot of Thank You for Listening

Readers of romance novels know a common plot is a couple meet for a night of passion, part in the morning and somehow find each other in the future. And after a fiery courtship there is the HEA- Happily Ever After. Whelan incorporates this plot into her love story.

Thank You for Listening is truly a commentary on the entertainment industry. The successes and failures as well as the intensity and hard work needed to stay at the top. Then the novel takes things one step further by creating a protagonist disfigured by a freak accident early in her career.

Sewanee Chester

Lead character Sewanee Chester is an audiobook narrator with a tragic past. However, she seemingly has moved on. (Of course, she hasn’t…) She is unwillingly heading to Vegas to moderate a panel of Romance narrators. The character of Sewanee is complex. She is marred both literally and figuratively. Yet, she is so very giving. She definitely deserves love and not just a love interest. The question is will it be with mysterious one night Nick or the never met in person, fellow narrator Brock McKnight?

Love and Relationships

Whelan successfully incorporates the many types of love into Thank You for Listening. Naturally there is the romantic love, but there is also the love of best friends and the love of family. A subplot is the growing dementia of Sewanee’s grandmother. The once vibrant actress is progressing toward a loss that neither she nor her son and granddaughter know quite how to handle. Since, Sewanee’s parents are divorced there is yet another layer of complexity.

Recommendation for Thank You for Listening

I loved this book on many levels. The background industry of audiobooks is one I am not familiar with, and the author’s knowledge proved educational. The romance was perfectly portrayed. Yet, Thank You for Listening is much deeper than a typical romance. Truly it is a novel of love and growth.

Because the book is a story about the romance industry, there are some red-hot scenes. This is not a sweet, chaste novel. However, unlike a romance, the love scenes are not a major part of the plotline. Indeed, much tongue-in-cheek is involved in the dialogue. And the many threads are untangled and explained. And maybe a bit of HEA for more than one couple, too.

The Displacements Book Review

Another Hit from Bruce Holsinger

The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger weaves a story of climate change, angry white males and family unity in the face of adversity into a page-turning tale of evacuation, displacement, and FEMA camp living. I first reviewed Holsinger after the release of The Gifted School. Click here to read the review.

The Displacements is even more thought provoking than The Gifted School. And, in my opinion a more important read. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful, coastal cities more crowded and reliance on government agencies such as FEMA definitely more complicated.

Plot of The Displacements

The first ever Category 6 Hurricane knocks out South Florida. Daphne Larson-Hall evacuates north with her three kids: Gavin, Mia and Oliver. Unbeknownst to Daphne, her purse is left-intentionally-on the driveway. Her surgeon husband needs to spearhead a hospital evacuation and must join later. But he never does.

So, the upper-middle class family, penniless, finds themselves on a bus being evacuated to a large FEMA tent-city in rural Oklahoma. Circumstances dictate the family remain in the displacement camp for three months. Then, they must evacuate once again due to another natural disaster.

Thought-provoking FEMA Camp

Life inside the tent-city under the leadership of former Army veteran turned FEMA disaster assistant, Lorraine “Rain” Holton, is a reflection of society. Even though tents are randomly assigned, tents are traded, and communities centered on heritage spring up; Cubans, Haitians, Guatemalans, and…Crackerland. Holsinger takes a hard look at the segregation. And the underlying cultural divide.

But an equally compelling thread involves drugs-users and dealers. The lives of the Larson-Hall family are touched on so many levels. Fortunately, the family comes through stronger, with less naïveté and quite possibly a bit more happiness.

Bruce Holsinger

Holsinger is masterful at utilizing fiction to bring attention to major societal problems. In The Displacements, the author gives hope that change can come about. But it may occur one person at a time.

The growth of Daphne Larson-Hall is particularly uplifting. Many women in America fit her description. Unaware of personal or family finances. And too trusting. Yet, in the face of adversity she re-groups and finds herself. Not a perfect mom, but she has the strength of love for her family. The interactions with her stepson towards the end of the story are powerful. Strength comes from within-as does happiness.

If you have not read any of Holsinger’s work, I encourage you to add him to your list of authors to look for. His stand-alone books make you think. They truly are a reflection of society.

The Displacements book cover with swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic

October 2022 Wrap-Up

Happy Halloween

The end of October 2022 is here and so is a favorite day of many. Happy Halloween to all the Trick-or-Treaters. I am away from home today so I will miss all the costumes. Maybe my spouse will have some leftover Halloween candy to share once we reunite mid-week.

October 2022 In the Library

Many books were read this month. My target of one book reviewed each week was met with a wide variety to choose from. From historical novel to futuristic, with a solid economic text and just-in-time for Halloween- a trio of children’s books. Furthermore, two more reviews are on the way. The eclectic selection continues with a fictional commentary involving climate change and other social issues in The Displacements. Be sure to check back later this week. And a romance/love story will be featured next week.

Closing out the Harvest

The first freeze of the fall took place in October 2022. There are still a few green tomatoes ripening on the table. Even though the harvest was not record setting, it was plentiful. For those who missed Progressing Through the Season, click here to see some pictures of the newly planted asparagus bed.

Fall Cleaning

October 2022 extended the re-organization of the house. The focus this past month has been the basement. In addition to the canning storage area, I am organizing the library/play area. The grandkids need a space to spread out when they visit.

Highlight of October 2022

The best of the month came toward the very end. My new railing and stair banister finally arrived from the artists at Mostly by Nature in Santa Fe. We have purchased other pieces from the shop Sequioa Santa Fe on Galisteo Street.

The old railing was dismantled when hardwood floors replaced the carpet in the living room back in June. There have been no visits from the toddlers during this time for obvious reasons.

Now that the construction phase is over, I am looking forward to having family gather for the winter holidays. It will be cramped, but many memories will be made. Enjoy the before and after photos below.

Old Railing

Wood spindle railing
Last picture of wood railing before removal

New Railing

Artistic one-of-a-kind Iron railing
Unique Iron Railing updates the room.

A Trio of Halloween Books

Almost Halloween

Since seasonal books are always a favorite of mine, I offer a trio of Halloween books to celebrate the season. Recently, I bought one for each grandkid at an independent Bookstore. Two are board books and one is a story book for the eldest.

Snowmen At Halloween

Board book cover with snowmen dressed in Halloween costumesThe youngest tyke is just now realizing there is a world around him. Fortunately, he has parents that both read and read to him. Snowman At Halloween is a board book that he can put his chubby little hands around…next year. But I am sure he will listen to more than one reading of the cute tale this year.

The story is written by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. I picked it up because snow often fell before Halloween when my kids were little. Not so much anymore. The sentences have rhyme and rhythm, and the story is sure to please readers young and old. A perfect start to a collection of Halloween books.

Room on the Broom

This adaptation of the picture book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler is sure to please my middle grandchild. She loves to open flaps and pull tabs. Since I have not read the original, I cannot attest to the changes. But this board book is delightfully humorous on its’ own. And the perfect length for pre-toddlers still building their attention spans. Interactive Halloween books are hard to find, and Room on the Broom is sure to be a hit.Kids lift the flap book with a witch on a broom

If Animals Trick-or-Treated

Cartoon animals dressed in Halloween costumes.The last of the trio of Halloween books is part of a picture book series. Ann Whitford Paul writes, and David Walker illustrates the If Animals… series. And If Animals Trick-or-Treated is sure to be a winner with the eldest grandchild who understands just what occurs on Halloween night.

If Animals Trick-or-Treated has a 2022 release date, so it may not be in many libraries yet. But the book portrays the various young animals in a variety of Halloween activities from visiting the pumpkin patch to reading scary stories and sharing delightful animal favorite treats.

A Trio of Halloween Books

Holiday themed books make great gifts. Halloween books are favorites with our family. The tradition began with my mom and continues with my grandkids. If your family enjoys Halloween, consider finding one of these three books to read this holiday.

Bull Snakes Allowed

I live in a part of the country where bull snakes thrive. The prairies are prime habitat and so are the towns that dot them. So, from time to time one decides to take up residence in our yard.

We lost a seasoned bull snake last year when it became entangled in some deer fencing. That one was one of the largest bull snakes I ever came in contact with. Over six feet long and as thick as my fist. Our newest inhabitant is much younger.

Identification

Young adult bull snake taking a defensive position.
The round eyes help identify the type of snake.

While not a fan of snakes in general, I understand the importance of snakes such as bull snakes in the ecosystem. So, identification is important. Bull snakes closely resemble rattlesnakes. As long as rattlers stay away from my yard, they are free to be. But venomous snakes are too dangerous to co-exist in close proximity.

As a young child I was taught to stay clear of certain snakes. The first I learned to identify was the coral snake followed by Eastern Diamondback and Timber rattlesnakes. On the High Plains of North America, I mostly encounter prairie rattlers although massasauga rattlesnakes can also be found. The latter snakes tend to be smaller. Both are venomous.

Markings of bull snakes and rattlesnakes are similar. The heads are both triangular although the rattlesnake is more so and narrows at the neck. As a defense mechanism, the bull snake can flatten its’ head making this factor unreliable. The eyes differ as well, but I wouldn’t want to get that close. So, the default is the tail. Beware of rattles.

Sophie and Bull Snakes

Striped cat atop a cat seatSophie the cat is quite the hunter. From time to time, she has competition from the bull snakes. She stays clear of the larger ones but sometimes challenges and even conquers the smaller ones. She was challenging the latest bull snake this week.

When bull snakes are confronted, they take on the characteristics of a rattlesnake. They coil as if they will strike, puff up and hiss. Sometimes they will mimic a rattle with their tails by shaking it against dry leaves. In the case of our latest visitor, only green grass was nearby.

However, we wanted to make sure. In the photo above, the eye is rounded as for a bull. But I did not get close enough to see in real life. It was the striped tail without a rattle that saved this particular reptile.

Water and Bull Snakes Don’t Mix

As you can see in the following videos, this bull snake did not want to get wet. After determining the snake was not a rattler, we wanted to discourage it from hanging around the patio. Spraying water in front of it was a surefire way to change its’ direction.

I believe this snake has been around for about six weeks. The grasshoppers that had ravaged my herb garden suddenly disappeared about that time. Additionally, I have heard rustling sounds lately on trips out to the compost pile. And a snake-sized hole appeared burrowing into one of the raised beds in the same area.

Since this is not a baby bull snake, my hope is Sophie will leave it alone. Then, I will have two hunters of mice. Bull snakes certainly have a place in my garden. I just wish they didn’t startle me so much.

Not a fan of water

Maybe in the 3-foot range

Understandable Economics Book Review

2022 Release

Understandable Economics: Because Understanding Our Economy is Easier Than You Think And More Important Than You Know is a 2022 release written by Howard Yaruss. The book is broken into five sections. Each part provides valuable examples to how the overall economy works.

Inequality

A key tenet in Understandable Economics is inequality. The author explores the challenges and dangers surrounding a society where incomes are out of equilibrium. Yaruss does a good job of balancing the discussion between the need for financial incentives and disproportionate incomes.

I found his explanation of minimum wages particularly comprehensible. The juxtaposition between the need for a living wage and the expense of labor on business-keying on small businesses-was well explained. Much better than most text books.

This theme continues throughout the book. Since, the final chapters focus on redistribution of income, the reader can expect a thorough discussion of taxes. Yaruss explains the different types of taxes and how they impact societal incomes.

Boom and Bust

The chapter titled Boom or Bust tackles the current market moves toward recession. Since this chapter begins the section on The Economic Cycle, readers benefit from an explanation of what defines a recession and how recessions differ from depressions. Furthermore, this segment of Understandable Economics explores both monetary and fiscal policy. And the book explains the powers and limitations of the U.S. Government and The Federal Reserve.

Recommendation for Understandable Economics

Howard Yaruss expresses his belief that a society needs to possess an understanding of economics to continue growth and prosperity. Thus, his approach to explaining basic economics without a semester long course is welcomed. However, success depends on a culture motivated by self-learning versus “selfies.”

I encourage the gift giving of this book as the holidays are just around the corner. Understandable Economics is well written. It deserves to be well read.

Independent Bookstores

I love discovering independent bookstores when I am travelling. Even though I frequent a Barnes and Noble two hours away and visit another one six hours away from time to time, it is the independent bookstores I look for when travelling about the country.

These bookstores vary in size and scope. Some are only resellers; others have the latest releases. Many have coffeeshops within. I have often spent hours wandering through the shelves.

Favorite Independent Bookstores

In Santa Fe, my favorite bookstore is the Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeeshop. This gathering place for both locals and tourists hosts frequent book signings. The books available cover a wide range of current releases mixed with books highlighting the history of the area and travel guides for exploring. I picked up both The Scorpion’s Tail and Head Wounds on my 2021 visit to the store. An additional treat for coffee lovers is the onsite coffeehouse.

The recent review of the Lilac Girls is a result from a visit to The Island Bookstore on Mackinac Island. This small independent was full of tourists and caters to this clientele. The store is only open in season. But they do have an online presence year-round.

The Tattered Cover

My first experience with independent bookstores traces back over thirty years. The Tattered Cover is the most successful of any I frequent. Not only has the bookstore expanded to seven locations centered around the Denver, Colorado area, but sites can be found in Colorado Springs and on all three concourses of Denver International Airport. Furthermore, this crown jewel of independent bookstores erects over one hundred pop-up sites throughout the year.

Latest Find

The Bookworm in Edwards, Colorado is my latest discovery. And it may become my favorite because of the exceptional service. Well-staffed and well-run, The Bookworm employees must be on good terms with their regular customers because they spot newcomers and issue warm welcomes.

My recent visit netted gifts for the grandkids and enough titles to last through Thanksgiving. My first read from the stash was a new release from Bruce Holsinger entitled The Displacements and you will be able to read the already written review next week.

Why Buy at Independent Bookstores?

I frequent my library on a regular basis and currently have two books checked out. But I travel a lot and hate the thought of losing a library book thereby denying someone else the pleasure of reading that selection. So, quite a bit of my discretionary budget goes to books.

Independent bookstores carry local authors and books with settings in nearby locations. Many provide a place to relax and recharge. The resell stores are also an attraction. Sometimes I stumble upon a book by a favored author long out of print. I have added to my Helen MacInnis collection in this way.

Books are a large part of my life. I am thankful for my love of reading. Also, thankful that my husband and kids are all readers. Finally, I am excited for the youngest generation. They are all tiny tots, but they already love books.

If you have a favorite independent bookstore to share, feel free to share in the comments below.

Upgrade Book Review

Upgrade by Blake Crouch is a 2022 release that is part futuristic, part action, part dystopian and totally page turning. But the most compelling part of the story is the humanity demonstrated by the hero, Logan Ramsey. A man no longer a “normal” human. But one genetically altered.

Plot Twists and Turns

Simplistically, the plot is of one man racing to save the world from destruction. But Upgrade is so much more. Ramsey works for the GPA-Gene Protection Agency. His job is to track down rogue geneticists. Only he is caught in a spiderweb of familial deceit.

Crouch utilizes a number of plot twists to keep the reader on the edge. The bad guy switches from one person to another as a poorly conceived attempt to save the world spirals out of control. Throughout, the genetically altered Logan Ramsey is determined to stop the plan to create a world of superhumans, at the cost of the essence of humanity.

Upgrade and Current Events

The underlying theme to Upgrade is the current state of affairs on Earth. Mankind is at a crossroads with respect to human and artificial intelligence, exploding expansion in technology of all kinds including biological and a growing climate crisis. All of the above plays heavily into the story.

Yet, the author provides a balance to the racing technology. Most of the insight comes from the journal entries of Ramsey. But not all. A recorded video of his mom before her death also casts a light on the importance of seizing a moment. Furthermore, many passages remind the reader of just what is crucial to human life. Kudos to the author for these reminders.

Memorable Character

Logan Ramsey is one of those characters that will stay in your memory. Repenting of his past, protective of his family and honor bound to do what is right. Even in the face of betrayal. The reader easily connects with Ramsey and agonizes alongside him. Each step of the way as he fights to keep the human race from being genetically altered-as he was.

And then Blake Crouch throws in one final twist.

Progressing Through the Season

Fall 2022- Progressing Through the Season

I am progressing through the season. The fall season is just a few weeks old but I think I have canned the last of the cucumbers. Today, I mixed Bavarian and Kosher Dill spices. It will be interesting to discover the taste in a month or two once the pickles are ready.

The tomatoes are still going full strength. New blooms continue, plenty of green tomatoes and a steady ripening of both paste and slicers. So, the garden is also progressing through the season.

Cans of Bavarian Pickles
Tomato Blooms

Asparagus Bed

The new asparagus bed is showing signs of fall. Just one of the two dozen plants is a female as determined by the red berries she is now producing. To be honest, I can’t remember if the package of roots claimed to be all males. But the bed dominated by males should guard against overcrowding while producing plenty of spears in the coming years. The new plants are nicely progressing through the season with fronds turning yellow.

This year I mixed a few tomatoes into the asparagus bed. However, harvesting was difficult since I did not want to harm the new asparagus. So, I will not repeat that experiment. Next year, I will harvest about a third of the spears to allow the plants to firmly root in.

Fall asparagus bed full of fronds
Asparagus fronds beginning to turn yellow.
Female asparagus plant with red berries
Red Berries on female plant

Progressing Through the Season

Green leaves turning to yellow and orange.
Newly planted peach tree.

My fall clean-up will extend outside as well as in the basement. Beds will be prepared for winter. To guard against erosion, plants will not be pulled from the ground. Instead, I will clip the stalks at or just above ground level. Hopefully, this will prevent the strong winter winds from blowing away the soil. I lost my entire garlic crop last year due to winds over 100 m.p.h. (That is equal to Category 2 Hurricane winds.)

Next, I will add some compost and a covering of straw. This will enrich the soil and keep the temperature just a bit warmer. Cool spring soil temperature can delay transplanting into the garden.

Additional tasks will include trimming of branches, disconnecting hoses and of course raking of leaves…once they start falling. The trees are late to turn color this year. So, it is quite possible we will not have our first frost until November. Quite a change from 2020 when we experienced a Labor Day Freeze.

Lilac Girls Book Review

Impulse Buy

On impulse I purchased Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly from the bookstore at Front cover of the book Lilac Girls depicting three women walking away.Mackinac Island. Fortunately, the impulse proved worthy. This novel of historical fiction focuses on three main characters. Two real-life individuals and a third protagonist who is more of a composite. The story begins as Hitler invades Poland. But the lives of the three are followed long after the end of the second World War.

Plot of Lilac Girls

The author ties together the lives of an American socialite, a German doctor and a head strong Polish youth on the cusp of womanhood. The time period is World War II. Hence the novel is a gripping tale of wartime atrocities and the struggles that remain long after the fighting stops.

Each storyline is compelling and heartbreaking in its own way. Ms. Kelly thoroughly researched the subject matter of the Ravensbrück Rabbits. A name given to the young women upon whom the Nazi’s preformed experimental surgeries. Ravensbrück was the main concentration camp for women. Estate papers and public documents record Caroline Ferriday’s work on the behalf of the “Rabbits.”

The Nuremberg Doctors Trial transcripts provide information on Dr. Herta Oberheuser. And as with much historical fiction, the author re-created the individual as closely as possible. However, most dialogue is fictional. Nonetheless, actual testimony from Oberheuser is used in one of the chapters. The reader gleams an understanding of how atrocities are committed. But perhaps not an acceptance of why.

The focus of the book is on the prisoners themselves. The characters of Kasia and her sister Zuzanna are pure fiction, but loosely based on two sisters that were operated on. Research for this portion included interviews with survivors of Ravensbrück.

Changing Points of View

Lilac Girls is written in the first person. Thus, allowing the reader to grasp the motivation of each of the three main characters. Furthermore, the rotation of chapters is not symmetrical throughout. So, each storyline develops at its’ own pace. An added positive to this approach is one of relief from the very detailed atrocities committed at the camp. Kasia’s story is a tough read.

Recommendation for Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls is one of my best impulse buys to date. First published in 2016 as debut novel for Martha Hall Kelly, both a prequel and a sequel have been penned and released. A fourth novel, a spinoff from Lilac Girls is due to be released in 2023. So, if you have not read any of Ms. Kelly’s books, I urge you to find one. Her research is exemplary, and her writing is skilled. The characters and stories in Lilac Girls are moving and uplifting in the face of personal hardship and tragedy. This novel is highly recommended.

Alternating Tasks: Fall Cleaning and Canning

Splitting Tasks

These days I am alternating between days devoted to fall cleaning and spending time in the kitchen canning. And an occasional day devoted to a combination of laundry, reading and writing. While the fall cleaning could get completed sooner if all my time was spent on that, I need the time alternating tasks because the Big Garden is slowing down with the shorter days. But still producing fruits and vegetables.

Fall Cleaning

Thanks to the use of two books, I previously have reviewed; Cleaning Sucks and Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight, fall cleaning inside the house has been much easier. But there is one major exception, the basement. So this fall I am concentrating on the area below the ground.

My basement is partial and mostly finished. The unfinished room is storage and really not that big of an area. At 8 x 10 the room does have tall cabinet doors painted to reflect the seasons. The original intent was to store decorations. Intentions and needs change through the years.

My goal this fall is to clean out the clutter and repurpose some of the shelves in order to store paint and repair supplies as well as some of my gardening supplies. Alas, inflation has kept me from my dream garden/greenhouse. So, seed starting equipment will remain inside.

Additionally, my canning equipment is all over the place. Organization is clearly needed. But this is tough in the heart of canning season. Empty jars are rapidly filling with produce. The filled jars need their own space as well.

 

Canning

The tomatoes are finally turning a bright, beautiful red. So far three batches of salsa have been made. Next up is the spaghetti sauce. This is an all-day affair. Simmering the fresh tomatoes into a rich thick sauce takes time. We will test taste with dinner and then can the rest.

The cucumbers are really winding down and tomorrow will most likely be the last day of pickling. This has been a banner year for cucumbers, so it is a good thing pickles and meat jams are loved by my family members.

Alternating Tasks

One benefit of alternating tasks is freedom from boredom. Another is utilizing down time from one project to work on or complete another task. Pickling is a multi-stepped process including an ice-bath stage. So, days processing cucumbers can include sorting through the clutter in the basement.

However, canning jams, jellies and salsas are days spent entirely in the kitchen. Long days. So, the following day my legs need a break. Aging makes alternating tasks a necessity.

Tips for Fall Cleaning and Canning

Flipping back and forth between two major projects takes planning. Although we harvest items on a daily basis for our meals, at least twice a week we make a major haul of like produce for canning. And recently three times a week. Therefore, the fall cleaning takes a back seat to the fresh produce.

So, I plan out two to three days of indoor projects-not canning- in advance. I utilize the approach of cleaning in short spurts presented in Cleaning Sucks. For example, one morning can be devoted to straightening the quilt room and the afternoon focusing on organizing the play area for the grandkids.

Another morning will include touch up painting and the afternoon could be spent dusting and cleaning floors. We have a library in the basement and an effort to find books to donate to the library book sale will comprise another block of time. Working in small chunks of time, consistently through the week, has really aided in decluttering the house.

Making a list of all the chores is the first step. Then there is the process of prioritizing the work. Finally, the implementation of alternating tasks. Slowly, but surely the work is getting done.

September 2022 Wrap-Up

Summer Hanging On

The last day of September 2022 means another month has passed by. Time does not stand still. No freeze yet so lots of canning when I am not travelling. The highlight of the month was a road trip to Pierre, South Dakota for a Zonta International District 12 seminar. Weather was delightful but offered another glimpse of a changing climate. The highs were in the 80s and I never needed at jacket. Not even at night.

Skirting the Badlands

Last weekend I saw my first glimpse of the Badlands as I returned from Pierre/North Pierre, South Dakota. A distant glimpse as I was travelling south on South Dakota Highway 73 from Kadoka, South Dakota to Merriman, Nebraska.

The topography to the west was incredible. The canyons and bluffs created by rains as well as drainage from the White River, are stark in their beauty. I wish I had pictures to share but alas I was driving and there was no really good place to pull over. Driving down this road encountered little traffic. Not surprising since the area is not conducive to vegetation or habitation. Just incredible views of nature.

Heartland Travel

The Heartland of America is vast. Even numbered interstates crossing east/west begin with I-10 to the south culminating with I-94 to the north. I-90 intersects South Dakota, and the speed limit is 80 m.p.h. and at this speed I only noted one lawbreaker. On my trip out to Pierre, I only drove 19 miles of interstate. The rest of the trip involved U.S. and state highways.

Positives of using the backroads are less traffic and a greater chance to notice the surroundings. Negatives can include difficulty passing local drivers and occasionally roads in poor condition. Fortunately, we had no troubles on this trip. Only positives.

 

September 2022- Endless Cucumbers

Cucumbers are the star of the 2022 garden. Almost October and they are still flowering. Of course, the days are getting shorter, so I expect the vines to start slowing down. Pickles will certainly be in Christmas gift baskets. But many other goodies that are cucumber based will be included. The Indian Cucumber Relish recipe from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving filled the house with wonderful aroma and both the sweet and savory jam recipes are great.

The tomatoes are struggling to turn red. So only one batch of family secret salsa recipe has been whipped up. I believe that will change in the coming weeks. Long-term forecast shows no freeze into the first ten days of October. So, canning will continue.

September 2022- In the Library

Reading is not on the front burner with everything else vying for attention. I am currently reading Lilac Girls picked up on my visit to Mackinac Island. Set in the Second World War, the book is gripping. My To Be Read list keeps growing, so I know how much of my winter will be spent. Dividing my time between reading and quilting is once again, just around the corner.

Keeping At It -Book Review

A Memoir

Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government is Paul A. Volcker’s memoir produced with the aid of Christine Harper. Written in first person, it is hard to discern the diligent work of Ms. Harper. And it is obvious that the content is a testament to the stewardship of Mr. Volcker.

As an undergraduate economics student during Volker’s stint at the head of the Federal Reserve, I was familiar with his work. And an admirer. The book was published in 2018 and I regret so much time passed before I crossed it off the to be read list. The memoir is important both as an historic account and as a forewarning.

Early Years

A timeline of Volcker’s life is followed by a chapter on his youth and then one on the college experience. And a third on his early career. These chapters give insight on events that shaped the dedicated public servant. They also introduce the first bit of history as the United States still followed the gold standard. And how that changed.

Personally, I found these chapters intriguing. Perhaps because Paul Volcker was already established as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve when he first appeared on my radar. I was impressed by his early years. It is easy to see how the persistence, the keeping at it, evolved from his upbringing.

Public Service Begins

After the introduction and back story, the memoir dives into the thick of things. Public service at agencies in both New York City and Washington, D.C. bouncing between the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. The tone of the writing changes from background information to economic substance. These middle chapters benefit by a reader’s knowledge, background, and interest in economics. Furthermore, an understanding of monetary policy is also useful.

Volcker began his Washington, D.C. service under President Kennedy and served presidents representing both political parties through the tenure of President Obama. His non-governmental ventures centered on financial management. But what he is most remembered for is his ending of stagflation while serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from his appointment under President Carter in 1979 to the end of his second term in 1987 under President Reagan.

These chapters give a glimpse at how partisan politics can hamper decision making. Keeping at it until inflation was controlled needed a tightrope act, balancing among the political personalities. Volcker succeeded against the odds.

Keeping At It- A Forewarning

Perhaps the most important part of the memoir, Keeping At It, is the message of ethics. And the importance of good government. Volcker witnessed multiple market failures and policy failures. Yet, to this reader, his greatest concern seems to have surfaced in the last years of his life. He talks in general terms, but the implication is quite clear. There is danger in the current anti-government populism.

His legacy, The Volcker Alliance, remains in place. The task is to promote good governance. The two current initiatives involve Diversity in Government and Truth and Integrity in Government. More can be discovered by visiting the website The Volcker Alliance .

Recommendation for Keeping At It

Paul Volcker’s memoir needs a discerning audience. It is not an easy read. But I think it is an essential book for anyone interested in finance, governmental service and ethics in management. Historians will find the details accurate and of interest. I can easily see the memoir included in a graduate economics or finance course.

Keeping At It is a valuable insight into the thoughts of one of (if not the best) economic minds of my lifetime. One can only hope the current Fed Chairman has read the content for once again we are at the beginning of a financial crisis.

(Note: This post was penned September 20, 2022. It is obvious from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s address on September 21, 2022, that he has indeed read the memoir as he stated, “My main message has not changed since Jackson Hole. The FOMC is strongly resolved to bring inflation down to 2%, and we will keep at it until the job is done.”)

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- A Simple Fix with Recycled Items

Recently the vertical spice drawer at the mountain writing retreat jammed. Very frustrating when you use spices as much as I do. And very difficult to fix since the drawer is a self-contained unit. Unlike horizontal drawers, there is no access from above or below. Or, from the side. Somehow a spice container had fallen and blocked the drawer from sliding.

Multiple Attempts

Over a period of several days, I attempted to fix the jammed vertical spice drawer. First, I tried wiggling the drawer from side to side. No luck. Then, I used a plastic spatula. The kind for flipping hamburgers not scraping out cake mix, but again, no luck. The spatula was just too short to make a difference.

Multiple days of this proved trying the same thing over and over consistently yields the same outcome, in this case failure. So, I made a trip to a big box hardware store in a neighboring town. The thought was to find a flexible piece of very thin metal. I found two candidates in the hardware aisle. To be honest I have no idea of their “real” purpose. But both were inexpensive and worth a try.

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- The Fix

Once back in the kitchen a new dilemma surfaced. I do not own this home and do not want to damage the gorgeous custom cabinetry. That includes scratches! So, I decided to wrap the metal pieces with a paper bag. This kept the metal from scratching but neither piece worked. One piece was too pliable and the other not pliable enough. Definitely a Goldilocks experience.

But the paper bags triggered an aha moment. I folded one in half, vertically, and was able to slide it in more than the three inches the spatula had yielded. So, then I slid the bag up and down the right side. No blockage.

I left the first bag on the right side and folded a second bag and checked the left side. The bag jammed down at the bottom on the lower left. But the bag was not stiff enough to move whichever spice jar had fallen and jammed. So, I used the second bag to create a space at the bottom of the drawer and began searching for a piece of cardboard.

Recycling Saves the Day

Digging through the recycling bin, I found the perfect item. Not as thick as regular cardboard, but stiffer than cardstock, the ideal candidate was the backing from the packaging of a new vegetable scraper. With the two paper bags holding the jammed vertical spice drawer in place, I was able to use both hands to work the package backing up and down at the bottom edge.

Finally, the item jamming the drawer moved and the vertical spice drawer popped open. And many items tumbled out. The most likely candidates for troublemaking spices were bottles of extracts and small boxes of herbs. Similar items have been removed from the cabinet. No need to repeat the disaster!

I am thankful the jammed item was toward the front of the drawer as I did not have a two-foot-long piece of recycled card to use. A key take-away is to not overfill one of these spice cabinets. Furthermore, extract bottles and paper spice holders should be stored elsewhere. If you ever get a stuck vertical drawer of any kind, try this troubleshooting technique.

 

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer

Use the folded bags to keep drawer in position.
Likely Culprits
Vertical Spice Drawer
Vertical Spice Drawer Functioning Once Again

Exploring Downtown Austin, Texas

First Visit

A quick trip to Austin, Texas created a desire to return. The stay in the downtown area contrasted greatly with many other cities. In addition to friendliness, the streets were clean, and many families were out and about. Furthermore, bike and running paths and various self-propelled watercraft provided opportunity for healthy living. High tech is also evident as we ran into a REV-1 robot in test mode. Certainly, eye-opening for a small-town resident like me.

Robot on the Move-Austin, Texas

State Capitol

Visiting the Texas State Capitol was an easy walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge.  An early start to avoid any heat and humidity so often encountered as the day heats up allowed time to stroll around the grounds before the building opened for tours. This provided an opportunity to wander around the many monuments and soak in the history.

Highlights include the Tejano Monument, Texas African American History Monument, Southern Confederacy Monument (I believe in keeping evidence of past mistakes, especially horrendous ones so that we don’t forget and then repeat.) A monument to the firefighters lost in the Dumas-Sunray refinery accident is also on the grounds. The accident occurred before my time, but old-timers on the High Plains still remember. Finally, just outside the entrance to the Capitol is a drinking fountain in active use since the 1880s. A reminder of how much has changed through time.

Inside the Capitol Building

The line to enter the Capitol right at the opening was fairly short and the wait was about 5 minutes allowing us to join the first tour group. The rotunda buzzed with activity. TV stations covered a civilized protest re: banning of books. A group of teenagers comprised one tour group and several families opted to tour on their own versus with a guide.

Our guide was very informative. History lessons are most interesting when exploring. The State Capitol of Texas endured two fires about a century apart. The latter fire occurred in 1983. As a result, a four- story underground addition was built with the completion in the late 1990s. This massive space is so well lit, including natural light from skylights, that visitors will not realize they are underground.

The tour included a stop in a legislative chamber and discussion of beautiful historic artwork. Furthermore, the building materials, design and even light fixtures all emphasize the legacy of Texas. Legislation passed in the 1980s keep sightlines to the Capitol building open. A beacon shining. One hopes many will be drawn to enter and explore.

Eateries Abound Downtown

Food is incredible in Austin! Our first experience-lunch at True Food Kitchen. This hip location on the Capitol side of the Colorado River provided great meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Their kale salads were phenomenal. Enough for me to want to plant a winter crop. Paninis and burgers were also enjoyed. The service was good, and the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. I highly recommend.

My favorite evening meal took place at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. This popular eatery may require reservations and/or patience to be seated. We were fortunate and were able to get a table promptly, but the line was long upon exiting. Again, both indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Oyster lovers have a varied choice-yes oysters are not all the same. The group I was with had a tasting of four varieties. Additionally, the summer melon & Buratta appetizer was delicious and large enough to share. Various seafood comprised the main courses. I found the brioche-crusted halibut much to my liking. For non-seafood eaters, steaks can be ordered. A caveat, the restaurant is a bit pricy, but worth every penny for a special night out.

Austin Shopping

Shopping in downtown Austin is enjoyable. Plenty of places to stop and shop as well as a plethora of sights to take in. We shopped on both sides of the Congress Avenue Bridge. “True” downtown is located on the Capitol side of the bridge. Many of these stores have been operated by generations of the same family. Plus, the architecture is more historic. And the street art is cool.

The other side of the bridge is a bit trendier. In addition to numerous restaurants including the aforementioned Perla’s, block after block of boutiques and designer chains draw many pedestrians to the area. Shoppers were abundant despite the many signs of inflation.

Outdoor Activities in Downtown Austin

One of the nicest features in Austin centers around Lady Bird Lake AKA Town Lake. A ten-mile path around the reservoir incorporating the Colorado River is heavily used by bikers, runners and walkers. The path is very well maintained and very shady-important for those hot summer days.

Additionally, many non-motorized watercrafts were spotted. Everything from crews sculling their shells to kayaks and paddle boards. A few fishermen were present as well. Boats can be rented at dusk in order to view the bats leaving their roosts under the famed Congress Avenue Bridge.

Congress Avenue Bridge

Officially named the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, this almost 1000-foot-long bridge became the center of my trip to Austin. I crossed the bridge on foot multiple times, ate a nice lunch from the second floor of a hotel overlooking the structure and walked beneath during the day. But the best view was at dusk as the bats were leaving their roosts.

Long ago, I watched the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. More than forty years later it is hard to compare the two viewings of mass bats. Especially, since the Congress Avenue roost is in such an urban setting. On this occasion I was close enough to hear individual bats squeaking as they twisted and turned seeking airborne food. Truly a highlight of the visit and one worth fitting into any trip to downtown Austin.

Future Austin Visits

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin. Even the heat and humidity did not detract-although I will admit to enjoying the mornings and evenings the most. Perhaps I can return for one of their many outdoor music festivals. Since visiting, I now understand why so many people are moving to the area. If you have never been to Austin, be sure to put it on your travel agenda. I certainly enjoyed my first ever visit.

Enjoy the Austin Highlights

August 2022 Wrap-Up

Busy Month

Classic White church with steepleAugust 2022 was a busy month with multiple trips including a short weekend in Upstate New York. The airplanes were packed and delayed. Although with the new guidelines, even a minute behind scheduled takeoff is now considered a delay.

I did manage to squeeze in a few hours in New York to visit a church where one of my ancestors had preached. Full of intention to write a post sharing the experience, alas the pictures remain in the computer and the words in my head. Much like the bats of the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.

August 2022 Odds and Ends

The rains on the High Plains took a hiatus in mid-August. Fortunately, moisture returned at the end of the month. Unfortunately, the battle with ants returned with the rain. Mysteriously, I found a copy of The Berenstain Bears and the Great Ant Attack as I was re-arranging furniture. Naturally I took the time to re-read this classic children’s Chapter Book. Stan and Jan Berenstain put forth quite a bit of information in the books. No wonder my kids loved the series!

Tomato plants are loaded with green fruit. But have been battered by the incessant wind. Cucumbers are slowing down, as are the eggplant and jalapeno peppers. The potatoes are starting to die back, and a harvest of potatoes has commenced. I am hoping for a late frost, so the sweet potatoes have a chance to mature. But that may not happen since a blue jay was spotted this last day of August 2022. These beautiful albeit noisy birds make a short appearance on their flight South each year.

First Draft Complete

The first draft of a children’s board book is complete. And it is surprising to see the wide range of requirements for submission. A warning to other writers. Read the fine print. There are publishers who reserve the right to reject your submission but retain your idea without compensating you. I found that unsettling.

Currently I am editing and deciding whether to submit directly to a publisher or find an agent. There are pros and cons to each as I am finding out in Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents by Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman. Another option is to go the self-publishing route.

Politics in America Key in August 2022

The only thing I am certain of for the latter half of 2022 is that the United States of America is facing unprecedented times. August 2022 is shaping up to be an historic month. U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan to start the month off. Pelosi’s visit was the first by the House Speaker since 1997. And one that caused a few waves with the People’s Republic of China.

Her visit was topped politically by the FBI raid on former President Trump’s current residence. An unparalleled move, at least in my memory. Is this just politics? Or is something genuinely disturbing going on? If nothing else, the fall campaign season should be particularly fiery. I wish there was a way to avoid all the political advertisements. Needless negativity shortens the lifespan.

Growing Family

Last Christmas Day I learned a new grandchild was due at the end of August 2022. Well, the little guy arrived quite early and quite small back in Mid-July. Preemies are a bit scary, so I chose not to share the news in the July 2022 Wrap-Up. However, now weighing six pounds two ounces, he has doubled his birth weight. Tube feeding helped with the weight gain. Preemie baby with oxygen and feeding tubes.He remains on supplemental oxygen but everything else is as if he was born at the “normal” forty weeks. Much time has been spent with this tiny lad, and he seems determined to catch up quickly. I treasure my family and am thankful for this newest member. Even though the curse of interesting times is upon us, life can bring joy. Embrace the blessings!

The Best is Yet to Come Book Review

Sweet Romance

Debbie Macomber’s 2022 release, The Best is Yet to Come is a sweet romance with good characters and meaningful story lines. If you are a fan of Macomber you will love it. For those not familiar with the author, the book is an easy read and should be available at both libraries and book stands. (Click here for a review of her Alaskan Holiday romance.)

Dual Romances

Hope Goodwin and Cade Lincoln both carry the burden of loss. Both look to start anew in a coastal area of the Pacific Northwest. They meet in an animal shelter and interest in each other piques. But romance must take a back seat while anger and grief are confronted.

Since the aptly named Hope works at a high school, a secondary romance between two students as well as a secondary plot line flow easily into the story of The Best is Yet to Come. Super student Spencer Brown and cheerleader Callie Rhodes are miss matched from the start. But the confrontations they face create a good platform to introduce the subject of performance enhancing drug use by high school students.

The Best is Yet to Come and PTSD

A key component of the novel is the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans. The Best is Yet to Come highlights the benefits of both individual and group therapy. Acknowledgement that wounds are not always visible is an important part of the story. So too is the need for support whether from family or friends.

Debbie Macomber

Veteran authors have a knack for telling stories that endear the characters to the readers. Debbie Macomber is such an author. Readers can connect with both main and secondary characters, their struggles as well as their successes.

PTSD is difficult to overcome and even harder if survivor’s guilt is an additional factor. Confronting drug use in a high school setting is equally challenging. Macomber presents characters that can meet these challenges all while engaging the reader.

Skippyjon Jones in the Doghouse Book Review

New to Me Author

My oldest grandchild introduced me to the Skippyjon Jones series. Judy Schachner writes and illustrates story books that are very appealing to young children from ages three and up. In the series, Mama Junebug Jones leads the way with her rhyming dialogue as she struggles with a son that thinks he is a Chihuahua and not a Siamese Cat.

To a certain extent, Schachner’s writing reminds me of tall tales. Stories that are larger than life, like Paul Bunyon and the Big Blue Ox. Yet the writing takes the stories up a notch with wittiness in abundance. And lots of humor. The laugh out loud kind of silliness. I found the story delightful.

Skippyjon Jones

The hero of the stories, Skippyjon Jones has an alter ego, El Skippito Friskito. A bedroom closet is the portal for young Jones and his transition to the brave Chihuahua. In Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House, Skippyjon/Skippito meets up with his old amigos, Los Chimichangos who urge the youngster in all manners of mischief.

Silly puns for both young and old pepper the dialogue of Los Chimichangos crew. Naturally Skippyjon/Skippito relishes the merriment even when tossed into a giant burrito. And the wannabe Chihuahua saves the day.

Inside page of Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House depicting young Cat coloring walls with crayons

Make Believe

Schachner has created a series devoted to the imagination of the young child. The rhymes and puns incorporated into the dialogue add backbone to the outrageous storyline. Who ever heard of a Siamese Cat thinking he was a Chihuahua? And a superhero to boot? This early introduction of a suspension of disbelief is essential for the enjoyment of fiction through the years.

The antics of Skippyjon Jones and his counterpart El Skippito Friskito came on the scene in the early years of the 21st Century. And Skippyjon Jones in the Dog-House was published in 2005. One excuse for missing these entertaining books was a pre-occupation with keeping teenagers busy and out of trouble. Thankfully, having grandkids gives one a second chance.

Mid-summer Tomato Plant Chores

Pruning Suckers

Mid-Summer Tomato Plant Chores

A mid-summer tomato plant needs attention even though the tomatoes are still green. Suckers like to grow out between the main stem and branches at a 45-degree angle, so they are easy to spot. Suckers will not harm the plant, but they can make the tomato get too big for the space.

Therefore, I try to check for suckers on a weekly basis. It is best to pinch back the suckers when they are relatively short. Sometimes the suckers escape my notice. So, a mid-summer task is to spend one entire morning trimming back the tomatoes, both suckers and lower branches where leaves are fading.

Any suckers that have escaped my notice and are longer than an inch or two are carefully evaluated. If they already show signs of budding flowers they are left alone. Otherwise, I use clippers. The longer suckers don’t pinch easily and thus clipping causes less damage to the plant. Attempting to pinch a long sucker often strips the stem.

Small suckers are perfect for pinching.
Mid-summer tomato plant suckers at a 45-degree angle.
Suckers grow at a 45-degree angle.
Small suckers can be pinched by hand.

Recycling in the Garden

This year I have been focused on organization and decluttering. During my purging of unneeded items re: Lose the Clutter Lose the Weight, I discovered some bendable hair curlers in the girls’ bathroom. Instead of trashing them, I put them with the garden supplies.

Now they are part of the mid-summer tomato plant patch. Branching stems need to be tied to the supports to keep the tomato plant upright. This keeps air circulating around the plant deterring diseases and attracting beneficial insects. Furthermore, gardeners in a hurry don’t step (or trip) on ripening fruit.

Curlers.
Using recycled hair curlers in the garden.
Bendable curler training branch to a support.
New use is perfect for recycling objects that would otherwise be tossed.

Mid-Summer Tomato Plant Chores

After tying the plants and pinching or clipping suckers, it is time to add a little compost at the base of each tomato plant. I use either homemade compost or a commercial mushroom compost mid-summer on my heavy feeders. Tomatoes qualify as a heavy feeder. I just spread a fistful about two inches away from the plant base and water in.

Clippings without signs of disease can be added back into the compost. The whole process takes me the better part of a morning. It is quite satisfying restoring order to the tomato row.

Mid-summer tomato plant out of control.
Mid-summer tomato plant out of control.