Zonta International: Near and Dear to My Heart

What is Zonta International?

I believe many visitors stopping by this blog today and through the weekend are affiliated with Zonta International. Welcome! For regular readers, Zonta International is a world- wide organization of professionals with the common goal of promoting gender equality by empowering women and children in an effort to end violence against women, achieve pay equity and provide equal opportunity for education. These are just a few of our goals. For a greater grasp of the many important service projects please visit the website at www.Zonta.org.

Who are Zontians?

Zontians are very giving, monetarily and with the all-important aspect of our lives, time. Service projects have varied over the decades I have been a member. As an educator my favorites have been associated with literacy. A current project, Let Us Learn Madagascar, served as a tie-in to a local project. Our club worked with the local middle school girls for the first years of the International Project engaging the young teenagers in what occurred half a world away.

Those same girls formed the basis for a brand-new Z club once they reached high school. Club membership at the high school level mirrors that of Zonta International, open to males as well as females. The initial club leader was a young man who spoke at an Area 4 meeting and was so impressive in his support for gender equality one member of the audience posited he might become the first male Zonta International president.

Econogal Posts of Interest to Zontians

This blog is eclectic in nature. Originally started in 2017 as a way to keep creating new pathways in my brain, Econogal is a big part of my life. The content is free from advertisements. And while I welcome the emails and comments, I write of my interests. So, no free books accepted, and I only write what I want, not what is strongly suggested with promise of compensation.

Many of the books reviewed are related to goals of Zonta International. (If you click on the highlighted words that follow you can jump to that particular post.)

Book Reviews Pertinent to Zonta International

The Displacements, which will be briefly discussed during my upcoming Zonta Says NOW USA Think Tank presentation, follows a mom and her children as they flee a natural disaster and land in a FEMA camp far from home. (The emphasis for the February 25th program is one of preparedness for women.)

The Good Daughter focuses on the life-long changes of two sisters after a sexual assault. This novel is highly graphic and may be too intense for victims or family members of victims. However, it is the perfect gift for anyone who asks “What were you wearing?”

Where the Crawdads Sing is more than a murder mystery. It is a story of the struggles of a young girl who becomes a woman with very little guidance. I have not seen the movie so I cannot compare.

The Only Woman in the Room is a biography of Hedy Lamarr. This well known actress had many other talents I was unaware of. There is also a nod to Rose Day in the Post.

Other Entries of Note

Another post featuring Rose Day is World with Women, this will give you a glimpse of the local club. Finally of interest to long time Zonta District 12 members as well as any Past International Governors is a tribute to a Zontian I dearly miss in Century of Life.

To all those following the link provided by Zonta Fast ACTION Friday and Zonta Says Now, thanks for stopping by the Econogal blog. For my regular readers and any new followers, stay tuned for the post on Bargello quilts arriving early next week.

January 2023 Wrap-Up

Seasonal Weather

The month of January 2023 was cold and snowy. Since this part of the world is in a moderate drought, the moisture was welcome. However, the single digit and below zero temperatures can disappear at any time without any concern from me. Naturally, January 2023 was spent indoors.

Time was split between reading, writing and quilting. Additionally, a few seeds were started. There is always something to occupy the hours of the day.

January 2023 In the Library

A wide range of books were read this month. Three entertaining novels were reviewed, Elevator Pitch, The Escape Artist and Remarkably Bright Creatures. All were enjoyed. Non-fiction books included works discussed in the post Time to Plan the Garden and The Complete Runner’s Handbook by Glover and Glover. Next on the TBR list is Brain Saver Protocols Cleanses & Recipes.

Quilt Room Action

Baby Quilt in browns and teals
Ready for the hand-quilting.

A quilt for the youngest in the family is now at the hand quilting stage. Another baby quilt, this one for his cousin-to-be on his Dad’s side of the family has been cut out and the sewing will commence this week. But that is not all of the activity going on in the quilt room.

I have finally reached this important room for decluttering. Truth be told, not much can be tossed. But a lot of organization is needed. This last day of January 2023 saw the beginning of separating the fabrics into color categories loosely following The Home Edit guidelines of ROY G BIV. I have also turned the stack fabrics on their sides giving a better view of the patterns. The fabric arrangement will continue into February. Then I can start on the hobby cabinets.

Seed Starting

The first seeds were started in January 2023. Most were brassicas. Kale and cabbages have already emerged. Two of the peanuts have sprouted as well. The former plants can be placed outside while the temperatures still fluctuate below freezing. The peanuts will grow inside until June. Three artichokes were planted but no signs of any life yet.

Fortunately, it is a long way off before outdoor work dominates the schedule. Plenty of time for seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow.

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Debut Novel

Book Cover of Remarkably Bright Creatures depicting giant octopus and elderly ladyShelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures is remarkably good. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the heartwarming story has generational appeal. Quirky characters represent the populations of small towns across the United States of America, and most likely the world. Relatable and engaging, the reader might be reading about friends and neighbors.

Characters

Tova Sullivan is a widow in her early seventies. She still lives in the house she grew up in built decades ago by her father. Bereft of family due to her only child’s strange disappearance just after his high school graduation, she still meets with a group of friends on a weekly basis. But their numbers are dwindling.

Tova is the epitome of work ethic. She believes in working through one’s troubles. So, she is still working nightly as a janitor of a sea aquarium.

Cameron Cassmore, just turned thirty, is homeless, down on his luck, and searching for answers. Left with an aunt by his addict mother he is determined to find his father. A man who might not even know of his existence. His motive is money. Work is something that he just doesn’t want to…work at. He finds it impossible to hold down a job-of course at no fault of his own.

Marcellus is the third main character. And the hero. The opening chapter, rife with anthropomorphism captures the heart-Marcellus is at the end of his lifespan. But as one of Earth’s remarkably bright creatures, he has one final task to complete.

Remarkably Bright Creatures-Multiple Plots and an Overarching Theme

Books can be driven by characters or by a captivating plot. Remarkable Bright Creatures is most definitely character driven. But the theme and the various plots move the story along. At the heart of the book is family and generations. Yet, the main characters face a future without familial links. In the case of Tova-no descendants. Cameron mourns his loss of parents and grandparents. Perhaps his inability to keep a job and put down roots is an outcome. He certainly blames his circumstances- not himself. The need for family drives the story. Even Marcellus comments on procreation. Not what one would expect from a creature facing imminent death.

Van Pelt does an excellent job of creating small town life and telling of the importance of both family and friends. And yes, community can be built in cities. However, this connection is so much easier to spot in a small town where everyone knows everything. About everybody. Which is also maddening.

Furthermore, the author is wonderful at tying the multiple plots together. Not only does she remind one life spans don’t change, but Van Pelt is also excellent in conveying the importance of work, resilience and personal ethics. Thus, she makes a point of leaving a mark on this world we live in. Not necessarily attaining fame and fortune-just a positive impact on our surroundings and the people we interact with on a daily basis.

Recommendation for Remarkably Bright Creatures

Remarkably Bright Creatures is a warm hearted and uplifting story. The novel is a reflection of today’s world. It is a reminder that tragedy can strike at any time yet the living must continue to lead productive lives. Certainly, that is easier said than done.

Shelby Van Pelt successfully addresses so many modern concerns and still leaves the reader in a positive frame of mind. Buy this book soon and keep it for one of those days when your spirits are low. Remarkably Bright Creatures is the needed antidote. This debut novel is a keeper.

The Escape Artist Book Review

Highly Recommended

A relative recommended The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland in the latter months of 2022. Now I recommend it too. The book is part historical account and part biography. Throw in action in the prologue followed by flowing prose and pertinent questions, then you have a publication well worth reading.

The Escape Artist

Walter Rosenberg later known as Rudolf Vrba is the subject of The Escape Artist. He and fellow Slovakian Alfred Wetzler became the first Jewish escapees of Auschwitz/Birkenau. Their story has been told more than once. Yet, this iteration should not be missed.

First of all, Freedland has been meticulous in his research and writing. He includes maps, personal photos and documentation from no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself. And his political observations woven throughout are sound and reflective.

The account set forth will be hard to read for some. However, The Escape Artist needs to be read. Especially by younger generations. Those too young to have personally met and/or witnessed the tattoos of the survivors of the Nazi termination camps. And more importantly, by those who have forgotten their history lessons.

Rudi Vrba is the Escape Artist

Freedland addresses the man known at his death as Rudolf Vrba by his given name at birth, Walter Rosenberg, throughout the account until the man was given a new identity following his escape from Auschwitz/Birkenau. Unlike his follow escapee, Fred Wetzler, Vrba kept his new name after the war.

Much of the book is focused on the account of Vrba. However, Freedland varies in key chapters such as in London has been Informed. The differentiation gives great credibility to the account. As do the shared documents.

Vrba’s life story goes beyond survival. He truly believed his escape would save lives-if people only knew what awaited them once the cattle cars arrived at the camps. Unfortunately, he was only partially correct.

His anger extended beyond the Nazi’s. And the anger was well placed. Much, much more could have and should have been done both during and after World War II. And the lessons are still applicable today.

Jonathan Freedland

British Journalist Freedland has written both fiction and non-fiction. The latter are published in his own name while most of the former can be found under the name Sam Bourne. Additionally, he appears on BBC and contributes regularly to several publications including The Guardian. He has obviously been busy researching, writing and promoting The Escape Artist since as of today January 23, 2023, his website needs updating.

The focus on Vrba’s story is commendable. Freedland’s journalist background bodes well. He asks the right questions. Readers need to provide the conclusions. And determine future actions lest ethnic cleansing continues to succeed; on different soil and against other ethnicities. If stories such as Vrba’s are forgotten, history will repeat.

 

 

Time to Plan the Garden

January Snow

A back patio with wall and furniture covered with about 8 inches of snow and small flakes falling.When the January snow blows it is time to plan the garden. This is always a favorite indoor task for this time of year. And a wet snow encourages both High Plains farmers and gardeners. So, after looking at the forecast showing three chances of snow in one week, I visited the library. Multiple books were checked out including three related to gardening.

The Backyard Gardener by Kelly Orzel, Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart and an Eyewitness Garden of Pruning & Training edited and published by DK Publishing provided additional reading material. So, the time to plan the garden is nigh.

Winter Chores

Before the arrival of snow, temperatures soared into the low sixties (Fahrenheit.) It is quite normal in this part of the world to have a warm-up before a front moves in. Year round we have temperature fluctuations of forty degrees or more on a daily basis. On the High Plains, population is sparse as are trees. This adds to cooling at night without concrete to trap the warmth. Click here for an interesting article from Time discussing concrete and heat.

Therefore, warm afternoons allow one to work in the garden for a few hours. These past two weeks ushered in a clean-up of early crop beds by cutting back the asparagus stalks and cleaning out the bed for the brassicas. After last year’s wind storm wiped out my garlic crop, I’ve become a dirty/lazy gardener leaving stalks in the ground to catch the snow and keep the soil anchored.

An alternative would be to grow a winter cover crop. Something I am considering. Although it seems to be a waste of seed, plowing under rye first thing in the spring.

Time to Plan the Garden: Seed Catalogs

The seed catalogues began arriving just after Christmas. Most are from companies I have ordered from in the past. Although a few are new to me. Perhaps sister companies-much preferable thought to that of my buying habits marketed to others.

Inflation has hit the garden supply industry. Supports such as tomato cages and trellises seem to have doubled in price. Since I do not keep catalogs from year to year this may be inaccurate. But the prices are higher. Planning will be critical and I may upcycle even more in the 2023 garden.

Some seeds were harvested from my own garden last year, including herbs such as dill, parsley and basil. The rosemary will need to be replaced. A necessary cost. The chives, sage and thyme can be divided. A wonderful savings. All indications point to higher costs. Thus, planning will be more important than ever. It certainly is time to plan the garden.

Time to Plan the Garden- Reviewing Notes

Spring 2023 notes aided by earlier year plannersBy reviewing the notes from my calendars, I know what items to re-order. And which ones to skip. For example, last years eggplants grew larger than the year before, but the vines became diseased. Not ideal for a home garden.

Copious notes help keep track of results. Additionally, the notations include rainfall and freeze dates. We started off with a dry spring, had a slightly wetter early summer and then dried out again. A tough environment.

In my opinion, the average frost dates are meaningless. In the last five years we have had spring freezes as late as Memorial Day and as early as mid-April. The same is true with the fall. Including the threat of a Labor Day freeze in 2020. So, material to protect crops is needed- as is patience. And the ability to adjust to a unpredictable growing season.

Book Reviews

Two of the above books will be reviewed in the coming weeks. To read the review of Deerproofing Your Garden click here. For those in warmer climates, spring is just around the corner. It really is time to plan the garden for 2023.

The Creative Process

Adapting Patterns

Artists, writers, crafters, architects and designers are alike in that each employ the creative process in their work. Many books have been written on left brain/right brain thinking processes. And most attribute the right brain to creativity. Thus, the left brain is relegated to the “boring” stuff. Like math.

However, as a quilter, I know you need both sides of the brain. Especially if creating a new design or adapting an existing pattern created by someone else. Such is the case with my current quilt project.

Recently, I found a quilt that looks perfect for the newest baby in the family. The discovery occurred while searching through my quilt books and old magazines. The little guy is almost six months old and still trying to catch up…preemies take a bit longer to develop. Since he is finally doing a bit more than eating, sleeping, and well you know-he needs a quilt to play on.

But the quilt in the magazine is bigger than desired and the companion infant quilt is not what I want. So, alterations need to be made. Cue left brain action!

Math and Quilting

Long ago when learning fractions, someone in class asked why? What is important about partial numbers? I don’t remember the exact answer, yet I am sure quilt design was not included. It should have been.

Quilters normally use quarter inches as seam allowances as opposed to the 5/8ths used by clothes designers and seamstresses. Of course, the quarter inch applies to all sides. So, blocks are actually a half inch bigger at the cutting stage.

Things get quite complicated at times. Such is the case with my adaptation of Family Tradition from McCall’s Quilting Vintage Quilts Spring 2014 edition. (In turn, the pattern was originally published as Easy Breezy in their Fall 2001 release.)

The finished size as published is 71” by 77 ¼” which is much bigger than I want. Therefore, mathematical adjustments need to be made before the creative process can take over. Cutting the size down by half would make the resulting quilt smaller than I want.

Since I like baby quilts to equal the width of standard fabric, I need a width at or below 44 inches. So, reducing the size by a third was also out of the question. Complicating things further, the original squares called for 3 5/8” (the laptop doesn’t even recognize this fraction!)

Creative Process-More Than Art

The creative process includes thinking outside the box. Therefore, I counted the squares on the top border and divided the number into the desired finished width. A slight adjustment was made, dropping the measurement to the next lowest eighth of an inch. Then, the seam allowances were added back in.

Next, I adjusted the width of the inner borders and made multiple calculations. I decreased the 6 ¾” (with allowances) to 4 ¼” and recalculated the length based on the nine patch squares. As you can see in the photo, the measurements were spot on.

The hardest equation involved the right-angle triangles in the corners. Basic algebra and a scientific calculator helped. I hope my math will be correct when I reach that point. The hypotenuse is known and the base and perpendicular sides are equal, so I divided the hypotenuse by the square root of 2. Tweaking will need to be done since again the number is not a nice fraction. And the seam allowances can’t be forgotten.

Design with Color and Direction

The magazine depicts the quilt with a lot of pastels. The little guy will receive a version with earth tones sparked with vibrant teals and greens. My inspiration is more of ocean meeting land and rugged rocks. The nine patches in the middle have the same brown. Since the brown has directional lines of gold, red and teal, placement was intentional. My creative process requires a certain structure in the design. I like a top and bottom and consistent direction when possible.

Two additional fabrics complete the center square. Although both feature greens, they differ in tone and style. One is a child print, a traditional green plaid background with sail boats, fire trucks and the like. The other is a pebbly abstract in various shades of teal. Both complement the brown.

My last decision will involve whether or not to include a top and bottom single row border as designed. Or I can leave the quilt as a square within a square. So many decisions in the creative process!

Quilt in browns and teals with four nine patches in center, solid inner border and pieced block outer border.
Quilt in Progress

Elevator Pitch Book Review

A “New to Me” Author

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is a library check-out and one I encourage you to find. The book was released in 2019 and is the first novel of Barclay’s I have read. The story captures interest from the start-I could hardly put it down! The writing flows as the plot thickens with twists and turns only partially foreshadowed.

Barclay falls into the category of prolific author. More than that, the title provides a glimpse of intelligence and wit. There are multiple meanings layered in “Elevator Pitch.”  Here is proof that the world has many, many talented authors and time is limited. Too limited to read them all. But if you haven’t yet read any of his work, he is worth discovering. So, I can’t believe I missed his dozens of books and am glad he is now on my radar.

Setting of Elevator Pitch

New York City is the setting of Elevator Pitch. The focus is on the many skyscrapers. Right from the opening pages the reader grasps the significance of the vertical landscape. How necessary is it for elevators to work smoothly if you live more than ten floors up? Twenty? Eighty? And the significance grows with respect to age.

But this is not a story of electrical failure as if the power grid were attacked as discussed in Ted Koppel’s non-fiction Lights Out. Instead, Elevator Pitch focuses on isolated events of domestic terrorism and personal vendettas. Furthermore, Barclay provides plenty of suspense against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.

A Plethora of Characters

Barbara Matheson is a career NYC print reporter. She covers local politics. Her nemesis is Mayor Richard Wilson Headley. And not much love is lost between them. But things are complicated. Headley has political aspirations beyond the local level and his son thinks Matheson is the perfect person to serve as a ghostwriter. After all, she has that experience as well.

Matheson has a grown daughter. Since the fatherless child was raised by Matheson’s parents, the relationship between the two is fraught with guilt and blame. Arla Silbert (she uses Matheson’s maiden name) catches the eye of the mayor’s son, Glover, on her first day at work for the city. Thus, Barclay has many layers of intrigue. These characters are just the tip of the iceberg.

Other keys to the mystery of malfunctioning elevators include mayoral aides, police detectives, Russian operatives and right-wing domestic terrorists. The plot contains foreshadowing and plenty of misdirection. Everything the author needs to keep the readers turning the pages.

Elevator Pitch Plot

The plot of the novel is basic. And the writing is filled with nuances. For example, the opening scene depicts a screenwriter as a stalker determined to pitch his work. He “succeeds” by cornering the agent in a high-rise elevator on her way to the office. His efforts fail-because the elevator fails and falls. This is just the first of three failures before the mayor shuts everything down. Then even more chaos ensues. A no-win situation for the mayor.

Sub-plots are rampant in the novel. Barclay is a master of connecting the multiple threads and tying them together. The quick tempo of the writing matches the pace of the plotting. Kudos to Linwood Barclay for providing an entertaining evening of reading. Elevator Pitch earns high praise. Read it soon.

This suspenseful novel may have you taking the stairs…whenever possible.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing Book Review

Matthew Perry

I found Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing depressing, jaded, and one of the most powerful memoirs I have read written by an addict. (For a comparison click here.) Perhaps a paradox, but nevertheless true. But some background is needed on my perspective. I never saw the series Friends during its’ initial run. Not a single episode.

The show debuted in the fall of 1994. I had lost two immediate family members in just six months, had three young kids and was teaching twelve credits at a local community college. Television was not part of my vocabulary.

By the time the series ended in 2004, I had an additional child and the two oldest were in high school. My relaxation came in the written form while soaking in a tub full of bubble bath. But, during the isolation of Covid-19, I began to watch re-runs and the cast of Friends was incredible. Including Matthew Perry.

Big Terrible Thing

However, I have not seen enough episodes to pick up on his constant battle with addiction. So, the memoir was disturbing and a bit depressing. The author at times came off as jaded. But his ending message is powerful. Addiction has destroyed his body. He is fortunate more relationships were not ruined.

Names are dropped, but I would not classify Perry as a name dropper. On occasion he with holds an identity. But the message is still the same. His ongoing battle with addiction has interfered with his happiness. And with most long-term female relationships. It was troubling.

The big terrible thing in my opinion is how close to the edge his life will always be. I feel for anyone faced with this disease. And I am firmly in the camp that believes it is a disease.

Concluding Thoughts

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is a difficult read. A cursory look reflects an artificial comic. One gets the feeling that for most of his life Perry was an “all about me” person. The tragedy lies in the hidden demons. And at some point, blame needs to fall within. The past is the past. Perry alludes to this. Even acknowledges how his parents always stuck by him- even though he blames his upbringing for his insecurities.

The book is a powerful look at dealing with the demons within. It is written to help those who struggle. And to offer an explanation to those who are on the outside looking in. I don’t know if it will help with the former, but it succeeds with the latter. Unfortunately, addiction cannot be solved by outsiders. Only the individual afflicted can beat the curse. It is my sincere hope Mr. Perry, and all other addicts can overcome their internal enslavement.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing book cover featuring head shot of Matthew Perry.

Goals and Opportunities

Revisiting Resolutions

While goals and opportunities are related, they often differ. Goal setting can be done at any time. Not just around the New Year. However, opportunities are more elusive. They can appear and then slip away if not acted upon.

Goals are easily set. But not easily kept. Of my four goals for 2022 (click here to review) I fell short on the two easiest to track. I did not try a new recipe each month. Nor did I finish a creative project in the same time period. Actual results were closer to every other month.

Goals and opportunities often clash. Such was the case in 2022 for the aforementioned goals. At one point I was absent from my home for almost six weeks. So, the opportunities were limited. I did travel with both a quilt in progress and a Christmas stocking kit. But my cooking was quite limited.

 

Goals and Opportunities- Taking Action

Sometimes opportunities come along that mesh with current or long-term goals. Such is the case now. Although the window is beginning to close. A newly appointed literary agent popped into my Twitter timeline. She has halted her submission reviews until after the first of the year. If I carry through on this opportunity to submit, I may come closer to my key goal of publication. Definitely a case of goals and opportunities meshing.

A query letter is important for establishing a relationship in the literary world. My current task is polishing such a missive to send off after the first of the year. The short term is now immediate and so the opportunity costs are high.

New Goals and Opportunities

A new year provides the perfect time to update goals. Top of the list is establishing a relationship with an agent or an editor. The second writing goal pertains to this blog. But it is hard to accurately define- I want the posts to be “more and better.” For now, I will leave the goal loosely specified.

2022 was a year of travel. Dozens of short trips and four very long forays across the USA. So, 2023 might be a catch-up year at home. It all depends on the opportunities. And unlike goals that can be worked on, opportunities must be seized as they occur.

The asparagus bed established in the spring will need to be tended to as it enters into its second year. A few spears will be harvested, but not many. Patience is the key.

Other projects around the garden will ensure the long-term goal of growing healthy produce for the home. Christmas dinner included green beans from the 2022 garden. The techniques learned in Freeze Fresh proved beneficial. No leftover green beans.

The opportunities for the garden are quite dependent on the weather as well as the ongoing inflation. Building materials and supports all come at a cost. But recycling will help with the costs…and the environment.

Goals and opportunities vary by year. 2023 is upon us, enticing with unlimited potential. What will your goals be? Take some time this week to reflect upon past accomplishments and ready yourself for new opportunities. Be creative in your endeavors and constructive in your work. Celebrate successes. Most importantly, leave things better than you found them. Not only do we have one life to live, but also one world to live in. Best wishes for the new year.

Grace Under Fire Book Review

Favorite Romance Novelist

Julie Garwood’s latest novel, Grace Under Fire revisits romance between the Buchanan and Mackenna families. In this latest pairing, Isabel the baby of the Mackenna family tangles with former Navy Seal Michael Buchanan. The seemingly mismatched pair will spark an interest even in readers new to Garwood.

Theme of Grace Under Fire

Finding ones’ life course is the underlying theme of the novel. Isabel is a new college graduate. Her love for music hidden during the college experience re-emerges. The pursuit of a more practical degree unknowingly places Isabel Mackenna in grave danger. As does her sudden fame.

Meanwhile, Michael Buchanan has his career change all planned out. Until he once again crosses paths with the youngest of the Makenna females. Now all bets are off.

Romantic Chemistry

For this reader, the chemistry between the lead characters took a little time to develop. More time than given on the pages of the book. Garwood romances are not sweet, so I was not surprised by the content, just not expecting the sensuous scenes so soon. By the time I was ready for the couple to conjugate, the courtship had passed the initial stages. Timing was off, just not sure if it was this reader, or not.

Protagonists

Isabel Mackenna answers to her middle name. Thus, a potential for confusion for those seeking Grace. Under fire refers to both the unscrupulous fortune seekers as well as the rabid music fans. Garwood primarily tells the story from the voice of her heroine. As a protagonist, Isabel is quite likeable. Not too syrupy   Her key fault of lousy driving eventually saves the day.

The chapters devoted to Michael Buchanan’s viewpoint help solidify the relationship. They also provide a balance to the fame and fortune Isabel faces on a daily basis. However, the hero remains one dimensional. Only hints of his time at war are given.

Secondary Characters

Just as Isabel and Michael have been secondary characters in previous novels, Grace Under Fire has a plethora of entertaining secondary characters. It is doubtful that any will become protagonists, but one never knows. Of course, quite a few former protagonists made appearances. Readers familiar with the series may recall the various personalities. New readers will need to discover most of the characters by visiting the library.

Recommendation for Grace Under Fire

The release of Grace Under Fire comes after a larger gap than most of Garwood’s books. Perhaps the pandemic is to blame. Devotees of the author will certainly enjoy this novel. It is stand alone to a certain extent. I checked the book out of my local library. It was enjoyable, and yet I doubt I will reread it as often as I have Garwood’s 2011 release The Ideal Man nor my all-time favorite, The Secret. Her novels are always enjoyable, and I hope for a shorter time before her next release.

Arctic Blast

Bitter Cold

The cold arctic blast hit early last night and the snow began falling just before daybreak. I am warm and toasty sitting near the fireplace. Jumping from task to task, I hope to accomplish much before family begins to arrive for the Christmas Weekend.

Outdoor temperature is below the zero mark. Winds are steady at about twenty miles per hour. Climate geeks can figure the windchill. I just know it was bitter cold when I moved the trash can back up to the house once the garbage truck rumbled by.

Of course, Sophie the cat does not understand the outdoors is no place for man or beast this morning. She whines each time I pass by the door to the backyard. Days like this it is important to look out for those creatures that do not reason well.

I feel for any outdoor laborer today. Hopefully power will remain on. And construction workers can find inside work. Fortunately, I took advantage of the warm air before the arctic blast yesterday to complete my outdoor chores.

Arctic Blast Sets Records

Living on the High Plains of America, it is not unusual to experience wide swings in temperature. But the temperature drop usually occurs over hours. Last night, the arctic blast took just minutes.

Late afternoon yesterday, large swarms of small birds flew in clusters. Unsettled and unlike normal habits, they did not alight on the trees. Instead, they swirled as if a group of bats flying from the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. Visions of the movie The Day After Tomorrow came to mind. Fortunately, the drop was not that extreme.

Nonetheless, going from above freezing to negative digits in about thirty minutes would be disastrous without warning. Such must have accord in earlier times. The Towner Bus Tragedy comes to mind.

Furthermore, this was not the first freeze of the year. Hopefully, winter kill will be at a minimum in the garden. It is doubtful the rosemary will overwinter even in the spots I covered yesterday. The last-minute harvest of sage and rosemary will be enjoyed Christmas Day.

Warming the Home

In addition to a fire in the fireplace, the ovens will heat up the kitchen as I make sugar cookies for the granddaughters to decorate Christmas Eve. A new loaf of bread is needed for tonight’s dinner as well as other breads needed for Christmas dinner. We hope to have a Baker’s Dozen on Sunday.

Finally, the laundry room door will stay open as the final loads are cleaned before guests arrive. Summertime is great for drying outdoors on the clothesline. But the convenience of an indoor dryer is one to appreciate during this arctic blast. I remember my grandmother hanging clothes indoors from long ago Christmases. Even North Texas can get too cold for an outdoor clothesline in late December.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate the holiday.

2022 Top Book Picks

Favorites of 2022

Econogal’s 2022 Top Book Picks offer personal favorites from the past year. Just in time for the last minute holiday gift shopping. Most are recent releases but a few have releases as far back as 2000. I have divided the lists into three categories this year, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

It is always a tough decision on which books make the list. So, the 2022 Top Book Picks include nine in each section of adult reading material with a slightly shorter list of children’s books.

The genres range from futuristic to crime for the novels. And the non-fiction is just as eclectic with entries from self-help to economic thought. My new list of children’s books includes board books.

2022 Top Book Picks of Non-Fiction

I misremembered reading more non-fiction as one of my New Year’s Resolutions. Must have been from a prior year. Nonetheless, more of my reading in 2022 was non-fiction. Many of the books centered on home organization but the top three were critiques or reflections on the world around us. You can click on each title to link to my reviews.

  1. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Keeping At It by Paul Volcker and Christine Harper
  3. Reflections on a Life in Exile by J.F. Riordan
  4. Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight by Peter Walsh
  5. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
  6. Understandable Economics: Because Understanding Our Economy is Easier Than You Think and More Important Than You Know by Howard Yaruss
  7. Freeze Fresh: The Ultimate Guide to Preserving 55 Fruits and Vegetables by Crystal Schmidt
  8. Hobby Farm- Living Your Rural Dream for Pleasure and Profit by Carol Ekarius
  9. Vail-Triumph of a Dream by Peter W. Seibert with William Oscar Johnson

Fiction: 2022 Top Book Picks

The fictional entries are always hard to pare down and this year is no exception. In fact, several of my favorite authors have been left off. But I think it is important to keep the list manageable.

  1. We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker
  2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger
  4. The Fields by Erin Young
  5. You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here by Frances Macken
  6. Upgrade by Blake Crouch
  7. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  8. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
  9. Daylight by David Baldacci

New List in 2022: Children’s Books

The 2022 Top Book Picks includes a listing of this year’s favorite children’s books. With three grandkids, more time will be spent reading storybooks.

  1. How To Babysit A Grandma by Jean Reagan with illustrations by Lee Wildesh
  2. Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan
  3. Chairs on Strike by Jennifer Jones
  4. Skippyjon Jones in the Doghouse by Judy Schachner
  5. If a Horse Had Words by Kelly Cooper
  6. Santa’s Underwear by Marty Rhodes Figley with illustrations by Marty Kelley
  7. If Animals Trick-or-Treated by Ann Whitford Paul with Illustrations by David Walker
  8. Snowmen at Halloween by Carolyn M. Buehner with illustrations by Mark Buehner

Books as Gifts

Since books make great gifts, the end of the year compilation is handy. 2022 Top Book Picks is an eclectic mix of books. Just fitting for readers of the Econogal blog. Remember you can link to each review by clicking on the highlighted title. Happy shopping!

Another Trio of Children’s Books

Three Great Books make Another Trio of Children’s Books

Another trio of children’s books is highly recommended for the youngsters in your life. Two of the offerings are by Jane Monroe Donovan: Winter’s Gift and Small Medium & Large. The third entry is the funny Santa’s Underwear written by Marty Rhodes Figley and illustrated by Marty Kelley.

Jane Monroe Donovan

If I could choose an illustrator for my own children’s stories, Jane Monroe Donovan would be at the top of my list. I love her artwork. Small Medium & Large is a prime example. The picture book has little writing, but the illustrations paint a wonderful tale. I can envision my middle grandchild weaving a story as the pages are turned.

Donovan’s 2004 release Winter’s Gift is a classic. In addition to the beautiful drawings, the illustrator-turned-author pens one of the most heartwarming stories of hope I have ever read geared toward young children.

The plot of Winter’s Gift is of an elderly man facing his first Christmas without his wife. Simultaneously, a mare loses her herd in the middle of a storm and is found just outside of the man’s cabin. Fortunately, the man discovers the mare in time to move her to the safety of a barn. Then a Christmas miracle occurs. My heart tugged. Winter’s Gift is the most moving of yet another trio of children’s books reviewed.

Santa’s Underwear

The third book to share is Santa’s Underwear. Figley’s hilarious tale is perfectly illustrated by Kelley. Even though Santa is in charge of Christmas, he celebrates all the holidays-with appropriately matched underwear. I am torn on which of the grandkids will receive this charming tale. The delightful story is one destined to be a “read it again” addition to the home library.

Another Trio of Children’s Books

Multiple books are included in many of my children’s book reviews. Maybe it is a need to share my love of books with all. Or maybe an effort to be fair with the trio of grandkids. But it is hard to just buy one book geared to the youngest generation. The holidays are upon us and these three children’s books are great for giving. And I am certain there will be yet another trio of children’s books reviewed in the future.

Another Trio of Children's Books includes the three pictured story books: Winter's Gift, Small Medium & Large, and Santa's Underwear.

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.