Dial A For Aunties Book Review

An Unintended Murder

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto is a chick read and soon to be Netflix chick flick. The book is delightful and I am considering signing up for the streaming service just so I can see how the characters are brought to life. Yes, that good!

The book is a murder without the mystery. Plenty of mayhem surrounds the “accidental” death. Hilarious mayhem. I will try not to give away too much of the story.

Meddelin Chin- Protagonist

Meddy is an American of Asian descent. Specifically Chinese and Indonesian.  The main character introduces the reader to her multi-lingual Asian family with much humor. The males fly the coop and Meddy, the obedient female, stays close to home. But she did have a secret life; during college. And her secret lands her in trouble.

Fortunately for Meddy, her mother and her mom’s three sisters are tight knit. So when the heroine shows up at home with a dead body, the foursome swing into action. Meddy must come into her own in order to keep the Aunties out of trouble. It is refreshing to see her character grow. And heartwarming to witness the family love and loyalty, amongst the bickering.

Additionally, Sutanto includes the right amount of romance. Meddy runs into her former love while trying to juggle a big wedding event with disposing of the body. Her stress levels increase exponentially as wedding drama entwines with the dead body. Fortunately, all is hilarity for the reader.

Dial A For Aunties

Dial A For Aunties is full of good humor, sibling rivalry and family love. The endings are happy in both the main and sub-plots. There are a few twists and surprises. The topics are modern and the language can get a bit “R” rated. Love and acceptance are key themes.

Secondary themes are mother-daughter relationships and the age old story of lost love rediscovered. The author does a nice job of introducing the reader to the Asian culture as they assimilate into urban America. Communication in a multi-generational family of immigrants can be difficult. The United States is behind other parts of the world when it comes to second and third languages.

I highly recommend Dial A For Aunties. Lighthearted reads are so important in breaching cultural differences in this day and age. Sutanto is already working on a sequel and one hopes she has a role in the film adaptation as well. Pick up a copy today!

Summertime Hail Storm

Zero Chance of Rain

A summertime hail storm struck this past weekend even though the chance of rain was nil. Thunder and lightning broke the quiet evening and lit up the skies to the north. I checked the forecast and the radar-zero chance of the storm coming south.  So, the bedtime ritual complete, I turned in for the night. Or so I thought.

An hour later pounding overhead woke me up. Immediately, I left the comfort of my bed and checked the backdoor to see if the racket was heavy rain or dreaded hail. At that point, it was hard to tell. So, I opened the front door. Tiny balls were bouncing off the driveway.

Next I checked the radar. A red cell was directly overhead. Not moving. And the pounding increased. Another peek outback and large peas were dotting the grass. Then the peas turned to small marbles. Perfectly round with the exception of one odd shaped ice cube. This hail stone was almost clear while the rest were opaque. Much like a perfectly formed snow balls. Just miniaturized.

The storm lasted thirty minutes.

Damage to the Big Garden

Naturally, my first thought upon awakening the next morning was the garden. The Big Garden was checked first. The lettuce row was shredded. The single potato in the middle of the root row was damaged as well. But the potatoes and sweet potatoes in the metal rings both inside and outside of the fencing fared better.

The tomatoes had whiplash, but most of the stems were intact and the flowers still open. However, the mallow was denuded of its beautiful purple blooms. Carrots and beets are still too small to show much damage.

Anything with a support was barely touched. This includes the peas which are bearing pods. Likewise, smaller leafed plants did ok. Unfortunately, the squash with its broad leaves show damage.

Raised Boxes

The raised boxes at the back of the property bore the most damage. The tomatoes there were not on supports. Now they resemble little trees sliced down by a tornado. The summertime hail storm showed no mercy.

The clusters on the Concord and Niagara grapes are so small and hard, I am hoping they escape the damage so readily seen on the leaves. On each side of the boxes are asparagus patches. One looked downtrodden and the other as if nothing but rain had occurred.  Such is the nature of hail.

Summertime Hail Storm and the Side Garden

The side garden should have sustained the most damage. But it didn’t and I am not sure why. I have the slicing tomatoes planted here. They have supports. The damage was greater than the Big Garden paste tomatoes but not nearly as devastating as the boxes.

The side garden is half produce and half flower.  (I plant flowers everywhere to entice the bees, but usually the ratio is much more lopsided.) The roses are budding out and show some damage. The peonies were protected-but still no flowers. This is year three since transplant. The peach trees shredded many leaves. The hail could not damage the fruit since the hard freeze took care of that first.

Container Plants

In hopes of a greenhouse, I increased the number of tropical plants in planters. While my potted flowers did well, the various tropicals did not. Severe damage was noted to the banana, turmeric, and artichoke. Minor damage to the avocado. The lime tree was somewhat sheltered by the house and showed no damage.

The zero chance of rain played into the mix here. All these planters could and would have been pulled onto one of the porches if I felt they were in danger.

High Plains Summertime Hail Storms

This part of the country experiences many hail storms. The last major storm was just four years ago. You can read about it by clicking here. The storms are hit and miss. Furthermore, they are unpredictable. This particular storm came from the north, but farmer friends less than five miles north of us had the rain without the hail.

Crop insurance plays a big part in farming operations. And Mother Nature still rules. Fields side-by-side can vary in how a storm affects them. Sometimes the change is within a field with corn stripped on one side but not the other.

Home owners also need coverage. Between the length of the storm and the tiny black specks under the roofline, there is a chance our roof sustained damage. An inspector will travel out from the Front Range next week.

My appointment is scheduled for first thing in the morning. I asked if he knew how far and he replied he hadn’t been out here in a long time. But he had used Google maps. He will either start out at 0’ Dark Thirty, or possibly come out the night before. Such is life out on the plains.

Summertime Hail Storm

Summer Hail Storm 5 Star Lettuce

Faith, Friends and Family

Faith, Friends and Family An Important Trio

Faith Friends and Family. Anyone over a certain age knows that life is full of challenges. Many different kinds of challenges. And those difficulties are met with varying success. I have discussed successes and failures before. But today, I am expressing my belief that the hardships we face as we travel through life are best met when enveloped with faith and surrounded by friends and family.

Faith

The definitions of faith are straightforward. The secular definition is: a complete trust in something. Many examples come to mind. A toddler’s trust in his parents. A patient’s trust in a doctor. Perhaps a lack of faith could explain a reluctance to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The religious based definition of faith denotes a strong belief in God or another deity as well as the principles of a specified religion. This type of faith needs no proof. There are numerous religions on this planet of ours. Unfortunately some conflict greatly with others.

On a personal level, my faith is a combination of belief in both Christianity and science. I know I am not the only person that can accept seemingly conflicting dogma. Truly, there are things that cannot be explained by science. Miracles happen.

But, a belief in science is critical. A few years ago, I was not remembering short term things, like where I put my car keys. Since I had a family member with dementia, this was quite concerning. So I began researching brain health.

The science is a bit more complicated than use it or lose it. Nonetheless, studies indicated new brain connections form from new experiences and processes. Econogal is one. My new hobbies including the Big Garden, another. Finally, the not so simple concept of mindfulness is also helping with my short term memory.

Spiritual Faith

I have a difficult time discussing my religious ideas. Beliefs present on Earth run the gamut from atheist to the most devout. For those believing in a deity, prayers are a component of that belief. However, not everyone prays the same.

In my greatest times of crisis, my prayers are quite simple. I ask for help in accepting God’s Will. Twice I have had children near death. On both occasions, I prayed for the ability to accept whatever the future held. Did I want them to live? Of course! Did I seek the best medical help available? You bet I did! But life is finite for all of us.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. The fables of Aesop and of the Brothers Grimm were favorites. Perhaps these influences explain my inability to pray for specific outcomes for myself. Stories such as The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (click here for review) reinforce this belief. Yet, I have no trouble in praying for the healing of others. Both body and soul. And I always pray for the acceptance of what life holds for each.

Friends

The second component of Faith, Friends and Family centers on friendship. Relationships are complex. It is hard to differentiate between friends and acquaintances. Often we spend much more time with the latter. Yet, friendships are among the most important bonds available to us.

Early Friends

I can still remember the name of one of my first playmates even though I never saw him after the age of four. Perhaps the fact our parents exchanged Christmas cards for many years reinforced the memory. But I also remember a schoolmate from kindergarten, one not seen since we moved in second grade. This was not the child of a parental friend. Both must have impacted my life for the memories to hold.

Thus, I can understand the concern created by the pandemic forced isolation. Only children may face the biggest impact. Even the fact that parents were also isolated at home may not have helped.

Childhood friends may not stay friends as adults. But I think the interaction is key to developing relationships later in life.

Shared Experiences

Recently, an evening was shared with college friends not seen in almost ten years. We picked up right where we left off. The bonds formed long ago stay strong even through absence. Conversation flowed, memories shared and much catching up was done. Hopefully, the next gap in time will not be so long.

For many, social media bridges this gap. My problem with these online entities is the inability to share privately. As well as the time delay. There is much to be said for being in the present. Another problem I have with social media is the lack of honesty. Seldom is life presented with all the warts.

Creating new shared experiences is key to maintaining friendships. It is also key to defining generations. I have been alive for many decades. But the last twenty years contain the most shared experiences. From 9/11 to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pages of the history books will be full.

Friend for Life

Many people say they married their best friend. I can relate to that. Anyone married for a length of time understands the work that goes into a marriage. And the many stages of a life together. Crisis can strengthen a relationship or tear it apart… I am one of the fortunate ones.

Faith, Friends and Family

Last but certainly not least in the concept of Faith, Friends and Family is family. A strict definition confines family to blood relations created through marriage and births. I am sure many would disagree. Blended families are an integral part of society. Adoptees and foster families have replaced orphanages. Family units are a key part of the culture I live in.

It is quite difficult to put into words just how important family is to me. My immediate family is quite small. However my spouse was the youngest of five. Farm families are decreasing in size but still much bigger than those of most city dwellers.

Covid-19 and 2020 marked the first year of just two of us for the important holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The meals were low key. Even though the traditional festivities were gone, the days were meaningful.

Many of my family will gather for a celebration of life this summer. I am looking forward to seeing all of my offspring, my Dad, and many of my cousins. We will honor my Mom’s life in a way that she would approve. Finally having some closure will be good.

The other big family event of the year will be a Labor Day weekend wedding. The bride and groom picked this date so attendees could have a chance of vaccination prior to the ceremony. They are looking forward to a wedding and reception sans masks. We will attend with great joy.

Family gatherings need to be filled with joy and happiness, not stress. Communication is key to making this happen. Another secret to a pleasant gathering is pitching in without asking. My best tip is to use empathy. It is true that until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, it is difficult to understand where they are coming from. If someone is obviously having a difficult time be part of the solution.

Family Dynamics

Each family has its own idiosyncrasies. As any parent can tell you, each child is unique. The differing personalities are the beginning. But it is the individual life experiences which really affect family dynamics. Siblings may share some things, but not everything.

One of my goals is to be able to agree to disagree within the immediate family. This task can be daunting, especially in an election year. And I will admit, agreement on a topic does make life easier. But the agreement should be independent, not coerced.

The ability to communicate differences is key, in my opinion, to keeping function in family relations. This takes work. But the reward is great. None of us will live forever. It is important to keep bridges strong and to always, always have a gate in the wall.

Life is short. Faith, Friends and Family make life noteworthy. Make time for all.

Springtime in the Garden: A 2021 Update

The Big Garden

A Raised Row Garden
The rows run North to South

Spring 2021

Springtime in the garden varies from year to year. Some springs are over in the blink of an eye. Freezing temperatures give way to triple digits in a fortnight. But Spring 2021 is more like a story tale. Cool evenings are followed by warm afternoons. Rains have been gentle and frequent. This is a delightful change.

Early Harvests

Green onions and lettuces lead the harvest production. But the asparagus crop is not far behind. I plant onion bulbs early and often. Two to three green onions are consumed per day in our household. To be honest, leaving enough in the ground to develop into winter storage bulbs is a challenge.

Early herbs include Italian Parsley, chives and oregano. The first pesto of the season is made from a combination of these three. In addition to adding these herbs to our evening dishes, they add color to the spring garden.

Early blooming herbs include chives, horehound and sage. Of these three, the sage is the showiest. The sage buds are full and I expect them to be in full bloom by Memorial Day. In contrast, the horehound has small white flowers that are easy to overlook. I include all in small flower arrangements.

Successes This Springtime in the Garden

For the first time, I have successfully transplanted strawberries. Instead of small pots, I bought some bare roots from a local greenhouse. They have rooted in well-perhaps because of the good moisture.

Other garden additions include a beautiful Pink Lady apple, a plum and an apricot. The apricot arrived just two week ago and has not leafed out yet. One of the new blueberry bushes is also thriving. Unfortunately, the other was mowed down. Accidents happen in the garden.

My seed starts from this winter are just recently transplanted. Most look good. The tomatoes have doubled in size and the peppers and eggplant have added new leaves. The peanuts are holding their own and probably will not take off until temperatures turn hot.

Plants from direct seeding include beets, cucumbers, beans and carrots. All but the latter have poked their heads out of the soil. The raised beds have kept the growing area from being mired in mud. I truly believe in the raised row concept posited by Jim and Mary Competti. Read a review of there book by clicking here or visit there website here.

A Failure or Two…at Least

Winter kill was expected after the negative 28 F temperature recorded during the Arctic Freeze this past winter. This extraordinary cold took a toll on my figs and my almond. Neither has leafed out. Another mixed result came from relocating a small cherry tree. Only half the tree flowered.

I also failed in my attempt to grow sweet potato starts. Early leaves and roots failed to thrive. So, I will research more and try again next winter.

Springtime in the Garden: Wonderful Rains

The High Plains of America can be dry and windy. Much of the area was part of the Dust Bowl of the thirties and indeed, the past decade has had at least three years with less than ten inches of moisture for the entire year. But so far 2021 is different.

A minimum of three inches of snow fell in both January and February. Then the moisture really kicked up in March. Mid-month a three day rain event dropped 2.65 inches from the sky. Just over a week later, five to six inches of heavy wet snow fell.

April brought wind and a few small showers. I was worried that the faucet in the sky might shut off. The night temperatures stayed above the freezing mark from mid-month. This is very unusual.

Fortunately, the rains picked up again in May. Less than three weeks in and 3.3 inches of rain have fallen. The end result of all this moisture is a good base for the 2021 Springtime in the Garden.

The Four Winds Book Review

Epoch Times-Epoch Story

The Four Winds represents the best part of Kristin Hannah, her originality. The novel is set during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Mother Nature challenged many during these harsh years. Life revolved around survival.

Hannah often rotates between present and past in her novels. But, The Four Winds stays focused on this historic era. This change in style is appealing. Readers are caught in the dirty thirties. One feels the hopelessness experienced by this generation considered our Greatest Generation.

Protagonist

Elsa Wolcott Martinelli is the heroine of the story. Overlooked by her parents and sisters due to a childhood illness, she clings to words of a beloved grandparent in her most trying times. The love of her youth and the father of her children is Rafe Martinelli. But Rafe cannot handle the harshness of the land. Fortunately for Elsa, his parents provide the love, acceptance and strength she needs.

As the story progresses, Elsa is forced from the land she loves in order to save her son. The bulk of the story takes place in California. The small family of three end up in migrant camps. Elsa, and later the children, work at any day job available. The poverty is abject. The love profound.

Strength of The Four Winds

Hannah provides rich detail. The reader is transported to this unrelenting time period. Historical events are weaved into the story. But, The Four Winds really excels on the emotional level. Somehow, Hannah’s mastery of writing transports the reader into this epoch era.

The Four Winds is one of those books that draws the reader like a magnet. A page turner, but not because of suspense or mystery. Instead, one is compelled to continue the read by emotion. Will the plight of the Martinelli’s end? Is the never waving hope misplaced?

Recommendation

The Four Winds is an incredible tale of survival. The will to withstand a harsh climate. Fortitude to keep on despite rejection. Endurance of a personal nature.

But the greater theme is love. Multiple types of love.  A mother’s love, a child’s love, love thy neighbor and love of the land. Most of all, belief in one’s self.

Kristin Hannah has surpassed herself. Don’t miss The Four Winds. This novel is suitable for all.

The Four Winds Cover

April 2021 Wrap-Up

The April 2021 Wrap-Up signals the month is finally over. The month felt like a year in some respects. A small amount of progress was made on the last of the baby quilts. A tremendous effort yielded enough plants to fill the Big Vegetable Garden. Finally, I made it past my reading block and the writing is starting to come around as well.

Covid-19 Vaccinations

All of my immediate family has opted to vaccinate against the coronavirus. Reactions varied from none to mild. Mostly sore arm muscle at the injection site. This is a common side effect for me.

In my neck of the woods, many have decided not to vaccinate. Unfortunately, the result of a low vaccination rate is a resurgence of the viral outbreak. So, one way or another herd immunity should come about. Personally, I do not know of anyone who contracted the disease twice. But this new outbreak is taking a toll on the younger populations. This is particularly surprising because our students have been in school together since the fall. Thus there has not been an increase in contact and interaction.

Inflation Check Challenge– April 2021 Wrap-Up and Check-In

The comparison prices from the Inflation Check Challenge were quite a mix. Of the fifteen products, nine kept their regular price the same. However, sale prices changed with some showing a slight increase. Two items decreased in price. Bananas dropped four cents a pound. Most likely a seasonal adjustment.

Mysteriously, canning lids dropped in price. Not surprisingly the thirty cent price dropped resulted in an empty shelf. The product was sold out. I have no idea if the price will change again once new product arrives.

My expense for sugar was less because of a coupon, but the regular price remained the same. I love coupons! Both salt and mayonnaise remained on sale, but the sale price adjusted upwards.

The biggest increase was gasoline. It is now $2.79 per gallon. This increase took place in the early part of the quarter. I think the price has stabilized for a while. Here is the list:

Item                                                                                                                                   January 2021                                 April 2021                                                                                                                                                              Regular Price/Sale Price              Regular Price/Sale Price

Planet Oat Extra Creamy Original Oat Milk                                                                    $ 3.49/$ 3.99                        $ 3.99

Small Bag Signature Select Sugar                                                                                       $ 2.99                                      $1.99/$ 2.99

Signature Select Cream Style Corn                                                                                     $ 0.69                                      $ 0.79

Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast                                                                                          $ 6.99                                      $ 6.99

Bananas                                                                                                                                    $ 0.59                                      $ 0.55

Kraft Real Mayo                                                                                                                      $ 3.79/$ 4.99                           $ 3.99/$ 4.99

Meow Mix                                                                                                                                 $ 7.78                                      $ 7.78

Morton Salt                                                                                                                              $ 0.94/$ 1.19                           $ 0.99/$ 1.19

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste                                                                                                $ 4.99/$ 5.99                           $ 3.99/$ 5.49

Align Probiotics                                                                                                                       $26.58                                     $26.58

Tide Botanical Rain Detergent                                                                                              $11.97                                     $11.97

Kerr Regular Mouth Canning Lids                                                                                       $ 3.18                                     $ 2.88      Sold Out

3M Ad. Allergy Furnace Filter                                                                                               $15.88                                     $15.88

Dunkin Donut-Boston Cream                                                                                                $ 0.99                                      $ 1.09

Regular Unleaded Gas                                                                                                             $ 2.36                                      $ 2.79

 

Yellow Roses in Honor of Mom

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue Book Review

Never make a Deal with the Devil

V.E. Schwab is the author of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. This lengthy, intense book rotates back and forth between New York City in recent times and various locations in Europe starting in the early 1700s. The ping pong action is necessary to understand Addie Larue. But it takes a while to catch the rhythm.

The protagonist is Addie Larue. She is not quite an ordinary girl. Unlike other young women of her time she has no wish for domestic life. Instead she desires travel and adventure. However, her parents have other ideas. So, she is pledged to a widower.

In order to escape her destiny, Addie makes a deal with a very handsome devil she calls Luc. Life is tough at first. But after the first hundred years or so, Addie makes a go of the circumstances.

Dark Blue book cover of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Addie’s Invisible Life

As part of the deal, Addie becomes invisible in a way. She no longer has the ability to make a mark on the world. This invisible life is almost her undoing. Over time, she pushes limits by influencing various artists. Thus a whisper of who Addie is, lives through art.

Centuries pass. Addie leaps from the old world to the new continent. Time ticks on. And then she meets Henry.

I Remember You

Henry sees Addie in the present as others do. But he also remembers her from one encounter to the next. This impossibility occurs for one reason only. Henry has also bargained with the evil of the night. However, his deal is vastly different.

Naturally, Addie and Henry fall in love.

Their love story is what kept me reading The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. One cannot help but hope for a happy ending for these star crossed servants of the dark. But true love involves sacrifice.

Recommendation for The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

To be honest, I struggled to connect with this book at first. If I did not need a very long book to occupy a five hour wait, I might not have finished it. But, in the end I found it enjoyable. The reader will need a suspension of disbelief.

Furthermore, I believe The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is not appropriate below a high school senior level. In fact, college lit classes would be a better fit. Older generations may be put off as well. As for my millennial friends- I think you will adore the Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

The Survivors Book Review

Another Winner

Jane Harper has another winner in The Survivors. Harper is one of my favorite authors. Her characters are compelling and the plots twist and turn. Furthermore, the books go beyond just a mere mystery. They offer a plethora of literary meaning and insight into the human condition. The Survivors is a great stand-alone novel.

The Symbolism of The Survivors

An artwork entitled The Survivors is a local landmark. The iron sculpture dominates a series of cliffs and caves above an ancient sea wreck. The spot also marks a more recent tragedy. A major storm a dozen years back took the lives of two young men and forever changed the life of the sole survivor.

More mystery surrounds that fateful storm as a young teenager disappears, never to be found. This is the backdrop for The Survivor. The story takes place in a small beach town on the island of Tasmania. Like many small towns, the community of Evelyn Bay is tight-knit on the surface with jagged scars beneath.

The Protagonist

The novel centers on Kieran Elliott. As the sole survivor of the storm, he battles survivor guilt as he makes a new life with his partner Mia and their newborn. Both grew up in Evelyn’s Bay. But a four year age difference kept them apart before adulthood.

A return to their home town highlights the various coping mechanisms of survivors. Further, it shows the devastation parents face after the loss of a child. Finally, the importance of living life and finding love is featured.

Harper’s use of flashbacks provide an understanding of the trauma and tragedy. Short passages provide great insight into the difficult task of living with survivor’s guilt without distracting from the story. Indeed, these flashes of memory fully flesh out the protagonist.

Additionally, the young man and his partner must deal with the great changes in Elliott’s parents. Verity and Brian Elliott still reel from the loss of their older son in that terrible storm. But in different ways. Verity is ultra-controlled. Brian has early onset dementia.

Storyline of The Survivors

Harper deftly weaves the theme of survivor’s guilt and the loss of an offspring around a new mystery-one of murder. A young waitress from off island turns up dead. The investigation turns up new information on the earlier tragedy. And the small community begins to rip apart. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Women are afraid to walk alone.

Kieran Elliott and his young family are the most affected by the discoveries. Misplaced and misdirected guilt test the young man. Yet he manages to piece together the evidence of what really happened long ago as well as the current murder.

Recommendation

I highly recommend The Survivors. The pace of the novel is quite a bit faster than the two earlier Harper penned books I reviewed, The Dry and Force of Nature. And I have yet to read The Lost Man. Plus, in my opinion, The Survivors focuses more on the growth (or lack thereof ) of the characters. And also the ability to survive. The murder is secondary.

Perhaps it is the inclusion of the infant. Little Audrey has her own personality at just three months. Even though the book ends on yet another death, the final feelings of this reader were of love and hope. Put The Survivors on your reading list!

Significant Milestones

Spring Arrival

So far April has spotlighted a variety of significant milestones. Both sad and happy. Definitely a rollercoaster of emotions to open one of my favorite months of the year. Spring is a time of rebirth in nature as well as in the religion I adhere to.

Easter 2021 Brings Significant Milestones

This Easter was a bit more social than last. We celebrated with one of our offspring and my mother-in-law. So double the number from Easter 2020. Much of the family is reluctant to travel at this time.

But the four of us enjoyed the fellowship and the good food. We missed seeing the little ones. Easter egg hunts last for hours at a normal gathering with various kids taking their turn to hide the eggs. Hopefully, next year will be a return to normality.

The Easter season brings memories of those who have left this earthly world. I am still absorbing the loss of my Mom. Two significant milestones relating to her fell just after Easter. Her first birthday after her passing. This was difficult. Additionally, it would have been my parents’ sixtieth anniversary. So, sadness and a few tears marked the week.

Significant Milestones

Several significant milestones were joyful. Most centered on our oldest grandchild. The little one has embraced her newborn sister. Furthermore, she is grasping the difference between a newborn and herself. Just shy of two, she has decided to use her little potty. I am sure this will be beneficial for her parents as well.

The little miss is also increasing her vocabulary by leaps and bounds. She can tell you her own name. Plus she pleased her grandparents immensely by learning Grandpa and Grandma-in that order. It is amazing the joy a youngster can bring in life.

We are also pleased that after a few sputters, the U.S. is rolling out the vaccines. While we are not all clear yet, there is hope we can put this stubborn pandemic behind us. Historically, we should be near the end of the virus lifespan. But, many outbreaks remain from Covid-19. I hope those of you who wish to be vaccinated are able to.

Looking Forward

The last few weeks have been marked by both writer’s and reader’s block. I may need to put aside the lengthy book I am reading in favor of a shorter, lighter piece. Just writing this post has helped with respect to the writing. Spring marks a renewal of life and faith: A season I am so grateful for.

March 2021 Wrap-Up

March 2021 provided much needed moisture here on the High Plains. The big snow event elsewhere came in the form of rain. Three days of precipitation. Then just a week later we had a quick, wet six inches of snow. All melted within 48 hours. All total, we received over three inches of moisture.

March 2021 In The Garden

Seedlings under grow lightsThe spring rains did not immediately turn into flowers. We still have the lagging effect of February’s brutal cold. The crocuses that can pop out of the ground by February 1, did not arrive until March 20th. And, the flowering trees have yet to make an appearance. So this Easter there will be an absence of color in the garden.

Several new fruit trees and bushes were planted, and a young sour cherry was transplanted. Of course, the weather was taken into consideration. A dream of having a greenhouse/garden house is becoming a reality. The cherry stood in the way but has adapted to its new spot in the yard.

The apple tree and plum tree have been protected from deer and rabbit. Plus, the raspberry is a dwarf and so will be a patio plant. More plantings will be done in the first half of April. This year may see a large amount of winterkill.

My grow light seedlings are coming along. The brassicas and leaf greens are in the process of hardening off. I have tentatively scheduled the transplanting for late next week. (After the mini heat wave which starts Easter Sunday.) Finally, the first of the asparagus have poked out of the ground. Soon, we will enjoy fresh garden grown veggies.

March 2021 In The Library

My reading goal of including more non-fiction is on track. Additionally, I am expanding the genres under the fiction category. Currently I am reading The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. Very interesting.

However, I am slacking off in the number of periodical articles perused.

Pandemic Thoughts

March 2021 certainly flew by faster than March 2020. It is hard to believe the pandemic is still ongoing. I did receive my first vaccination. There are no problems to report so far. I took the first vaccine available to me, Moderna. Time will tell if there will be any side effects, good or bad. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to seeing more family in the near future.

I am concerned by the many variants popping up throughout the world. My corner has returned to business as usual. Everything is open. For the most part masks are by choice. The exception is in healthcare areas. Perhaps we will be spared the variant strains. Starting Good Friday, anyone 16 or over may be eligible to receive a vaccination.

Inflation Check Challenge

The end of the first quarter is upon us. So our initial inflation check challenge is due. It is time to start filling the market basket formulated at the beginning of the year. Off the top, I know gasoline has skyrocketed. It will be interesting to see how other goods in the basket compare. Keep an eye out for the one-on-one comparison coming in late April.

 

 

 

 

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World Book Review

Ten Intriguing Lessons

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria is another library find for me. Obviously, the book is recently written. Much like The New Great Depression, the push to publish detracts from the author’s insights. Both writers and publishing houses are guilty. The Covid 19 pandemic is worthy of study. In depth study. Unfortunately, the publishing houses of the world fear a loss of interest in this topic. I believe they are wrong.

Well Organized Book

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well organized in its presentation. First, the ten chapters are bookended by an introduction and a summation. The lessons range from What Matters is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality, to Life is Digital. Zakaria is left of center, but not an extremist. He presents his ideas in a logical manner. The writing is concise. And insightful.

Naturally, my favorite chapters  revolve around my topics of interest. And in some cases agreement. For example, Lesson Four- People Should Listen to the Experts—and Experts Should Listen to the People covers a topic I harp on frequently. My noggin nodded up and down while reading this portion. A key take; mutual respect seems to be missing in many parts of the world.

Agree To Disagree

However, I could not  agree with many parts of the book. Personally, I believe the differences stem from locale. New York City is central to the author. But, I live in a very rural part of the country. Remote too. Since moving here three decades ago, I gained new insight. Rural life is a vast change from living in major cities. So, I now have a rural perspective. Yet, I still recall life in a big city.

One of the key ideas put forth by Zakaria revolves around urbanization. He sees a push globally for continued urbanization. Yet, he also sees a natural limit to population living in the cities. That natural limit is close to 90%. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World supports a city-centered world. Thus, he posits the pandemic inspired “work from home” will be short-lived. I disagree.

Zakaria cites Aristotle often in Lesson Six, including the great philosopher in the title, Aristotle Was Right –We Are Social Animals. Yet, I believe the workplace will see some of the greatest changes post-pandemic. Again, my perspective is different. Young people are returning to the small towns dotting the High Plains in numbers not seen in over a generation. Covid-19 has accelerated this.  I hope Zakaria can agree to disagree.

Furthermore, education will be changed. Remote learning will replace snow days. Online and hybrid teaching will gain traction. These and other alternative instruction models will keep any future educational shutdowns at bay. Thus, the pandemic work-arounds will remain an option.

Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World

I found the book interesting. There are a few shortcomings. For example, the lack of widespread Covid-19 outbreak among the American homeless population was not addressed. Perhaps not enough space, or perhaps because this oddity is counter to one of the theories.

Another concern arises from the treatment of China and the U.S.A. in the lesson, The World is Becoming Bipolar. Perhaps it is misplaced patriotism on my part, but I felt this chapter was unequal. Furthermore, the premise leaves out both the EU and Russia. Economically neither may be on par with China and America, but both greatly impact the world. As do many other nations.

The publication of the book prior to the end of the pandemic impacts the analysis. For example, the vaccine rollout turns the analysis upside down. Countries lauded for their early action are lagging in vaccinating their populace. Other nations, stumbling at first, are now leading in the eradication of the virus. Thus, another reason for writers and publishers to either update publications, or better yet not rush to publish.

Recommendations

Fareed Zakaria is an accomplished writer. Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World is well written and documented. I liked both the literary and historical references throughout. Readers interested in current topics will appreciate the book.

Politically, the writing is left of center. Those on the far right may not appreciate some of the writing. Neither will readers identifying with the far left. For the rest of us, there is merit to be found. I hope there are many of “the rest of us.” A divisiveness in culture is blamed for many of the pandemic failures. I concur.

Anyone tuning into major networks will recognize Zakaria.  His ideas are interesting. Even though studying in New Haven had an opposite impact (I became more conservative, Zakaria more liberal) I encourage the reading of his work. Regardless of ones political leanings, there is much to ponder. This latest best seller is available on audio as well as in print.

The Authenticity Project Book Review

A Novel Idea

If you are looking for a unique story, The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley should be your next read. The novel has an ensemble cast. (Perfect for a movie!) The characters range from “almost” octogenarian Julian, the catalyst of The Authenticity Project to newborn Bunty. Yes, a newborn adds to the plot line. For the most part, the setting is suburban London. The author brings the neighborhood to life.

The Authenticity Project Book Cover

Simple Premise

The Authenticity Project begins with protagonist Monica, proprietor of Monica’s Café, finding a notebook left behind by one of her elderly customers. Julian Jessup, Wikipedia worthy artist, purposely leaves the journal. His entry challenges the finder to enter the truth and then pass along as he has done. Thus, starting a chain of truths.

As the journal travels from place to place, secrets are revealed and souls unburdened. Additionally, real life connections are formed among the participants. Then, these connections bring other characters into the fray. Each new character adds to the story. And each provides food for thought.

Through her characters, Pooley touches on quite a few societal controversies and phobias. She is not preachy. Instead, she tackles a variety of topics injecting fear of the unknown as well as acceptance of new ideas. Above all, there is a sense of humbleness.

Protagonist

Monica is responsible for holding things together. A take charge personality, she too, jumps to conclusions about others as well as about her own failings. She is such a real character, I wanted to travel to England just to visit her café. While all the characters show growth throughout the novel, Monica’s is most evident. As a reader, I was always pulling for her to have a happy ending.

The Authenticity Project Twists and Turns

The novel yielded a few plot twists and turns as the collective stories unwound. Thus the final outcome for each character yields a few surprises. The overall tone is uplifting, but like the rollercoaster of life, there were a variety of ups and downs. Not everyone ends happily ever after.

Clare Pooley is commended for writing such an authentic tale. I bought this copy and it is one that will find a permanent place in the home library. Buy or borrow a copy of The Authenticity Project. This refreshing novel is a must read.

St. Patrick’s Day and other Mid-March Musings

St. Patrick’s Day anchors this jam packed middle week in March. March 14 or 3/14 or 3.14 is Pi(E) day. Many colleges have fundraisers celebrating this day. Before giving up sugar during Lent, I loved eating pie on Pi Day. Of course, the Ides of March immediately follows Pi day. So, two days in a row of significance. Then, both are easily surpassed 48 hours later by St. Patrick’s Day.

Perhaps the first two days only appeal to math geeks and historians. Or, maybe St. Patrick’s Day looms large because so many remember elementary school days of being pinched if you didn’t wear green. But the middle of March brings about other practices as well.

Mid-March in the Garden

Even though the last spring frost is over a month away, gardening is in high gear. Potatoes are traditionally planted on or before St. Patrick’s Day in my part of the world. Seedlings are started and happy under the grow lights. And two new fruit trees have been planted along with a raspberry bush.

Firsts for me include starting peppers. One type of sweet pepper was purchased, the other saved from a delicious giant yellow pepper bought last fall at the grocery store. So far only the seeds I saved have germinated. I am anxious to see if they stay true to type.

Another first is using grow lights. My Christmas present this year was a double stand of lights. This has made my life so much easier than the old days of juggling starts around a south window or atop stacked boxes on the kitchen island. I am very pleased so far.

Indoor Starts

Double grow lights with seedlings

St. Patrick’s Day Blood Draw and other Mid-March Medical Events

The hospital in our little town is proactive. For many years Health Fairs have been offered each spring. This year my turn fell on St. Patrick’s Day. Truthfully, Covid-19 has scaled back on the event. Today was a simple blood draw. I look forward to the future when a full schedule of screenings can once again take place. Although, I don’t miss the height measurement—I seem to be shrinking.

However, this week will be a bellwether one for me. I am finally eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. There are two available in our town; the Janssen (J&J) and the Moderna. I researched both quite extensively. The former is old-school medicine. The latter new technology. I am not an early adopter. However, after much research and consulting with my physician, I am slated to receive the Moderna on Friday.

I am apprehensive. New things scare me. But, I know first-hand the dangers of the virus. For anyone looking for a good source of honest information I recommend this post from the University of Michigan: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/not-sure-about-covid-19-vaccine-get-facts-then-decide

Daylight Savings Time

The final sign of the spring season is the switch to Daylight Savings Time. I have written about this often. My body struggles with the change, much like a toddler without a concept of time. I am off kilter. I like to wake to the sun, and I like many hours of darkness before bedtime. But I am sure the adjustment will be made just like all previous years.

Spring brings many changes. Weather and hobbies as well as eating and sleeping habits are in a state of flux. Personally, embracing new technology within months instead of years is a change. I will keep you all posted on my vaccine experience.

The New Great Depression Book Review

The New Great Depression: Winners and Losers in a Post-Pandemic World by James Rickards beckoned from the new releases stand at the public library. This non-fiction work strives to evaluate the possible economic fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic. The book includes a recap of early 2020 events as well as the author’s thoughts of outcomes in 2021 and beyond.

Rickards uses the first two chapters as a summary of 2020 social events. Naturally the novel coronavirus features prominently. But he also discusses the important consequences of political responses to the pandemic.

First, is the outcome of lock down’s. Rickards evaluates both the economic and health responses to the strict governmental edicts in 2020. He also discusses the tentative connection between the virus, the lock down and the social unrest that roiled through the United States and spilled over to other parts of the world.

The New Great Depression

The author turns toward economic thoughts in Chapter Three. He posits that a new great depression will mark the February 24, 2020 market downturn as a pivotal date. However, he believes the economic weakness began in the latter part of 2019 and the pandemic accelerated the time table.

Unemployment due to lock down layoffs figure prominently in the discussion. The service industry accounted for many of the job losses. Unlike manufacturing, lost services are just that-lost. A missed haircut in June will not be recaptured work.

Rickards theorizes a second wave of unemployment among higher paid labor due to the output loss from the first wave. He further postulates that output and job recovery will be hindered by the June 4, 2020 Congressional Budget Office report of unemployment benefits greater than employee earned income. This disincentive to work, if lasting, is of great concern. Rickards expounds on this point.

Modern Monetary Theory

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) features heavily in the author’s warning of possible deflation and a potential for a new great depression. Much of this economic discussion is compelling. MMT and the overwhelming National Debt are the backbone of the author’s theory of deflation. His analysis is a bit depressing. As it should be, if his analysis is correct.

The three arguments for deflation hinge on a greater savings rate, a decrease in spending and a tightening in money velocity. All three are occurring now. But will that change once the pandemic recedes? Rickards says no. I am not so sure, although I concur with his thoughts on the dangers of MMT and the horrific level of debt.

Investment Possibilities

Even though much of The New Great Depression is sobering, the author outlines steps for individual investors to prosper. His proposal relies heavily on Bayes’ theorem, an applied math formula which many may not be familiar with.

Rickards also discusses diversity in investment. He does not consider a wide array of stock companies as diversity. I found his break down of investment disbursement quite interesting. And contrary to current thought.

While I am a bit more optimistic about a return to consumer spending and firmly believe in pent-up demand, I am not totally opposed to Rickards thinking. As readers know from my Inflation Check Challenge, I tend to think inflation is in store. But, The New Great Depression definitely provides a legitimate counter point. I believe all those in the audience with interest in the economy will greatly benefit from reading this author’s point of view. Much food for thought!

World With Women

A world with women is a better place. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. It was also Rose Day for Zonta International, a wonderful world-wide organization advocating for females across the globe. The local group I belong to spends hours, many hours, preparing for the day.

Rose Day 2021 Celebrates a World With Woman

To be honest, there was a bit of debate on whether delivering roses during a pandemic was feasible. But the owner of the flower shop (a Zontian) had remained open during the shut-down. So, contactless delivery was doable if a Covid-19 outbreak was bad on March 8th. Fortunately, things were good. Positivity is way down. Many days of zero new cases lately in this corner of the world.

The rural county I live in has a population of 12,000 spread out over 1600 square miles. So, less than ten people per square mile. A handful of small towns are sprinkles across the county. Only the county seat has a need for stoplights. Thus, the club selling 1825 roses is remarkable. The money earned by the sales goes toward multiple scholarships. Some are for our high school graduates. Other scholarships are earmarked for older women either returning to school or continuing their education above the associate level.

Rose Distribution

Over the years, I have delivered roses to various parts of the county. When I was still an instructor at the community college, I would grab the bucket of roses ordered for my co-workers. In more recent years, my routes would include the various businesses downtown, or the long route to the other communities in the county.

But this year, I was the driver for a rural route through the heart of the farmland. The experience was an eye-opener. There are times when I think the American media misses the picture. At least the view of “flyover” country. And sometimes, I forget the wonders as well.

The year of isolation was not one of idleness. The farmsteads showed signs of recent improvements. New facades, fresh paint and preps for spring planting. Workers working everywhere. And the women front and center.

Women Wrapping Yellow Roses
Yellow Roses

A Better World With Women

Life on the High Plains is harsh. The weather is a significant part of that. The climate encompasses many extremes. Hurricane strength winds create dust storms and fuel fires. Blizzards are a hazard to humans and livestock. Drought has broken the back of many a farm family.

Through it all, women have played an integral part. This part of the globe is truly a world with women. The harshness of the land has been an equalizer.

Wyoming was the first to allow females to vote. Women began voting in 1870, half a century before the passage of the 19th Amendment. And twenty years before achieving statehood.

Even though Kansas failed to pass national voting rights for women on the first attempt in 1867, limited voting rights were granted. Thus the town of Syracuse, Kansas, elected the first all-female city council in 1887. If you pass through this town of 1800, a sign (much like the ones posted for famous athletes) celebrates this milestone. Truly a world with women moment.

Final Thoughts

My celebration of International Women’s Day was positive. Honoring women working in a wide variety of jobs as well as those who have forged lives after careers have ended is uplifting. Not all productivity is measured by GDP. But my experience yesterday yielded many examples of women leading fruitful lives. I am proud my Zonta club recognizes these women and their contributions to our corner of the world.

Instant Karma Book Review

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer is an excellent Young Adult (YA) novel. The author weaves a teenage love/hate relationship with environmental social awareness, old fashioned right vs. wrong and a drop of karma mysticism. Growth of character is also a strong part of the narrative.

Instant Karma for the Protagonist

Protagonist Prudence Barnett is finishing up her sophomore year of high school. Her Type-A personality clashing with lab partner Quint Erickson. Quint is a laid back, always late even for the final presentation, popular personality without a care in the world. Or so Prudence thinks.

They earn a C for their collaborative work. But even worse, Quint outscores Prudence individually. A rough start to the summer. Things get complicated from there.

Meyer does an excellent job creating the characters. Over-achieving Prudence is so sure she is right-all the time. A bump to the head gives her super karma powers. Instant Karma both good and bad befalls others. But she really doesn’t have total control. Her maturity needs improvement as well. Instant Karma helps Prudence grow.

Social Issues at Play

A key part of the novel focuses on the marine animal shelter run by Quint’s mother Rosa. The center relies heavily on volunteers. Quint is naturally a volunteer. Prudence becomes one as well. However, her initial motive is self-serving. She hopes to improve her lab grade.

Meyer uses the shelter as a vehicle to discuss the harm of ocean pollution. The rescued animals have been harmed in many ways, including plastic. The author deftly weaves the needed social awareness into the story. Thus, the focus on environmental harm to the ocean is an integral part of the story, not just a contrived add- on.

Relationships and Growth

The love-hate relationship between Prudence and Quint is the basis of Instant Karma. Both characters show considerable growth in the story. Each wrongs the other. In the end all is well.

Secondary characters are also important to the interaction. Both teenage and adult characters are highlighted. There is a nice flow between the two groups. One would hope the give and take between the generations exists in reality as well as fiction.

I highly recommend Instant Karma. This is YA fiction entertainment at its best. The subject matter of karma may call for a bit of suspension of disbelief. But the characters and story line feel all too real. While YA literature can be dark and gloomy, Instant Karma messages with uplifting pleasure.

February 2021 Wrap-Up

February 2021 is one for the history books. Brutal, record setting cold pushed past the High Plains on its way south towards the border of the U.S.A. and Mexico. Fortunately, our part of the country expects sub-zero temperatures from time to time. So, we escaped the disaster that befell many of the southern states.

But we did not escape the cold! The official low temperature for the month in our little town was a negative 28 Fahrenheit. At our place, the outdoor thermometer hit a temperature just shy of that. We were very thankful our power remained on. Needless to say, indoor activities ruled February.

Reading Through the Cold Snap

Much of February 2021 passed by while reading by the fire. In addition to Spin and Cleaning Sucks, I re-read several Janet Evanovich books. They bring needed laughter. I also read a delightful YA novel, Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer and a thought provoking economic release by James Rickards, The New Great Depression. Both will appear as reviews in March.

February 2021 Garden Prep

It is never too cold to think of the garden. In early February 2021, peanuts were started. I did not soak them overnight, but just for a few hours. This was a mistake. Only three of the two dozen have sprouted. This will be remedied.

Other seeds started include cauliflower, at a fifty percent germination rate; celery, kale, cabbage, and iceberg lettuce. The lettuce has a 100% germination. These cold weather crops should be big enough to transplant by early April. If not sooner.

Our last average freeze date is May 15, although later freezes and even snows are not unusual. Thus, transplants are an important part of gardening. Due to the severe cold, I doubt my hoop experiment will yield any success. So, my plans for a greenhouse-garden house are moving forward.

Quilts and More Quilts

Another advantage of cold weather is the time available for quilting. February marked the completion of two baby quilts with a doll quilt thrown in. I am down to just three UFO’s. I look forward to sharing more about the quilts as March progresses. Binding finishes off the quilts and is my least favorite part of the process.

Log Cabin Quilt in yellows and grays

New Life in February 2021

 

The highlight of February occurred on the 19th. Another granddaughter was born. I am excited to welcome Ivy Louise into the family. She is named in part for my mom. The circle of life continues.

Cleaning Sucks Book Review

Rachel Hoffman delivers in her self-help book Cleaning Sucks.  This is a follow up to a previous guide which I probably missed due to the title, Unf*ck Your Habitat. Sometimes my late Baby Boomer attitude clashes with the younger generation. I am glad Hoffman toned down the colorful language for this most recent foray. Her advice is fantastic. As in don’t miss.

Psychological Roadblocks

A key difference in Cleaning Sucks is the author’s attention to mental health and wellness. Certain events in life lend themselves to periods of malaise. Hoffman addresses this factor. She also discusses the challenges faced by those with handicaps.

Furthermore, her approach to tackling housekeeping in small bites creates success. The outcome is immediate. As someone who would much rather spend time in the garden than indoors, I love this approach. No toiling all day long at drudgery.

Cleaning Sucks is a workbook. The author intends the reader to interact with the philosophy. The “homework” is not difficult. The tips and tasks are an important component. Best of all, there is a large amount of flexibility. So, even on busy days, Hoffman’s methods can contribute to both a cleaner home and greater mental wellness.

For households with multiple residents, Hoffman’s section on Sharing Space is outstanding. In this time of two incomes, the burden of keeping the home functioning should not fall entirely on one person. The author tackles this hot topic with psychological advice and multiple interactive guides.

Cleaning Sucks Techniques

Various small task goals are featured in Cleaning Sucks. A favorite is Sink Zero. Dirty dishes are never ending whether you are a household of six or just one. Hoffman’s advice on this topic is epic. She has you record the time you hit Sink Zero daily. This term applies to the point where all dishes are cleaned and put away-or at least stashed in a dishwasher.

Another worksheet involves the concept Do Something Every Day. This is very appealing to those with active lifestyles. She ends the recording page with the wisdom: You don’t have to do much; you just have to do something.

Noteable Quotables

Words of the wise are sprinkled throughout Cleaning Sucks. Hoffman shares quotes from some of my favorites. Ann Richards, famous for her quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything as well as Fred Astaire but “backwards and in high heels” lends the following:

I did not want my tombstone to read “She kept a really clean house.”

 

Perhaps even more fitting is Erma Bombeck:

My second-favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

 

Both quotes are reflective of my sentiments. However, I have been using Hoffman’s guide for over a week now and I am surprised by the ease and by the results. One could truly handle guests popping in following this wonderful book.

I highly recommend Cleaning Sucks. And I am not waiting until Christmas to buy copies for gifts. One caveat, I think Millennials and Gen Xers will appreciate the author more than older generations who will find the language too colorful.

 

Book Cover of Rachel Hoffman's Cleaning Sucks

Arctic Freeze, Ash Wednesday and Preparedness

Arctic Freeze

An arctic freeze has swept over the plains area of North America reaching all the way into the northernmost states of Mexico. Here on the High Plains of the United States, we recorded extreme cold temperatures. One overnight temperature registered a negative (-) 28 degrees Fahrenheit. For my Celsius readers not wanting to do the mental calculation, that is -33 C.

Prior to this week, the lowest temperature I ever experienced was a -22 one frigid January night when visiting Alamosa, Colorado. We were warm and toasty in our hotel. Unfortunately, the electrical system on the vehicle exposed to the temperature took a hit. Just one of many things to consider when travelling.

Preparing for Arctic Freeze

Thanks to modern forecasting, we knew a cold swath of air was headed our way. So even though the temperature dropped more than predicted, a plan of action was in place. Certain steps were taken.

First, a trip to the grocery store 48 hours in advance to top off the pantry. It is interesting to note that few were in the store-maybe due to the snow flurries and gray skies. Temperatures registering just above freezing.

Most of us were in our golden years. And we all had full baskets with lots of staples. I can only imagine later crowds.

The second step to prepare was a joint activity the following day. My husband and I wrapped the outside faucets and covered the vents to the crawl space. We were worried about high winds which never materialized, so sturdy covers enveloped the wrapped faucets.

The biggest anxiety centered on the water pipes coming through the crawl space. Once they reached the basement area we were less concerned. The extra precautions were worthwhile. The temperature in the space never dropped below 50 degrees F.

Last night the low hit -6 F. Hopefully the last negative temperatures until next fall. So far the preparations have helped.

Ash Wednesday

The beginning of Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday is the start of forty days of self-denial in many Christian religions. These days symbolize the time Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his time of ministry. Biblical readers will remember he fasted during this time of temptation.

In the West, the fasting and self-denial of Lent is no longer closely adhered too. Recent years have even focused on doing positive or good deeds during this time. While this change is appealing, I tend to fail at meeting the daily good deed. However, I am able to complete forty days of self-denial.

So, once again I will test my self-control. In light of the long hard winter of loss, I plan to up my game. In addition to giving up sweets and sugar laden goods, I will also give up my dinner wine. In fact, a no alcohol period wouldn’t hurt. The Case Against Sugar factored heavily into the first Lent without sweets. The ensuing weight loss and good blood sugar levels inspires a repeat effort.

Self-discipline factors greatly into a period of self-denial.

Preparedness

A spiritual preparedness is as important as physical readiness. My biggest failure as a Christian will remain. Unlike my missionary ancestors, I do not believe all have to worship the same way. Yet, I choose to believe in the Holy Trinity. My faith is strong.

Furthermore, I continue to oppose those who believe there is only one right way to believe. This includes those extremists whether they are far right or far left. Maybe I am wrong in not spreading the Gospel. If so, there will be a day of reckoning.

Until then, I will continue along my path of mutual tolerance with regards to spiritual beliefs.

Spin Book Review

Spin, the follow up to Quantum, continues the action from the latter as if an old time serial. Patricia Cornwell’s Captain Chase series picks up the pace of technology. And the protagonist, Calli Chase develops a second skin. But once again, the acronyms are distracting.

Contemporary Science Fiction

Cornwell thoroughly researched the latest robotics and space technology before beginning the series. Thus much of the technology discussed carries a paradox of both realism and an “out of this world” vibe. Cloaking devices, fabric made with electrical “thread”-I have actually witnessed this technology with my own eyes-interactive AI and eye wear are novel but apparently no longer experimental. So, if you love reading about these advances, Spin is definitely for you.

A key component of the novel is the use of interactive AI (artificial intelligence.) ART is one with Captain Chase. The repercussions are scary and not far off. Cornwell is masterful at revealing the complex decisions we face with the continued development of this technology. Science fiction is now fact.

Spin Characters

However, I feel there is a danger of the novel, and indeed the series, focusing too much on the technologies and not enough on the characters. As a sequel, many of the same characters returned. There was an unevenness in the development of these roles. The greatest growth was naturally in the personality of the protagonist. But few of the other players evolved.

An exception is that of four star General Dick Melville. He plays a very large role in the story. Much like the military plays a large role in the development of new technology. The symbolism is not lost. I think Melville is a good guy, but often it is hard to tell. So true to life.

Of the new characters introduced, young Lex, a boy genius is most appealing. An orphaned teen on the threshold of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil. I hope we see more of this character in future books. The chemistry between Captain Calli Chase and Lex is believable. Furthermore, the technical abilities of the young versus the older generations’ grasp of today’s tech mirrors the real world. Small truths lend credibility to fictional story lines.

Recommendations

Spin is well written by a master storyteller. Yet the book may not be for everyone. Once again jargon is a predominant part of the problem. Individuals not fluent in NASA speak or tech terms may feel weighted down.

Another problem is the serial approach. Truly, this book series needs to be read in order. So, if you haven’t read Quantum yet, find a copy of that book first. (Click here for the review.) And be prepared for an ending that is the beginning of the next.

Manufacturer’s Recipe to the Rescue

Manufacturer’s Recipes intrigue me. Do these companies have test kitchens? Company cooks? Or perhaps they have employee competitions to create recipes for their goods. Who writes the cookbooks? And what about the recipes on the back of the box or can? So many questions.

Manufacturer’s Recipe Books

Even though the Internet offers a plethora of recipes through blog sites and other sources, I still find value in manufacturer’s recipe books. The dessert cookbooks are the best. I have a well- worn Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook and two from Hershey’s.

My Candy Cane Cheesecake made with Philadelphia Cream Cheese can be found by clicking here. Those of you with leftover candy canes might want to whip one up for Valentine’s Day since the pink color is perfect for the upcoming holiday. Like many of my recipes, the preceding recipe was adapted.

Three Manufacturer's Recipe Books
Three Favorites

Cooking From Scratch

Much of my cooking is from scratch. There are a few exceptions. I love Stouffer’s Spinach Soufflé. Unfortunately, my local grocery store no longer carries that item. Making a soufflé from scratch is daunting. So it has been quite some time since I enjoyed a spinach soufflé.

Another exception is stuffing. Even though I have made homemade stuffing on numerous occasions, the consistency isn’t quite there. Plus, stuffing is not a last minute recipe. My fall back is Kraft Stove Top Stuffing. So I usually have a box or two on hand.

Adapting a Manufacturer’s Recipe for a Last Minute Meal

Yesterday was spent in the quilt room piecing a new baby quilt. My spouse, a fabulous cook, had an equally busy day. So, leftovers were on the docket. However, a side dish was needed. The Stove Top box promised quick and easy crab cakes. And they were.

Adapting manufacturer’s recipes is necessary to avoid a trip to the grocery store for just one item. Additionally, I change recipes to fit our dietary needs. Thus, the quick and easy crab cake recipe is not exactly the same as on the back of the box. Finally, I am changing the name. Not because the crab cakes weren’t quick and easy, but because they were absolutely delicious.

Delicious Quick and Easy Crab Cakes

Prep Time: 20-25 Minutes Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water

1 box Kraft Stove Top Cornbread Stuffing Mix

4 eggs total separated into 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites

1 can crabmeat, drained

Sunflower Oil

Directions

Drain crabmeat. Stir boiling water to stuffing mix and let sit for five minutes. Beat one whole egg and three egg whites in large bowl. Add drained crabmeat into the egg mixture. Then incorporate the stuffing mix. Form 5-6 patties.

Heat the sunflower oil at medium high in a sturdy skillet. I use cast iron. Once oil is hot, place crab cakes and cook for 7 minutes per side for a total of 14 minutes.

Serve Hot

January 2021 Wrap-Up

The January 2021 Wrap-Up is a day late but hopefully not a dollar short for the reading public. As a month, it was difficult. Numbness as much as pain. But that is to be expected when dealing with Life After the Loss of a Loved One. Fortunately, the circle of life continues. And as I have experienced from a tooth repair at the dentist, numbness wears off. Pain to the heart will take longer, but fortunately a life full of good memories is lasting.

Travel in January 2021

A long cross country drive offered a glimpse of how America is reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of the country has taken steps to stay healthy. This does not mean everything was closed down. Restaurants were open. Outside seating was available in most cases. But capacity varied greatly.

We did encounter a few places where masks where not in the majority. Business was booming in these spots. I think this will be the case everywhere by the end of 2021. As more and more people who want the vaccine achieve their goal, pent up demand will explode.

A final thought on travelling by car in the United States is just how beautiful this country is. And how varied. (I guess that is two thoughts.) Visitors to the country as well as citizens should go beyond the big cities. The smaller towns offer such a diverse experience.

Looking Forward in 2021

January 2021 is now in the past. We lost two family members, bringing the total to three for this long winter. The remainder of the high risk individuals in the family have all received a first vaccine. So far, no adverse reactions. At the end of February, I will report on the second series of shots.

My spouse is on the extended list for vaccine, but I am not yet eligible. It will be interesting to follow the progress both here and abroad. Meanwhile, I expect to be a bit unsocial for the coming month.

Spring 2021 In The Garden

The snow mostly disappeared over the weekend allowing me to get into the Big Garden and make some repairs. A large windstorm in the middle of the month caused damage to the support structure. We still have very cold nights, below zero this past week, so no outside planting. But seeds will soon be started indoors. Life begins again.

American Nations Book Review

American Nations: A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard is a thorough history of political and cultural divisions. Family members highly recommended the book. I concur. This account of the area from Northern Mexico to the North Pole is thought provoking, detailed and a bit unsettling. American Nations is well researched and annotated.

The information may provoke differing reactions. The described nations are easily identified, even today. So, readers from rival regions may not agree on the implications. Indeed, I believe readers will not agree. Thus, the book is ideal for book clubs and college classrooms.

Furthermore, Woodard offers great insight into recent events. The responses to the pandemic mirror the philosophies of the American Nations. Even more telling is the reaction to the 2020 Presidential Election.

Well worn cover of the book American Nations
The wear and tear of the cover is indicative of the many readers.

American Nations Part One

Four sections comprise the book. In Part One, Woodard concentrates on the historical details behind the settlement of North America. First, is the Spanish establishment of the nation “El Norte.” The founding of “New France” follows. Subsequent nations established during colonial times are “Tidewater” and “Yankeedom.”  Englishman settled both.

“New Netherland,” now the New York City area, formed shortly thereafter. The Dutch brought their own ideals to the new land. These beliefs created the diverse culture of  today’s inhabitants. But the unique culture clashed with the other nations throughout history.

Barbados citizens of English descendant shaped the “Deep South.” These men sought to copy the island’s slave based society. The last two nations to develop during this time period are labeled “Midlands” and “Greater Appalachia.” The inhabitants of the latter are referred to as Borderlanders. Both groups retain initial traits.

The author distinguishes between the nations. The explorers  and settlers of North America pursued different goals. Each region developed independently. Thus, divergent entities arose. Those distinctions remain today. Woodard is excellent in his presentation of conflicting ideals. And he provides implications for current events.

American Nations Part Two

Woodard uses the second part to explain alternating alignments of the various nations. The various wars from 1770 to 1815 reflected divergent goals. Sides changed often. So, the unification against the British:

….was a profoundly conservative action fought by a loose military alliance of nations, each of which was most concerned with preserving or reasserting control of its respective culture, character, and power structure. (p. 115)

As the shortest of the sections, Part Two offers much insight into the differences between the many regional divisions. Indeed, this portion reminds one of the difficulties in founding the United States of America. Furthermore, in light of the history presented, the continued struggles among the founding nations are not surprising. The greatest divisions align along political and religious beliefs. Moral compasses differ creating a divided people.

Part Three: Wars for The West

The third section of American Nations demonstrates the bellicosity of the various nations. Competing interests sought to populate the vast regions of North America. Tensions were high even before the outbreak of the Civil War. Yankeedom and its’ coalition tried to impose their beliefs on newcomers. Meanwhile, the Deep South and its’ allies desired control over large swaths of unsettled territory. Both nations tried to influence El Norte and The West. Both feared a dilution of power.

Woodard clearly indicates disdain for the ideals of the Deep South. It is clear he has no sympathy for the slave owners.  The faults of the other nations are also discussed. This section is well documented with sources and paints an accurate picture of divisiveness.

Part Four: Culture Wars

The last section of the book spans over a hundred years. Woodard does an outstanding job of explaining how and why the original nations evolved. Furthermore, he outlines the switch in the make-up of the two major political parties. In his discussion of Blue, Red and Purple Nations, Woodard explains how the party of Lincoln is now central to the Deep South. Once again, the information is well researched. And well presented.

Part Four also describes the start of the guest worker program. One of the many military involvements overseas left El Norte with a labor shortage. Implications of this program remain. Indeed, the resurgence of El Norte influenced the most recent elections.

Additionally, the author offers insight into the love/hate relationship between the Far West and the federal government. Internal conflicts are a reflection of independent-minded people dependent on governmental spending. Geography plays an important part.

The current status of New France is discussed as well. Woodard points out the divisions found within Canada. Then, he differentiates between the two countries. He posits the original nations reached a compromise in Canada. Further, Woodard puts forth a similar status is unlikely to occur within the U.S.A.

Finally, he introduces the “First Nation.” The author highlights the communal nature of the original inhabitants. He credits their diversity in leadership. Finally he issues kudos on their environmental stand.

Conclusions Drawn

2011 marked the publication of American Nations. Time marches on. The insight into the presidents of the 20th and 21st centuries is excellent. As is the analysis of the “Nations” influences today. But, the Obama era is the last discussed. Conflict among the nations is accelerating. North America is changing.

In his Epilogue, Woodard is eerily prescient:

Another outside possibility is that, faced with a major crisis, the federation’s leaders will betray their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the primary adhesive holding the union together. In the midst of, say, a deadly pandemic outbreak or the destruction of several cities by terrorists, a fearful public might condone the suspension of civil rights, the dissolution of Congress, or the incarceration of Supreme Court justices. (p. 317)

Woodard posits the break up of the federation of “Nations.” And possible realignments. He sees a changed future for North America.

I might have dismissed the author’s ideas as farfetched before 2020. However, after witnessing the disparate approach to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the events of January 6, 2021, Woodard’s assessments are more realistic. But not palatable. Nor wanted. Indeed, his analysis causes concern.

I highly recommend American Nations. The book is not an easy read. But, the information is well researched. History fans will appreciate this book. So, too will those seeking a better understanding of the conflicts within North America’s shores. Lastly, the events of January 2021 demand a reading. Buy a copy today. Then consider reading Colin Woodard’s most recent book. Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood is now available.

Inflation Check Challenge

The inflation check challenge is a direct response to the higher gas prices on the return trip from Florida. In just ten days, there was a notable increase at the pumps. This prompted me to pay closer attention on a trip to the grocery store where things also seemed a wee bit pricier. So, I decided to issue the inflation check challenge to my readers.

How the Inflation Check Challenge Works

The first step in the inflation check challenge is to create a basket of goods to keep track of price. Items should be products (or services) that are purchased on a year-round basis. Thus, seasonal goods such as Valentine Candy or Easter Baskets are eliminated. The ideal basket will include ten to twenty consumable items. Food, gas, and medicinal items make the bulk of the basket. A key is to make the list reflect your regular spending habits.

Next, either buy or price these goods before the end of the month. This will create the base price. However, price is not the only indication of inflation. In some cases, suppliers are holding the price steady but decreasing the amount provided. For example, I have included a can of cream style corn. The can looks to be the same size but now there are only 14.75 ounces. But in the past the container held 16 ounces. So , it is important to record both price and quantity. Finally, you may want to note the merchant providing the good or service.

Then save your list to an Xcel sheet or if writing out long-hand, place somewhere safe so it won’t get tossed. AND a place easily remembered! Because at the end of April, July, and October we re-visit the Inflation Check Challenge. Of course, those so inclined can record monthly changes as well.

2021 Inflation Monitoring

2021 will provide mixed signals about inflation. But, year over year comparisons will be especially troublesome due to the Covid-19 shut downs in 2020. Even though the United States did not have a complete lockdown similar to the Wuhan Province in the People’s Republic of China, productivity plummeted in March through June of 2020. So did spending. Perhaps a comparison to that same time period in 2019 would provide more insight.

Other concerns regarding inflation come from pent-up demand. This will be an uneven demand as some states are more open for business than others. However, even individuals in the “open” states have had travel curbed. So, late in 2021 I think we will see more than just a return to normal. However, I do not know how long excess spending will continue. If at all.

Families have not only pushed back memorial services, but many young couples have delayed their nuptials. Furthermore, our mobile society has been hampered by the uneven ability to travel to locales such as Hawaii or New Mexico. I think we will have a major boom next fall. So, how long will this return to consumption last?

In economics, a low level of inflation is preferable to disinflation or worse, deflation. But stagflation such as experienced by America in the 1970’s and hyperinflation, which both Venezuela and the South Sudan have been battling are two concerns. Thus a need for monitoring inflation on an individual as well as a national basis.

Inflation Check Challenge List

I have fifteen items on my list including one fast food treat. If I snagged a sale price, I also list the regular price. Your list will be different than mine. The list should be a reflection of normal purchases that are quickly consumed. Therefore, don't include durable goods such as a new car or dishwasher.

Item

Planet Oat Extra Creamy Original Oat Milk

Small Bag Signature Select Sugar

Signature Select Cream Style Corn

Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast

Bananas

Kraft Real Mayo

Meow Mix

Morton Salt

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste

Align Probiotics

Tide Botanical Rain Detergent

Kerr Regular Mouth Canning Lids

3M Ad. Allergy Furnace Filter

Dunkin Donut-Boston Cream

Regular Unleaded Gas

Amount

52 Oz.

4 Lbs.

14.75 Oz.

4 Oz.

1 Lb.

30 Oz.

6.3 Lbs.

26 Oz.

4.6 Oz.

28 Caps.

92 Oz.

12

1

Single

1 Gal.

Purchase Price

$ 3.49

 2.99

 0.69

 6.99

 0.59

 3.79

 7.78

 0.94

 4.99

26.58

11.97

 3.18

15.88

 0.99

$ 2.36

Regular Price

$ 3.99

 

 

 

 

  4.99

 

  1.19

  5.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inflation Check Challenge-Share your Basket

For those that participated in a previous Econogal Challenge, I hope you will take this on as well. This is the basket of goods I will keep track of during 2021. The future is impossible to predict. But we can record the present. What is in your basket?

Over the Road Travel Warriors

Due to the loss of my Mom, my husband and I became over the road travel warriors these past days. We chose to drive the 1600 miles plus for flexibility. Trips of this kind are standard fare for me. Not so much for my better half. He feels as if he’s been through the wash.

As a child, I participated in many road trips. In fact my first trip via airplane did not occur until I was over twenty-one. I do not know the age my husband was on his first flight, but each of my children traveled by air before their second birthday. This I believe is a statement about mobility as well as competition. It can be much cheaper to fly under the right circumstances. However, last minute travel does not apply.

Return to Normalcy

Comparing this road trip to the ones shared in the September 2020 Wrap-Up, many more travelers are on the go. Once again, major cities are best avoided during rush hour. Gas stations with the lowest price are in high demand. Eighteen wheelers no longer have the Interstates to themselves.

However, evidence of the pandemic remains. Restaurants are not operating at full capacity. Outdoor seating is augmented with heaters in locations with cold climates. Many, but not all are wearing masks.

Over the Road Travel Warriors Find Hidden Gems

On my long ago over the road travels, my parents included guide books from AAA. Many of these publications included a section of hidden gems. Many were scenic although a few were businesses. On our recent cross-country trip we too found hidden gems.

The first was Crush Wine Bar and Restaurant, click here for their website menu. This wonderful find in downtown Amarillo had heaters on the outside patio to keep diners warm. But the best part of the visit was the wonderful halibut and salmon dishes we consumed. I may make Amarillo a destination just so I can go back to Crush.

The second find was the Ponce De Leon Rest Stop in the Panhandle of Florida. The exit is easy off and on catering to both directions. The only negative were the high gas prices at nearby stations. But this rest area offered the cleanest bathrooms and wonderful picnic tables. A great location for ham and provolone sandwiches.

The last hidden gem was in Natchitoches, La. The French Market Express was discovered on a refueling stop. This convenience store was amazing. In addition to fresh baked goods, baked onsite, the store offers a wide array of Cajun food including cooked to order beignets. From now on I plan to make this a required stop. I cannot say enough positives about this over the road travel gem. Click here for their website and keep in mind this is all within a gas station convenience store.

Non-fiction Reading along the Road

I am now about two-thirds through the Colin Woodard book American Nations. Readers can expect a review soon. So far I find the book thought provoking and relative to the current political climate here in the U.S.A.

The over the road travel gave this writer new ideas. I only hope they can come to fruition. As I have written before, people work through grief in different ways. I plan to quilt, read and write through mine. Thanks to all for the support.

Outdoor dining at Crush Restaurant