Showing posts with label Dawn Rae. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dawn Rae. Show all posts

Monday, October 7, 2019

Book Review: The Naturalist's Notebook by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich

The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You is a beautiful, hardcover book that is an excellent purchase for any person who loves the great outdoors. Whether the reader's interest is plants, climate, gardening, birds or other outdoor pursuits, this is a perfect place to jot a daily note about the experience.


Appreciating and documenting the natural world.

The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich is part how-to write field notes, part inspirational, and part 5-year calendar. This book is a way to document and appreciate your natural surroundings.


"In the words of writer Richard Mabey, natural history is "a meeting place for wild life and human feeling" - Nathaniel T. Wheelwright 

The illustrations are wonderful. If you click the Amazon link, you'll be able to view some of the artwork using the "Look Inside" feature. I love these type of illustrations.




The pages are thick paper rather than thin paper or glossy paper. This paper stock is good for keeping the journal entries from bleeding through the pages as well as compliments the rustic illustrations. 

The written portion of the book is clearly written by people who love our natural world. Their passion translates from the page to the reader - motivating the reader to immediately begin being more aware outdoors.

The written chapters are:
  • Chapter One - Being Attentive
  • Chapter Two - How to Become an Observant Naturalist I
  • Chapter Three - How to Become an Observant Naturalist II
  • Chapter Four - A Naturalist's Toolbox
  • Chapter Five - Simple Experiments as a Way of Learning
  • Chapter Six - Knowing Nature Where You Are
  • Epilogue - Bird by Bird


Followed by a 5-Year Calendar-Journal. The calendar grid is numbered in such a way that you can begin on any date and any year, by adding the year in the blank spot on the left side of the pages and writing under the number that corresponds with the date. 
  • The Naturalist's Notebook ends with:
  • Personal Glossary for Abbreviations and Symbols
  • Useful Books
  • Metric Conversion
  • Timelines for Species and Events You Follow
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Authors


I am really happy to have this notebook that both validates my love of the natural world that surrounds me as well as helps me to think about my observation skills. This book also helps me to appreciate the efforts of those who came before me. This is not an in-depth study of people such as Lewis and Clark, Henry David Thoreau, and others. But it does remind us of what a great impact their documentation of the natural world had on us. Or a biology text book. 

This book is a timely and important reminder that the natural world is important and lessons come from our own personal awareness and appreciation of the changes and seasons around us. 

Related Link:

I already sometimes document the natural world around me when I'm camping in the mountains. It is easy to notice the wildlife, weather, and plants while I'm at The Shack. I sometimes document through photography but I want to become better at documenting things more specifically. For example: exactly where and when I saw this beautiful newt. I'd like to increase my chances of finding one in the future. As the terrain there changes, I hope newts continue to live there. 

found during my hike in April




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Monday, September 30, 2019

Book Review: Chasing a Flawed Sun by Daniel McGhee

I thought I knew about addiction - how addicts think and behave. I thought I knew a good bit about how heroin is sold and bought in the streets of Baltimore. After reading Chasing a Flawed Sun, I realize I didn't even know what amounts to a single drop of water in a Chesapeake Bay-sized bucket.


Reviewing a must-read book - Chasing A Flawed Sun.


Daniel McGhee put his story on paper for all to read. And I was hooked as soon as I started the Before You Read This Book section:


"I had chosen not to jeopardize the integrity of the stories by watering down the language or vividness of the events that occurred. While reading, keep in mind that there is a happy ending, eventually." - Daniel McGhee

Daniel tells us that he was a small, shy child being raised in the suburbs by good parents. As an adolescent he smoked, painted graffiti, and was attracted to the negative pieces of pop culture. He was fighting, stealing, and by the time he was 15 he was drinking nightly. Daniel goes on to describe troubles that are every parent's nightmares: multiple school suspensions, police involvement, and getting that call to pick up your child from the station after he was involved in a shooting.

The story goes on to describe his transition from crimes and alcohol use to crimes and heroin use. I was completely caught up in this story. I recognized the small towns (Bel Air and Edgewood) where Daniel lived and the areas of the city Daniel went to buy heroin (Poplar Grove, Edmondson, Cherry Hill, Orleans Street). I was astounded at how many people - some of them functioning and holding down jobs - are in the middle of heroin addiction. All around us there are people whose sole focus is how to get their next high. And how after awhile, it's no longer a high. It is only battling off the sickness and getting well again.

The largest portion of the book describes the relentless pursuit of the drug and the things addicts will go through in order to get well. It is eye-opening and not easy to read. It describes Baltimore City and some of the common, everyday sights and sounds of an urban setting.

At the end of the book, Daniel describes how he's doing now. I think this is a must-read for anyone who is using, who loves an addict, or who works with addicts. I think it is also a must-read for anyone who works with troubled teens and pre-teens.





What I thought I Knew about Baltimore and Drugs


When I moved to the Baltimore area, my first job was at an adolescent group home. I worked with males from ages 13 to 18. All of them had stories about drugs. Most began to use around age 11 (smoking weed with relatives or friends) and then beginning to sell for the dealers in their neighborhoods by age 13 or so in order to earn money. They taught me about some of the "ethics" of being a dealer. For example, I once asked two of them, whose mothers had died from overdoses, why they would sell to people who may die. Especially after their mothers had died. One young man was offended that I'd ask if he would sell to his mother. He patiently explained to me that he'd never sell to his own mother. That's just wrong and offensive to sell to your own mother. But he'd sell to his friend's mother (gesturing toward the other young man). And vice versa. After all, they explained, it's about the money. It's just business. But you do not sell to your mom.

With that job, I did home visits and family therapy in all parts of the city including Poplar Grove, North Ave, Walbrook Junction and some areas "over east" that I can't recall the names of at this moment. All areas that some of my co-workers (originally from Baltimore) stated they'd never go and that I was crazy to go there.

I went. Doing my job. The white lady in certain sections of Baltimore. I never understood why groups of people yelled things like "Sheryls" and "new ones" at me. Back then, I thought they were mistakenly identifying me as the police and alerting people to my presence. Thanks to Mr. McGhee, I now know why they were yelling those things at a white woman in their neighborhood. 

Later in my career, I was visiting with a young man as he pan-handled on the corner. He was a young combat injured veteran. He was neat, clean, well-spoken and homeless. Homeless due to complications with his combat injury. I was trying to connect him with services for veterans. I had no clue that he was a heroin addict. Then he disclosed that bit of information to me. He was discharged from the army after his injury with an OTH (other than honorable) discharge due to beginning to use street drugs after his prescribed pain medications were no longer enough. He eventually became addicted to heroin and panhandled daily in order to get enough money to buy his daily fix. This young man taught me about the focus on "getting well", how even gift cards can be pawned, and that clean needles are sold by diabetics who can buy needles without judgement by pharmacy employees. 

But even with this education, I had no real clue about how many addicts are around us. That there are addicts working at jobs and going about their daily lives until the addiction gets too demanding. And that there are many addicts on the beltway with me each day, driving into the city to chase their sun. 


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Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review: Hello, Crochet Friends! by Jonah Larson

This little book packs a powerful punch! Hello, Crochet Friends: Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy written by young Jonah Larson and his mother Jennifer Larson is the most uplifting and motivational book I've read in years.

Hello, Crochet Friends! written by Jonah Larson


Hello Crochet Friends!: Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy is one part autobiography, one part inspirational, and one part crafts. It includes topics of international adoption, school behavioral problems, and the importance of finding one's passion. 

Jonah Larson is an 11 year old crocheting phenom. I came to know about him from looking for crochet patterns and tutorials on the internet. This young man has a gift with crochet. His talent is nearly unbelievable. Watching his little hands fly as he works on his current projects is mesmerizing to me.  And all the more impressive when I learned a bit more about him.

Jonah was adopted by the Larsons when he was a baby. He began crocheting at age 5 by accident - when a single crochet hook was found in a bag of items. It became clear very quickly that crochet was his thing.

I work with children in a school that is focused on addressing their behavioral and learning difficulties. I run a small crochet club, teaching them just the basics (sharing my limited skills), because I know that crochet is a wonderful coping skill for some children. I ordered Jonah's book so that our students could read about a child who loves crochet. 

I was moved to tears when I received the book and read how Jonah also struggled with significant disruptive behaviors in school and how crochet helped him. And not only has crochet helped him manage his behaviors in school, he is using his art to give back to those in need in the country he was born. An astounding story and life lesson for all of us.

What this book is:

  • an age-appropriate picture book about an 11 year old who was adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage
  • a book that is written in a gentle, uplifting, honest and encouraging voice
  • an inspirational book - encouraging everyone to find their passion and do it
  • a helpful book for teachers and school staff - showing the positive results of thinking outside the box and helping students identify what calms and encourages them
  • an encouraging book for children who struggle with behaviors - helping them to feel as though they are not alone and that something can change
What this book is not:
  • this is not a book of crochet patterns
  • this is not a crochet tutorial
I'd like to express my gratitude to Jonah and his mother for writing this book and sharing this story. It has touched me and has been well-received by the students in my little crochet club. You are inspiring to so many others.


From the Amazon listing: "Hello, Crochet Friends! is the first title in the KWiL Publishing's Rock Star Kids series of books about young people doing incredible things in the world". Personally, I am looking forward to future books in the series!

Related Links:

While I am not as talented as young Jonah, I do love crochet. I am able to do beginning and easy intermediate patterns. I have written about a few of the easier patterns. If you are thinking about beginning crochet, look for one of the many online tutorials, find someone that matches your style, and just begin.

My review of Dabbles & Babbles Done in a Day pattern. This pattern is pretty, more interesting than just straight crocheted rows, and is versatile. I've made several different sized blankets with several different types of  yarns with this pattern. I have also used this pattern to create a long, rectangular piece that was used as a type of shawl for an elderly gentleman. 

Although loom knitting is not the same as crochet, it is an easy way to make interesting and beautiful hats. If you can't quite enjoy crochet, you could create your own treasures with loom knitting. The flower applique is crocheted and from the only flower pattern I've ever been able to complete successfully. This pattern is Flowers by The Dozen by Yarnspirations and I review it here






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Monday, September 2, 2019

Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson - Book Review

This memoir exposes a childhood full of trauma: extreme poverty, violence, and parental alienation. Followed by adoption and beginning a life half a world away. Ms. Christina Rickardsson writes about how she followed her biological mother's advice and never stopped walking. And tells her readers where that physical and emotional journey has taken her.


A loving mother's advice - never stop walking.

Christina Rickardsson came into the world named Christiana Mara Coelho. She lived with her mother in the slums (also called "Favela") of Sao Paulo, Brazil. A baby brother was born. At times, the little family slept in a cave. Other times, they slept on the street. Food was often found in the trash and on days that food couldn't be found, paint was sniffed in order to dampen the hunger pains. Death, decay, grief, and loss are a part of the lives of children living in the Favela. Sinister people and traumatic things are lurking around every corner. But young Christiana feels safe and loved with her mother.

There comes a time that Christiana is separated from her mother. At the ripe old age of 7, she is forced to choose between running away and remaining to care for her much younger brother. She is adopted after a year in an orphanage. She may as well have been sent to a different planet. She cannot understand the language, food is different but plentiful, and she has a physical home. Her physical needs are taken care of. 

What happens next?

The story does not move in a linear fashion. It bounces back and forth between life with her biological family in Brazil and life with her adoptive family in Sweden. The descriptions of childhood in Brazil transported me there. The story also includes life as a young adult attempting to reconcile her two very different childhoods, her two very different selves. And try to make sense of how things came to be. 



At times, near the middle of the book, I felt it dragged a bit. As though I had read the author's same thoughts and concerns multiple times. But at the end of the story I found that it was helpful to understand the jumble of feelings that such a life creates.

The thing that really struck me about this story, and reinforced what I already know from my work, is that parental alienation is often the most traumatic thing a child can experience. Above all, Christina seemed most impacted by the way she was separated from and kept from her biological mother. In my opinion, "civilized" societies believe that children are better away from poverty - even if that means destroying the parent-child ties. I don't think that financial stability and/or excess is able to heal the wounds created by this familial loss. But I digress.

The way Christiana and her mother were separated was viewed by those involved as the best way to give Christiana a good start with her new family. When in reality, it seemed more traumatic for Christiana than witnessing a murder, living in a cave in the forest as a child, and routinely experiencing hunger. True, with the financially stable life, Christina received an education and opportunities that allowed her to make some choices she would not have been able to make otherwise. But it seemed to me that very choice showed us how much healing and reconciling she needed to do.

What choices did she make as a young adult? What has she done since then? You'll have to read her story to find out.


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Here to Stay by Mark Edwards - Book Review

Reviewing Here to Stay by Mark Edwards
On a sunny spring day in West Dulwich, an area in south London, Elliot opens his garden to the public during the Open Gardens event; self-guided tours showcasing the private gardens of residents. He had no way of knowing that he'd meet his future bride surrounded by his wisteria and tulips. And he had no way of knowing that beautiful Emma's family were the stuff nightmares are made of. Sometimes chance meetings and whirlwind romances are planned events with ulterior motives. By the time Elliot realizes this, the evil has moved in and is Here to Stay.

Warning: This psychological thriller describes the behaviors of cruel and/or dysfunctional people. This story involves threats, intimidation, and murders. 

Elliot - a 38 year old bachelor who lives alone with his cat, Charlie, at number twenty-six Cuckoo Lane. Socially clumsy, his dating life was nearly non-existent. He kept busy with remodeling his historic Victorian home and his career. Elliott is a good, albeit somewhat anal, guy. He is a science teacher who earned a significant amount of money selling an educational website. This income allowed him to start a non-profit that ran science workshops for underprivileged kids. 

Emma - The beautiful Emma. When she arrives at Elliot's open house (garden), he is immediately smitten. She reminds him of an American movie star. Little does he know that she carries a lifetime of scars, both outwardly and inwardly. She and Elliott very quickly fall in love.

The In-Laws - Emma's family consists of her brother, Stuart, and his family who live in a nearby neighborhood. Emma's Mom (Lizzy), Dad (Jeff), and sister (Chloe) are currently living in France but returning to the UK and need a place to stay.

Jeff and Lizzy are rude, intimidating, and dirty house guests. They immediately begin to foul up Elliot's immaculate home. Jeff and Lizzy are very quickly and easily disliked. Chloe is visibly ill. There is something very wrong with Chloe but Jeff and Lizzy keep her isolated rather than seek help. Anytime that soft-spoken Elliot attempts to make a stand, Jeff postures and physically intimidates. 

Fairly soon, innocent people are victimized. Dead bodies begin to turn up and when it is too late Elliot thinks he knows what the scheme is. Is there such a thing as love at first sight? Or is it only part of a plan created by a parasitic family who is trying to meet their own needs?




This author, Mark Edwards, has an increasing fan base and many online reviewers are raving about this story in particular. Some of the negative reviews state that the story line is unbelievable; that there aren't people like this (both naive Elliot and his evil in-laws) in the world. But there are. There are many, many people just like them. Naive people who are used as pawns and those who stop just short of leaving a trail of dead bodies in order to obtain what they want. This is the part of the story that kept me up and reading late into the night. This book may be for you if you like stories where the girl-next-door may really be something nightmares of made of.

Other Psychological Thrillers:

Stephen King's Misery is probably the best example of a plain, everyday neighbor who is someone you never want to meet. Someone who uses people to meet her own needs in a very sick way. While it is a bit hard to believe that good ol' Annie Wilkes is able to rescue a full grown man from a terrible car wreck and keep him alive despite his horrendous injuries, it is a gripping and frightening tale. Annie was able to get him "out of the cockadoodee car" and kept him alive in order to torture him until he completed a task for her. 

For more psychological thriller selections on Amazon click here.


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Monday, August 5, 2019

Book Review: A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean

Abbie is a woman with a great life. She has a successful career as a surgeon. She has been married to Alan, a cardiologist, for 27 years. Zach is their son. Zach is a good kid who will soon be on his way to college. Winston is the aging family dog. They have everything a happy family could have. Until it literally comes crashing down. Will Abbie survive? Will she be able to put the pieces back together? This novel written by Julianne MacLean kept me interested and kept me turning the pages well past my bedtime.

Abbie's family lives in a city in Nova Scotia while her mother lives in a small historic town nearby. Abbie and family typically spend Sunday evenings with her mother. However, on this particular evening, Abbie and Winston have gone alone. 

While they are headed back to the city, Abbie anxious to catch Zach's hockey game, an oncoming car crosses the center line. A drunk driver nearly kills her and her dog in a horrific wreck. Abbie is trapped and Winston has been thrown from the car and is missing.

With the tragedy of the wreck, devastating family secrets are revealed. Between the discovery that her life was not as she had believed and the resulting physical problems from the wreck, she finds she has to reinvent herself. The decisions she has to make from the crash forward are not easy ones. And many of the dilemmas have no "right" answers. These are not things that anyone can plan for in advance.




There was one point in the story that I thought, "hmm, I'm not a doctor but I really don't think that would have happened that way."  But for me, the rest of the story kept me engaged. There were a couple of times that I thought I could guess what was happening next. Happily, I was wrong. And while this is a love story, about life and adult relationships, there were no sex scenes. I am not against gratuitous sex scenes but I know that some readers prefer not to read them. So I thought I would mention that there are none in this book.

After I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens I had a really hard time starting another book. The characters and scenes of Barkley Cove were so vivid in my mind that subsequent
books just didn't seem interesting. I started several books but wasn't able to get past the first chapter or two before laying them down. But A Curve in the Road was easy reading and interesting enough to get me going again. Some reviews refer to A Curve in the Road as "stunningly emotional" and "gripping".  I would not refer to the story as that intense for me. However, I did want to know what would happen next. It says a lot when a book keeps me up long enough to read a few chapters each night before bed.


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Monday, July 29, 2019

Reviewing the Origami Rack: Folding Storage Racks

Reviewing my Origami Rack.
A friend told me that he had a shelf for me. He said he'd bring it over if I wanted it. I said yes with some hesitance. Maybe I am a shelf snob. Because I did NOT want a flimsy plastic rack or one of those ugly metal racks that are often used in workshop spaces. Fortunately, the shelf unit he brought to me is an Origami Rack and it is AMAZING! I couldn't be more thrilled with this storage solution.


Origami Folding Racks



My friend carried the folded shelf up to my third floor apartment. In the living room, he pulled the shelf open with one move and fastened it open with two small latches. My shelf is on wheels, so I easily wheeled it to the corner of my teeny dining room.

These racks are great for indoor use, laundry rooms, garages, and anywhere that extra storage space is needed. 

The folks at Origami Racks state:



If I don't need to use this shelf, it folds flat to approximately 3 inches thick. (Unfortunately, I did not measure it while it was still folded).


My Storage Needs



I need storage in this teeny, tiny apartment. There is barely space to turn around, let alone store things. Even though I'm not looking for "pretty" storage, it helps that this shelf isn't ugly.

My rack measures 63" tall x 2' wide x 2' deep. It is on wheels and has four shelves.

When in use, this shelf is incredibly strong. On one shelf I have two partial 20 lb bags of dog food, the plastic dog food bin (I mix two brands and put the ready-to-use food in the bin) and a 5 gallon bucket that is full of cans of food and bags of rice (we were expecting a hurricane and I stocked up on food). One shelf easily holds these large items. I will need to do some re-arranging and decide exactly what I want to store on these shelves. I just excitedly threw these items on the shelves: glad to get some of these things out from under my table and up off the floor. Also, the cat litter took up a large bit of the space in my bathroom linen closet. I'm glad to have extra space in that closet and thrilled that the Origami shelf holds such heavy items. 

Some of the photos online make the shelves appear flimsy, as though the joint in the shelf would be a weak point. But be assured that these shelves are strong!

Related Links:

Origami Rack has a shop on Amazon - if you are like me and are a prime member and love the free shipping and the delivery (I hate carrying things up my three flights of stairs). On that Amazon page, you can see a variety of items as well as photos of the shelves when folded. 

Visit the Origami Rack website for more information and to see what shelves are currently offered. 




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Monday, July 15, 2019

Reviewing the NuWave Gourmet Accessory Kit

NuWave Air Fryer Accessories
With my recent purchase of the NuWave Brio air fryer I also purchased the NuWave Gourmet Accessory Kit. At first I thought the little pan and cooking rack were over-priced and I felt silly for spending that extra money. But after using them for nearly every healthy meal - multiple times a day - I consider them invaluable.

If you aren't at all familiar with the NuWave Brio air fryer, you can read my review here. The Gourmet Accessory Kit is sold separately here


NuWave Gourmet Accessory Kit


Because I am typically cooking only for myself I purchased the Gourmet Accessory Kit.  It sounds much more fancy than it is. It is really just a 6" x 6" square pan (2 Qt) with a handle and a 6" x 6" cooking rack.  Rather than cook my foods in the pan included with the machine or on it's existing rack, I use the little pan the most often. 

Easy Clean Up: The pan has been keeping mess to a minimum. The juices and splatter stay in the accessory pan. It is non-stick so it is easy to lift out and wash off. 

Portion Control: The Gourmet Accessory Kit also helps with portion control - without leaving me feeling deprived. The pan holds just a small amount. I cook that small amount and after a bit, if I'm still hungry, I can quickly cook a bit more in the Brio air fryer. However, I haven't felt like I needed that second portion very often.

Cooking Items Separately: I can also cook two different items at the same time. I place one item in the pan - sitting on the original rack in the machine - and cook veggies on the original rack next to it. I have not yet cooked a meal large enough to have to use the Accessory rack in addition to the original rack. But it's good to know that I will have that extra space if I need it.  

Weight Loss: After loosely following the eating habits recommended by the Embry family in Living Proof and using the NuWave Brio air fryer, I have lost 4 lbs in approximately 2 weeks. That doesn't sound like much, but I am thrilled with that much loss after just changing what I eat. 





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Monday, July 1, 2019

Reviewing the NuWave Brio 10 Qt Air Fryer

Reviewing the NuWave Brio on Review This! 
Just this week I purchased the NuWave Brio 10 qt air fryer. And I am immediately in love with this way of cooking. I had to immediately review my new kitchen appliance.  If I find that over time I become disenchanted with this air fryer, I'll update this review. But right now I cannot imagine changing my mind about this machine.


NuWave Brio 


I bought an air fryer due to a recommendation from a co-worker. My co-worker had a cardiac event at a very young age. Thankfully, he recovered fully and returned to work. Not only did he return to work he clearly was losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle.  I asked him what his secret was. He said that he was using an air fryer. And if I was interested in losing weight and/or becoming healthier, I should definitely get one.

After looking at video reviews and comparison shopping in the stores, I chose the NuWave Brio 10 Qt machine. I made this choice for three main reasons.

  • similar pricing to the other machines
  • 1500w (double the power of some of the other machines)
  • a larger cooking space than some of the other machines

The NuWave advertising lists the highlights of this appliance as:

  • digital controls
  • evenly distributed heat
  • dishwasher safe parts (the parts - not the machine)
  • program functions - program your favorite recipes
  • stage functions - create up to 10 stages of time/temp adjustments
  • rotisserie - adjustable forks and rotates 360 degrees
  • sear function 
  • reversible wire rack (to adjust the height of your food and/or make room for up to an 8 lb chicken)
  • built-in "safe start" sensor
  • precise temperature control from 100F - 400F degrees. 

My Skepticism and Hesitation


That initial air fryer recommendation came to me close to two years ago. When my co-worker suggested an air fryer, one of the reasons I was very skeptical is that I didn't believe that I'd use one regularly. After all, I never deep-fry foods and I already often bake my meats/french fries rather than fry. 

Since then, a second co-worker has had a cardiac event (she is fully recovered also - thank God!). With my friends having major health scares, my own increasingly health problems, and after watching a movie of a young man who controls his Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms via diet and exercise, I decided to take the plunge and purchase an air fryer. 

(No, I do not have MS, but his story about healthy diet was so motivating I decided to focus on cutting out even more carbs, sugars, and junk foods. If you would like to see my review of Living Proof by Matt Embry, click here).


The Past Week with the Brio Air Fryer


Since I have bought this machine, I have had a wide variety of cooked vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, green beans) that I normally would not have unless I was eating out. For some reason, I have never been able to stir-fry or saute vegetables and have them turn out appealing in any way. The one vegetable I cook well is summer squash, but I was frying them in a small amount of oil. Now I'm air frying them with only a dusting of cooking spray.

I've made chicken livers in this machine and they turned out GREAT.  I did not expect them too. The light flour coating browned and crisped. I was amazed. Another perk was that cooking the chicken livers in the machine greatly decreased that cooking liver smell that permeates the apartment when I cook them in the frying pan!  

I've also made a beef and broccoli Chinese food recipe that turned out GREAT. This is something I've never been able to cook successfully previously. 

I have made both lightly floured chicken nuggets and BBQ chicken chunks that looked and tasted as though they were grilled.

But the best thing about this appliance has been cooking great foods, foods that I often would pop into the oven for 30 - 45 minutes. But this apartment is hot and we've been having a heatwave. Without the Brio, I would either be on the verge of heatstroke while making dinner or I would forgo a real meal. With the NuWave Brio, I have been making great meals during this heatwave and adding very little, if any, extra heat in the kitchen. 

I am really pleased with this purchase and I'm very glad I finally acted on my co-worker's recommendation.







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Monday, June 17, 2019

Reviewing FLEXUS by Spring Step Shoes

Cute and comfortable shoes.
I dislike shoes. I really, really dislike shoes. So when I find a pair that I enjoy wearing I feel compelled to tell others about them. The FLEXUS shoes made by Spring Step are affordable, comfortable, and everyday cute. 


FLEXUS by Spring Step


The other day I wore my FLEXUS shoes to an event and got several compliments. Perhaps my co-workers were so surprised to see me wearing something other than my same ol' tennis shoes that they complimented my shoes out of shock. But I don't think so. These shoes are cute. 

Not only are they cute, they are affordable. I bought my pair (the style: Bedrock) at DSW

They are comfortable. The soles are slightly flexible and the shoes are lightweight. I like to keep my toes covered and the wide toe box is comfortable. No squished, cramped toes crammed into a pointed toe! The treads of the shoe are a type of hard rubber - solid but not loud and clackity on hard surface floors. 

On the Spring Step website, they list the 5 points of comfort of the soles as:

  • anti-shock
  • anatomic
  • self-moulding
  • slip-proof
  • flexible

The older I become, the less I like to wear heels. Once upon a time I liked wearing wedges for special occasions. And prior to that I LOVED stacks. Yes, I'm giving away my age. But honestly, I would just prefer to be barefoot. If I absolutely must wear shoes, I'm glad I found the FLEXUS line by Spring Step.

If you prefer shopping on Amazon, there is a large selection of shoes by Spring Step.




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Monday, June 3, 2019

Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command Book Review

Troops at FOB Airborne preparing for a mission.
Each year over Memorial Weekend, I deliberately spend some time learning about and remembering our American military individuals who have given their lives in service to their country. This year I read Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command and I am still reeling from what I read - knowing this is a story our government would prefer it's civilians not know. 

I already had some understanding that our troops who were deployed to Afghanistan often lived in very dangerous and "austere" conditions. I also had some awareness that rules of engagement made it difficult for our troops to stay alive. But authors Lynn Vincent and Roger Hill paint a detailed picture of how completely impossible the situations over there really were - and some reasons why so many families back home lost their loved ones.


Dog Company: A True Story of American Soldiers Abandoned by Their High Command by Lynn Vincent and Roger Hill


Dog Company is partially a day-in-the-life portrait of soldiers trying to carry out their missions in Wardak Province, Afghanistan and partially a court drama with accusations of war crimes. I'm immediately hooked in the story - getting to know the handful of soldiers at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Airborne.
'Sargeant Raul Lopez, the platoon sergeant at Sayed Abad Base, coming through his cell: "The CLP didn't bring any food and water with them this time, sir" '
Life sustaining supplies weren't getting through to Captain Roger Hill's troops. Not because they were cut off by the bad guys but due to the complacency or ineptitude of the leadership. The book begins with plans to move supplies from FOB Airborne to Sayed Abad.

The descriptions of the dusty dirt roads, narrow cliff-hugging mountainous roads barely wide enough for the vehicles, and how the men jumped into action every time something went wrong made me feel as though I were watching it all. 

All supplies, not just food and water, were in short supply. Vehicles were unreliable. There were not enough men to guard the FOBs. At night, our guys put dummies up to look like there were more overnight guards and a larger presence than there really was.

And if that wasn't bad enough, they learn that there are spies among them, Afghan Nationals approved to work on the FOBs, giving the information to the Taliban to set ambushes. Ambushes like the one that killed Carwile and Conlon.


Remembering...


On that supply run, to deliver the food and water that Battalion (the higher-ups) couldn't seem to supply, two soldiers lost their lives.

Lieutenant Donnie Carwile:


"Formerly enlisted, Carwile, twenty-nine, had put himself through college while working as a policeman in Oxford, Mississippi, then returned to the Army as an officer."

SPC Paul Conlon:


"Back in June, Conlon, twenty-one, of Mashpee, Massachusetts, had taken heavy shrapnel wounds during a vicious firefight. this trip to Sayed Abad was his first chance to bet back into the field with his platoon brothers, and he was pumped."

Throughout the book, many other men were physically wounded. Yet they all wanted to remain to continue the mission and to continue to take care of each other the best they could in these dire circumstances.




Rules of Engagement


Due to the rules of engagement during that period of time, the procedures (or lack thereof) for handling dangerous detainees, and the lack of support on these distant FOBs, caused life and death decisions at every moment. In trying to prevent more of his men being killed in action, CPT Roger Hill made a decision that some view as criminal. He and First Sargeant Scott are carted off to military court due to their decisions and actions.

I found this story to be riveting; both the stories of the missions and the description of the court process. 

As an army mom, I appreciate CPT Roger Hill and his attempts to protect his men, including sacrificing his finances and his career. I don't know that his decision was the right choice - the line between right and wrong is often thick and blurry. But I also don't think he was given any other choice - except to watch more of his men die. I also appreciate First Sargeant Scott and his determination to follow his conscience against the odds.

This book was written via accessing many sources including: interviews of the men of Dog Company and others deployed with them, review of the documents used at the Article 32 hearing, the criminal investigation reports, and more. The authors also submitted the manuscript to be reviewed for issues of national security. As a result, there are portions of the book that are redacted. 

I am extremely grateful to Lynn Vincent and Roger Hill for going through all that they have in order to publish this story and shine a light on what some of our troops have gone through at the direction of our country. 

Photo Credit: public domain photo by Spc. Justin French. Delta Company, 2nd of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division - FOB Airborne. Original photo cropped due to space considerations.

Previous Memorial Day readings:

Mindfulness on Memorial Day 2018. In 2018, I learned about the Bataan Death March. Prior to that time, I had not heard a thing about the invasion of the Philippines and the thousands of POWs held from 1942 to 1945. 

Mindfulness on Memorial Day 2017.  In 2017, I read World Changer: A Mother's Story: The Unbreakable Spirit of US Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn. Karen Vaughn wrote about her son, memorializing him and writing with such honesty that I sobbed. 




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Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing on Review This!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was such a beautifully written story that I am having difficulty moving on into any other books. The wait list for this book at the library is long. More than one friend insisted that I read this story. The editorial reviews are glowing. The hype is not wrong. I'm considering reading this story again, only a couple of weeks after finishing it - the story was that captivating. I can't stop thinking about Kya and the marsh life that surrounded her.
"Marsh is Not Swamp."
"Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light in it's muddy throat."
Kya is a young girl, living with her family in a remote shack in the marshes of North Carolina. She is still very young as her broken family disintegrates and disappears. Initially, her explosive father remains and her survival skills begin to develop as she learns to navigate the moods of her father and the moods of the natural world. Beginning at age 6, we watch as the decades of Kya Clark's life unfold. Near the beginning of the story, with the exception of the gulls she feeds, she is completely alone. 
"Hands to her mouth, she held her head back and called "Kee-ow, kee-ow, kee-ow.' Specks of silver appeared in the sky from up and down the beach, from over the surf"
"Crying and screeching, the birds swirled and dived, hovering near her face, and landed as she tossed grits to them. Finally, they quieted and stood about preening, and she sat on the sand, her legs folded to the side. One large gull settled onto the sand near Kya."

" 'It's my birthday' she told the bird." 

The townspeople of Barkley Cove are aware of her. They call her "Marsh Girl". Collectively, they consider her a dirty oddity; literally an untouchable as a mother shields her child from contact during one of Kya's limited trips to the grocery store in town. 

Truancy folks tried to enforce school attendance. Mrs. Culpepper was able get Kya to attend one day, a difficult day, of school; the only positive experience being the chicken pie served at lunch. But after that day Kya decided to never return. And Kya, like any being attuned to living in the wild, was able to disappear each subsequent time Mrs. Culpepper arrived at the remote shack. 

Tate is a young local man. Kya knew him as her brother Jodie's friend. But her brother is gone.  Even so, Tate has been nearby and his quiet and gentle way of being allows them to form a tenuous bond.

Chase is the town hero - the Barkley Cove football star and the guy who got all the girls. If there are any stereotyped characters in this book, it is Chase. But then again, we've all known this guy, haven't we? And what girl who is alone and lonely, and who is becoming an adult, doesn't fall for the practiced charms of a guy like Chase at least once?

Jumpin' is the owner of a marina gas station. In an era where whites and blacks had separate schools and his family lived in Colored Town instead of Barkley Cove, Jumpin' did not have any pre-judgements about the child Mr. Clark had left alone. Kya found Jumpin to be an unlikely friend, mentor, and advisor.  Over time, Kya limits her shopping and bartering to Jumpin's store and avoids town altogether. When tragedy happens - Chase is found dead - Kya's solitary world in the marsh and the civilized world of town collide. Was it an accident or was it murder? And did that wild Marsh Girl, that Swamp Rat, kill the most popular guy in town?


"Tutored by millions of minutes of alone, Kya thought she knew lonely" 

Sometimes I read the book then watch the movie. Sometimes I watch the movie and then read the book. In this case, I highly recommend reading the book first. I can't imagine that a movie - even produced by Reese Witherspoon - will do this story of coming of age while surviving in the marshes justice. 

Ms. Owens knows how to write. Her descriptions of the natural surroundings paints a picture that is easy to imagine. After reading the book I felt as though I had spent the summer at the beach. My review does not come close to conveying the beauty of her prose and her ability to transport you to the location. I encourage you to read a sample of the book and decide for yourself if this is a story you'd like to lose yourself in.
"The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh's moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog. The palmetto patches stood unusually quiet except for the low, slow flap of the heron's wings lifting from the lagoon. And then, Kya, only six at the time, heard the screen door slap."


Photo Credit: The photo was taken by and is the property of Dawn Rae and was taken in the marsh at North Point State Park, Baltimore, MD.



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Monday, May 6, 2019

Lava Stone Bracelet Review

Reviewing my beautiful Basalt bracelets.
I recently purchased a pair of lava stone bracelets and am very happy with them. They are available on Amazon. As another reviewer says, "don't be fooled by the price".  At this price, I half expected to receive cheap synthetic trinkets. But I was surprised to receive beautiful stone bracelets. These bracelets are a great gift to give and an awesome treat for yourself.


Lava Stone Bracelets 


I was shopping for Lava Stone specifically. So I was thrilled that there were many options to choose from: lava stone, tigers eye (brown or blue), malachite, wooden beads, and howlite. 

These bracelets are fully adjustable due to the sliding knot. Pull each end of the cord to tighten. Pull each side of the bracelet to loosen. I have a small wrist - just under 7".  These bracelets snug up to fit me perfectly.  Open to it's widest, my bracelet measures approximately 13". 



There are many places to purchase a Lava Stone bracelet but I purchased mine on Amazon by M MOOHAM. My pair of bracelets arrived quickly. They were packaged in a soft drawstring bag and inside a cardboard box.





Reasons to Buy a Lave Stone Bracelet


Yoga Bracelets:  People seem to use the term "yoga bracelet" to mean either as a Mala for meditation, as stones that are thought to have healing or calming properties, or as some combination of those two things. Malas are used in meditation by counting along the string of beads during a chant. Malas and other jewelry are often made from stone beads. Those stones are thought to have properties that benefit us.  
For example:
"Lava Stone is a grounding stone that strengthens one's connection to Mother Earth. It gives us strength and courage, allowing us stability through times of change. It provides guidance and understanding in situations where we may need to "bounce back". A calming stone, it is very useful in dissipating anger"            -- from CharmsofLight.com

Wearable Essential Oil Diffuser:  Many people like essential oils either for the fragrance or for the calming properties. Lava stones can be used as a wearable oil diffuser. Simply rub a drop or two of your favorite oil onto a lava stone.  Allow the oil several minutes to dry before wearing.

Fashion Accessory:  Wear these lava stone bracelets just because they look good. 

My interest in lava stone (also called Basalt) is increasing because of my recent purchase of a Basalt stone bird bath. I fell in love with the stone and decided to purchase a basalt bracelet to wear.

Related Link:

Our Louanne shared a review about her essential oil diffuser necklace. She includes "how to" photos in her article about this functional and beautiful piece of jewelry. If you prefer necklaces to bracelets, her necklace may be just what you are looking for. 


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Monday, April 29, 2019

Reviewing the Basalt Birdbath by Stone Age Creations

My birdbath on a West Virginia ridge.
I have been eyeing these beautiful carved stone birdbaths for years. Only last week did I finally splurge on one. The Basalt stone bird bath by Stone Age Creations carried what I consider a hefty price tag but I think it is worth every penny.  This unique stone bath speaks to me, it is a perfect addition to my "yard", and it will be appreciated by the birds that visit me at The Shack for years to come.

Why Bird Baths are Important


Not only are bird baths wonderful lawn ornaments but they also provide water for the local birds. Birds need water; most birds drinking daily. And birds bathe in order to clean their feathers. Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides important information about proper upkeep of healthy bird baths and why birdbaths are useful. 

Birdbaths also attract a variety of birds to your yard. If you enjoy backyard bird watching and want to attract more birds, you'll love Mary Bath's gorgeous photographs and story about her own backyard birdbath. I always look forward to seeing her photography of her feathered visitors.

What is Basalt?


By looking at and touching the birdbaths at Sun Nursery (where I purchased my birdbath), I could guess that Basalt was some sort of stone. For the purpose of this article, I looked up more information.

Basalt - "the dark, dense igneous rock of a lava flow.... often displaying a columnar structure"  - dictionary.com 

Basalt is also described as
  • as heavy as granite, sometimes heavier
  • high in iron content
  • as durable as granite
  • aesthetically interesting due to the iron content
  • is a stone that has been used in architecture for centuries
  • in addition to landscaping and architecture, basalt is used as massage stones and as healing stones in jewelry
And an interesting bit of trivia is that some of the iconic "head" sculptures of Easter Island are carved from Basalt! I don't know very much about those Moai carvings but I have always thought they are made from beautiful stone. 


Easter Island Moai stone carvings
(photo credit: public domain courtesy of Aurbina)

A Basalt Birdbath at The Shack


I wanted this particular bird bath for several reasons. It is beautiful. The rustic stone exterior and super smooth interior portion of the dish is interesting in appearance and blends perfectly with the rugged ridge landscape.

It comes in two pieces. Each piece is still quite heavy, but the two pieces allowed me to haul it in the Jeep and carry it to it's spot under the apple tree.

My beautiful basalt birdbath
The bowl is quite shallow. During my next visit I am going to add a flat rock to the bowl - giving the smaller birds another spot to perch or use as a step. I really like that this bowl is flat-bottomed and Cornell Lab recommends shallow bird baths. 

The deer are into every single thing that is outside at The Shack. I am hoping that they are not able to knock this heavy birdbath over if they decide to help themselves. Also, the wind blows quite hard coming up and over that ridge. I am sure this bird bath will not blow over.

My land is at the top of the ridge. The terrain is rocky and dry. There is a creek somewhat nearby but it is at the bottom of the hill. I'm sure the birds will be appreciative of a convenient water source.

Related Link: 

During my last trip to The Shack, it rained a lot. So much so that I didn't get much done. I wasn't able to prepare a spot so the bath sits level. But I did have an opportunity to take a hike. If you want to see the photos from that hike, click here

I have wanted this bird bath since discovering Sun Nursery years ago. Sun Nursery has a HUGE selection of plants and staff that are both helpful and knowledgeable. If you are near the Maryland and DC areas, Sun Nursery is well worth a visit. 

Stone Age Creations makes some gorgeous items. I am partial to their birdbaths, benches, and boulder owls. If there is not a distributor of their items in  your area, you can find some of their items on Amazon. 





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Monday, April 8, 2019

Attracting Northern Cardinals

How to attract Cardinals.
I love Cardinals. And frequently see them in the area around my apartment near Baltimore. They are plentiful here. But I rarely see them at The Shack. The Shack is located on a ridge in Northeastern West Virginia. I enjoy birdwatching at The Shack and have been puzzled about the absence of these beautiful red birds at my feeders there. So I reviewed what they are attracted to and am sharing that information here.


Types of Bird Feeders and Seed that Northern Cardinals Prefer 


Cardinals are attracted to the type of birdseed I purchase; mixes with black sunflower and/or safflower. Where I may be going wrong at The Shack is that they tend to prefer platform feeders or feeders with trays. My feeders at The Shack all have the circular openings for the seed.

After studying a bit about cardinals I realized that I already had witnessed that Cardinals preferred to feed from the ground or from platform feeders. A friend had kept a seed block on the ground and the Cardinals had flocked to it constantly.  At The Shack, the most bird seed that ends up on the ground occurs during the process of my filling, flipping, and hanging the feeder. After that process, the majority of the seed remains in the feeder. 


Cardinals Love Trees and Plants with Berries


While I have had some shrubs and trees that produce berries, I don't have a great amount of those plants. I have planted a thornless blackberry plant and plan to plant blueberry bushes. After reviewing what Cardinals like, I suspect I'll spot many more Cardinals after my berry bushes begin to produce!

Cardinals also are attracted to Viburnum shrubs and Mulberry trees. The Viburnum Dilatatum "Henneke" is highly recommended to attract cardinals. Yes, I've just added Viburnums to my lengthy plant shopping list.
Viburnum Dilatatum "Henneke"
Dogwood trees also attract Cardinals. I do have Dogwood trees but they are deep in my woods, at the bottom of my property. Perhaps I have more of these gorgeous red birds at my property than I know. They may stay down at the other end of my land.


Bird baths


Cardinals are a type of bird that "readily visits bird baths". I need to get a bird bath. The water at the top of my ridge is limited. And while I have no way of keeping the bird bath full during the dry months and in between my visits, at least I could fill a bird bath each time I visit. 

I've had my eye on the Stone Age Creations bird baths for a long time. Maybe it is finally time to splurge!
Granite Boulder Birdbath by Stone Age Creations
Hopefully, planting more berry-producing trees and shrubs, hanging a different feeder, and putting out a bird bath will help attract these birds to my yard at The Shack.

*photo courtesy of wikimedia commons/public domain. Photographer: Ken Thomas.

Related Link:

Mary Beth recently reviewed Facts and Photos of the Northern Cardinal. If you like these beautiful red birds, be sure to take a peek at Mary Beth's article.

My online source for bird identification and information: Cornell's All About Birds. The variety of photos and audio clips of the bird's songs are very helpful.


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Review This is Dedicated to the Memory of Our Beloved Friend and Fellow Contributor
We may be apart, but You Are Not Forgotten

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