Month: December 2017

Two Days Out Book Review

Randall Silvis, author of Two Days Out, cannot be pigeon-holed into one genre. I have never read any of his previous works but found quite a bit of information on the web. His first public successes occurred in the 1980’s and Silvis categorized his first book as one of magic realism. Although Two Days Out does not contain any “chase scenes” I believe an adaptation could translate well onto the big screen.

The vocabulary present in the novel made me reach for a dictionary. Spume-strewn, susurrus, sibilance appear in the first chapter and I needed definitions for each. In this way, Silvis reminded me of Faulkner. He is an author with a literary bent.

Ryan DeMarco

Two Days Out is a psychological thriller introducing State Trooper Ryan DeMarco to the literary world. His personal past is tragic. An only son killed in a car accident twelve years past, and neither he nor his estranged wife can get past the incident.

Thus, DeMarco’s role in Two Days Out contains conflict. He is the lead investigator in the crime of a family murdered and a missing husband. Thomas Huston, a college professor and best-selling author is the man on the run. More complexities arise from the relationship between the two men. DeMarco has a hard time reconciling his knowledge of Huston’s personality with a man able to kill his entire family. He not only wants to find Huston, but he also wants to discover the trigger which caused the man to snap.

Thomas Huston

Thomas Huston also struggles to align his flashbacks of the murders and the man he is. The reader is compelled as much by the psychological struggle within Huston as with the plot. Silvis’ conveys the moral tussles of his prey in a manner which creates both sympathy and disbelief. Secondary characters paint a picture of Huston incongruous to the events. The twist and turns of the plot add further intrigue.

The Trigger

As the plot unfolds, Silvis directly involves the reader in the age-old literary theme of good vs. evil. The causal event is one that divides our nation. An act which always brings into question right from wrong and in the case of Two Days Out is the tipping point. The trigger event allows the reader to see the story-line as realistic. Furthermore, the writer advances a higher level of thought which compels each individual to reflect on morality.

I highly recommend Two Days Out for mature readers. There are a few scenes unsuitable for individuals in their early to mid-teens unless there is parent oversight. The description of the victims is disturbing. However, this novel addresses dilemmas which hopefully few will face. The story is compelling and worthwhile.

Zija Chocolate Protein Bites

Mixing bowl and Ingredients for Zija Protein BitesNow that the holidays are almost over, it is time to cut back on the sugar intake. However, this can be difficult since sugar can be addicting. So, I am replacing some of the Christmas goodies with a healthy snack, Zija Chocolate Protein Bites. The recipe is quite easy and I even had a millennial taste tester give it the okay.


Moringa is the basis for Zija. The only place I have seen Moringa in the grocery store was on the Big Island of Hawaii. I have seen pictures of Moringa plants growing in California. Five times a week I use the Zija protein powder in my smoothies at lunch. Each of the bags last us about 3 months since we only use a scoop in the smoothies. I really like this new recipe for Zija Chocolate Protein Bites. But I don’t think I will go through a batch everyday so I don’t think I will use up the Zija Dutch Chocolate protein powder at a faster rate than the Zija Vanilla Bean which we use in our smoothies.

If you are interested in trying this recipe and have not tried any Zija products, there is a link on the side bar or you can click here. This is one of the few companies I will promote through this site. As I have stated before in my About this Blog, I will not run pop-up advertisements on this site, nor like some sites will I ask for money. But if I really like a product I will allow unobtrusive ads or highlight them in a blog post. Since I am a Zija distributor, if you order through this site I will receive compensation.


Mixing bowl, wax paper, plastic cooking gloves


1 cup Zija XM Protein Powder-Dutch Chocolate flavor

1 cup almond butter

1 Tablespoon peanut butter (optional)

¼ cup honey


Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with gloved hands. Roll mixture into a 16 inch log which is approximately 1 inch wide. Place in freezer. You can cut them after 30 minutes. My slices were just under a half an inch thick. A rough calculation of calories is about 50 per bite. So like candy you want to be judicious. However, unlike candy, these calories are not empty.


As you can see in the pictures, at certain stages of production the Zija Protein Bites may not look appetizing. I suggest you serve these the first time on a plate after they have been sliced. Once tasted, people will not be put off by the look.


Candy Cane Cheesecake Recipe

Two finished candy cane cheesecakesCandy Cane Cheesecake

One of my favorite dessert recipes to make during the holidays is a candy cane cheesecake. I adapted the recipe from a 1988 edition of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook put out by Kraft, Inc. Their cheesecake was relatively easy to make, but I cut corners and made it even easier. This is a great recipe to make ahead but as long as you have a few hours to chill it, this can be a last minute dessert recipe as well.


2 Keebler Chocolate Cookie Pie Crusts
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
2 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
4 large or 12 small candy canes crushed
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 regular size Hershey chocolate bars finely chopped

Ingredients to make candy cane cheesecake


Stir gelatin into water over low heat until completely dissolved. At medium speed, combine sugar and cream cheese until smooth and well blended. Gradually add gelatin, milk and crushed candy canes mix until blended-will have chunks of candy. Pour into medium bowl and chill briefly but do not let set.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Gently stir into cream cheese mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate. Divide between the two chocolate cookie pie crusts. Chill until serving.


Place unwrapped large candy canes or still wrapped small candy canes inside a plastic baggie. Use a rolling pin to crush the candy canes.

If making at the last moment, place candy cane cheesecakes into the freezer until ready to serve. The cheesecakes keep well in the freezer if you want to make ahead as well. I would suggest keeping in the refrigerator no longer than a week, but mine never last that long. This is a treat that many ask for the recipe and it really is quite simple to make. But I try not think about the calories.

Rolling pin to crush candy canes

The Noel Diary Book Review

Jacob Christian Churcher

One of the best things about reading books for the Friday book reviews is discovering writers new to me. Richard Paul Evans fits this description. The Noel Diary is his latest Christmas novel. Apparently, he is well-known for setting stories at Christmas time. He also manages to release those books in time to place under the tree.

The lead character in The Noel Diary is novelist J. Churcher. The J stands for Jacob. Actually his full name is Jacob Christian (JC) Churcher and thus you have the first of many layers in the story.

Churcher comes from a home broken in many ways. The breakdown occurs after a family tragedy. This background provides the basis for the theme of the book. Families unable to cope with the hardships life throws at them. Fortunately for Churcher, he found support from outside sources, hence his success.

The thrust of the story is about forgiveness and grace and reconciliation. After learning of the death of his estranged mother, Jacob returns to Salt Lake City to settle the estate and clean out the house he spent his first sixteen years in. An old neighbor, Elyse, reaches out to him and guides him in the direction of grace.

The Noel Diary

But the story is also a romance. Churcher’s character even explains the difference between romance and love stories. Jacob falls in love with Rachel, an adoptee looking for her birth mother. Her only clue was that her mother lived with the Churcher family prior to giving birth. They find a diary written by Noel while cleaning out the house.

The diary helps Jacob vaguely remember Noel. But he was only four when all the events took place. In order to find answer’s for Rachel, Jacob attempts to reconcile with his father.

Reconciliation can be difficult. However, the Christmas season is the perfect time for this. Forgiveness and grace are key ingredients in a successful reconciliation. Honesty with one’s own faults is also an important ingredient.

I concluded from looking at Richard Paul Evans’ website’ website that he is a prolific writer. My belief is his success stems from the ability to write entertaining stories while sharing the important keys of humanity. The Noel Diary is both a romance and a love story, but it is so much more. Evans uses many parallels and allegories in his writing. My interpretation of the story is one of love regardless of past mistakes. Forgiveness is the key to finding grace.Book Noel Diary with nativity as backdrop

Last 2017 Harvest

Last 2017 Harvest

Technically December 20th is considered fall. Today’s 60 degree temperature reflects that. But winter is literally just around the corner both on the calendar and the forecast. Since tomorrow’s daytime high will be in the 30’s followed by single digits and colder days, I decided today would be the last 2017 harvest.

As you can see in the photos, not much is left for the last 2017 harvest. In fact, the big crop of the day is the just over one pound of carrots. I should be able to make several dishes with that particular harvest.

On the other hand, the beet greens probably outweigh the roots. Fortunately we like eating the greens as well as the beet. The same small yield can be seen in the spinach and the few remaining green onions. Those will make a great egg white frittata for tonight’s supper.

Another part of the last 2017 harvest is more a matter of convenience. Since the weather is going to abruptly turn nasty, I collected some rosemary and sage to use in my Christmas dinner. Both are in protected areas of the garden, so the herb harvest could have waited. However, I prefer working in sixty degree weather versus twenty degrees and a strong north wind.

Zone 5

I live in Zone 5 and twenty years ago the last harvest would not take place in December. Part of the extension of the growing season arises from learning which plants can survive at below freezing temperatures. More research is needed on my part in order to have a year round harvest in this zone. Additionally, I will probably need to invest in cold frames or even a small greenhouse.

Until then, I am very happy to have the last 2017 harvest fall in late December. Since I usually have the earliest of crops ready by late March, fresh produce from my garden occurs almost ten months a year. Not bad for Zone 5.


Ten Holiday De-Stressors

  1. Keep the commitments to a minimum.

This can be difficult especially if you are very involved in your community or if you still have kids at home. I remember the days when some event occurred each day in December. I don’t miss those days. Choir and band concerts, holiday ball tournaments and grade school plays are added stressors during the holiday season. Some events are required for a grade so they can’t be skipped. Thus, if you are at this stage you may need to be a bit anti-social and turn down that cookie exchange. I know I missed a few of the kids’ events. Try not to feel guilty and remember they sing, dance or shoot hoops because they want to– not for you.

  1. Don’t overeat or over drink.

Holiday parties play havoc with eating habits. Sugar and salt are staples of holiday fare. If you like veggies, load up on those. Don’t starve yourself all day, you might end up eating twice as much. Small meals are key. My husband and I try splitting the sweets if we can’t resist them all together. Half a cookie will yield half the calories. If I am on my own, I try a small bite of dessert and if it isn’t out of this world, I push it away.

If you imbibe, do so in moderation. Be wary of any spiked Christmas punch and of course don’t drink and drive. I am still waiting for Uber to come to towns smaller than 10,000 people.

3. Exercise

Stick to your normal exercise routine. You don’t want to risk an injury by kicking things up a notch to counter the extra calories. But, don’t skip a session because you need to get to a party. If you don’t exercise, see your doctor and start a New Year’s Resolution early.

  1. Stick to a budget.

This can be tough. I am not as stingy at Christmas as I am at Easter. (My kids received a book, a stuffed animal and a chocolate bunny each Easter.) But, I try not to overdo the gifts at Christmas. If you are not a tightwad, a good way to make sure you don’t go into debt at Christmas time is to join a bank holiday club. Each week for a year you make a deposit and then in late November, (at least at my bank) the money is dispersed. Of course you need to pay cash and not charge or the stressors will show up in January.

Another way to stay within budget is to make Christmas presents. Some of my family members love receiving Econogal’s Homemade Granola as a gift. Quilts and paintings are good gifts in addition to baked and canned goods.

  1. Spend time with friends not fr-enemies.

Negative people tend to become more negative around the holidays. Early last week I let a negative comment damper my day. I am sure the person didn’t even realize how negative they sounded. Fortunately, my spirits were lifted by some beautiful Christmas hymns later that day. If someone tries to ruin your holiday, run as fast as you can in another direction. Take in a holiday concert or watch a holiday movie. Two of my favorites are White Christmas and Die Hard 2. Yes, very diverse but I love them both.

  1. Reflect on the reason for the season.

This should probably be first, but in life, sometimes the reason for the season gets put on the back burner. I love the Advent season. It is a season of hope and love. Attend a religious service of your choosing to remember and reflect upon the holiday.

  1. Keep expectations realistic.

I can fail at this. I always want everything to go perfectly and life isn’t perfect. On several occasions we have had to alter Christmas plans under stressful circumstances. The toughest time was an unexpected death in the family in the days leading up to Christmas. This situation is the biggest of the stressors and happens for someone each year. My advice is to wrap yourself in family as much as possible and don’t add to the stress if at all possible. Just go with the flow. Sometimes Santa can leave a present under the tree that is not yet put together. This would be far better than trying to assemble through grief. I have failed at this.

Another potentially stressful Christmas occurred because a car plowed through our business on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, the occupants were not badly hurt. We ended up skipping out on the family that year which made some mad, but it really ended up for the best. The kids loved sledding in the park and we cobbled up a home dinner at the last-minute. This was much better than driving on very little sleep. Reduce or eliminate stressors in response to the unexpected.

  1. Try to keep regular sleeping habits.

For those of you fortunate not to have insomnia, this is for you. Holiday parties and events take us out of our normal routine. I have read that routine is key for sleeping though the night. If you normally turn in at 9:00 p.m., make sure you leave the party early. Events, especially involving kids, are a bit harder to sneak out on. In this case, make sure you wake up at the normal time instead of catching some extra sleep.

  1. Do something for someone not expected.

This is my favorite thing to do. I experience great joy in helping others. Last week, I put together a care package for some of the individuals impacted by the California fires. My husband had already sent a check but I like the tangible act of sending and/or doing. So, I visited the local feed and tack store and bought a variety of needed items. The package was sent anonymously. I am sure it is just one of many. This is one of the greatest things about this country. The willingness to help others.

  1. Treat yourself to your favorite relaxer.

December can be full of stressors. Each individual has their own way of relaxing. For some, it may be running a quick 5 or 10K. Others enjoy window shopping. I de-stress by taking a hot bath with a candle burning and a glass of wine. Find what works for you and relax.


To Our Children’s Children- Book Review

Many years ago my cousins gave me To Our Children’s Children : Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come and its companion, To Our Children’s Children: Journal of Family Memories. These two books by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford make a great Christmas gift. Their concept is to create a personal family history in writing to hand down to future generations.

I like the two-book format. Because a journal with prompts and plenty of recording space ensures history is actually recorded. But if funds are tight you could get by with just To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come.

Greene And Fulford

The authors emphasize the importance of not making the compilation a dreaded task. In fact, they look at the myriad of questions as a menu. Thus, 0ne selects as many or few of the prompts as one wishes to answer. Some may not even be applicable to your family.

Greene and Fulford cover all the bases. The key to writing a family history is to gather the facts first. This includes recording dates of marriages, births, and deaths. Then, flush out the basic facts with details of what family ancestry you can remember and record.

To Our Children’s Children: Recording Life

The next step is to record your life and that of your spouse. Hopefully, this will be an easier part for most. Here you are sharing your actual experience. Historical research is not needed. Yet, this is an important part of the process presented in To Our Children’s Children.

The final chapter from the authors is titled Hard Questions: Extra Credit. This short section only contains thirty writing prompts to choose from. However, they are deep philosophical questions one might ask once they have experienced life.

This year, the same cousins and their Mom created a beautiful wedding gift. A hardcover pictorial album accompanied by a written history of my grandparents. I do not know if they were inspired by their own copy of To Our Children’s Children. But, I believe Greene and Fulford have written a guide which will help you preserve and share your personal family history.


Crazy Quilt Christmas Tree Skirt

One of the quilt projects I am currently working on is a Crazy Quilt Christmas Tree Skirt. This type of quilting is unique in that there are few patterns. Furthermore a crazy quilt uses embroidery, decorative stitches to stitch the odd-shaped pieces together. One can embellish the quilt even more with lace, ribbon, buttons and beads if desired.

Since this is a Christmas tree skirt, I am adding quite a bit of sparkle along with the embroidery. However, if I were making a quilt for a bed or lap I would stick to stitches. Also, I do not have any little ones around so I do not need to worry about any choking hazards.

The only crazy quilt I own I bought in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the late 1980’s. The quilt dates from 1909 with the initials LHS and is not in the best of conditions. However, the crazy quilt has always called to me. So, I decided a smaller project would be good to start with.

Crazy Quilting

Crazy Quilting by Christine Dabbs is the book I bought to serve as my guide in this experience. I highly recommend the book. (I know I should review Crazy Quilting, it is on a list.) The book is divided into three sections. The first section depicts noted quilts, many dating to the late 1800’s. The second part I found very helpful. Here, complete instructions are given for the construction of a crazy quilt. In addition to information on selecting fabrics and foundations, the book gives detailed directions for embroidery stitching. Thus this is great for anyone who is not experienced in handiwork. Finally, the third section has a crazy quilt design to copy if one desires.

Diana Marcum Fabric Design

This Crazy Quilt Christmas Tree Skirt is two-sided or reversible. One side is a pre-printed machine quilted design of the Holy Family. Unfortunately, I do not remember where I bought the fabric or if my Mom found it. I have a companion fabric which indicates the designer is Diana Marcum and the manufacturer is Marcus Brothers Textiles, Inc. This is the fabric that made me decide to make my first crazy quilt. In some of the close up photos you can see the “stitching” printed around the blocks.

Crazy Quilt

The reverse side is the crazy quilt. Creativity is key in the design. I blended colors to reflect both the Christmas tree decorations and my living room decor. Also, scraps from the first side are used on the crazy quilt side to tie things together.

The different types of fabrics is the biggest challenge. I am conditioned to use all cotton. A traditional crazy quilt tends to have fabric’s of wool, velvet, silk and satin. The textures are quite different. The result is a lot of slipping and sliding. My greatest advice is to pin, pin, and pin some more. At times when the two fabrics did not cooperate, I used ribbon to seam them together instead of stitching.

I had not embroidered much in recent years. However, as a teenager I enjoyed learning handiwork from my maternal grandmother. The forgotten stitches came back quickly with the great illustrations employed by Christine Dobbs. Look closely at the photos and you will see French knots, Chain stitch, Chevron stitch, Herringbone stitch and Feather stitch alone and combined to create the many designs. All of these stitches serve a duo purpose. They are both functional and decorative.

Christmas is just around the corner. So I hope to have the Crazy Quilt Christmas Tree Skirt finished. If I don’t finish in time, there is always next year.

Hardcore Twenty-Four Book Review

Hardcore Twenty-Four


Janet Evanovich strikes again. Her latest Stephanie Plum novel, Hardcore Twenty-Fore hits all the pins. Zombies and paid protesters divert attention from the hardcore topic of synthetic drugs. In Hardcore Twenty-Four the key ingredient to a new drug is human brains.

If you have never read a Stephanie Plum novel, my advice is start with One For The Money. I was given this advice back in 2004 at a headache inducing conference meeting. It was good advice. However, the books certainly stand alone.

Stephanie Plum is torn between two lovers, cop Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger. In Hardcore Twenty-Four a third good looker pops backs into play. Diesel, a character most often seen in the Between the Numbers Plum mysteries, is crashing at Stephanie’s apartment. All end up in pursuit of a villainous master mind.

Evanovich creates characters that are zany and fun. But the true strengths in her writing lay elsewhere. The descriptive writing is among the best. The details she gives throughout allows you to visualize the people, the clothing and the setting. A reader sees Grandma Mazur. Women argue over Ranger and Morelli. Longtime readers view the Plum characters as family because we know how they look and think.

The other part of Evanovich’s writing I like is that she comments instead of preaches. I have noticed a trend lately among serial writers. They are using their writing to posit their opinions. While I think they are free to do that, I believe in some cases the positioning detracts from the writing. This is not the case with Hardcore Twenty-Four.

Janet Evanovich’s approach to current issues is done tongue in cheek. For example, in Hardcore Twenty-Four, paid protesters are protesting at a Korean grocery because the store lacks diversity. Evanovich utilizes one of her zaniest characters, Lulu who in a previous life was a hooker, to point out the irony.

The same approach is used with regards to the synthetic drugs. Here in the United States we currently have a problem with the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I read a serial novel with the same topic. I did not review it because the author ruined the story line with the preaching. However, Evanovich’s approach gave the same message without interfering with the story. In fact, her zany approach allows you to enjoy the story and reflect on the current issues of the day.

Janet Evanovich is one of my favorite writers. I would love to have lunch with her! She makes me laugh out loud with her writing. Life can be tough and laughter is great medicine. Her latest Stephanie Plum novel, Hardcore Twenty-Four made me smile, chuckle and laugh out loud in more than one place. This would be a good present under the tree.