Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.

Autumn has truly arrived as we started the week with above average temperatures and are ending the week with below average temperatures.  Right in the middle of it all, we had some rain.  The colors seem to have brightened up since the rain and it is glorious!

Here's what I have been up to this week:

Seeing ~ 
The beautiful, brilliant colors of fall - oranges, reds, yellows and so many shades of brown from russet to cinnamon to burnt sienna to chestnut.

Smelling ~ 
Smoke from a wood fire.  
Pumpkin pie spice.

In the kitchen ~  
Pork Chops with Sauerkraut and Apples
Pumpkin muffins

What I read ~

'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery, #2)

Currently reading ~

Unleashed (Kate Turner, DVM #2)

I also started Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan.  It just wasn't grabbing me, so I put it aside for now.

Watching ~
We are still watching NYPD Blue, but one evening it just wouldn't play.  So we ended up watching La Brea.  It was intense, but it hooked me right away. 

What have you been up to this week? I hope it's been a good one!
~ Gretchen


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Book Review: 'Twas the Knife Before Christmas by Jacqueline Frost

'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery, #2)'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2). Jacqueline Frost. Crooked Lane Books (2018). 309 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "'Less than two weeks until Christmas - can you believe it?' I asked my friends Cookie and Caroline before sinking my teeth into another bite of creamy vanilla cupcake therapy."

Summary:  Holly White is looking forward to her second Christmas back home in Mistletoe, Maine.  Christmas is a big deal in Mistletoe and especially at her parents' Christmas Tree Farm.  The Farm hosts all kinds of fun events leading up to the big day.  To get the Christmas season underway, the town hosts a Tree Lighting Ceremony at the downtown square.  Holly and her friends are attending and all is going well until a man is found dead near the big tree.  To make matters worse, the dead man was her best friend Caroline's date last night.  She was the last one to see him alive and is the prime suspect.  Holly knows her friend didn't commit the murder, but will she be able to convince Sheriff Gray before it is too late?

My thoughts:  If you are looking for a book to get you in the Christmas spirit, this one will certainly help.  Just look at that cover!  The Christmas Tree Farm, Reindeer Games, is all about Christmas.  From the fun activities - the blind sled challenge, Reindeer Bingo and the Christmas Ball, to the delicious baked treats and the charming decor, you can hardly turn a page without being reminded of the season.  

There is a lot to like about the characters as well.  Holly has returned home after a messy breakup with her fiancee.  She lives in the guest house of her parents' tree farm and has a close relationship with them.  She has a large heart and tries to see the best in most people.  I love the relationship her parents have with one another as well.  Holly dreams of someday having a relationship like theirs.  Her best friend Caroline, friend of the family Cookie, and new friend Ray all add to the fun of the book.  Holly is confused about her relationship with Sheriff Gray.  But she gets some answers in the course of the story.  There are some fun, new characters introduced as well and I hope we will see more of them in future books.

The mystery interesting and the suspects believable.  There were several people who had motive. I would be sure it was one person and then a few pages later sure it wasn't that person.  This made for a fun and suspenseful read.  The way the criminal was caught was exciting and a little magical.  All of the stories wrap up in the end which makes for a satisfying read.  

I am looking forward to reading the next book in the Christmas Tree Farm Series.  

Monday, October 18, 2021

Book Review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Diary of a Young NaturalistDiary of a Young Naturalist. Dara McAnulty. Little Toller Books (2020). 224 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction.

First Line:  "In the darkness my dreams are interrupted."

Summary:  Following the seasons, Dara McAnulty chronicles a year in his life.  He is a young man, fourteen years old, who lives with his mum, dad, brother and sister in Northern Ireland.  Dara is also autistic.  His diary tells of his family life, the time he spends in nature, and the way he processes the world.  

My thoughts:  From the beginning, I could tell that Dara was a young man who has read and been read to.  His writing is beautiful and lyrical.  

Dara comes from a family of people with Autism.  His mother, brother and sister are all autistic.  The good news is that because his mother is autistic, she knows exactly what is going on inside the kids.  She is able to prepare them for whatever is coming their way and often does.  I was amazed at the insight Dara has in regards to his mother and how she is feeling and that he even noticed.  They have a wonderful, intentional home life and I loved hearing about it.  

One of the ways the family spends their time is by being outside in nature.  This has created a love for the natural world in Dara.  He says this about himself:

"I have the heart of a naturalist, the head of a would-be scientist, and bones of someone who is already wearied by the apathy and destruction wielded against the natural world."

His connection to the natural world helps him make sense of the world.  He says that he doesn't always understand people, but the natural world always makes sense and gives him a feeling of peace. 

This was a fascinating, well-written book that allowed me to visit Northern Ireland, learn something about how someone with Autism processes the world and gain a deeper appreciation for the natural world.  


"Whether it's bioluminescence or the combustion of methane, it's wonderful to let the mind wander off with banshees and will-o'-the-wisps - folklore and stories are so often inspired by the strange and beautiful in the natural world, and all these stories bring nature, deeply, into our imagination."

"I do love these stories [Celtic Mythology].  They enrich my life as a young naturalist.  Science, yes, always science.  But we need these lost connections, they feed our imagination, bring wild characters to life, and remind us that we're not separate from nature but part of it."

"Noticing nature is the start of it all.  Slowing down to listen, to watch.  Taking the time, despite mountains of homework.  Making a space in time to stop and stare, as the Welsh poet W. H. Davies wrote in 'Leisure':

    What is life if full of care,

    We have no time to stop and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs

    And stare as long as sheep and cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,

    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

I don't see it as 'leisure though.  This is good work.  Heart work. Taking the time to observe nature, to immerse oneself in its patterns, structures, happenings and rhythms.  It's how mathematicians and scientists are nurtured."

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Horsetooth Mountain & Our Road Trip


My husband and I recently returned from a nine day road trip from Wisconsin to Utah and back again.  We went to visit our youngest son who lives in the Ogden area.  The weather was great for driving both ways. Unfortunately, the weather in Ogden was not ideal.  It rained for three straight days!  They have had a dry summer, so it was needed.  We had a good visit with our son, but didn't get to see much of Ogden.  On the way out to Utah, we spent a few days in Fort Collins, CO and were able to hike at Horsetooth Mountain.

Horsetooth Mountain is a mountain summit in the foothills of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 7,259-foot peak is located in the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, 7.0 miles west of downtown Fort Collins in Larimer County, Colorado, United States. Wikipedia

Knowing the water from the Poudre River was inconsistent, sometimes providing too much and at other times not enough, Horsetooth Reservoir was developed to solve the problem. The reservoir acquired its name from the unique rock formation that sits above the large body of water.

There is an old Native American legend regarding this famous stone. The Valley of Contentment (today’s Horsetooth Reservoir) was once guarded by a giant so that no buffalo, deer, or antelope were hunted in the valley. Chief Maunamoku led Indians to slay the giant. In killing the giant, the Chief slashed at his heart, first in the center, then on the right and then on the left with a tomahawk from the heavens. The next day the giant turned to stone and is now known as Horsetooth Rock.

We hiked a 6 mile loop that passed by a waterfall.  Unfortunately, there was no water right now, so no waterfall. But the scenery was beautiful.

If you look carefully, you can see the path we hiked.

This is from the highest point of the hike, looking toward the reservoir.

The rock formations were amazing, as were the views.  Of course, the pictures don't do it justice.  I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of the Rocky Mountains.

~ Gretchen

Saturday, October 16, 2021

All Around the Blogosphere Tag

I've been tagged!  Kathy at katiescottagebooks tagged me for the All Around the Blogosphere Tag.  The Tag came from Jana's blog:

1.  What's your favorite book or book series and why?

I can't choose just one book or series as my favorite, but here are some series I have been enjoying:

The Seaside Cafe Mystery series by Bree Baker 

The Bronte Sisters Mystery series by Bella Ellis

The Amara Alvarez series by Tom Threadgill

The Commissario Brunetti series by Donna Leon

2.  Who is your favorite author?

Again, I can't choose just one, but here are a few authors that I always enjoy:

Robert Whitlow

Vanetta Chapman

C.S. Lewis

Bree Baker/Julianne Lindsey/Jacqueline Frost

3. What is your favorite food?

I think I have a hard time choosing favorites 🙂.  Pizza would be near the top.  Chips and salsa, chips with melted cheese, anything with melted cheese.  Toast with peanut butter.

4. What gives you inspiration for your books?

This might be intended for writers, but I am going to interpret it as what are some things you look for in a good book.  I love books that take me somewhere I have never been and might not ever go.  I also loves books that take place somewhere I am familiar with.  I love books that teach me something in the context of a good story.  I love characters that are flawed, but growing.  I also love quirky characters.  And, of course, I love a good mystery.

5. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Near my sons and their families.

6. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?


7. If you had a warning label, what would yours say?

Caution - May become grumpy in the early morning or late evening.

That's the end of the tag.  Thanks, Kathy!

~ Gretchen

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Book Review: The Gentlewoman's Choice by George MacDonald

The Gentlewoman's ChoiceThe Gentlewoman's Choice. George MacDonald. Bethany House (1987) (First published 1882). 220 pages.  Genre:  Classic.

First Line: "It was a gray, windy noon in early autumn - certainly not the sort of day one would choose for a holiday."

Summary:  Hester Raymount is a young woman who desires to serve God by serving the poor.  Unfortunately doing so is not as easy as it would seem.  Some look down upon her for spending time with the poor, while others feel she is putting her life in danger by exposing herself to smallpox and other illnesses.  When her wayward older brother disappears and her younger brother is ill, Hester is called on to show compassion to those nearest to her. 

My thoughts:  George MacDonald's writing can be difficult to read at times.  It can be wordy and he often sermonizes, but persisting is very rewarding.  George MacDonald's way of seeing the world is illuminating.  He has a way of getting to the heart of a character's motivations that causes the reader to pause and reflect. 

In this story we have Hester, who is a good person that desires to follow God.  We have her older brother, who is a Prodigal Son character.  Her youngest brother is still quite young, but follows God with a childlike enthusiasm.  Her mother doesn't like conflict and tries to protect her children.  Her father is distant and feared by his children.  Hester's fiancee is a shallow man, but Hester believes he will become deeper.  Each of these characters changes and grows in profound ways throughout the story.

One of the major themes in this book is letting God use you right where you are.  Hester exemplifies this when she uses her ability to play music to encourage others.  She doesn't feel like that is doing anything, but finds that it is often just what is needed.  

This isn't an easy read.  I often found myself re-reading passages because I got lost and forgot what he was talking about.  I also had to stop and think about a passage at times.  But, this is a book that will hang around in my mind for some time to come. 


"A home where children are humored and scolded and coaxed and punished instead of being taught obedience is like a moral slaughterhouse instead of the training ground it was meant to be.  So-called 'Christian homes' can be the worst of all in this regard."

"The truth is when a man cares for nothing that is worth caring for, the fault must indeed lie within himself - in the character the man has made, and is making, out of the nature God has given him."

"She was perhaps the only one able to love him fully, for the mother's heart more than any other God has made is similar to his in the power of loving."

"The only way to learn the rules of anything practical is to begin to do the thing."

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Book Review: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax, #1)The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax #1). Dorothy Gilman. Random House (1983) (First Published 1966). 204 pages.  Genre:  Mystery.

First Line:  "The nurse walked out of the room, closing the door behind her, and Mrs. Pollifax looked at the doctor and he in turn looked at her."

Summary:  Mrs. Pollifax, a widow with grown children, is feeling useless.  She realizes she detests all the volunteer work she does.  When her doctor encourages her to do something she has always wanted to do, she decides to visit CIA headquarters.  The thing she has always wanted to do is become a spy.  Of course, one doesn't just walk into CIA Headquarters and become a spy.  However, in a case of being in the right place at the right time, Mrs. Pollifax is drafted into the CIA as a courier.  When Mr. Carstairs sees her, he knows she would make the perfect tourist.  Mrs. Pollifax is eager to take on her assignment and is sent to Mexico City.  All she has to do is go into a bookstore on a certain day at a certain time and say a certain thing.  The rest of the time, she is to explore Mexico City to her heart's content.  As often happens, things don't go smoothly and Mrs. Pollifax is taken captive.  Will Carstairs be able to rescue her before it's too late?

My thoughts:  What a fun read this was!  Mrs. Pollifax is kind, witty, astute and eager to do whatever is necessary in the life of a spy.  She is also a hoot! Because of her age, she can get away with things others wouldn't be allowed to.  She makes friends wherever she goes because she is truly interested in other people's lives.  

There is a lot of spy thriller-type action as Mrs. Pollifax and her cohorts attempt to save their lives.  It was a great story with lots of action.  Along the way Mrs. Pollifax meets several interesting people and many who she would like to meet again in different circumstances.  

While the premise of an older woman being recruited to the CIA and falling into these circumstances is a bit unlikely, the story itself is solid.  It is full of real danger and real difficulties.  Mrs. Pollifax doesn't just breeze through the circumstances, she suffers and loses hope.  But as she perseveres, she also becomes a stronger person. She forms real friendships with the people she finds herself in the circumstances with and they help and encourage one another.  

I am glad to see there are several more in this series.  I wasn't ready to let Mrs. Pollifax go yet.  If you have yet to meet her, I urge you to pick up this first novel in the series.