Month: May 2018

May 2018 Wrap Up

The month of May is one of the prettiest and after October is my favorite month. Those lucky enough to get April showers are rewarded by nature with an abundance of blooms in May. This year the roses have been stunning. But the edible plants are also taking off.

The raised bed garden is in full swing. Harvest has already begun. The early spring crops of various greens, radishes and peas have made it to the table. Not only are sprouts popping through the soil, but blooms are here and there throughout the beds. It won’t be long before the first zucchini is picked.

The lasagna beds also contain plants. A potato came up volunteer in one bed. I think it is a white potato but not sure. So I’ll have to wait awhile to find out. Sweet potato slips arrived. Unfortunately, they were very dry at the roots. So, I placed them in a jar by the sink and let them revive for three days before planting. I split them up between a raised bed and the second lasagna garden. We will see if they make the transplantation.

May 2018 Travel

Travel was limited to a quick trip to Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is a favorite destination even when the weather is less than desirable. Spring seemed to be a few weeks behind in Central Kentucky. We enjoyed a tour of Kentucky Artisan Distillery. This bourbon specialized in small batches. The tour allows visitors a close up view of the process. Our tight timetable did not lets us participate in the tasting but I give this place high marks for the information shared. If you are in the Louisville area consider visiting the great people at Kentucky Artisan Distillery.

Other trips afield were to neighboring counties. Most were work related but one trip up the valley was in celebration of a high school graduate. It is so rewarding to see the next generation setting out. Their future will impact us in so many positive ways. Congratulations to all 2018 graduates!

Cataracts

My reading has slowed quite a bit this month. My right eye is compromised by a cataract. Surgery is scheduled for mid-June. Let me know if you have any advice in the comment section. I am very apprehensive about the surgery.
Headaches are a byproduct of the condition. But I am reading in small bites of time. The Friday reviews may reflect that with some old favorites. Stay tuned.

Slide Show

The slide show focuses on my yard. The roses are spectacular this year and I don’t think my photography skills do them justice. The same holds true for the vegetable gardens. I have also included a few slides showing some features of our outdoor home improvement. The final slide is a beautiful flower arrangement I received for Mother’s Day.

The Recipe Box Book Review

Multiple recipe boxes on a kitchen counterSam Nelson is the protagonist in The Recipe Box, a novel by Viola Shipman. Shipman is the pen name (and grandmother) of Wade Rouse. The novel includes mouth-watering recipes. The recipes have been passed down to Nelson through the female line.

The novel opens in New York City. Sam Nelson is a pastry chef. However, the story quickly reverts back to her native Michigan. The Recipe Box revolves around a family owned orchard and pie pantry. Sam moved to New York to get away from the family business. And to follow her dreams.

There are many flashbacks in the novel. Each is a glimpse of the work and effort needed to make the business work. Throughout, the women in the family are shown as the backbone of the company. But Sam wanted something else.

However, an unscrupulous boss leads to an abrupt departure from New York for Sam. She is unsure of her future. So the Recipe Box focuses on her decisions. In addition to a career change, Sam faces a change in relationship status. Angelo Morelli, a Jersey boy, follows her to Michigan. He is determined to move things to the next level.

Recipe for Life

Some might see the novel similar to a coming of age book. But the book is a family saga. Sam is at a crossroads in life. She needs to find herself. The recipes and traditions passed down define the family. But do they represent Sam?

I love this book and plan to gift it to one of my daughters. The underlying philosophy holds true regardless of profession. Happiness comes from within. Outside factors may influence you but you are who you are.  The author shares wisdom with regard to self and relationships with others. But most of all, the importance of family is emphasized throughout.

This is a great summer beach book or a winter by the fire read. You will laugh and you will cry. If nothing else, buy the book for the delicious recipes! Furthermore, if you possess your grandmother’s recipe box (or boxes) like I do, pull a recipe out of the box and make it this week. Just like The Recipe Box infers, there is no greater tribute to those before us than to whip something up using a family recipe.

 

 

Procrastination

Procrastination is defined as delaying a task or action to a later time. I have witnessed procrastination all my life. Occasionally I am guilty of procrastinating. But most of the time I am not. The times I procrastinate revolve around either a dislike for a task, or a fear of rejection.

Tasks I dislike and often put off include scrubbing toilets, taking out the trash and matching clean socks. If I have both inside and outside chores, I will opt for the outside ones unless the weather is bad. Or I know company is coming.
Fear of rejection also delays me. I have two completed children’s books that I have not submitted for publication. My current excuse is I have no illustrations to go along with them. The real problem is I fear rejection. I love the stories but worry no one else will.

As I have aged, procrastination has become less and less a problem. Juggling a career, four kids, volunteer work, hobbies and last but certainly not least, a husband meant staying on task. Thus I have a few tips to share.

Paying Bills

I pay bills as soon as they arrive. This way they are paid on time. Some of my bills are set up for online payment. In this case, the payment is scheduled for a few days before the due date. Some may prefer to have the bills submitted straight to the checking account. Again, this method ensures prompt payment.

Procrastination at Work

The workplace is primed for procrastination. There are co-workers to provide distraction. Other delays are caused by customers, clients, suppliers or students as the case may be. I remember one boss complaining of all the “fires” that needed to be put out and hence things didn’t get done in a timely manner. But there are ways to stay on track.

First, set aside time to get the needed tasks completed. This may mean going in an hour before others if you are in a management position with lots of interruptions. Or put out some type of do not disturb notice. I remember one December donning a Grinch hat and posting a warning note indicating the posting of grades came first. No one knocked on my door.

Second, prioritize the work. Organize the tasks by both importance and deadline. Sometimes a first in first out approach will not work. Make sure you schedule enough time to check the work for accuracy whether it is proofreading, measuring or even taste testing.

Third, break large projects into small chunks. Procrastination has a psychological component. Often the task is overwhelming. By dividing the work up into pieces or parts the job no longer seems as daunting. Give yourself a break between sections of the work. But set a time limit on the down time. If you don’t have a plan and a time-table, procrastination can sneak back in.

Fourth, learn to delegate. If you can’t share the load, then know when to say NO. Procrastination becomes a nightmare when multiple tasks pile up.

Exercise

Another area ripe for procrastination is exercise. We all know how important it is to exercise. Studies show benefits from physical activity include brain health, physical fitness, longevity and psychological well-being. But many put off the work-outs. Maybe you woke up late. Or it is too cold. Or too hot. After work you are too tired. Part of the year it is too dark. All these are just excuses. Some people just don’t like to exercise so they put it off.

Don’t procrastinate! Exercise is one of the keys to life. In the old days we labored (and some still do). The labor served as our exercise. If you are lifting bales of hay you benefit as much as by lifting weights. But most no longer labor. The future will probably involve even less manual work. Just think of the inventions such as the robots that clean kitchen floors. In order to keep our bodies fit, we need to substitute work outs for labor.

Keys to avoid putting off exercise are as follows. First, have an exercise partner. You can encourage each other. Second, find a workout you enjoy. There are so many types of exercise that you can mix up the workouts. Bicycle two days, run two days and dance or kick-box on other days. Third, stick to a routine. Try not to go two days in a row without some form of exercise. Remember your physics, an object in motion stays in motion.

Benefits from overcoming Procrastination

Defeating procrastination leads to many benefits. Tasks are done on time. This translates into less stress which tops the list for me. There is also an increase in productivity. Procrastination slows down the time-table. So once you put the drag of undone work behind, you will be surprised at just how much work can be completed. Furthermore, you will establish a reputation for getting things done. This can-do work ethic is what employers look for. So start today by stopping procrastination.

The Clarity Book Review

The Clarity

The Clarity is a first novel by Keith Thomas. Mr. Thomas writes for television and the movies. So his first book is not typical of a debut. I would categorize The Clarity as science-fiction horror story. If it were a movie, the release date would be late October. Warning: this book is full of suspense and some gruesome scenes.

A psychological experiment, primarily using orphans, is at the center of the plot. The main characters include a mother and daughter. The mom was part of the experiment, but escaped. Somehow the side-effects of the scientific trial are passed on genetically to her daughter.

Psychologist to the RescueBook Cover of The Clarity

The story begins in a run down complex on the outskirts of Chicago. A neighbor/babysitter asks Dr. Matilda Deacon visiting the building to look in on Ashanique, the daughter, while the mother, Jan, is at work. The brief visit intrigues the psychologist but the sudden return of the mom cuts the encounter short.

Unfolding events prompt Jan and Ashanique to contact Dr. Deacon for help. The action picks up as a murderer tracks all three down. The villain is also a former subject of the psychological study. He did not escape with the other participants of the science experiment. Now he is a killer controlled by the group continuing the study.

The plot has several twists and turns. A romantic interest for Dr. Deacon, a local policeman, enters the story. Kojo Omaboe serves as both a protector and a sounding board for Matilda. Their relationship lends reality to the story.

The sci-fi aspect of The Clarity revolves around the experiment. The scientists were focused on the brain. Both drugs and electroshock were used on the subjects. Some of the patients react differently and become the Null. This leads to great conflict with The Null patients seeking revenge.

Flashbacks

Memories and flashbacks are a major part of the book. The characters affected by the experiment are bombarded by reflections of past history, not necessarily their own. A key to the plot is the recovery of a chemical equation which would negate the memories. And the negative side effects.

Keith Thomas strikes terror in the reader’s heart with some of his scenes. Yet other parts of The Clarity are akin to existentialism. The idea of memory tracing back through DNA is hard to grasp. But as the side story of Dr. Deacon’s dementia ridden mother indicates, the memory process of the brain is still an unknown and uncontrolled. Who knows what powers the brain may hold?

The Clarity accurately conveys the threshold science is standing at with respect to unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Thomas weaves reality and future unknowns in a masterful way. The one caveat is the many gruesome scenes. They are graphic. The tortures sent chills through my body. I am not sure I could handle a film version unless my eyes were closed! If you want an edge of your seat thriller, The Clarity fits the bill.

Small Batch Low Sugar Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

Small Batch Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

Glass jars filled with jam.
Jars of jam.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I whipped up a small batch of  strawberry-blueberry jam. Since I was taking things easy, I just used produce I had on hand. We consider blueberries a staple in the house and I also had strawberries in the refrigerator. This recipe is a low sugar recipe and some may find it tart.

First wash the berries gently but thoroughly. Even home-grown produce gets rinsed. Next, finely chop the strawberries and lightly mash. You want a total of four cups mashed strawberries.

Then slice the blueberries in half. Yes this is tedious but I think it helps incorporate the two berries. You will need a total of two and ½ cups blueberries. Combine the berries in a stockpot and add two tablespoons of lemon juice.

Measure four level cups of sugar into a bowl. Then from that amount, remove ¼ cup sugar and mix with one package of Sure Jell pectin for low or no sugar recipes. Add the mixture to the berries and bring to a rapid boil. This is a boil which remains even during stirring. There will be chunks of fruit.

Once the constant boil is reached, add the remaining sugar. Return the jam to a roaring boil and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized, hot jars. Place lids and rings on jars and process them in a water bath for ten minutes. Be sure to add time to the processing if you live 1000 feet or more above sea level. Click on this website for a chart.

 

Econogal’s Low Sugar Small Batch Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

(Makes 6-7 cups of jam)

Materials needed:

Stock pot, ladle, heavy-duty heat proof spoon, potato masher, paring knife, 6 or 7 jars (½ pint in size), lids and bands to fit jars and water bath canner

Ingredients:

4 cups of chopped mashed strawberries
2 1/2 cups sliced blueberries
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell pectin for low or no sugar recipes

The Kremlin Conspiracy Book Review

Trending among writers is the use of current world events as backdrops for novels. The Kremlin Conspiracy is one such novel. Joel C. Rosenberg follows the lives of two men from the late 1990s. One, Marcus Ryker hails from the United States. The other, Oleg Kraskin is a native of Russia. Both have compelling stories.

Much of The Kremlin Conspiracy involves sharing the life story of these two men. Rosenberg creates parallels in their lives. Both serve their country. Each marries for love and each brings a son into the world. But, their lives are also quite different.

Rosenberg carefully meshes real events over the time period into the story line. For example, the events of 9/11 are the catalyst for Ryker to enlist in the armed forces. Similar connections exist between real incidents and the plot. In fact only the most recent happenings involving North Korea were off-kilter. This is an intention of the author.

At first this approach was difficult to process. However, the characters created by Rosenberg were so compelling, the mix of fact and fiction became secondary. The reader is caught up in the lives of the main characters and their loved ones. The drama of their relationships and each traumatic event is believable, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Eventually the two men cross paths. At this point The Kremlin Conspiracy begins to rev up in action. Both men end up working together in the best interests of their respective countries. The action is the edge of your seat kind.

The patriotism reflected by both men is inspiring. Rosenberg takes great pains to show how each of the main characters matures. Both place duty before self.

Additionally, the author includes a spiritual aspect. This inclusion of the faith journey of one of the characters is well done. There is some contrast between the two characters in this regard. However, they share a common intellectual bent. Theology and philosophy are not far apart.

The Kremlin Conspiracy is well written. The characters are interesting and the plot well thought out. The ending may leave the characters hanging but not the readers. All who pick up this book should understand the warning the author is making. Consider putting this book on your reading list.

 

Maintaining Physical Health

Physical Health

Aging naturally affects physical health. Maintaining ones physical condition takes more effort as each decade passes by. But the benefits of taking an active approach are many. The various body systems gain from good physical health. Of course both exercise and diet are key elements needed to keep the body in tune.

Ten years ago my body was aging fast. Even though I walked two miles most days, I had gained weight and my digestive system was a mess. My gastroenterologist prescribed some medicine to treat the ulcerative colitis. But the best thing he gave me was advice. He told me my body was used to the walks around the park. He said I needed to step it up a bit. So I began training for a marathon.
I trained a full year for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon. My physical fitness level needed all that time to get ready. The best side effect was the positive reaction in my intestinal system. Since, I was serious about the training I stopped drinking colas and other carbonated beverages. This change in diet also contributed to better physical health.

Sugar and Fat

The carbonated beverages contained lots of sugar. Please read the book review The Case Against Sugar. In addition to watching sugar, I also watch my fats. I have been drinking 1% milk for over a decade. This change from whole milk has kept my cholesterol levels in check. Now, my biggest challenge is to not eat too much cheese.

Because I am a decade older, I have personally ruled out additional marathons. In fact, I have not run a half marathon in almost two years. Unfortunately, this has had a negative reaction for my digestive system. But, my heart rate gets above where it should be if I run too far. Thus I am experiencing a bit of a Catch-22. (A good book by the way.) So, I need to find other ways to maintain good physical health.

I now keep track of my heart rate when I exercise. This leads to many run/walk outings. Fortunately, the alternation between walking and running is akin to the interval training of my track days. Since I live at altitude, my trips to the East Coast let me run a bit farther. I plan to do any future half marathons at sea level. If my heart rate gets too high, I will make myself walk part of the course.

Brain Health

The physical activity also helps my brain health. First, the exercise releases many hormones. For an informative article on exercise and beneficial hormone release please click here. I am particularly hopeful that the more intense workouts release enough Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor to grow some new cells. I need all the new growth I can get.

Some early studies show consistent aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippo-campus. One study by the University of British Columbia was limited to women. The hippocampal volume grew over the course of the experiment. Unfortunately, the results were mixed with respect to memory. The study cited possible interference by white matter as a cause. You can access the study by clicking here.

Check-ups

Regular check-ups are key. Plane travel has been affecting my right eye. It becomes blurry and a headache ensues. Recently, my annual eye exam verified my sometimes blurry right eye was a cause for concern. I have a cataract. While I am apprehensive about the surgery, I know this condition can be addressed.

Each year I have blood work done. A couple of springs ago I was surprised that my thyroid levels were off. It is a hereditary disease. But both my parents are symptom free. However, I began treatment and feel much better. Last summer I discovered my father’s brother takes the same medicine. Since my paternal grandparents died relatively young the possibility of the condition was unknown. So, it helps to know beyond just the immediate family even though the odds diminish.

Maintaining physical health can aid in the quality of life. Eating right and exercising are the two components I focused on today. Other things come into play when discussing longevity such as social connectedness and spiritual life. Both are potential topics for future posts.

Since I need to alter my workouts, please let me know your choice of exercise.

Field of Thirteen Book Review

Earlier this week I walked to the library to see if any books on the Kentucky Derby were in the collection. I found Field of Thirteen by Dick Francis. This book is actually a collection of short stories revolving around horses. Only one involved the Kentucky Derby. So I read that story first.

I enjoyed the story of “The Gift” which as published back in 1973 in a Sports Illustrated issue covering the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing fans can tell you right away who won the Derby that year. And some casual fans can too. I would love to see a copy of that magazine to see how “The Gift” was placed.

Francis explains a bit about each of the short stories. Some were sold to magazines just wanting a story with word count the only specified requirement. A few of the stories he wrote to fill out Field of Thirteen. Thus the stories are quite varied.

While “The Gift” centered on a washed up sportswriter gifted one last major coup, other stories feature jockeys, trainers and owners. Some of the stories take place on a flat track and others cover steeplechase. Weaved throughout are glimpses of human nature.

Dick Francis paints pictures of the foibles of mankind. His writing is reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm fables. In fact one story has a horse named Fabled. I do not believe this was coincidence. The author also has tones of Agatha Christie. There are little twists that serve as catalysts. I love this kind of writing.

The various stories are not always flattering to the subject matter. Many of the characters are quite flawed. However, each story does have at least one person of virtue.

Field of Thirteen

Field of Thirteen was published in 1998. But a quick check via the Internet indicates the book is still available for purchase. I am thinking of gifting one to a horse racing fan at Christmas. The short stories are entertaining. My favorite was “Spring Fever.” Even if you are not a fan of horse racing or of short stories, you might give this book a try. I liked Field of Thirteen.

Mint Juleps

Mint Juleps are a fairly simple drink to make. They do need some key ingredients. First is bourbon. Second, and most important in my mind is mint. Crushed ice and a simple syrup round out the list.

There are many brands of bourbon. Some are a bargain and others are very, very expensive. I use my favorite when I make mint juleps. The amount of bourbon used is up to the individual mixer.

I make my simple syrup a bit differently than many. The day before I plan to serve mint juleps I prepare the sugar mixture. Dissolve the sugar into water by heating slowly in a sauce pan over low heat. For a traditional taste, I use equal parts water and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, I remove the pan from the heat and add mint leaves to the solution. Store the cooled concoction overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the mint the following morning. This gives the drink a very minty taste.

Some people muddle the mint in the bottom of the glass when making this signature Kentucky Derby drink. I don’t always remember this step. Fortunately, the minty simple syrup makes up for the missed step.

Usually I first fill the glass with crushed ice. Then add the bourbon and the simple syrup. Add these two liquids in equal parts. Or the drink can be made stronger with more bourbon or sweeter with more syrup. Garnish with more mint.
The following recipe works well if you serve the drinks in half pint jelly jars.

 

Mint Juleps

Serves 8

Items needed: 8 jelly jars ½ pint (8 oz.) or similar sized glasses, small saucepan, Quart canning jar

Ingredients:

Crushed Ice
2 Cups Mint divided with one cup chopped
2 Cups Bourbon
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Sugar
Simmer water and sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chopped mint. Refrigerate overnight in quart canning jar. Strain the following morning to remove mint leaves.
To serve: Fill ½ pint jars with crushed ice. Add ¼ cup bourbon and ¼ cup simple syrup mixture. Garnish with mint sprigs. Enjoy responsibly.