I wore my hooded down parka today to spend a couple of hours moving junk around the garage today (or supervising the movement thereof).

There’s nothing as bad as trying to pack up the miscellany of a garage. It’s all strangely shaped or heavier than iron (because it is iron) or filled with toxic or flammable chemicals. How do you pack that?

And we’re experiencing winter temperatures for the first time in, well, a season, so there’s that. Ahem.

Fun times.

All is not lost, however. Later, as I was digging through 700 photos I took last summer while on an epic European family vacation looking for the perfect one for my holiday cards, I ran across this beauty. And I thought I’d share. Because readers in the northern hemisphere who were shopping today (or moving the stuff they’d once purchased around the garage), might enjoy it.


Ahh, the Croatian coast. In June. Lovely.

The recipe for a Thankgiving prayer that rocks

Stood in line with your 17-pound turkey at the grocery store? Looked up the recipe for green bean casserole? Hauled up your extra chairs from the basement?

I hope, at this point on Thanksgiving week, you’ve done all this and started thawing your turkey in the fridge at least three days ago.


I’ve done all these things in anticipation of the nine people I expect to gather around my Thanksgiving table tomorrow. And now I’m thinking about the purpose of the day.

If you have any interest in praying or God at all, you surely must say a prayer at Thanksgiving. It is, after all, a holiday about giving thanks. Even if you’re not the sort to thank a god, a verbal message of thanks for all to hear is good for, well if not your soul, then your well-being. Gratitude is good.

Have you given any thought to the blessing you want to share around the table? A lot of books and Bibles have perfectly acceptable prayers to say together, if you like, but I like personalizing the prayer. Here’s an outline:

  • Thank the people who gather around your table. Missing someone? Remember them.
  • Acknowledge the sources of your meal (and be thankful you didn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice).
  • Thank the cooks who prepared the food and, be proactive, thank the people who will help clean up.
  • If you’re spiritual, here’s where you can thank God (in whatever form He or She takes for you).
  • Wrap it up. Amen is a good word. I once heard it meant “I can put my tent stake in that,” which is a powerful statement from a culture of nomads who preferred driving camels to driving tent stakes. Choosing to stay in one place was against their nature, so “I can put my tent stake in that” was a real statement of certainty and approval.

Here’s how it might look:

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to give thanks. [Hold hands or bow your heads or whatever works in your tribe.] We are thankful to be together around this table on this Thanksgiving Day. We are missing Uncle Wally but we’re thinking of him fondly. We are thankful for the rain and sunshine required to grow this abundance of food and we’re thankful to the turkey who made the ultimate sacrifice to create our table centerpiece. We are thankful to the cooks who toiled to prepare this amazing meal (especially Nina for the pies) and we are thankful to the servant-hearted guests who will help clean it all up later. And finally, we are thankful to God in heaven who makes all these blessings possible. Thanks be to God. Amen.

It doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to be recited perfectly and it doesn’t have to be long. Good luck. Have a grateful day.

Travel Tuesday pays a visit to the heart of the Old West

It’s Travel Tuesday, and today we’re going west, young man (and young women, too — we’re all young, right, ‘cuz we ain’t dead yet).

We’re visiting a town named for the furniture in a cemetery, but it’s not as dark as it sounds. Tombstone is off the beaten track — 25 miles south of Interstate 10 in southern Arizona. Unlike the cemetery, you only end up there on purpose because there’s no reason to be near enough on accident. It’s on the way to nowhere.

My Beloved and I visited Tombstone this spring on our way home from Yuma, Arizona (Hampshire residents, please don’t take offense at the proximity between “on the way to nowhere” and “on our way home”). If you’ve heard of it, it’s because of the O.K. Corral. Or the frozen pizza. Or possibly the 1993 movie starring Val Kilmer (sigh). But probably it’s the O.K. Corral, site of the legendary shootout featuring the brothers Earp against a gang of cowboys-cum-thieves.

Tombstone earns its tagline the hard way: By living it. The tagline? The town too tough to die.


I enjoyed this sign on the nature of politicians posted at the entryway of one of the shops along Allen Street. Some things never change, I guess.

Tombstone today looks very much like it did in the 1880s, complete with wooden sidewalks and plenty of period tourist attractions with modern-day prices like old-time photo shops, stage-coach rides and shooting galleries. We skipped the daily re-enactment of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, but as a former newspaper reporter, I really enjoyed the Tombstone Epitaph Museum (the Tombstone Epitaph — isn’t that a great name for the local newspaper?). The bar food and live music at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon was worth a stop, too.

We camped at the nearby Tombstone RV Park & Campground, set in the middle of the desert. Watch for cactus, creosote bushes and other prickly native flora (but the sunsets were nice). The town of Tombstone got its name from the desert geology that gives rise to these dry-hardy plants. Founder Ed Schieffelin was scouting the area for valuable ore samples, and his buddies told him, “Better take your coffin with you; you will find your tombstone there, and nothing else.”

When he found a silver vein and filed a claim,  he named his stake Tombstone.

A gratin even a vegetable-hater might love


Brussels Sprouts Gratin, half devoured

You know the Brussels Sprouts Gratin recipe making the rounds? I’ve seen it in Country Living magazine and multiple times on my Facebook feed (and now I’m adding to it, too) so the Brussels sprouts growers and Gruyère cheese makers are either thrilled with the attention or happy with their marketing efforts.

Anyway, I made it tonight to go with the rotisserie chicken my Beloved picked up at Costco, and it was universally a hit, kind of like macaroni and cheese with Brussels sprouts instead of macaroni. So if you’re compiling a list of side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner this week, this one is a keeper.

Here is a link to one version of the recipe.

The Island of Unfinished Craft Projects

One of the scenes in the 1964 “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” features Rudolph paying a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Such a poignant scene, that.

Eventually in that stop-motion animated Christmas special, Rudolph redeems the unloved misfits by finding the perfect children to love the train with square wheels, the water pistol that shoots jelly and Charlie-in-the-Box.

Too bad the Island of Unfinished Craft Projects can’t have a similarly happy ending.

While combing through closets and drawers preparing my house for sale, I kept running across trends to which I no longer subscribed.


Cross stitch, anyone? Sadly, my grasp exceeded my reach (“Kay,” by the way, is my sister’s name — apparently I was thinking emoji-esque thoughts about her decades ago). I also found this incomplete gem:


I haven’t owned a cat for more than 10 years.


This mess represents hundreds of dollars worth of beads, wire and tools to make jewelry. Talk about misfits, though. Half of these pendants don’t have holes through which to string a chain:


They’re pretty in their imperfect way. And like the cat cross-stitch, I found these unassembled earrings, lacking only their hooks and enough finishing work to hide the weaving thread. The instructions are long gone.


More recently, I started and couldn’t finish a wine cork wreath. I even have the glue sticks but, alas, not the stick-to-itiveness.


I tried in vain to unload these odd collections on a couple of Facebook marketplaces to which I belong (because they’re hardly worth the gas to drive across town let alone postage to mail across country). But either I didn’t price them correctly or other folks have dark corners in their homes filled with unfinished projects haunting them because I had only one nibble which fell into the same black hole where my creativity was lost.

Now I am faced with throwing them away, which pains my frugal Midwestern soul, or packing them up for a rainy (snowy?) day that may never come.

Head Elf: Now listen you: You’re an elf, and elves make toys. Now, get to work!

[whistle blows]

Head Elf: Ten minute break!

[Hermey smiles, but then the Head Elf confronts him]

Head Elf: Not for you! Finish the job, or you’re fired!




Golden hour


“Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.”

~ Diana Gabaldon in Outlander

Every evening at sunset at Knights Key RV Resort in Marathon, Florida, residents gather on the beach to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon. Seagulls perch like motionless statues, watching the water for evidence of dinner, sometimes suddenly diving beneath the surface to fish.

It’s a magical time when people formally recognize the passing of another day. There’s beauty and sometimes a little wistfulness in this simple act.

Mostly a summer book report (a few months late)

With less than two months left in the year, I’m taking an accounting and falling short on some of my goals (all of my goals? let’s not be too harsh).

Like my goal to read 26 books this year.

Last year, I barely managed to read 52 books. It became like work to power through some of those clunkers so I scaled back to a much more manageable 26 — one book every other week. Despite being doable, according to Goodreads, I’m three books behind schedule.

Hmm. Too much electronic Scrabble.

magnoliaThe thing is, I can read a book I love in three days. Like The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines and Mark Dagostino, which I read immediately on my Kindle when it was released.

Not an HGTV fan? OK, you can have a pass. But if you watch HGTV or enjoy a feel-good story about a couple who seems authentically likeable, then you’d like The Magnolia Story, too. It’s a memoir, so I reviewed it in full on my author blog earlier this week.

stone-lakeOne way I added to my book total was by reading the Star Tribune’s serialized novel over the summer. It’s pretty easy to read a half chapter every day between the advice columns and the comics. But Stone Lake by Richard Horberg is, well, not so great. It’s the story of a young teacher in 1949 making some discoveries about life and himself during his first year on the job. It’s set in northern Minnesota (so the descriptions of winter are excellent), but the story kind of goes nowhere. I learned later that it’s Horberg’s first novel and it’s semi-autobiographical, so the 89-year-old gets kudos for that.

I also devoured a couple of semi-controversial books over the summer because I’m like that: I like to determine for myself if a book is good (or bad).

I liked both Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Alexander Eben and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Both Eben and Levitt have critics in their professional circles and have been accused of selling out, but I still appreciated the way their books built their arguments and told their stories.

As you can tell from the title, Eben makes an argument for the existence of an afterlife. What person of faith can dislike this? Let’s just say scientists aren’t real thrilled with Eben’s “proof” but I found him compelling. And Levitt, through journalist Stephen J. Dubner, encourages readers to look at widelyheld beliefs in a new way. For example, how much can you trust standardized testing and why did violent crime rates go down in the 90s? Levitt’s answers suggest some teachers cheat and legalized abortion reduced the pool of criminals. Controversial conclusions, yes, but Freakonomics propels these types of arguments in a compelling way.

simpsonYou want compelling? Check out The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. This book convinced me I need to read more works by Toobin. Wow! I seized on it when my sister-in-law passed along her copy because a) I was a news-obsessed newspaper copy editor in the early ’90s (when Simpson killed his ex-wife and was unsuccessfully tried for the murder) and b) I loved FX’s first season of “American Crime Story,” which used Toobin’s book as source material. Absolutely worth reading.

hedgehogI was able to digest all these books pretty quickly, but I also read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery over the summer; it’s a novel few would describe as light reading. It’s more like a treatise on the meaning of life. Set in Paris, it tells the story of an introverted concierge and a preternatural 12-year-old girl who lives in the same building. Amid a beautiful and heartbreaking story, it addresses questions of class, culture and friendship. It’s a thinker.

I’ve got eight books to read by the end of the year in order to achieve my goal. Life is kind of crazy right now, but I’m going to give it my best.