Piranesi: Book Review

The Tale of Piranesi

Piranesi written by Susanna Clarke was published in 2020. The novel recently came to my attention when it popped up on several end of the year top books to read. I follow bloggers from across the world and have favorites in Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. This book made the list on all. So even though the fantasy genre is one I don’t often read, Piranesi jumped to the front of the line.

To be honest, the book is a blend of approaches. Certainly fantasy with a bit of science fiction and mystery added. I categorize it as a fantasy mostly due to the wonderful descriptions given of the “house” or “world” Piranesi lives within. The science fiction piece stems from the notion of parallel worlds. And the mystery, well that is for the reader to discover. Along with Piranesi himself.

Few Characters

For the majority of the book, only two living characters appear. The protagonist, Piranesi, is a young man living off the middle floors of a great house. He fishes and harvests seaweed from the lower levels and collects fresh water from the cloud filled upper rooms. Piranesi fills his days cataloguing the multitude of marble statues and tracking the tides.

He also assists The Other with his scientific research. The Other is a much older gentleman. His research is as old as time. He seeks immortality. As the only other living person in the world, Piranesi is quite attached to The Other.

Clarke surprised this reader with two additional characters well into the book. Both lead Piranesi forward albeit while facing danger. Both from within and without. Piranesi develops into one of the most compelling main characters encountered in recent reads. A tormented man shining with virtuousness. His outlook on life remains upright even after grappling with extraordinary happenings.

The Author

British author Susanna Clarke is new to me. One of my offspring is currently reading her first book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In a world of authors churning out manuscripts, this coincidence would not even register. However, Clarke does not fit that description. Her writing is compelling and thought provoking.

Books affect people differently. I learned this long ago in a high school literature class. Piranesi should be included in such a class. Or a book club. There is so much to discuss! But I do not want to spoil this fantastic novel. I highly recommend Piranesi and I hope the main character leaves a positive impact on you as well. There is much evil in this world. We need to balance it with goodness from within.

Planning the 2022 Garden

A cold wintry January day is perfect for staying inside and planning the 2022 garden. My planning involves reviewing the diagrams from last year showing what was planted where. Then, buying seeds is another key component. But, looking back on my notes is the most important of all.

Diagrams of the Garden

I began drawing out plant placements of my garden the second year I lived here. Because, I couldn’t quite remember what was planted where. And I wanted to rotate my crops. Crop rotation is necessary to not deplete the soil.

Before I can create a new plan, I check last year’s and then I research. There are so many facets of crop rotation that I can’t remember them all so I check and re-check with my resources both in print an online. Since I am new to growing brassicas, I need to experiment a bit with them. This year I plan to plant one section from last year with potatoes. The other area will see a repeat of legumes following the brassicas.

Last year I planted quite a few flowers in the big garden to attract pollinators. I will expand on that this season. So many people use/overuse pesticides and bees are not as abundant as in the past.

The squash were decimated by squash bugs last year so I am undecided as to where they should go or if I should skip a season. It is a fact that I need to be more diligent next summer in examining the vines. Not sure if both virus and bug repellant seeds are on the market.

Buying Seeds and Planning the 2022 Garden

Seed Packets
Need to organize the Seeds

In addition to the seeds I save from the garden, I also scour seed catalogues during the winter months. I am almost done with the winter purchase of seeds. However, they still need to be organized. Starting seeds indoors is just around the corner.

Reviewing notes is a key part of seed buying. Varieties that worked are bought again. One of my favorite slicing tomatoes was discontinued a few years ago. I still have an unopened seed packet for this year. The plant is a hybrid so saving seed from the produce does not guarantee successful reproduction. Alas, once these seeds are gone…..

I love looking at the new varieties featured in the catalogues. Experimenting with new types makes the garden fun. And if I don’t like the outcome, an easy solution for the following year is to try something else. This will be the case with cucumbers in planning the 2022 garden.

Just a few recent arrivals

Reviewing Notes in Planning the 2022 Garden

For each of the past four years I have kept notes in my yearly planners. The notes encompass weather, bug attacks and crop yields. Notations are also made on the health of the crops. The year over year comparisons are insightful.

Garden Planners from 2018 to Present

Adjustments on starting seeds as well as outdoor plantings are made from these notes. These changes are not infallible as weather changes year to year. Climate change is also making an impact over a longer time period. (Most farmers I know recognize climate change regardless of their respective political beliefs.) Bumper crops one year can turn into failed crops the next. But the overall trend in my part of the world is drier and hotter. I need to adjust for this reality as well.

Looking Forward

As the snowflakes drift down outside, I am warm and cozy inside and dreaming of the mornings where I am up with the sun poking through the garden rows. I feel such incredible joy watching the little plants grow and then produce wonderful veggies for the dinner table. There is a satisfaction hard to match and I swear the food tastes better. Winter is here for a few more months, but planning for the 2022 garden is a productive diversion from the dreary cold.

Vail History: Two Book Reviews

Two Looks at Vail

As long time readers know, I love visiting Vail, so I was delighted to receive two Vail history books for Christmas. Vail Triumph of a Dream by Peter W. Seibert with William Oscar Johnson tells the story of the first 40 years through the voice of Seibert, a key developer of Vail. The other, Vail: The First 50 Years is part of the Images of America series produced by Arcadia Publishing. This volume is written by Shirley Welch.

Images of Vail History

Both books provide a plethora of photos. Black and white photos are dominant in the early days. Perhaps by design, the Arcadia publication is entirely in this format. This definitely lends an historical flavor.

Meanwhile, Vail Triumph of a Dream includes breathtaking views in full color. And full pages of color. The images transport you onto the slopes.

Just The Facts

Vail: The First 50 Years was read cover to cover in one sitting. The format offers extended commentary on each photo. Welch includes backstory information on the area itself. The settlement of Eagle County predates the development of Vail by over 50 years. Prior to the establishment of the ski resort, inhabitants of the valley were primarily sheep ranchers.

The books in the Images of America series tantalize the reader with a multitude of facts in an easy to read format. The only glitch in the book was through no fault of the author. Vail: The First 50 Years ends with a look forward in the resort town’s future. As of the writing, an expansion called Ever Vail had just received preliminary approval. Welch included this proposal but it failed to materialize and permits expired in 2021.

In Depth Insight of Vail History

While Vail: The First 50 Years provides a nice overview of Vail history, Vail Triumph of a Dream is much more in depth. However, the latter is also as much an autobiography of Seibert as it is record of historical fact. Quite an interesting personal account!

Seibert’s account of Vail’s development is as much a story of his life as it is a description of Vail. This Vail history encompasses so much background, after reading one feels as if they grew up in the valley and more. The insight into the business of Vail is shadowed by the glimpses of passion for No-Name Mountain. While it may be difficult to replicate the devotion Peter Seibert had for Vail, anyone who has spent time on the mountain whether hiking or skiing can emphasize. Vail Valley is truly spectacular.

Random Thoughts 0f Mid-January 2022

Covid-19 Pandemic Continues with Omicron

Mid-January 2022 may be ushering Omicron into my hometown as I type. Numbers had been consistent and in the single digits per day for the past few weeks. But numbers jumped, really jumped this last week with almost one hundred total cases just reported. This will most likely continue for a month if we follow the pattern seen in the cities.

Hopefully our little hospital won’t become overwhelmed. Not many medical choppers lately to rouse me from a sleep. I pray that continues. But the vaccine rate is low and Omicron evades the vaccine. This novel coronavirus remains a puzzle, one that most are too tired to solve.

Masks are scarce here. School is in person. Businesses are open so staffing may be a tad bit difficult but doable. My corner of the world leans toward the approach of inevitableness.

I long for a remote cabin in the woods stocked with six weeks of food. Enough time to get past Omicron. But the reality is this is not possible for me. Furthermore, what happens when the next variant hits. And the next. Quite depressing.

Psychological Impacts of Mid-January 2022 Milestones

Setting Covid-19 aside, this week is a bit of a hardship from a psychological standpoint. It marks a year since my Mom’s death. Also, the week brings two more birthdays, with one a milestone.

Ten years ago, to mark the mid-century milestone, we travelled to Denver to celebrate in style. We attended the National Western Stock Show and stayed at the historic Brown Palace. Truly a treat! But this year there are no plans to celebrate with a special trip.

Instead, we will stay at home. A shared (the two birthdays are consecutive) chocolate sheet cake with a cooked pecan frosting will be baked. To be honest, I don’t have the rest of the meal planned out. Priorities, right?

What is happening at the Federal Reserve?

If you are still keeping track of your market basket, you know first-hand there is inflation. Price increases are popping up everywhere. In the case of Dollar Tree, the inflation rate is 25%. The Federal Reserve last raised rates in 2018. Isn’t it time? Nay, past time.

But perhaps the Central Bank knows something the rest of us don’t? Or, more likely the Federal Reserve is juggling too much. After all climate change is now part of the task list. Just what will a climate stress test look like for banks? Finally, what prompted the Vice-Chairman to resign just a few weeks before his term ended? Were things that unpalatable? I think the resignation is a statement.

Mid-January 2022 at the Grocery Store

Are your grocery shelves full? Two full weeks went by without Fritos. Thank goodness these chips are not a staple. Furthermore, many substitute goods exist. But Fritos atop homemade chili can’t be beat.

This past trip, cream cheese was sold out as was my favorite kind of grated cheese for pizza. In the case of the former, no direct substitutes. I do not know if the supply problem is at the manufacturing level or is due to transportation glitches. But the chain is broken.

Media pictures show many empty aisles but neither I nor my many relatives have encountered this. Just individual items such as those discussed above. So, it is hard to get a clear picture.

Random Thoughts of Mental Wellness

Think Positive.

Take Calming Breaths Throughout the Day.

Enjoy a Bubble bath with a relaxing beverage.

Spend some time outdoors.

Read for fun.

Eat Dark Chocolate.

Tell someone you love them.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles Book Review

Mac ‘N’ Ivy

Lorena McCourtney is keeping busy and That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is her latest release. The book, part of the Mac ’N’ Ivy series picks up the narrative after the two lovebirds finish their honeymoon. They are still looking for a place to park the RV and settle down. But the requirement of no murder in the vicinity keeps thwarting the silver fox and his Brillo gray bride.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles Plot

Mac and Ivy motor to San Isolde, California in search of a permanent home and as a favor to a new acquaintance met along the coast of Mexico. Blake Houston is concerned about his eccentric Aunt Eleanor and her questionable boyfriend.

Shortly after arriving, Ivy and Eleanor-who now prefers Elena- stumble upon the body of Miles, the boyfriend now fiancé. Thence, the sleuthing begins for the newlyweds. Of course, McCourtney weaves many zany characters into her storyline. Elena perhaps the oddest of all.

There are twists and turns and Ivy and Elena clash on fortune telling; cookie reading signs, as performed by Nicole. Nicole’s ex-husband is a prime suspect and he is a nephew of the victim. McCourtney uses misdirection to keep the reader guessing.

Christian Fiction and Cozy Mystery

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is a mixed genre. The book offers up murder and mayhem alongside Christianity. This combination works because the characters do not come across as preachy. The tone is a traditional approach versus an evangelical push. Plus, Mac and Ivy come across as humans not saints.

Recommendation

I recommend this zany story. My husband downloaded the ebook over the Christmas weekend and I read it during our snowy New Year’s Day. We both enjoyed the light hearted escape.

Previous reviews of McCourtney’s work include Invisible and In Plain Sight, both part of the Ivy Malone series. Additionally, Blue Moon, part of the Stanton series appeared in Econogal reviews. The Ivy Malone series segued into the Mac ‘N’ Ivy series of which That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles was a 2021 release. Mac is a great balance for the “Invisible” LOL.

Lorena McCourtney is a master of both misdirection-a key component of a good mystery- and of bringing characters to life. Even those characters that are terminated before the story begins. I envy her character development. Even tertiary characters “breathe.” During this ongoing time of uncertainty, McCourtney’s books are a welcome diversion. That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles is a worthwhile entertainment.

A Month of Birthdays

January-A Month of Birthdays

We are currently celebrating a month of birthdays. My husband, his mom, three of our four children and I all have birthdays in January. As for the fourth child, he was due on New Year’s Day but came a few days early. So instead of gaining weight from late November to New Year’s, my problem was always after the holidays.

The “first” birthdays were all in one week. “First” because I include the late December date. Three cakes in one week is tough on the waistline. Since the kids are out on their own this is no longer as big of a problem.

Birthday Party Via Zoom

Two share a birthday. My youngest and my Mother-in-law. And today is their day. One is making her way into her late twenties. The other is celebrating her 90th. In other times the latter would warrant a big family get together. Last summer we thought such a gathering might be possible. Then Omicron reared its’ ugly head.

So, the grandkids have a Zoom Birthday party scheduled for her. This is a Generation Three party. The offspring were not included in the email link. But I think that is fine. Her kids will all take time today to give her a call. Hopefully a celebration can be scheduled next summer. Perhaps at fair time.

Delayed Birthday Lunch

Since I just visited my Mother-in-law last week, I will delay sharing a birthday lunch with her until my birthday next week. She lives just over an hour away, so it is an easy drive. Her small town of around 1500 people has a wonderful bakery/café. A perfect place to celebrate.

I am being selfish. Next week also marks the one year anniversary of my Mom’s passing. Truthfully, I am anticipating needing the comfort of our visit. In times of sadness I seek out loved ones. Plus, I will also be celebrating a milestone day.

Best wishes for all of you seeking some type of normalcy. Remember to celebrate life’s milestones in some fashion. Stay positive, life can be hard, but it is important to live life well.

Focus on the Future

2022

I have decided to focus on the future with respect to 2022. With two bleak years behind me on the macro level and a very mixed personal 2021, it seems an almost impossible task. Yet the alternative, miring oneself in angst is not acceptable. This does not mean I am adopting a Pollyanna attitude. The world is in dire straits. But, I do want to take more of a micro approach.

Reading in 2022

While the big picture is uncertain, there is no reason to lose sight of the “little” picture. My immediate bubble if you will, can be a positive. This past year I endeavored to read more non-fiction. I did and with positive results. So this year I plan to focus on the future by reading at least one brand new author (not just new to me) every other month.

I also want to keep a good mix of genres. Perhaps even test the waters in some areas I do not visit much. We will have to see what the year brings. This past year has shown I am not a big fan of autobiographies.

Keeping the Creative Juices Flowing

Bucilla Sugarplum Fairy Stocking
A stocking for the newest family member.

Staying somewhat isolated during a pandemic has been productive for me. I am still dabbling in acrylics because I find it reduces tension. The quilt designs are another outlet as was the Sugar Plum Fairy stocking.

Writing has been a challenge. But unlike my piano playing-stopped abruptly after the death of a loved one- I have pushed on. To be honest, my reason is self-serving. Anecdotal and not scientific, but the writing helps keep my mind sharper. Most definitely a use it or lose it scenario. Brain health continues to be a priority.

Focus on the Future

Family of four on Christmas morning.
Christmas with the new generation.

Personal legacies are important. Tradition and legacy are entwined. Family traditions leave lasting memories. The importance is two-fold. First, traditions keep memories alive. Loss isn’t as tough when you can carry on as it has always been. Yes, the pandemic has created obstacles. But those can be overcome.

Second, new generations need these traditions to create a sense of belonging. This is most critical in these unusual times. We have kept our gatherings relatively small this year. Thanksgiving pushed my comfort zone but was done safely and before Omicron reared its’ ugly spikes. Christmas had one offspring and his young family in person and the rest plus my Dad joined via Zoom.

This technology has been important for our family. Much can be achieved with a focus on the future. If for some reason 2022 has everyone going their separate ways for the holidays, we can see and hear each other long enough the little ones can feel a connection.

A New Year with New Resolutions

I almost hate sharing resolutions as 2020 was such a disaster and not much was done in 2021 either. But I do want to focus on the future in a positive way. So here are my resolutions for 2022.

  1. Try a new recipe each month.
  2. Finish one creative, non-writing project each month.
  3. Continue to write.
  4. Reach out to friends and family on a regular basis.

Of all these, the last will be the most important if these mutations keep coming at us, wave after wave. I wish I could say this will be the last year, but I just don’t know enough biology to predict. Regardless of what the future may hold, I plan to focus on the future in a positive way.

2022 has started on a positive note for us in the form of snow. Even though powdery versus a heavy wet snow, it is much needed moisture. Enjoy this glimpse of a snowy start to the new year.

Snowy backyard.
Happy New Year!

Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls

Savory Soft

Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls are an adaptation of the Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls which I have been touting for several years. Nolan is one of my Great Nephews and he, like some of our other family members, has food allergies. A vegan diet is best for him. Anyone with either food or drug allergies or high levels of IgE due to insect reactions knows just how careful one must be not to trigger allergens. So, I am including extra hints for those fortunate not to have allergies and not used to cooking for someone with food allergies.

First of all, make sure all measuring devices as well as mixing bowls, baking pans and cooling racks are thoroughly clean. Cross contamination can be a problem. Next, remember to grease the pans with a vegetable oil, not butter or other dairy product. Finally, have a separate serving container for these rolls.

Changes from the Original Recipe

I first used the Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls recipe at Thanksgiving. This recipe has been tweaked in multiple ways from the original recipe of Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls which you can find by clicking here. For starters, the honey has been omitted. I did this because a child not quite one would be sharing in the meal. The rising times are also a bit different as are the baking times. But the process is much the same.

Kitchen Equipment Needed

Stand Mixer with Paddle (Can be mixed by hand as well.)

A Dozen Muffin Pan (Regular Size)

Small Loaf Pan 3 x 5 ½ inches

Spatula

Cooling Racks

 

Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls Recipe

Ingredients

2 TBS. dry active yeast

1 TBS. sugar

2 cups almond milk divided with each part warmed to 100-105 degrees

1 ½ cups white rice flour

1 cup almond flour

¾ cup corn starch

1TBS. xanthan gum

1 tsp. salt

1 TBS. baking powder

¼ cup chia seeds

¼ tsp. ground thyme

½ tsp. dried basil

½ cup apple sauce

¼ cup vegetable oil (Both Olive Oil and Sunflower Oil work well.)

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

 

 

Steps for Making Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls

Step One

A poolish is made with the yeast, sugar, one cup of the almond milk, and rice flour. However, the yeast bubbles through quite quickly. Only 20 to 30 minutes will be needed for this step.

Poolish for Nolan's Vegan Holiday Rolls
Step One Make the Poolish
Yeast bubbling through poolish.
Poolish is ready when yeast bubbles through the dry flour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step Two

Next, add almond flour and remaining dry ingredients. Then add the second cup of almond milk, apple cider vinegar, the applesauce and the vegetable oil. Mix at low speed for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and let rest ten minutes.

Slow mixing
Mixing dry ingredients just until incorporated into the liquid.
Step Three

Mix at medium high speed for three minutes. The mixture should be slightly thicker than a quick bread but not quite as thick as chocolate chip cookie dough.

Batter for Nolan's Vegan Holiday Rolls
After mixing on medium-high for three minutes let stand for ten minutes.
Step Four

Using a small scoop, place three scoops into each of the muffin tins. Scrape the remaining batter into the loaf pan.

Scoops of batter in muffin pan.
Scoop batter into muffin pans. Three small scoops per muffin.
Rolls ready to bake in muffin pan.
Pan ready to bake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step Five

Let rise for 15 to 30 minutes. Then cook at 375° F in well- greased pans. The muffins will take 20 to 22 minutes and the loaf will need an additional five minutes.

Rolls cooling on rack.
I hope you enjoy these savory dinner rolls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021

The List

The top ten “Favorite” books of 2021 is a bit easier to compile this year. Not as much reading, and a few books read and not reviewed impact the pool of eligible books. Interestingly, several non-fiction book reviews yielded the most traffic on the website. A combination of reader and blogger interest generated the list. I hope you enjoy these recommendations.

Non-Fiction Books of 2021

As a kid I loved biographies. However, I don’t remember any autobiographies. Writing for children and teenagers can be quite challenging, so perhaps that explains a lack of memoirs. The books of 2021 are lacking in reviews of memoirs. A few were read, but I did not feel compelled to share my opinions.

Instead, self-help books and multiple entries revolving around Covid-19 became fodder for reviews. Thus this type of writing is found on the Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021. The reading audience enjoyed, or at least visited, the reviews of non-fiction entries frequently.

Interestingly, the most visited post of all types belongs to the review of Liquids Till Lunch. (Perhaps many people did gain weight during lockdown.) I continue to use many suggestions from the book. However, the book I have given to several as a gift is Cleaning Sucks. The tips from Rachel Hoffman have really helped my household organization.

The remaining entries are quite thought provoking. We are living through a period of time that future generations will study thoroughly. Thus, it is not surprising multiple books discussing the pandemic make the list. Additionally, the New Great Depression is worth a mention although just falls short of making the top books of 2021 list.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America is a must read. Even though this book is a 2011 release, it is a perfect gift for any student of history from late teens to octogenarians.

Top Favorite Fiction Books of 2021

This category is tough for me as I love fiction. Genres covered range from Christian to Romance to Murder. The YA entry Instant Karma just barely missed making the list as did a reader favorite, Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Many of this year’s fiction reviews were new releases for blockbuster authors. However, one of my favorites was released back in 2015. Much like American Nations, I think finding a copy of Jack of Spies is very worthwhile.

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021

Fiction

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Jack of Spies by David Downing

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

A Distant Shore by Karen Kingsbury

Meant To Be by Jude Deveraux

Non-Fiction

Liquids Till Lunch by MaryRuth Ghiyam

American Nations by Colin Woodard

Cleaning Sucks by Rachel Hoffman

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria

Eight Perfect Hours Book Review

Eight Perfect Hours is a poignant romance. It is also a story depicting the red thread of fate. Lia Louis weaves this tale of what could have been and what is meant to be with deft and skill. The telling brings both tears and laughter.Cover of Eight Perfect Hours

Theme of Eight Perfect Hours

The over-riding theme is one of ships passing in the night. And then kismet. Noelle is stuck in a traffic jam. As in a parking lot on the freeway. No inching along, just a complete stand still. Furthermore, she is experiencing a complete meltdown for all the surrounding drivers to see.

The closest driver, Sam from America, approaches to offer aid-in the form of allowing her to re-charge her cell phone in his car. At first, Noelle is reluctant to take up his offer. Eventually, they spend eight perfect hours waiting for the traffic jam to clear.

 

They part just like passing ships.

Complex Storyline

Eight Perfect Hours is far more than girl meets boy. Lia Louis fills the pages with internal conflict for the main characters. Noelle in particular is pulled in many directions. Emotionally attached to a past that has been ruptured, she also is compelled by duty to support her mother. Thus, her dream career is put on hold.

Sam carries tremendous guilt over the death of a cousin. Furthermore, he is struggling to forgive and forget the transgressions of his long-time girlfriend. So, his attraction to the stranger on the freeway adds more complication.

Red Thread of Fate

Noelle and Sam continue to bump into each other. Their attraction builds even as they fight the emotion. Like the Chinese Proverb which opens the story, Louis provides some twists that make the fate even more pronounced. The conclusion will be very satisfying for romance aficionados.

Eight Perfect Hours Emotional Tug

The novel is well written. The inner conflict of the characters tugged at this reader’s heart. The back story brought tears and the interaction of the principles brought smiles. Eight Perfect Hours is highly recommended. A great read for the holidays. Lia Louis is to be commended.

November 2021 Wrap-Up

A Quick Reflection

The November 2021 Wrap-Up marks another month off the calendar. A new variant of Covid-19 is in the news. So is climate change. Fall is winding down, albeit slowly. The holiday season has begun. What started as a slow month of productivity has morphed into one of busy-ness. Thus, time to reflect.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Only one month to go and we have the second year of the pandemic behind us. History alone will give us a clear picture of the depth of Covid-19. Accurate reporting is a challenge for nations trying for validity. Then there are many countries unwilling or unable to report cases and deaths with any precision.

November 2021- A Glimpse of Climate Change

No precipitation, rain or snow, fell on my part of the world in November 2021. Thus, the drought returns. September 20th is the last recorded rainfall in my gauge. Unfortunately, the forecast is calling for more of the same. High temperatures are running fifteen to twenty degrees above average. This would have been a good year to grow crops under a hoop.

The frosty night temperatures do create a problem with irrigation. Hoses need to be disconnected almost every night since few nights remain above 32°F. But watering of certain plants is critical because they have not entered their normal dormancy. It is a tough time to be a gardener.

Thanksgiving 2021

This Thanksgiving was quite enjoyable. We gathered as safely as possible. The age range included one just under a year to the oldest soon to be a nonagenarian. A new recipe developed for a youngster restricted to a vegan diet for health reasons was enjoyed by all. I will share the recipe for Nolan’s Vegan Holiday Rolls next week. These rolls are adapted from the Soft Gluten Free Dinner Roll recipe.

I married into a big family. We cannot fit everyone around one table and meals are always buffet style. This took some getting used too since my family gatherings growing up topped out at eleven. Cousins and all. A tight fit around one table but doable-just not much elbow room. And Southern families tend to have all the dishes in the center of the table to be passed around. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons about each serving style.

In the Library- November 2021

My reading fell off again this month. But I am currently enthralled by Nell Painter’s Old in Art School. Hopefully, I will have a review to publish this Friday. One of my goals for 2022 is to re-establish my posting patterns-if possible. As usual, quite a few books have been bought for gift giving in December. In addition to my Econogal’s Annual Top Book Lists, I am contemplating adding a top gift list. Of course books would be a big part of that list as well.

Craft Time

I have spent many hours in my Hobby Room this month. A thorough re-organization was needed. The room is a good size. However, I need to find room for my paints-at least for the month of December. My painting nook upstairs is perched between a southeast and southwest window. This provides great light. But it is also where the Christmas tree goes.

The bulk of the Hobby Room is devoted to fabric. There is a good size cutting table. And a much smaller sewing table. Book cases hold quilting books and magazines. But they also hold gardening books. I still lack a greenhouse/ garden shed so my seed storage is also in my Hobby Room.

Finally, I have cabinets holding glue guns, glue, beads, pipettes, ribbon, crayons, pencils, papers and more. Photos and scrapbooking materials also have a home in the room. So, organization is key.Felt Stocking pattern

November 2021 Productivity

The month ended up being very productive. I have always found work, especially manual labor, a cure for what ails you. I am on track to finish a Bucilla stocking for the youngest as well as a new quilt. Staying busy in a constructive way is my way of combatting the Blahs.

Thanksgiving 2021

Eclectic Thoughts for Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 is here. Sharing eclectic thoughts for Thanksgiving week is not new, nor is it a yearly occurrence. However, this year it seems important. Much is happening in the world. And much of what is taking place is concerning.

Violence and crime amid broken down justice systems, the pandemic, the economy and its’ battered supply chain and the divided opinion on what is next are just a few discussions that may pop up at perhaps still small Thanksgiving tables. But at least for me, more than two people will share this year’s feast. Yes, there are always reasons to be thankful.

Broken Down Justice

Is our judicial system broken? I hope not, but some weeks I wonder. This has been one of those weeks. I am willing to accept jury decisions as given, even if I disagree. After all, jurors listen to far more evidence than I ever read about. But, I do disagree with how easy it is to get bail. Furthermore, I think we need to understand there are many causes of recidivism. Thus, there will be individuals that will not be rehabilitated.

Such a case occurred this past weekend. A lifelong criminal plowed a car into a parade. Five people lost their lives and another four dozen were taken to hospitals. The individual accused of the violence had just been released on $1000 bail, even though he still faces multiple trials for previous violent crimes. The most recent an auto attack on the mother of his child.

Less deadly crimes are occurring on the West Coast. Proposition 47 increased the dollar amount to $950 for felony theft. Below that, shoplifting is still a crime but listed as a misdemeanor. The thought was to reduce overcrowding in prisons. But the reality is a huge uptick in looting. Click here for more information.

Covid-19

Divisiveness continues to spring from the ongoing pandemic. The divisions are great. While I believe we are past the virus is a hoax stage, much argument surrounds the vaccines. Especially the ones based on mRNA technology. But other disagreements include masking, vaccine passports, and freedom to choose whether or not to vaccinate. Also, some countries, most recently Austria, are returning to lockdown status.

Much of the blame can be pinned on fear of the unknown. While the United States of America has collectively been thought of as a country of early adopters, that is a generalization. Plenty of Americans prefer a wait and see approach. Many others want proof, and not just those from the Show Me State of Missouri. The country is a large land mass with a population greater than 330 million. We are not going to be all on the same page. And that is ok.

But we do need both tolerance and a sense of responsibility for ourselves and others. This is lacking.

We have an airborne disease wreaking havoc across the globe. Stopping the spread is important. My knowledge of biology is lacking, but I know enough to be cautious. Invisible germs are still germs. Only history will tell us how long and how damaging this novel coronavirus has been, is and will be.

Supply Chain

One of the most frustrating things to me is the continued push for a commercialized Christmas. Since we are experiencing such a problem with supply chain disruption, why is advertising seemingly at all-time highs? What happens when the goods are not able to be delivered in time? Or at all? How will the labor shortage come into play? Lots of stress for retailers, both large and small.

Perhaps 2021 should be a year that emphasizes something other than the latest toy or gadget.

Thanksgiving 2021

Bittersweet is the best way to describe my emotions this Thanksgiving 2021 morning. But at least I am out of the funk that descended upon me at the end of October. I miss the Queen of Halloween as my Mom was often called.

Thankfully, a mid-November weekend visit by the newlyweds lifted my spirits. My house is decorated for Thanksgiving 2021 and my heart is filled with gratitude. A small gathering of four generations will occur. The vast majority vaccinated and the most at risk fortunate enough to have a booster.

Three batches of rolls are about to be baked including an adaptation of the Soft Gluten Free Dinner Rolls. If this recipe is as good as the original, I will share. The only other dish I am responsible for is a family favorite corn casserole with jalapeno peppers. It will be nice not spending all the time cooking as there is a new grandchild to spoil.

I plan to celebrate and be thankful today.Cake decorated to look like a Thanksgiving 2021 turkey.

Stephanie’s Ponytail Book Review

Children’s Story Book

Stephanie's Ponytail Book CoverStephanie’s Ponytail written by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko is one of my favorite children’s story books. The first time I bought a copy was over twenty years ago. I am sure the artwork hooked me. The harried mother trying to fix unruly hair at the breakfast table struck a chord of recognition. And the story itself is classic hilarity.

Two Ideas from Stephanie’s Ponytail

Like many children’s books, Stephanie’s Ponytail posits key lessons. Young Stephanie wants to be different. But, often non-conformity is looked down upon. Or, as in the case of this delightful book, the individual with flare is copied. Dealing with copycats is frustrating.

There is much debate on whether leaders are made or born. Even though Munsch does not delve into deep philosophy, it is clear Stephanie is both a trendsetter and smart. The thinking skills are clearly lacking in the copycats. Deftly woven into the story are kudos for originality as well as a warning to those who blindly follow the leader.

Fun to Read

The best thing about Stephanie’s Ponytail is that the book is fun to read. And this is a “must” requirement for any who have a little one that wants a book read again, and again. Munsch captures family and group dynamics. So, the story is easy to relate to. Furthermore, the illustrations aptly portray both the home and school settings. Michael Martchenko is the go-to artist for Munsch books. The partnership works well.

Stephanie’s Ponytail

My children grew up owning several of Munsch’s books. Furthermore they read many more at school. Plus they checked his books out from the library. If I polled them, I am sure there would be four different titles listed as favorites. Love You Forever, Thomas’ Snowsuit and I Have to Go, all earned a place in the family library.

Apparently, my oldest granddaughter is on track to be a reader. She wakes up from naps and grabs books. And “reads.” Furthermore, as soon as I walk in the door, she wants me to read to her. I hope Stephanie’s Ponytail will be one of her favorites because I love reading the story.

Robert Munsch

Munsch recently disclosed he has been diagnosed with dementia. Click here for the interview. He believes the memories of his books will stay with him. From my experience with my Mom, I think he is right.  I wish Munsch and his family well.

I am thankful Annick Press is re-releasing his books. And for publishing them in the first place. The small publishing house spotted a gem all those years ago.

If you have kids in the family and are not familiar with Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, I highly recommend these wonderful stories. Christmas is just around the corner.

Page of text from Stephanie's Ponytail
Illustration from Stephanie's Ponytail

Wholesome Sandwich Bread

Easy Recipe

Loaf of Wholesome Sandwich Bread cooloing on rack
Finished Loaf

This recipe is for a wholesome sandwich bread. The test trials have been mostly consistent. Bakers know how humidity and temperature can adversely affect baked goods. My Wholesome Sandwich Bread is a mix of flours, both whole wheat and all-purpose. Furthermore, the consistency before baking is a bit unique. It is neither a quick bread nor a kneaded dough. Too sticky for either description. But after baking it is so delicious. Most importantly the bread is perfect for making sandwiches. And the texture is perfect for toast. Lots of texture for holding melted butter or jam.

Key Steps for the Wholesome Sandwich Bread

Yeast breads can be time consuming. This one is a little quicker than most but still involves several hours. What I like best is that the time is somewhat flexible due to the first step-the sponge. In baking, a sponge allows the yeast mixture to interact with the flour. In this case the whole wheat flour.

Flours differ in refinement. Whole wheat needs more water and time to incorporate into a recipe. So a sponge is perfect. My Wholesome Sandwich Bread recipe calls for a flexible time period of 1-4 hours for the sponge to bubble. If you are only using all-purpose flour the sponge can be eliminated.

Another key to consider is the age of the dry yeast. If using individual packets, check the expiration date. Those using jars need an additional check, the time period since the jar was opened. In both cases, if the yeast is not fresh, additional sugar, up to a teaspoon needs to be added into the sponge or batter.

Teaspoon of dry yeast
Measure Dry Yeast
Sugar and yeast
Add pinch of sugar
Water poured over yeast and sugar
Pour warm water over yeast
Sponge of yeast bubbling
Sponge with yeast mixture bubbling through whole wheat flour

Equipment Needed

Stand Mixer

Measuring Spoons and Cups

8 ½ by 4 ½ Loaf Pan

Bowl for Sponge

Towel

Ingredients

Yeast- 1 packet or 2 Heaping Teaspoons

Sugar- A pinch up to a Teaspoon

Water- 1 and 1/3 cup DIVIDED

Whole Wheat Flour- 2/3 Cups

All Purpose Flour- 2 Cups

Wholesome Sandwich Bread Directions

Place yeast and sugar in small bowl. Cover with 1/3 cup warm water (105°F-110°F) and let stand at least one hour. When liquid bubbles through, carefully cover wet area with dry flour.

Scrape sponge into mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of all-purpose flour and one cup warm water. Mix at lowest speed with dough hook until dry flour is fully incorporated. Mixture will be sticky. Cover top of bowl with towel and let rest 20 minutes.

Beat at a low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape into greased loaf pan and let rise until even with the top of the pan. The loaf will continue to rise once in oven. Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Bake for 45-50 minutes. (Adjust for your personal oven.) Let cool before slicing.

Wholesome Sandwich Bread

October 2021 Wrap-Up

Halloween

The October 2021 Wrap-Up is here and that means it is Halloween. I am still undecided about opening the doors to Trick-or-Treaters. The general populace seems oblivious to the current resurgence of Covid-19. Additionally, the forecast is one of a wintery mix. In lay terms, a cold rain mixed with sleet or snow or both.

On top of that, the October 2021 Wrap-Up includes the quarterly Inflation Check. There is much talk in the media about price hikes. We will see what my personal check list looks like. Have you checked your list yet?

Also included is a look at winter projects. I am ready to focus on the hobby room until the first of the year when the brassica seeds will be started. Since I was not able to build a greenhouse, only a few plants were brought inside. Hopefully, they will thrive.

Man wearing a Fritos Costume
Both the costume and the wearer have aged since 2005 when this was taken but both are present Halloween October 2021.

Inflation Check Challenge

Keeping track of prices has been enlightening. There is definitely some price creep, but no large leaps in the products I am watching. The largest quarterly increase of available goods was 5% for the dry cat food. This was the first increase for this product since the challenge began.

The largest increase from a percentage standpoint was in canning lids. An increase of 17% is quite meaningless when there is no product to buy. I do not check for lids every day, but quite frequently and have not seen any locally since February. Jars are still available as are packages of rings and lids together. Both incur more cost.

Third Quarter Inflation Check Challenge

ItemAmountJanuary 2021 Price
Regular/Sale
April 2021 Price
Regular/Sale
July 2021 Price
Regular/Sale
October 2021 Price
Regular/Sale
Comments
Planet Oat Extra Creamy Original Oat Milk52 Oz.$3.49$3.99$3.99/$2.99$3.99
Small Bag Signature Select Sugar4 lbs.$2.99$2.99/$1.99$2.99$2.99/$2.49The October sale price was a smaller reduction than in April.
Signature Select Cream Style Corn14.75 Oz.$0.69$0.79$0.79$0.79/$0.65Enjoyed the October sale price.
Fleischmanns Active Dry Yeast4 Oz.$6.99$6.99$7.19$7.49Another increase in yeast is concerning. Price before the pandemic was several dollars lower.
BananasPer Pound$0.59$0.55$0.59$0.59
Kraft Real Mayo30 0z.$4.99/$3.79$4.99/$3.99$4.99/$3.79$5.29/$3.99Mayo is still on sale. However the jars were either at or past their Best Use date.
Meow Mix6.3 lbs.$7.78$7.78$7.78$8.22First increase in price for this product about 5%.
Morton Salt26 Oz.$1.19/$0.94$1.19/$0.99$1.19/$0.99$1.29/$0.99Increase in regular price.
Crest Pro Health Toothpaste4.6 Oz.$5.99/$4.99$5.49/$3.99$3.99/$3.49$3.99/$2.99The continued price decline makes one think there is a price subsidy at play.
Align Probiotics28 Count$26.58$26.58$26.58$26.58
Tide Botanical Rain Detergent92 Oz$11.97$11.97$11.97$11.97/$11.39Small Discount
Kerr Regular Mouth Canning Lids12 Count$3.18$2.88$2.88$3.38The big increase this quarter did not keep buyers away. Still completely sold out each time I check.
3M Ad. Allergy Furnace Filter1 Count$15.88$15.88$15.88$16.38An increase of 2.5%. Stock was low but not sold out.
Dunkin Donut Boston Cream1 Count$0.99$1.09$1.17$1.09Competition brought the price back down. New coffee shop in town.
Regular Unleaded Gasoline1 Gallon $2.36$2.79$2.79$2.79The local Pilot must have bought a year's worth of product- or else selling at a loss. Prices while travelling topped $3.50. We certainly fill up before leaving town.

October 2021 Wrap-Up in the Hobby Room

October is a transitional month. Outside temperatures can vary widely-even day to day. So, I spend some time in the hobby room. Currently, I have multiple projects going on. One quilt has been layered and is in a stand. At least one hour a day is spent hand quilting this Christmas gift.

Another gift is in the cutting/sewing stage. I did not include rotary cutting blades in the Inflation Check Challenge, but they seem to be a bit more expensive. Each new project usually needs a new blade, so I should have included these. Maybe next year.

A new great-nephew is arriving next February. His quilt is currently in the design stage. I am in a bit of a quandary with this one. I have a great backing piece, with one small problem. It is about ½ inch shorter than my design. So, I am working on the math.

My current plan was to have alternating blocks of a finished seven inch size. The center would be comprised of 16 of these blocks. I was planning on a six inch border. But, to incorporate the design into the border, I end up with seven inches per side. Somehow, somewhere, I will need to “cheat” either a seam allowance, or with the binding. The alternative is to use a boring border.

The final project is a cloth book. I bought the kit at the Alamosa Quilt Company travelling through there in August on the way to Santa Fe. I have been searching for kits like this for several years. The grandkids will love these!

Final Thoughts for the October 2021 Wrap-Up

An ongoing pandemic can be quite depressing. Viruses are pesky. Flus and colds appear every year. Severe consequences vary by type. Few people die from a cold, more from a flu. Covid-19 is more deadly than either. (I am really tired of seeing the 99.9% figure surviving Covid-19 on social media. That is far from true.)  But the novel coronavirus is far, far, less deadly than Ebola or the new virus I am watching- H5N6. Click here to read about this viral flu infection that kills about half of those who contract it.

Since I am not a microbiologist, I cannot offer any valid insight. But I can read and discern. And I can alert as I did back in January 2020.

We need to recognize our world is changing in many ways. Detrimental shifts need to be addressed. Beneficial changes celebrated. The future is uncertain. I intend to do what I can to add value to our world. Conservation is a good place to start. I learned when camping as a Girl Scout to leave the land better than before. What a good lesson for all people, places, and things!

 

 

 

 

The Whole Truth

Recent Read

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci is a recent read for me even though the publication occurred over a decade ago. The theme of disinformation is current. And with one exception, the book could have been written in the last year or so. The only tell that the novel is not fresh is the mention that Osama Bin Laden was still on the run.The Whole Truth Book Cover

Evil Billionaire

Nicholas Creel is the villain of the story. Philanthropic with one hand and greedy capitalist with the other. He has made his billions selling much inflated goods to the Pentagon as well as defense units in other nations.

Creel wants more money. Countries have been concentrating on non-military projects. Sales are down. So he needs tensions to increase. He hires a PR firm to spin a story. The conspiracy begins.

Unwilling Avenger

A man with no first name, A. Shaw is an operative for a secret government agency. His work takes him all over the world. The position is dangerous. A few years back he met the love of his’ life, Anna Fischer. Now he is ready to retire. And marry. But his employer has other plans.

Anna Fischer and Shaw are drawn into the tensions of the world through their respective jobs. Both are determined to find the whole truth. Neither knows they are up against Nicholas Creel.

Recovering Alcoholic

Baldacci stirs the pot with the addition of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Katie James. An alcoholic struggling with recovery, James is trying to claw her way back from hitting rock bottom. An unwitting pawn in Creel’s ploy to bring the world to the verge of war, James nonetheless senses a story. She too, seeks to discover the whole truth.

The Whole Truth

The topic of disinformation was eerily prescient given the publication date. Current events do not mirror Baldacci’s plot. But the sheer amount of disinformation surrounding the pandemic help one suspend disbelief while reading The Whole Truth. A fast paced thriller, the novel tugs at the heart strings as well as entertains.

Those of you who favorably read Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series will enjoy The Whole Truth as well. The author paints bleak pictures of a corrupt world. But then laces each story with hope. Much needed hope.

Results in the 2021 Garden

Crop output

Results in the 2021 garden varied by crop. Pretty typical to be honest. Weather varies year to year. So do outcomes. But there were still some surprising results in the 2021 garden. The early spring rains made an impact.

Fall Flowers arranged in a ceramic pumpkin
Flowers from the 2021 Garden

Legumes

I am still having trouble with my pea plants and their output. Plenty of rain this year and an early last frost date in the spring couldn’t alter the production. However, green beans of various kinds more than made up for this. I had plenty to put up and plenty to let mature to dried status.

Those reading in the spring know I had trouble with my peanut starts. The few that were transplanted did well.

Furthermore, peanuts planted straight into the ground had some success as well. I attribute this to a longer growing season than usual here. Since I can’t expect that to happen twice in a row, I hope for better success with the peanut starts next year. Soaking the seed prior to planting in seed pot is a must.

Tomato Results in the 2021 Garden

The tomatoes were a bit of a disappointment. My goal is to raise enough paste tomatoes to keep the family provided with salsa and spaghetti sauce. If I have enough left over, I even make ketchup. The results in the 2021 garden were abysmal. One batch of salsa. A few pots of spaghetti sauce were consumed immediately. Never enough to put up.

The one success was a slicing tomato. The Cherokee Purple Heirloom tomatoes which grew so erratically in 2020 were perfect in 2021. Perhaps the rains played a part. They were plentiful for the first half of the season.

Biggest Successes

Potatoes and sweet potatoes were among the biggest success stories this past summer. Both crops provided enough to store into the early winter. The root crops netted good size specimens without too many weird shapes.

Herbs also brought good results in the 2021 garden. Dill and basil provided enough to use fresh and to dry for the winter months. The lemon balm escaped the freeze in one location and is still being harvested.  One pot of mint is also thriving. The basil in the Big Garden was nipped by temperatures right at the freezing mark a few days before the hard freeze.

The cucumbers were a success when measured by number. However, I planted a new variety that I just wasn’t happy with. The Parisian cucumbers were very spiny and were only conducive to pickling. And pickling whole for the most part.

So next year, I plan to go back to some tried and true.

Biggest Failures

Mother Nature deals out hardships from time to time. Add on top failure by this farmer to act quickly and you have some poor results in the 2021 garden. I am sure glad I don’t depend on what I can grow to be my sole source of food. After this summer, I have an even greater appreciation for modern conveniences such as the local grocery store.

One watermelon, three cantaloupe, three acorn squash, one very small pie pumpkin. Eggplant that never reached normal size. Beets that germinated at about a one in ten rate. The list goes on and on. I am still scratching my head on why I had such uneven production this past year.

My biggest failure was not spotting the squash bugs on the white pumpkins. The two vines were loaded with pumpkins. Squash bugs not only destroyed the vines but also the fruit. I may need to skip growing any squash next year. This devastation occurred when I was gone for a week. Unbelievably quick.

2022 Season

Next year is just around the corner. I have about a third of my garlic planted. Some of the smaller potatoes were put into a container. They have sprouted and I am trying to grow them indoors. Still no greenhouse in sight. I am making some adjustments on when I will start my seed to see if that will change any of the outcomes. There is always hope for next year.

Large single cabbage head in the garden
A cabbage head survived the cabbage worms.
Cantaloupe vine in garden with two fruit
Small yield on the cantaloupe vine.
Puny watermelon with one small melon
One tiny watermelon.

Divisiveness and the Covid-19 Vaccine

An Opinion Piece

The growing divisiveness in the country (perhaps the world) is bothering me. Individuals have taken opposing sides on various key questions; vaccinations and other health issues, spending limits and other economic policies and last but certainly key-climate change and energy policies. Today I am focusing on the Covid-19 vaccine.

Personally, I think it is good to have opposing views. “Yes” men (and women) bother me. I have long been a fan of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. But we need to remember RESPECT. Something in short supply.

Agree to Disagree

Lately, extremists are decrying the principle of agreeing to disagree. This is terrible. On so many levels. This idea of only one right is wrong and possibly dangerous. A good example can be found in the history of calculus. Both Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz developed principles of calculus-independently. The argument in the late 1600s centered on who should have the credit. As a result, British mathematics was hindered for almost a century. Click here for more of the story.

Just as there can be more than one right, more than one wrong can occur. I am sure each of you can relate to this concept. Unfortunately, two wrongs often create great divides in families and friendships.

So, how do we get past this period of divisiveness? Perhaps by reflecting on history and reading, or re-reading literature both current and classic.

Erasing History

A big concern of mine is erasing history. This is a touchy subject. But an important one. We can’t deny history. Nor should we. The Holocaust happened as did slavery and The Civil War. The flags flown by the Confederates and the Nazis are symbolic. When I see them I remember how horrific actions were. But, the reminder makes me want to not repeat the past. The statues across the country of various Southern and Northern military men also remind me of the divisiveness of the Civil War. I choose to remember. I believe if we erase the past and forget, we will repeat our mistakes.

Remembering history, or researching if not known is helpful. There was divisiveness during the Spanish Flu. Masks and isolation were the triggering points. Some towns literally shut themselves off from the world. (Click here for history.)

Vaccines are the current divider. The dissension is great. Neighbors are divided. Co-workers are divided. Political leaders are divided.

Pandemic Divisiveness

We are now edging close to the end of the second year in this pandemic. My guess is we have another year to go. I would like to be wrong-on the short side. We haven’t learned much in the last 100 years. And yet our knowledge has grown greatly.

The fear of the unknown is dividing us. Early adopters versus late adopters, risk takers versus the wait and see type.  The divisions are great. Fear of the unknown. But is there more? Does the education system come into play? What about our communication system? So much information is available via the Internet. Can the information be easily understood? And more importantly vetted! I think pre-prints need closer examination than what is being given by the various disseminators. This includes media on all levels; mainstream and back-channel.

But the media does not bear all the blame. We do as individuals. Where is our commonsense? Why can’t we discern the truth from the fake?

 

Late Adopter

I am a late adopter. I like to see things work. But I also know risks can have rewards. My daughters are proof of that. So, I am educated enough to seek good advice. When the vaccines first came out, I was reluctant to try the new mRNA type. Thus, I talked to my General Practitioner (GP), a doctor I have seen for decades. And I took his advice.

He gave good advice. I had no adverse reactions to either Moderna shot. Crowded places still worry me but I feel very comfortable spending time with family members also fully vaccinated. You only see a first crawl or step once! And I am traveling again.

But the pandemic is pushing our healthcare workers to their limits. It is not just long hours. A lack of respect is my biggest concern. The world needs to wake up to the reality of this pandemic. Mental illness is taking a big toll as well. Conspiracy theories abound regarding the vaccines. In at least one case, a sibling is accused of killing his brother-a health care worker. (Only click here if you need proof.) Over a vaccine. So very sad.

Big Brother

There is great division over mandated vaccines. I am a big believer in gray areas. Some people cannot and should not get vaccinated. Personally, I know two individuals that fall in this category. Their health needs preclude any vaccination.

I don’t believe the government needs to mandate vaccines. If private businesses, including health care facilities want to require certain vaccinations, I am okay with that policy. But non-complying employees need time to consider the ramifications. And to find another place to work.

My personal stance is to encourage vaccines. I think they make a positive difference in this world. For those who are non-risk takers and even later adopters than I am, non mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 are available.

Of course I am biased. Multiple family members died before the vaccines became available. Friends and acquaintances as well. My heart cringes each time a helicopter flies overhead. The hospital landing pad is nearby. This is not new. Flying people out is not something taken lightly. Unfortunately many have Covid-19.

Respect for Health Care Workers and Decision Makers

It is a tough time to be in charge. Decisions of utmost importance are being made on a daily basis. Not everyone is in agreement. Unfortunately, mutual respect is breaking down.

In my little part of the world, the hospital board has decided to mandate Covid-19 vaccines. As a patient from time to time, I respect this decision. This decision is not popular. Almost ten percent of the staff is unvaccinated. I do not know how many asked for exemptions, either medical or religious, but only one was granted. Perhaps this is too low a number.

Our community is divided. There have been letters to the editor and lots of donut shop talk. All is good as long as there is respect. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. I live in a county where the majority of citizens have not been vaccinated. Twelve percent of the population has tested positive for Covid-19. Even if there were no overlapping, we do not have herd immunity. Overlapping occurs.

Divisiveness-The End Result

Unfortunately, I see a long winter ahead for this rural area. One replete with divisiveness. I encourage anyone not vaccinated to talk to their primary health care doctor. If still not convinced to join the vaccinated, please practice other measures. Stay away from crowds. Limit the number of people in your circle of contacts. Wear a protective mask correctly. Protect yourself in the best way possible. This virus is real.

We need to all remember this: We are responsible for our own actions.

References and Reading Recommendations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7264614/

https://www.denverpost.com/2020/03/29/pandemic-1918-spanish-flu-colorado-coronavirus/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jeffrey-burnham-killed-pharmacist-brother-covid-vaccine-shots-poisoning/

Books of Interest:

Brave New World- Aldous Huxley

1984- George Orwell

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it– Gina Kolata

The Great Influenza- John M. Barry

Breathtaking: The UK’s Human Story of Covid- Rachel Clarke

Populism: Before and After the Pandemic- Michael Burleigh

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story Book Review

The Premonition

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis is an indictment on America’s response to Covid-19. This non-fiction account is critical of various governmental entities. But the bigger takeaway is the hard work of many individuals. Their attempts to stop the spread were hampered by red tape.

Key Players

The Premonition is like a series of mini-biographies. The opening chapters focus on a school science project. Laura Glass, as a high school student, studied the social spread of pathogens. With the help of her father, Bob, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, a computer model was developed to predict outcomes. The experiment keyed on social distancing. (Fast forward to the crisis in 2020 and the computer model found a real-life application.)

Carter Mecher is another linchpin in The Pandemic narrative. Mecher’s biography is quite interesting. He was raised in a working class household. Nonetheless, he pursued a medical degree and shined in critical care situations. Eventually, he climbed the ranks of the Veteran’s Affairs as a troubleshooter of the program.

He was in this position in 2005 when then President Bush called for a national pandemic plan. Mecher along with Richard Hatchett became the principle authors of the plan. Furthermore, the two men with diverse personalities, remain close colleagues. We also learn Hatchett’s history.

2005 Pandemic Plan

Hatchett and Mecher discover the computer model developed by Glass. Then they incorporate major pieces of Laura Glass’ project into the plan. Vaccines were only a piece of the puzzle. Pathogens are spread in social settings. Since two of the largest places of socialization are schools and work settings, both were addressed. Next, the plan had to be sold to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and later to the American public.

Another key author of the national pandemic plan is Lisa Koonin , at the time with the CDC. But, her work on the document took place after hours. In the end, the CDC published its’ own work and the Hatchett and Mecher collaboration was published sans Koonin listed as an author. However, the two men gave direct praise to Koonin.

The Premonition

Charity Dean is the woman with the premonition, or more accurately premonitions. Her biography is the most compelling of the bunch. Lewis spends quite a bit of time detailing  her background. And with good reason. Dean is a force to be reckoned with. As is her devotion to public health.

In The Premonition, the State of California employed Dean. Her career spanned from the county level to the position of Assistant Director of the State Department of Public Health. The Premonition details the roadblocks Dean encountered. It is inferred that the pushback experienced during the early months of 2020 led to her new position in the private sector.

Indictments within The Premonition

Criticism of various governmental groups is a part of The Premonition. Neither political party escapes. Both the Trump White House and the Gavin Newsom California administration failed to recognize the talent and expertise available to them. But the most glaring failure of all belongs to the CDC.

Lewis traces the weakness of the CDC back to the Swine Flu debacle of the late 1970s. This is the point the agency lost its’ independence. Since then, politics has played a big part.

He also portrays the agency as a large bureaucracy unable or unwilling to make decisions. Instead, he suggests the CDC prefers to study and analyze problems. Not solve them.

Lewis is not all negative. His mini-biographies demonstrate that the country has many hard-working and brilliant scientists. He blames the pandemic response, or lack thereof, more on process than on people. I agree to a point.

Recommendation

I found a few things missing.

First of all, the lack of accurate statistics is not really mentioned. Lewis cites the U.S.A. as a country with four percent of the world’s population. But having more than twenty percent of the Covid-19 cases. I use the Johns Hopkins Covid Tracker for my data. These numbers do not match. Furthermore, an open society such as the United States will have a more accurate account (although not perfect) of cases. Numbers from communist countries should be taken with a large grain of salt. This leeriness of the presented data is particularly true considering the calculated death rate of the United States is in line with the world rate.

Secondly, Michael Lewis handled several governmental experts with kid gloves. Most notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Nothing was discussed about Fauci’s admitted lies to the American public concerning the airborne transmission of the virus and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) especially masks. I see this as a failure on the author’s part.

Furthermore, I found the delay in recognizing Covid-19 as a concern. I first wrote about the coronavirus in January 2020. Only Charity Dean’s December 2019 premonition predates me.

Overall, the hours spent reading The Premonition were well spent. The individuals above are only a small representation of those highlighted in the book. All give hope for a better future. If you are not tired of the pandemic, this book provides information of interest.

Jack of Spies Book Review

Jack of Spies by David Downing is not a recent release. But I urge you to find a copy. It is that good. The historical fiction with a bit of romance covers the time period just prior to World War I. The book features the many technological advances of that time.

Book Cover for Jack of Spies

Protagonist

Jack McColl is a full time car salesman and part time British spy at the beginning of Jack of Spies, peddling cars in China. And spying on the Germans a year before the start of The Great War was just one of his assignments.

Right from the start, McColl is attracted to American Caitlyn Hanley, a progressive, independent journalist also travelling vast regions of the world. Throughout the relationship McColl struggles with divided loyalties. Will he choose the love of a lifetime or his dream career?

Jack of Spies Plot

The author weaves a tale of espionage involving diverse nations. In addition to the Germans attempting influence in China and Mexico, much is made on an alliance with Irish rebels both in Ireland and abroad. There is no love lost between the Germans and the British even before hostilities break out.

Anywhere civil unrest is occurring, the Germans are nearby to provide a bit of prodding. McColl’s job is to keep tabs and run interference. Also, he is tasked with cover-ups a time or two. But one of the biggest challenges he faces is in America. Early 20th century workers are easy prey for outside groups socialistic in nature.

Downing does a fantastic job of portraying the conditions leading to the movement toward unionization. He also conveys a time of dissension in various locales. This was the time of the Mexican revolution and the prelude to the Irish War of Independence. But most of all the run up to World War I. The history is well weaved into the plot.

Action vs. Intrigue

There is quite a bit of action throughout the novel with multiple attacks on McColl’s life. But, the novel is more than an action adventure. There is intrigue and political commentary. Furthermore, historical facts are woven in with the fiction. Most of all there is a reluctance toward war among the mature and at the same time a bloodthirst by the young.

Recommendation for Jack of Spies

I absolutely loved Jack of Spies. It was a book picked from a pile of possibilities while on vacation. The time period is what sold me as I have not read much fiction set in the early twentieth century. And I feel so fortunate to discover another new to me author. He has written a number of books and I can’t wait to find the sequel to Jack of Spies.

If you are a fan of either spy novels or historical fiction this is must read. Find a copy today.

Head Wounds Book Review

Head Wounds is a Michael Mc Garrity novel and begins in the border country of New Mexico. Additional settings include the Mescalero Reservation and various locations in the northern regions of Mexico. Characters represent a number of diverse cultures. The main characters each have their own moral code- even the killers.

Head Wounds Book Cover

Characters

Even though the book is billed as a Kevin Kerney novel, in my opinion it is not. Kerney makes cameo appearances which really add nothing to the story. Clayton Istee, Kerney’s son, is the key character at the beginning of Head Wounds. But only at the beginning.

El Jefe is the antagonist to Istee. Also known as Estavio Trevino and by his true name of Wind Stands with Bear Among the Wallows, El Jefe is an assassin. He has his own code of honor and is a fascinating character. There is good at the core of a very violent man.

By the end of Head Wounds, Istee has taken a secondary role to a pair of federal agents. Yet he is brought back in at the conclusion. Perhaps this is an intentional display of governmental hierarchy. However, to a new reader of McGarrity’s work, it was a bit off-putting.

Head Wounds- Action vs. Plot

The action packed novel opens with a triple murder. The two main victims had ties to a crime committed on the Mescalero Reservation. However, a different crime caused a contract to be issued for their deaths. Thus starts a tangled plot line.

Many characters with overlapping ties create complicated stories. Head Wounds is a prime example of this situation. McGarrity throws in surprise elements in character motivation which add various twists to the plot. But the main driver of the story is action. Time lapses are well-explained and do not detract from the plot. Instead, the passages of time add realism.

Recommendation for Head Wounds

If you are a big fan of Michael McGarrity, I have a feeling this novel will be a “can’t miss” for you. I bought the book on my recent trip to Santa Fe off a local authors’ table. Readers not familiar with his work may want to check out a copy from the nearest library. Head Wounds is a quick read and ideal for settings such as a long plane ride or a rainy day. Engaging and distracting, I finished the book in one afternoon.

A caveat- the book contains a lot of violence along with beautiful landscape descriptions. And lines blur between the good guys and the bad guys. Well worth the time spent reading, yet I will not be anxiously awaiting another.

Finding Inner Peace Twenty Years Later- A 9/11 Memorial

Sudden Loss

Finding inner peace after a loss of life is difficult. Even expected death takes time to process. But sudden, unexpected loss of life is a trauma unto itself. Individual loss is hard and permanent. Community loss and national loss take years to process and years to manifest. Thus, this reflection.

September 11, 2001

The immediate reaction to the 9/11 attacks was one of national unity. Since then, the United States of America has been anything but united. Were the attacks the catalyst? I do not know. But I miss the unity and detest the divisiveness.

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the unprovoked attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C. and indeed the entire country. Therefore many events marking this collective tragedy are scheduled for today. Parades, assemblies, and memorials-in big cities and small towns. Families will gather and many will spend time reflecting on loved ones lost.

I was half a country away from the East Coast on that fateful day. But I took the attacks personally. I knew people in those buildings. Visits to the twin towers were always an event. The bustling offices full of life. The exquisite dining experience at Windows on the World. For me, the towers represented NYC. And I know how hard the survivors struggle on a daily basis. Twenty Years Later. My hope is those directly affected have found a modicum of inner peace.

The attack on the Pentagon evoked similar feelings. I was fortunate enough to experience a personal tour of this iconic building during my teenage years. The brigadier general guiding us was a friend of the family. Massive, wide hallways filled with purpose and industry fill my memory. This fortress was penetrated but fortunately not destroyed.

Anger and Dismay Precede Inner Peace

After the initial shock wore off my feelings turned dark. I was dismayed by those countries that blamed the United States. One in particular bothered me because of how many American lives were lost in the two World Wars trying to free its’ citizens from tyranny. So, on my one visit to Europe in 2008, the bitterness kept me from visiting this important source of culture.

I was also angry that certain religious leaders condoned the attacks. Perhaps, fringe elements, but still leaders of a mainstream religion. For an individual who believes religion and forgiveness are entwined, this continues to be a personal struggle.

Inner Peace

The passage of time may not heal all wounds. But an inner peace can be reached. At least on a personal level. Water and nature are keys in my family. At home, our fountains provide the sound of moving water. The movement is a subliminal reminder of time. It flows on.

For this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I have retreated to my favorite mountain town. Four generations are gathered adjacent to the gurgling Gore Creek. Windows are open to the mountain air. Thanks to the pandemic, remote work can be done allowing more participants. As the day unfolds, my wish on this day, the anniversary of such an infamous event, is a focus on inner peace and outward harmony.

Fountains at Night

Fire glowing in outdoor fireplace

Gore Creek

View of Mountain Creek

Gore Creek Again

View of Gore Creek

August 2021 Wrap-Up

A Scorcher

August 2021 on the High Plains was a scorcher. But, a couple of afternoon thunderstorms brought some much needed moisture. And relief for a day or two from watering. Travel also provided some respite from the triple digit heat.

August 2021 In The Garden

Unlike last year, the current crop of Roma Tomatoes is struggling with a blight. The fruit is small and the vines are shriveling even before ripening. Fortunately, other crops are producing so I have plenty of options.

Cucumbers and green beans are vying with each other to be king of the garden. There will be plenty of pickles and beans this winter. I have designated one tower of beans to stay on the vine. This way I will enjoy dried beans as well as fresh green beans.

I am also harvesting broccoli, Swiss chard and a few beets. The blue potatoes are almost ready to harvest. Since we are not forecast to go below freezing anytime soon, some of the longer developing crops should do better this year.

August 2021 In the Library

This month marked a return to reading and reviewing on a more regular basis. The ratio of fiction to non-fiction was 3-1, not too bad. The fictional settings were from various parts of the United States. I found them quite enjoyable. And I highly recommended Liquids Till Lunch, the self-help book towards overall wellness.

Special Projects

I have been working on some special projects in the sewing room. They are gifts so no hints or pictures-yet. One was quite difficult because there was not a pattern. I hope to write about this old-fashioned gift next week.

Travel

The Alamosa Quilt Company was on my list of stops while escaping the heat. If you are ever in this high mountain valley town, this store is a great place to shop. The staff is very knowledgeable and the selection is top notch.

There is a back way to Santa Fe from Alamosa. The drive is relaxing until you are almost to the Capitol City of New Mexico. Non-Interstate roads can be quite the treat, but not if you are in a hurry. As I wrote in Summertime In Santa Fe, this road trip is one we take periodically. The food is great and so is the artwork. Santa Fe is truly a can’t miss destination.

A Difficult Point in Time

World events during August 2021 were complex and disturbing. Covid-19 is striking again. Arguments continue on many levels, but in my part of the world the biggest controversies revolve around vaccinations, treatments, and masks.

Here in the United States, repercussions from the changing climate include massive fires and large storms including hurricanes. The destruction is great. Unfortunately, the arguments and finger-pointing rival those surrounding Covid-19.

Last and certainly the most unsettling is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Words truly fail. Much was sacrificed these past twenty years and to no avail. One hopes September is better.

Liquids Till Lunch Book Review

Mary Ruth’s Liquids Till Lunch

Mary Ruth’s Liquids Till Lunch: 12 Small Habits That Will Change Your Life For Good is an interesting self-help book written by Mary Ruth Ghiyam with Sarah Durand. While the title may hint as a diet book, Liquids Till Lunch encompasses an all-around approach to well-being. Each habit has a designated chapter. Furthermore, the habits fall into a tighter parameter of mental wellness, sleep, nutrition and exercise.

Nutrition

Intermittent fasting is not new. In Liquids Till Lunch there is actually more leeway than other approaches I have read about. Liquids can include juices, smoothies, and limited caffeinated beverages. And of course water. Meals are suggested at noon, three and seven. According to the author this allows your body to both burn more fat and sleep better.

What was new to me was the concept introduced in Chapter 2-Chew Your Food Until It Becomes Liquid. To be honest, I was very skeptical that this was even possible. I was wrong. Furthermore, the author’s key points were right on target. A can’t miss chapter.

Chapters 3-5 offered more nutritional advice from the expert. The tips offered in the “Move Forward Everyday” boxes are great. Advice from using moderation with respect to eating and drinking to canvassing your fridge and pantry on a daily basis are commonsense and useful.

Fifteen Minutes of Sunshine

Chapter six is a bit hard to categorize since it impacts wellness on multiple levels. Natural Vitamin D has been shown to combat Covid-19. Spending time each day in the sun also helps with sleep. This chapter is key.

In addition to the importance of daily sunshine, Liquids Till Lunch addresses the concerns about screen time and blue light. I have invested in blue light blocking glasses and I have my computer settings set to adjust brightness at a certain time of day. Both suggestions from the book. However, I need to incorporate the mindfulness exercises as suggested. Because I still have sleep problems as I discuss here.

Sleep

The chapter on sleep urges all to get seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. As the author emphasizes, good sleep is imperative for mental clarity. Lack of sleep creates poor decision making. New information within this chapter will be tried. I know lack of sleep is an area of concern for me.

Ghiyam stresses that people experiencing insomnia need perseverance. She posits that the regular habit of good sleep will take hard work to achieve. I personally have a task in front of me.

Exercise

Two chapters focus on the benefits of exercise, both calling for daily action. To follow this advice one needs to carve out forty-five minutes a day; fifteen for stretching and thirty of exercise. Difficult, but not impossible.

Stretching and exercising are key components in self-care. In addition to the many tips for working these forty-five minutes into hectic schedules is the health logic behind the need. There are two points offering a differing point of view. The first, stretching is detrimental right before a hard workout and the second is the inclusion of ballistic stretching. I need to ponder these ideas more.

The connection of stretching to mental health is presented. Both stretching and exercise provide mental and physical benefits. As the author presents, life is about choices. Daily stretching and exercise are beneficial choices, ones I hope to continue.

Mental Wellness

The last chapters of the book focus on aspects of mental wellness. Stress Less, Think Positively and Believe in a Universal Force of Goodness are the topics. These self-help chapters are crucial in today’s negative world. The ideas seem simple, yet can be hard to achieve.

In the chapter on stress, Ghiyam discusses the correlation between mental stress and physical illness. Then she offers steps to alleviate the pressures of everyday life. For example, in a Move Forward Everyday box, she suggests packing a lunchbox to alleviate stress caused by hunger (and out of kilter sugar levels), not going to bed angry, and idea I have already adopted, making a to-do list for the following day.

In another box, the author discusses personal relationships. Again, the insights are helpful and positive. As are the many anecdotes and examples throughout. This continues into the following chapter, Think Positively.

To be honest, reading the chapter on positivity kept reminding me of a young blogger I personally know and follow. Madison Dorenkamp posts frequently on staying positive as well as “deleting the negatives.” Click here to read a post on positivity written at the beginning of the pandemic.

Mary Ruth Ghiyam is another positive soul. She is inspirational. Perhaps those individuals that have truly faced hardships are the best role models for facing adversity with a positive outlook. Her thought process shared in the book is one to follow. Stuff happens. The true measure of an individual is how one reacts to the “stuff” of life.

This ties into the final chapter, Believe in a Universal Force of Goodness. This inclusive chapter has a lot to offer the reader. At times, such as this pandemic era, things will be beyond control. Belief can carry an individual past the crisis.

Recommendation for Liquids Till Lunch

I checked this book out of the library. Soon, copies will be purchased. Self-help books are among my favorite gifts. Liquids Till Lunch certainly qualifies for this category. I highly recommend!

Book cover of Liquids Till Lunch

The Heat is On

Triple Digits

Here in my little corner of the world the heat is on. The days of triple digit heat are bearable only by getting outside work done by 9:00 A.M. and staying inside the remainder of the day. Air conditioning is a help.

The critters are also reeling from the heat. Box turtles and garter snakes are seeking refuge on the shade of the porch. The startle effect is great even when you know they dwell in the garden. The toads look forward to the watering cycles and seek hiding spots under the portulaca and cucumbers.

The heat is on high this time of year. Noon lunches no longer happen outside as temperatures edge closer to the triple number. Nor do evening dinners as the cool down often occurs after bedtime.

Indoor Activities

Central air allows me to work in the kitchen after the heat chases me indoors. Canning tomatoes, grape jelly and processing beans for the freezer is doable with the cool air. I am thankful for living in the time of electricity. And sympathize with those across the world without reliable energy. Rolling brown outs would make life difficult. No electricity even more so.

Other activities take place in the basement. The craft room is a combination of sewing space, book shelves and garden planning area. The underground aspect provides a naturally cool place to hang out. I can see why early settlers to this part of the country lived in dugouts.

Ways to Combat Nature when The Heat is On

When we first moved to this small town on the High Plains we lived in a house built shortly after the First World War. Naturally, the house did not have air-conditioning. We were fortunate to have a row of mature evergreen trees on the west side of the lot as well as a towering poplar tree on the southwest side of the house. This experience gave us ideas for when we were finally able to build our present house back in the early ‘90s.

Deciduous trees planted to the south and southwest of a building will provide shade in the summer and at the same time allow the sun to warm the house during the colder months. Porches also provide a relief from the sun.

Windbreaks also help. Trees can act as windbreaks as can hardscape fences. A twenty mile an hour wind can be brutal at extreme temperatures-such as triple digits when the heat is on. Those southwest winds can create an oven effect. Not a pleasant experience and why this time of year is my least favorite.

Back in the days of no air-conditioning, we cooled down in two ways not related to nature. The first was to take the kids to the community pool on nights it was open. The second was to frequent the town’s lone cinema. Both provided relief.

Last but not least is drinking plenty of liquids. Non-caffeinated, sugarless are preferable. And that means a heavy concentration of water. Staying hydrated combats the intense heat.

I am counting down the days until September 22nd, the first official day of fall.

 

Providing Natural Cooling

Trees providing natural shade when the heat is on