Summer Cozy Recommendations

Reading and summer seem to go together, and not just because schools are out. Summer is hot, so when you have down time, nothing beats a cool beverage and a good book. Here are some of the books I’ve been reading, all from authors who are new to me.

  1. Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton (2017)

Chef Carrie Ann Cole has long dreamed of being personal chef to celebrities, so she is thrilled to accept that position under that Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It means moving from Chicago to London, leaving behind her boyfriend of six years, and getting used to life at Kensington Palace—where she has her own chambermaid (whom she never lays eyes on), virtually every door has a key card, and a number of the male employees are extremely attractive. Carrie Ann has not even gone through orientation when she finds her assistant, Frank, dead in the kitchen’s greenhouse. Worse, her other assistant, Michael, is arrested for the murder. In the ensuing days, she must hire new staff, dodge the ire of the palace’s head chef, and find a way to prepare healthy, wholesome meals for the royal family without access to her kitchen. Oh, and, if Michael is ever going to come back to work, she had better prove his innocence.

This novel is well paced, clever, and fun—I never had an inkling as to the murderer’s identity, yet the solution makes perfect sense. Like so many foodie mysteries, this one includes recipes. I never make them, but they are fun to peruse from time to time. They are also placed in the back of the novel, rather than interspersed throughout, so they don’t intrude in the narrative. Kale to the Queen is the first in a new series, which now includes a second novel, Lord of the Pies (2018).

  1. Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass (2013)

Librarian Minnie Hamilton is proud to launch her pet project, the new bookmobile for Chilson, Michigan. Eddie, the tabby cat who adopted her six months ago, stows away and becomes the new bookmobile mascot. Thus begins the Bookmobile Cat Mysteries, which now has seven installments. This is a fun series with an amusing cat who helps sniff out clues. Minnie, for her part, is a hard-working, determined woman who is, unfortunately, a bit of a doormat when it comes to romance. Nevertheless, she is driven to help people, including, er, helping the police with their murder investigations. After all, research is what librarians do best!

This is a low-key cozy series with a likeable sleuth and amusing supporting characters. It’s amusing and logical. Minnie cares about the people around her, even the ones she does not like. At the same time, she displays just the right amount of introspection, encouraging a bit of self-evaluation and improvement in the reader. Eddie’s personality, based on a real-life feline, is skillfully wrought. Any cat lover will easily recognize the relationship between cat and human. These books make excellent downtime reading.

  1. Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanne Fluke (2018)

This novel is #22 featuring Hannah Swensen. This is one series it is probably best to read from the beginning. I started with this one, and was at a disadvantage. The characters’ personalities have already been established in previous novels, so the details are sparse here. Here is what I could glean. Hannah Swensen, our unlucky-in-love heroine, has her own café in a small Minnesota town. She spends most of her time thinking about baking and trying out new recipes on family and friends. Occasionally, she will take freshly-baked goods to people as excuses/bribes when she needs to question them, so she can solve a murder. In fact, every conversation in the book seems to take place over food, and often includes food as subject matter. As for the other characters in the book, they like to eat. I understood the various roles of the female characters; however, not having read the previous books, I found it hard to differentiate the male characters. By the end of the book, the two characters I felt I knew best—though not extremely well—were Hannah and her cat, Moishe.

And at least once, someone calls a recipe by its proper name, including capitalized letters. It doesn’t strike me as a natural way to speak; yes, one might occasionally do that, but it seems a bit like overkill here.

In fact, my initial impression was that this is actually a cookbook with occasional bits of fiction thrown in—but, of course, that is an exaggeration. Every couple of chapters or so, the book has three or four pages of recipes; since I don’t like to interrupt the flow of the story (and I rarely cook or bake), I skipped most of these. Nevertheless, once I got to the end, I was sufficiently intrigued to want to read more in the series. I picked up three more at a recent trip to the library, and I’ve already read #14, Devil’s Food Cake Murder (2011). I really liked that one, and felt like I was getting a better handle on the characters’ identities. I’ll definitely keep reading this series.


American Classic Teas–Review


In my last blog post, I shared my love of tea and my success in finding a U.S.-grown product. I ordered Island Green and Breakfast Blend (black) from the American Classic Tea line produced by the Charleston Tea Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. They offer a number of bagged teas, as well as the loose leaf teas from which I chose. I’ve been drinking them for several days now, and am ready to offer my opinions.

First, a look at the packaging. The teas arrived in tins that are attractive, space-saving, stack-able and utilitarian. Tea aficionados know that tea should be stored in opaque containers away from moisture, and these metal tins do the job nicely. I look forward to using them for years to come. The package itself was shipped with a return address label from Bigelow. Okay, if I had done a more thorough examination of the web site, I would have seen that Bigelow bought the plantation in 2003. I’d prefer it still be a family-owned business, but at least the tea is U.S. grown using no pesticides of any kind.

The tea leaves themselves smell fresh, just as they should. The green tea leaves are a delightful green color, as well. So far, so good. I made tea using my enamel tea pot with stainless steel infuser. A couple of times, I added some organic peppermint leaves to my tea when I wanted a change of flavor–one of the advantages of ordering an unflavored teas.

I must say, I have not had a bad cup of tea out of these yet; even when I forgot and left some black tea steeping about two hours, the tea was, well, drinkable, although it was certainly not fresh at that point. The tea has no bitterness, as older, poorer quality teas often do, so no sweetener is needed unless you simply prefer it. When made properly (not forgotten in the teapot) with water at the correct temperature, both teas go down smooth and soothing. If you are looking for a stronger tea flavor, use more tea leaves.

The one odd thing is that the tea leaves are not whole. Instead, they are small, broken tea leaf pieces. Perhaps it was naive to expect whole leaves, but since the only other products offered in their online store are tea bags–which conventionally contain dust-sized particles of tea leaves–I have to wonder what they are doing with the whole leaves they harvest. At first I thought they might sell them to other companies or use them in a tea marketed under another brand; but, according to their FAQ page, quite a lot of people have had the same question, and the answer is direct: “No, American Classic Teas are the only teas made from the green leaf produced by the Camellia Sinensis plants grown on the grounds of the Charleston Tea Plantation.” Their web site does say they offer “First Flush” tea at festivals (or “Festeavals”), so perhaps the whole leaves go into tea used for such occasions.

Regardless, the bottom line is that both varieties I bought taste good and, to my mind, make satisfactory cup after cup of tea. The price is comparable to other, plain loose teas from specialty stores. The clear advantage these teas have over their competitors is you know where the tea was grown, harvested and packaged, and the methods they use for doing so. If you’re looking for a decent cup of tea you can trust, from heirloom trees grown in the U.S. without pesticides, American Classic Tea from Charleston Tea Plantation will certainly meet your needs.

Local Tea–Sort Of



Over the last couple of years, I’ve become more conscious of what I put into my body. And one of the things I have grown to love is tea. Tea is almost magic–when made properly and with good quality ingredients, it tastes good, all by itself. It has zero calories, zero fats, zero carbs. As with many wholesome foods, no sugar is needed, not even for an American palate.

I’ve been trying a number of organic and fair trade teas lately, and I’ve begun to pay more attention to where they are grown. I have my own concerns about the safety of products from various overseas countries. But, recently, a friend of mine made my love of tea much more complicated by sending me a link to an article that discusses this very thing–concern over various pesticides and chemicals used not only in tea but in the paper used for tea bags.

Now, it’s just an article someone posted on the Internet, so I know enough to take it with a grain of salt. But it did get me thinking, and I wondered if I could find any U.S.-grown tea. Shopping local is not likely to happen for me, being in the south central part of the country, with nary a tea tree in sight. But I did just a little research and found Charleston Tea Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. According to their web site, they use no pesticides, which they define as including “herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.” Sign me up! They have six varieties of loose tea: Breakfast Blend, Peach, Governor Gray, Rockville Raspberry, Island Green Mint and Island Green. They also have nine varieties available in pyramid-shaped bags, and a small line of body products available.

Their products are available in dozens of stores across the United States, but since none of them are close to me, I ordered the Breakfast Blend and the Island Green loose teas online from their web site. I can’t wait to try them!

Hemingway Novel Social Media Game


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I decided to try my hand at a social media game–the kind which places you in a hypothetical situation and asks you to fill in the first nine friends on your friends’ list, assigning them to certain roles. I thought carefully, and decided to play upon my strengths. Hence, Hemingway. Here’s the game; and it’s Hemingway, so be advised of mildly adult language:

You and 9 friends find yourself in a Hemingway novel. Fill in the blanks with the first 9 people on your friends’ list.

  • Spends three weeks silently fly-fishing in a rural stream:
  • Claims to be a “lousy Catholic,” but can’t stop going to church to pray:
  • Uses another person’s execution as a diversion to escape a firing squad:
  • Spends 6 drunken months in the hospital recovering from a leg wound:
  • Smuggles booze into the hospital for the above patient:
  • Constantly picks fights with smaller opponents:
  • Arms a fishing boat and cruises the coast of Cuba, looking for German subs:
  • Discovers the meaning of life 20 seconds before being killed:
  • Thinks that “not being a bitch” is “sort of like what we have for God”:

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Traveling Without Your Pets


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As you travel this summer (or anytime), remember to keep your home and pets safe. An intruder might not only burglarize or trash your house, but could also harm or let out your pets as well! Some people have added electronic monitoring of their homes via their smart phones, but not everyone has that capability. In addition to the standard tips we all know about not letting mail or newspapers stack up and using a security system, here are a few more things to think about:

1. Consider hiring a reliable petsitter. Due to the stress involved in boarding, pets are much happier staying at home. Oftentimes for the same or even less money as a veterinarian or a pet boarding company, a good petsitter will live in your home, care for your animals and houseplants, and keep your house from sitting empty and neglected. Don’t depend on automatic feeders or self-cleaning litter boxes–they can malfunction or be susceptible to power losses. When should you board? If you have pets with serious health conditions that need monitoring or medication, or if you can’t find a trustworthy petsitter. And, of course, make sure the petsitter has your veterinarian’s phone number in case of an emergency.

2. If you board, try to get a recommendation from a friend or trusted veterinarian, and always inspect the premises in person. Don’t make an appointment, just walk-in. If they won’t show you the facilities on demand, sure, they may just be busy, but they could be hiding something. Make sure the cages have at least enough room for the animals to lie down, to stand up, and to turn around comfortably. Does the facility have a fenced dog run? How often and how long are dogs let out into it? Are they left alone there or constantly watched? More luxurious boarders might have similar runs for cats. Do the pets already in residence appear to be healthy and well cared for? Is the facility clean? Not just the cages–the whole facility. If not, that may be a sign of neglect, and certainly of unprofessionalism. Some pet fur dust bunnies are understandable, as is the occasional accident; but if the place doesn’t seem to be cleaned regularly, especially of droppings or urine in cages or runs, go elsewhere.

3. Make sure your pets’ vaccinations, tags and microchip data are up-to-date. If the pets get out, they could be vulnerable to diseases carried by other animals. And if someone finds them, but the tags and microchips have outdated contact information, they may not be able to get in touch with you to return the animals.

4. Buy a couple of timers. Use them for a radio or television, as well as a light or two. Most basic models will let you set on/off times at least once or twice a day, and aren’t expensive. More advanced models let you set multiple times and on a schedule that varies by the day of the week, helping to diminish the predictability of one light coming on every day. I have one that randomly comes on a little before or a little after the actual time I set, providing an additional variation. This will help protect your home and your pet.

When you are a pet owner, it can be hard leaving pets at home while you are traveling. By putting a little effort into it, you can make sure your pet is comfortable and safe.

Of Vigilance and Grasshoppers



This spring I steeled myself for the worst and hoped for the best. Yes, once more unto the breach! More container gardening!

With some heirloom seeds passed around at a local church and some commercial organic seeds, I planted carrots, beets, corn salad (mache), red romaine, Italian parsley, sage, and Genovese basil. I also attempted some starts using the root end of an organic celery bunch, the same of organic green leaf lettuce, and some gourmet variety organic fingerling potatoes, as suggested on many web sites. I chose organic not only because I prefer organic vegetables, but because conventionally-grown produce is said to be sprayed with a growth inhibitor. This was an experiment, done because we liked the potatoes and a few had started to develop eyes.

But, really, all gardening is an experiment. It’s important to remember that, because, as this blog has shown, if nothing else, results are never guaranteed. You never know what will grow in any particular season, or what will do poorly. When we grow tomatoes, we know to plant several different varieties, because invariably 1 or 2 varieties may do really well, while the rest produce very little or even no fruit. And this year my container garden has proven this once again.

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Results so far are mixed: the beets never amounted to much. In fact, I got one tiny beet about the size of a marble. It was good, but not very filling. The other beet seeds sprouted and seemed to grow well for several weeks, but apparently not much was going on under the surface. I haven’t harvested the carrots yet, but the greens seem to have stopped growing, so I will likely do that soon. The corn salad basically disappeared. I think something was eating it, but I could never figure out what. After our spring rains came, late this year, two surviving sprouts developed very well. I’ve never had it before, so I’m not sure how big it is supposed to get; however, it, too, seems to have tapered off in growth, so I’m eyeing them for part of a salad. Similarly, the parsley did nothing for weeks: 1 sprout no more than an inch high struggled along until the rain came. It is now several inches high, although it is not a big plant, useful for much beyond adding a little color or flavor to any dish. The basil has been a fairly slow-grower, as well as the sage, although both have looked healthy. We warmed up fast this spring–I think getting into the 90s in late April just after the last frost–and the lettuce, plagued by little caterpillars at first, soon bolted. The celery grew several inches with the rain water, but, as with the other plants, seems to have stopped growing. I think it just got too fast too soon.

This past winter was a cold one for this area–we had several hard freezes–and I for one looked forward to having fewer mosquitos, fleas, and other pests this spring and summer. However, conditions were apparently also just perfect for another problem we don’t usually have–grasshoppers! They are all over the horseradish and spearmint in the ground, and they are starting to get into my pot! I am not happy about this development. All of my crops, such as they are, are starting to show signs of trouble from these pests. I tried diatomaceous earth and an old garlic oil spray leftover from last year, but neither worked. The latter was too old, I suspect. Today I just set a trap by sinking a glass jar half-filled with molasses water in the soil. I hope it works. I do not want to lose my crops or have to resort to chemical pesticides or poisons.

Vigilance, as every gardener knows, is the key to any garden’s success. I will stay vigilant.


Status Update Clichés: How Many of These Do You Do?


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I know some articles have pinpointed various types of status updates. Here are three of my personal pet peeves, all of which I freely admit to having committed at some time in the past. I hope I’m not repeating any from other lists here.

1. Announce something—anything, from “Pancakes are good” to “(Male Celebrity Name) can have my baby anytime”—and follow it with the sentence, “That is all.” Of course it is all: we can tell because you stopped typing.

2. Reposting anything. Seriously, just anything. Your status update is supposed to be just that: what you are thinking or doing at a given moment. It is not supposed to be some other person’s random thoughts on life, cancer, or how under-appreciated nurses are (though they certainly are).

3. Guiltbooking: Sharing any meme or status update that tries to guilt you into clicking like or sharing. No, if I don’t like or share, it does not mean I don’t love Jesus, or that I’m not your real friend, or that I support animal torture. It just doesn’t.

What do you wish people would stop posting in their status updates?

Error! Try Again!


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We all relax a bit online when it comes to posting messages on social networks or simply sending a private text. And, certainly, there’s nothing wrong with a little casual language. A problem I do have, however, is that I see some words written wrong so often, it becomes hard to remember the correct way to write it! I’ve noticed the same errors continually creeping up in my students’ papers. Your instead of you’re, of course, is one of the most common errors, and there, their, and they’re have plagued generations, along with two, to, and too. Here are some more trouble words I notice with increasing frequency–in my own writing, in others’, or both.

Loose, lose = You may loosen your shoelaces, but you cannot lose them if they are in your shoes (unless you lose them as well). If your shoelaces are loosely tied, you may very well lose your shoes!

’cause, cause = Shortening because to ’cause (or ‘cuz) when we speak often causes us to write cause when we mean because. (Honestly, this one nearly causes me fits!)

Could of, should of, might of, etc. = Every time I see one of these, I think the writer should’ve (should have) known better!

Spayed, spade = If you’ve ever browsed the pet section of Craig’s List, you’ll see a lot of people who insist their animals have been spaded. Since a spade is a shovel, a spaded animal must be in the ground, well beyond the need for a new home. A female animal may be spayed; a male, neutered.

What errors cause you to shake your head?

P.S. If you see any errors in this post, let me know!