Author: Econogal

An avid reader, empty-nester and retiree.

The Little Paris Book Shop Book Review

The Little Paris Book Shop

The Little Paris Book Shop published originally in Germany back in 2013, was written by Nina George. Unfortunately my German is too limited to read the initial version. Fortunately, Simon Pare translated the work into English in 2015. This book moved me. But readers need to be forewarned. This book is deep. Soul-searching and beautiful, but the material requires a certain maturity.

The protagonist is Jean Perdu. The owner of a floating barge bookstore called la pharmacie litteraire or in English, The Literary Apothecary, Perdu prescribes books for what ails you. The barge is moored in Paris on the River Seine. The Little Paris Book Store has been the rock Perdu has clung to for the past 21 years. Ever since his beloved walked out on him.

But that is just the surface. George has written a novel which entertains. However, she also makes the reader contemplate their own failures, successes and even happiness as they follow Perdu down river facing the mistakes of his past. Personal growth is a large part of the story. Writers are another. Grief is yet another.

Book Shop Characters

The cast of characters in The Little Paris Book Shop follow the theme of missed opportunities. Floating along with Perdu are various individuals in mid-life. Some divorced, some bereft by an early death and one or two who have yet to find love. Much less lose it. The one youngster in the group is a twenties something best-selling author who has lost his muse. He fits nicely into the tale.

George explores life on many levels. Her writing describes contrasting life paths. But the road not taken is only part of the story. My interpretation was one of accepting the path chosen and appreciating the life around you. As I stated above, The Little Paris Book Shop is deep. Personal reflection is one of the benefits I derived from reading the story.

Suggested Target Audience

My suggestion for a target audience is over twenty-one. Partly for the European attitudes regarding relationships. But even more, I think readers who have suffered major setbacks (or even minor) in life will benefit the most. Nina George ends her novel in an upbeat way. The message is not only life goes on, but life can be even better. Perdu does a lot of soul-searching. As did I.

Sleepless Nights

Some nights I fall right to sleep only to wake up at two or three or four in the morning. Other nights I just can’t get to sleep. No matter how tired I am. I have tried many things. Over the counter sleep aids, herbal remedies and long ago even prescribed medications. The results varied. But none have been truly successful, since once again I am sleepless.
Tonight, there is an extra inning ballgame to occupy my time. But I prefer writing these thoughts. Perhaps it will be a blog entry. I am sure there have been stranger posts. In fact many times when I do fall into a quick slumber but then wake up, I opt for writing.

Middle of the night writing has many advantages. No one knocks at the door in the middle of a thought, or paragraph or scene. The cat doesn’t beg to go out and the phone doesn’t ring. Thoughts can flow and usually they do.

Disadvantages of Sleepless Nights

Of course there are some disadvantages. Staying up half the night even when productive can have a negative effect the following day. It is best not to drive long distances for example. Or try to make critical decisions. Sleeplessness tends to impact my decision-making the following day.

Perhaps a solution would be to work all night and sleep during the day. But I would need some type of blackout curtains. As it stands whether I have slept two hours or seven hours, the light of day signals my body to rise if not shine. Yes I am a grumpy morning person after a sleepless night.

The absolute worst case scenario is when I have multiple sleepless nights in a row and yet I still can’t sleep. Another rough situation is when I am bone tired from a strenuous day of exercise or labor and still can’t sleep. My body really needs that time to recover.

Sometimes reading a book helps. Especially text books. But other times, I get too caught up in the story to stop, even if the yawning has commenced. Other than sports, I am not much of a TV person so that doesn’t work either.

I am not a scientist, but I think the key to my problem is the inability to shut off some of my brain cells. My thoughts keep percolating. I try to avoid heavy thinking in the hours before bedtime. Admittedly my worst nights are when I have become keyed up about something. The something could be personal. Or it could take place thousands of miles away.

Hurricanes do a number on me and I live in the heart of flyover country. Other types of events that keep me up are election results, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Sleepless nights are definitely aided by the instant communication of a Twitter Feed.

I have tried various tactics. There are lots of articles on how to sleep better. Even the book I review this next Friday gave advice on sleep and it was a novel not a self-help book. So I have finally decided not to fight the sleepless nights. They may turn out to be hereditary. There are tales of insomnia running through the family. So instead I will embrace them and write. Perhaps I will finally write something worthy of publication. If not, at least I have this post.

Build Your Online Community Book Review

Build Your Online Community

Jan Burns has written an excellent guide discussing online communication. Building Your Online Community: Blogging, Message Boards, Newsgroups, and More is geared toward teenagers. But I learned from it too.

Although this book was published in 2011, it is written in such a way that most, if not all is still relevant. The book is still available for purchase. I think it would make a great gift for anyone 12 and up. In fact, seniors who desire some general knowledge of online communities would also benefit from reading this book. I discovered it while browsing the non-fiction section geared toward young adults at my local library.

Burns informs the reading audience in a straightforward manner. She gives a nice history of computers and the Internet. Then she devotes a chapter to each of the groups named in her subtitle. While I am very comfortable about my knowledge of Blogs, I found I was lacking in the other two. In fact, until reading the book, I did not know how to access Newsgroups. Now I know. (Plus I sidetracked a bit from getting the book read and this post written after discovering Newsgroups.)

Finding Information Online

Burns discusses the difference between web directories and search engines in her chapter Searching For Information. Even though this book was published over five years ago, her information remains current. Her discussion of search engines includes biases and how to compensate for them. This search engine bias is a still a hot topic.

The last part of Build Your Online Community discusses safety issues of having an online presence. I found the author’s warnings to be level-headed. I believe her approach is one that shares not scares. Burns uses multiple examples of how anonymous postings may not be enough to protect ones identity.

This is a great book. Many segments of the population will gain knowledge from this book. Even though the target audience is young teens, I enjoyed reading it. Furthermore, I think my parents’ generation would learn from Build Your Online Community as well.

Be sure to look for this book by Jan Burns in your library. Additionally, I found copies available for purchase online. Build Your Online Community is a winner in my opinion.

Endurance

Endurance is defined as the ability to withstand hardship or adversity according to Merriam-Webster. The first use of this word traces back to the 15th Century. My belief is the usage at that time revolved around the hardship of living from day-to-day.

At present the word is used as both a noun and an adjective. In some parts of the world endurance references day-to-day survival just as in the 15th Century. However, endurance also connotes the ability to perform certain types of athletic feats. Examples would be marathons (or ultramarathons), triathlons (Iron Man), and mountain climbing (Think Mt. Everest).

Fund Raising

Tests of endurance have become a part of fundraising for various causes. In 2010, I participated in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). To gain an entry spot my running partner and I needed to run a qualifying race at Quantico. Since the MCM is affiliated with a government entity, the organization itself does not raise fund for a charity. However, runners are allowed to raise funds in support of an organization of their choice. We raised money for the scholarship fund at our local community college.

Another test of endurance is the Tough Mudder. Not long after the MCM, I witnessed rather than participated in this obstacle course. Crawling through the mud and crossing streams via rope netting were doable but I balked at the idea of running through dangling wires, some with electrical currents. However, I supported my colleagues with my presence and my donation. The team raised funds for The Wounded Warrior Project.

Soon I will participate in an Xtreme Hike to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. This test of endurance will include hiking 20 miles up and down Vail Mountain in Colorado with an altitude change of 3250 feet. Any sane person will ask, why not just donate? Why push the limits? Endurance is the answer.

Cystic Fibrosis

For the individuals I personally know with Cystic Fibrosis, endurance is needed for day-to-day living. The disease affects the lungs and the pancreas. It is an inherited disease. Thus someone is born with it. At this point in time there is no cure. But research scientists are working hard to develop better treatments as well as to find a cure.

Current treatments include pancreatic enzymes such as Creon taken with each meal and snack, bronchodilators and airway clearance vest machines. (Hopefully insurance companies now cover the airway clearance vests. I fought an insurance company for two years over the necessity of this expensive machine.)These are everyday treatments.

Anytime a CF patient becomes ill, treatments intensify. Courses of antibiotics and additional bronchodilators are added to the daily regimen. More time is spent on airway clearance. Sometimes the airway clearance is measured in hours. Thus, endurance becomes second nature to the patient. And the caregiver.

Endurance

The CF patient raised in my home is now an adult living half a country away. I no longer have the day-to-day responsibility of a caregiver. But endurance is an ingrained fiber of my being. Therefore, I plan to participate in both the fundraising and the hiking. If my offspring can endure in the face of adversity so can I. But sometimes I need to prove this to myself.

Participating in Xtreme Hike Vail is one way to reaffirm my commitment. The physical duress will pale in comparison to the hardship faced by those afflicted with this disease. There is no way to mimic their challenges. But empathy is an important part of human nature. I think the stresses on the lungs of physical activity at ten thousand feet above sea level will simulate the challenge breathing holds for those with Cystic Fibrosis. Just breathing. Something to think about.

So I am adding a link to the hike on the sidebar or you can click here to donate. Those of you who personally know me can find my team. Just scroll down to the Top Teams Box and click on “more.” For everyone else, pick a team, any team. The cause is what is so important. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Individuals with Cystic Fibrosis are the epitome of endurance.

Where The Crawdads Sing Book Review

Where The Crawdads Sing

The debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing is one you will want to read. This is the first foray into fiction for Delia Owens whose previous works have been in the realm of non-fiction. Her expertise in wildlife creates a wondrous background for the novel. A story so gripping you won’t want to put it down.

The setting is the lowlands of North Carolina. Owens brings to life the creatures of the marsh through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist of Where The Crawdads Sing. The first glimpse we have of Kya is as a six-year-old confused by her mom leaving their swamp shack in high-heeled faux alligator shoes. She waits for her mom to turn around and wave good-bye. The mom keeps on walking, right out of Kya’s life. The first to abandon the little girl.

Owens uses a dual narrative approach to spin her tale. Thus, the riveting saga of Kya alternates with the murder investigation of a local hometown hero. Several characters overlap between the two tales. The modern-day plot takes place in 1969. Kyra’s mom walked out in 1952. Eventually time merges. Along the way the reader glimpses an accurate picture of the Deep South.

Where The Crawdads Sing is hard to classify as far as to which genre it belongs. Yes, there is a murder involved. But the story really isn’t a “who done it?” The bulk of the tale revolves around the young abandoned girl as she matures into adulthood. Of course there is some romance involved too as is often the case with coming of age stories.

Uniqueness

What I liked about the book the most was the uniqueness. I encountered a suspension of disbelief which allowed me to totally immerse myself in Kya’s circumstances. The author has created a character rich in complexity. She is different. How she became different is a critical part of nature. And an integral part of the novel.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. I am amazed that this is a first novel. Furthermore, the ending was a total surprise. Any serious lover of fiction should add Where The Crawdads Sing to their must read list. I sincerely hope Delia Owens produces another work of fiction.

 

Online Passwords

Passwords have become a ubiquitous part of life. This is because so much of life now takes place online. Many people shop online and each of these stores request a password. Social media sites also want passwords. Banks offer online access and naturally they want passwords. In theory, these passwords protect the consumer. But having a password isn’t enough protection from hackers.

For starters, many people use the same password over and over. Yes, this does make life easier. For you. And for hackers. Theft, both monetary and of your identity is what a hacker is after. Therefore, a password is of utmost importance.

Risky Passwords

I have had the privilege of working with several IT gurus. They each have their own insights into password security. Each say total security is impossible. Security breaches will happen. But steps can be taken to reduce that risk.

First, don’t save your passwords on a computer file or even a caveman file, named passwords. Preferably don’t have a written list at all. But if you absolutely need one, bury it under a different name or folder. Second, don’t use the same password over and over again. Ideally each password should be unique. Yes, that means dozens of passwords.

Passwords should not be obvious. In other words, your online bank password should not be Bank 1234. However, there are some ways to compromise so that you can remember a password without writing it down.

It is also a terrible idea to share passwords. My family gets frustrated with me because I will not even share my password to fire up my computer. Just remember that old adage: loose lips sink ships and politely refuse.

Another poor habit regarding passwords is using the same one forever. I am guilty of this myself. However, there may be some safety in my approach. My one account that has not changed in almost 10 years is a social account. It is tied to an email created to join that network. Neither the email, nor the password has been used for anything else. My other accounts are changed on a regular basis.

If at all possible, do not log in on public computers. Public Wi-Fi is also a sketchy proposition. Furthermore, if you are in a public place be sure to keep your laptop, tablet or cell phone with you at all times.

Security Breaches

Breaches in security happen frequently. If you are contacted about a breach do not delay in checking the account. After scanning for unauthorized activity, change your password, even if it is fairly new. Because a breach means someone may have access to your password.

Businesses are changing protocols in response to hackers. For example, I recently booked an international flight. The first day’s attempt went nowhere. The airline site kept sending an error message. Turns out their security had just been breached and they shut their system down. The following day they were up and running. But a digital code was needed to complete the purchase. The code was emailed to me from the bank which issued my credit card. This double-check is a necessary nuisance.

Strong Passwords

In addition to businesses instituting double checks, strong passwords are important. The strongest are software generated. These are available both online and offline. Naturally, both have some risks. Anything online can be hacked. Furthermore, with the IOT (Internet of Things) even some risk occurs with software uploaded onto a computer. Nevertheless, computer generated passwords are extremely strong.

There are some old school methods to creating a random password. A favorite of mine is to use a newspaper. Find an article and count down a random number of words. The word you use should be at least five characters long. This will serve as a base for your password. Then scan the paper for a number with at least four digits. Combine the two making sure to capitalize one letter and one number. For longer passwords add a second word or set of numbers. This method is great for creating a password you will never use again and don’t need to remember.

Financial Institutions

Very strong passwords are needed for accessing accounts held in financial institutions. These passwords should also change frequently. This includes accounts such as savings, money market and C.D.’s. People routinely monitor their checking account, but all types of accounts are vulnerable.

I like using short sentences for these accounts. Then I can remember the words and hopefully how I altered them. For instance, She Hates Turkey can be written as $H3h2t3sTurk3y or S434@tuRK3y or $434@T3$turk3y. You need to create your own secret code. These short sentences can reflect the business such as Always Great Service or the day you created the password: Rain, rain and more rain. The trick is to alter the letters into numbers and symbols. And then to remember how you altered them.

Numbers are easily converted to symbols. Simply shift to capitals. For a really difficult password, set the cap lock before typing a series of random letters and numbers.

However, using an alteration of the company name is not advised. Randomness and length are what lead to strong passwords. So if the site says a password should be 8-20 characters long, don’t settle for 8.

Social Media

In my opinion, social media presents great opportunity for hacking. For one reason, many people use the apps and so they don’t sign out. In other cases, public devices are used and then clicked off without signing out. This leaves the door wide open.

The best solution would be similar to what I referenced above, have a separate email and a separate password for each. The next best option is one email for social media sites that is never used elsewhere. Again each site needs a unique password.

However, if the accounts are already set up and an email is used for both social and non-social sites, make sure you change passwords often. By often, at least four times a year and more frequently is better. Don’t simply change a digit at the end of the password to make it new. For example Twitter1 should not become Twitter2.

Passwords for social media accounts should never be used elsewhere.

Emails

Creating a new email account for business only is advisable, but sometimes the migration in use is slow. I have multiple email accounts in order to keep usage separated. But these email accounts do lead to vulnerability. You are not required to provide an email at box stores. However, many online merchants require the information for purchase.

Organizations are now requesting emails as a form of communication. Almost everyone I know has an email. (I can count two holdouts.) But not everyone understands how to safeguard these accounts. Passwords for emails need to be very strong.

Due to the rise in fraud, many transactions are verified through either email, phone call or text. An email account can be open on more than one device at a time. If someone has access to your email account and its password, fraud is easily committed.

Therefore, vigilance is needed. Many of the carriers notify via email if a new device has signed onto the account. If this was not you, take action immediately.

Cyber security is crucial for protecting your identity and your assets. Strong passwords play an important part. So does a vigilant attitude with respect to changing passwords and screening for breaches. Remember to use a unique password for each account. Change passwords frequently. Finally, look for the secure symbol on websites before submitting emails and creating passwords. Never enter credit information without the padlock symbol and the word Secure on the browser line. Sites such as Econogal pay for this extra security. Just another step in protecting your identity.

There Are No Grown-Ups Book Review

There Are No Grown-Ups

Pamela Druckerman is an established author. She is an expat living in France and her books are non-fiction. There Are No Grown-Ups is the first of her books that I have read. Perhaps it will be the last. At heart I am a prude. Thus her early revelations regarding an intimate birthday present for her husband turned me off.

However, you may see things differently since sometimes I feel like one of the few “Grown-Ups” not to have read Fifty Shades of Gray. Writing is a personal thing, deeply personal. As is reading. So I am reluctant to totally pan There Are No Grown-Ups.

Druckerman bares her soul in addition to her body. Although she is closer to my age, she reminds me of many of my students. TMI (Too Much Information) is a concept that is lost on some. So, be forewarned, Druckerman reveals all in an attempt to explain concepts such as the body ages long before the mind for many.

I understand this idea. Furthermore, I can connect with Druckerman on some levels. She describes throughout her book the frustrations and challenges life delivers. She discusses candidly her battle with cancer. Druckerman also shares how she has handled the notoriety and fame garnered from her writing.

Privacy Issues

But my biggest problem stems from what is the very essence of the book. In There Are No Grown-Ups, there is also no sense of privacy. Everything is shared. For Druckerman, her success as a writer stems from being true to her own identity. But does this mean one must tell all?

Some relationships should remain private. In my opinion, a couple’s intimacy falls into this category. I am not necessarily advocating for secrecy. Rather I believe in discretion. This is at odds with much of the publication.

Throughout the book, Druckerman discusses her family background. Her parents were not wealthy. Nor were they poor. Furthermore, for reasons revealed toward the end, they only discussed positive things in front of her.

So there are parallels with my background. I also grew up in a family that did not discuss certain topics. Then, Druckerman discloses that she raises her children via open discussion. I did not. Age appropriate discussions were the norm in our household. My belief was and is that children need the freedom to be children. Adulthood is difficult enough.

This key difference with regards to privacy may explain why I am uncomfortable recommending There Are No Grown-Ups. But, the problems are numerous. The Ménage a Trois birthday present, was TMI and something I am totally opposed to. Additionally, I view friendship quite differently. Furthermore, my belief is that the writer doth protest too much. I had trouble believing all the shared self-doubt.

I am sure there are many who will love this book. I did not. Nor do I recommend it. But I believe There Are No Grown-Ups has its place in the world. This was a library check-out. If you think you would be interested, I recommend finding it at a library near you.

August 2018 Wrap Up

I usually find August unbearable. Hot winds out of the Southwest make life miserable. Much of the time my garden shuts down because it can’t handle the windy triple digit days. This year was different. Cool, rainy days prevailed during the early weeks with just a couple of hundred degree days toward the end. ‘I could get used to this’ to paraphrase an alien busting actor.

Travel

In fact, weather in my hometown rivaled Saratoga Springs during the early part of the month, although we lack any farmers market. Other travel trips were limited to just a few hours. But one I will share took place in the Rocky Mountains. I joined a young couple in hiking around Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We will participate in the Xtreme Hike Vail in late September. This is a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Feel free to contact me through the mail button at the top if you wish to donate.

View of mountains in distance
Looking West from atop Golden Gate Canyon State Park
two people hiking on a trail
Hiking Mule Deer Trail

High altitude certainly slows me down. On this particular hike, each mile took about twenty minutes. The three hours of “moderate” trail left me feeling confident that I am up to the challenge. I did ice my ankles and stretched afterwards. Both actions keep me on top of my game. Read my post recommending the book Stretching if you don’t already have a routine.

County Fair

August heralds the county fairs in this part of the country. I entered quite a bit of produce and some canned goods this year. Although I did not win a top prize, I was proud of my garden efforts. The Raised Row Garden certainly is a success. My plan is to continue this technique another two years before placing permanent fencing around the perimeter. So far the temporary fence is keeping the critters at bay.

4-H Competition Premiums

A comment on the fair. There were over eighty kids in the parade of champions. This is a good number. However, I believe most were competing in the livestock divisions. The other divisions were not well represented.

For example, only four articles of clothing were entered by three separate 4-H kids. This was disappointing to me. With the exception of cake decorating, the entries in the non-livestock division were sparse. I don’t think most of the kids showing animals will use the skills as adults. Much of the competition centered on lambs and goats. Outside of the Easter season, few in this country eat lamb on a regular basis.

But I do see this as a principle of economics. The premiums for animals participating in the livestock division are determined via auction. The townspeople bid on the animals (but don’t actually purchase them) and the kids keep this premium. The bids are usually in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. The kids can then sell the animals at market price if they wish. This doubles the money.

However, the 4-H entries in subjects ranging from dog obedience to cooking to rocketry to woodworking (the list of skills is extensive) earn premiums paltry in comparison. The Grand Champions of each division are awarded seventy-five dollars. If you were a kid, which activity would you spend your time on?

Econogal Challenge

In July I challenged my readers to abstain from alcohol, or if they did not drink form their own challenge. An article and scientific research indicating a rise of liver disease among Millennials prompted this challenge. The feedback is positive. Those involved feel free to share in the comment section below. Or in the comment section of the original article Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events. One month down, two to go!

National News

The investigation into the involvement of Russian election interference continues to twist and turn. I urge my readers to read my reviews of both New York Station and Hidden Target. History reveals such interference is not new. However, current technology has taken everything to the next level. I have talked about technology before. I am currently working on a post concerning cyber security. There are some things one can do to limit the invasion of privacy. However, only going totally off-grid eliminates breeches to personal data. My preference is to protect what I can with the knowledge that everything is vulnerable.

This past week, Senator John McCain lost his battle with cancer. I did not personally know Senator McCain and did not always agree with him on political matters, but I admired his devotion to this country. Over the next few days, media coverage will focus on the ceremonies recognizing this statesman. Honoring those who give much to society is important.

Even more important is each of us doing our part to make society better.

The Verdun Affair Book Review

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair reminds me of the books assigned in my high school English classes. Full of deep meaning, filled with ambiguity. Fodder for discussion. Passages to quote. Books such as Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only time will tell if Dybek will reach such a point. But sentences such as “He couldn’t have known that a lifetime is a sad thing, that, in the end, it is a bridge between two worlds that don’t believe in one another” which ends Chapter 3, have the depth for quotation. And discussion.

I struggled reading The Verdun Affair much as I struggled to read the above mentioned classics. The plot was fairly simple, the characters straightforward. But the presentation is one of shifting back and forth between the years.

The story is split between 1950 and the post World War I years. Tom, an American boy caught in France during the war tells the narrative. He is but one of many orphaned by war. He comes of age under the care of French priests and remains in Europe following the war.

The aftermath of The Great War led to many families, parents and wives, searching for those missing or lost. Tom’s task is to recover bones from the battlefields of Verdun while the priests tend to the many searching for lost loved ones.

The White Lie

The story truly unfolds from there. In the absence of clergy, Tom is tasked with consoling a fellow American, Sarah Hagen, searching for her husband. In an attempt towards compassion, he tells a lie. Some would classify it as a White Lie. He claims to have met her husband. This gives her hope. But it will haunt him.

Sarah continues searching. She travels to Italy in hopes that an amnesic is her missing husband. Smitten, Tom finds a way to follow. Italy introduces other key characters. One of whom, Paul, also has a presence in both past and present tales. He, too is searching for someone and thinks the amnesic is that person.

Purpose

The Verdun Affair ponders much. Truth, revenge, conflict and purpose are all posited for the reader to reflect upon. Dybek shows how war affects those involved directly as well as indirectly. Actions have consequences. This novel creates many questions for the reader. When does truth matter? How does one let go of a loved one? Is revenge always needed? How do actions today steer one’s life tomorrow?

I believe this book offers much to the reader looking for reflection. It is not an easy read, but life is not easy. The Verdun Affair is the type of literary work students should be assigned. But, it also holds value for those of us on the other side of the bridge.

Pressure Canning- My Newest Skill

Long-time readers will remember one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn six new skills. Pressure canning is now on the list of acquired skills. I have canned, or in layman’s terms, put-up jams, jellies, and salsas for years. Last year I added pickles. Now that I have successfully learned how to use a pressure canner I expect to really expand my preserving.

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

There is quite a bit of difference between the water bath canning I have done for years and pressure canning. For starters, water bath canning really does not need special equipment. Although I have a large water bath canner, for many years I just used my spaghetti pot and lined the bottom with a towel. However, a pressure canner is designed just for canning.

To be honest, I have had the canner for a few months. But it sat in its box. First in the basement, then for the last month at the top of the stairs. Its’ main job was intimidation. Yes, I was scared of this device.

For those of you that don’t can, a water bath canner is used with foods that are acidic in nature. Or have lots of vinegar in the recipe. As long as you achieve a good seal on the can, there is little to fear. On the other hand, low acid foods need pressure sealing in order to eliminate the danger of botulism. Therein lies the source of my fear. I worry that I will not use the pressure canner correctly. And there is no one I want to poison.

Abundant Garden

This year the garden is in overdrive, thanks to the new raised row garden. Therefore, I need to learn how to can. My green beans, eggplant, acorn squash and pumpkin all need preserving. I only have so much freezer space! So I decided to start with something simple-green beans.

I spent two days procrastinating by reading everything possible about processing green beans. Then after picking four pounds of green beans, I opened the pressure canner box. Reading the directions and assembling the canner delayed the moment by another hour. But finally I was ready to can.

Snapping four pounds of green beans takes a bit of time. It brought back memories of the women on my Dad’s side of the family snapping beans at what used to be the family cottage in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. Not a bad thing when you are alone at the kitchen sink washing and preparing to can.

Moment of Truth

Finally, the time arrived to can. The green beans were ready, the canner was fully assembled.  Then following the canner directions, I placed three quarts of water in the bottom of the canner. I added warm water. I have a quart size Pyrex measuring cup which I nuked in the microwave. The book suggested warming to no more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t measure, but it wasn’t boiling.

I had kept the canning jars hot by filling with boiling water while the beans were being processed.  The beans were boiled for five minutes, partially cooking them. When I water bath can, the jars are in the canner until ready to fill. So this step was different.

After filling the jars with beans and leaving the proper head space of an inch, I placed the five pints in the canner. I lined the arrows on the lid and canner top, rotated clockwise and turned up the heat. Then I waited. And waited.

Steam needs to vent for ten minutes before the pressure regulator is placed atop the vent. Time passed fairly quickly as I was able to clean up the mess I made snapping the ends off the beans. But then time seemed to crawl once the pressure regulator was put in place. An automatic air vent/cover lock struggled to pop-up. Perhaps it was because of the first time use. Or maybe this is normal. Future canning’s will tell.

Pressure Time

Finally, the pressure gauge began to move up. My altitude dictates a pressure of 12 which is just above the standard. The trick to pressure canning is to keep the canner at the right pressure. If the canner falls below the pressure needed for your altitude it means resetting the clock. This I did not want to do. So I watched like an eagle. I did have to adjust the heat throughout the canning. But it was worth it in the end. No restart of the clock for me.

After the twenty minutes elapsed, the pressure canner was lifted off the heat and allowed to cool. Think of a car radiator, much the same concept. You don’t want to open either when hot. Once the canner cooled down, I lifted the lid and removed the five pints onto a kitchen towel. Longtime preservists will appreciate the thrill of hearing five metallic pings shortly thereafter.

The four pounds ending up filling five pints with enough left over that I froze the remainder in a quart size freezer bag. I am out of pint size jars. So is my small town!

Final Thoughts

I am so glad I learned this skill. The lovely pings indicate a good seal. I have a feeling this new pressure canner will get plenty of use this fall. Unlike a water bath can, I will need to stay in the kitchen paying close attention to the pressure. But I think the time spent will be worthwhile.

A major difference between the two types of canneries is how altitude is handled. In water bath canning, additional time is added to the process. However, in pressure canning all geographic locations use the same amount of time. It is the pressure which is changed.

Yes it is far easier to buy the cans at the grocery store. But I love to garden and I don’t want the produce to go to waste. I can control what goes into the food. Next time you read a label with lots of hard to pronounce ingredients, you might understand my point. Of course reading labels could be a whole separate blog post!

If you so desire I would love to hear about your successes. Feel free to share recipes too! I was so caught up in the process only a few pictures were taken. But there is always next time!

Green beans piled in front of a pressure canner
Ready to start
Cannery with pressure gauge on top
Intimidating Dial
Empty large pot
Empty canner
5 jars of green beans alongside recipe books
Final Product

 

Zero Waste Book Review

Book Cover of Zero WasteReduce, reuse, recycle is one slogan I grew up with. But Shia Su takes this mantra to a whole new level with her book Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks To Drastically Reduce Your Trash. The cover of the book shows a glass jar, approximately quart size with the trash she generated in a year. This is truly cutting waste to zero.

The book has a pictorial Table of Contents. There are lots of pictures throughout for illustrative purposes. The content is such that you can either read straight through or skip around to what you need. Zero Waste is a good resource book.

Su has highlighted tips throughout. Some of her suggestions I already practice. For instance, at the grocery store I seldom use the small plastic bags in the produce department. I just place the items in the cart and group them close together at check out.

Other concepts, such as the high-tech toilet seats from Japan, I have only just heard of. (A neighbor took a trip to Japan this summer and came back raving about the toilets.) I was however, surprised that the cost was not higher. Bidets are certainly not new. But my understanding is the Japanese manufacturers have taken the concept to a whole new level.

Many of the tips are cost savers. But some of the Zero Waste ideas would be tough to convert to. The various personal hygiene tips top the list in this department.

On the other hand, the food storage tips and most of the housekeeping tips are doable for me. I also found her comments on clothing donations informative. We tend to forget economic dumping is not limited to large manufacturers.

Su is a blogger. Her site is Wasteland Rebel. Just a quick glance at the blog after reading the book shows a lot of carryover. So, if you like holding a book in your hands, buy Zero Waste. Or you can subscribe to her blog. Either way, I think you will find the information interesting. How many of us could fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart jar?

Simple Concepts

A Little Bit of This

“A little bit of this….”was the beginning of the title of one of my favorite first books. To be honest, I think the title finished with “a dab of that.” But when I did a quick Internet search I was inundated with results far different from my original understanding of dab. Perhaps the book is no longer in print. Maybe if I patiently clicked through thousands of hits the book would pop up and I could cite the author. At any rate, I still remember the story over 50 years later. The kids in this early reader book were making sandwiches and adding “a little bit of this and a dab of that.” A simple concept that stuck.

So how does someone come up with a simple concept? Many are inventions of necessity.The Flintstones had wheels of rock on their cartoon cars. But perhaps the first wheels were attached to carts to make things easier to drag along.

Simple Concepts

How are simple concepts monetized? I think one would fall back on the old standby answer, it depends. If you use the example of Walter Hunt, an inventor of the early 19th century, some of his inventions could be considered simple. The safety-pin is one of his inventions. What a great idea! Yet Hunt sold the patent to pay a small debt.

Hunt is a very interesting man with a couple of biographies. The first, written in 1935 by Clinton N. Hunt is titled Walter Hunt American Inventor and the only copy I could find through the search engines resides in a Berlin, Germany library. Fortunately for me since my curiosity has been piqued, Joseph Nathan Kane penned Necessity’s Child: The Story of Walter Hunt, America’s Forgotten Inventor in 1997 and copies are still easily available. Stay tuned for a review!

In contrast to Hunt, who merely paid the bills with his inventions, are the modern-day profiteers. Think pet rock, or even more successful, the Beanie Baby. These creations generated tremendous profits. But how have they advanced civilization?

Many of today’s money making inventions are marketing successes as much as needed creations. All fill a need, it is just our needs have changed. For example, one of my favorite pieces of exercise equipment is the Simply Fit Board. I love it! The board definitely falls into the simple concept category. But if I lived a hundred years ago, I would get fit from all the manual labor required to get through each day.

A Dab of That

The passage of time has made other changes in our daily lives. Earlier this month, Econogal sponsored the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon. Sports competition has greatly evolved. During the same time period Hunt was working on his many inventions, very little occurred in competitive sports. Baseball, with its murky origins appears to have predated both football and basketball. Modern day organized track and field events also occurred in the late 1800s.

This very informative article from The Atlantic published in 2013 discusses the tie between mandatory education and organized sports for youth. According to the author, organized sports first catered to the poor. Only in the 20th Century did middle class kids enter into competitions.

I would concur with the article that the rise of competitive leagues for kids dovetails with the educational push starting in the 1960s to lessen competition in the classroom. In theory, this would allow all children to achieve self-esteem. (I could write a series of blogs on the pros and cons of this theory.)

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon

Thus I did not find it unusual that the youngest participant in the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon was six years of age. In fact I was pleased to see a youngster competing in this event. I think personal challenges of this type are what really create self-confidence. Competition with others can be good, but improving upon your own measurements, I think, creates positive self-esteem.

Congratulations to all the participants. Thank you Rhonda Snyder for the shared photos. Next year I hope to travel to Rocky Ford to compete in the 2019 Rocky Ford Melon- Man Triathlon.

Swimming PoolMan on bicycle

 

 

 

 

Runners at Starting Line

The Alice Network Book Review

Kate Quinn offers a treat for history buffs and those who like a bit of romance. Her book, The Alice Network, is set in the years immediately following World War II. But, the focus of more than half the book is World War I, also known as The Great War.

Charlie

Alternating chapters reveal the stories of two women. Charlie, short for Charlotte, opens the story in 1947. She is searching for her cousin Rose. The family lost contact with Rose while France was occupied by Germany. Charlie has one lead, Evelyn Gardiner.

Charlie is also running away. Her story is a combination of post war stresses as well as her search for Rose. War has long-lasting consequences for both soldiers and families. Quinn does an outstanding job of conveying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout Charlie’s tale.

Fans of romance are treated to just a bit as Charlie becomes attracted to Finn Kilgore, employee of Evelyn Gardiner. Kilgore’s background is of a former soldier with some issues. He is struggling a bit but is a rock to both Eve and Charlie.

Eve/Marguerite

Evelyn Gardiner is the protagonist of The Great War story as well as the support Charlie needs in her search for Cousin Rose. Evelyn now known as Eve and sometimes as just Gardiner, is a drunk. But during World War II she served as a spy with the assumed name Marguerite.

Marguerite Le Francois is an integral member of the Alice Network. She is recruited in England but placed in France. Her fluency in English, French, and German makes her an ideal spy. Of course Marguerite is entirely concocted by Quinn. But The Alice Network was real. So too were some of the key supporting figures in the story of Eve. The weaving of fact and fiction is expertly done.

The Alice Network

Throughout history, women have been a party to war. During the Great War, women served as key figures in spy rings operating behind enemy lines. In the chapters focusing on Eve’s storyline, Quinn demonstrates the sacrifices made by these women. Then through Charlie’s story, she gives the readers a glimpse of how long-lasting the impact of war is.

I really enjoyed The Alice Network. The back and forth between storylines worked. Although the reader knows Eve survives World War I since she is still around in 1947, there is still quite a bit of suspense to this novel. I greatly appreciated the author’s notes at the end of the book. Quinn spells out fact from fiction as far as the war events. Those more knowledgeable of The Great War might not appreciate the notes as much.

I strongly recommend this book. The members of The Alice Network went to great lengths to shorten the war. The author does a really good job of showing the impact of war on soldier and civilian as well.

The characters are endearing. The story is suspenseful. The ending is akin to a romance novel even though there is a dose of bittersweet. Kate Quinn has a winner in this well researched and well written book.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Fun

One of the best things about summer is the abundance of Farmers Markets. Just spotting them from the road gives me a smile and a lift in spirits. But getting a chance to wander around one takes the enjoyment to a higher level. Last weekend I happened upon a great Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, New York just loaded with fun.

Fresh Produce

The first thing I love about Farmers Markets is all the fresh produce. Ears of corn, tomatoes of all colors, beets, carrots and peppers are all standard at a market. The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market had all of these and more. Fresh milk, cheeses, honey and mushrooms were spotted, sampled and purchased as I wandered through the stalls. Other goods such as jams, flowers, herbs and home-made spirits were fondly looked at, but hard to fly home with, so just admired.

Ramble Creek Farm

Most often I see beautiful examples of farm product I am familiar with. But at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market I found a new to me item, a mushroom called Lions Mane offered by Ramble Creek Farm in Greenwich, NY. As you can see from the pictures, this mushroom has both a textured top and bottom. An unusual seafood-like taste makes this mushroom unique. But what intrigues me the most is the health properties. Lions Mane is thought to have positive effects on brain health. Visit this website for more information. Those new to Econogal can read the About Me section for a glimpse into why I focus so much on the brain.

I wish I lived closer to Ramble Creek Farm so I could purchase more of their organic food. I loved visiting with one of the owners. They have an approach to farming that I commend. Please visit their website by clicking here. If you live in New England you may live within their delivery area!

Saratoga Suds

Another entrepreneur I chatted with at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the soap lady. These were not just your ordinary hand-made soaps. These soaps had style! The cupcakes looked good enough to eat and were what first caught my eye. Saratoga Suds originated over 45 years ago. Of course the company offers traditional styled soap, but the creativity in the shapes and the scents sets this company apart from the rest.

Furthermore, this Farmers Market find is once again a natural product. Visit the website for Saratoga Suds by clicking here and order some soaps today. I think you will like this mineral water soap as much as I do.

Food to Go

In addition to farm products to take home and prepare, there were many vendors with food to eat right then. The piping hot dishes looked great but I opted for my traditional travelling fare, bread and cheese. I washed it down with some delicious lavender lemonade although the fresh bottled milk was tempting.

The croissant purchased from Mrs. London’s Bakery paired nicely with the kunik cheese and honey purchased from Nettle Meadow. The French style bakery and café has been treating the residents of Saratoga Springs for over 20 years. Few food operations last past the first five years, thus Mrs. London’s Bakery is an exception as well as exceptional. The croissant melted in my mouth.

Nettle Meadow had an engaging spokesperson and an informative display. The operation is a farm and a sanctuary. While goats are the star of the show, sheep, llama, chickens and ducks share space on the farm which is open to visitors. This popular stall at the farmers market offered a variety of goat cheeses. Their kunik cheese is an award-winning blend of goat’s milk and cow cream. I now have a new addiction.

I did not discover the stall for Saratoga Crackers until after enjoying every bite of kunik. But these crackers are delicious just on their own. Like many of the farmers market booths, samples were available. I could not decide which I liked best, the Garlic Parmesan or the Rosemary Olive. Both ended up coming home with me. I love the fact that Saratoga Crackers is focused on healthy natural ingredients and would love to someday meet The Cracker Master and learn of her ties to the Saratoga horses.

Farmers Market Music – Running The River

Another first for me at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the live music. Two trios were performing at a far enough distance that the tunes did not conflict. While I liked the group playing music from my younger years, I loved the group Running The River. Their schedule indicates a regular appearance on market days along with many other events in the surrounding area. They have two new CDs Longbow and Riverside which showcase some of their original work as well as favorite cover songs. Their website which can be accessed by clicking here has a calendar with performance dates and locations. Running The River members are great entertainers. Make sure to watch the short You Tube Video of Running The River below.

The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market is superb. I think this ranks as the top farmers market I have wandered through. From glancing at Running The River’s performance schedule, the market seemed to be open longer than the traditional months. So I scoped the Internet and learned that this particular farmers market is open year round. If you are ever in the area, make sure to stop by. No matter the time of year!

The Day the Crayons Quit Book Review

Book, coloring book and crayons
The stars of The Day the Crayons Quit ready to color again.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers have a winner in The Day the Crayons Quit. Each of the colors in a crayon box has something to say. This children’s book is sure to be a hit with your favorite youngster.

I feel this is a book which is designed for an adult or older child to read to the younger crowd. The story is definitely geared toward a preschool or early grade school crowd. But the vocabulary is not for beginning readers.

Striking Crayons

The story is engaging. Duncan wants to color in class but finds a stack of letters instead of his crayons. Each color has hand written a note. Thus some of the book could be difficult for an early reader to decipher. Adjacent to the note is artwork featuring that color. Most colors complain, some need a referee and a couple are downright hilarious. The humor is perfect for the target audience. But I appreciated it as well.

In addition to the story line, Daywalt provides a personality for each crayon. Then Jeffers brings the color into focus with illustrations any child can relate to. The duo have created a children’s book which has lasting value. Humor rules throughout. This story fits in many places. The book is appropriate for story hour at libraries, reading time in schools and naturally bedtime.

Read Aloud

The Day the Crayons Quit harkens back to a time when youngsters were entertained by someone reading to them. This book provides the opportunity to spend time with a child. Reading aloud is an activity that requires participation by both reader and listener. Thus, a far cry from the electronic entertainment seen so often today.

I encourage anyone with a young child in their life to find this book. This includes daycare providers, elementary school teachers and librarians, parents and grandparents. The Day the Crayons Quit is a great addition to the library.

I have just one question for Daywalt and Jeffers. Whatever happened to Mr. Brown Crayon?

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!

Clock Dance Book Review

Clock Dance- A Book Club Book

The author of Clock Dance is new to me. But I am glad I discovered her work. Clock Dance piqued my interest from the start. I read it cover to cover. Many of you may be familiar with the author, Anne Tyler. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. So, it is not surprising that Clock Dance is being read by book clubs across the country.

Willa Drake is the protagonist in Clock Dance. The reader follows her life from grade school to 60 ish. There are large gaps in the timeline but Tyler makes that work. Thus, in some ways, Clock Dance is a summary of life events.

The characters are pretty straight-forward. The development of Willa is nicely done. But the reader may be surprised by how her relationship with key members of her family changes over the years. I was, yet I wasn’t. Dysfunctional family relationships during the early years have a way of sowing unusual outcomes.

Call for Help

The “real” story begins in the present which for Willa means her early sixties. In a case of mistaken identity, she receives a call for help. And she responds much to her husband’s chagrin. He tags along.

Willa flies half way across the country to care for a young girl. Tyler makes it clear the kid is pretty self-sufficient. There is a parallelism between Willa and Cheryl, the young girl she is in temporary charge of. Thus the natural re-awakening of Willa’s self is easy to believe.

The supporting characters are good. So is the plot. The ending is a bit surprising but not overly so. Those of us approaching a certain age do begin to wonder how things could have been. Tyler reminds us that time remains to make changes. The clock has not run out yet.

I really liked Clock Dance and plan to loan my copy out to others. This book has great appeal and not just for those of us approaching the later stages of life. Anne Tyler is a great writer and I plan to read more of her work.

Learning New Skills

Green beans piled in front of a pressure cannerMy New Year’s resolutions for this year included learning six new skills. At my age, learning anything new can be tough. Both the body and the mind tend to prefer the status quo. But the benefits are great. New skills stimulate the brain cells in a positive way.

The raised row garden has provided one outlet for learning. Just establishing the garden took research. This compilation of new knowledge definitely made the brain waves dance. Constructing the rows took a lot of labor too.

Furthermore, maintaining the garden has generated a few new skills as well. I learned how to make organic bug killer when battling the flea beetles. For the first time I used an inoculant on my peas. Now I am about to add pressure canning to my list of skills.

I have been canning and preserving for years. But I have only used the water bath method or frozen the produce. To be truthful, I find the idea of pressure canning downright scary.

Water Bath Canning

Jams, jellies, salsas and pickles tend to be quite acidic and thus lend themselves to processing through the water bath method. Some of the items have natural acidity. Others are put up using an acidic ingredient which helps make the recipe safe. Some of my lower acid fruits have lemon added and the pickles and salsas recipes tend to have vinegar added.

My favorite canning book Small-Batch Preserving focuses on water bath method recipes. This type of canning utilizing highly acidic ingredients reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. I seldom worry about spoiled food put up in this fashion.

New Skills- Canning Low Acidic Foods

However, low acid foods and recipes intimidate me. I worry about food poisoning, specifically botulism. So I am about to learn a new skill. I bought a pressure canner. Plus I have researched several websites such as the Wells Can and the Ball and Kerr sites. I also consulted Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. Since visiting their test garden I wrote about in Destination Des Moines, I feel very motivated and slightly less nervous.

My raised row garden is yielding multitudes of green beans. So that will be the first vegetable I put up. Check back on the blog when I post the July 2018 Wrap-Up to see and hear about the results!

Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events

Numerous alcohol bottles on displayI use Twitter to keep abreast of news. But, I follow-up by searching for source information. Yesterday the Twitter feed piqued my interest with a trending item relating increases of liver disease in the under 34 population with The Great Recession. Naturally, I am interested whenever I see society impacted by economic events. Also, I look for the reverse; societal events which impact economics. The interchange is often life changing.

Increased Liver Disease Since the 2008 Recession

Therefore, I searched for the source of the study and found the publication in the BMJ. The study originated at the University of Michigan. Assistant Professors  Tapper and Parikh produced the work. Please click here for the link explaining the scientific methodology. Some of you may have read articles in either the New York Times or Washington Post summarizing the study. I encourage you to read the actual study found on the above link.

The study covers the time period from 1999 to 2016. A statistically significant correlation between The Great Recession and increased deaths in the 25 to 34 population is discussed. Since my oldest offspring fit this demographic, there is a greater interest on my part. The data analysis and results were of particular note. Table 2 in the study is a good indicator that the onset of economic trouble has a direct correlation with an increase in liver disease.

Validation is important to me, so I searched for other studies. There are quite a few. The Great Recession spurred many scientific studies. Most attributed the decline in health to the decline in prosperity. However, I did come across a scholarly article that posited the opposite reaction.

Health Effects of Economic Crisis

Christopher J. Ruhm produced the working paper Health Effects of Economic Crises. His detailed analysis can be accessed by clicking here. (Note the Economic Bureau of Economic Research does not have a secure website, but the link is to a PDF.) On the surface the two studies appear to conflict. Yet a closer evaluation indicates some correlation between the two.

Ruhm’s study of the interchange between macroeconomic downturns and morbidity rates focuses on cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Everything else is lumped into a category of other disease. (He also includes analysis of death rates due to accidents, suicides and homicides. Although the two latter conditions could be attributed to mental illness.)

Backgrounds play a key role in the approaches. Tapper and Parikh are medical doctors specializing in the field of gastroenterology. Ruhm’s background is in economics. He holds a doctorate with his CV citing Health Economics, Labor Economics and Public Economics as specialties.

My belief after reading both studies is there is an interaction between economics, macroeconomics in particular, and societal changes. Declines in extra spending money leads to a decline in consumption of goods harmful to health. Examples would be alcohol, tobacco and sugar.

Correlation

From what I understand of the two studies, a correlation can be made. Ruhm’s analysis led me to believe the morbidity rates declined due to a money squeeze. Personal observation recalls individuals in my hamlet switching to bikes and walking during the Great Recession. This increase in physical activity combined with a decrease in consumption of deleterious goods such as alcohol, tobacco and sugars would lead to healthier living.

By contrast, the study by Tapper and Parikh seems to me to focus on the aftereffects of the Great Recession. The country has enjoyed a decade of prosperity. Yet it is easy to infer the lingering effects on the age group of 25-34 year olds. Some would include the Millennials in this cohort. Individuals entering the workforce during the Great Recession faced adversity at the time. Many are still struggling to catch-up.

Perhaps this internal struggle coupled with more money currently available for consumer spending is the cause for the findings in the study. Higher alcohol as well as obesity lead to liver failure. Thus a call for an increase in sin tax with regards to both alcohol and sugar by proponents of this particular study.

Health Challenge From Econogal

Taxes are unpopular and only one approach. My suggestions differ. First, as I have written before, maintaining physical health is important. In my opinion, all adults (everyone over 18) should have blood work done once a year along as part of an annual check-up. Second, we should practice moderation. I first discuss this in the book review of The Case Against Sugar.

Alcohol consumption should be limited. I looked up the suggested limits for low risk use. They were more than generous in my opinion. My understanding is those who don’t drink at all are at an advantage with regards to memory processes and only at a slight disadvantage for cardiovascular health.

Thus, I have a challenge for my readers. Starting August 1, 2018, reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption until Halloween. Monetary costs most likely prohibit blood work before and after for concrete results. So, I am asking my readers to use observation. Make weekly notes on energy levels. Note activities. Journal entries will keep you on track. Then share your results via comment. I will let responses dictate space on the blog.

If you are already a non-drinker, reduce your consumption of sugar, tobacco, caffeine or some other unhealthy product. Or those that abstain from alcohol and other sinfully delicious goodies can add a positive. This addition of a healthy alternative would be good for the drinkers as well.

Are you up for the challenge?

Fire on the Track Book Review

Book Cover of Fire on the Track with old bookcase as backgroundRoseanne Montillo offers a close look at the first female track and field Olympians in her book Fire on the Track. Much of the history focuses on Betty Robinson. But detailed backgrounds of Babe Didrikson, Stella Walsh and Helen Stephens are also outlined. Participants in the Olympic games of 1928, 1932 and 1936 are the focus of the work.

Fire on the Track captures you from the start with a narrative of the 1931 plane crash that badly injured Robinson. This style sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Montillo writes a very readable presentation of non-fiction and thus captures a wider audience.

However, due to some very intimate details, I only recommend Fire on the Track for high school age and above. Some of the runners, Stephens in particular, suffered in a manner that would easily qualify her for inclusion in the #Me Too movement. The greatest change over time is the desire in the past to hide the atrocities. Since Montillo has been thorough in her reporting of history, I personally would shield younger readers from this narrative. But I think it is appropriate and important for the mature audience to learn of these past events.

Olympic Track and Field

Having established those parameters, I strongly recommend this book. As a runner, I had a smattering of knowledge about most of the individuals covered in this historical account. But, I did not know of the many difficulties faced by these trailblazing women. Nor did I fully appreciate how much discrimination continued even after the inclusion of track and field events for women in the Olympic Games.

Montillo balances the personal stories of the individual runners with the political and economic events of the time period. Climate played a role as well. The late twenties and the decade of the thirties comprised a period of struggle. The relative prosperity of 1928 yielded to the Dust Bowl days, bread lines and loss of property. All of which are expertly woven into the account.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the personalities of the runners. These young women participated in competition during an era not particularly accepting of the idea of gender equality in sport. Each of the runners were exceptional. Each faced obstacles. And each handled the spotlight differently. Either pick up a copy at your nearest library or buy a copy. Put this book on your list.

Daniels’ Running Formula Book Review

Of the many training books I own, Daniels’ Running Formula is one of my favorites. I have the original edition. But you can find copies of the 3rd edition online through the major booksellers. I used this book to train for a marathon. But other distances are covered too. Indeed, Daniels has a formula for all distances and all types of runners.

Four Keys to Success

Jack Daniels states there are four keys to successful running. First is inherent ability. Even though runners come in various shapes and sizes, certain body types lend to more success. This was important during my competitive running days. But I find I still enjoy running even with a bit of a middle age spread. However, even if I no longer strive to cross the line first, I believe proper training is essential to avoid injury. Thus Daniels’ Running Formula is still consulted.

The other keys are motivation, opportunity and direction. In discussing each, Daniels focus is on competitive running as is much of the book. His discussion of each of the four keys leads into the three parts comprising the body of the work. I believe these ten pages are worth reading. However they contain philosophy as opposed to the more scientific approach used in the remainder of the book.

Program Planning

Part I of the book is composed of three chapters. Daniels uses graphs to illustrate increase of training stress to optimize the level of competitiveness. Naturally, I appreciated the fact that he included a diagram illustrating diminishing returns. The author uses these early chapters to introduce some important biological concepts. A thorough discussion of the cardiovascular system is covered by Daniels.

For the serious runner, there are detailed instructions to create and utilize aerobic profiles. Various charts and illustrations in Daniels’ Running Formula aid in the understanding of the shared concepts. The reader is forewarned; quite a bit of this first section is tough to comprehend. But I believe it is the most important part of the book for competitive runners.

Formula for Training

The second section and bulk of the writing concentrates on training. This part starts with a section on building base. A base level of fitness will vary by individual. Couch potatoes will need to start from scratch. Daniels discusses how to build your fitness level even if you are a less experienced runner.

He also makes clear that slower speeds end up stressing a body more than a quicker tempo. Thus, someone running ten minute miles will work harder than a six-minute miler. Therefore, in the beginning, time measurement of running is as important as distance.

The training section is easier to understand in general. Although you will still have charts requiring knowledge of maximum aerobic capacity. Daniels guides the runner through the set-up of a training program. Explanations of various training techniques are covered. Interval running, marathon pace, fartlek, easy runs and hard runs are all discussed. He includes everything.

Racing

The final section is geared toward racing. Many think of racing in terms of high school and college students. Or they conjure up memories of Olympians. But racing is a positive for all runners. Even my small town of 7500 has multiple running events each year. I have even travelled to a town of under 500 for a road race.

In Daniels’ Running Formula, the racing section first covers the basics. This includes topics such as clothing, shoes, sleep and stretching. The first chapter also discusses how to pick the races and has some psychological pep talk as well.

The next three chapters are focused on race distance. The author breaks the distances into what I would call short (or even very short) medium and long. Chapter 12 is 1500-3000 meter racing. Then, Chapter 13 is 5-15K distance. Chapter 14 covers half and full marathons.

Since high school I have raced only once at the 1500 meter distance. My marathon training partner talked me into the race. It started 30 minutes after we completed the qualifying 10K. Needless to say, my race time was not impressive. But I digress.

Daniels includes a race strategy for each distance. He also provides a training calendar with workout descriptions. Runners who are already conditioned can consult these last chapters repeatedly.

Throughout the book, Daniels spotlights some top individuals in the sport. It was fun to read about Jack Bachelor (I lived in Gainesville when he did and loved spotting him on his runs) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (an all-time favorite.) Read the book to find out if your all-time favorite runner is highlighted.

I recommend buying this book if you are serious about your running. You will improve your performance. If you are not a runner but have one in the family, Daniels’ Running Formula makes a great gift.

Destination Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is a great place to visit. On a recent trip we enjoyed perfect weather which allowed us to enjoy several parks as well as street boutique shopping. Anyone thinking of vacationing in the central part of the United States should consider this charming city for their destination.

Iconic Capitol

The capitol city of Iowa has a lot to offer. History buffs will enjoy touring both the capitol building and the surrounding grounds. As you can see from the pictures in the slide show, the building is currently undergoing a face-lift. The restoration project is in full swing. But from an aircraft above as well as when driving, one just notices the shining gold dome.

My favorite park is on the grounds of the capitol. The eclectic nature of the various monuments appealed to me. At first glance I thought the memorials were limited to the fallen Iowans of the various wars. There is even a tribute to those soldiers buried in Iowa who fought in the Revolutionary War. This memorial showcases the original colonies. Thus a great visual teaching tool for young visitors to the area.

But, the tributes are far-reaching. One of the most attention attracting monuments from a distance is Shattering Silence. This tribute to a landmark slavery case involving Ralph Montgomery is appropriately located closer to the Iowa Court of Appeals. For more information on the historic decision, click here.

Other key memorials include a gift from Japan and multiple trees planted. The Iowa government has produced a map of the grounds. I wish I had found this map prior to my visit. Click here for the map. I recommend printing the PDF version found on the link.

Downtown

Our downtown Des Moines stops included the East Village Shopping area, Papajohn Sculpture Park, and the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. Each offer metered parking. But only the Test Garden offered much shade. There are plenty of places to walk along the river as well.

East Village

I love old-fashioned shopping along city streets. More of the businesses are Mom and Pop stores. Furthermore, clothing boutiques allow you to express yourself. Unlike the chains, service tends to be a bit more personalized too.

East Village has much to offer. Boutiques like Aimee and Matilda Muse were fun to pop into. Clothing from casual to dressy filled the racks. Alongside the clothing stores were two great places for those who like to cook.

First was Kitchen Collage. This shop had everything you could imagine needing in a kitchen. Knives, cutting boards, dish towels, place mats and hundreds of gadgets. I bought a tool to turn my zucchini into noodles. Kitchen Collage would be an ideal place to shop for wedding gifts.

At the other end of the block is Allspice. This locally owned store is a must visit for cooks. In addition to a wide array of spices, the store offers olive oil and vinegar blends. The service here, like the other stops in East Village, was top-notch. I have already used the pickling spices I purchased. To visit Allspice online, click here.

Papajohn Sculpture Park

The Papajohn Sculpture Park commands attention. The large pieces have plenty of room. But they still have a larger than life appearance. My favorite is the spider. However, the attention stealer is titled Nomade. The art piece is 12,000 pounds of stainless steel painted white. The artist, Jaume Plensa hails from Spain. You can view more of his work by clicking here.

Many families rambled across the park on the day we visited the area. This is a great place to let kids stretch their legs while absorbing this contemporary style of art. However, proper respect of the artwork is essential. The sculpture park is open from sunrise until midnight. The operating hours for the adjacent museum can be found by clicking here.

Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden

Just across the street from the Papajohn Sculpture Park is the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. We were fortunate to visit Des Moines on a Friday. Because the test garden is only open on Fridays from noon until 2 during the warmer months of the year.
The test garden had a small crowd waiting at the gate for the guides to arrive. This was a key destination for many visitors. A series of steps leads down into the garden. Reservations were not required. However, groups of ten or more can arrange for guided tours. Our group was half that size. So no guided tour. But I found the master gardeners friendly and informative.

Garden Highlights

A ring of crabapples surround a fountain courtyard in the center of the garden. The shady spot offered tables for those working nearby to bring their sack lunch. Visitors needing a break could sit at the tables and soak in the view. The trees were planted 20 years ago. In the ensuing years a canopy has formed creating the shady oasis in the center. The guide I talked with indicated sun-loving plants were set out underneath the trees in the early years. As the trees matured, shade loving plants took the position at the base of the crabapples. Now there is deep shade. The trees and the fountain more than suffice to anchor the courtyard.

A pathway winds around the edge of the test garden. They types of plantings varied with the amount of sun. One corner had a vegetable and herb garden. The bell peppers were huge!

Readers of the magazine easily recognize various features in the garden. The planters and benches are picturesque. The groupings of plants were inspiring. But what I found most helpful were the identification labels. These labels named both the annuals and the permanent flowers and trees. If I lived and worked in downtown Des Moines, the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden would be my lunch spot every Friday during the summer.

Following the request of the magazine, there are no photos of the test garden in my slide show. Visitors are allowed to take pictures for their own use. But not for any commercial use. Therefore, I am providing this link to the test garden website.

This is just a taste of what Des Moines has to offer. The city deserves a repeat visit and a longer stay to further explore its treasures. Consider this great place for your next vacation destination.

Secrets of the National Parks

Secrets of the National Parks Book Review

Summer is here. Travelers are flocking across the country and many of them are headed to National Parks. If you are among the many heading to the great outdoors, consider purchasing Secrets of the National Parks. I found this guide-book edited by National Geographic on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble for under ten dollars. But I think it is worth more.

My parents did not enjoy camping. However, both felt it was important that we were well-rounded in our education. Trips to National Parks played a key role in exposing us to the wonders of nature. Thus, as my kids were growing up, I made sure they also experienced some of our great national treasures.

I wish I had found Secrets of the National Parks sooner. The book offers a comprehensive guide to 32 of the most popular of the parks. Following this major portion is a small section of snippets about smaller, off the beaten path sites. Last, some of the Canadian National Parks are covered in a similar fashion to those United States sites which comprise the bulk of the work.

Maps and Photos

The editors facilitated the use of the book by placing a map of the United States at the beginning. Each of the 32 National Parks high-lighted in the work are positioned on the map. Then, the page number where each park is detailed is located in red beneath the park name. Thus, those wanting a quick look at a specific site have an easy reference. Maybe the next edition could represent the Canadian Parks in a similar fashion.

Maps are a key characteristic of the books. Each park description includes a map. The editors use a numerical system to indicate both the most visited and the secrets of each park. Thus, the first suggested site described by an author is located on the map with a 1 within a red circle. I found this a very useful feature of the book as many of the parks are vast.

The photos included in the book entice the viewer. The ones featuring the parks I have visited bring back great memories. Those of the places I have yet to see are beckoning. Each captures the essence of the individual locations. Some focus on landscape such as the photo of Delicate Arch. Others highlight the inhabitants from coyote to roseate spoonbills.

Plant life is often depicted with the magnificent natural formations as backdrops. One of my favorites was Sunflowers and Buttes included in the Capitol Reef National Park section. This site is now on my list to visit.

Secrets Detailed

Perhaps the best attribute of the guide are the secrets shared by the writers. While the sections cover the most visited trails, sites, and visitor centers, each includes at least one lesser known, off the beaten path choice. I appreciate this. My enjoyment of nature is heightened if I am not surrounded by throngs of people.

Details include the degree of difficulty of the various hikes. The book is quite useful in this way. Both hikers with very young children as well as those with aging ankles or knees benefit with forehand knowledge.

Updates to the sites are also related. For example, Mesa Verde which I have visited many times has additional attractions since my last visit in 2009. I need to make a return trip in the not too distant future in order to view the new visitor center and participate in the just established “Backcountry Hikes” program.

Nature has a tendency to change over time. Therefore, individuals using Secrets of the National Parks need to check before travelling long distances. Most notable of ongoing change at this moment in time (summer of 2018) is the volcanic eruption at Kilauea.

National Geographic has produced an easy to read guide that is appealing. On a recent trip, I shared the guide with two of my companions. One I asked to verify Wind Cave National Park was on the way to Sturgis. The other is weeks away from a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Both individuals enjoyed Secrets of the National Parks. I think you will too.

Two Tone Zucchini Bread

For the first time ever, I am successfully growing zucchini. Most people find zucchini easy to grow. However, I have been the exception. In fact I seldom have an over-supply of this versatile vegetable. This year, thanks to my raised row garden, I have plenty of zucchini to work with. Two Tone Zucchini Bread is the result of my latest recipe creation.
The bread has some sweetness, but not too much. As a result of reading The Case Against Sugar, I am really watching how much sugar I add to my cooking and baking. Two Tone Zucchini Bread has plenty. Both a cup of white sugar and a third of a cup of chocolate chips will please those with a sweet tooth.

Prepping the Zucchini

The prep takes a little bit of time. I like to pick the squash before it gets too big. This reduces and sometimes eliminates the amount of seeds. I don’t like the seeds in my bread but if you use monster squash, you don’t need to pick out the seeds. They are edible.

Wash the zucchini thoroughly. This is important even if you grow your own or know if the produce has been organically grown. Then I peel before grating. You can leave the peel on if that is your preference. You will need 1 and ½ cups of grated zucchini. Once this step is done, you are ready to gather the remaining ingredients.

This recipe calls for whole wheat flour. If you use all-purpose flour add two tablespoons of flour. I like using whole wheat flour. But, the two types of flour vary slightly with the liquid/flour ratio needed to bake. I also prefer using sunflower oil but other vegetable oils could be substituted.

Kitchen equipment needed:

Grater, electric mixer and mixing bowl, 9 x 5 pan greased well, mixing spoon or large spatula, measuring spoons and cups.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups grated zucchini

For second batter:

1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift the first eight ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sunflower oil, water and vanilla extract and blend on a medium low-speed. Stir in the grated zucchini. Pour approximately half the batter into a well-greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. A cooking spray is preferred.

To the remaining batter, add the dark cocoa powder and the chocolate chips. Stir on low until fully incorporated. I used semi-sweet but milk chocolate or dark chocolate can be used as well. Then pour the second batter on top of the first. Bake for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick inserted through the center should be clean when done.

I did not smooth the batter, nor did I spread it out evenly. This gives the loaf uneven layers. However, the next time I make this recipe I plan to see if the second batter will swirl through the first. The weight of the chocolate chips may hinder this technique. In fact, the uneven layers may have been due to the chocolate chips sinking at random spots.

Try this recipe next time you have some extra zucchini. I think you will like it!

June 2018 Wrap-Up

Purple and green basil.
Oven Dried Basil
Cherries pitted and in baking dish.
June cherries for a crisp.
First harvest of Beets

This year continues to fly by! Now that June has run its course we are officially half-way through the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are now experiencing days shortening. However, summer still has many hours of sunlight ahead.

June Garden Update

My part of the United States has already experienced multiple days of triple digit heat. So many in fact that I have lost count. However, the garden continues to produce. During the month of June almost 50 pounds of produce was harvested. The edibles included various greens, root vegetables, squash, peas and the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Also included in the harvest;cherries and gooseberries. I did lose the broccoli crop to the flea beetles and the pesky pests shortened the harvest of the kale.

Planting seeds continues as spots come open. I even plopped some old seed into the ground and will report on whether or not the seed is still good at a later date. My potato bag experiment may be headed for a second year of failure. One plant did not withstand the 1.1 inches of rain we had one night. Roots did not drain well.

Cataract Surgery

The first of the eye surgeries is behind me. The clarity now that the cataract is removed is unbelievable. I am still anxious about the next surgery but hope the outcome is just as good. My reading remains a bit behind my usual pace. Since my regular glasses no longer work on one eye, I limit reading time to an hour at a time. (Computer time follows the same limit.) This helps eliminate headaches from eye strain.

Travel included trips to two Garden Cities. Please visit the post on Summer Street Fairs from Garden City, New York. The other Garden City served as the location for my cataract surgery. Both cities are thriving.

Reading Materials

Due to the eye surgery, I have focused on reading newspaper articles and blog posts. The Wall Street Journal continues to serve as my go to newspaper source. There was a very interesting article on the equality of the bottom three quintiles. The article posited this emerging equality as the reason President Trump won the 2016 election. Very interesting.
Blogs are some of my favorite reading sources. I especially enjoy those that discuss books or gardening (or both.) One blog I like for the honest reviews is Life of Chaz. Another post which I loved paired wine and summer books, you can click here for that post. I do miss reading my mysteries and all the new books at my library. Thus, I am looking forward to getting my eyes back to normal.

June 2018 has come and gone. My month was super productive. What about yours?