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My Favorite Books of 2017

Posted: 01-01-2018

I love to read and am constantly sifting through best book lists for suggested titles.  I avoid books that feature rapes, cruelty, unhappy endings, slavery, the holocaust, children dying, slavery, mistreatment of Indians, environmental degradation, tales of  discordant family life and post-apocalypse tales that offer no hope and where people are eating each other.

Needless to say, it is sometimes hard for me to find a good book.  Here are a few favorites from 2017.

Fiction:   A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles,   Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is placed under permeant house arrest at the luxurious Hotel Metropole in Moscow in 1922.  The leaders of the Russian Revolution placed a death sentence on members of the nobility but the Count is spared because of his pre-revolutionary achievements.  The Count is not at all unhappy with his confinement to the Metropole.  He has lived there in luxury for years, ensconced in a very spacious apartment.  Then he finds out his place of exile is a 100 square foot space in the attic of the hotel.

The book follows the Count’s adventures inside the hotel from 1922 to the 1950’s.  The count is a wonderful character, so kind, so optimistic, and so calmly observant of the changing political times.  The count’s outlook is a welcome respite from the political nastiness and bitter commentary we are now experiencing.  His adventures in the hotel are fabulous; who knew being stuck in the Metropole could be so interesting?   I cared very much about what happened to the Count and the ending is absolutely perfect.


Non-Fiction:  I am not a big fan of this genre because non-fiction usually makes me think too hard.  I read to escape.  However, I did very much enjoy Showdown:  Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America by Wil Haygood.  The story of how Marshall and President Lyndon Johnson overcame resistance by southern senators to the nomination of a black man to the Supreme Court is inspiring.  Sadly, Senator Robert Byrd, from my adopted state of West Virginia, voted against Marshall.

Mysteries:  After reading nonfiction, I escape to mysteries.  I read many well reviewed mysteries in 2017 and found them all rather disappointing (especially The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware).  My favorite mystery of 2017 is by local author Ginny Fite:    No Good Deed Left Undone.  Detective Sam Lagarde is engaging (I do enjoy likable main characters), the story line is compelling and Ginny definitely knows how to build suspense.  Best of all, the mystery takes place in Jefferson County, WV, where I have lived for 37 years.  A piece of evidence is taken for identification to Feagans Jewelry store, the same place I get my watch repaired.  One suspect’s alibi is a receipt from Grandma’s Diner in downtown Charles Town.  The murder victim has sex with a lot of people, including liaisons in the Jefferson County Courthouse.  When I was a county commissioner, lots of residents complained we were screwing them but to imagine someone actually doing the dirty deed in the courthouse spawned very unwelcome images!

Cromwell’s Folly, another mystery by Ginny Fite featuring Detective Sam Lagarde , joins Rules of Civility by Amor Towles as my must reads for 2018.

I Clean the Oven Racks Every 10 Years Whether They Need It or Not

Posted: 11-13-2017

After a major spill in my oven (I filled the stew dish too full and  it boiled over….and over….and over),  I decided the oven must be cleaned.  It was pretty close to my 10 year maintenance program so I begrudgingly undertook the task.  I scrubbed down the oven, scraping away the burned on residue before zapping it with the self-clean oven option.  Even temperatures equivalent to the fires of hell could not make 10 years of crud disappear.   Crust patches remained here and there on the oven walls.  Fortunately, my cleaning standards are rather low so the oven looked GREAT to me.

This left the problem of the oven racks.  As shown in the picture they stopped gleaming many, many years ago.  My immediate solution was to simply buy new ones.  Using lots of chemical stain removers and scrubbing the racks is not for me.  I am convinced  if you flattened out the  rack surfaces in my oven and put them end to end, they would encircle the globe.

I did a casual search for ways to clean racks and found an interesting approach.  Empty  one cup of ammonia into a plastic garbage bag, add the filthy racks, tightly close the bag and wait 24 hours.

Could this be? I wondered.  It all sounded too easy!  So I tried it.  And guess what?  It WORKS!  Once again, I feel it important to emphasize my standards for clean are low.  So even after a wipe down and a scrub here and there, the racks still have burnt on patches.  No matter to me; the amount of left-on crud is well within my tolerance range.

This approach is so easy, I may even revise my oven cleaning schedule….to once every 5 years.







WARNING!! If You Have Diabetes, Avoid the Red Zone in Grocery Stores!

Posted: 10-11-2017
Blog Articles

My husband has diabetes. Fortunately, he is currently able to control it through diet. This approach will not always work but for now eating healthy and exercising is keeping Ron in the “prediabetes” range.

Recently Ron went to a diabetes lecture which included a handout of high-carbohydrate foods to avoid. The Red List  (as in STOP!!!!!!Avoid anything on this list!!!) is quite extensive and includes every foodstuff I enjoy: bread, cakes, biscuits, carbonated beverages, beer, ice cream, chocolate, pre-packaged foods—all flash red. The Green List (as in GO! Eat anything on this list) includes eggs, meats, poultry, full fat dairy, nuts and seeds and vegetables. Unfortunately for me, the only way I am eating a handful of pumpkin seeds is if they come with an equal number of chocolate chips.

All of the dastardly Red List food products are located primarily in the center portion of grocery stores. The best advice for healthy eating I have received is to avoid the interior aisles that make up the Red Zone and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, yogurt, cheeses—all are located in the outer aisles. Venturing into the center of the grocery store takes you right into high carbohydrate territory. Of course sometimes a foray into the center is essential so I can buy carbonated beverages and a half-gallon of ice cream.

Thanks to my avoidance of the Red Zone when shoppping and my husband’s commitment to exercise, we have teamed up to keep his diabetes under control—for now. How long diet alone will keep his diabetes at bay is unknown.

The bigger mystery is why my husband has shed 20 pounds and I have not lost an ounce even though I am the cook in the family.

Maybe I need to empty the kitchen cabinet of my hidden stash of Red Zone goodies.

Rolling Down the (Danube) River

Posted: 08-22-2017
Travel for the Old and Slow

My husband Ron and I embarked on our first ever river cruise in August. We travelled with AmaWaterways on a 7 day float from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. I say “float” because the sailing was so smooth I could hardly tell when we were docked or when we were in motion. This was a great comfort as I once crossed the Atlantic on the SS United States during very bad weather. I spent the entire crossing on deck with other sick-as-a-dog passengers sipping bouillon while wrapped in two layers of blankets. Staying below deck as the ship rolled and tossed was NOT an option! After 45 years of resisting all forms of water travel, I finally succumbed to a river cruise.
It was fabulous.


Prague. We signed up for a three day pre-cruise stay in Prague. What a beautiful city! I thought Vienna would be the highlight of our trip but Prague was far more interesting. Vienna features monumental buildings and a rather confusing street pattern. Prague is a checkerboard of public squares connected by very pedestrian friendly streets.
We took a special interest tour of Terezin a Jewish ghetto created by the Nazi’s. Those Jews who refused to die from starvation were shipped to extermination camps. The visit was emotionally devastating. That night we went to a wonderful concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague (there are concerts every night at many different locations). The program ended with Jewish folk songs that helped alleviate the sadness that enveloped us from Terezin.

The river locks. We passed through a dozen or so locks that make the Danube navigable for ships. It was amazing to watch the ship enter a lock (while sipping a coffee macchiato from The Coffee Machine) and observe the river water levels drop by as much as 30 feet. Sailing beneath low bridges was also interesting. All the structures atop the ship collapse to allow the ship to clear low bridge clearances.

The coffee machine aboard ship. The coffee served at meals aboard ship was not very good. No problem. They had a coffee machine in the lounge that was phenomenal. It featured 8 different coffee choices (including  straight-up regular,  cafe latte and espresso), heated cups and hot chocolate.  It was like a Keurig on steroids.

Illumination tour of Budapest. Budapest is coined “the Paris of the East” and it certainly deserves that title. Heavily bombed in World War 2, the city has made a remarkable recovery. At night all the amazing buildings along the Danube are illuminated. Drifting past these structures on a clear summer night was stupendous.  We drank wine instead of coffee to toast this spectacular display of lights.

Excellent tour guides. Every day featured a choice of tours, all led by local guides. There were a few so-so guides but for the most part they were excellent. Passionate about their respective towns, they could recount what it was like living in Budapest or Cesky Krumlov (yes, that is a town not a dinner course) before the Russians left in 1989. This personal view of life before and after the communist regime was always interesting.

Living in the lap of luxury. During my college years, I visited Europe on a tight budget. Staying in hostels, eating cheap and travelling by Eurail Pass helped keep costs to $5 per day. Spending 7 days on a luxury cruise ship cost a tad more than $5 per day. But I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed having everything planned out, tour guides all arranged, meals prepared and served, cabins cleaned and bed made.  I liked being greeted by clean towels fashioned into animal forms.  AmaWaterways provided a complimentary pashmina scarf which I figure, based on what we paid for the cruise, is the single most expensive article of clothing I will ever own.
The Wachau Valley. The Wachau Valley is a beautiful stretch of the Danube in Austria that features picturesque towns, the crumbling remains of castles and terraced vineyards. Ron and I stretched out in deck chairs and enjoyed the view. The Coffee Machine provided us with café lattes.


The cruise definitely surpassed my expectations. Unlike the bus tour of national parks my husband and I enjoyed several years ago, a river cruise avoids the need to pack and unpack at different locations and eliminates long bus rides. I liked having more options in terms of socializing, too. On a bus tour, there are only as many people as bus seats. I liked the larger numbers on a cruise (we sailed with 140 people) because we got to meet many different people.

Sometimes the scheduling got a little too structured for me. I bypassed a castle hike mid-cruise because I just couldn’t handle another guided tour. I am still seeking that perfect vacation that combines the luxury of overnight accommodations found on a cruise ship with the spontaneity and adventure of travelling Europe on $5 per day.


I did not bother upgrading my cell phone so I could use it in Europe. My husband did not even take his. So when my husband missed the bus going back to the ship after a castle hike tour, he had no way to communicate with me or the ship. (This was the one tour I skipped). Fortunately the ship was docked within walking distance (3 miles) so he hoofed it back. Next time we travel to Europe, I am going to make sure we are cell phone ready.
The only other piece of advice I would offer is to study up on the history of the area before the cruise. I wish I had done a cursory review of past events in the countries we visited. My knowledge of the Habsburg Monarchy is pretty weak yet they played a major role in shaping the countries we visited. I made amends by buying several bottles of Frankovka Modra, a red wine supposedly favored by Empress Maria Theresa, the final ruler of the House of Habsburg.  Imbibing history is always  a pleasure.


My Mother’s Cruet Set Poses a Cosmic Dilemma

Posted: 07-19-2017

Here is a picture of my mother’s cruet set, missing three glass bottles from my careless handling.  Not that I have ever used the cruet set in the five decades since my dear mom died.  The glass has dropped and shattered as I have sloppily transferred the set from one area of storage to another.

I look at that darn cruet set and face a cosmic dilemma.  What do I do with a reminder of my mother that I will never use and that my children will never want?  When I showed the set to my adult son  and explained the emotional attachment I felt, he nodded thoughtfully and asked “What the heck is a cruet?”  (A cruet, also called a caster, is a bottle that hold olive oil or vinegar or mustard.)

Advisors to emotional hoarders like me say “let go.”   Take a picture, they advise, if you want to preserve the memory.  Look to  the future, they counsel, instead of wallowing in the past.  And always remember, they say, that your children will never, ever want a cruet set.

I have finally decided to unload the cruet set.  The emotional attachment is still strong but it has been overcome by an even more powerful insight about me and the future:

Polishing cruet sets is not on my bucket list.

My farm wife advetures featured in Growing America

Posted: 06-29-2017

I had the pleasure of talking to Lynne Haynes, a reporter/writer for Growing America, who wanted to do a feature of my experiences as a farm wife.  Here is the finished article.  Lynne is obviously a GREAT writer because I come off sounding pretty good!



I’m Old but I’m Funny

Posted: 03-22-2017
Blog Articles

Growing old obviously poses risks.   We seniors learn about them every day. News stories, television specials, advertisements all remind us of the perils of old age. Health problems are a big topic.   After watching a television commercial about ocular myopathy, I went panic stricken to my eye doctor.  I was convinced my fuzzy eyesight was the harbinger of total blindness if not the first stages of a fatal brain tumor.

The good doctor examined my eyes.  “You can tell me the truth,” I bravely told him.  “How much longer before I lose my eyesight and/or die?”

He said my eyeglass prescription was out of date and I needed stronger magnification.

Television has truly become a health hazard.  An NCIS episode may be forgettable but commercial warnings about insomnia, incontinence, dry eye, dry mouth, dementia, COPD or diabetes are not.   The list is endless.  Even worse, the cure seems worse than the disease.  Television ads for “miracle drugs” feature older people laughing and cavorting with their grandchildren.  Obviously these clueless octogenarians cannot hear the disembodied voice over warning of side effects like bloody stools, suicidal thoughts, nausea and growing extra limbs.  I keep waiting for that giggling grandpa to start foaming at the mouth as he staggers crazily through the yard, babbling incoherently and spewing liquids from every orifice.

Worrying about the Awful Things That Are Sure to Happen Now That I am Old is definitely not healthy.  But even if health concerns can be corralled, other life happenings are apt to raise anxiety.  When is my adult child going to get a job?  How do I survive on a fixed income?  What is the Cloud anyway?

The only solution I can offer is humor.

Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage against the dying of the light.”   Good advice but I plan to laugh my way into eternity.

Excerpt from upcoming Chasing Pills:  I Must Be Old, I Have a Pill Dispenser, all rights reserved.


Gilmore Girls: Sorry, Can’t Relate

Posted: 01-27-2017
Blog Articles

The recent fanfare over the return of Gilmore Girls eight years after it was cancelled prompted me to watch the first season of the series.  All the press notes and Facebook comments raised my curiosity. Having never seen an episode, I really did not know what to expect.

The story line, for those non-Gilmore Girls aficionados, revolves around a mother and her daughter (who is a teenager in season 1) living in the bucolic town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The mom Lorelai, gave birth to Rory as a high school student so the two resemble sisters more than mother and daughter.

They are very close and tell each other everything.

Based on my experience with my teenage daughter (who is now 30), I found this as believable as ads that promise your double chin can be eliminated with a simple cream.

When my daughter turned 13, she began referring to her father as the “good parent.”   Molly always wanted her dad to be the carpool driver to activities and events.  “He doesn’t ask questions.’ She explained.  My only avenue into my daughter’s high school activities was Amanda, Molly’s good friend.  Amanda would arrive early to pick up Molly and I would sit her down at the kitchen table, ask “what’s new?” and Amanda would spill the beans.  After Molly figured out I was receiving classified information from Amanda, she met Amanda elsewhere.

Molly and I have a great relationship now that she is older.   I hope the Gilmore Girls keep up their treacly sweet relationship and their rapid fire conversations in subsequent seasons.    I will never know because I have stopped watching them in favor of reruns of the Big Bang Theory.

My Favorite Book of 2016

Posted: 01-01-2017
Blog Articles

It is that time of year when magazines and newspapers list the “Best Books of 2016.”  One of the novels making an appearance is News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  It is certainly on my personal list of favorites.

news-of-the-worldNews of the World is set in Texas in the 1870’s.  The story follows the adventures of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and a 10 year old girl.  Johanna was abducted by Indians at the age of 6, has just been rescued and needs to be reunited with relatives.  Capt. Kidd agrees to transport the girl from North Texas to the home of her aunt and uncle near San Antonio (Johanna’s parents were killed in the Indian raid).  Johanna wants to stay with her Indian family. She is not happy about the upcoming reunion.

Captain Kidd, who is pushing 72, questions his decision to escort the girl home.  “[ He ] worried about the very long journey ahead, about his ability to keep the girl from harm.  He thought resentfully, I raised my girls.  I already did that. But now it was different… because there was once again a life in his hands.  Things mattered.”

As the two travel together, they begin to respect and love each other. .  They become quite a team as they overcome the hardships and dangers of the long trip south.  Along the route, Johanna even helps collect the dime entry fee Capt. Kidd charges at town gatherings to hear him read newspaper stories from around the world.

News of the World is a great story and I really appreciate a main character who is one of my peeps (that is, old).  Capt. Kidd bends and hears “a light creaking of the spine” or sits and hears “the jointed sound as one vertebrae settled on another.”  His hand looks “as bony and wrinkled as those of a catacomb mummy.”

Like me, Capt. Kidd can be cranky and short tempered.   I appreciate his observations about being old like when he is dressing for one of his readings:  “young people could get away with rough clothing but unless the elderly dressed with care they looked like homeless vagabonds…”

A veteran of many wars, the captain still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks from past battles.  He awakens to the smell of cannon smoke from “those long years ago, almost thirty years.  It would stay with him always as everything you ever did stayed with you, every horse you ever saddled, every morning when he awoke with Maria Luisa [his late wife] beside him, and every slap of the paten on fresh paper…and his captain dying under his hands, always there like a tangle of telegraph wire in the brains where no dispatch was ever lost, what an odd thing, an odd thing.”

The author of News of the World, Paulette Jiles, is 73, about the same age as Capt. Kidd.  I am not sure a younger author could have been as successful in drawing a portrait of an aging hero.

Despite his advanced years, Captain Kidd is determined to deliver Johanna safely to her relatives:  “he must not become incapacitated, he must not be killed” before they reach San Antonio.

The Captain and Johanna face some violent encounters on their trek.   On one such occasion, their escape seems hopeless when they are pinned down by gunfire from three nasty hombres.  Thanks to some pretty creative thinking by Johanna and the aim of Captain Kidd, they survive.

The two eventually arrive at the home of Johanna’s aunt and uncle where the story takes an interesting twist, which I will not reveal.

I have read other selections on 2016 Best Book lists, notably Swing Time by Zadie Smith and Commonwealth by Ann Pratchett.  These books are certainly well-written but I do not enjoy lead characters who are self-absorbed and mean spirited.   Give me likeable characters like Captain Kidd and Johanna and a compelling story line, and I am hooked.  That is why News of the World tops my personal list of best reads of 2016.

Travels with The General

Posted: 12-06-2016
Blog Articles, Travel for the Old and Slow

Son Nick just left for two weeks in Cuba. His luggage consisted of a backpack and small tote bag. I take more stuff than that on a weekend visit to my daughter in Winston-Salem.

I like to pack in anticipation of any occasion. For two years, I included dress pants, dress shoes and a nice jacket in case my daughter unexpectedly suggested we go to a four star fancy restaurant. This never happened so I have finally stopped packing dress clothes. We always go hiking or take long walks at Molly’s.

Lyns suitcase

My orderly approach to packing

This means packing a variety of outdoor apparel, including sweatshirts (might be cold in the mountains), jackets (might be REALLY cold), sneakers, hiking boots, different weight socks, a sports bra, lots of wicking t-shirts and just in case we experience a break in global warming, gloves. You would think I was about to make an assault on Mt. Everest.
My husband on the other hand packs quickly and efficiently, unhampered by the need to fold the clothes before inserting them into the suitcase. I swear his suitcase is like one of those

Rons suitcase

Ron’s  less orderly approach to packing

clown cars at the circus. He just keeps pulling out all the right clothing from his teeny, tiny suitcase. Ron always has the right complement of clothing while I invariably find I have forgotten something.

Ron’s only failure at packing occurred because of me. We joined friends on a weekend visit to Lewes, Delaware. Unbeknownst to my husband, I used a suitcase identical to his to pack bed linens. We arrived at our rented beach house and my husband opened his suitcase only to find a stack of sheets. Off we went to Dollar General and for less than $30.00 we outfitted him for the weekend. The General (Ron’s new nickname) was quite a vision in his shiny blue warm up pants and slightly irregular bright yellow nylon shirt. My husband became quite attached to his new wardrobe but I made sure his new clothes never left Lewes.

All the travel advice columns for Old People suggest packing light to avoid physical strain. I am going to try my best to follow this guidance on future trips. I take comfort in knowing I will always have Dollar General as backup.