Category: Uncategorized-A Bit of This-A Dab of That

Important Things in Life

Top Three

Three items top the list of what I think is important to learn in life. First is reading. Once a child can read the door is open to academia and every day how-to instructions. The second is swimming. Even for those far away from the ocean. Finally, everyone needs to learn how to cook. Did the last two surprise you?

Reading is Most Important

As a parent, I stressed the importance of reading and thus books. Bookshelf wealth is now a thing, but our house has always had a plethora of books. Children’s books, cook books, gardening books, novels and how-to books and many, many text books fill a multitude of bookshelves.

My belief is once reading is mastered, any skill or subject matter could be learned. One can literally become a jack or jill of all trades. Instructional books abound and of course every subject taught in school can be learned if one feels the subject is important.

Swimming

My parents prioritized learning to swim before I even started kindergarten. We lived in Florida and water was everywhere! The Red Cross lessons taught floating and diving in addition to several basic swim strokes. In turn, I also felt swim lessons were important even though my kids lived on the high plains and not a hundred yards or so from the Atlantic Ocean.

My insistence that they learned was based on a tragedy from my junior high years. A classmate lost her youngest brother when the preschooler drowned in a neighbor’s pool. Bodies of water are everywhere. Swimming, floating and treading water are necessary skills for everybody.

Cooking is Important Too

Hopefully times have changed enough that learning to cook is important for all. However, I belong to a generation where many males grill burgers and steaks and not much else. Fortunately, my in-laws taught all their kids to cook, and I am married to a man that could be a master chef if he wanted to change careers.

I do not remember the age my kids were when they first started fixing food for themselves. But they needed chairs to reach the counter or the stove top. It was quite important to supervise them in the early years.

Now my grandchildren are picking up skills in the kitchen. All three have multi-functional furniture called learning towers or kitchen helpers depending on the manufacturer. These cool pieces can act as a chair and table/desk when on the side or serve as a very sturdy stepstool when standing on end. The sides provide extra support when they are helping in the kitchen either cooking or at the sink.

The oldest helps grandpa make scones and grandma make brownies. Cooking skills are important to develop from an early age. We just make sure we also emphasize safety.

Enjoying a snack at the kitchen counter.
Learning Tower is in the background.

Basic Skills

Reading, swimming, and cooking are all basic skills. However, each is critically important for living a full healthy and happy life. At first glance all could be placed toward the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Yet each offers an individual a chance to grow toward the pinnacle of self-actualization. Hence, they are important things for all to master.

Winter Weather Preparedness

Winter Storm Heather

Bitter cold is sweeping across the United States this weekend. Parts of the country will also experience precipitation, snow in the North and cold rain in the South. Planning and preparedness are critical to riding out Winter Storm Heather.

Most importantly, use common sense. Something that seems in short supply. Don’t travel unless there is no alternative. Cars break down. Electronics fare poorly in low temperatures. So, newer cars are at greater risk. And in sub-zero windy conditions, frostbite can occur in minutes.

Prepare your home before the weather hits. A roof over head with working heat is the key to riding out a storm in comfort. Several important steps prior to the storm hitting are critical to letting you stay warm and toasty inside.

Winter Weather Preparedness on the Road

Hat, scarf, gloves and body warmers are keys to Winter Weather Readiness

 

Unfortunately, sometimes traveling in poor conditions can’t be avoided. And while preparing ahead of time is not foolproof, it certainly is advisable. Proper car maintenance is the first item on the list.

  1. Check Tire Pressure and Tread

Individual tires vary in required pressure so check the manufacturer’s settings. Tire pressure decreases in cold weather so make sure to adjust for incoming cold weather. Tread depth should be 6/32 or greater.

  1. Windshield Washer Fluid

Make sure the window washer fluid is topped off and can withstand below freezing temperatures. Snow splash back is definitely a problem travelling on highways alongside 18-wheelers and other high profile vehicles.

  1. Extra Emergency Gear
    1. Blankets
    2. Food
    3. Water
    4. Hand, Foot or Body Warmers
    5. Clothing-Coat, Scarf, Gloves, Beanie, Boots

Even though winter weather preparedness gear takes up a lot of room in a vehicle, I insist on all these items before traveling out of town. Each person in the car should have appropriate gear.

These are all minimum requirements. Other items one could include are portable cordless tire inflator pumps, jumper cables (older batteries perform poorly in very cold weather), and snow chains.

Winter Weather Preparedness at Home

Getting ready for the winter season at home starts way in advance of any named storm. Each fall, the furnace needs to be checked. In my case and opinion, this is not a DIY. The only thing I do myself with respect to the HVAC system is regularly change the filters.

  1. Check Furnace
  2. Fireplaces

Those with fireplaces also need to check the flues.

  1. Insulate outdoor hose bibs

I wrap the faucets with bubble wrap and then cover them with a recycled piece of Styrofoam.

  1. Stock the Pantry

Two weeks’ worth of basic supplies is a no brainer to me nor to anyone ever experiencing a blizzard with feet of snow. It takes a while to dig out. Items such as fresh milk will need substitutes such as canned or powdered. Young families need to stock up on essentials like diapers! I still remember the angst of a neighboring family from the Blizzard of 1996. Not only were roads impassable but the grocery stores were closed. At least there were no roof collapses like last year in the California Sierras.

 

Southern States

Winter weather preparedness is also important in warmer climates. Growing up, I only had light jackets and there were few fireplaces. We certainly did not have one. So, preparations need to alter to fit the climate. Portable generators which may be on hand to combat electrical loss after hurricanes can do double duty in extreme cold. It has only been a few years since Texans experienced a major loss of power due to freezing temperatures impacting energy sources.

Good Neighbors

The most important part of battling weather extremes is looking out for others. Make sure to check on your neighbors in the days before and after an adverse event. We are all in this together. And remember, use common sense. Stay warm!

 

Love of My Heart

Double Entendre

Creating names and title is part and parcel of writing novels and Love of My Heart sounds perfect for a romance novel. However, in this case love of my heart needs to be taken literally. The stresses and strains of life are at a tipping point. So, to lower a greatly elevated blood pressure I now take blood pressure medicine.

Tipping Point

The tipping point came last week when I woke from a good night’s sleep but still felt off. My blood pressure reading was more than off, I was soaring into space with readings from two devices of 205/105 and 197/101. It’s hard to believe I wasn’t experiencing a stroke or other heart event.

My natural reaction was to call my health provider. However, it was still before working hours for most. So, I went for a long, slow-paced walk, keeping my heart rate in check. Upon returning the blood pressure had fallen a bit, but I made the call and was deemed enough of a concern that an appointment was made for that day.

I trust my health provider and even though I hate taking daily medication, for the love of my heart I will. So far there have been a few side-effects. Light-headiness is the primary one. And though the readings are lower, they are still in an elevated range. A follow-up visit in a few weeks will determine any adjustments. Until then I am monitoring the pressure on a regular basis.

Love of My Heart

The most likely cause of the blood pressure increase is stress aided by the aging factor and genetics. Both my parents experienced high blood pressure. So, I grew up leaving out or reducing salt from recipes. (Herbs are a great alternative for seasoning.) Additionally, I am active, not much of a drinker and not overweight. Thus, an unlikely candidate for high blood pressure.

Stress is the main culprit. Unfortunately, for the love of my heart I am not good with processing harmful stress. I let things eat at me versus letting things roll off my back or just ignoring what I don’t like. Recently personal stress has been accompanied by concerns for my country. The United States is polarized and I don’t like that at all. Within the last week, a statesman I used to admire and respect stated that if his candidate did not win in 2024 ballots needed to be replaced by bullets.

This is wrong. I hope most Americans agree with me. Civil War is not the answer.

Reducing Stress

On a personal level, my offspring are really stepping up to the plate. Much of the stress level revolves around handling the many things involved with closing out my dad’s estate. The kids have really rallied. They are not materialistic in nature so no fighting for “things.” Unfortunately, I can hardly get some of these companies holding limited assets as well as debts to talk to me as executor. Thus, the frustrating aspects of probate cannot be delegated.

Recognizing the stressors is a first step. Action is the next. My spouse found a good article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘The Power to Decide How You Feel’ which is well worth the read. I am trying to implement a few of the suggestions.

Writing as More than Brain Therapy

In the meantime, I will continue to write and make submissions. An active brain needs a healthy heart. In the short-term (and possibly forever) I will avail myself of the wonders of modern medicine. Love of My Heart really is catchy…now I just need a plot. And characters…and a setting. Good stressors not harmful ones. Writing is such good therapy!

Help Wanted vs. 32-Hour Work Week

Help wanted signs are everywhere so I was surprised to hear of a suggested 32-hour work week yesterday on the radio. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont is calling for the mandatory reduction in hours along with an increase in the minimum wage to $17.00 an hour. On the surface the idea will sound great to many. But, as always there are costs to a regulated market. Even the labor market.

Free Markets

The concept of free markets is a major contributor to the economic success of the United States as well as most other developed nations. In a free market, prices adjust due to supply and demand. Economic theories are complex and include ideas such as price stickiness and stagflation. But overall, the concepts work. If there is a shortage buyers pay more. When there is a glut suppliers need to cut prices or products languish in warehouses.

Wages represent the price of labor. Help wanted signs are signals that the labor market is not in equilibrium. So, more workers are needed than are willing to work. In a free market situation, wages are increased to the point more individuals are enticed to work. To a certain extent, the process works.

Help Wanted

However, other factors are impacting the labor market. Covid-19, Baby Boomers retirement, child care costs and government policy are all limiting the availability of workers. The combination of factors is having an adverse effect. There are too many reasons to not work whether one is young or old. Perhaps AI (Artificial Intelligence) will take up the slack. But for the present, we have a labor shortage. Hence the Help Wanted signs.

So, businesses respond by cutting hours of operation or even services in general. This results in disgruntled consumers. A vicious cycle begins.

32-Hour Work Week

So as a retired economics instructor I was taken aback by Senator Sanders’ proposal of a 32-Hour work week. In my opinion this is a recipe for disaster. We already have a labor shortage. Fewer hours worked, no matter how productive those hours, means an additional drain on the labor supply.

Certain industries absolutely cannot work with a shortened work week. Just-in-time industries such as fast-food restaurants don’t benefit from a shorter work week. Hamburgers can’t be “saved” for future use. Other industries such as accounting do not benefit from a 32-Hour work week either. Taxes are due when they are due. The same holds true for the legal system. Farmers certainly can’t stop the tractors and combines once the 32-hour mark rolls by.  I could go on and on.

Unfortunately, many states have K-12 systems that are prepping society for a 32-Hour work week. My local school system went to just four days a week about a decade ago. I still think this is a bad idea. Perhaps schools in Vermont where Senator Sanders is from are all on a four-day schedule.

Before retiring to focus on writing I worked in excess of 40 hours a week on a regular basis. My spouse still goes into the office on Saturday mornings. This is in addition to the longer than eight hours during the week. Workaholics? Maybe, but the quality and quantity of work is a positive. Things get done. Service-good service- is provided.

Work Ethic Needed

I am sure Senator Sanders is well intentioned. But I still disagree with his proposal. Our society needs to value the work ethic of its’ labor force. Under a free market, wages will respond to this ideal. Even if it means a period of time dotted with Help Wanted signs. Perhaps it is my Protestant upbringing, but I feel strongly that each individual needs to contribute to society through work.

An umbrella of social services is needed for those who cannot help themselves. BUT, our umbrella is too large. My experience has witnessed severely physically handicapped individuals doing their utmost to contribute somehow and in some way.

Too many individuals not in this category are opting out of work and out of society. Could this unwillingness to provide labor be responsible for our increase in violence? Perhaps. I believe happiness comes from within. If one has not accomplished even a simple task, can one develop this inner emotion? Satisfaction with one’s work plays a key role. But my understanding of psychology is limited. I will stick to economic markets. Help Wanted signs do not equate to a 32-Hour work week.

 

Unexpected Death

Unexpected Death

Death comes quickly when unexpected.

It drops suddenly day or night.

No warnings. Just action. Stealth.

It doesn’t seem right.

 

Easier on the recipient,

Harder on those left behind.

Unexpected Death.

 

Life is over in a moment.

Too quick for reflection?

Perhaps, and hard to know.

Suffering, little or none.

 

The mystery of life remains.

Natural death is not chosen.

Unexpected Death just occurs.

 

Grief follows shock

With each passing day

The pain reverberates,

not going away.

 

Unexpected Death

Each one a stressful act

For those left behind.

 

Weary of the mounting losses

Those still living

Must continue on.

Life means doing and being.

 

Seeking the joy in living.

While remembering those passing on.

Unexpected death gives life more meaning.

Grief

 

Everything is fine until suddenly it’s not.

Grief catches one at odd moments-

A memory here or a smell there.

Favorite songs on the car radio.

Triggers are everywhere.

 

Each one hurts in a different way.

Grief is individual. Grief is collective.

No rhyme or reason, no right or wrong.

But an Unexpected Death

Calls for me to be strong.

A Quick Good-bye

 

Just last week you called,

Uncomfortable in the single bed.

Advice was asked and given.

 

The problem so quickly solved

You hastened to take action

With hardly a good-bye.

 

Since I was relieved by spirits so high,

It hardly mattered that brief good-bye.

Not knowing it would be the last.

Why oh, why, so fast.

 

 

Never Ending Love

 

Fortunate, are those who experience never-ending love.

Mistakes are overlooked. Disappointments forgotten.

 

Grudges are unheard of.

And forgiveness always has room to spare.

 

From birth to death-

Fortunate, are those who experience never-ending love.

 

Memories console and grant inner peace.

Such love gives us strength to carry on.

 

The gift of such a love is both human and divine.

A Father in Heaven and a father who walked the Earth.

 

Fortunate, are those who experience never-ending love.

 

 

I already miss you. Rest in Peace Dad.

Easy Hack for Detangling Jewelry

Easy Hack

Don’t throw away those tangled chains because detangling jewelry is easy. But time consuming. You will need more than ten to fifteen minutes. In one case the process took me almost two hours. But it was worth it as I can now wear the last necklace my grandfather ever gave me.

Tools Needed

A variety of household items will be needed for this detangling jewelry hack. First, a surface that is stable and will allow pins to penetrate. I used an old bottom of a jewelry box. But the interior of a small cardboard box would work just as well. Multiple safety pins are a must. Finally, a long wooden skewer. Toothpicks are too short and can break easily.

The box needs to have sides to contain the jewelry. I used large safety pins such as quilting safety pins. Smaller ones will work just as well. In fact, fine chains will benefit from a thinner safety pin.

Detangling Jewelry Step-by-Step

First put the tangled mess of chains in the middle of the work surface. Start pinning the largest item/chain and then assess what that piece is tangled with the most. Once the second piece is identified pin that in a separate area. The clasp of the necklace may need to be pinned and then unpinned as the detangling process proceeds. If a chain has its’ clasp connected it may need to be unhooked as the work progresses.

Pin each necklace in a different section of the box to keep the jungled items identified and separate. Try working from the largest to the smallest. However, this is not an absolute. If a thinner strand appears to be less tangled, work on that item first.

Next, use the long skewer to gently-very gently- wiggle the chains apart section by section. Once the knots are loosened, individual chains can be identified. After the skewer detangles part of a chain it is important to use yet another safety pin to anchor that portion into the box.

Anchoring keeps the chains apart. If this is not done, the jumble of jewelry returns. Or even becomes worse!

Patience and Pins

Detangling Jewelry takes lots of patience and lots of pins. Fortunately, the rewards are great. I can now wear the garnet received on my thirteenth birthday. Furthermore, the jumble contained a fifth item. A simple gold chain was mixed in with those containing pendants.

Aging Alone Survival Skills

Survival Skills

Recently a widowed neighbor disclosed to me the difficulties of aging alone. She loves living here but her closest relatives are over 200 miles away. So, she is selling her home and moving closer to family.

This solution is not for everyone. But as we age we need to take certain things into consideration. And those with aging relatives can help. So, a list of modern-day survival skills for aging follows.

Emergency Alerts for Aging Alone

Since I seldom watch television, I don’t know if those “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up” commercials still air. This problem is quite significant for the elderly. I believe that advertisement was for a Life Alert medical device to wear around the neck. Those are great. But other options exist.

My personal favorite is a phone watch. Usually I am a late adaptor to new products. However, I was the first in the family with a watch that has its’ own phone. There is no need for a connection to a nearby cell phone. Calls can be made if I am out on a ten-mile run and can’t make it back. Calls for help if I were to fall and break something are easy. And unlike a medical device on a necklace, a watch blends in.

The latest technology in these watches is the ability to scan for vital signs. One of my octogenarian relatives has this type. When my current watch gives out, I most likely will follow suit. And yes, there is a bit of give and take with regard to the Big Data collected on your health. As a society we do need to be conscious of privacy with respect to the massive storage capacity technology offers.

Low Tech Alternatives

If you or a loved one refuses to wear any type of device, there is an alternative for those aging alone. Albeit not quite as timely or efficient. The biggest risk of a fall that renders one unable to move is not getting help in a timely manner. Blood clots are frequent in hip injuries but also occur in minor sprains. Lying on the ground for hours (or days) waiting for someone to notice your absence is life threatening.

So, communication is the key. Daily morning and evening phone calls to check in become a necessity if newer technology is unwanted. With an extended family a rotation schedule can be implemented. Close neighbors can help as well. Make sure contact information of out-of-town relatives is shared with trusted friends and neighbors. Aging alone does not equal isolation.

Another low-tech alternative is the use of a cane or a walking stick. Both items can add stability to one’s gait. Walking sticks are not limited to mountain hikes. They can also make a walk around a park safer once a certain age is reached.

De-cluttering and Aging Alone

Often falls occur from stumbling over clutter. So, de-cluttering and aging alone go hand-in-hand. Since it is difficult to give up things, books like Lose the Clutter Lose the Weight, Cleaning Sucks, The Home Edit and The Prepared Home are great resources.

Not everyone can afford to hire outside help. If outdoor chores become too burdensome with age turn to church youth groups for help. There may also be youth service organizations at the local high school in need of a project.

Mindfulness is important working outdoors. Care must be taken not to trip over hoses or tools such as rakes. Aging alone requires a higher threshold of awareness.

Importance of Neighbors

The importance of being a good neighbor and cultivating relationships with neighbors is key when aging alone. Looking out for each other still occurs. Humans, by nature, are caring creatures. Relationships with neighbors of all ages help the young and old alike. On a national level there appears to be many divisions in this country. But on a local, neighborhood level, life is much more civil.

Maybe it is time to turn off the social media friendships and focus on the face-to-face relationships. If you have a neighbor or family member aging alone, keep in close contact. And if you are the one aging alone, use common sense, stay healthy, and age gracefully.

The Female Line

Reflections

Yesterday on International Women’s Day I reflected on the female line of my family. Our family, like the vast majority of families in the world, carry the surname of the males. But it has been the females (with a few exceptions) that have had the most impact on my life. Perhaps, this is due to longevity. Or maybe identifying with the same gender.

Longevity

Three of my great-grandmothers were still alive when I reached my teens. Two of whom outlived their children-both my paternal grandparents died relatively young. And the third passed away during my junior year of high school. I feel fortunate to have memories of all three.

I am now a grandmother and two of my great-aunts are still alive. A third lived until she reached the century mark. Two were childless. I only know the circumstances of the great-aunt who lost three children all within a few days of their birth. A hazard of doing missionary work in a developing country.

The other great-aunt may or may not have had a choice. Although she was politically a conservative, in life’s actions she was a trailblazer. One of the first (possibly the first) females to graduate from the University of Texas with a degree in chemistry, she still resides in Texas. And I treasure my copy of her speech entitled A Woman Chemist vs. Gender Discrimination. She is in her late 90s now. I’m sure you can do the math…

My third great-aunt was married to the most extroverted of my great-uncles. Their third child, a cousin to my father, is just two years older than I am. So, it is easy to see the connectedness. The strong female line was a great influence from my early years.

Current Influencers

I have three living aunts all now at least in their seventies. Accurately, I can describe all as living active, independent lifestyles. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the female line, two survive their life mates with only one fortunate to still have a spouse.

Perhaps this is another reason the female line has influenced me so much. The survival rates. It is quite common for women to outlive men. But there are exceptions. Both my paternal grandfather and my father outlived their spouses. A tribute to my mom can be read by clicking here. She and her mother passed down the artistic gene.

I was close to both sets of grandparents. But I lived near to my paternal grandparents as a child. They were very special people. Both grandmothers worked in education. One taught, when necessary, the other was a career educator.

My cousins also skew toward the female line in numbers as well as connection. Although to be fair, I only have one male cousin. Nevertheless, I am closer to the women. We live in an age of women with careers. And ours are varied. Somehow, we juggle work and home life.

Future of the Female Line

And then the numbers tip to males in the next generation. Including my two daughters, there are only three females on my maternal side and four on the paternal. What will this mean for the female line?  It is too early to see what will happen with the generation on the horizon as I am the only one in my age group to have grandchildren. Fortunately, both genders are represented, and the maternal middle name continues. In this case, the surname is not the identifying factor.

The Female Line and Surnames

Worldwide, only a few countries bring forward both surnames. I can see how things could become unwieldy if all the surnames were passed from generation to generation. If I had the surname A-B and my husband C-D would our offspring be A-B-C-D? And their children? Would they have eight surnames? If not, which names would be dropped?

So, surnames can be complicated. But what is important about a person? I would pick character over name any day of the week. Names identify us, yet who we are goes far beyond a name, either given or surname.

I feel very connected to those before me. Now that my children are giving birth to yet another generation, I hope to provide that same connectivity for my grandchildren. Family lines are important. Both the male and the female line.

 

Zonta International: Near and Dear to My Heart

What is Zonta International?

I believe many visitors stopping by this blog today and through the weekend are affiliated with Zonta International. Welcome! For regular readers, Zonta International is a world- wide organization of professionals with the common goal of promoting gender equality by empowering women and children in an effort to end violence against women, achieve pay equity and provide equal opportunity for education. These are just a few of our goals. For a greater grasp of the many important service projects please visit the website at www.Zonta.org.

Who are Zontians?

Zontians are very giving, monetarily and with the all-important aspect of our lives, time. Service projects have varied over the decades I have been a member. As an educator my favorites have been associated with literacy. A current project, Let Us Learn Madagascar, served as a tie-in to a local project. Our club worked with the local middle school girls for the first years of the International Project engaging the young teenagers in what occurred half a world away.

Those same girls formed the basis for a brand-new Z club once they reached high school. Club membership at the high school level mirrors that of Zonta International, open to males as well as females. The initial club leader was a young man who spoke at an Area 4 meeting and was so impressive in his support for gender equality one member of the audience posited he might become the first male Zonta International president.

Econogal Posts of Interest to Zontians

This blog is eclectic in nature. Originally started in 2017 as a way to keep creating new pathways in my brain, Econogal is a big part of my life. The content is free from advertisements. And while I welcome the emails and comments, I write of my interests. So, no free books accepted, and I only write what I want, not what is strongly suggested with promise of compensation.

Many of the books reviewed are related to goals of Zonta International. (If you click on the highlighted words that follow you can jump to that particular post.)

Book Reviews Pertinent to Zonta International

The Displacements, which will be briefly discussed during my upcoming Zonta Says NOW USA Think Tank presentation, follows a mom and her children as they flee a natural disaster and land in a FEMA camp far from home. (The emphasis for the February 25th program is one of preparedness for women.)

The Good Daughter focuses on the life-long changes of two sisters after a sexual assault. This novel is highly graphic and may be too intense for victims or family members of victims. However, it is the perfect gift for anyone who asks “What were you wearing?”

Where the Crawdads Sing is more than a murder mystery. It is a story of the struggles of a young girl who becomes a woman with very little guidance. I have not seen the movie so I cannot compare.

The Only Woman in the Room is a biography of Hedy Lamarr. This well known actress had many other talents I was unaware of. There is also a nod to Rose Day in the Post.

Other Entries of Note

Another post featuring Rose Day is World with Women, this will give you a glimpse of the local club. Finally of interest to long time Zonta District 12 members as well as any Past International Governors is a tribute to a Zontian I dearly miss in Century of Life.

To all those following the link provided by Zonta Fast ACTION Friday and Zonta Says Now, thanks for stopping by the Econogal blog. For my regular readers and any new followers, stay tuned for the post on Bargello quilts arriving early next week.

January 2023 Wrap-Up

Seasonal Weather

The month of January 2023 was cold and snowy. Since this part of the world is in a moderate drought, the moisture was welcome. However, the single digit and below zero temperatures can disappear at any time without any concern from me. Naturally, January 2023 was spent indoors.

Time was split between reading, writing and quilting. Additionally, a few seeds were started. There is always something to occupy the hours of the day.

January 2023 In the Library

A wide range of books were read this month. Three entertaining novels were reviewed, Elevator Pitch, The Escape Artist and Remarkably Bright Creatures. All were enjoyed. Non-fiction books included works discussed in the post Time to Plan the Garden and The Complete Runner’s Handbook by Glover and Glover. Next on the TBR list is Brain Saver Protocols Cleanses & Recipes.

Quilt Room Action

Baby Quilt in browns and teals
Ready for the hand-quilting.

A quilt for the youngest in the family is now at the hand quilting stage. Another baby quilt, this one for his cousin-to-be on his Dad’s side of the family has been cut out and the sewing will commence this week. But that is not all of the activity going on in the quilt room.

I have finally reached this important room for decluttering. Truth be told, not much can be tossed. But a lot of organization is needed. This last day of January 2023 saw the beginning of separating the fabrics into color categories loosely following The Home Edit guidelines of ROY G BIV. I have also turned the stack fabrics on their sides giving a better view of the patterns. The fabric arrangement will continue into February. Then I can start on the hobby cabinets.

Seed Starting

The first seeds were started in January 2023. Most were brassicas. Kale and cabbages have already emerged. Two of the peanuts have sprouted as well. The former plants can be placed outside while the temperatures still fluctuate below freezing. The peanuts will grow inside until June. Three artichokes were planted but no signs of any life yet.

Fortunately, it is a long way off before outdoor work dominates the schedule. Plenty of time for seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow.

Time to Plan the Garden

January Snow

A back patio with wall and furniture covered with about 8 inches of snow and small flakes falling.When the January snow blows it is time to plan the garden. This is always a favorite indoor task for this time of year. And a wet snow encourages both High Plains farmers and gardeners. So, after looking at the forecast showing three chances of snow in one week, I visited the library. Multiple books were checked out including three related to gardening.

The Backyard Gardener by Kelly Orzel, Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart and an Eyewitness Garden of Pruning & Training edited and published by DK Publishing provided additional reading material. So, the time to plan the garden is nigh.

Winter Chores

Before the arrival of snow, temperatures soared into the low sixties (Fahrenheit.) It is quite normal in this part of the world to have a warm-up before a front moves in. Year round we have temperature fluctuations of forty degrees or more on a daily basis. On the High Plains, population is sparse as are trees. This adds to cooling at night without concrete to trap the warmth. Click here for an interesting article from Time discussing concrete and heat.

Therefore, warm afternoons allow one to work in the garden for a few hours. These past two weeks ushered in a clean-up of early crop beds by cutting back the asparagus stalks and cleaning out the bed for the brassicas. After last year’s wind storm wiped out my garlic crop, I’ve become a dirty/lazy gardener leaving stalks in the ground to catch the snow and keep the soil anchored.

An alternative would be to grow a winter cover crop. Something I am considering. Although it seems to be a waste of seed, plowing under rye first thing in the spring.

Time to Plan the Garden: Seed Catalogs

The seed catalogues began arriving just after Christmas. Most are from companies I have ordered from in the past. Although a few are new to me. Perhaps sister companies-much preferable thought to that of my buying habits marketed to others.

Inflation has hit the garden supply industry. Supports such as tomato cages and trellises seem to have doubled in price. Since I do not keep catalogs from year to year this may be inaccurate. But the prices are higher. Planning will be critical and I may upcycle even more in the 2023 garden.

Some seeds were harvested from my own garden last year, including herbs such as dill, parsley and basil. The rosemary will need to be replaced. A necessary cost. The chives, sage and thyme can be divided. A wonderful savings. All indications point to higher costs. Thus, planning will be more important than ever. It certainly is time to plan the garden.

Time to Plan the Garden- Reviewing Notes

Spring 2023 notes aided by earlier year plannersBy reviewing the notes from my calendars, I know what items to re-order. And which ones to skip. For example, last years eggplants grew larger than the year before, but the vines became diseased. Not ideal for a home garden.

Copious notes help keep track of results. Additionally, the notations include rainfall and freeze dates. We started off with a dry spring, had a slightly wetter early summer and then dried out again. A tough environment.

In my opinion, the average frost dates are meaningless. In the last five years we have had spring freezes as late as Memorial Day and as early as mid-April. The same is true with the fall. Including the threat of a Labor Day freeze in 2020. So, material to protect crops is needed- as is patience. And the ability to adjust to a unpredictable growing season.

Book Reviews

Two of the above books will be reviewed in the coming weeks. To read the review of Deerproofing Your Garden click here. For those in warmer climates, spring is just around the corner. It really is time to plan the garden for 2023.

Goals and Opportunities

Revisiting Resolutions

While goals and opportunities are related, they often differ. Goal setting can be done at any time. Not just around the New Year. However, opportunities are more elusive. They can appear and then slip away if not acted upon.

Goals are easily set. But not easily kept. Of my four goals for 2022 (click here to review) I fell short on the two easiest to track. I did not try a new recipe each month. Nor did I finish a creative project in the same time period. Actual results were closer to every other month.

Goals and opportunities often clash. Such was the case in 2022 for the aforementioned goals. At one point I was absent from my home for almost six weeks. So, the opportunities were limited. I did travel with both a quilt in progress and a Christmas stocking kit. But my cooking was quite limited.

 

Goals and Opportunities- Taking Action

Sometimes opportunities come along that mesh with current or long-term goals. Such is the case now. Although the window is beginning to close. A newly appointed literary agent popped into my Twitter timeline. She has halted her submission reviews until after the first of the year. If I carry through on this opportunity to submit, I may come closer to my key goal of publication. Definitely a case of goals and opportunities meshing.

A query letter is important for establishing a relationship in the literary world. My current task is polishing such a missive to send off after the first of the year. The short term is now immediate and so the opportunity costs are high.

New Goals and Opportunities

A new year provides the perfect time to update goals. Top of the list is establishing a relationship with an agent or an editor. The second writing goal pertains to this blog. But it is hard to accurately define- I want the posts to be “more and better.” For now, I will leave the goal loosely specified.

2022 was a year of travel. Dozens of short trips and four very long forays across the USA. So, 2023 might be a catch-up year at home. It all depends on the opportunities. And unlike goals that can be worked on, opportunities must be seized as they occur.

The asparagus bed established in the spring will need to be tended to as it enters into its second year. A few spears will be harvested, but not many. Patience is the key.

Other projects around the garden will ensure the long-term goal of growing healthy produce for the home. Christmas dinner included green beans from the 2022 garden. The techniques learned in Freeze Fresh proved beneficial. No leftover green beans.

The opportunities for the garden are quite dependent on the weather as well as the ongoing inflation. Building materials and supports all come at a cost. But recycling will help with the costs…and the environment.

Goals and opportunities vary by year. 2023 is upon us, enticing with unlimited potential. What will your goals be? Take some time this week to reflect upon past accomplishments and ready yourself for new opportunities. Be creative in your endeavors and constructive in your work. Celebrate successes. Most importantly, leave things better than you found them. Not only do we have one life to live, but also one world to live in. Best wishes for the new year.

Arctic Blast

Bitter Cold

The cold arctic blast hit early last night and the snow began falling just before daybreak. I am warm and toasty sitting near the fireplace. Jumping from task to task, I hope to accomplish much before family begins to arrive for the Christmas Weekend.

Outdoor temperature is below the zero mark. Winds are steady at about twenty miles per hour. Climate geeks can figure the windchill. I just know it was bitter cold when I moved the trash can back up to the house once the garbage truck rumbled by.

Of course, Sophie the cat does not understand the outdoors is no place for man or beast this morning. She whines each time I pass by the door to the backyard. Days like this it is important to look out for those creatures that do not reason well.

I feel for any outdoor laborer today. Hopefully power will remain on. And construction workers can find inside work. Fortunately, I took advantage of the warm air before the arctic blast yesterday to complete my outdoor chores.

Arctic Blast Sets Records

Living on the High Plains of America, it is not unusual to experience wide swings in temperature. But the temperature drop usually occurs over hours. Last night, the arctic blast took just minutes.

Late afternoon yesterday, large swarms of small birds flew in clusters. Unsettled and unlike normal habits, they did not alight on the trees. Instead, they swirled as if a group of bats flying from the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. Visions of the movie The Day After Tomorrow came to mind. Fortunately, the drop was not that extreme.

Nonetheless, going from above freezing to negative digits in about thirty minutes would be disastrous without warning. Such must have accord in earlier times. The Towner Bus Tragedy comes to mind.

Furthermore, this was not the first freeze of the year. Hopefully, winter kill will be at a minimum in the garden. It is doubtful the rosemary will overwinter even in the spots I covered yesterday. The last-minute harvest of sage and rosemary will be enjoyed Christmas Day.

Warming the Home

In addition to a fire in the fireplace, the ovens will heat up the kitchen as I make sugar cookies for the granddaughters to decorate Christmas Eve. A new loaf of bread is needed for tonight’s dinner as well as other breads needed for Christmas dinner. We hope to have a Baker’s Dozen on Sunday.

Finally, the laundry room door will stay open as the final loads are cleaned before guests arrive. Summertime is great for drying outdoors on the clothesline. But the convenience of an indoor dryer is one to appreciate during this arctic blast. I remember my grandmother hanging clothes indoors from long ago Christmases. Even North Texas can get too cold for an outdoor clothesline in late December.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate the holiday.

Bending the Rules when Crafting

Snowman Stocking

Bucilla felt stocking with snowman holding a string of multi-colored old-fashioned bulb lights
Almost Finished

Bending the Rules goes against my nature. I grew up on the era when cheating-on anything or anyone- was not acceptable for anything or by anyone. The shame was incredible even without the tar and feathering of colonial days. So, I was definitely a child that colored INSIDE the lines.

But now I color without any lines at all. So, it is not surprising that I am bending the rules with my current craft project. A Bucilla stocking for the youngest grandchild is almost complete. The instructions for these stockings are complex and run multiple pages. Since this is my third stocking, I now make “adjustments” to the required steps.

Important First Steps

In late grade school our teacher gave us a task. The single sheet of paper was full of simple steps to the assignment. The first step was to read all the instructions before beginning. Second on the list was to take out a sheet of paper. Third, we were to write our names on the top left page. Next, we were to number the lines from one to twenty. The list went on with the final instruction: Complete the first three items and then wait for further instructions. Many were tricked by this lesson in following directions.

The stockings begin with the same first step. Read all the directions first. And yes, I remembered my grade school experience and read all the instructions first. But then I start bending the rules. For example, under the general directions the requirements are to separate the color strands of embroidery floss and then cut each in half. I don’t cut the threads in half until I need that color.

However, I do follow the directions of cutting out each felt piece as needed and not at the beginning. A few of these shapes are so small, I can see them getting lost easily. So, you can see I choose which directions to follow.

Bending the Rules

I now use an added felt piece to back the front of the stocking before starting the craft work. My tendency is to make tight stitches which are not ideal for embroidery of any kind. And disastrous when working with felt. The additional piece provides needed sturdiness for my needlework.

A secondary use for this added piece is to hide the applique stitching. Few stitches carry all the way through to the second piece. I believe this will add to the longevity of the stocking. Christmas goodies will not snag or pull on the interior threads nor will chubby toddler hands. These stocking gifts are meant to last a lifetime-not just survive the childhood years. Two pieces of felt cut in a stocking shape

Minor Changes

More bending of the rules began with the second stocking made and continue with this third one. On each I have replaced a provided thread skein with a color I felt coordinated better. I am very picky with my colors blending together. A carryover aspect of my quilt designs.

Next, I followed my own rules with respect to the tops of the lightbulbs. These pieces were incredibly small. So, I embroidered each before cutting any out. This gave me a bigger piece of felt to grasp while stitching. Then, I kept the lightbulb tops open and sewed them shut around the “cord” of thread. Again, I sought added stability. These extra steps were time consuming.

Yellow felt with outlines of bulb clasps, bending rules by keeping in one piece
Bending the rules by embroidering before cutting into individual pieces
Back side of yellow felt showing stitch knots
Thread and knots must stay within the outlines.
Tiny felt lightbulb with tops still apart.
Bending the rules by leaving top open until sewing black "cord" in between edges.

Finally, I diverged from the rules with respect to areas requiring a stuffing. The suggested polyester fiberfill is good for large pieces. But for the smaller pieces I have transitioned to using leftover quilt batting. The flat cotton layers still give the shape body but are so much easier to use. In this snowman stocking, the berries would be a nightmare to stuff any other way.

Small red felt circles with a flat layer of batting atop one.
A flat batting gives enough dimension to the small berries.

Learning Curve

Everything we do involves a learning curve. This third Bucilla stocking proves the adage. I encountered very little frustration and the pieces have melded into a beautiful Christmas treasure and tradition. So much easier than the first stocking made in 2019. I am looking forward to this Christmas with guarded anticipation.

Notes on the Weather: Two Weeks of Travel

Driving Cross-country

Snow on a back patio
October Snow

Two weeks of travel allows one to make notes on the weather from varying climates. The trip began in the Colorado mountains. A week of almost daily snow falling from the sky along with snow cannons is creating a base for the ski runs. A check of open resorts can be gleamed by clicking here.

Descending down the mountains, cold air gave way to warm. The High Plains were still dry, but if moisture came it would be in the form of rain. Instead, Halloween was a beautiful fall day as I crossed Kansas into Missouri. If better notes on the weather were taken, exact temperatures could be shared. But highs in the 70s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the 50s (F°) were the rule for the first few days of November.

Kentucky Visit

A crowd forms around the paddock at Keeneland Race Track
Trees dropping their leaves at Keeneland Racetrack.

A full week spent in the Bluegrass State proved weather can be variable. Kentucky showed signs of a lack of moisture. But not the drought conditions of more western states. (Missouri appeared to be the worst.) The temperature swings from the upper sixties to upper seventies in the afternoons with lows ranging from 42 F° to 60 F° at night.

Dry conditions were underscored by an extremely windy day on Saturday of Breeder’s Cup races followed by just a sprinkle of rain. Then, the fall weather returned full force. Hopefully the next big front to blow through will have less wind and more rain.

Notes on the Weather: Last Minute Change

My two weeks of travel itinerary changed due to the approach of Hurricane Nicole. The side trip from Cincinnati to Columbus, Ohio was cancelled. Perhaps next summer will afford me some time to visit the area.

Light winds accompanied me through the Appalachians as I drove southeast from Kentucky through Tennessee into Georgia. Glorious orange, red and yellow fall colors returning the further south I drove. The only negative was the heavy traffic on Interstate 75 as I neared Atlanta, Georgia. An alternate route would be preferable if time was not of the essence.

One hate’s driving toward a hurricane, but it is preferable (in my mind) to driving IN a hurricane. I am sure storm chasers would disagree. Fortunately, Nicole stayed offshore as Americans voted.

Notes on the Weather: Hurricane Nicole

Bucket crane trimming broken branches from Hurricane NicoleMy arrival in Central Florida preceded Nicole’s by about eighteen hours. The winds became stronger as we both approached the area. Since, this was a Category 1 storm the wind gusts were on par to those I experience frequently living on the High Plains. I have always wondered why the Weather Channel does not send Jim Cantore and his co-hosts out to my part of the country on a more regular basis. Perhaps, it is the lack of storm surge. More likely blowing dust is not as easy to film as crashing waves.

We battened down the hatches and stayed inside as the storm rolled through. “Minimal” rain of just 2.3 inches accompanied the strong winds. Some small branches came down, including one that pierced the pool screen. A few neighbors lost bigger branches, but no trees toppled in this neighborhood.

The rain amounts varied. Since both of my Central Florida family members take notes on the weather, I can report 5 miles to the Northeast the rainfall was 4 inches. Such a difference is normal in this part of the world.

Small branch piercing top of pool screen
Limited Damage

Political Observations

Driving cross-country allows me to personally observe what is going on in the United States. In the days before the mid-term elections, campaign signs proliferated. In the absence of a presidential election, most of the candidates were unknown to me.

A few key notes. The many, very conservative areas of the country on my route have taken down the signs supporting former President Trump. Dozens of signs remained long past the 2020 election. Numerous ones as late as July 2021 promoting a Trump 2024 run. All of these are gone. I found this very interesting.

Second, the Commonwealth of Kentucky elects their judges. This differs from where I live. We just vote to retain judges after they have been appointed. So, Kentucky has a plethora of campaign signs each election. This has always gladdened my heart-democracy in action. But do large contributors to a judge’s campaign create a “Get Out of Jail Free” situation? Something to ponder.

Finally, radio coverage of the mid-term elections is excellent. I was impressed as I traversed southward listening to the various local stations. More facts and less hype were the norm.

Economic Observations

My economic observations are related to notes on the weather. In Missouri, which is experiencing drought I noted cranes along some riverbeds. Perhaps for dredging. And some stream beds were bone dry. I lived in this state during my high school years and never witnessed this before.

The first new construction I encountered was a three-sided hay barn in Southern Indiana. So, no evidence of building in the first four states I drove through. Then I arrived in Kentucky. From anecdotal appearance, the economic slowdown is not stopping construction in the Bluegrass state.

New houses, additions to houses and commercial businesses were all observed in various stages of development. As long as each is completed, the area may escape the downturn. States to the south of Kentucky did not have as much activity. But more than those previously encountered to the west.

Notes on the Weather

A country as vast as the United States has many climate zones. November ushers in snow and cold in many parts. Thus, construction is seasonal in these areas. And is grinding to a halt.

States such as Florida are warm year-round but do have a wet season to contend with-along with hurricane season. I will be in Central Florida for a few weeks and will watch the overdue change to the anticipated dry season. Nicole was not the first November hurricane to reach the state. An unusual but not unprecedented storm. Notes on the weather will continue as I pay more attention to climate.

Bull Snakes Allowed

I live in a part of the country where bull snakes thrive. The prairies are prime habitat and so are the towns that dot them. So, from time to time one decides to take up residence in our yard.

We lost a seasoned bull snake last year when it became entangled in some deer fencing. That one was one of the largest bull snakes I ever came in contact with. Over six feet long and as thick as my fist. Our newest inhabitant is much younger.

Identification

Young adult bull snake taking a defensive position.
The round eyes help identify the type of snake.

While not a fan of snakes in general, I understand the importance of snakes such as bull snakes in the ecosystem. So, identification is important. Bull snakes closely resemble rattlesnakes. As long as rattlers stay away from my yard, they are free to be. But venomous snakes are too dangerous to co-exist in close proximity.

As a young child I was taught to stay clear of certain snakes. The first I learned to identify was the coral snake followed by Eastern Diamondback and Timber rattlesnakes. On the High Plains of North America, I mostly encounter prairie rattlers although massasauga rattlesnakes can also be found. The latter snakes tend to be smaller. Both are venomous.

Markings of bull snakes and rattlesnakes are similar. The heads are both triangular although the rattlesnake is more so and narrows at the neck. As a defense mechanism, the bull snake can flatten its’ head making this factor unreliable. The eyes differ as well, but I wouldn’t want to get that close. So, the default is the tail. Beware of rattles.

Sophie and Bull Snakes

Striped cat atop a cat seatSophie the cat is quite the hunter. From time to time, she has competition from the bull snakes. She stays clear of the larger ones but sometimes challenges and even conquers the smaller ones. She was challenging the latest bull snake this week.

When bull snakes are confronted, they take on the characteristics of a rattlesnake. They coil as if they will strike, puff up and hiss. Sometimes they will mimic a rattle with their tails by shaking it against dry leaves. In the case of our latest visitor, only green grass was nearby.

However, we wanted to make sure. In the photo above, the eye is rounded as for a bull. But I did not get close enough to see in real life. It was the striped tail without a rattle that saved this particular reptile.

Water and Bull Snakes Don’t Mix

As you can see in the following videos, this bull snake did not want to get wet. After determining the snake was not a rattler, we wanted to discourage it from hanging around the patio. Spraying water in front of it was a surefire way to change its’ direction.

I believe this snake has been around for about six weeks. The grasshoppers that had ravaged my herb garden suddenly disappeared about that time. Additionally, I have heard rustling sounds lately on trips out to the compost pile. And a snake-sized hole appeared burrowing into one of the raised beds in the same area.

Since this is not a baby bull snake, my hope is Sophie will leave it alone. Then, I will have two hunters of mice. Bull snakes certainly have a place in my garden. I just wish they didn’t startle me so much.

Not a fan of water

Maybe in the 3-foot range

Independent Bookstores

I love discovering independent bookstores when I am travelling. Even though I frequent a Barnes and Noble two hours away and visit another one six hours away from time to time, it is the independent bookstores I look for when travelling about the country.

These bookstores vary in size and scope. Some are only resellers; others have the latest releases. Many have coffeeshops within. I have often spent hours wandering through the shelves.

Favorite Independent Bookstores

In Santa Fe, my favorite bookstore is the Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeeshop. This gathering place for both locals and tourists hosts frequent book signings. The books available cover a wide range of current releases mixed with books highlighting the history of the area and travel guides for exploring. I picked up both The Scorpion’s Tail and Head Wounds on my 2021 visit to the store. An additional treat for coffee lovers is the onsite coffeehouse.

The recent review of the Lilac Girls is a result from a visit to The Island Bookstore on Mackinac Island. This small independent was full of tourists and caters to this clientele. The store is only open in season. But they do have an online presence year-round.

The Tattered Cover

My first experience with independent bookstores traces back over thirty years. The Tattered Cover is the most successful of any I frequent. Not only has the bookstore expanded to seven locations centered around the Denver, Colorado area, but sites can be found in Colorado Springs and on all three concourses of Denver International Airport. Furthermore, this crown jewel of independent bookstores erects over one hundred pop-up sites throughout the year.

Latest Find

The Bookworm in Edwards, Colorado is my latest discovery. And it may become my favorite because of the exceptional service. Well-staffed and well-run, The Bookworm employees must be on good terms with their regular customers because they spot newcomers and issue warm welcomes.

My recent visit netted gifts for the grandkids and enough titles to last through Thanksgiving. My first read from the stash was a new release from Bruce Holsinger entitled The Displacements and you will be able to read the already written review next week.

Why Buy at Independent Bookstores?

I frequent my library on a regular basis and currently have two books checked out. But I travel a lot and hate the thought of losing a library book thereby denying someone else the pleasure of reading that selection. So, quite a bit of my discretionary budget goes to books.

Independent bookstores carry local authors and books with settings in nearby locations. Many provide a place to relax and recharge. The resell stores are also an attraction. Sometimes I stumble upon a book by a favored author long out of print. I have added to my Helen MacInnis collection in this way.

Books are a large part of my life. I am thankful for my love of reading. Also, thankful that my husband and kids are all readers. Finally, I am excited for the youngest generation. They are all tiny tots, but they already love books.

If you have a favorite independent bookstore to share, feel free to share in the comments below.

Upgrade Book Review

Upgrade by Blake Crouch is a 2022 release that is part futuristic, part action, part dystopian and totally page turning. But the most compelling part of the story is the humanity demonstrated by the hero, Logan Ramsey. A man no longer a “normal” human. But one genetically altered.

Plot Twists and Turns

Simplistically, the plot is of one man racing to save the world from destruction. But Upgrade is so much more. Ramsey works for the GPA-Gene Protection Agency. His job is to track down rogue geneticists. Only he is caught in a spiderweb of familial deceit.

Crouch utilizes a number of plot twists to keep the reader on the edge. The bad guy switches from one person to another as a poorly conceived attempt to save the world spirals out of control. Throughout, the genetically altered Logan Ramsey is determined to stop the plan to create a world of superhumans, at the cost of the essence of humanity.

Upgrade and Current Events

The underlying theme to Upgrade is the current state of affairs on Earth. Mankind is at a crossroads with respect to human and artificial intelligence, exploding expansion in technology of all kinds including biological and a growing climate crisis. All of the above plays heavily into the story.

Yet, the author provides a balance to the racing technology. Most of the insight comes from the journal entries of Ramsey. But not all. A recorded video of his mom before her death also casts a light on the importance of seizing a moment. Furthermore, many passages remind the reader of just what is crucial to human life. Kudos to the author for these reminders.

Memorable Character

Logan Ramsey is one of those characters that will stay in your memory. Repenting of his past, protective of his family and honor bound to do what is right. Even in the face of betrayal. The reader easily connects with Ramsey and agonizes alongside him. Each step of the way as he fights to keep the human race from being genetically altered-as he was.

And then Blake Crouch throws in one final twist.

Progressing Through the Season

Fall 2022- Progressing Through the Season

I am progressing through the season. The fall season is just a few weeks old but I think I have canned the last of the cucumbers. Today, I mixed Bavarian and Kosher Dill spices. It will be interesting to discover the taste in a month or two once the pickles are ready.

The tomatoes are still going full strength. New blooms continue, plenty of green tomatoes and a steady ripening of both paste and slicers. So, the garden is also progressing through the season.

Cans of Bavarian Pickles
Tomato Blooms

Asparagus Bed

The new asparagus bed is showing signs of fall. Just one of the two dozen plants is a female as determined by the red berries she is now producing. To be honest, I can’t remember if the package of roots claimed to be all males. But the bed dominated by males should guard against overcrowding while producing plenty of spears in the coming years. The new plants are nicely progressing through the season with fronds turning yellow.

This year I mixed a few tomatoes into the asparagus bed. However, harvesting was difficult since I did not want to harm the new asparagus. So, I will not repeat that experiment. Next year, I will harvest about a third of the spears to allow the plants to firmly root in.

Fall asparagus bed full of fronds
Asparagus fronds beginning to turn yellow.
Female asparagus plant with red berries
Red Berries on female plant

Progressing Through the Season

Green leaves turning to yellow and orange.
Newly planted peach tree.

My fall clean-up will extend outside as well as in the basement. Beds will be prepared for winter. To guard against erosion, plants will not be pulled from the ground. Instead, I will clip the stalks at or just above ground level. Hopefully, this will prevent the strong winter winds from blowing away the soil. I lost my entire garlic crop last year due to winds over 100 m.p.h. (That is equal to Category 2 Hurricane winds.)

Next, I will add some compost and a covering of straw. This will enrich the soil and keep the temperature just a bit warmer. Cool spring soil temperature can delay transplanting into the garden.

Additional tasks will include trimming of branches, disconnecting hoses and of course raking of leaves…once they start falling. The trees are late to turn color this year. So, it is quite possible we will not have our first frost until November. Quite a change from 2020 when we experienced a Labor Day Freeze.

Alternating Tasks: Fall Cleaning and Canning

Splitting Tasks

These days I am alternating between days devoted to fall cleaning and spending time in the kitchen canning. And an occasional day devoted to a combination of laundry, reading and writing. While the fall cleaning could get completed sooner if all my time was spent on that, I need the time alternating tasks because the Big Garden is slowing down with the shorter days. But still producing fruits and vegetables.

Fall Cleaning

Thanks to the use of two books, I previously have reviewed; Cleaning Sucks and Lose The Clutter Lose The Weight, fall cleaning inside the house has been much easier. But there is one major exception, the basement. So this fall I am concentrating on the area below the ground.

My basement is partial and mostly finished. The unfinished room is storage and really not that big of an area. At 8 x 10 the room does have tall cabinet doors painted to reflect the seasons. The original intent was to store decorations. Intentions and needs change through the years.

My goal this fall is to clean out the clutter and repurpose some of the shelves in order to store paint and repair supplies as well as some of my gardening supplies. Alas, inflation has kept me from my dream garden/greenhouse. So, seed starting equipment will remain inside.

Additionally, my canning equipment is all over the place. Organization is clearly needed. But this is tough in the heart of canning season. Empty jars are rapidly filling with produce. The filled jars need their own space as well.

 

Canning

The tomatoes are finally turning a bright, beautiful red. So far three batches of salsa have been made. Next up is the spaghetti sauce. This is an all-day affair. Simmering the fresh tomatoes into a rich thick sauce takes time. We will test taste with dinner and then can the rest.

The cucumbers are really winding down and tomorrow will most likely be the last day of pickling. This has been a banner year for cucumbers, so it is a good thing pickles and meat jams are loved by my family members.

Alternating Tasks

One benefit of alternating tasks is freedom from boredom. Another is utilizing down time from one project to work on or complete another task. Pickling is a multi-stepped process including an ice-bath stage. So, days processing cucumbers can include sorting through the clutter in the basement.

However, canning jams, jellies and salsas are days spent entirely in the kitchen. Long days. So, the following day my legs need a break. Aging makes alternating tasks a necessity.

Tips for Fall Cleaning and Canning

Flipping back and forth between two major projects takes planning. Although we harvest items on a daily basis for our meals, at least twice a week we make a major haul of like produce for canning. And recently three times a week. Therefore, the fall cleaning takes a back seat to the fresh produce.

So, I plan out two to three days of indoor projects-not canning- in advance. I utilize the approach of cleaning in short spurts presented in Cleaning Sucks. For example, one morning can be devoted to straightening the quilt room and the afternoon focusing on organizing the play area for the grandkids.

Another morning will include touch up painting and the afternoon could be spent dusting and cleaning floors. We have a library in the basement and an effort to find books to donate to the library book sale will comprise another block of time. Working in small chunks of time, consistently through the week, has really aided in decluttering the house.

Making a list of all the chores is the first step. Then there is the process of prioritizing the work. Finally, the implementation of alternating tasks. Slowly, but surely the work is getting done.

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- A Simple Fix with Recycled Items

Recently the vertical spice drawer at the mountain writing retreat jammed. Very frustrating when you use spices as much as I do. And very difficult to fix since the drawer is a self-contained unit. Unlike horizontal drawers, there is no access from above or below. Or, from the side. Somehow a spice container had fallen and blocked the drawer from sliding.

Multiple Attempts

Over a period of several days, I attempted to fix the jammed vertical spice drawer. First, I tried wiggling the drawer from side to side. No luck. Then, I used a plastic spatula. The kind for flipping hamburgers not scraping out cake mix, but again, no luck. The spatula was just too short to make a difference.

Multiple days of this proved trying the same thing over and over consistently yields the same outcome, in this case failure. So, I made a trip to a big box hardware store in a neighboring town. The thought was to find a flexible piece of very thin metal. I found two candidates in the hardware aisle. To be honest I have no idea of their “real” purpose. But both were inexpensive and worth a try.

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- The Fix

Once back in the kitchen a new dilemma surfaced. I do not own this home and do not want to damage the gorgeous custom cabinetry. That includes scratches! So, I decided to wrap the metal pieces with a paper bag. This kept the metal from scratching but neither piece worked. One piece was too pliable and the other not pliable enough. Definitely a Goldilocks experience.

But the paper bags triggered an aha moment. I folded one in half, vertically, and was able to slide it in more than the three inches the spatula had yielded. So, then I slid the bag up and down the right side. No blockage.

I left the first bag on the right side and folded a second bag and checked the left side. The bag jammed down at the bottom on the lower left. But the bag was not stiff enough to move whichever spice jar had fallen and jammed. So, I used the second bag to create a space at the bottom of the drawer and began searching for a piece of cardboard.

Recycling Saves the Day

Digging through the recycling bin, I found the perfect item. Not as thick as regular cardboard, but stiffer than cardstock, the ideal candidate was the backing from the packaging of a new vegetable scraper. With the two paper bags holding the jammed vertical spice drawer in place, I was able to use both hands to work the package backing up and down at the bottom edge.

Finally, the item jamming the drawer moved and the vertical spice drawer popped open. And many items tumbled out. The most likely candidates for troublemaking spices were bottles of extracts and small boxes of herbs. Similar items have been removed from the cabinet. No need to repeat the disaster!

I am thankful the jammed item was toward the front of the drawer as I did not have a two-foot-long piece of recycled card to use. A key take-away is to not overfill one of these spice cabinets. Furthermore, extract bottles and paper spice holders should be stored elsewhere. If you ever get a stuck vertical drawer of any kind, try this troubleshooting technique.

 

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer

Use the folded bags to keep drawer in position.
Likely Culprits
Vertical Spice Drawer
Vertical Spice Drawer Functioning Once Again

Co-existing with Wildlife

Bear Aware

Tall rock wall separates wildlife from humansCo-existing with wildlife takes effort. This summer I have the good fortune to stay in a mountain duplex. The half I visit from time-to-time backs right up to wilderness. A large wall encloses the back and does restrict the view somewhat. However, the wall provides a buffer between man and other animals. Such as moose and bear.

We are very bear aware. Trash is kept in appropriate containers and food is not left around. So far, my only bear sighting came in the hour before dusk. I was enjoying the back patio when the crackling sound of twigs came from the area between the house and the creek. Jumping up, I quickly headed inside to look out the side window hoping to see the young moose once again.

My noise may have startled the bear. All I saw was his backside heading directly away from the house. His initial direction unknown. He was lumbering along, not too worried about whatever was behind him.

Wildlife Window View

I stayed by the window in case he turned around. But I think he may have ventured into the meadow down along the creek. This is only a guess, but an educated one. Shortly after the bear sighting a deer came down the mountain. Suddenly, the deer stopped still. As you can see in the photo, the deer’s head is cocked at attention. This position was held for close to ten minutes before grazing started again.

The deer are seen daily either as singles or doubles. Very unlike the herds of deer on the High Plains which often number over a dozen. I am uncertain of why there are not larger numbers here. Perhaps the number of predators keep the deer at bay.

Deer with head cocked to the side indicates wildlife wariness.
Deer on Alert

Marmots

In addition to either loud (moose) or small (bear and deer) warning cracks from brush breaking, the unique sound of a marmot signals wildlife or humans are nearby. The pig whistle from the yellow-bellied critter can be heard in this video. Marmots are smart animals. And patient. Often, I see them dash across the patio as soon as I retreat into the house. When they stand on their hind legs, they remind me of the crafty critter who stole the spotlight in the movie Caddyshack. Apparently, they hibernate over half the year.

Pig Whistle of Marmot

Moose but no Elk or Big Horn Sheep

On several occasions I have sighted moose. Much like the bear, one moose alerted me to his presence with a loud crack just outside the wall. The noise was very loud and startling. On the other occasions, the solitary animal has been spotted at the end of the drive as in this photo. Again, the best wildlife sightings are at dawn or dusk.

Surprisingly I have yet to see an elk. Nor a big horn sheep. Perhaps, both stick to higher elevations. I like to imagine the sheep are high up on a distant mountain meadow blending into the landscape. I swear I see fewer rocks and boulders upon the high meadow in the afternoons.

Young Moose strolling down a rural street
Early Morning Stroll

Reintroducing Wolves

There is a program to introduce wolves back into the Rocky Mountains. Arguments exist on the number. Ranchers would prefer none and others want three times the suggested number of 250. I have a healthy wariness of wolves due to growing up with stories like Little Red Riding Hood and watching movies such as The Day After Tomorrow. Fictional but fearsome.

Bears and moose can be aggressive if provoked. But my experience has been one of mutual respect and mutual avoidance. Wolves are a bit of an unknown. The animals have their backers and their detractors. Articles following this post may be of interest to those studying wildlife and are quite helpful in forming an opinion. The wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone is particularly informative.

 

Wildlife Impacts on the Ecosystem

We learn about food chains in elementary school. Both adding or subtracting from the food chain impacts life throughout the system. A reintroduction of wolves in the Colorado mountains will bring about change. The key question is will it mirror Yellowstone?

The largest boost in wildlife after the reintroduction of the grey wolf in Yellowstone was to the beaver population. Beavers compete with elk for food. So, fewer elk meant more to eat for nature’s engineers. And expanded riparian habitat is the next step in the cycle. This is important because the wetlands act as firebreaks. Scientists are currently studying the relationship between beavers, wetlands and forest fires.

The species most negatively impacted by wolves returning to Yellowstone is the elk. Herd size is shrinking, and the herds are moving around. This movement has both good and bad implications. The aforementioned beavers have less competition from roaming elk herds. But the stress of the elk now constantly on alert has decreased the birth rate. Furthermore, the estimation of how many elk would be prey per wolf fell short of the actual numbers.

How Many is too Many?

The Yellowstone reintroduction began with fewer than three dozen wolves. Within ten years the population increased eight-fold. A key contention point for the Colorado reintroduction is how many pairs will be released. Even the lowest figure of 250 (125 pairs) is roughly ten times the number reintroduced into Yellowstone. Currently, the upper number proposed is 750 individuals or 375 pairs.

Another element that varies from the reintroduction at the end of the last century is the area of release. The initial release was confined to Yellowstone Park in the far northwest corner of Wyoming. The Colorado reintroduction could cover a far greater area. One proposal includes areas both east and west of the Continental Divide. Wildlife areas adjacent to the populated Front Range may be release sites.

Personally, I would start small. Wolves do cover a large territorial range. There is indication that offspring of the original groups released in Yellowstone have made their way south into the far northeast corner of Colorado. This migration occurred in a span of about 25 years. Wildlife will wander.

A Balance of Nature

The reintroduction of predatory species needs balance. Man upset the natural order while settling the country. However, much thought needs to go into the planning. Co-existing with wildlife is possible, but awareness is needed. Even though many animals are smart, humans still have the edge on critical thought. So, let’s use that advantage as we seek to re-balance the eco-system.

No Hiding from the News

Speaking Out

Gore Creek in the morningFor the past ten days or so, I have been away from home, hiding out in my favorite retreat. But there is no hiding from the news. So, even though family matters take the forefront right now, I am commenting. The Supreme Court verdicts are concerning.

Voters on the left in 2016 are seeing their fears come to life. Combined with the blocking of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the highest court in the land and two additional appointments by President Trump a major shift is now evident. The conservatives have control of the Supreme Court.

2022- Just the Beginning

Key judicial decisions released Summer of 2022 include a gun control issue in New York State, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, a major slam against the other two branches of government is found in the strike against the EPA. Lastly, the highest court will listen to an election case from North Carolina next year which may permanently alter how America transitions power.

The decisions don’t follow any pattern other than conservatism. Extreme conservatism. For example, the Roe V. Wade case can be seen as a state’s rights issue. The Deep South and other Christian fundamentalist areas of the country are now free to ban abortions and certain types of contraception (And yes, we may see additional cases to challenge the latter) in the respective state constitutions and legislations. Trigger laws changed regulations immediately in several states.

The State of Texas is taking actions one step further with the criminalizing of abortions. Neighbors, co-workers, indeed even strangers can turn in women who may have “vacationed” out of state seeking a pregnancy termination. Click here for a related article. Honestly, this reminds me of Germany in the 1930s. What is the next step? Designated “prisons” for doctors performing these safe terminations? Will females of all ages be confined in like places?

However, if the Supreme Court were pushing a States Rights agenda, New York State would be allowed to retain the tighter gun control law. A law on the books for over one hundred years. This discrepancy is most concerning. There is no hiding the fact the Supreme Court decisions stem from an agenda. I am unsure of how the Founding Fathers would view this dictation of personal morals.

No Hiding from The News

As a Christian, it pains me to see such un-Christian like views coming from the fundamentalists currently serving in Congress. Remaking the Constitution or rejecting it altogether as Representative Boebert did the day after the Colorado primaries is more than just worrisome. (Rep. Lauren Boebert Calls Separation of Church and State ‘Junk,’ Says Church Should Direct Government (yahoo.com)) And many of the hard-core conservatives appear to have ties to the January 6th incident. I say incident because there is debate in America over what truly happened that day.

Fundamentalists on the Supreme Court are also making waves. Justice Thomas is most notable. Quite ironic. He is against every ‘liberal’ relationship except one. Interracial relationships are ok. Of course, that permits his own marriage to stand. Again, he has ties to January 6th   through his wife.

Perhaps that is my biggest complaint. Extremists that say, ‘do as I say not as I do.’  Can you truly be a patriot and then storm the Capitol? I say No! Furthermore, why is Justice Thomas allowed an interracial marriage, yet he publicly seeks to ban same-sexed marriages? Why is one normal and the other not? Who decides? The state?

Divided We Fall

We have a big division in this country. One I have posited is stoked by outside forces. But the fuel is there to begin with. It may all tie into the current economy. Just as the economy of the mid-1800s spurred the Civil War conflict.

The Civil War arose out of the age of industrialization. Slave states wished to hold onto the old technology, human labor. Union States wanted to abolish the practice. Allowing the import of slaves may be the biggest mistake made by the Founding Fathers. It certainly was immoral. And we are still grappling with the outcome hundreds of years later.

There is no denying the economy played a big role in the Civil War. I believe a similar conflict occurs today.

Another Technological Revolution

Now we are in the midst of a new era, one of computers and artificial intelligence. This transition is apt to be every bit as contentious. Machines continue to replace much of human labor. And now, human thought. One can see the scary ramifications, if one is educated. And if not educated?

Here lies the crux of the problem. I have expressed my frustration with the state of public education over the years. Content is watered down. Graduating classes of less than one hundred have ten valedictorians. The Trophy Generation bears the brunt of their Helicopter Parents’ actions.

An unwillingness to allow children to face failure created a generation that cannot solve problems. And yes, this is a generalization. There are Millennials that can problem solve creatively. Many kids that earned meaningless grades will be able to punch buttons on a microwave or use social media apps on smart phones. But there is no hiding the fact that if these machines break, most individuals have no idea how they work. Or how they can be fixed.

Perhaps the transition will end soon. Individuals born after 1995 have always known computers. If not at home, at school. Thus, I think their brains will be wired differently. But will they join the workforce before we self-destruct? And will human creativity be a match for Artificial Intelligence?

No Hiding Ignorance is not Bliss

I use very little social media because of AI and Big Data. Less than ten years ago I became upset with Facebook when I tried to relate my experiences with Charter Schools. I literally was not allowed to post a comment. A few weeks later there were individuals fired from the company for inappropriate algorithms.

My use of various social media continues sporadically. Not what advertisers like to see. Unfortunately, few individuals understand the link between social media and Big Data. Many cite an unwillingness for vaccinations with fears of a microchip being inserted. The concern is their every move will be tracked. Yet these same individuals never venture out of their homes without their smart phones. No hiding from ignorance. Phones track your location and your searches.

Such a populace does not understand the ramifications of artificial intelligence. Furthermore, an unlearned and unskilled population will contribute to a growing inequality of wealth. This excellent article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the current statistics.

Wide inequalities in a country lead to civil unrest.

United We Stand

Can the United States of America remain united? A question that needs an answer. The Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances. For the first time in my memory, the three-tiered government faces an imbalance with respect to the judicial branch. With time, the system should rebalance. As it has in the past.

I am still against stacking the court. Although now I understand the concept better. My belief is voters will turn out in November in much larger numbers than usual for the mid-term elections. The recent decisions by the high court have stirred up a hornet’s nest. There is no hiding from the fact that extremists are currently in control. But I believe moderates outnumber extremists of both sides. November 2022 is a critical election. Now is the time. Make your voice count. Vote.

American Flags

June 2022 Wrap-Up

Travel

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

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

Kentucky June 2022

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

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

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

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

Michigan June 2022

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

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

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

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

Mackinac Island

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

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

South of the Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

June 2022 on the Plains

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

Classic Cars

Classic Cars in Classic Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

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

Speedy Classic Cars

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

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

Car Show Enthusiasts

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

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

Classic Car Promo Tour

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

Hood Ornaments

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

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

Back To The Bricks Car Show