June 2022 Wrap-Up

Travel

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

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

Kentucky June 2022

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

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

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

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

Michigan June 2022

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

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

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

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

Mackinac Island

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

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

South of the Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

June 2022 on the Plains

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

Braking For Bodies Book Review

Cozy Mystery

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

Protagonist

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

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

Romance Abounds

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

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

Publisher Criticism re: Braking For Bodies

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

Back Cover of Braking For Bodies with erroneous info.

Braking For Bodies

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

A Trio of Children’s Books

Story Books

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

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

How To Babysit A Grandma

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

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

 

If A Horse Had Words

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

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

Chairs on Strike

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

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

Children’s Books

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

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

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

 

 

pages illustrated by Lucy Eldridge

Classic Cars

Classic Cars in Classic Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

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

Speedy Classic Cars

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

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

Car Show Enthusiasts

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

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

Classic Car Promo Tour

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

Hood Ornaments

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

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

Back To The Bricks Car Show

Manual Labor

Soul Food

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

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

Expanding the Garden-Manual Labor

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

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

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

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

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

Indoor Manual Labor

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

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

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

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

 

Neon Orange Pink Paint
Before
Oklahoma Wheat
After

Physical Effects

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

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

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

Stay Positive!

Daylight Book Review

Another Thriller from David Baldacci

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

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

Daylight Highlights Blackmail

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

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

Personal Quest

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

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

Recommendation for Daylight

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

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

And then there is the power of blackmail.

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

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

Internet Rumors

Internet Rumors: How did the Latest Begin?

Horehound in bloom
Horehound

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

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

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

Controlling Nature

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

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

Two Opinions

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

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

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

More Internet Rumors: Taxing and Permits

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

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

Impact of War and Covid-19

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

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

Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight

The Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down

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

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

Lose The Clutter

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

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

Lose The Weight

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

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

Mindfulness and Mindset

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

Recommendation

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

Good Friday 2022

Good Friday

Good Friday is observed by many in Western Culture. Christianity is a significant, but not the only religion practiced. So the holiday is not universally recognized. Nor is it marked with celebration by those identifying as Christians.

Since the day marks the crucifixion of Jesus, sadness and sorrow are the emotions I associate with Good Friday. In 2021, I grieved over the loss of my mother. This year a cousin is mourned. Her recent death unexpected but not surprising. Meg was battling cancer. Somehow, some way, her body shut down. Literally overnight.

Absorbing Death

My cousin was much younger than me. Her only child still in Middle School. Such a loss is difficult to absorb and comprehend. For all. Yet, a young teen will seek concrete answers in a world of gray.

Parents burying offspring goes against nature’s circle of life. Unfortunately, I have witnessed this aberrant occurrence too often. And the loss of a young one is part of nature-just a part humans have bypassed more than other species.

A sibling is hit hard. I know from my own experience nearly thirty years ago. The loss will continue as the challenges of family responsibilities fall on Meg’s sister.

The greatest loss belongs to her spouse. Soulmates. I cannot even imagine the devastation. Their wedding is still fresh in my memory although it was a lifetime ago. The exchange of vows, and the washing of the feet. Surrounded by family and friends.

My heart aches for all.

Faith on Good Friday

Christianity is just one of many religions in the world. Furthermore, it is not the only monotheistic religion. Nor is it the only one with Faith. But a Christian’s Faith centers on the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And the belief His death absolves sins.

So, today I will be reflecting on much. For me, remembering those who have gone before me is part of the observance. Another component is the spiritual connectedness. This is not something I can explain. It is just there. Finally, I will embrace life, striving to live up to the epitaph on our great-great grandmother’s tombstone: Life’s Work Well Done-Life’s Course Well Run. Rest in peace Meg. You are missed.

The Prepared Home Book Review

Relatable Author

The Prepared Home by Melissa George is a good resource for getting a home and family ready to face any natural disaster. George is not a doomsday survival type. Instead, she runs a common sense, ready for anything household. This book came out in 2021, partly as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I found George very relatable. Perhaps because we ran out of the same item during the 2020 lockdown-trash bags. Another reason is her desire to keep an organized home. (I am a work in progress.) Most of all, I liked her positive and pragmatic attitude. Far from being anti-government, much of her work stems from FEMA guidelines for emergency preparedness.

Prepared Home Strategies

The Prepared Home Book Cover showing storage.In a prepared home, organization rises to the forefront in a common sense fashion. George recommends keeping a binder. Many things go into that binder. Emergency contact numbers, non-disclosing financial information (name of bank-but not account number), “restaurant menus” for home cooking and an evacuation plan-only if necessary- are a few sections suggested.

But most importantly, the author provides thorough information on FEMA’s recommended 72-hour emergency guidelines. Then she goes beyond. Because disasters such as hurricanes, floods and fires may carry the emergency longer.

Ten chapters encompass the strategies to meet an emergency head on. They include a much needed chapter on evaluating your own risk. And then planning accordingly. For example, I live thousands of miles away from either coast. So, I will not experience a hurricane. However, as discussed in recent posts, hurricane strength winds can sweep across the High Plains.

So, my planning needs to revolve around high winds, blizzards and wildfires. And an occasional tornado as we live just west of tornado alley. The Prepared Home helps one evaluate their risk from Mother Nature.

Food, Water and Power

Key chapters involve food and water storage and back-up power. Again, George addresses all three from a preparedness stand. Not hoarding. She specifically talks about how a prepared home keeps one from the tendency to empty the aisles as seen on news channels prior to any major weather event.

Water storage is also important. And to me, the most difficult aspect. We can go months without rain in my locale, so rain barrels would not do me much good. But many of her other suggestions were viable.

Finally, The Prepared Home offers quite a few suggestions on how to mitigate power loss. Again the author breaks the suggestions into short versus long term needs. Power loss can transition into loss of connectivity. So, George covers this possibility as well.

When all else Fails-Evacuate

The author makes a case for staying put in a prepared home as the best possible scenario. But we have all seen the natural disasters of the past few years forcing thousands out of their homes. And George addresses this type of situation. Prior planning provides positive outcomes. She stresses life over loss of belongings. Something we all should remember.

The Prepared Home- A Beautiful Approach

Pictures throughout the book demonstrate preparedness is not hoarding. George suggests and shows stylish storage containers. A key is to get rid of clutter and only keep necessities. And of course staying on top of everyday chores. For example, if the power goes out and laundry hasn’t been done in ten days, there will be trouble.

Same with the kitchen sink. As suggested in the review of Cleaning Sucks, an empty sink is an everyday step toward organization and that leads to preparedness. I believe The Prepared Home belongs in every home library. Kudos to Melissa George for wisely using her lockdown time writing instead of worrying.

Organized Kitchen Cabinets in Prepared Home
Organized Kitchen Cabinets
Storage units under a bed
Storage Under the Bed
Laundry Room
Water tucked into Laundry Room

The Fields Book Review

New Genre for Author

The Fields belongs in the crime novel genre; fiction not true crime. And the gripping story is superb. But don’t be fooled by the “debut” crime thriller tag. Because, Erin Young is a veteran storyteller. Her other works are found under the name Robyn Young.

Although switching from historical fiction to crime might be difficult for some authors, Young doesn’t miss a beat. A complex plot moves along through dialogue and action scenes. The novel is billed as a first in a new series. And as such, plenty of background is provided for the characters. Furthermore, Sergeant Riley Fisher is compelling. Strong enough to carry a series. And human enough to care about. She is great.

Setting

Man standing in front of a corn field where stalks tower over him.
Corn grows tall in Iowa.

“Rural” Iowa during a gubernatorial election year is the setting for The Fields. The author captures the reader’s attention with a victim running for her life through the cornfields; chased by a drone. Corn grows tall in Iowa. So, a field is a good refuge. Young captures the essence of the state. So impressive. One would think she was a native. And not a visitor from another country.

Black Hawk County is actually one of the more populous counties in the state with around 130,000 people spread out over 573 square miles. So, the clash between farm and urban use is keen. As is the struggle between corporate and family farms. Young depicts the conflicts with accuracy.

Plot

The novel tells the story of murder. And mutilation. Also, rape is a significant thread in the storyline. Both current and past.

After the third victim is found, the Sheriff’s department fears a monstrous, cannibalistic serial killer. Fisher suspects the husband of the first victim. But her boss doesn’t agree. Her ability is questioned mostly for her gender. And her family connections. So, personal factors are at play. Other suspects appear and the FBI is involved. In the end there are multiple culprits. But the author neatly ties everything together.

Furthermore, the multi-faceted nuances are a core piece of The Fields. Complexity keeps churning. The political campaign ties into the murders. So do the homeless. And naturally, corn. The fields are a staple of Iowa. And at the heart of the story. Finally, intrigue is the key to the novel.

The Fields

Erin Young does an excellent job on two levels. First, the story is compelling. Good versus evil never fails to intrigue. The novel is a standalone-a complete story. Yet, the writing serves a basis for an entire series. Fisher proves herself. And she confronts demons from the past. One can easily imagine her character growth through subsequent books.

Second, the cast of characters is rich in diversity. Again, plenty of ground to explore as new books are written. Plus, the setting is such that many plots can be conjured. I look forward to reading the next in the series. Master writers who capture the essence of a locale and its inhabitants are rare. Erin Young is such a writer. You would never know she wasn’t raised in Iowa herself. Absolute brilliance.

 

March 2022 Wrap-Up

Wow, March 2022  is already gone. This month needs more days in it! I think the shortness of February has something to do with the fact March always seems to disappear. Plus, this time of year has so many demands on me.

March 2022 in the Garden

Spring arrives in March and so does the beginning of the yard work. Since President Biden told us to expect food shortages this year, I decided to expand the garden and plant more. Two new beds were rototilled. Asparagus, which takes multiple years to establish will grow in one. The crowns will also be planted in the next day or so. They will reside between the grapevines planted last year and the fenced garden. Deer tend to turn their nose up at this crop.

A snow fence now encircles the Big Garden as an added deterrent against the wildlife that wander in and out. Next, I will need to build a new gate. Additionally, plans to repair the blown down fence are started. Utility lines are marked. So, the project should be finalized this weekend. Hopefully it will be a few years before hurricane force winds visit us again.

Two hundred forty-four plant seedlings are nestled under the grow lights. Not counting the sixteen peanut plants. Nor the sweet potato slips. Of course quite a few of the starts are herbs and flowers. The latter really draw in the bees; key for pollinating the fruits and vegetables of the garden.

Snow fence built in March 2022
A snow fence adds another barrier against wildlife and wild winds.

Quilts and More Quilts

I am hand quilting a small baby quilt and have another waiting in the wings. A third quilt for a toddler is in the design stages. Fabrics are picked out along with the pattern. A diagram with numbers will keep me straight. Then, there is a key to the diagram which lists each quilt by description. There will be about twenty-five fabrics altogether in this latest design. The name of the pattern is Trip Around the World. One of my favorites. If you keep to the diagram everything comes out great.

March 2022 in the Library

More books were read than reviewed in March 2022. I reread one of my favorite Helen MacInnes books as a way to protest the Invasion of Ukraine. But, I did not include a review. I also read two new board books before giving them to a mom-to-be. They were cute. Maybe I will review a series of board books this summer.

Furthermore, I think you will enjoy the next two reviews. One for each of the upcoming weekends. Both are fiction. So I need to rebalance and find a non-fiction entry that I can finish. I much prefer to lose myself in the world of imagination. Too many dry texts in my past.

Inflation Challenge

The month of April will include an Inflation Check Challenge. It will be interesting to see how prices compare. I know petrol is higher. And housing. I am glad I am not young and just starting out. That would be a real challenge! Maybe things will slow down in April. As interest rates and prices climb, the supply/demand mechanism will come into play.

Ramblings From The Countryside

Countryside Ramblings

Today I am sharing various ramblings from the countryside. Thought rambles, not hikes or treks. Because winter is officially gone. And spring is still chilly. But chirping birds and cooing doves wake me even though the dreaded time change means it is still dark out. I feel like we have been thrust back into mid-December.

Too bad we haven’t been. Gasoline was still reasonable. Although supply chain issues were ongoing. Yet the severe spike in inflation was still not yet rampant. The third and fourth inflation check challenges indicated creeping inflation. I predict next month’s list (yes I plan to continue another year) will outdo all of last year with respect to percentage increase.

A Covid-19 Lull

Even though a new variant is spreading across Asia into Europe, here in the rural part of the High Plains we are in a lull. Absolutely no new cases the last two weeks. Since the report from the County Health won’t be out until tomorrow, I do not know if the trend will continue. But it very well might. I hear little coughing as I run my errands.

Another indication is the big drop off in the number of medical helicopters flying overhead. Small towns dotting the countryside lack the volume of cases requiring specialty care. So, severe illnesses are often flown out.

A bit of a Catch-22 with regards to medical care exists in the countryside. For example, the one pediatrician can be overwhelmed. But in reality, two pediatricians would have a lot of down time. This is true for all the medical specialties. And flying patients out is standard protocol. Unfortunately, the flight costs are very high and many cannot afford the flight insurance. But without this specific insurance, a single flight can wipe out all savings.

Proms and Graduations

The young people in town are preparing for traditional spring events. Such as prom, a symbolic dance in America. A key departure from my youth is how the flowers are now picked out. And worn. Instead of being surprised by what flowers are presented by the young men, the young women play a key part in the design. No longer are lapel corsages worn. Instead, flowers are attached to bracelets which are then worn on the wrist, the arm or even the ankle.

The month of May will bring about graduation. Unlike the heart of the pandemic years, the ceremonies out here in the countryside will return to in-person events. So will the parties afterwards. We have multiple high school graduations and one college graduation to celebrate this year.

Spring in the Countryside

The crocus blooms are spent. But the hyacinths, daffodils and tulips are now poking through the ground. By April, blooms will be abundant. And more than just the potatoes can be planted outside.

Livestock are also bringing life to the countryside. Cow-calf herds dot the landscape with newborns following their mother’s paths. Baby goats and sheep frolic in the brisk air. And lots of baby chicks everywhere. When the bleak pictures of war get me down, a drive around this rural land reminds me of the rebirth of spring.

Small yellow chick living in the countryside.
The youngest of the chicks. Libby the farm dog keeping the older chicks corralled.

Hobby Farm Book Review

Book Cover-Hobby FarmHobby Farm-Living Your Rural Dream for Pleasure and Profit by Carol Ekarius is one of the most extensive “How-To” books I have found on rural agrarian living. This book is a library check-out. Somehow, I missed seeing this for almost twenty years. Yet, the information is impactful,  So much, I plan to buy a copy.

Rural Life

The city-to-farm exodus accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is evident in rural areas with rocketing home prices and a squeeze on housing availability. But life in the country is still a bargain. Many newcomers can benefit by the wisdom proffered by Ekarius. Because, outsiders need time to become insiders.

Ten chapters cover everything from agricultural history in the United States to developing business plans to worker safety. The approach is well thought out and the information flows logically. Hobby Farm stresses the different lifestyle found in rural living. So, for anyone truly interested in leaving traffic jams and shopping malls  behind, the book is a must read. Since life can be difficult away from the convenience of city living.

Crops and Critters

The heart of the book begins with a chapter combining farm safety and the troublemakers farmers face. Here, Ekarius stresses the importance of disaster preparedness.  For example, advanced planning is needed for fires, floods, blizzards and drought. And livestock operations make this critical. Barn animals cannot escape a fire on their own.

Farms and ranches face other threats. Raccoons can decimate a crop as well as a chicken coop. Coyotes target many types of livestock. The author utilizes a chart to identify the predators. And she presents the best ways to thwart attacks.

Personally, the most enjoyable chapters focused on gardening. Again, Ekarius includes helpful guides listing everything from companion planting to soil temperature for germination. Additionally, special topics receive highlighted sections. For example, information on seed saving is presented in this format.

Chapters on livestock receive similar treatment. Details from breeding to processing provide valuable information for the novice. Furthermore, Ekarius addresses the many government regulations involved in producing meat for consumption.

Hobby Farm Ultimate Guidebook

Small towns in rural areas are a microcosm of community living. Doctors, teachers and bankers live and work alongside farmers and ranchers. Many small farms are supplemented by the second earner both in income and health insurance. A hobby farm can be lucrative. But that is not always the case. Ekarius discusses the good and the bad.

The final chapter on agripreneurship is a winner. Marketing is a key component and is well presented. And the information on creating a business plan is thorough. Furthermore, the author offers up various types of agribusinesses and how to make each successful. An appendix of resources completes the book.

Recommendation

Hobby Farm is a fantastic resource. Carol Ekarius is knowledgeable and her writing is easy to understand. The subject material is vast. But not overwhelming. And the photos are beautiful. The book includes many charts. Also, the definitions are clear and helpful. Furthermore, recipes are an added bonus.

Anyone thinking of joining the city-to-farm movement will benefit from reading Hobby Farm. But, individuals who have never lived in a rural area are the target audience. Life hours away from a metropolitan area takes an adjustment in attitude. But, it can be done. I am living proof.

Guide Page giving info on livestock
Second half of livestock guide
Pages from Hobby Farm by Carol Ekarius depicting cattle on a sloped farm on one page and a fall mountain ladscape on the othet.
Fruits and Vegetable chart in Farm Hobby by Carol Ekarius
Full color photo of cabbage and beans from Hobby Farm by Carol Ekarius

Gearing Up for the Spring 2022 Garden

Spring 2022 starts in a few days. So even though I woke up to a single digit temperature I am making plans. Changes to the hardscape of the garden are a key component. But, I don’t intend to try many new crops this year. There were too many failures last year. Therefore, any additions plant wise will be extensions of successfully grown veggies.

New Fence

The great wind storm last winter took multiple sections of fence down. Since the cost of wood is sky high, we will try to salvage as much as possible. But we will convert to metal poles to anchor the fence sections. We still need to wait a few weeks for the ground to thaw.

The time to put a more permanent fence around the Big Garden is here. Unfortunately, inflation is rampant. So, I have decided the most economical method will involve T-posts and wind fence. I had thought of landscape pavestones, but the price has tripled since last spring. And I still need to find a suitable gate for the entry point. The wire one I cobbled together is just about worn out. Its current state is more of a danger than just about anything. Fence blown down by wind

New Asparagus Bed

I am very excited about adding a long narrow asparagus bed. Last year, the area for the bed was covered by some black landscape fabric and topped with grass clippings. This should give me a head start on eliminating weeds.

A rototiller will be used and then the bed will be enriched with compost and minerals to give the crowns a good start. I plan to put in two dozen new crowns. So, the bed will need to be thirty-six feet in length to space the plants eighteen inches apart.

My current bed is nearing twenty-five years. Production was off last year, so my actions are proactive. It takes three years at a minimum to establish a good bed of asparagus. This is my main planting task of the Spring 2022 garden.

Spring 2022 Starts

Spring 2022 starts of lettuces and pak choi
Spring starts under the grow lights.

Even though snow covers the ground outside, young starts have sprouted under the grow lights. Pak Choi and a variety of lettuces have a head start on the peanuts which are always slow to germinate. Once again the spinaches are also slow. I may need to change the soil type as the seed is new.

In an attempt to outsmart the flea beetles, I am only planting the larger brassicas in late July for a fall crop. However, potatoes will go in the ground sometime next week. I am going to try to start my own sweet potato slips, but will order a few just as a back-up.

Saving seeds and tubers for the following year works best with heirloom varieties. Other seeds will germinate, but the produce may turn into an interesting shape, if it even germinates and gives output. If any of the garlic planted last fall survived the wind, I will immediately re-plant a few as I know my harvest this spring 2022 will be poor.

Spring Notes

My calendar notes from 2021 have aided my planning for 2022. Weather patterns change but other observations can help. For example, last year was an early end frost date. April 13th was the last freeze. So plants went in early, but some still were leggy before planting. So, I am delaying the start of the tomatoes since it would be very unusual not to have a freeze in May two years in a row.

Spring is a season of renewal. I plan to offset the heartbreaking photos of war in Ukraine with flowers as well as veggies. Vibrant blooms always lift my spirit. Intercropping the flowers with the vegetables will attract pollinators. So, my soul will feast on flowers while we grow plenty of food for our summer table. I encourage everyone to plant a garden this year.

 

Spring 2022 notes aided by earlier year planners

You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here Book Review

First Time Author

Frances Macken’s debut novel You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is a coming of age story. And a bit more. Friendships, families and a mysterious disappearance pull the reader along.

The novel begins and ends in Glenbuff, Ireland. Sandwiched in between this rural setting is an important stint in Dublin for the main character, Katie. But is that all there is to the world?

Protagonist

Complex, altering between secure and insecure, mature and immature, loyal and disloyal best describes Katie. Her tight knit group of friends extends to two cousins, Evelyn and Maeve. One rich and one poor. And a pair of brothers. On the fringes is the girl gone missing.

Katie makes new friends and acquaintances in Dublin as she completes school and starts out in life. Or at least she tries to make a go of things.

Family is also a key component of Katie’s life. Parents and a younger brother influence her decision-making. Sometimes, they make the decision for her as they prod her through life. Letting go is a hard part of parenting.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the author’s character development is the accuracy of how people interrelate. Macken involves the reader as if a bystander. Present but unable to interfere. Just watching as Katie develops into an independent thinker.

You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

The title alludes to the rural life of Glenbuff. Furthermore, the idea transfers across boundaries and borders. Cities come complete with their attractions in place for discovery, but the rural areas of the world rely on imagination. Another level exists besides physical location. Growth and maturity are not guarantees. Perhaps this is easier to see in a small town.

Frances Macken wrote You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here in first person. As an American, I struggled at first with the dialogue. Yet Macken’s writing is so profound the extra effort is well worth it. Katie’s inner struggles are so relatable, and so meaningful.

I highly recommend this debut novel. Hopefully Macken is working on her next release. This book is a winner and book clubs, classrooms and bedside tables are all better with a copy from this new author.

International Women’s Day 2022

History

Research into the origins of International Women’s Day indicates the recognition began in 1911. Yes, over one hundred years ago. Key countries involved include Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The day of recognition was first tied to the suffrage movement. Now, gender equity and equal pay are key components.

A Difficult Achievement

Equity should be straight forward. But it isn’t. This concept of fairness is difficult because inherently life itself is not fair. Just by being born in Country A instead of Country B gives one an advantage. But the gap can be closed to a certain extent, if conditions allow. Unfortunately, differing cultures preclude the elimination of gender equality. A specific example would be Afghanistan. 2021 saw the return of rule by the Taliban and subsequently a reduction in rights for females.

Starting with equal pay for equal job duties may be a goal in countries where women are respected. But in the case of countries where women are not even allowed an education, striving for equal pay is meaningless. And to be honest, I have no ideas on how to change a culture of such a country. It must come from within, not imposed upon by outside forces.

Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility may seem a strange topic to discuss as part of International Women’s Day. But I think it is a key component. Respect for women begins on an individual level. Both by men and women, particularly by the former. And unfortunately, a woman can be another woman’s barrier with regards to career movement. This absolutely needs to stop.

Equality is not an exact measurement. Partnerships (including marriages) work best when the partners are on equal footing. This does not mean identical input. Instead, gender equality relies on a recognition of the important contributions of women and girls. Their empowerment is vital to sustainability. Respect for women’s inputs and outputs is necessary on key issues today. Such issues as climate vitality, education, corruption and violence need women’s voices.

International Women’s Day 2022

Continued gains in gender equality will take more than a single day. However the importance of International Women’s Day is not insignificant. The celebration serves as a reminder. Women deserve respect. And equal opportunities.

The recognition on March 8th, 2022 is symbolic. And meaningful. Worldwide, we have yet to reach the day when a child’s birth is celebrated the same regardless of gender. Furthermore, we still classify careers as traditional for women. Or categorize them as non-traditional. Gender equality is attainable, but there is still work to be down. So, remember to recognize the important women in your life today.

Reflections on a Life In Exile Book Review

A series of short essays comprises Reflections on a Life in Exile by J.F. Riordan. Somewhat chronological in nature, the writing reflects brief moments in time over the span of a few years. The excerpts are eclectic. The topics are wide-ranging. Perhaps that explains the book’s initial appeal.

Everyday Life

The author attributes much of the musings to various posts on her blog, one I hope to find. Her dogs are a key feature. But the topics vary from the arts to thoughts on procrastination. Former students also appear. Indeed anyone with an impact on her life.

Another focus is the rural land she turns to when seeking a self-exile. A reprieve from hectic life. Washington Island is part of Door County, Wisconsin. But one must take a ferry to access this outpost. Door County is famous for cherries, many summer tourists and of course location. The waters of Lake Michigan are in every direction.

Reflections of a Life in Exile- Death and Dying

Riordan also examines the emotions surrounding death and dying. Both of beloved pets and parents. Even though the reader is enveloped in the sadness, there is kinship. And happy memories. Life and lives are examined. The past is cherished. Loss is acknowledged.

Discovery of J.F. Riordan

I owe my discovery of J.F. Riordan to Twitter. While others may seek argument on that platform, I seek grass roots information and upbeat posters. One such person, @stan_sdcollins posts exquisite photos of his corner of the world daily. At some point this winter he recommended Riordan’s work. I took note and ordered Reflections on a Life in Exile from Barnes and Noble.

Other connections to the author include a mutual appreciation of rural places and shared dislike of Daylight Savings Time. Many small towns on the High Plains reflect the population of Washington Island. The hundreds of humans outnumbered by thousands of four-legged and winged creatures.

Riordan’s comments on Daylight Savings Time mirrored my own feelings thus cementing a connection to the writing. And the author. Perhaps the past two years of the pandemic have made me more philosophical. I still read for fun, but I am also quite moved by writers such as Riordan. Her essays struck a chord. The writing is melodic and rich even as she discusses everyday life.

Recommendation

North of the Tension Line is a fictional series also written by J.F. Riordan.  If the essays are any indication of style, the novels should engage the reader every bit as much as her non-fiction work. I intend to find out and I will let you know! Reflections of a Life in Exile is a highly recommended addition to the home library.

Reflections of a Life in Exile Book Cover depicting a road meandering through a forest of trees in full fall color

February 2022 Wrap-Up

Short Month

The shortest month of the year often gets away from me and February 2022 is no exception. Quilting was the focus for much of the month. But I read quite a few books were as well.

The super cool air has kept me from starting seeds. Many nights the temperature dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit. A check on the ground indicates a freeze point just a few inches below the surface. So, I will wait another week before starting seeds.

Political events on the international level are the center of attention. Since I only watched one night of the Olympics,  most memories of a united world competition were wiped out. Instead, the tensions abroad are on stage. How quickly events can change one’s thoughts!

February 2022 in the Hobby Room

February 2022 featured hours in the hobby room. Because, hand quilting takes a considerable amount of time. If I owned a long arm machine, projects would be completed much faster. But, I do enjoy the hand quilting in small spurts.

The queen size quilt just completed took a lot of small spurts. Since this is a wedding present, I spent much care. The lines of quilting are in long rows. Furthermore, the binding is included in the backing. quilt showing backing, binding and topI think it will be treasured forever.

A crib quilt is now layered and the stitching will commence. I created the pattern myself and love how the colors blend together. Since the youngster has an engineer and an architect for parents, the trig calculations on the white background will be appreciated.

The fabric prints shift along the diagonal.  First, the upper half is baby-themed. Then the quilt transitions to teenage themed. Thus extending the use of the quilt. However, as the little one grows, it will most likely transition to a lap quilt.

Finally, the third quilt has the borders pieced. Now I need to calculate the length and width measurements required of the panel center. A seam allowance must be taken into account. Another key factor is which of the borders I attach first, sides or top and bottom.

Busy Reading Month

February 2022 provided plenty of time for reading as the weather was typical-cold. I am still trying to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. The Angry Earth became a DNF (Did Not Finish) as the length overcame my attention span. The work is well written and I took away quite a bit from the sections I did read.

I very much enjoyed both fictional novels finished this month. Janet Evanovich is a favorite and I enjoyed new to me author Kate Atkinson. Both authors will remain on my radar.

War

War Rattles over NATO Inclusion did not receive much attention when first published on February 12, 2022. I can understand the lack of “likes” as war is not something to promote. But I was surprised at how few people read the post. Perhaps world interest lags mine.

Unfortunately, the war rattles are now front and center on all news outlets. Furthermore, the topic is now critical. My hope is that a global war is avoided.

There are many novels covering clashes of political ideals. Two authors in this genre I have reviewed are Helen MacInnes and David Baldacci. Both worth reading. In a world of gray, good versus evil does exist. The conflict in real life is daunting. Now all eyes are glued to Russia and the Ukraine.

Queen size quilt in browns, cream and blue
Queen size quilt, hand quilted
Baby's quilt in reds, blues, golds, and whites
Farm animal panel quilt with border of yellows and purples

Life After Life Book Review

Life After Life book cover with a reflective image of a red roseLife After Life by Kate Atkinson was another Christmas gift. The lengthy novel was published in 2013. Somehow, I missed the debut. But the book is historical and thus timeless, in more ways than one.

Inventive Style

The author was creative in the writing approach. The opening has quite a hook. An assassination attempt on Hitler in 1930. Then the story reverts to 1910 and the first birth of the protagonist, Ursula. You read that correctly- first birth. Yet the book is not quite one of reincarnation. More like having multiple do-overs. For the most part, the repeats work.

A Different Look at WWII

Even though the book incorporates both World Wars, the focus is on the second. By giving Ursula do-over lives, the author presents life in both England and Germany. The bombing raids are quite graphic, especially in England as Ursula “lives” as a rescue squad member for a period of time.

Ursula- Protagonist

Ursula Todd is born multiple times throughout the book. Her memory is special. Moments of Deja vu are the key element of the book. When something terrible happens, death later occurs so that she can “fix” things next time through. But the fixes need fixing. And the author does not hold back in the descriptions of tragedy and tragic lives.

As the novel progresses, Ursula becomes a stronger person. The character is well-developed. Yet some of the tangents are hard to follow. Not emotionally hard, just confusing. Others knock your breath away because of the emotions.

Brutality of War

The secondary theme is the brutality of war. Death is not the only abhorrent outcome. Physical damage to humans and structures are not always repairable. Emotional damage is an even bigger problem. Atkinson does an outstanding job of conveying the horrors. Those who welcome war are truly heinous in nature.

Life After Life Ending

The author does end the story happily. Although there is a hint of repetition, or continuation after the reunion. A ploy to keep the reader wondering.

Life After Life is very complex. The characters do grow through the various reiterations. The ending is satisfactory. But almost a letdown and I am not sure why. Perhaps, I wanted more details of how life continued in the final chapter. For after five hundred pages, I was quite attached to the Todd family.

Century of Life

A century of life. One hundred years spanning from 1922-2022. Independent to the end. Unusual, but very real. The time line is overcrowded. So much happens in a lifetime. Both for the world and the individual.

1922- Start of the Century of Life

Each year has key events. 1922 had several. A detailed month-by-month list can be found on Historic Newspapers which can be accessed by clicking here. Political upheaval topped the events. Fascism was rampant in Europe. Although Hitler did not attain power that year, he was shortly jailed and was flexing his muscles. Benito Mussolini did become the Italian dictator in 1922.

Of other key political events, the most notable was the formation of the U.S.S.R. in December of the year. Other incidents of unrest included the Irish Civil War and the Rand Rebellion. So even though World War I had just concluded, peace was not present throughout the world.

Women’s Rights

1922 also marked the U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing the validity of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. The suffrage movement continued across the globe. Women were experiencing many firsts. Most notable was Rebecca Felton of Georgia, first United States Senator. Across many fields of study and occupations, women were beginning to be recognized for their work.

Friend and Fellow Zontian

Friendships are hard to explain. Often they revolve around shared interests. In this case, the shared interest was the work of Zonta International. A group I have discussed before. I have been a member almost thirty years, my friend for over sixty. Only a special cause spurs this type of loyalty. Empowering women is such an ideal.

Century of Life for Beverly

Beverly was born in 1922. She grew up in Michigan, graduated from Northwestern University and took a long train ride west to begin the rest of her long productive life.

During her first years on the High Plains, she worked in her field of study for a large hotel/restaurant. Then she jumped ship and started a business of her own.

This wonderful women, sole-proprietor of a small clothing shop in a small town was a living example of work ethic. She maintained both her home and store right up to her death. And she showed up to meetings and events continuously. Just a few weeks prior to her death she attended a Chamber of Commerce dinner where she was pleased to witness a fellow Zontian win the Chamber Person of the Year.

Beverly was an active member of Zonta International. My friend served on all levels from the local club to the International level. I have much respect for her work. And her humility. She often commented that her only merit was her longevity. Fortunately, this was not the case.

Community Recognition

Movie Marquee with Birth and Death Date 1922-2022 a century of lifeIn the United States, communities recognize outstanding citizens in a variety of ways. People of the Year awards, newspaper articles, movie marquees and often the last if not the least is eulogies. At Beverly’s funeral a review of her life was definitely part. But the best of the service were the poems read by her great-granddaughters: I Am Standing by the Seashore and The Dash.

Both poems reflected the century of life lived by the Christian. Faith and good works. A life well-lived. Rest in Peace Beverly. 1922-2022.

War Rattles over NATO Inclusion

Ukraine: Focus of War Rattles

Saber rattles are a thing of the past as war rattles now take other forms. Yes, troops are amassing along the border of Ukraine. Russian troops. As of now the outcome is uncertain. Perhaps war games as military training is now called. This is the claim of Russia. Another possibility is an invasion. And the instigator? A desire to add Ukraine to NATO.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed after World War II with twelve countries, most of which were in Europe. The European countries were a primary battleground during the Second World War. It is easy to understand a desire for a joint force given the history.

NATO provides an agreement among countries to join forces in cases of aggression from outside agents as was the case during World War II. Member nations have been added through the years and now thirty countries are protected by the pact.

Former President Trump disliked NATO. But I think his reasoning stemmed from an economic point not a philosophical one. The United States of America spends great amounts of money on the military budget. NATO expenditures approximated 3.7% of the defense budget or about $811,000,000,000 in 2021. This amount is double what all the other countries chip in. So, in essence, the American people, through their tax dollars are acting as policeman to the world. A debate for another time.

Why is Russia Concerned?

Since 1999, fourteen countries have joined NATO. The majority were once under the control or actually part of the former U.S.S.R. Thus, Russia perceives a threat as a United States backed security force edges closer to their border.

Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia has drawn a Red Line in the Sand with regards to Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Belarus border Russia. Foreign troops in these two countries are seen as a threat.

Putin has been the leader of Russia since the beginning of this century and he created a law in 2021 allowing him to continue until 2036. Such control defies the description of a democracy. Thus, it is easy to understand why war rattles are on the horizon.

Will NATO Intervene?

Ukraine is not a member of NATO. So there is no defense agreement in place. Without a commitment, there are no grounds for force. But wars do not need a reason. Unfortunately.

War Rattles

Are we looking at a traditional war? Perhaps. Troops are massing at borders. Military equipment is being stockpiled. But, I expect a different type of war may be upon us. Economic sanctions have been utilized for decades and most likely will play a part in this altercation.

So, how will Russia respond? “Sabre rattling” may play a part. But human capital is precious. Cyber- attacks could certainly come into play. Computer hacks can and do interrupt commerce and offer a response to sanctions. Putin is a skilled former KGB intelligence officer. Not someone to be underestimated. So just one question remains. Will there be a rattle of war or the tranquility of peace?

Game On Book Review

New Stephanie Plum

Game On is the latest in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. The fun read brings back Diesel, a character introduced a few years ago and then spun off into the Lizzy and Diesel series. A contemporary problem, hacking, is the catalyst for the usual murder and mayhem. However, Game On is not just the same.

Freshness in a series that dates across decades can be elusive. Evanovich accomplishes the task with Game On. However, identifying the source of the novelty eludes me. Perhaps tighter editing? Maybe a change of focus for the lead character? The result is satisfying.

Protagonist in Game On

Stephanie Plum is the lead character in Game On. For readers unfamiliar with this comedic series, Plum is a bounty hunter with extraordinary luck in capturing elusive quarry. And the luck? Mostly bad. So she has a bevy of support characters. The regular cast ranges from sexy to spasmodic. Plum’s luck in Game On has a twist.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the book, is the return to character development. The protagonist shows growth lacking since the novels in the mid-teens were released. A much needed change.

Game On Story Line

The plot of Game On centers on the competition between Stephanie Plum and Diesel (Just Diesel) to capture the elusive Oswald Wednesday, hacker extraordinaire. But Wednesday’s evil deeds don’t end at hacking. Thwarted by amateurs, the villain of the story begins to knock off his victims one-by-one.

Plum and Diesel work together to keep two young hackers alive. Melvin and Charlotte portray nerdy IT geeks, only interested in computers and each other. Thus, they are no match for a supervillain intent on crashing the International Space Station. The nerds need saving and Stephanie and her co-horts are ready to rescue.

Entertainment

The Plum series is pure entertainment. Zany characters and unbelievable situations keep readers chuckling. One can only take so much strife. Game On balances out a library containing tomes on climate change, social behavior and the like.

An added benefit to reading an Evanovich release is the good natured humor sprinkled throughout. The light-hearted novel provides a needed escape for a few hours. Then the reader can return to reality with a game on approach.

January 2022 Wrap-Up

Start of a New Year

The time for the January 2022 Wrap-Up is here. It always amazes me how fast the first wrap-up arrives. We are already finished with eight percent of the year. Here on the High Plains the weather has run the gamut from high winds to gentle snow with a few gorgeous almost spring-like days thrown in.

January is a time for planning the upcoming garden, quilting and reading. Especially on the dreary days. Wonderful walks and some travel accompanied the pleasant days. In between we gathered in small groups of family. Perhaps the larger gatherings can resume in the summer.

January 2022 In the Library

Quite a bit of reading took place this month. Non-fiction led the way, although not all have made it to this forum. There were two fiction reviews, a cozy mystery featuring Mac ‘n’ Ivy and a hard to categorize selection in Piranesi.

Since the alternating of fiction and non-fiction works well, I plan to continue in this way. Perhaps, I became bogged down last year with too many similar books. Finding the balance is key. Reading is both relaxing and inspiring. Although, sometimes not at the same time.

January 2022 In the Garden

High winds created havoc in the garden. A row of garlic was blown out even though heavily mulched. Fence and fence posts were sheered and netting and supports shredded. Repairs are planned. But may not be completed until March. The ground is too frozen in shady areas.

Seeds are mostly purchased. Early starts will be made indoors in February. Since the destruction of the garden hardscape was great, I am also toying with ideas for more permanent structures. I will be certain to share.

Projects and Hobbies

Chandelier refinished with gold paint on the frame and the lampshades remain a frosted white.Currently the main focus of my quilting has been the hand stitching of a large bed quilt. But I also made some changes to home décor. Kitchen lights have arrived and are waiting to be installed. But an agreement can’t be made with regard to the entryway. One household member prefers a dungeon look of iron and wood while the other more of a Broadway theatre look with gold and crystal. Thus a compromise was struck and the current light fixture stays for now; with a paint job!

Needs and Wants

The light fixtures are key representatives of the needs versus wants dilemma. In this time of rapidly rising costs, we all need to be cognizant of expenditures. The kitchen lights had become faulty. New bulbs short out. But the entryway fixture works well. So, no need to replace.

Tracking expenditures should be basic economics. Budgeting needs to focus on current needs. Wants are fun to have items that we can do without. I think 2022 will be a year to focus on needs, not on our wants.

The wrap-up of the Inflation Check Challenge points out the importance of separating needs from wants. While we are most likely avoiding hyperinflation, significant inflation is on tap for 2022. Only a perfect storm will lead to the former. A storm we do not want. So, I for one will be quite careful with my budget in 2022. Purchases and investments will still occur. But only after much due diligence.

Talking to Strangers Book Review

Communication Insight

Talking to Strangers was authored by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is the most thought provoking of the several I have read from the author. It is not a self-help manual as the title might imply. Instead, Talking to Strangers takes a hard look at the many communication failures of recent times.

The subject matter is intense. Rape, murder, pedophilia and suicides join terrorism, con men and unsuspected spies as the focus of this look at miscommunication. Quite a few of the stories will leave the reader unsettled. And many if not all the stories will be familiar. Thus, these are the stories behind the headlines.The book cover of Talking to Strangers

Malcolm Gladwell Tackles Tough Issues

For those of you unfamiliar with Gladwell, he has quite an interesting writing style. At times the writing feels disjointed because it is not chronological. He circles back again and again. In the end, his points are valid. And very, very potent.

Gladwell begins and ends Talking to Strangers with the arrest and subsequent suicide of Sandra Bland. A case I had almost forgotten about. Bland was a young African-American hassled in a rural Texas setting by a dogged Hispanic police officer. An unfortunate occurrence which led to Bland’s death and Officer Encinia’s termination of employment. But unfortunate is too benign. For, Bland’s death, like many others was an absolute tragedy that should not have happened. Gladwell provides the background that leads not only to this particular incident, but a better awareness of the causation of conflicts from Ferguson to George Floyd.

Communication

The above case is just one of many examples of the lack of communication found throughout life. Key points are given from failure to recognize a spy to spotting a pedophile. All stem on the theory that people expect the best and reject the worst.

Gladwell posits that society is better operating in this fashion and that in contrast, assuming the worst of people contributes to situations like the Texas traffic stop of Bland. But, it also creates opportunity for the Sandusky’s of the world. So, a Catch-22.

Talking to Strangers and Local Customs

The most salient part of Talking to Strangers in my opinion was the focus on cultural differences. This came up with both the Amanda Knox case and the fraternity rape case. One involved mismatched behavior expectations due to cultural differences between countries. The other accentuates how the United States differs greatly in the approach to alcoholic consumption.

Gladwell devotes a chapter to each of these examples. The former is not surprising to anyone having travelled internationally. However, the latter was quite interesting and ties somewhat into the post on Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events.

The author carefully contrasts the drinking patterns of The Camba of rural Bolivia to that of American college students. In this comparison, information on the rapidity of alcohol consumption and the impact on the brain is included. Fascinating facts that I was unaware of.

The conclusions drawn in both cases are on target. It is difficult if not impossible to interpret the meanings of strangers. Insight becomes blocked in both the case of cultural differences and brain impairment. Thus challenges remain. And questions. Should the onus be put on travelers? Possibly. On binge drinking? Absolutely, yet the drinking is a cultural phenomenon. In America, we do not look at the science behind the problem.

Econogal’s Recommendation

Talking to Strangers is an important book to read. The author gives good insight into some of the mistakes being made. Both from assuming everyone is good as well as mistakes made when there is a universal approach to believing everyone is a danger.

However, certain groups may need to take a pass. Any victim of pedophilia or rape and anyone at risk of suicide would certainly have trouble reading the details. Furthermore, the same holds true for close family members of victims.

On the other hand, quite a bit of understanding can be gained by reading through the traffic stop sections. So, those not understanding what is happening between police and minorities in the United States, Talking to Strangers points out where communication fails. This is critical if we hope to move forward. And we do need to move forward.

So naturally I highly recommend Talking to Strangers.