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.

Freeze Fresh Book Review

Preserving Fruits and Vegetables

Freeze Fresh: The Ultimate Guide to Preserving 55 Fruits and Vegetables by Crystal Schmidt stood out on the new release rack at the public library. Almost two hundred pages of tips for freezing fresh produce. And recipes for the frozen products.

I love learning new things and Freeze Fresh provides a multitude. Did you know avocados can be frozen? Or that flash freezing keeps smoothie ingredients from forming hard to handle frozen blocks? But the idea I already put into play involves the freezer itself.

An Organized Freezer

Interior page in the book Freeze Fresh showing an organized chest freezer utilizing heavy duty boxes.Home organization has been a key in 2022. But I overlooked my chest freezer. Schmidt recommends using heavy duty cardboard boxes like the ones copy paper comes in as organizers. Since I don’t have any boxes of that type, I substituted a banker’s box and a heavy-duty smaller box formerly housing my new modem.

The smaller box holds various types of nuts. I buy walnuts, pecans and almonds in quantity when they go on sale during the holidays and use then throughout the year. The larger box contains meats from the locker. In rural America, small independent butchers still operate and give grocery stores some competition.

After organizing my freezer in this fashion, I gained unrealized space, much needed since it is harvest time for peaches. So, I tried the flash freeze process.

Freeze Fresh Peaches

The flash freezing technique works great on my freshly picked peaches. And it is so simple! Parchment paper and a lipped baking sheet which fits into the freezer is all that is needed. The slices freeze fresh and remain separate once they are moved to a freezer bag. From now on, all the smoothie ingredients will be flash frozen.

Recipes

The author offers two types of recipes. First are recipes for freezing. Think pesto cubes and B-B-Q sauces. The avocado falls into this category as well, although I have not tried this one myself. Along these lines are pie fillings and marinara type sauces. Schmidt’s suggestion of using stackable containers has much merit. My experience with spaghetti sauce frozen in baggies has been messy at times.

Freeze Fresh also contains recipes for the frozen produce once it has been thawed out. These recipes follow each section of the 55 fruits and vegetables. They are categorized as “For the Table.” So, if you are thawing out blueberries look in the section on blueberries for a few recipes.

Recommendation

I love Freeze Fresh so much that I have ordered a copy for myself. Crystal Schmidt also has a YouTube channel you might be interested in. Click on this tab for the link. If you have a big garden this year, consider freezing some of the produce and find a copy of Freeze Fresh to guide you.

July 2022 Wrap-Up

Hot and Rainy in July 2022

July 2022 brought both dry heat and heavy rain to my part of the country. The high temperature topped out at 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Multiple rains of over an inch also occurred. The heat is a normal occurrence in July on the High Plains of America, July 2022 was not exceptional. The rain was a bit above average but not unheard of as compared to other parts of the United States getting a once in a lifetime storm, over and over again.

Big Storms and Changing Weather

Ever since Hurricane Harvey dumped feet of rain on Houston, Texas, I keep an eye on storm systems. Slow moving rains can saturate the ground, even when the ground is parched. Furthermore, the storms don’t need to be hurricanes.

Last winter we suffered through 100 plus m.p.h. winds which devastated my garden fence and blew away my garlic. Click here to read the January 2022 Wrap-up. Winds this summer snapped my almost 30-year-old, borer-riddled, prize-winning peach tree in half. The fruit was too immature to ripen.

I am not old enough to personally know how this year’s winds differ from the Dust Bowl years. I am thankful these winds did not occur ten or so years ago when we witnessed less than ten inches of precipitation two years in a row. No rain and high winds make a deadly combination in my part of the world.

July 2022- Back on Track

Finally, I feel like I am back on track with my writing, both on the blog and otherwise. Writer’s block exists. My goal for July 2022 focused on output first and then on quality. Hopefully the content did not suffer much.

Perhaps re-reading the Diane Mott Davidson books helped. Certainly, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B helped my malaise. Plus reading and reviewing the two new fiction books, Meant to Be and We Begin At The End was time well spent.

Fair Time

Once again rural county fairs are in full swing. Carnivals and parades augment the showcasing of 4-H projects and Open Class exhibits. Funnel cakes, snow cones and Bierocks are sold at concession stands to fairgoers. Everyone needs to experience a county fair at least once in life. Those of us involved in rural life look forward to the fair each year.

Getting Candy at the Fair Parade July 22
Getting Candy at the Fair Parade

We Begin At The End Book Review

An Extraordinary Tale

Chris Whitaker’s, We Begin At The End is a dark tale with a glimmer of hope and maybe, just maybe a splash of faith. This is a contemporary novel with adult themes even though one of the protagonists is a teenager with the name of Duchess. The other main character is a small-town cop. Walker is struggling to hide his affliction. He has Parkinson’s.

Violence and murder thread throughout the novel. But it is not a mystery. Possibly We Begin At The End falls into the crime genre. The story revolves around family, loyalty, small-towns and love. However, the love is hard to come by and fate often intervenes.

The Young Heroine- The Outlaw

Duchess Day Radley is one of the two voices in the story. And I cannot say enough about how moving her character is. A tough champion of her drunkard mother and her baby brother, her vulgarity hides her vulnerability. Her quick temper and violent outbursts mask a child forced to grow up too soon.

Seldom will one encounter such a compelling character. This is not a coming-of-age story. Duchess has lost all semblance of childhood long before the tale begins. As the reader turns each page expecting redemption, Duchess dashes the hope. Seemingly a lost cause.

The Middle-Aged Cop

Whitaker offers Walk as a counterpoint to Duchess. A small-town cop wanting to hold progress at bay. He can’t erase the fateful day of long ago, no matter how much he wants to. Yet, he clings to innocence and good. Unfortunately, fate is against him. Walk fights two battles in We Begin At The End. Neither seems winnable.

Vincent King-The Wildcard

Of all the characters in the book, Vincent King is the most intriguing. He says little wanting to suffer in silence. He too, lost his innocence as a teenager. Sent to an adult prison for involuntary manslaughter. His role in the novel is large. And full of surprises. But above all he is selfless.

We Begin At The End Theme

Sacrifice and all that it entails runs through the pages of We Begin At The End. Characters are motivated by their love for others. Often the love is misguided. But love, especially of family is entrenched. And so is love of a childhood friend.

Chris Whitaker has written a profound novel. We Begin At The End was published first in the U.K. in 2020 and released in the U.S.A. in 2021. This is the best book I have read in 2022. It is no surprise Disney has bought the movie rights to this outstanding story. Find a copy soon.

Co-existing with Wildlife

Bear Aware

Tall rock wall separates wildlife from humansCo-existing with wildlife takes effort. This summer I have the good fortune to stay in a mountain duplex. The half I visit from time-to-time backs right up to wilderness. A large wall encloses the back and does restrict the view somewhat. However, the wall provides a buffer between man and other animals. Such as moose and bear.

We are very bear aware. Trash is kept in appropriate containers and food is not left around. So far, my only bear sighting came in the hour before dusk. I was enjoying the back patio when the crackling sound of twigs came from the area between the house and the creek. Jumping up, I quickly headed inside to look out the side window hoping to see the young moose once again.

My noise may have startled the bear. All I saw was his backside heading directly away from the house. His initial direction unknown. He was lumbering along, not too worried about whatever was behind him.

Wildlife Window View

I stayed by the window in case he turned around. But I think he may have ventured into the meadow down along the creek. This is only a guess, but an educated one. Shortly after the bear sighting a deer came down the mountain. Suddenly, the deer stopped still. As you can see in the photo, the deer’s head is cocked at attention. This position was held for close to ten minutes before grazing started again.

The deer are seen daily either as singles or doubles. Very unlike the herds of deer on the High Plains which often number over a dozen. I am uncertain of why there are not larger numbers here. Perhaps the number of predators keep the deer at bay.

Deer with head cocked to the side indicates wildlife wariness.
Deer on Alert

Marmots

In addition to either loud (moose) or small (bear and deer) warning cracks from brush breaking, the unique sound of a marmot signals wildlife or humans are nearby. The pig whistle from the yellow-bellied critter can be heard in this video. Marmots are smart animals. And patient. Often, I see them dash across the patio as soon as I retreat into the house. When they stand on their hind legs, they remind me of the crafty critter who stole the spotlight in the movie Caddyshack. Apparently, they hibernate over half the year.

Pig Whistle of Marmot

Moose but no Elk or Big Horn Sheep

On several occasions I have sighted moose. Much like the bear, one moose alerted me to his presence with a loud crack just outside the wall. The noise was very loud and startling. On the other occasions, the solitary animal has been spotted at the end of the drive as in this photo. Again, the best wildlife sightings are at dawn or dusk.

Surprisingly I have yet to see an elk. Nor a big horn sheep. Perhaps, both stick to higher elevations. I like to imagine the sheep are high up on a distant mountain meadow blending into the landscape. I swear I see fewer rocks and boulders upon the high meadow in the afternoons.

Young Moose strolling down a rural street
Early Morning Stroll

Reintroducing Wolves

There is a program to introduce wolves back into the Rocky Mountains. Arguments exist on the number. Ranchers would prefer none and others want three times the suggested number of 250. I have a healthy wariness of wolves due to growing up with stories like Little Red Riding Hood and watching movies such as The Day After Tomorrow. Fictional but fearsome.

Bears and moose can be aggressive if provoked. But my experience has been one of mutual respect and mutual avoidance. Wolves are a bit of an unknown. The animals have their backers and their detractors. Articles following this post may be of interest to those studying wildlife and are quite helpful in forming an opinion. The wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone is particularly informative.

 

Wildlife Impacts on the Ecosystem

We learn about food chains in elementary school. Both adding or subtracting from the food chain impacts life throughout the system. A reintroduction of wolves in the Colorado mountains will bring about change. The key question is will it mirror Yellowstone?

The largest boost in wildlife after the reintroduction of the grey wolf in Yellowstone was to the beaver population. Beavers compete with elk for food. So, fewer elk meant more to eat for nature’s engineers. And expanded riparian habitat is the next step in the cycle. This is important because the wetlands act as firebreaks. Scientists are currently studying the relationship between beavers, wetlands and forest fires.

The species most negatively impacted by wolves returning to Yellowstone is the elk. Herd size is shrinking, and the herds are moving around. This movement has both good and bad implications. The aforementioned beavers have less competition from roaming elk herds. But the stress of the elk now constantly on alert has decreased the birth rate. Furthermore, the estimation of how many elk would be prey per wolf fell short of the actual numbers.

How Many is too Many?

The Yellowstone reintroduction began with fewer than three dozen wolves. Within ten years the population increased eight-fold. A key contention point for the Colorado reintroduction is how many pairs will be released. Even the lowest figure of 250 (125 pairs) is roughly ten times the number reintroduced into Yellowstone. Currently, the upper number proposed is 750 individuals or 375 pairs.

Another element that varies from the reintroduction at the end of the last century is the area of release. The initial release was confined to Yellowstone Park in the far northwest corner of Wyoming. The Colorado reintroduction could cover a far greater area. One proposal includes areas both east and west of the Continental Divide. Wildlife areas adjacent to the populated Front Range may be release sites.

Personally, I would start small. Wolves do cover a large territorial range. There is indication that offspring of the original groups released in Yellowstone have made their way south into the far northeast corner of Colorado. This migration occurred in a span of about 25 years. Wildlife will wander.

A Balance of Nature

The reintroduction of predatory species needs balance. Man upset the natural order while settling the country. However, much thought needs to go into the planning. Co-existing with wildlife is possible, but awareness is needed. Even though many animals are smart, humans still have the edge on critical thought. So, let’s use that advantage as we seek to re-balance the eco-system.

Emily Giffin and Meant To Be Book Review

Emily Giffin

Meant to Be by Emily Giffin is a delightful contemporary romance. The love story between Cate and Joe could easily film as a chick flick. And is perfect for a summer beach book.

Joe Kingsley is a most eligible bachelor. Born into wealth and power, destined to forever be in the spotlight. He falls head over heels for Cate Cooper.

The character of Cate is much more complex. Matching her upbringing. But Cate is everything Joe needs.

Setting of Meant to Be

The Big Apple is the central setting of Meant to Be. Although Cate’s early years are in Northern New Jersey. Meanwhile, Joe is most at home in The City. Yet the Eastern Shore of the Hamptons also come into play.

Anyone familiar with New York City will easily pick up on the vibe. There is a life pulse to NYC that one simply feels. This backdrop is the perfect setting for two individuals with such differing upbringings.

Character Development

I am envious of writers such as Emily Giffin. Joe and Cate are so very real. Perhaps this can partially be attributed to the rotating point of view. However, the author is masterful at dialogue too. Each of the main characters capture the readers attention and heart. Can they overcome such diverse backgrounds?

The relationships with the secondary characters are also well-done. The overbearing and abusive step-father is not cliché. Nor is the best friend from Cate’s high school years. Perhaps the best twist of all is the character of Berry-soul sister to Joe.

Simple Plot

Meant to Be is truly a romance released in hard cover. The hero is flawed but genuine. The heroine is a self-made success story. Both have insecurities. Their life together looks doomed. But fate intervenes. This feel-good story touches on several contemporary issues, most notable domestic abuse. But other themes, including service to country, forgiveness and redemption are incorporated.

I checked Meant to Be out from my local library. Emily Giffin is a new to me author and I highly enjoyed her work. I believe this is a stand-alone novel. If you fancy romantic tales, find a copy and enjoy.

Sourdough Bread French Toast

Day (or two or three) old Sourdough Bread

One of my favorite tricks to use up bread that is a tad past fresh is to make French Toast. Sourdough bread makes excellent French Toast. Every bit as good as using Texas Toast. You will need just a handful of ingredients, including one that is optional.

Gather the following kitchen equipment before you start: a spatula, frying pan, glass or metal dish, measuring cup and a fork. Non-porous pie plates work great!

From the refrigerator and pantry grab the following ingredients-milk, egg, butter, sourdough bread and the optional cinnamon.

Kitchen Equipment

Frying Pan, Measuring Cup, Glass Dish, Spatula and Fork needed to make Sourdough Bread French Toast
Five Kitchen Tools

Five Pantry Items

Milk, eggs, Sourdough Bread, Butter and Ground Cinnamon
Five ingredients needed for Sourdough Bread French Toast

Detailed Directions

 

The easy step by step directions and photos make this a good recipe for beginner cooks. If you are a pro feel free to skip straight to the recipe.

Step One

 

In a glass dish large enough to fit bread slices, mix the egg and the milk. Add the cinnamon.

 

Milk egg cinnamon mixture for Sourdough Bread French Toast
Milk, egg and ground cinnamon

 

Step Two

 

Soak each slice of bread in the egg/milk mixture.

Slice of sourdough bread soaking in an egg/milk mixture
Soak bread but don’t let slice get too soggy

Step Three

 

Melt butter in the frying pan over a medium low temperature. Do not let butter burn. Place the soaked Sourdough Bread for the French Toast into the frying pan. Turn the slices once the bottom is browned. Make sure both sides are browned, and the mixture is thoroughly cooked.

 

Butter melting in a skillet
Don't let the butter burn!
Two slices of sourdough bred in skillet
Starting the French Toast
Sourdough bread browned on both sides
Flip the bread so both sides brown

Serving the Sourdough Bread French Toast

The French Toast can be served with your favorite eggs and/or breakfast meat. A variety of toppings add a finishing touch. Try any of the following or a combination: fresh fruit, powdered sugar, maple syrup or my personal favorite a spoonful of homemade jam or jelly. Enjoy!

Sourdough Bread French Toast plated with a side of scrambled eggs

Sourdough Bread

Ingredients:

1 Egg

1 Cup of Whole Milk (Low Fat may be substituted)

2 Slices of Sourdough Bread

1-2 Tbs of Butter, melted

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

French Toast Recipe

Directions:

Whisk together egg, milk and cinnamon. Dip the bread slices into mixture soaking both sides. Fry in butter, flipping to cook both sides. Serve hot. Makes enough for one or two servings.

Option B Book Review

Seeking Resilience

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant co-wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This self-help book was published in 2017. I discovered it on the Libby App when searching for books on resilience. Option B fills the bill, but if you are in a midst of a personal crisis, it may make you cry. More than a time or two.

I was familiar with the name Sheryl Sandberg, currently with Meta (Facebook), but recently announcing her departure from the company. However, I did not know of Adam Grant. After reading Option B and researching, I find Mr. Grant every bit as impressive as Ms. Sandberg.

Option B is a personal account of Sandberg’s struggle after the death of her husband, Dave. The book is both anecdotal and structured. Psychological components outline steps anyone facing adversity can take to power through their own personal struggles. I found the philosophy helpful and kept wanting to take notes as if I were in class, complete with a pop quiz.

Option B: Getting Beyond the Three Ps

The authors cite the work of psychologist Martin Seligman with respect to surviving life’s unexpected obstacles. Personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence are the Three P’s. In a nutshell, personalization is blaming oneself, pervasiveness means the negative event will take over all aspects of one’s life, and permanence conveys an everlasting negative impact.

Individuals need to gain control of the Three P’s in order to become resilient in the face of adversity. Option B provides a framework to bounce back when tragedy strikes. Furthermore, the guidance offers a path to regain a balance in life.

Personal Growth

An important takeaway from Option B is growth is possible even when faced with adversity. Sandberg gives many personal examples. She posits a mindset of appreciating effort versus praise for intellect. But the emphasis is when one tries their best. Never did she use the “it’s good enough” phrase. Instead, she discusses meeting failures with determination to improve. Furthermore, seeking help is important.

One of my favorite quotes from the book follows: “As we get older, we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness.” I must be getting along in age because this struck me as profound. The chapter on Finding Joy after an adverse event is not just getting back to life. Instead, the authors stress the importance of growth and if not acceptance of the adverse event, an ability to gain strength. To reach peacefulness and find joy in life.

Praise for Option B

Even though I struggled reading through some of the chapters in this book, the effort was rewarded with a hopefulness that resilience is possible regardless of what curveball life may throw. Sandberg and Grant are both to be commended. If you or someone you know is open to move on past a tragedy, I highly recommend Option B.

Mackinac Island

Travel

My June 2022 visit to Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw) is an experience to treasure even if it is not repeated. However, I believe many make the idyllic island a travel destination over and over. If I lived closer, I would too.

Travelers can reach Mackinac Island by sea (lake) or air. Ferries cross from both the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula of Maine. The ferries from St. Ignace, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula are easier to catch than those leaving from Mackinaw City. (Same pronunciation, different spelling.) So, it might be worth it to pay the toll and cross the Mackinac Bridge if you are travelling during the height of tourist season.

Air travel onto Mackinac Island is limited to private and charter planes. Horse drawn taxis are available to take arrivals from the airport to their destination. Once the lake freezes and ferries can no longer serve the island, the airport becomes the central location for arrivals and departures. Naturally, weather can shut the airport down in the winter. Sometimes for days.

Key Locations on Mackinac Island

The ferries land right on Main Street. Shop after shop sell everything form tourist trinkets to clothing to fudge. Lots of fudge. Slabs of fudge. Somehow, we managed to get off the island without a purchase of this delicious treat. But purchases were made.

At the Island Bookstore I purchased two books. You can read the review of Braking for Bodies by clicking here. The Lilac Girls still remains on my TBR list. We also spent time at Nephew’s on Mackinac. The window display drew us in. This clothing store is one of the nicest stores I have shopped in. The customer service was fantastic and so was the selection of both men’s and women’s clothing. So, money was spent here as well.

If I ever go back to Mackinac Island, I will want to stay at The Grand Hotel. This resort is awe inspiring. And that is just from the size! This hotel was built in the late 1800s. One can only imagine it was a favorite of the Robber Barons. A commanding view of Lake Huron from the longest porch I have ever been on transports one back to an earlier time.

A ten-dollar admission fee will allow you to stroll through the grounds. Or if your pockets are flusher, The Grand Hotel is still open for business. Since we were on a budget we opted for a stroll on the grounds and a delicious meal outdoors at The Jockey Club at the Grand Stand. A perfect place to relax and watch the horse taxis deliver baggage to the hotel.

 

Fort Mackinac History

For visitors staying more than a half day, a visit should include Fort Mackinac. Plan to spend a couple of hours at the fort. Good walking shoes are essential as the fort sits atop a bluff. Both British and American forces have quartered on the island.

The British built the fort in the 1700s and kept control for a number of years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Then the British reclaimed the island and fort during the War of 1812. A museum at the site provides much background.

Overall Impressions of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is primarily a tourist destination. Indeed, I did not see any other industry, although one may exist. The allure of going back to a past without automobiles may play a part in the attraction. My impression of Mackinac Island along with much of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was one of natural beauty. Clean air, lots of trees, few people and an expanse of water.

I truly enjoyed my time in this part of the world. If you like travel and have not been to this part of the world, Upper Michigan as well as Mackinac Island deserve a visit.

Bridge support structureBottom of Mackinac Bridge shot from ferry June 2022Mackinac Bridge June 2022 from ferryAlong the Mackinac Island Quay-a sloopLanding at Mackinac IslandBlooming lilacsFort Mackinac in the distanceStore front of Nephew's of MackinacHorse carriageTulips in a garden bedThe Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

The Cereal Murders Book Review

Favorite Mystery Series

The Cereal Murders is one of Diane Mott Davidson’s best from her Goldy catering series. Davidson began the series in 1990 with Catering to Nobody and released the finale, The Whole Enchilada in 2013. This superb series is worth revisiting which is exactly what we are doing this summer.

The Cereal Murders-Third Installment

The first two books in the series introduce the main characters. So, the third installment begins to flesh out the relationships. This is accomplished along with some key thoughts on the competitive college admission process.

The writing is not preachy and the main character, Goldy, is philosophical as she slowly accepts not all men are Jerk(s). There is great character development in The Cereal Murders as well as a good whodunit.

Misdirection and Unusual Motive

Successful mystery writers are good at providing multiple suspects and lots of misdirection. Diane Mott Davidson goes one better as she throws in an unusual motive- high school class ranking. The Cereal Murders examines the stress and competition of seniors and their parents traversing the college admissions roller coaster. (Remember this was published in the early 1990s long before the 2019 college admission bribery scandal.)

Protagonist Goldy

Goldy is no stranger to murder but finding valedictorian- to- be Keith Andrews face down in the snow shakes her from the beginning of the story. Then son Arch is targeted, and her stress levels climb. Meanwhile Investigator Schulz continues to woo her.

As a survivor of spousal abuse, Goldy is hesitant to commit. But she can’t deny the attraction, both physical and mental. Tom Schulz is the opposite of the Jerk.

The Cereal Murders Recipes

One of the highlights of Diane Mott Davidson’s writing are the wonderful recipes. An acquaintance of mine (and a friend of Davidson’s) suggested this series in the early 90s knowing I was working on specialty high calorie recipes. The early recipes in the Goldy series mirror this before becoming more healthy but just as tasty. An additional change mid-series was moving all the recipes to the back of the book instead of integrating them into the story.

The Irish Soda Bread recipe from The Cereal Murders is one of our favorites. My husband made it just last week. And all the dessert recipes are tempting. Best of all, from my experience these recipes all work. The Cereal Murders recipes are keepers. If you are interested in the recipes more than the wonderful stories themselves, look for Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook from Harper Collins.

Praise for Series

I own most of the books in this series. The debut, Catering To Nobody, can be hard to find. My copy is paperback. The finale, The Whole Enchilada may be the best. Although the Cereal Murders ranks up there.

If you are a mystery fan and have not read any of this series, I encourage you to search for these books. Quite a few of the later novels can be considered stand alone and do not necessarily need to be read in order. Copies can be found in bookstores, on Amazon and on the Libby App.

I have much respect for this writer. Davidson could have continued churning out books either alone or with a secondary author, but she chose to end the series while on top. Goldy and her family are characters to treasure. And the many topics highlighted in the books reverberate across society. Indeed, many societies.

 

 

No Hiding from the News

Speaking Out

Gore Creek in the morningFor the past ten days or so, I have been away from home, hiding out in my favorite retreat. But there is no hiding from the news. So, even though family matters take the forefront right now, I am commenting. The Supreme Court verdicts are concerning.

Voters on the left in 2016 are seeing their fears come to life. Combined with the blocking of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the highest court in the land and two additional appointments by President Trump a major shift is now evident. The conservatives have control of the Supreme Court.

2022- Just the Beginning

Key judicial decisions released Summer of 2022 include a gun control issue in New York State, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, a major slam against the other two branches of government is found in the strike against the EPA. Lastly, the highest court will listen to an election case from North Carolina next year which may permanently alter how America transitions power.

The decisions don’t follow any pattern other than conservatism. Extreme conservatism. For example, the Roe V. Wade case can be seen as a state’s rights issue. The Deep South and other Christian fundamentalist areas of the country are now free to ban abortions and certain types of contraception (And yes, we may see additional cases to challenge the latter) in the respective state constitutions and legislations. Trigger laws changed regulations immediately in several states.

The State of Texas is taking actions one step further with the criminalizing of abortions. Neighbors, co-workers, indeed even strangers can turn in women who may have “vacationed” out of state seeking a pregnancy termination. Click here for a related article. Honestly, this reminds me of Germany in the 1930s. What is the next step? Designated “prisons” for doctors performing these safe terminations? Will females of all ages be confined in like places?

However, if the Supreme Court were pushing a States Rights agenda, New York State would be allowed to retain the tighter gun control law. A law on the books for over one hundred years. This discrepancy is most concerning. There is no hiding the fact the Supreme Court decisions stem from an agenda. I am unsure of how the Founding Fathers would view this dictation of personal morals.

No Hiding from The News

As a Christian, it pains me to see such un-Christian like views coming from the fundamentalists currently serving in Congress. Remaking the Constitution or rejecting it altogether as Representative Boebert did the day after the Colorado primaries is more than just worrisome. (Rep. Lauren Boebert Calls Separation of Church and State ‘Junk,’ Says Church Should Direct Government (yahoo.com)) And many of the hard-core conservatives appear to have ties to the January 6th incident. I say incident because there is debate in America over what truly happened that day.

Fundamentalists on the Supreme Court are also making waves. Justice Thomas is most notable. Quite ironic. He is against every ‘liberal’ relationship except one. Interracial relationships are ok. Of course, that permits his own marriage to stand. Again, he has ties to January 6th   through his wife.

Perhaps that is my biggest complaint. Extremists that say, ‘do as I say not as I do.’  Can you truly be a patriot and then storm the Capitol? I say No! Furthermore, why is Justice Thomas allowed an interracial marriage, yet he publicly seeks to ban same-sexed marriages? Why is one normal and the other not? Who decides? The state?

Divided We Fall

We have a big division in this country. One I have posited is stoked by outside forces. But the fuel is there to begin with. It may all tie into the current economy. Just as the economy of the mid-1800s spurred the Civil War conflict.

The Civil War arose out of the age of industrialization. Slave states wished to hold onto the old technology, human labor. Union States wanted to abolish the practice. Allowing the import of slaves may be the biggest mistake made by the Founding Fathers. It certainly was immoral. And we are still grappling with the outcome hundreds of years later.

There is no denying the economy played a big role in the Civil War. I believe a similar conflict occurs today.

Another Technological Revolution

Now we are in the midst of a new era, one of computers and artificial intelligence. This transition is apt to be every bit as contentious. Machines continue to replace much of human labor. And now, human thought. One can see the scary ramifications, if one is educated. And if not educated?

Here lies the crux of the problem. I have expressed my frustration with the state of public education over the years. Content is watered down. Graduating classes of less than one hundred have ten valedictorians. The Trophy Generation bears the brunt of their Helicopter Parents’ actions.

An unwillingness to allow children to face failure created a generation that cannot solve problems. And yes, this is a generalization. There are Millennials that can problem solve creatively. Many kids that earned meaningless grades will be able to punch buttons on a microwave or use social media apps on smart phones. But there is no hiding the fact that if these machines break, most individuals have no idea how they work. Or how they can be fixed.

Perhaps the transition will end soon. Individuals born after 1995 have always known computers. If not at home, at school. Thus, I think their brains will be wired differently. But will they join the workforce before we self-destruct? And will human creativity be a match for Artificial Intelligence?

No Hiding Ignorance is not Bliss

I use very little social media because of AI and Big Data. Less than ten years ago I became upset with Facebook when I tried to relate my experiences with Charter Schools. I literally was not allowed to post a comment. A few weeks later there were individuals fired from the company for inappropriate algorithms.

My use of various social media continues sporadically. Not what advertisers like to see. Unfortunately, few individuals understand the link between social media and Big Data. Many cite an unwillingness for vaccinations with fears of a microchip being inserted. The concern is their every move will be tracked. Yet these same individuals never venture out of their homes without their smart phones. No hiding from ignorance. Phones track your location and your searches.

Such a populace does not understand the ramifications of artificial intelligence. Furthermore, an unlearned and unskilled population will contribute to a growing inequality of wealth. This excellent article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the current statistics.

Wide inequalities in a country lead to civil unrest.

United We Stand

Can the United States of America remain united? A question that needs an answer. The Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances. For the first time in my memory, the three-tiered government faces an imbalance with respect to the judicial branch. With time, the system should rebalance. As it has in the past.

I am still against stacking the court. Although now I understand the concept better. My belief is voters will turn out in November in much larger numbers than usual for the mid-term elections. The recent decisions by the high court have stirred up a hornet’s nest. There is no hiding from the fact that extremists are currently in control. But I believe moderates outnumber extremists of both sides. November 2022 is a critical election. Now is the time. Make your voice count. Vote.

American Flags

June 2022 Wrap-Up

Travel

June 2022 was a month of travel and closure for me. Kentucky and Michigan were two destinations. The former was work related and the main purpose for the latter was for the interment of my dear friend Beverly. Both trips involved air travel as well as car rentals. Furthermore, inflationary prices had no impact on the number of travelers.

Perhaps others threw expense to the wind seeking relief from two years of pandemic. Or maybe they were combining tourism with task as I did. Regardless of reason, travel in early June indicated inflation had yet to slow demand.

Kentucky June 2022

My Kentucky trips usually revolve around horses. I have a stake in a partnership. Money is pooled and then divided between acquisition of yearlings and purchasing horses through the claiming box. A Louisville based trainer is in charge.

I don’t expect to get rich from this partnership that I have a very small stake in. Horse racing can be a very draining pursuit for the pocketbook. But I love horses and this set-up is perfect for me. The most I can lose is my initial investment. And I could lose it all. But I consider this as my discretionary entertainment expense.

Horses train early in the morning. Very early! The first sets usually gallop under lights as the sun has not yet made an appearance. By nine in the morning the works are complete, and the barns await the afternoon races.

From time to time an owner is able to see a horse win in the afternoon. This is enjoyable, but I love watching the morning works the best. Backside at the track is a beehive of activity. The love and hard work of the stable from grooms to hotwalkers to exercise riders and trainers’ shames those who do not understand the industry. Owners enable the business model to operate.

Michigan June 2022

Freighter in the Soo Locks June 2022A quick turnaround between Kentucky and Michigan was a great indicator that I am not meant to be a jetsetter. Less than 24 hours at home made me appreciate the slower paced life I usually lead. However, the trip to Michigan gave me closure, much needed closure.

Since Michigan barely registered in my states visited count, I was excited to spend more time there. Furthermore, it is unlikely I will return. The Upper Peninsula in particular is out of sync with my normal travel patterns. But I am so thankful for the experience.

A flight into the small airport on the United States side of Sault Ste. Marie was the starting point. The Upper Peninsula reminds me much of the Great Plains with respect to population and lack of traffic. Similarly, the small-town vibe of our starting point as told in this Classic Cars post welcomed me from the start.

However, there are great differences. Primarily water. The Great Lakes are truly magnificent. My only contact prior has been the Western side of Lake Michigan along the populated shores of Illinois and Wisconsin. So, visiting the Soo Locks was fascinating. Luckily the visit coincided with a large vessel using the canal to travel from the lower Lake Huron into Lake Superior.

Mackinac Island

Maintaining Sault Ste. Marie as a base gave us easy and affordable access to upscale Mackinac Island. Visitors to this historic island can either arrive via ferry or small aircraft. Horses and bicycles are key modes of transportation. But we chose to walk. Good shoes are a must if you take this route.

One can spend days on the island, but we enjoyed our partial day. Enough time to soak in the atmosphere and leave the visitor wanting a return trip. A future post will focus on the experience. There is simply too much to include in this wrap-up.

South of the Bridge

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge I have ever driven over. But my first view was from below. Some of the ferry departures detour underneath on the way to Mackinac Island. We were lucky to be on such a trip. The engineering and architecture are exquisite reminders of what great feats man is capable of.

Once on the mitten side of the bridge, population and tourist numbers pick up. June 2022 marked the interment of my friend Beverly at her Michigan birthplace. And driving through this part of the country she visited yearly brought me peace.

I tasted whitefish, her favorite, for the first time and liked it almost as much as halibut. A quick meal at the Cherry Hut brought back memories of the jam she would bring back from her trips. But best of all was the time spent at her lake.

We were very fortunate to have hosts Deb and Les put us up for three nights around the graveside service. Their lake house was just a few doors down from Bev’s cabin. Running along the lake, eating breakfast on the porch overlooking the water and watching the sunrise reflect below all brought knowledge of what she enjoyed on her annual visits. Crystal Lake is one of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen. Beverly was treasured in both locales.

Mackinac Bridge view from water June 2022
Mackinac Bridge June 2022 from ferry
Viewing South on Mackinac Bridge June 2022
Lighthouse lamp

June 2022 on the Plains

Returning from my June 2022 travels, I was pleased to find the cold dry air replaced with warm summer rains. The garden is finally planted. Lettuces and green onions are gracing the table and harvesting of the cherries has finally begun. The unusual spring has thrown off the normal harvest dates on the wheat as well as in my yard. But combines are now running and garden plants are starting to bloom. Summer is finally here.

Braking For Bodies Book Review

Cozy Mystery

Braking for Bodies by Duffy Brown is the second release of the cycle path mysteries. This cozy murder mystery series takes place on Mackinac Island. For those lucky enough to experience the lilac festival on this motor vehicle-less, history-laden island, Braking For Bodies will bring back scent-filled memories.

Protagonist

Evie Bloomfield, formerly of Chicago, has survived her first winter on Mackinac Island and is gearing up for the swell of visitors to the island for the lilac festival. Her artistic flair adds interest to the bikes rented from Ruby’s Bikes. And her ‘Black Cloud” has her braking smack into the dead body of a blackmailer.

Since the accident occurs at The Grand Hotel during one of the peak tourist weeks, Evie easily convinces the locals to stage the murder as a planned event. Thus, the Peepster’s death creates the basis of a murder mystery whodunit for vacationers. Hope is this will not scare people off the island. Because ‘like’ all tourist destinations, tourism is the bread and butter for Mackinac Island.

Romance Abounds

A side plot in Braking For Bodies is the wedding of island residents Rudy and Irma. Rudy was the prime suspect in the first of the cycle path mysteries and Irma is the mom of Police Chief Sutter. Not surprising, Nate Sutter is Evie’s love interest. But will they ever connect?

Evie’s Black Cloud follows the wedding pair as well as the murder. And Evie herself.

Publisher Criticism re: Braking For Bodies

The biggest criticism for Braking for Bodies belongs to the publisher, Penguin Random House, more than the author. The paperback purchased at The Island Bookstore (on Mackinac Island) has a synopsis that is erroneous. Completely wrong. The blurb on the back has the heroine hailing from Los Angeles. But really the victim as well as several suspects originate from the City of Angels. Do publishing houses even pay attention to their product? Perhaps the author should share in the responsibility as well.

Back Cover of Braking For Bodies with erroneous info.

Braking For Bodies

I enjoyed Braking For Bodies. The backdrop of Mackinac Island is accurate and brings the island resort to life.  However, I think this is a series best read from the beginning. So, I suggest finding a copy of Geared For The Grave before reading Braking For Bodies. And I plan to look for the next in the series, Tandem Demise on my next trip to the library. This cozy mystery is a fun easy read just perfect for a stressful summer.

A Trio of Children’s Books

Story Books

Three Children's BooksRecently I have been searching for children’s books. My two granddaughters love when someone reads to them. And we are expecting a new addition to the family. Our tradition is gifting the new parents with a book along with another item the newborn might need. This ensures the young family has a selection of books right from the start.

Board books are great for chubby little hands and many story books become board books. But traditional story books are great gifts too. Of the three children’s books I recently purchased, the one released ten years ago is now available as a board book.

How To Babysit A Grandma

I spotted this gem of a book when it was first released back in 2012. Long before I became a grandmother. However, the purchase was recently made because the two granddaughters love to ‘go to the park’ just like grandma.  Jean Reagan is the author, and the illustrations are by Lee Wildish. My oldest granddaughter readily identified with the main character and loved the grey-haired grandmother.

This children’s book is certain to be a favorite, most likely a read it again. The vocabulary puts it past the easy-to-read stage for children. However, the book is a good choice once reading becomes fluent for the child.    Cover of Children's Book How to Babysit a Grandma

 

If A Horse Had Words

The second book in this trio of children’s books is by Canadian author Kelly Cooper and beautifully illustrated by Lucy Eldridge. If A Horse Had Words is poignant. Perhaps it struck such a chord with me because I live in cowboy country. Perhaps because I love horses. Such intelligent animals! They truly remember after a long absence.

If A Horse Had Words is best for older children. An attention span is needed. As well as a concept of time and duty. This book should be in every elementary library. It is so touching. The bond between foal and boy is lasting. My favorite of the trio of children’s books. Cover of Children's Book If A Horse Had Words

Chairs on Strike

Jennifer Jones has a winner with Chairs On Strike. The grandkids absolutely love the rhymes and colorful language. Chairs On Strike is in some ways similar to “The Day The Crayons Quit” which I reviewed here.

Personification at its best. The classroom chairs are tired of the abuse and misuse by the schoolchildren. Kids will love the humor and hopefully understand the message. Chairs On Strike was published in 2021. I expect it to make the best seller list. This is a great addition for a library of children’s books. Cover of Children's Book Chairs on Strike

Children’s Books

These story books are great for reading to a child. However, none quite fit the category of beginning reader. The vocabulary is not basic. And the stories are more developed than an early reading book. Instead, they are more appropriate for storytelling.

Young readers with fluency will love them. So, if buying for the child to read alone, the reading level should be second grade or above. Young listeners of any age will appreciate Chairs On Strike and How To Babysit A Grandma. My belief is If A Horse Had Words will be best for children with developed attention spans.

All three of these children’s books make excellent gifts. So, I suggest adding them to your books to purchase list. Furthermore, elementary schools should include them in their libraries. I look forward to future works from these talented writers and illustrators.

 

 

pages illustrated by Lucy Eldridge

Classic Cars

Classic Cars in Classic Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Classic Cars Show logo on semiClassic cars took over Portage Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The Flint Vehicle City Back to the Bricks car show made a mid-week stop in this border town. Fortunately for me, the timing coincided with my arrival on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Speedy Classic Cars

As you can see from the photos, a wide range of vehicles participate in the display. But Corvettes and Mustangs vied for the top spot in the category of model most represented. I love the classy lines of a Corvette. But I have only been a passenger once. On the other hand, I have occasionally driven a mustang.

But speed cars are wasted on me. My current drive for this trip is a Dodge Charger and the maximum speed so far is 75 M.P.H. But the vehicle handles well.

Car Show Enthusiasts

A very nice sized crowd turned out for the show. Lots of interaction between the proud car owners and the mingling enthusiasts. Theme cars like the Back To The Future DeLorean and The VW Beetle Herbie from The Love Bug and Herbie Rides Again were tricked out to look like the originals.

Quite a few photos were snapped by the onlookers. And the few autos with sale signs generated interest as well. Babies in strollers napped and old timers reminisced.  Community events like this car show remind me of the many good things in America.

Classic Car Promo Tour

The Back To The Bricks classic car promo tour ended in Sault Ste. Marie after stops in Alma, East Tawas and Petosky. The six day tour of Michigan served as advertisement for the Main Event scheduled for August 15-20, 2022 in Flint, Michigan. Click here for more information.

Hood Ornaments

I love spotting unusual hood ornaments when strolling among the classic cars. This show did not disappoint. Shiny chrome statues glistened atop Ford and General Motor vehicles. My personal favorite was a figure head of Chief Pontiac, naturally adorning a Pontiac.

Next time you are travelling, seek out the local community events. This country has a lot to offer. Make the most of your opportunities.

Back To The Bricks Car Show

Manual Labor

Soul Food

A little manual labor is good for the soul. For many reasons, I have recently increased my physical labor. First, hard work helps distract the mind. At times life events can become overwhelming. Throw in world tensions that an individual like me has little control over and things quickly take a downward spiral.

Second, the labor shortage is widespread. Labor, whether it is manual or highly skilled technology is in high demand and expensive. So those with a bent toward economizing will continue in a Do-It-Yourself fashion for the foreseeable future. (Unless a hard recession hits-but that discussion is for a later date.)

Expanding the Garden-Manual Labor

Manual Labor Dug Asparagus BedThe first major project of the spring was expanding the garden. Fortunately, two of my offspring and their significant others helped out. Two areas were rototilled. Both were about forty feet long by four feet wide.

The first is a new asparagus bed. The new garden area required hand digging a trench to a depth of about twenty inches. Then compost was added. And then soil was loosened.

Next, the asparagus crowns were spaced every eighteen inches. The tentacle looking roots were spread apart so they resembled octopi. Then a layer of soil about four inches thick was spread on top. Over the next month as spears poked through the ground, additional soil was added to the trench.

After the trench was full, the spears were allowed to reach for the sky. A great-nephew describes asparagus as a dragon tail. This is accurate until the spears begin to open. Then they have a very delicate fern-like appearance. For the first year all the asparagus will be left to open up. There will be no harvest. Next year a few spears will be cut while the still resemble a dragon’s tail. In the third year a regular harvest can be made.

The second bed did not require as much manual labor. After the rototilling, I raked the bed even. Then I transplanted my flower seedlings into the garden. Most of the flowers will be annuals. But I did add some Shasta Daisies and Yarrow.  Asparagus Growth One Month

Indoor Manual Labor

The second significant task this spring-other than decluttering- was painting one of the bedrooms. An almost neon pinky orange paint which delighted my youngest as a child needed to be toned down. My plan for this room is to turn it into a grandkid sleeping area. I hope to find a trundle bed to join the crib that currently inhabits the space.

Preparation is a key part of painting. (Read this review if you will be painting soon.) In this case the lower third of the wall had a bright wallpaper of yellows, oranges and pinks. The heart striped border coordinated with the wallpaper.

After stripping the paper, the walls were cleaned with Murphy’s Oil soap. Then the taping began. I needed to use brand new painter’s tape as the old did not always stick well.

The primer was tinted with the color of the topcoat. Ceiling and walls received a color matching much of the remainder of the house. The color is Oklahoma Wheat from Benjamin Moore. Depending on the light, the color shades from light tan to creamy butter. Very soothing

 

Neon Orange Pink Paint
Before
Oklahoma Wheat
After

Physical Effects

Manual labor builds muscle and provides good cardio work as well. Stretching both before and after is recommended. Just as if you were going to exercise.

The physical activity positively affects the brain and mental well-being. Most likely endorphins. However, my age is starting to be a factor.  I recognize this truth and give myself added time to accomplish my goals.

If life were simple, required manual labor could be an answer to all the violence and negativity in the world. Unfortunately, we live in a complex world with no easy solutions. But if you experience difficulties beyond your control, as I have this spring, maybe a little manual labor in your life is the answer.

Stay Positive!

Daylight Book Review

Another Thriller from David Baldacci

Daylight is David Baldacci’s third installment in the Atlee Pine series. And it is every bit as engaging as the first two. Furthermore, the plot is realistic and just a bit scary given some of the current happenings in D.C. and other power centers of the world.

Atlee accidently ruins a drug bust controlled by the Army CID. To make amends she gets tangled in their op. Of course, Baldacci weaves the story lines together. Daylight introduces John Puller, CID, and his brother Bobby, a government IT whiz. Both solid citizens and thus targets for the corrupt players in the novel.

Daylight Highlights Blackmail

The underlying theme revolves around blackmail. Not necessarily a means of gaining money. Instead, a way to secure power at high levels of governments. Of course, lurid photos and videos obtained with the use of alcohol and drugs provide the material for the extortion.

Daylight provides instances of blackmail fueled power. Candidates in the lead withdrawing from an election, individuals sacked for asking the wrong questions or transferred to another department or overseas. Is this merely fiction? Or a reflection of life?

Personal Quest

In addition to corruption, Daylight tells the ongoing story of Atlee’s search for her sister, Mercy. Again, Baldacci mirrors life. Evidence points to Mercy surviving the kidnapping. But at a cost. Too old to forget her family, Mercy suffered a life of imprisonment. Hidden in plain sight.

Videos of Mercy escaping as a young adult also show the toll to her psyche. Atlee is outraged and determined to continue the hunt. But there is quite the twist. Mercy may not be the only one on the run.

Recommendation for Daylight

David Baldacci is a best-selling author for a reason. His novels are thought provoking. And fast paced. I picked up Daylight in an airport bookstore and read throughout the flight. The characters are compelling. Furthermore, the plot(s) mimic the terrors of real life.

Girls and young women are kidnapped and then held against their wills for years. Often a couple is involved. Some are found, but not unscathed.

And then there is the power of blackmail.

We live in a scary world. Good and evil battle daily. Novels like Daylight throw a spotlight on corruption, and they champion those defending the good in the world. This novel is a reminder.

However, the storyline revolving around Atlee’s search for her twin now needs backstory. I suggest reading the series from the start; Long Road to Mercy followed by A Minute to Midnight. As the series continues, the stories are not quite stand alone. I will look at the library for the next in the series, simply titled Mercy.

Internet Rumors

Internet Rumors: How did the Latest Begin?

Horehound in bloom
Horehound

Internet Rumors abound. The latest one suggests the country of Australia is proposing a ban on home gardening. So, I am including this link to actual parliament testimony for those of you interested in reading the propositions. I could see no outright ban on growing your own vegetables. But I admit I just performed a brief scan of the document.

However, I did see enough to understand how an Internet rumor could begin. Testimony included discussion of invasive species of both flora and fauna. Since I live in a rural agriculture area in the United States, such discussion was not novel. However, one of the species mentioned, horehound, thrives in my garden. I consider it less a problem than either oregano or mint. All three are groundcovers that spread.

The other plants mentioned in the testimony were blackberries, lantana and pampas grass. All are spreaders. Plants that grow where they are not wanted can be considered weeds. So even though blackberries are delicious, residents of the Pacific Northwest might find them as noxious as I do bindweed.

Controlling Nature

The testimony also discussed the problem of Asian Honey Bees and Fire Ants. I am not a fan of fire ants, but as long as they stay away from the house, I leave them alone. They are very beneficial in the garden eating many pests. The key is for nature to stay in balance. I would not like to have fire ants everywhere.

Asian Honey Bees are dominators. They eliminate other types of bees from their territory. Many governments restrict their import. But like other living things, such as viruses, the spread is difficult to control.

Two Opinions

Several years ago an acquaintance voiced an opinion which greatly differed from mine. The belief is that growing food in the garden took away jobs for others. The impact goes beyond the farm owner and worker. The middle producers and the grocery store employees also depend on people needing food.

My argument is that I cannot produce enough to eliminate those jobs. My garden supplements but does not replace. And I have a big garden. Truly, I think most individuals do not realize the work it would take to be self-sustaining. For those, I suggest they find a copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Division of labor has led to both more productivity and longer lives.

The biggest reason I prefer to grow my own is the taste. Many vegetables bought at the grocery store are picked prior to a ripe stage so they can be shipped without damage. The result is the food is not at peak ripeness. When I pick from my own garden, I pick for that day. Only farm markets come close!

More Internet Rumors: Taxing and Permits

Other Internet rumors suggest various governments will tax home grown foods. Or prohibit them altogether. This is widely circulated without the details. As the saying goes the devil is in the details. Most of these incidents involve local governments or HOA’s. (Home Owner Associations) Restrictions may include no vegetable gardens in alley ways or front yards. Plus any seed packets are usually taxed. As are plants from the nurseries or the Big Box stores.

At the moment, I have had no push back for my big garden which is in my side yard. But I am proactive. A fence now separates the garden and the street. Furthermore, a new flower bed is in front of the fence. The garden house/green house is on hold because of permits and building costs. Our small town charges fees for almost everything. I will need to pay the city a minimum of a thousand dollars if I move a small building onto my property. The fee increases if it is built from the ground up.

Impact of War and Covid-19

The invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic are still impacting the supply chain. Supplementing my supper table with home grown vegetables makes sense to me. Since I live in a town on a small lot, goats and cows are out of the question. Furthermore, I am on the edge of town so coyotes can be a problem. Thus I will not attempt chickens. But I do look forward to tasting the first tomatoes of the year.

In my opinion Internet Rumors try to sow dissension and disharmony. I prefer sowing seeds. Both flowers and vegetables. Between the wars and pandemic there is enough strife. This summer plant some beauty and nutrition instead.

Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight

The Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down

I was skeptical when I spotted Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight on the same shelf as The Prepared Home at my local library. But I checked it out anyway. The author posits clutter and obesity are tied together psychologically. After reading the book, I can see the possible tie-in. My daily activities keep me in the normal range, weight wise, but the effort to declutter does burn calories.

Peter Walsh is the aforementioned author. Apparently he is famous. Since I don’t watch much television I was unfamiliar with his work with hoarders and those who simply live with clutter. (I am-was- guilty of the latter.) But after just two weeks of following the decluttering to a tee and attempting the mindfulness and fitness aspects I am a believer.

Lose The Clutter

Several self-evaluations begin the book. My analysis indicated I was not a compulsive buyer but I did have a hard time discarding things. In fact I am an expert at saving things. First, all the gifts from family and friends. Second, things that worked and I might need someday. Finally, I don’t want the money spent on the item to be wasted.

Walsh’s psychological discussion made sense. And gave me a justification to declutter. A personal example: My parents gave us a crockpot when we married. This was in the days before you could remove the cooking part from the heating element. Later they gave us a newer version. But both were in my kitchen cupboard until last week. Now only one remains and the other was given to the local second-hand shop. Along with three boxes of kitchen items, mostly duplicates.

Lose The Weight

So far, I have not lost weight. Perhaps I enjoyed Easter dinner too much. Or maybe I weigh what I should. I am older and quite active. But I was hoping to lose the inches around the waist reported by the individuals followed in Lose the Clutter Lose The Weight.

A most likely culprit is the fact the early exercises are less than what I already do. Perhaps by the end of six weeks this will change. Most impressive to me is the twenty-seven pages of strength training exercises. None requiring expensive equipment purchases. I am tempted to buy a copy of the book just so I can have these illustrated techniques to refer to.

Mindfulness and Mindset

A key component to the Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight program is the mindfulness sections. I find these helpful and encouraging. Guilt over purging items is addressed as is sadness. Best of all is the release of negative feelings by tossing the malignant items. I am still working on trying not to be so self-critical. Everything takes time.

Recommendation

This is a great book for those who have hoarding tendencies and a good book for anyone with a messy or disorganized home. I think large households or individuals who have saved things for decades will benefit the most. Buy a copy for yourself or gift it to someone you love. Walsh offers a positive approach to a difficult problem.