The Authenticity Project Book Review

A Novel Idea

If you are looking for a unique story, The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley should be your next read. The novel has an ensemble cast. (Perfect for a movie!) The characters range from “almost” octogenarian Julian, the catalyst of The Authenticity Project to newborn Bunty. Yes, a newborn adds to the plot line. For the most part, the setting is suburban London. The author brings the neighborhood to life.

The Authenticity Project Book Cover

Simple Premise

The Authenticity Project begins with protagonist Monica, proprietor of Monica’s Café, finding a notebook left behind by one of her elderly customers. Julian Jessup, Wikipedia worthy artist, purposely leaves the journal. His entry challenges the finder to enter the truth and then pass along as he has done. Thus, starting a chain of truths.

As the journal travels from place to place, secrets are revealed and souls unburdened. Additionally, real life connections are formed among the participants. Then, these connections bring other characters into the fray. Each new character adds to the story. And each provides food for thought.

Through her characters, Pooley touches on quite a few societal controversies and phobias. She is not preachy. Instead, she tackles a variety of topics injecting fear of the unknown as well as acceptance of new ideas. Above all, there is a sense of humbleness.

Protagonist

Monica is responsible for holding things together. A take charge personality, she too, jumps to conclusions about others as well as about her own failings. She is such a real character, I wanted to travel to England just to visit her café. While all the characters show growth throughout the novel, Monica’s is most evident. As a reader, I was always pulling for her to have a happy ending.

The Authenticity Project Twists and Turns

The novel yielded a few plot twists and turns as the collective stories unwound. Thus the final outcome for each character yields a few surprises. The overall tone is uplifting, but like the rollercoaster of life, there were a variety of ups and downs. Not everyone ends happily ever after.

Clare Pooley is commended for writing such an authentic tale. I bought this copy and it is one that will find a permanent place in the home library. Buy or borrow a copy of The Authenticity Project. This refreshing novel is a must read.

St. Patrick’s Day and other Mid-March Musings

St. Patrick’s Day anchors this jam packed middle week in March. March 14 or 3/14 or 3.14 is Pi(E) day. Many colleges have fundraisers celebrating this day. Before giving up sugar during Lent, I loved eating pie on Pi Day. Of course, the Ides of March immediately follows Pi day. So, two days in a row of significance. Then, both are easily surpassed 48 hours later by St. Patrick’s Day.

Perhaps the first two days only appeal to math geeks and historians. Or, maybe St. Patrick’s Day looms large because so many remember elementary school days of being pinched if you didn’t wear green. But the middle of March brings about other practices as well.

Mid-March in the Garden

Even though the last spring frost is over a month away, gardening is in high gear. Potatoes are traditionally planted on or before St. Patrick’s Day in my part of the world. Seedlings are started and happy under the grow lights. And two new fruit trees have been planted along with a raspberry bush.

Firsts for me include starting peppers. One type of sweet pepper was purchased, the other saved from a delicious giant yellow pepper bought last fall at the grocery store. So far only the seeds I saved have germinated. I am anxious to see if they stay true to type.

Another first is using grow lights. My Christmas present this year was a double stand of lights. This has made my life so much easier than the old days of juggling starts around a south window or atop stacked boxes on the kitchen island. I am very pleased so far.

Indoor Starts

Double grow lights with seedlings

St. Patrick’s Day Blood Draw and other Mid-March Medical Events

The hospital in our little town is proactive. For many years Health Fairs have been offered each spring. This year my turn fell on St. Patrick’s Day. Truthfully, Covid-19 has scaled back on the event. Today was a simple blood draw. I look forward to the future when a full schedule of screenings can once again take place. Although, I don’t miss the height measurement—I seem to be shrinking.

However, this week will be a bellwether one for me. I am finally eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. There are two available in our town; the Janssen (J&J) and the Moderna. I researched both quite extensively. The former is old-school medicine. The latter new technology. I am not an early adopter. However, after much research and consulting with my physician, I am slated to receive the Moderna on Friday.

I am apprehensive. New things scare me. But, I know first-hand the dangers of the virus. For anyone looking for a good source of honest information I recommend this post from the University of Michigan: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/not-sure-about-covid-19-vaccine-get-facts-then-decide

Daylight Savings Time

The final sign of the spring season is the switch to Daylight Savings Time. I have written about this often. My body struggles with the change, much like a toddler without a concept of time. I am off kilter. I like to wake to the sun, and I like many hours of darkness before bedtime. But I am sure the adjustment will be made just like all previous years.

Spring brings many changes. Weather and hobbies as well as eating and sleeping habits are in a state of flux. Personally, embracing new technology within months instead of years is a change. I will keep you all posted on my vaccine experience.

The New Great Depression Book Review

The New Great Depression: Winners and Losers in a Post-Pandemic World by James Rickards beckoned from the new releases stand at the public library. This non-fiction work strives to evaluate the possible economic fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic. The book includes a recap of early 2020 events as well as the author’s thoughts of outcomes in 2021 and beyond.

Rickards uses the first two chapters as a summary of 2020 social events. Naturally the novel coronavirus features prominently. But he also discusses the important consequences of political responses to the pandemic.

First, is the outcome of lock down’s. Rickards evaluates both the economic and health responses to the strict governmental edicts in 2020. He also discusses the tentative connection between the virus, the lock down and the social unrest that roiled through the United States and spilled over to other parts of the world.

The New Great Depression

The author turns toward economic thoughts in Chapter Three. He posits that a new great depression will mark the February 24, 2020 market downturn as a pivotal date. However, he believes the economic weakness began in the latter part of 2019 and the pandemic accelerated the time table.

Unemployment due to lock down layoffs figure prominently in the discussion. The service industry accounted for many of the job losses. Unlike manufacturing, lost services are just that-lost. A missed haircut in June will not be recaptured work.

Rickards theorizes a second wave of unemployment among higher paid labor due to the output loss from the first wave. He further postulates that output and job recovery will be hindered by the June 4, 2020 Congressional Budget Office report of unemployment benefits greater than employee earned income. This disincentive to work, if lasting, is of great concern. Rickards expounds on this point.

Modern Monetary Theory

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) features heavily in the author’s warning of possible deflation and a potential for a new great depression. Much of this economic discussion is compelling. MMT and the overwhelming National Debt are the backbone of the author’s theory of deflation. His analysis is a bit depressing. As it should be, if his analysis is correct.

The three arguments for deflation hinge on a greater savings rate, a decrease in spending and a tightening in money velocity. All three are occurring now. But will that change once the pandemic recedes? Rickards says no. I am not so sure, although I concur with his thoughts on the dangers of MMT and the horrific level of debt.

Investment Possibilities

Even though much of The New Great Depression is sobering, the author outlines steps for individual investors to prosper. His proposal relies heavily on Bayes’ theorem, an applied math formula which many may not be familiar with.

Rickards also discusses diversity in investment. He does not consider a wide array of stock companies as diversity. I found his break down of investment disbursement quite interesting. And contrary to current thought.

While I am a bit more optimistic about a return to consumer spending and firmly believe in pent-up demand, I am not totally opposed to Rickards thinking. As readers know from my Inflation Check Challenge, I tend to think inflation is in store. But, The New Great Depression definitely provides a legitimate counter point. I believe all those in the audience with interest in the economy will greatly benefit from reading this author’s point of view. Much food for thought!

World With Women

A world with women is a better place. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. It was also Rose Day for Zonta International, a wonderful world-wide organization advocating for females across the globe. The local group I belong to spends hours, many hours, preparing for the day.

Rose Day 2021 Celebrates a World With Woman

To be honest, there was a bit of debate on whether delivering roses during a pandemic was feasible. But the owner of the flower shop (a Zontian) had remained open during the shut-down. So, contactless delivery was doable if a Covid-19 outbreak was bad on March 8th. Fortunately, things were good. Positivity is way down. Many days of zero new cases lately in this corner of the world.

The rural county I live in has a population of 12,000 spread out over 1600 square miles. So, less than ten people per square mile. A handful of small towns are sprinkles across the county. Only the county seat has a need for stoplights. Thus, the club selling 1825 roses is remarkable. The money earned by the sales goes toward multiple scholarships. Some are for our high school graduates. Other scholarships are earmarked for older women either returning to school or continuing their education above the associate level.

Rose Distribution

Over the years, I have delivered roses to various parts of the county. When I was still an instructor at the community college, I would grab the bucket of roses ordered for my co-workers. In more recent years, my routes would include the various businesses downtown, or the long route to the other communities in the county.

But this year, I was the driver for a rural route through the heart of the farmland. The experience was an eye-opener. There are times when I think the American media misses the picture. At least the view of “flyover” country. And sometimes, I forget the wonders as well.

The year of isolation was not one of idleness. The farmsteads showed signs of recent improvements. New facades, fresh paint and preps for spring planting. Workers working everywhere. And the women front and center.

Women Wrapping Yellow Roses
Yellow Roses

A Better World With Women

Life on the High Plains is harsh. The weather is a significant part of that. The climate encompasses many extremes. Hurricane strength winds create dust storms and fuel fires. Blizzards are a hazard to humans and livestock. Drought has broken the back of many a farm family.

Through it all, women have played an integral part. This part of the globe is truly a world with women. The harshness of the land has been an equalizer.

Wyoming was the first to allow females to vote. Women began voting in 1870, half a century before the passage of the 19th Amendment. And twenty years before achieving statehood.

Even though Kansas failed to pass national voting rights for women on the first attempt in 1867, limited voting rights were granted. Thus the town of Syracuse, Kansas, elected the first all-female city council in 1887. If you pass through this town of 1800, a sign (much like the ones posted for famous athletes) celebrates this milestone. Truly a world with women moment.

Final Thoughts

My celebration of International Women’s Day was positive. Honoring women working in a wide variety of jobs as well as those who have forged lives after careers have ended is uplifting. Not all productivity is measured by GDP. But my experience yesterday yielded many examples of women leading fruitful lives. I am proud my Zonta club recognizes these women and their contributions to our corner of the world.

Instant Karma Book Review

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer is an excellent Young Adult (YA) novel. The author weaves a teenage love/hate relationship with environmental social awareness, old fashioned right vs. wrong and a drop of karma mysticism. Growth of character is also a strong part of the narrative.

Instant Karma for the Protagonist

Protagonist Prudence Barnett is finishing up her sophomore year of high school. Her Type-A personality clashing with lab partner Quint Erickson. Quint is a laid back, always late even for the final presentation, popular personality without a care in the world. Or so Prudence thinks.

They earn a C for their collaborative work. But even worse, Quint outscores Prudence individually. A rough start to the summer. Things get complicated from there.

Meyer does an excellent job creating the characters. Over-achieving Prudence is so sure she is right-all the time. A bump to the head gives her super karma powers. Instant Karma both good and bad befalls others. But she really doesn’t have total control. Her maturity needs improvement as well. Instant Karma helps Prudence grow.

Social Issues at Play

A key part of the novel focuses on the marine animal shelter run by Quint’s mother Rosa. The center relies heavily on volunteers. Quint is naturally a volunteer. Prudence becomes one as well. However, her initial motive is self-serving. She hopes to improve her lab grade.

Meyer uses the shelter as a vehicle to discuss the harm of ocean pollution. The rescued animals have been harmed in many ways, including plastic. The author deftly weaves the needed social awareness into the story. Thus, the focus on environmental harm to the ocean is an integral part of the story, not just a contrived add- on.

Relationships and Growth

The love-hate relationship between Prudence and Quint is the basis of Instant Karma. Both characters show considerable growth in the story. Each wrongs the other. In the end all is well.

Secondary characters are also important to the interaction. Both teenage and adult characters are highlighted. There is a nice flow between the two groups. One would hope the give and take between the generations exists in reality as well as fiction.

I highly recommend Instant Karma. This is YA fiction entertainment at its best. The subject matter of karma may call for a bit of suspension of disbelief. But the characters and story line feel all too real. While YA literature can be dark and gloomy, Instant Karma messages with uplifting pleasure.

February 2021 Wrap-Up

February 2021 is one for the history books. Brutal, record setting cold pushed past the High Plains on its way south towards the border of the U.S.A. and Mexico. Fortunately, our part of the country expects sub-zero temperatures from time to time. So, we escaped the disaster that befell many of the southern states.

But we did not escape the cold! The official low temperature for the month in our little town was a negative 28 Fahrenheit. At our place, the outdoor thermometer hit a temperature just shy of that. We were very thankful our power remained on. Needless to say, indoor activities ruled February.

Reading Through the Cold Snap

Much of February 2021 passed by while reading by the fire. In addition to Spin and Cleaning Sucks, I re-read several Janet Evanovich books. They bring needed laughter. I also read a delightful YA novel, Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer and a thought provoking economic release by James Rickards, The New Great Depression. Both will appear as reviews in March.

February 2021 Garden Prep

It is never too cold to think of the garden. In early February 2021, peanuts were started. I did not soak them overnight, but just for a few hours. This was a mistake. Only three of the two dozen have sprouted. This will be remedied.

Other seeds started include cauliflower, at a fifty percent germination rate; celery, kale, cabbage, and iceberg lettuce. The lettuce has a 100% germination. These cold weather crops should be big enough to transplant by early April. If not sooner.

Our last average freeze date is May 15, although later freezes and even snows are not unusual. Thus, transplants are an important part of gardening. Due to the severe cold, I doubt my hoop experiment will yield any success. So, my plans for a greenhouse-garden house are moving forward.

Quilts and More Quilts

Another advantage of cold weather is the time available for quilting. February marked the completion of two baby quilts with a doll quilt thrown in. I am down to just three UFO’s. I look forward to sharing more about the quilts as March progresses. Binding finishes off the quilts and is my least favorite part of the process.

Log Cabin Quilt in yellows and grays

New Life in February 2021

 

The highlight of February occurred on the 19th. Another granddaughter was born. I am excited to welcome Ivy Louise into the family. She is named in part for my mom. The circle of life continues.

Cleaning Sucks Book Review

Rachel Hoffman delivers in her self-help book Cleaning Sucks.  This is a follow up to a previous guide which I probably missed due to the title, Unf*ck Your Habitat. Sometimes my late Baby Boomer attitude clashes with the younger generation. I am glad Hoffman toned down the colorful language for this most recent foray. Her advice is fantastic. As in don’t miss.

Psychological Roadblocks

A key difference in Cleaning Sucks is the author’s attention to mental health and wellness. Certain events in life lend themselves to periods of malaise. Hoffman addresses this factor. She also discusses the challenges faced by those with handicaps.

Furthermore, her approach to tackling housekeeping in small bites creates success. The outcome is immediate. As someone who would much rather spend time in the garden than indoors, I love this approach. No toiling all day long at drudgery.

Cleaning Sucks is a workbook. The author intends the reader to interact with the philosophy. The “homework” is not difficult. The tips and tasks are an important component. Best of all, there is a large amount of flexibility. So, even on busy days, Hoffman’s methods can contribute to both a cleaner home and greater mental wellness.

For households with multiple residents, Hoffman’s section on Sharing Space is outstanding. In this time of two incomes, the burden of keeping the home functioning should not fall entirely on one person. The author tackles this hot topic with psychological advice and multiple interactive guides.

Cleaning Sucks Techniques

Various small task goals are featured in Cleaning Sucks. A favorite is Sink Zero. Dirty dishes are never ending whether you are a household of six or just one. Hoffman’s advice on this topic is epic. She has you record the time you hit Sink Zero daily. This term applies to the point where all dishes are cleaned and put away-or at least stashed in a dishwasher.

Another worksheet involves the concept Do Something Every Day. This is very appealing to those with active lifestyles. She ends the recording page with the wisdom: You don’t have to do much; you just have to do something.

Noteable Quotables

Words of the wise are sprinkled throughout Cleaning Sucks. Hoffman shares quotes from some of my favorites. Ann Richards, famous for her quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything as well as Fred Astaire but “backwards and in high heels” lends the following:

I did not want my tombstone to read “She kept a really clean house.”

 

Perhaps even more fitting is Erma Bombeck:

My second-favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

 

Both quotes are reflective of my sentiments. However, I have been using Hoffman’s guide for over a week now and I am surprised by the ease and by the results. One could truly handle guests popping in following this wonderful book.

I highly recommend Cleaning Sucks. And I am not waiting until Christmas to buy copies for gifts. One caveat, I think Millennials and Gen Xers will appreciate the author more than older generations who will find the language too colorful.

 

Book Cover of Rachel Hoffman's Cleaning Sucks

Arctic Freeze, Ash Wednesday and Preparedness

Arctic Freeze

An arctic freeze has swept over the plains area of North America reaching all the way into the northernmost states of Mexico. Here on the High Plains of the United States, we recorded extreme cold temperatures. One overnight temperature registered a negative (-) 28 degrees Fahrenheit. For my Celsius readers not wanting to do the mental calculation, that is -33 C.

Prior to this week, the lowest temperature I ever experienced was a -22 one frigid January night when visiting Alamosa, Colorado. We were warm and toasty in our hotel. Unfortunately, the electrical system on the vehicle exposed to the temperature took a hit. Just one of many things to consider when travelling.

Preparing for Arctic Freeze

Thanks to modern forecasting, we knew a cold swath of air was headed our way. So even though the temperature dropped more than predicted, a plan of action was in place. Certain steps were taken.

First, a trip to the grocery store 48 hours in advance to top off the pantry. It is interesting to note that few were in the store-maybe due to the snow flurries and gray skies. Temperatures registering just above freezing.

Most of us were in our golden years. And we all had full baskets with lots of staples. I can only imagine later crowds.

The second step to prepare was a joint activity the following day. My husband and I wrapped the outside faucets and covered the vents to the crawl space. We were worried about high winds which never materialized, so sturdy covers enveloped the wrapped faucets.

The biggest anxiety centered on the water pipes coming through the crawl space. Once they reached the basement area we were less concerned. The extra precautions were worthwhile. The temperature in the space never dropped below 50 degrees F.

Last night the low hit -6 F. Hopefully the last negative temperatures until next fall. So far the preparations have helped.

Ash Wednesday

The beginning of Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday is the start of forty days of self-denial in many Christian religions. These days symbolize the time Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his time of ministry. Biblical readers will remember he fasted during this time of temptation.

In the West, the fasting and self-denial of Lent is no longer closely adhered too. Recent years have even focused on doing positive or good deeds during this time. While this change is appealing, I tend to fail at meeting the daily good deed. However, I am able to complete forty days of self-denial.

So, once again I will test my self-control. In light of the long hard winter of loss, I plan to up my game. In addition to giving up sweets and sugar laden goods, I will also give up my dinner wine. In fact, a no alcohol period wouldn’t hurt. The Case Against Sugar factored heavily into the first Lent without sweets. The ensuing weight loss and good blood sugar levels inspires a repeat effort.

Self-discipline factors greatly into a period of self-denial.

Preparedness

A spiritual preparedness is as important as physical readiness. My biggest failure as a Christian will remain. Unlike my missionary ancestors, I do not believe all have to worship the same way. Yet, I choose to believe in the Holy Trinity. My faith is strong.

Furthermore, I continue to oppose those who believe there is only one right way to believe. This includes those extremists whether they are far right or far left. Maybe I am wrong in not spreading the Gospel. If so, there will be a day of reckoning.

Until then, I will continue along my path of mutual tolerance with regards to spiritual beliefs.

Spin Book Review

Spin, the follow up to Quantum, continues the action from the latter as if an old time serial. Patricia Cornwell’s Captain Chase series picks up the pace of technology. And the protagonist, Calli Chase develops a second skin. But once again, the acronyms are distracting.

Contemporary Science Fiction

Cornwell thoroughly researched the latest robotics and space technology before beginning the series. Thus much of the technology discussed carries a paradox of both realism and an “out of this world” vibe. Cloaking devices, fabric made with electrical “thread”-I have actually witnessed this technology with my own eyes-interactive AI and eye wear are novel but apparently no longer experimental. So, if you love reading about these advances, Spin is definitely for you.

A key component of the novel is the use of interactive AI (artificial intelligence.) ART is one with Captain Chase. The repercussions are scary and not far off. Cornwell is masterful at revealing the complex decisions we face with the continued development of this technology. Science fiction is now fact.

Spin Characters

However, I feel there is a danger of the novel, and indeed the series, focusing too much on the technologies and not enough on the characters. As a sequel, many of the same characters returned. There was an unevenness in the development of these roles. The greatest growth was naturally in the personality of the protagonist. But few of the other players evolved.

An exception is that of four star General Dick Melville. He plays a very large role in the story. Much like the military plays a large role in the development of new technology. The symbolism is not lost. I think Melville is a good guy, but often it is hard to tell. So true to life.

Of the new characters introduced, young Lex, a boy genius is most appealing. An orphaned teen on the threshold of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil. I hope we see more of this character in future books. The chemistry between Captain Calli Chase and Lex is believable. Furthermore, the technical abilities of the young versus the older generations’ grasp of today’s tech mirrors the real world. Small truths lend credibility to fictional story lines.

Recommendations

Spin is well written by a master storyteller. Yet the book may not be for everyone. Once again jargon is a predominant part of the problem. Individuals not fluent in NASA speak or tech terms may feel weighted down.

Another problem is the serial approach. Truly, this book series needs to be read in order. So, if you haven’t read Quantum yet, find a copy of that book first. (Click here for the review.) And be prepared for an ending that is the beginning of the next.

Manufacturer’s Recipe to the Rescue

Manufacturer’s Recipes intrigue me. Do these companies have test kitchens? Company cooks? Or perhaps they have employee competitions to create recipes for their goods. Who writes the cookbooks? And what about the recipes on the back of the box or can? So many questions.

Manufacturer’s Recipe Books

Even though the Internet offers a plethora of recipes through blog sites and other sources, I still find value in manufacturer’s recipe books. The dessert cookbooks are the best. I have a well- worn Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook and two from Hershey’s.

My Candy Cane Cheesecake made with Philadelphia Cream Cheese can be found by clicking here. Those of you with leftover candy canes might want to whip one up for Valentine’s Day since the pink color is perfect for the upcoming holiday. Like many of my recipes, the preceding recipe was adapted.

Three Manufacturer's Recipe Books
Three Favorites

Cooking From Scratch

Much of my cooking is from scratch. There are a few exceptions. I love Stouffer’s Spinach Soufflé. Unfortunately, my local grocery store no longer carries that item. Making a soufflé from scratch is daunting. So it has been quite some time since I enjoyed a spinach soufflé.

Another exception is stuffing. Even though I have made homemade stuffing on numerous occasions, the consistency isn’t quite there. Plus, stuffing is not a last minute recipe. My fall back is Kraft Stove Top Stuffing. So I usually have a box or two on hand.

Adapting a Manufacturer’s Recipe for a Last Minute Meal

Yesterday was spent in the quilt room piecing a new baby quilt. My spouse, a fabulous cook, had an equally busy day. So, leftovers were on the docket. However, a side dish was needed. The Stove Top box promised quick and easy crab cakes. And they were.

Adapting manufacturer’s recipes is necessary to avoid a trip to the grocery store for just one item. Additionally, I change recipes to fit our dietary needs. Thus, the quick and easy crab cake recipe is not exactly the same as on the back of the box. Finally, I am changing the name. Not because the crab cakes weren’t quick and easy, but because they were absolutely delicious.

Delicious Quick and Easy Crab Cakes

Prep Time: 20-25 Minutes Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water

1 box Kraft Stove Top Cornbread Stuffing Mix

4 eggs total separated into 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites

1 can crabmeat, drained

Sunflower Oil

Directions

Drain crabmeat. Stir boiling water to stuffing mix and let sit for five minutes. Beat one whole egg and three egg whites in large bowl. Add drained crabmeat into the egg mixture. Then incorporate the stuffing mix. Form 5-6 patties.

Heat the sunflower oil at medium high in a sturdy skillet. I use cast iron. Once oil is hot, place crab cakes and cook for 7 minutes per side for a total of 14 minutes.

Serve Hot

January 2021 Wrap-Up

The January 2021 Wrap-Up is a day late but hopefully not a dollar short for the reading public. As a month, it was difficult. Numbness as much as pain. But that is to be expected when dealing with Life After the Loss of a Loved One. Fortunately, the circle of life continues. And as I have experienced from a tooth repair at the dentist, numbness wears off. Pain to the heart will take longer, but fortunately a life full of good memories is lasting.

Travel in January 2021

A long cross country drive offered a glimpse of how America is reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of the country has taken steps to stay healthy. This does not mean everything was closed down. Restaurants were open. Outside seating was available in most cases. But capacity varied greatly.

We did encounter a few places where masks where not in the majority. Business was booming in these spots. I think this will be the case everywhere by the end of 2021. As more and more people who want the vaccine achieve their goal, pent up demand will explode.

A final thought on travelling by car in the United States is just how beautiful this country is. And how varied. (I guess that is two thoughts.) Visitors to the country as well as citizens should go beyond the big cities. The smaller towns offer such a diverse experience.

Looking Forward in 2021

January 2021 is now in the past. We lost two family members, bringing the total to three for this long winter. The remainder of the high risk individuals in the family have all received a first vaccine. So far, no adverse reactions. At the end of February, I will report on the second series of shots.

My spouse is on the extended list for vaccine, but I am not yet eligible. It will be interesting to follow the progress both here and abroad. Meanwhile, I expect to be a bit unsocial for the coming month.

Spring 2021 In The Garden

The snow mostly disappeared over the weekend allowing me to get into the Big Garden and make some repairs. A large windstorm in the middle of the month caused damage to the support structure. We still have very cold nights, below zero this past week, so no outside planting. But seeds will soon be started indoors. Life begins again.

American Nations Book Review

American Nations: A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard is a thorough history of political and cultural divisions. Family members highly recommended the book. I concur. This account of the area from Northern Mexico to the North Pole is thought provoking, detailed and a bit unsettling. American Nations is well researched and annotated.

The information may provoke differing reactions. The described nations are easily identified, even today. So, readers from rival regions may not agree on the implications. Indeed, I believe readers will not agree. Thus, the book is ideal for book clubs and college classrooms.

Furthermore, Woodard offers great insight into recent events. The responses to the pandemic mirror the philosophies of the American Nations. Even more telling is the reaction to the 2020 Presidential Election.

Well worn cover of the book American Nations
The wear and tear of the cover is indicative of the many readers.

American Nations Part One

Four sections comprise the book. In Part One, Woodard concentrates on the historical details behind the settlement of North America. First, is the Spanish establishment of the nation “El Norte.” The founding of “New France” follows. Subsequent nations established during colonial times are “Tidewater” and “Yankeedom.”  Englishman settled both.

“New Netherland,” now the New York City area, formed shortly thereafter. The Dutch brought their own ideals to the new land. These beliefs created the diverse culture of  today’s inhabitants. But the unique culture clashed with the other nations throughout history.

Barbados citizens of English descendant shaped the “Deep South.” These men sought to copy the island’s slave based society. The last two nations to develop during this time period are labeled “Midlands” and “Greater Appalachia.” The inhabitants of the latter are referred to as Borderlanders. Both groups retain initial traits.

The author distinguishes between the nations. The explorers  and settlers of North America pursued different goals. Each region developed independently. Thus, divergent entities arose. Those distinctions remain today. Woodard is excellent in his presentation of conflicting ideals. And he provides implications for current events.

American Nations Part Two

Woodard uses the second part to explain alternating alignments of the various nations. The various wars from 1770 to 1815 reflected divergent goals. Sides changed often. So, the unification against the British:

….was a profoundly conservative action fought by a loose military alliance of nations, each of which was most concerned with preserving or reasserting control of its respective culture, character, and power structure. (p. 115)

As the shortest of the sections, Part Two offers much insight into the differences between the many regional divisions. Indeed, this portion reminds one of the difficulties in founding the United States of America. Furthermore, in light of the history presented, the continued struggles among the founding nations are not surprising. The greatest divisions align along political and religious beliefs. Moral compasses differ creating a divided people.

Part Three: Wars for The West

The third section of American Nations demonstrates the bellicosity of the various nations. Competing interests sought to populate the vast regions of North America. Tensions were high even before the outbreak of the Civil War. Yankeedom and its’ coalition tried to impose their beliefs on newcomers. Meanwhile, the Deep South and its’ allies desired control over large swaths of unsettled territory. Both nations tried to influence El Norte and The West. Both feared a dilution of power.

Woodard clearly indicates disdain for the ideals of the Deep South. It is clear he has no sympathy for the slave owners.  The faults of the other nations are also discussed. This section is well documented with sources and paints an accurate picture of divisiveness.

Part Four: Culture Wars

The last section of the book spans over a hundred years. Woodard does an outstanding job of explaining how and why the original nations evolved. Furthermore, he outlines the switch in the make-up of the two major political parties. In his discussion of Blue, Red and Purple Nations, Woodard explains how the party of Lincoln is now central to the Deep South. Once again, the information is well researched. And well presented.

Part Four also describes the start of the guest worker program. One of the many military involvements overseas left El Norte with a labor shortage. Implications of this program remain. Indeed, the resurgence of El Norte influenced the most recent elections.

Additionally, the author offers insight into the love/hate relationship between the Far West and the federal government. Internal conflicts are a reflection of independent-minded people dependent on governmental spending. Geography plays an important part.

The current status of New France is discussed as well. Woodard points out the divisions found within Canada. Then, he differentiates between the two countries. He posits the original nations reached a compromise in Canada. Further, Woodard puts forth a similar status is unlikely to occur within the U.S.A.

Finally, he introduces the “First Nation.” The author highlights the communal nature of the original inhabitants. He credits their diversity in leadership. Finally he issues kudos on their environmental stand.

Conclusions Drawn

2011 marked the publication of American Nations. Time marches on. The insight into the presidents of the 20th and 21st centuries is excellent. As is the analysis of the “Nations” influences today. But, the Obama era is the last discussed. Conflict among the nations is accelerating. North America is changing.

In his Epilogue, Woodard is eerily prescient:

Another outside possibility is that, faced with a major crisis, the federation’s leaders will betray their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the primary adhesive holding the union together. In the midst of, say, a deadly pandemic outbreak or the destruction of several cities by terrorists, a fearful public might condone the suspension of civil rights, the dissolution of Congress, or the incarceration of Supreme Court justices. (p. 317)

Woodard posits the break up of the federation of “Nations.” And possible realignments. He sees a changed future for North America.

I might have dismissed the author’s ideas as farfetched before 2020. However, after witnessing the disparate approach to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the events of January 6, 2021, Woodard’s assessments are more realistic. But not palatable. Nor wanted. Indeed, his analysis causes concern.

I highly recommend American Nations. The book is not an easy read. But, the information is well researched. History fans will appreciate this book. So, too will those seeking a better understanding of the conflicts within North America’s shores. Lastly, the events of January 2021 demand a reading. Buy a copy today. Then consider reading Colin Woodard’s most recent book. Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood is now available.

Inflation Check Challenge

The inflation check challenge is a direct response to the higher gas prices on the return trip from Florida. In just ten days, there was a notable increase at the pumps. This prompted me to pay closer attention on a trip to the grocery store where things also seemed a wee bit pricier. So, I decided to issue the inflation check challenge to my readers.

How the Inflation Check Challenge Works

The first step in the inflation check challenge is to create a basket of goods to keep track of price. Items should be products (or services) that are purchased on a year-round basis. Thus, seasonal goods such as Valentine Candy or Easter Baskets are eliminated. The ideal basket will include ten to twenty consumable items. Food, gas, and medicinal items make the bulk of the basket. A key is to make the list reflect your regular spending habits.

Next, either buy or price these goods before the end of the month. This will create the base price. However, price is not the only indication of inflation. In some cases, suppliers are holding the price steady but decreasing the amount provided. For example, I have included a can of cream style corn. The can looks to be the same size but now there are only 14.75 ounces. But in the past the container held 16 ounces. So , it is important to record both price and quantity. Finally, you may want to note the merchant providing the good or service.

Then save your list to an Xcel sheet or if writing out long-hand, place somewhere safe so it won’t get tossed. AND a place easily remembered! Because at the end of April, July, and October we re-visit the Inflation Check Challenge. Of course, those so inclined can record monthly changes as well.

2021 Inflation Monitoring

2021 will provide mixed signals about inflation. But, year over year comparisons will be especially troublesome due to the Covid-19 shut downs in 2020. Even though the United States did not have a complete lockdown similar to the Wuhan Province in the People’s Republic of China, productivity plummeted in March through June of 2020. So did spending. Perhaps a comparison to that same time period in 2019 would provide more insight.

Other concerns regarding inflation come from pent-up demand. This will be an uneven demand as some states are more open for business than others. However, even individuals in the “open” states have had travel curbed. So, late in 2021 I think we will see more than just a return to normal. However, I do not know how long excess spending will continue. If at all.

Families have not only pushed back memorial services, but many young couples have delayed their nuptials. Furthermore, our mobile society has been hampered by the uneven ability to travel to locales such as Hawaii or New Mexico. I think we will have a major boom next fall. So, how long will this return to consumption last?

In economics, a low level of inflation is preferable to disinflation or worse, deflation. But stagflation such as experienced by America in the 1970’s and hyperinflation, which both Venezuela and the South Sudan have been battling are two concerns. Thus a need for monitoring inflation on an individual as well as a national basis.

Inflation Check Challenge List

I have fifteen items on my list including one fast food treat. If I snagged a sale price, I also list the regular price. Your list will be different than mine. The list should be a reflection of normal purchases that are quickly consumed. Therefore, don't include durable goods such as a new car or dishwasher.

Item

Planet Oat Extra Creamy Original Oat Milk

Small Bag Signature Select Sugar

Signature Select Cream Style Corn

Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast

Bananas

Kraft Real Mayo

Meow Mix

Morton Salt

Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste

Align Probiotics

Tide Botanical Rain Detergent

Kerr Regular Mouth Canning Lids

3M Ad. Allergy Furnace Filter

Dunkin Donut-Boston Cream

Regular Unleaded Gas

Amount

52 Oz.

4 Lbs.

14.75 Oz.

4 Oz.

1 Lb.

30 Oz.

6.3 Lbs.

26 Oz.

4.6 Oz.

28 Caps.

92 Oz.

12

1

Single

1 Gal.

Purchase Price

$ 3.49

 2.99

 0.69

 6.99

 0.59

 3.79

 7.78

 0.94

 4.99

26.58

11.97

 3.18

15.88

 0.99

$ 2.36

Regular Price

$ 3.99

 

 

 

 

  4.99

 

  1.19

  5.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inflation Check Challenge-Share your Basket

For those that participated in a previous Econogal Challenge, I hope you will take this on as well. This is the basket of goods I will keep track of during 2021. The future is impossible to predict. But we can record the present. What is in your basket?

Over the Road Travel Warriors

Due to the loss of my Mom, my husband and I became over the road travel warriors these past days. We chose to drive the 1600 miles plus for flexibility. Trips of this kind are standard fare for me. Not so much for my better half. He feels as if he’s been through the wash.

As a child, I participated in many road trips. In fact my first trip via airplane did not occur until I was over twenty-one. I do not know the age my husband was on his first flight, but each of my children traveled by air before their second birthday. This I believe is a statement about mobility as well as competition. It can be much cheaper to fly under the right circumstances. However, last minute travel does not apply.

Return to Normalcy

Comparing this road trip to the ones shared in the September 2020 Wrap-Up, many more travelers are on the go. Once again, major cities are best avoided during rush hour. Gas stations with the lowest price are in high demand. Eighteen wheelers no longer have the Interstates to themselves.

However, evidence of the pandemic remains. Restaurants are not operating at full capacity. Outdoor seating is augmented with heaters in locations with cold climates. Many, but not all are wearing masks.

Over the Road Travel Warriors Find Hidden Gems

On my long ago over the road travels, my parents included guide books from AAA. Many of these publications included a section of hidden gems. Many were scenic although a few were businesses. On our recent cross-country trip we too found hidden gems.

The first was Crush Wine Bar and Restaurant, click here for their website menu. This wonderful find in downtown Amarillo had heaters on the outside patio to keep diners warm. But the best part of the visit was the wonderful halibut and salmon dishes we consumed. I may make Amarillo a destination just so I can go back to Crush.

The second find was the Ponce De Leon Rest Stop in the Panhandle of Florida. The exit is easy off and on catering to both directions. The only negative were the high gas prices at nearby stations. But this rest area offered the cleanest bathrooms and wonderful picnic tables. A great location for ham and provolone sandwiches.

The last hidden gem was in Natchitoches, La. The French Market Express was discovered on a refueling stop. This convenience store was amazing. In addition to fresh baked goods, baked onsite, the store offers a wide array of Cajun food including cooked to order beignets. From now on I plan to make this a required stop. I cannot say enough positives about this over the road travel gem. Click here for their website and keep in mind this is all within a gas station convenience store.

Non-fiction Reading along the Road

I am now about two-thirds through the Colin Woodard book American Nations. Readers can expect a review soon. So far I find the book thought provoking and relative to the current political climate here in the U.S.A.

The over the road travel gave this writer new ideas. I only hope they can come to fruition. As I have written before, people work through grief in different ways. I plan to quilt, read and write through mine. Thanks to all for the support.

Outdoor dining at Crush Restaurant

 

 

Life after the Loss of a Loved One

Death comes to all, but those left behind still struggle with life after the loss of a loved one. Individuals grieve in various ways. Some fall apart at once. Others are more stoic. Some need time and space to mourn alone while others can only function if surrounded with family and friends.

Grief

Grief itself can sneak up on a person. One can be operating on all cylinders and then suddenly all gears stop and one roams aimlessly around not completing even the simplest of tasks. The emotion can appear suddenly in physical form. Personally, I experience a tightness in my chest. And sometimes tears swim in eyes that were clear moments before. Others have headaches or lose their appetite.

Sudden loss is devastating. But grief is great even when hospice has been called in. Life after the loss of a loved one is never the same. Pictures help. Videos preserve voices as well. But the interaction cannot be replaced. No smiles when you walk into a room. No more hand-holding. There is a finality in the loss of a loved one.

Life after the Loss of a Loved One

Numbness best describes the first few days. Perhaps this allows the body to absorb the shock. Life is complex and intertwined. Death means a thread has been cut. And somehow those still living need to incorporate the end of that thread into the remainder of the fabric that reflects their own life. This can be difficult.

My memories are positive ones. Even though the pandemic kept me away these last months, I cherish the time prior. The dementia experienced by my mom never kept her from knowing me. The bond between mother and child is strong. The love continues after the loss.

Circle of Life

Each of my children have their “own” first name and then a family name in the middle. This tradition continues. My next grandchild will share my Mom’s middle name. She is due anytime now. Mom would be so delighted. And in this time of grief, life continues with hope for a bright future.

Rest in peace Mom.

 

 

 

New Year 2021

It is quite possible New Year’s Eve 2020 was one of the most anticipated eves in history as many were eager to start a new year in 2021. Econogal was no exception, until age crept in. As one gets older, limberness dissipates. To make a long story short, I managed to torque my knee just in time for the New Year. I am waiting for an MRI to confirm a suspected tear to my meniscus. Unfortunately, events went downhill from there.

Dementia and Coping with Covid-19

I have written many times of my Mom’s dementia. She has been in a nursing home for the last several years. Either my Dad or I would visit daily to make sure she would eat. Even though a nursing home is not the ideal situation, both my parents made the adjustment.

But then the pandemic struck. Last spring in the middle of a visit Dad was asked to leave. The nursing home was shutting down to all visitors. He had no idea it would be months before he could see my Mom again. Life for all of us permanently changed in 2020.

By the time monitored outside visits resumed in the fall, Mom had lost fifteen percent of her weight. I am sure she picked at her food, forgetting the basic concept of eating to live. She did recognize Dad. And she hated the wearing of the masks.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 made a sweeping appearance in the nursing home in early December. It was hard not to cry when Dad called to say she had tested positive. Then on Christmas Day she left the Covid-19 isolation wing. I was Zooming with family in Florida while they were on Facetime with my Mom. She couldn’t understand it all but she looked good. No physical signs of trauma from the virus.

Hidden Damage

The joy was short lived. Now she can’t swallow whole foods. Everything is pureed. More weight has been lost. She does not seem to have the will to live. Officially, she is receiving hospice care and so my Dad is allowed to visit indoors for a short amount of time. Words fail me.

A New Year

2021 is officially here and not off to a good start either personally or nationally. The New Year looks to be yet another rollercoaster ride with highs and lows. Perhaps the inauguration will begin to heal the nation. It will be hard to forget the events of January 6th. I am glad our system prevailed but saddened about the large gulf in our populace.

The United States of America has a unique history.  Divisiveness has existed throughout. With the exception of The Civil War, the inhabitants of this nation were able to reach compromise if not consensus. My hope is the ability to negotiate between factions and viewpoints will remain. Diversity is good, yet unity is also an essential for the continuation of this great nation I call home.

Econogal in New Year 2021

The New Year is certainly off to a shaky start. There may be gaps in the posting. But it will be important to grieve. I know there will be loss. And new life and new family. My goal for 2021 is to embrace life, and all it offers. I send wishes of peace to all.

 

December 2020 Wrap-Up

Today is the last of December 2020 and the end of a very long year. 2020 was unique and not necessarily in a good way. Yet the year will be long remembered, and that is historically positive. Therefore, this wrap-up will extend beyond a monthly account and provide glimpses of what the entire year felt like here on the High Plains.

Change can be difficult. Self-discipline even more difficult and 2020 required both. Our household is inching closer and closer to the Over-The-Hill category. One of us has multiple “co-morbidities” and we both have thyroid issues. A year ago I would have said we both had another fifteen to twenty years on our lifespan. Now, who knows? So we are and will continue to be cautious with respect to Covid-19.

December 2020

Our month started out with the dreaded news that multiple family members had contracted the virus. Not all at the same time. The earliest was an octogenarian uncle who contracted the disease just prior to Thanksgiving. He died in early December. He had many co-morbidities. So his death was not unexpected. We were able to watch the graveside service via a livestream video. It was hard not being there in person.

Norman was a special man. A farmer by trade, he could have easily been a minister. His Thanksgiving 2001 grace still registers with my offspring. The prayer was both spiritual and patriotic. Perfect for those trying times. I will never forget the support he gave me in the early 90s after one of our little ones was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. The sporadic phone calls always seemed to occur when I most needed them. Rest in peace Uncle Norman.

A Low Key Christmas

A few days later, my spouse brought home a Norfolk Pine from the grocery store and we decided to use it as a Christmas tree. The live plant stands about three feet high and we placed lights upon the branches and packages underneath. Low key, yet the cheery tree greeted us each time we opened the front door.

Lights were hung on the front porch and the Christmas dishes were used throughout the month. Determined to keep with the spirit of the season, I made multiple batches of cookies to distribute to neighbors and family. We enjoyed our fair share as well.

I brined a turkey for the first time, and I will never roast one again without brining first. First of all, I really did not know what I was doing. However, I tossed some fresh garden herbs into the boiling salted water along with turmeric. The result was fantastic. I added little in the way of spices for the leftover dish Turkey Tetrazzini, yet it was one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever made. Brining the turkey is a new requirement in this household.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Cship
Chocolate chocolate chip cookies
Pecan Pie Bars
Chocolate Fudge shortcake Pan cookies
Tumeric flavored brine

Celestial Delights for December 2020

Perhaps due to the brilliant clear skies we have in this part of the world, we are avid stargazers. December 2020 brought us several opportunities to embrace the cold nights by gazing at the above sky. The Geminid meteor shower is one of my favorites. One evening we spotted ten meteors in about thirty minutes.

But the highlight of the month was the appearance of the “Christmas Star.” The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is one I will remember. I place it with the Total Eclipse of 2017 as a treasured event. Truly, some things only occur once in a lifetime.

Other December 2020 Highlights

I continue to post my top list of books for the year. Click here for the 2020 list. My reading has fallen off a bit the last few weeks, but I am currently reading a Christmas gift, American Nations by Colin Woodard. Look for the review in January of 2021.

I also began another garden experiment. The remainder of my sweet potato crop was too small to cook. The root vegetables were less than an inch across and only numbered three. So two were tossed in the compost and the third was placed in a glass jar to hopefully spout. All through December 2020 I changed the water and watched roots slowly form. I was delighted to find sprouting stems and leaves on the 29th. I hope to grow slips from this plant as ordered slips often arrive in poor condition and weeks after the earliest planting time.

My quilting by hand continues. Christmas movies are great to have on while the tiny stitches are made. Many a cold December afternoon was spent in this way. However, I will need to begin cutting and piecing another baby quilt in January. My second grandchild is due late February.

Sweet Potato start in glass jar just beginning to sprout
Two quilts in hops for hand quilting

The Year of the Pandemic

It will be interesting to see how 2020 is treated by historians. While some countries have kept the numbers low, others have not. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and many countries are seen as having failed. My country is included among the failures. However as I wrote in my Successes and Failures post last January, we just need to keep trying. The Spanish Flu (which you can read a review of a good account by clicking here) came to an end and so will Covid-19.

My 2020 resolutions flew out the door rather quickly. In fact I had to look them up for this account. However, I was quite pleased that I managed to keep the third without trying. If there was ever a year for negativity, 2020 comes to mind. For the most part I stayed positive. A pandemic is something beyond my control. No need to be glum when something is out of your hands.

Gardening in 2020

Two items shine when I reflect on 2020. The first is my garden. I continue to advocate for the Raised Row technique first discussed in this March 2018 book review. The yields are great and the weeds are sparse. We are still enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor each time we open a jar of home produce.

Furthermore, I really enjoy the multiple experiments. I wrote numerous times about last spring’s peanut experiment which yielded a fair amount. I will use some of this year’s harvest to start next year’s plants. The legumes are great for the soil in addition to our eating enjoyment. As mentioned above, I am excited about my new sweet potato experiment. 2021 looks to be another good year in the garden.

Econogal 2020

Perhaps my greatest success has been my writing. Econogal readership is expanding, although not exponentially as viruses do. My favorite posts include Striking a Balance in May, Vail Valley Escape in July, Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline in November, Rainy Day Fund and Brave New World.

November was a key month with the number of hits on the blog almost tripling that of October. Perhaps people were just bored or stuck at home. However, I do appreciate the comments and the new followers. The community of bloggers is a solid one of support.

Superstitions

For the most part I am not a superstitious person. A key exception revolves around sports. Horse racing in particular evokes various superstitions. But I am a bit superstitious this New Year’s Eve. Last year I was full of expectations of 2020. This year I have absolutely NONE regarding 2021.

Furthermore, as you can see in the picture below, my planner for 2021 is not the artsy one of 2020 (that I had been so thrilled to find and purchase) but one much closer to the earlier years. I use planners extensively to keep track of my writing, the garden activities, and the weather. We have so little moisture on the High Plains, rain and snow measurements are key. Hopefully, a return to a plain, unexceptional planner will yield a less intense 2021. Happy New Year Everyone!

Planning calendars

Turkey Tetrazzini

Leftover Turkey Recipe

This is an adapted recipe for turkey tetrazzini. The original called for one pound of pasta and baking in a 9 x 12 roasting pan. I added very few spices because the leftover turkey I was using had been brined and was very flavorful.

Ingredients

½ lb. spaghetti

5 Tbs. butter-divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 oz. sliced mushrooms

½ cup dry white wine

2 heaping Tbs. flour

1- 1 ½ cups boiling water

1 bouillon cube

3/4  cup heavy cream

½ cups cubed or coarsely chopped leftover turkey

½ cup mozzarella cheese

1 Tbs. olive oil

2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

½ – 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

In large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the minced garlic and cook for two to three minutes until garlic begins to permeate the air. Add the sliced mushrooms and wine and cook for five minutes. Remove the mushroom mixture to a heat proof bowl. Do Not Drain.

 

Cook spaghetti according to package directions

 

Melt remaining butter in same skillet and whisk in flour. Cook roux 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Add teaspoons of mushroom liquid as needed. Add bouillon and boiling water, stirring mixture until smooth. Return mushroom mixture to skillet. Reduce heat. Add cream, peas, turkey and mozzarella cheese. Stir to incorporate.

 

Stir in cooked, drained pasta. Pour mixture into lightly greased baking dish. I used an 8 inch round casserole.

 

Mix olive oil and breadcrumbs, then add ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese. Reserve remainder of cheese. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Serve with fresh Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Seasonings for Turkey Tetrazzini

As I noted above, few spices were added. The turkey tetrazzini still had the most amazing flavor. If you are not using turkey leftovers from a bird that was brined, you may want to add some spices. I suggest sage and thyme added with the boiling water and bouillon cube. You could also add some finely chopped onion with the garlic. We each had second helpings with plenty left over. The dish could easily serve four people. This is truly a wonderful dish.

Dry White Wine

Bottle of white wine
Wine good to drink is also good to cook with.

Turkey Tetrazzini

Casserole dish with turkey tetrazzini
Using leftover brined turkey gave a wonderful flavor.

Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and The Christmas Star

As yet another helicopter flies over head to transfer a Covid-19 patient out of my small town to a bigger city on the Front Range I am thinking of Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and the Christmas Star. The first two are actual matter albeit in the form of gasses. But the latter two have an internal existence. Each individual differs in their faith as well as in their acceptance of the existence in the Christmas Star.

Saturn and Jupiter

In a chart of our solar system, Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and Saturn the sixth. If measuring the distance from the Earth, Saturn is twice as far away as Jupiter. The distance between Jupiter and Saturn is 456 million miles. According to earthsky.org, this is the first visible Great Conjunction since the 1200s. The Great Conjunction of the 1600s occurred during the day and thus could not be seen.

The Great Plains of the United States of America is a vast amount of land with few people. Thus the open sky has little light pollution. Perfect for stargazing, and watching the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. So, many evenings start with a check of how close Saturn and Jupiter are, followed a few hours later (on certain dates) of gazing skyward for meteors. November and December bring wonderful opportunities to see shooting stars.

Tonight, Saturn and Jupiter will be at their closest in hundreds of years. My understanding is this Great Conjunction will be so bright even residents of large cities will see the planetary alignment. But, a word to the wise, make sure to take a look just after sunset. Just a few hours later the planets move out of sight and you will need to look again tomorrow night. At that point the two will start moving apart.

Photo of The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter taken December 18, 2020

Planets moving closer.

Faith and The Christmas Star

Since this year’s Great Conjunction occurs December 21st, many on social media as well as the main stream media have anointed the occurrence the Christmas Star. Through the years, people have searched for a scientific explanation for the original Christmas Star that guided the Three Wise Men to the East.

Theories abound including those of a super nova visible for a great length of time. A similar Great Conjunction is also a possibility. It is not surprising that people seek a concrete answer. But, I think the Christmas Star heralding the arrival of Baby Jesus can be taken on faith.

Proof versus Faith

The word proof makes me think of math. Untold hours were spent during my educational years working on proofs, mostly in geometry but also in calculus. In my mind, proofs were step-by-step calculations explaining the basics of math theory.

But I do not need proof to have faith. The concept of faith is the antithesis of proof. No calculations are needed. Faith is a belief. It may be a belief in a person or a theology or even an institution. The amount of faith each individual possesses varies.

Personally, I have a lot of faith. I believe good will overcome evil. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to novels featuring a struggle between good guys and bad guys.

Sayings such as “Things will work out for the best” and “It wasn’t meant to be” appeal to me. Faith allows me to accept outcomes contrary to my desires in the short term. Faith gives me the courage to make any changes I can in the long term. An occurrence such as death can never be changed and faith in my God’s will offers consolation.

Saturn, Jupiter, Faith and The Christmas Star

Tonight I will gaze at the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Individuals calling the bright light in the southwestern sky the Christmas Star will have no argument from me. It seems apropos in this madcap year of 2020 that a celestial body appear to remind us to have faith. We need faith in science, faith in our respective governments and faith in each other. Faith and the Christmas Star usher in 2021 and hope for a better year.

Christmas Shopaholic Book Review

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is a must buy to put under the tree or into a stocking. The spirit of Christmas peels from the pages along with much mirth and holiday joy. I did not realize this novel was the eighth in a series. It reads as a standalone, but I plan to find the earlier editions once the New Year arrives.

Becky Bloomwood Brandon – Christmas Shopaholic

The protagonist, Becky Bloomwood Brandon is in search of the perfect gift for her husband. And for everyone else on her list. She goes to great lengths and is thwarted in so many ways. She is a true shopaholic-spending so much in the quest for the great “sales.”

Her devotion to family and friends is evident throughout the book. So is her empathy for others. But she does have one key fault. Her penchant for assumptions.

Lighthearted Read

Christmas Shopaholic is a lighthearted read. The humor is outstanding and the characters are fun. And there is a little more. Kinsella sprinkles the true meaning of Christmas throughout the book. The underlying message is as rewarding as the therapeutic laughter derived from the madcap actions of the lead character.

Books serve many purposes. Christmas Shopaholic provides a wonderful escape from holiday stresses. Perhaps by showing what not to do. The novel, released just over a year ago, is a perfect relief for those experiencing the dual stressors of pandemic and holiday.

I read Christmas Shopaholic on the Libby App, but I may buy a copy for myself. Much like a desire to watch White Christmas and Die Harder each holiday season, I know I will want to re-read Christmas Shopaholic this time next year.

Christmas Shopaholic

To be honest, I almost didn’t finish the book. I started reading last week and then our family faced loss from Covid-19. But, I am so glad I picked back up where I left off. Life continues with laughter leading the way. Thank you Sophie Kinsella for a wonderful, wonderful reminder of the power of the Christmas season.

Elasticity of Demand and Supply in Regards to Covid-19

Elasticity of demand and supply can be difficult to understand. Perhaps it is the math. The formula for elasticity combines percentage changes as well as division. Furthermore, changes in both demand and price can differ by area. The approach to supply elasticity is similar to demand with the added piece of time. Both play a role in the shortages seen during the pandemic.

Elasticity of Demand

Remember when the news showed empty aisles of toilet paper? Or maybe you saw that first hand. Elasticity played a small part in this phenomena-the rest was irrational thought or fear. Toilet paper is an example of a good that is inelastic. There are few substitutes for toilet paper. Neither paper towels nor Kleenex are very good to use instead. American bathrooms are lacking bidets.

In normal markets, price acts as a stabilizer. But inelastic goods are impervious to price. Inelastic goods have few if any substitutes. Treatment of Covid-19 is complicated by government regulations. Prescription drugs are heavily regulated. A drug authorized to treat one disease or condition is not supposed to be used for the treatment of another without authorization. Since Covid-19 is new, no drugs were authorized early on. As time passes EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) of new or existing drugs occurs.

Treatment Options Impact Elasticity

Debate continues in the medical community about authorization of existing prescribed drugs to treat Covid-19. Remdesivir has EAU to treat Covid-19. This is one of the drugs given to President Trump. The drug is relatively new. Scientists developed Remdesivir to battle Ebola. The cost of the drug runs in the thousands of dollars.

Alternatives to Remdesivir include Ivermectin, a very cheap drug in comparison. Single doses of Ivermectin are less than ten dollars. This option has not received an EAU.  In recent weeks, medical authorities have testified in front of Congress on behalf of Ivermectin. If approved, a cheap substitute would impact the elasticity of Remdesivir.

In the U.S.A. non-prescription drugs are consumed to combat the symptoms of colds and flus. Many of these are also in demand for battling Covid-19. Products such as Theraflu, Tylenol Cold and Flu, Vicks, Mucinex-the list goes on and on-are easy to find. Since there are so many similar products the elasticity is great. A price change in one cues buyers to try another brand. Even at the height of the pandemic panic last spring OTC (Over the Counter) remedies were available.

Elasticity of Supply

Elasticity of demand and supply are calculated the same way. However, supply includes a time element. The three stages of supply are current, near future, and long term. Chances are you have experienced a need or want that was unable to be fulfilled that day. A restaurant runs out of the day’s special. Or your car broke down and the repair shop doesn’t have the needed replacement part. In both cases, current supply is inelastic.

Price is not a factor in these cases of on-hand supply. However, the elasticity changes in both the near future and the long term. The Covid-19 vaccine is a good example to show the elasticity of supply. Six months ago, there was no vaccine. Thus the supply was totally inelastic (and zero). Then testing began and a limited amount was supplied to test subjects. Now, the EAU for the first vaccine to hit the market means the supply is slightly more elastic. A year from now it is possible that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. Furthermore, as more vaccines hit the market, individuals may be able to pick which manufacturer to choose from. This means more elasticity.

So in a period of eighteen months or so, the supply of a Covid-19 vaccine will have gone from a totally inelastic product to one with elasticity. Although probably not as elastic as products with lots of substitutes.

Inputs Impact Elasticity of Demand and Supply

Natural aspects of the pandemic impact elasticity of demand and supply for non-Covid-19 related goods. Illness not only slows production, but also drives demand for particular items such as anti-bacterial wipes. Yet, due to the element of time, production capabilities can’t meet the new demand. Furthermore, with inelastic demand and supply, price is not able to work as an equilibrium and so we have shortages.

People are avoiding crowds and travel. Price changes are not influential enough to change either the demand or supply. Suppliers such as cruise lines and theme parks have few buyers for their product. The lack of revenue threatens their very existence. If the pandemic lasts long enough many companies will go under.

Elasticity of demand and supply is at work. But remember, this is subject to change with the passage of time. The biggest problem for companies both large and small is the time element. Households have a difficult time with Rainy Day Funds and businesses are not any different. We are closing in on a year of Covid-19. How many of you can withstand a year of greatly reduced income? Or no income at all?

Basic Economics in Understanding the Pandemic Fall-Out

Part One: The Basic Economics of Specialization

Basic economics is key to the understanding of pandemic fall-out. Conversations regarding testing delays, layoffs, manufacturing and shipping delays, as well as other supply chain difficulties benefit from a public possessing an understanding of key economic concepts. The cause of lay-offs and furloughs as well as the importance of direct aid and/or compensation are all functions of basic economics. However, this knowledge is not widespread.

Principles of Basic Economics

From the very beginning of 2020, I voiced concern regarding supply chain disruptions. Many components of basic economics are important to the distribution of goods and services. Key theories for better understanding the disruption include specialization, changes in demand and supply, elasticity, economies of scale and profit and loss. Additionally, both monetary and fiscal policy play a role this year. Finally, Covid-19 directly impacts poverty and income distribution.

My high school economics experience was a unit in social studies. Economics in college was an elective for non-business or finance majors. Times change. Today, financial literacy begins in kindergarten. Many states follow the Jump $tart national standards. One can view those standards by clicking here.

I sat on the state committee adopting financial literacy standards. My biggest regret stems from the absence of a required high school economics course. Instead, the emphasis is on personal finance (which I agree is much needed.) The various units are taught either in a math class or a social studies course. Perhaps, if more economic theories were taught there would be less angst surrounding the pandemic fall-out.

History of Specialization

Adam Smith, the philosopher and author of Wealth of Nations, in 1776, posited the theory of specialization. Using a pin factory as an example, he explained how productivity improves if individuals concentrate on one aspect of production. The existing method consisted of each person performing each step. This revolutionary concept remains a major factor of today’s labor input.

Specialization is important in understanding our current labor woes. First of all, we are dealing with a novel virus. Therefore, tests for the virus are also new.

A great demand for testing triggered a response by companies to create and then manufacture the test. This first response while difficult, did not strain the economic cycle. Scientists train just for this type of work. Note: In the U.S.A. early test kits failed and a deeper exploration of business theory is needed to explain how this is a normal part of the cycle.

However, the creation of tests is not causing current stress in the economy. Instead, the problem is with the manufacturing, distribution and analysis of Covid-19 tests. The latter two constraints are key. While medical testing is not a new industry, Covid-19 testing strains current capacity. The huge desire for this test translates into a demand for more manufacturing inputs, including labor.

Meanwhile, distribution is not uniform across the country. Rural areas in particular still lack the ability to test anyone for the disease. Priority for testing goes to those already exhibiting symptoms. Test results often take more than a week. Why?

Specialized Training

The inability to process the samples is the most likely reason. Completing the process requires many technicians. Individuals trained in collecting mucus swabs are in demand. In the United States, this means medical staff. But, there is a shortage since nurses, EMT’s and doctors prioritize the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

Additionally, ordinary cotton swabs cannot be used. The cotton as a plant has its’ own DNA. So, synthetic swabs are required. An increase in production translates to a need for more inputs in the manufacturing process. This includes labor.

Furthermore, after the collection, samples need analysis. People are also needed to perform this task. Remember, this specific task did not exist just one short year ago.

Unemployment Not Equal to Needed Workforce

Specialized training takes time. Years in some cases. And even when training is shorter, new employees are needed. The hiring process is in itself time consuming. So, the end result is delays and shortages in the workforce.

An easy way to look at this inability to quickly and easily switch the workforce from one task to another may be found in the world of professional sports. Let’s look at football and baseball. Perhaps a quarterback can retrain as a pitcher. Both positions require a strong skilled arm. Retraining might take some time but the skill set is similar.

Now consider a center and a centerfielder. Centers snap the football to the quarterback and then block opposing players  from reaching the ball handler. Brute strength and quickness are critical but foot speed not so much. Centers are not known for their 40 yard dash times. On the other hand, a centerfielder requires speed to cover the vast outfield. The player also needs catching ability and accurate throwing ability. Converting a center to a centerfielder is a tough task.

Retraining the Workforce

Workforce retraining  for pandemic work is similar to the above example.  Imagine a laid off sous chef retraining to swab noses. A further complication is that this increased demand for labor to battle the virus will be short lived either due to a vaccine or a natural (but longer) dissipation of the viral pandemic. At that point in time what happens? More retraining?

This is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to unemployment and retraining. Another issue is the availability of healthy workers. The Covid-19 associated illnesses also contribute to production and transportation delays due to absent workers. Thus the nature of a pandemic directly impacts the labor force.

In addition to specialization, elasticities of supply and demand, economies of scale and profit and loss impact the ability to “handle” the pandemic. Subsequent posts will explain the importance of basic economics in understanding the fall-out from the pandemic. No one topic nor one post covers all the factors in the current disruption of the supply chain.

Cog wheel graphic

Econogal’s Top Twenty Books in 2020

Even though I am doubling my list and issuing the Top Twenty Books in 2020, I am still leaving some great reads on the shelf. This really isn’t surprising given the events of 2020. Pandemics by nature require solitude. Reading fills the time.

Favorite Writers

If I made a list of favorite authors, many more than twenty names would appear. Such is a life of an introverted avid reader. Several of the Top Twenty Books in 2020 are penned from old favorites. New series debuts and stand-alone books from familiar names such as Patricia Cornwell, Nevada Barr, and William R. Forstchen are on the list. Sequels from Jane Harper and Nora Roberts are also noted.

Familiar Names

Many of the books I read this year were either checked out online through the library app, Libby, or purchased on Kindle. In the case of Libby, long holds indicated top sellers. Several of these check-outs made the Top Twenty Books in 2020. New to me writers including Susan Mallery, Laura Silverman and Lorena Mc Courtney (and her Ivy Malone series) became mainstays. Escapism through books certainly was a theme for my personal sojourn through 2020.

However, quite a few books on the list are from established writers I had not read. Peter Heller, Kim Michele Richardson and Brenda Janowitz fall into this category. Discovering new to me writers became commonplace this year.

One Debut Author

Perhaps the inability to wander through bookstores or peruse the new arrivals table at the library can be blamed for the lack of new writers on the Top Twenty Books in 2020. The solo exception is Diana Giovinazzo. Her debut, The Woman in Red, is a fascinating story of Anita Garibaldi. I am still unsure of what moved me most, the descriptive settings of South America and Italy or the history of the woman behind the man. Giovinazzo is an inspiration. Her transition from podcast co-host of Wine, Women, and Words to published author gives hope to all unpublished scribes.

Favorites

Below are my favorite books from 2020. This list does not include any non-fiction. So, I failed in my goal of reading more from this category. However, Gina Kolata’s history of the 1918 Flu pandemic, published in 2011 is well worth a read. Unless you are tired of pandemics.

Clicking on each of the titles below will connect you to a book review from this past year. Most of the titles are releases from 2019 and 2020. Various genres are represented. I am sure you can find a great gift to put under the Christmas tree from Econogal’s Top Twenty Books in 2020.

Top Twenty Books in 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

48 Hours by William R. Forstchen

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

The River by Peter Heller

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Girl He Left Behind by Beatrice MacNeil

The Lost Girls of Paris– Pam Jenoff

The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts

Quantum by Patricia Cornwell

The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

Contagion by Robin Cook

Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

One Last Lie by Paul Doiron

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney

Post-pandemic Travel

On this snowy December day, news of the United Kingdom giving the ok to distribute the first Covid-19 vaccine allows me to dream of post-pandemic travel. I am by nature a traveler. This year I have only stepped foot in four different states, two of which are within an hour of the one I live in. A far cry from 2017 when I traveled to twenty states. Since I do not fall into one of the early vaccination groups and because I may want to wait for one of the traditional vaccines, I doubt I will resume my travel habits until late in 2021. But I can dream. And compile a list of spots to visit.

Old Favorites

During this year of staying home, reminiscing about former trips has been a pleasant past-time. Many a summer and fall evening was spent talking on the back porch about favorite haunts. Concern was expressed as well, knowing how hard the lack of travelers would impact the destinations.

Santa Fe

We had hoped to visit Santa Fe in early October. The state opened travel just after Labor Day. But by the time our schedules opened up, New Mexico was closing down again. I know of at least one restaurant shutting down. Fortunately, one of my favorite art galleries on Canyon Road, the Wiford Gallery, has taken a pro-active approach. They have emailed and snail mailed updates on their artists and offered discounts on shipping. Additionally, I have received communications from Gruet Winery. I hope the many places highlighted in Wintertime Santa Fe will weather the storm. Santa Fe may very well be my first post-pandemic travel destination.

Nola

The best part of travel is trying the local cuisine. New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the top spots for Cajun cooking. One can order fried rabbit and fried gator. A tasty dish of shrimp and grits or a spicy shrimp poor boy are on many menus. Tasty beignets can follow a morning run along the Mississippi River. Trips to the Big Easy occur every few years. My last trip, which you can read about here, took place in March of 2018. So it is almost time to return.

Beaded Mardi Gras Mask
Mardi Gras Decorations
Paddle boat
View of Natchez from paddle side.

San Diego

San Diego is another favorite spot. If all goes well, I could see a possible return in November of 2021. Like New Orleans, San Diego has a wonderful place to run along the harbor. But the wide sidewalk gets crowded with tourists so it’s best to run early in the morning. Another great thing about San Diego is how bike friendly the town is. But don’t let this coastal town fool you. A ride to the top of Point Loma contains quite a bit of elevation.

Food again plays a large part of San Diego’s appeal. Both fresh seafood and spicy Mexican dishes are found in abundance. One of my favorite memories is of a catered event at the ball park. Great food and great views. During lulls in the ball park a simple glance to the west brought the harbor into view. A nice evening to cap off a conference.

New Destinations for Post-pandemic Travel

Of course my self-imposed stay close to home lockdown has generated a long list of new places to visit. This year’s reading has produced a diverse group of destinations. Domestic and international locales are on the list. I recently discovered a great website, Visit the USA.com which offers planned stops along multi-length trips. Since I like spontaneity, I tend to use travel articles, books and sites as starting points. Flexibility allows time to further explore and discover.

Book Inspired Travel

Last week’s review of One Last Lie, returned to mind a desire to visit upper Maine. Houlton, Maine looks like the perfect place to serve as a base for exploration. This international border town actually is West of New Brunswick, Canada. I so enjoyed my fall trip to Quebec in 2018, that I think a return to a nearby part of the world is likely.

Many of the books read during this pandemic were set in the Pacific Northwest. Although I vacationed in Oregon back in 2004, with a quick detour to climb Mt. Saint Helen’s, I have never been to Seattle nor to the Puget Sound. So this area is on my post-pandemic travel list.

Diana Giovinazzo, author of The Woman in Red, paints such wonderful descriptions of both South America and Italy, one wants to explore both regions. I have not experienced much intercontinental travel but maybe the opportunity exists in post-pandemic travel.

Most Likely Travel

The future is impossible to predict. But I hazard to guess that my first travel will be to see family in Central Florida. It has been over a year since I have seen two of my family members residing in the land of Mickey Mouse.

However, once that trip is made, I fear my pent up demand for travel will be further restricted by work constraints. The days of carefree travel are many years in the future for my travelling companion. So my list will grow longer.

What destinations are on your post-pandemic travel list?

November 2020 Wrap-Up

Even though I was a bit apprehensive as November 2020 approached, I am now a bit sad to see the month come to a close. I think my anxiety stemmed from the acrimonious presidential campaign. Even though the Electoral College has yet to meet, and so the outcome is not official, the country is on track for another peaceful transition of power. The Founding Fathers were sage statesman.

Stress Free Thanksgiving

Perhaps the most positive aspect of November 2020 was my immediate family’s adaptability with respect to Thanksgiving. We started the day with an hour long Zoom. It was a first for my Mom. She lives in an area of the country where Covid-19 positivity is declining and was able to leave her nursing home for a few hours. (Many precautions were taken.)

The family enjoyed seeing each other virtually. I treasured the time. From the oldest to the youngest, each of my loved ones looked healthy and happy.

The Zoom meeting was followed later in the day by a group text. Pictures of all the delicious dishes were shared by each of my offspring. The photos represented a first turkey, a bevy of side-dishes and fantastic desserts. I swear I gained weight just looking at all the food!

Stuffing and sweet potato casserole
Applesauce Bundt Cake

Thanksgiving for Two

My husband and I had a very enjoyable day. After the family Zoom, we took a long drive out in the country. Winter wheat fields of green contrasted with tones of amber where milo and corn stubble remained on the ground.

Upon returning home we popped our very small turkey breast in the oven. Homemade whole wheat rolls, a layered pea salad, sweet potato casserole, stuffing and an applesauce Bundt cake provided plenty to eat.

The garden contributed ingredients to many of the side dishes. The last of the homegrown sweet potatoes were in the casserole. I dug up the carrots for the stuffing Thanksgiving Day and along with onions stored from early fall, and we had a tasty dish. Green onions from the side garden were an integral part of the pea salad. Finally, the last of the tomatoes topped off the Kentucky Hot Brown made from leftovers on Friday.

I think my enjoyment stems from the satisfaction of utilizing the homegrown produce. Perhaps I felt a connection to the pilgrims celebrating their survival. We no longer have the need for self-sufficiency, but perhaps we lose some satisfaction when everything is bought at the store. Food for thought.

Final Reflections on November 2020

I spent quite a bit of time on my own in November 2020. Most of my interaction was with my husband. The pandemic is ravaging our area of the world and many of my neighbors are battling the virus with varying outcomes. However, I did make it to one of the small local businesses to finalize my Christmas shopping. Precautions were taken.

Perhaps I will not escape the virus, but I am making the attempt. Vaccines are likely in the coming year. In the meantime, I am happy creating quilts, reading and writing. I feel blessed to live in a happy home.

Kentucky Hot Brown before cooking
The last of the garden tomatoes make the Kentucky Hot Brown delicious.
Kentucky Hot Brown after cooking
This version of Kentucky Hot Brown leaves off the bacon.