Month: February 2018

My Brother’s Keeper Book Review

My Brother’s Keeper by Donna Malane is a captivating picture of the world-wide drug crisis. Both Malane and the setting for My Brother’s Keeper are New Zealand based. But readers everywhere will be able to relate to the events. The novel falls into the category of murder mystery.

My Brother’s Keeper

Diane Rowe, the protagonist of the story, is an investigator specializing in finding missing persons. Her client, Karen Mackie hires her to find her fourteen year old daughter. Mackie has just been released from a seven-year prison stint. On the surface everything seems straightforward. Rowe is to find the daughter and report back how she is doing. No promise of a reunion is involved.

However, many intrigues pop up in My Brother’s Keeper. Malane uses flashbacks to tell the story and the scenes are very effective. The events which landed Mackie behind bars are seen through the eyes of a seven-year old. Without spoiling the story, heavy drug use is involved.

Complications arise for Diane Rowe. Some are connected to her background. She has an ex-husband who has remarried and he has forged a friendship with her new boyfriend. Both men are cops. Both are putting stresses on Rowe. Other problems stem from the life of the girl she traces. In the midst of all this intrigue is a murder.

Drug Epidemic

Life is not always what it seems. This is definitely the case in My Brother’s Keeper. The drug use of Karen Mackie destroyed her life. But she found religion in prison and came to terms with the past. Her wish is for the rest of the family to experience the same grace. The death of her youngest child was her awakening point.

Malane’s final twist is a heart breaker. I don’t know the author’s motivation, but her portrayal of the many damages of drug use is key to the story line. Mackie’s addiction affected multiple people, not just the lost child and herself. Families of addicts are impacted as much as the individual and My Brother’s Keeper is an excellent vehicle for this message. Fair warning, the ending brought tears to my eyes.

Drug use is showing up in quite a few of the books I have read recently. I am a firm believer that art reflects life.  My Brother’s Keeper takes place in New Zealand.  So drugs are all over the world. Hopefully, novels like this will make readers stop and see the far-reaching ramifications of drug use.

I highly recommend this book. The author uses Diane Rowe and Karen Mackie as mirrors. Both women have pasts that they wish to move on from. Some individuals end up with more regrets than others. My Brother’s Keeper shows how strong a mother’s love is as well as how destructive addiction can be. The novel paves a way for a future of redemption.

One Plucky Survivor Defying Nature

Nature is harsh. Anyone studying the food chains can see just how harsh nature can be. Many of the smallest animals and insects survive by producing large numbers of offspring. However, sometimes survival in nature takes an unusual twist. This is a short tale of one plucky survivor.

One Plucky Survivor

A three-legged doe has frequented our yard for over a year now. The first time I saw her was just after a large buck had to be put down. He had decided my tree line was a good place for his final days. He was unable to hold his head up much less walk. The Division of Wildlife mercifully put him out of his misery. Fortunately for the doe, she was still on the move and eating heartily.

Our local office of the Division of Wildlife knew of her existence when I called. At the time they were taking a wait, watch and see approach for how she coped with the loss of her back leg. We saw her around the neighborhood off and on all summer and into the fall. Then around Christmas time I lost sight of her. To be honest I thought she had become fodder for the local coyotes. Thus, when the deer presents started showing up all over the backyard, I did not even consider her to be the culprit.

However, our weather has been wacky lately and this may be why she is here day as well as night. After a weekend of 70 degree weather, the first part of the work week has arrived with single digit temperatures and cold North winds. Each morning the three-legged survivor grazes next to the house.

She was impervious to Sophie the Cat stalking her under the tree line. Unfortunately, the camera was not at hand because the sight was highly amusing. Hopefully her only stalker will be Sophie. At any rate she is one plucky survivor.

Naming the Deer

I think the doe needs a name. Maybe one that fits with survivor since that is clearly what she is. Right off the bat, all I can think of is Survivor Sally. She is also plucky, so perhaps Plucky Pauline. Maybe you have a better suggestion. Please enter a name in the comment area. I hope the video shows this plucky survivor in a non-upsetting way.

Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam

Seven jars of mixed berry jam.
Finished Product
Even though it is still winter where I live, the grocery store is full of berries shipped in from the other hemisphere. The sales on berries prompted me to make some jam. I created this mixed berry jam mixture not knowing if it would set properly since I did not have a recipe that matched the berries I had bought. I am happy to report success with the Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam recipe.

Recently, I read The Case Against Sugar which you can read about by clicking here. I have not cut out all sugar, but I am reducing the amount I use. So for this recipe I bought Sure Jell in the pink box which is made for low sugar or no sugar recipes. The instructions have recipes in addition to others I have, but I could not find a recipe using strawberry, blackberry and blueberry. So I set out to create the mixed berry jam.

Canning Equipment

You will need a water bath canner, canning jars, lids and rings for this recipe. I like to use Ball lids and rings the most but I have also had great success with Kerr products. Even though I like to recycle, I only use Ball or Kerr jars when canning. Jars saved from grocery store items tend to break in my canner during the processing. I do like to vary the jar sizes because yields are inexact.

The jars need at least ten minutes in boiling water to sterilize, however the lids only need two to three minutes. The biggest challenge is the timing. I usually start the water in the canner before I prepare the fruit. Jars are removed from the canner just after I stir in the sugar. This allows me to immediately pour the jam into jars that are still warm. If you have a helper in the kitchen this task is much easier.

Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam Recipe

3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 pounds Strawberries
1 pint Blueberries
12 ounces Blackberries
1 box Sure Jell Low Sugar Pectin
4 ½ cups sugar
Yields About 7 Cups

Preparation of Berries

I prepare the strawberries first. Wash and cut the hulls off the berry. Then slice each into quarters. If the berries are very large you may need to chop them into smaller pieces.

The blueberries are a favorite for some of my family members, but you do not often find them used in jams. You need to carefully wash, de-stem and cut the larger ones in half for this recipe. Be sure to wear an apron or old clothes to avoid staining from the berries.

The blackberries can be the messiest. Wash and slice the berries in half. Like the blueberries, they can stain fabric.

Cooking the Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam

For the most part, I follow the directions on the Sure Jell packaging. However, for this recipe I used two additional steps. First, I placed three tablespoons of lemon juice in the bottom of my pot. Then, I put a single layer of strawberries in the bottom of the pot. Turning on to medium high heat, I let the strawberries heat until mash able. After mashing, I added a second layer of strawberries. Once the strawberries were mashed, but not cooked, I added the blueberries and blackberries.

From this point on, I followed the cooked jam directions from Sure Jell. I used a total of 4 ½ cups of sugar. Taking ¼ cup of sugar from the above amount, mix with the powdered pectin and stir into berries. The constant stirring along with the heat, breaks up the berries into small pieces. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. This means there are bubbles all over the top even when stirring.
At this point the remainder of the sugar is added. Continuous stirring is needed so the jam does not burn. Once the mixture returns to a full rolling boils, cook for one minute more and the remove from heat. The mixed berry jam is ready to jar.

I place a kitchen towel on my counter to set the jars on. I also have a clean wet wash rag to wipe the tops of the jars before attaching the lids and rings. Fill one jar at a time and close before moving on to the next one. The jam jars seal better this way.

I loved the taste of this jam, not too sugary and small bits of fruit. Next time your grocery story has berries on sale consider making this Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam. I think you will like it.

Killer Heat

Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein

While perusing the large print section at the library, I came upon Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein. This novel featuring District Attorney Alex Cooper, actually came out in 2008 but somehow I missed it. Unlike other series, I have not read these books in order. So far that hasn’t been a problem.


Killer Heat takes place during a hot August. Cooper is assigned to cases involving sex crimes and she is successfully wrapping up a cold case. As in real life, the district attorney has more than one case in front of her at any given time, so the work is never-ending. An unidentifiable body is discovered and Alex is contacted in case the dumped woman is tied to a missing person case she is working on. Soon, another and then another, corpse turns up. Cooper and her sidekicks Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace face a serial killer.

Fairstein’s talents are evident in Killer Heat. First is her skill at bringing secondary characters to life. In some books the reader can only picture the main characters. But in Killer Heat, the descriptions, dialog and actions of minor characters are well-developed. For example, in one scene Alex Cooper talks with the younger sister of a character who is a “person of interest.” The reader sees a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. The nuances of that age are clear. The young girl naturally has conflicting emotions and is torn between loyalty and morality.

Next, the main characters’ interaction rings so true, the reader is sucked right into the plot. Then the plot is well constructed. The killings are tied together. There are no threads left hanging and everything wraps up nicely. Of course Fairstein adds a nice little twist to explain why the murderer kills.

Killer Heat Highlight

One of the best things about Killer Heat is Cooper does not have men swooping in at the end to save her. Earlier in the novel, the protagonist is depicted at a shooting range. Chapman is determined that Alex learns to shoot. She fails miserably. The author correctly shows shooting guns is harder than it looks. Nevertheless, Alex incapacitate’s the killer on her own with plausible action.

If you have not read any of Linda Fairstein’s novels, I highly recommend trying them. As I stated earlier, I do not read them in order although some may. Certainly, Killer Heat can stand alone without reading any others. This is an easy book to get lost in.

Color Wheel Use in Art and Life

Color Wheel 

My elementary school had an art teacher. Each week the class went to the art room twice for an hour at a time. The art teacher taught us many basic principles. We learned about dimension, texture, line of sight, shading and shadowing, balance and proportion along with many other art elements. But most important, in my opinion, we mastered the color wheel.

Mastery of the concepts put forth by the color wheel is important both in artwork and everyday life. Think about how toddlers dress themselves. Most mix and match with abandon. As adults few can get away with clashing outfits. Homes and workplaces are more pleasant if colors are coordinated. Use of the color wheel can create harmony in our lives.

Basics of the Color Wheel

The primary colors of the color wheel are red, blue and yellow. These three colors combine with each other or with neutral colors to make all known colors. Secondary colors are blends of two of the three colors. These colors are green (yellow and blue) orange (yellow and red) and violet (red and blue.) As kids we used the term purple for violet. The three secondary colors have an equal amount of each pigment.

Tertiary colors are a blend of a primary color with a secondary color. The six colors are yellow-orange, yellow-green, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green and blue-violet. The tertiary colors are placed adjacent to the primary colors on the color wheel.

Values of colors

Value refers to the amount of lightness (or darkness) a color has. This concept is tricky because a color’s surroundings impact its value. The exercise often used in art classes is to use two squares the same color and size surrounded by vastly different colors. The neighboring colors make the squares appear dissimilar. The pictures below illustrate the difference. The orange blocks in the middle are all the same size.

Contrasting three same size orange blocks on black, white and yellow sheets.
The center orange blocks are all the same size.
Orange squares of same size on black and white sheets.
The orange squares appear to be dissimilar in size.
Orange diamonds on black and yellow backgrounds,
Even using to bold backgrounds still creates a difference.

A contrast of color can be achieved by using different values instead of different colors. Thus a monochromatic color scheme (using just one color) can create depth and contrast. One of my favorite artist’s is Quang Ho. In his painting Harmony in Whites, he creates a beautiful stallion. Although there are a few bits of color in the horse tack and some shadowing, the overall impression is one of a white stallion in a white background. Thus a monochromatic color scheme. Yet the horse pops out of the painting as if he is in the room. Both depth and contrast are evident as you can see in the photo.

Warm and Cool Colors

The color wheel divides into warm and cool colors. Yellow and violet are the dividers. The reds stretching from red-violet to yellow-orange are the warm colors. The cool colors are opposite on the wheel and are found from yellow-green to blue-violet. The acrylic painting depicted below is one of cool blue tones with a splash of red for contrast. The warmth of the red adds a spark to the artwork. In the quilt Sophie the Cat is admiring, the overall tone is warm. Again there is some contrast provided with the addition of a cool color.

An abstract painting in blues with a splash of red accent.
Cool colors
A striped cat with a quilt featuring warm orange tones.
Sophie the Cat with a warm quilt.

Color Schemes

In both cases, the tone of the contrasting color was important. This is where the color wheel becomes so useful. Knowledge of how the colors combine is critical. Colors directly opposite one another on the wheel are considered complementary colors even though they are contrasting. For example red and green are complementary; think Christmas. The contrasting colors harmonize. However, in some applications complementary colors are difficult for the eye to process. You would not want books of blue pages and orange ink, even if you are a Florida Gator fan.

Analogous colors are colors that are adjacent on the color wheel. Yellow-orange, orange and red-orange are analogous. This blending of colors can be very soothing to the eye but care must be taken so the result is not boring. On the other hand, contrasting between two sets of analogous colors can be quite pleasing to the eye.

Monochromatic schemes are based on one color altered by tints or shades. Tints are created by adding varying amounts of white. Shades are achieved by adding differing quantities of black. Greying occurs by mixing two contrasting colors together. Thus Easter eggs dipped in all the colors becomes a muddied grey/brown depending on the dye colors.

Resources of Color Theory

Unfortunately, many schools today no longer have art teachers and so the task of teaching art falls on the classroom teacher. Time spent on art is also limited so that often the time spent on art is geared toward creativity. Kids need to have creative expression. However, the time constraint can mean art theory is not covered as thoroughly as in the past. Thus, only students who pursue an art education may fully understand the many nuances of the color wheel.

Fortunately there are many sources available for the motivated self-learner. One of my favorite books is a color workbook for quilters. Color and Cloth by Mary Coyne Penders does go beyond the color wheel to include textures and scales. But there is an abundance of color theory. This is a great book for quilters even if they are confident in there color selection.

Another book I own is Color: A Stroke of Brilliance by Leslie Harrington with Joan Mackie. This paperback published by Benjamin Moore Paints is geared toward use of color for interior designs. This has the basics of color wheel theory and has many sections of questions and answers. I refer to this book frequently when working on interiors in commercial locations as well as in my own home.

Finally, in this age of internet, I like several websites. For color theory, visit Tigercolor which does a nice job covering the basics with an option of purchasing ColorImpact. Another site I like and use is Benjamin Moore. I use their Personal Color Viewer when I am working on projects. Simply upload a photo of the room and then follow the instructions to see how color changes the look.

Color theory is ingrained in my being. I love color in nature, in the home and in my work. Please feel free to share how you use color every day.



Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening Book Review

Spring is just around the corner for some locales. A good book to consult while you are planning the 2018 garden is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. This method presents “A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work.”
Square Foot Gardening is a comprehensive look at intensive gardening. Square units form the garden. Then a grid pattern is implemented. The blocks within the grid are 12 inches by 12 inches hence the name Square Foot Gardening.

The Method

Individual seed is sown across each square foot. The key is placing the seed at the distance needed for growth. For instance, beets need three-inch spacing between plants. So you would place twelve seeds inside your square foot. Plant varieties that need four inches of spacing would yield nine specimens for each block. Something large like a tomato would only have one plant per square foot.

Bartholomew posits that this method of planting reduces time, money, and energy spent in the garden. Seeds are not planted just to thin out. Thus costs are cut. The grid pattern also helps with the weeding. Less time is spent pulling weeds from the grid due to the layout of the seeds. Furthermore, the intensive nature of the beds has reduced the space within the garden and so the gardener has a smaller area to weed.

The author does not stop at describing his square foot gardening theory. The book is a complete guide to gardening. Chapters include advice on garden layout, companion and succession planting, improving the soil, extending the growing season and vertical gardening just to name a few.

Last year I began implementing square foot gardening. I had more success with this method than I did with my potato experiment which you can read about here.  Only a few squares did not achieve 100% germination. Root crops like beets are ideal for this method. But leaf crops benefit as well.

I used a yardstick to measure my squares. However Mel Bartholomew has a website that sells not only books but pre-made grids and other accessories. You can connect with the Square Foot Gardening site by clicking here.

If you can only buy one gardening book, this is the book I recommend. Mel Bartholomew describes an intensive gardening approach in Square Foot Garden but doesn’t stop there. The strategies and techniques described in the book will benefit the gardener all year-long.

Little Free Libraries

Small glassed in box to hold reading material.
A Neighborhood box to share books.

Twice this year while travelling I have come across freestanding glassed-in boxes holding books. I had heard of such items but before my trip to Santa Fe had not seen one. There is an organization called Little Free Library behind this trend. Individuals can erect Little Free Libraries on their property. Books and other items are left in the boxes with a Take one-Leave one attitude.


I like the idea and would love to put one up. There can be obstacles. According to the Little Free Library organization’s website, some individuals have faced opposition from various entities. Homeowners Associations and some municipalities may require permission to set up Little Free Libraries. The site shares some creative ways to work around obstacles in establishing a library on your property.


One of the most interesting thongs to me about Little Free Libraries is some of the controversy stimulated by this free book exchange. A couple of Canadian librarians spent two years researching and writing a journal article which was very critical of the Little Free Library non-profit. They posited the movement was a way for the wealthy to feel good about themselves. Furthermore, they believed there was no need for these neighborhood boxes when so many had access to public libraries. For more of their opinion, click here.


I have not contacted my city officials to see if they are permissible. If I need to jump through hoops to place one in my yard, I will. Instead, my concern is more of how weather would affect the Little Free Libraries. The second location I spotted withstood hurricane strength winds last fall. However, I do not know if the box was in place at the time. We have very strong winds so I do worry about sturdiness. I do know the containers are rain proof. The night before I left my copy of Two Girls Down, a two inch rain occurred. As you can see from the picture the books inside were nice and dry.

Books on shelves
Leaving a book at a neighborhood Little Free Library.

The argument from the Canadian librarians does not concern me. Even if some experience self-gratification from placing the boxes, the Little Free Libraries serve a purpose. Neighbors sharing books is a positive activity. Too often individuals do not know people living just a block away. I especially liked the one shown in the photo below. The lower shelf is chock full of items for kids. While I can drive to the library anytime I wish, kids in my neighborhood do not necessarily have the same opportunity. What do you think of these book-sharing boxes? Do you use one? Please share below.

Children's reading material on low shelf
Kid Items on lowest shelf.

The Case Against Sugar Book Review

Gary Taubes presents a case for sugar as the cause of many of the Western World’s chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, cancer and even dementia. He examines the intake of sugar by looking at the history of this much-loved sweetener. His examination includes a look at the views of medical and nutritional sciences. The two branches of science have not always been on the same page. Thus The Case Against Sugar may have readers siding with one view or another.Book surrounded by sources of sugar.

I began reading The Case Against Sugar as a request. The individual who recommended the book found the information in the book compelling enough to stop eating sugar. Unfortunately, the work by Taubes had the opposite effect on me. I craved sugar.

Taubes begins by defining the different types of sugar. Glucose is sometimes described as the blood sugar of the human body and occurs naturally. Sucrose which is refined white sucrose and one of the culprits in The Case Against Sugar. Fructose which is naturally found in fruits and honey. Then there are combinations of fructose and other sugars resulting in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which many see as the fall guy. Indeed, many of the soft drink companies are introducing products made with cane sugar as opposed to the HFCS. This is in part to counter the backlash against HFCS.


Roughly the first half of The Case Against Sugar is a very interesting history of sugar. This includes sources of sugar, trade and production (mention of the slave trade), legislation and research. Taubes obviously spent time exploring existing work in developing his thesis.

Since my knowledge of sugar was limited and in some cases erroneous, such as the origins, I found the historical sections interesting. For example, I did not know sugar was added to tobacco in the making of cigarettes. Furthermore, I had not contemplated sugar addiction as a side-effect of Prohibition.

Quite a bit of time is spent on contrasting the nutritional and medical fields’ approaches to sugar as a cause of many of the chronic diseases of the Western World. Furthermore, within each respective field, scientists and researchers differed on viewpoints. Some believed the onslaught of modern health problems come from multiple sources. Taubes however posits that sugar is the root of the decline in health which is becoming prevalent whenever an area adopts the dietary habits of the West.

Insulin Resistance

Taubes transitions from past to present as he begins presenting his case against sugar. Insulin resistance is discussed at length. A quick search of my own on insulin resistance led me to this website placed by the U.S. government. Thus, a confirmation of the author that mainstream belief centers on obesity and physical inactivity as the culprits of insulin resistance.

However, The Case Against Sugar does much to outline an opposing view. Taubes presents anecdotal evidence that increased sugar consumption is really the cause of insulin resistance. He cites multiple cases of indigenous populations developing insulin resistance. In each case, sugar instead of physical activity or intake of fats seems to be the one input that does not vary. Then Taubes connects insulin resistance to the many diseases of modern westernization. These include obesity, diabetes, cancer and dementia.

Diabetes and Cancer

The theory also suggests that insulin resistance can start in the womb as sugar crosses the placenta. Since I am familiar with gestational diabetes, I could agree with Taubes’ arguments. A generational change in insulin resistance stemming from prenatal diet seems plausible. Thus the younger generation is predisposed to greater rates of obesity, if strict diets are not followed in pregnancy. Since obesity and Type II diabetes have such a direct correlation, I could accept the direct sugar link.

But, not all of the author’s arguments made sense to me. In fairness, I may not understand all the science. The tie to cancer was hard for me to accept. I still believe cancer is genetic as much as environmental. However, I will concede the possibility of sugar triggering environmental caused cancers.

Link to Dementia

One of the last diseases Taube discusses in respect to a sugar causation is dementia. I have done quite a bit of personal research on this topic. I can see how sugar can indirectly affect some individuals in a way that predisposes them to dementia. For example, large waist lines have a correlation to dementia and I believe sugar contributes to obesity.

However, I believe a great amount of the increase in dementia can be attributed to other causes. First of all we now enjoy a longer lifespan. Most often, dementia does not become apparent until a person reaches their seventies. While women reached an average lifespan of 70 back in 1948, men did not achieve that pinnacle until 1979. Those of you interested in the numbers can click on this link.

Secondly, I believe genetics is a major contributor to this disease. Taubes does discuss genetic dispositions, but he stuck by his theory of sugar causation. He believes the state of dementia will be attained sooner by those with a vascular impairment. He suggests sugar accelerates vascular deterioration.

Final Conclusions

Taubes ends The Case Against Sugar with the question of how much sugar is allowable. Reading between the lines, I believe his answer would be none. He directly parallels sugar to tobacco. Moderation is not a component.

Many of the ideas posited in this book I fully embrace. I long ago cut colas out of my diet. I quit cold turkey much the way Taubes suggests is needed for all sugar. However, I must side with the opposition. I truly believe in moderation. I think reducing sugar is a better answer. Additionally, I believe other factors are also contributors to the dietary problems of the Western World.

I would love to believe sugar was the single culprit. I know I could cut all sugar out of my diet. Not only have I permanently given up colas, I have gone without all added sugars during Lent. My weakness is dairy. If Taubes is correct, I no longer need to limit my cheese intake and I can revert to whole milk from skim. Unfortunately, I do not believe this is the case.

The Case Against Sugar is worth reading. I learned quite a bit about the history of sugar. The theory of removing all sugar from our diets is interesting. Let me know in the comment section what you think.