Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday Funnies

There's a song lyric that includes . . . birds do it *
Apparently, cormorants do it too — social distance — although 6 feet may be harder. 
* Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love, also known as "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love) or Let's Do It is a popular 1928 song written by Cole Porter and introduced the same year in Porter's first Broadway musical (From) Broadway to Paris by French songstress Irene Bordoni. Porter wrote the musical as a starring vehicle for her. The play ran for 77 performances.
The song was used in the 1929 English production of Wake Up and Dream. It was the title theme music in the 1933 Hollywood movie, Grand Slam, with Loretta Young and Paul Lukas. The film is not about baseball. In 1960, the song was in the film version of Cole Porter's Can-Can, a star-studded 20th Century Fox Studio's lavish musical that featured Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jourdan and was #2 at the box office that year. The song is featured prominently in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris.

In Porter's 1928 publication, opening lines for the chorus carried three derogatory racial references: Chinks, Japs, and Laps. The original lyric was: Chinks do it, Japs do it,
up in Lapland little Laps do it...

These original lines were heard in several early 1928 recordings of the song by the Dorsey Brothers & their Orchestra (featuring vocal by Bing Crosby), Rudy Vallée, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Billie Holiday also and Peggy Lee (with the Benny Goodman orchestra) recorded a version in 1941. And, again, a 1944 version by singer and well-known Broadway star Mary Martin (with Ray Sinatra's orchestra) included these lyrics. 

The opening was later changed to the less offensive lyrics: Birds do it, bees do it, Even educated fleas do it, Let's do it, let's fall in love.

An online search came up with nearly 40 artists recordings of the song in addition to those above including: Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Della Reese, Nancy Sinatra, Al Hirt, Johnny Hartman, Joan Jett, Diana Ross, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Alanis Morrissette.
And now both you and I know all more about the song's history than before. (You never know when such info could be useful, perhaps in trivia games?)

As if the current pandemic crisis wasn't enough, now more thoughts and prayers to those in Louisiana, Texas and all other places threatened by hurricanes.  Such a pity these rains can't help the state of California in battling disastrous and devastating fires there.
Enjoy Your Weekend, Everyone

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

21st Anniversary Getaway

My recent post about our 21st anniversary (Thanks for all your well wishes) stated that in lieu of our cancelled Canadian rail trail trip, we would be taking getaways both in NH and neighboring New England states, whenever (safely) possible.

There was no better time to start then last week in NH ahen we traveled 90 minutes from Nashua to Wolfeboro, NH, for a 3-day pre-anniversary road trip celebration. 

On an earlier visit last October to America’s oldest summer resort, we toured several local museums — The Wright Museum of WWII, The Libby Museum, and the New Hampshire Boat Museum — all interesting places to revisit one day, not on this getaway. 

We wanted new-to-us experiences that included being outdoors as much as possible without the need to mask-up, and where we could more than adequately social-distance.

So, instead of looking for additional indoor attractions, we opted instead to walk a rail trail and to hike through a nature sanctuary. 
A rainbow on Lake Winnipesaukee, us and The Wolfeboro Inn, our lodgings

We stayed downtown at the Wolfeboro Inn (1812) and didn't have to go far for the rail trail. The 12-mile long Cotton Valley Rail Trail begins at Depot Street in Wolfeboro near
Former Boston & Maine Wolfeboro Station
the picturesque gingerbread train station, which now houses the Chamber of Commerce, and ends at Turntable Park in Wakefield. This is an all season trail that's used in warmer months for walking, running, biking, wildlife viewing and fishing. Colder months activity includes cross country skiing, snow-shoeing and snowmobiling.

The trail links the towns of Wolfeboro, Brookfield, and Wakefield by way of a former railroad right-of-way. It's one of only three trails under state DNCR management (Department of Natural and Cultural Resources) that have intact rails that are used recreationally by local rail car clubs. We didn’t hear (or see) a train on our walk !
Rails along the Cotton Valley Rail Trail

The Cotton Valley Rail Trail has beautiful scenery, especially along two causeways along Lake Wentworth and Crescent Lake. At 3,097 acres, Lake Wentworth is the seventh-largest lake located entirely in NH. The trail goes over trestles, scenic wetlands, beaches, back woods and fields.

Railroad heritage is evident on many sections of the pathway, where cyclists ride narrowly between the track’s standard gauge irons, and cross wooden platforms to get over the old Wolfeboro Railroad track as the path goes on both sides. 

The path undergoes terrain changes including dirt, gravel, on the track, wide, narrow and along the track. It provides walking access to a couple of Wolfeboro museums — the Wright Museum of WWII and the New Hampshire Boat Museum — which can be walked to off the trail. 

We didn't spot any non-human wildlife on our rail trail walk, but there were plenty of wildflowers as evidenced in these images ↓ which include clover, thistle, vetch, ox-eye daisy, sumac and goldenrod. (Admittedly I don't know the names of all, some of these may be incorrect.)
Wildflowers along the Cotton Valley Rail Trail, Wolfeboro, NH

Vintage Boston & Maine, Wolfeboro, NH Station
A brief RR history: In 1872, the Eastern Railroad opened a branch line from Sanbornville to Wolfeboro to transport freight and passengers to Lake Winnipesaukee. The Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) purchased the line in 1892 and ran it until 1936. This line originally reached Dockside where passengers boarded the MV Mount Washington and other boats to go to inns and hotels around the lake. Before the auto was in use, school children rode the train like they ride a school bus now. Wolfeboro had six stations on the seven mile portion that lies within the township. There was a “flag” stop on the Wentworth Causeway. Islanders would leave their boats nearby, flag down the train and ride to town. In 1972, The Wolfeboro Railroad, a group of investors, bought the line to restore freight and passenger service. Freight service never took off, but the train ran as a tourist attraction until finally closing in 1986 after which the state of NH acquired the corridor. 

Our second nature adventure took us to The Loon Center in Moultonborough, NH, a 30-minute drive from Wolfeboro. 
The Loon Center, Moultonborough, NH

The Loon Center is located on the grounds of the 200-acre Frederick and Paula Anna Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough, NH. Built in 1973, it serves as a base for state-wide research, management, and educational activities of the NH Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) created in 1975 in response to a declining loon population.

Loon and chick, photo by Kittie Wilson
What are loons? They are aquatic birds, loons (North America) or divers (UK/Ireland), that are the size of a large duck or small goose and distinguished by a unique call. Males and females have identical plumage, patterned black-and-white in summer; males are usually larger. Loons are excellent swimmers and use their feet to propel themselves above and under water. Their feet are located far back on the body making it difficult to walk on land, which they avoid, except when nesting or injured. 

Because loons are a threatened species, the LPC monitors lakes and ponds. Its efforts include nest site protection, exhibits and presentations, statewide efforts to reduce loon deaths from lead poisoning, and rescues of injured or sick loons.

Did you know? lead poisoning from ingested lead fishing sinkers and lead-headed jigs is the largest cause of adult loon mortality in NH. Since 1989, lead poisoning from lead fishing tackle has accounted for 42% of loon deaths statewide. Lead tackle can no longer be sold or purchased in NH. In 2018, LPC partnered with New Hampshire Fish and Game to conduct a first-in-the-nation lead tackle buyback program to remove lead tackle from active use. It provides a financial incentive to encourage anglers to switch to non-lead tackle. Since 2018, over 14,800 lead sinkers and jigs have been collected and recycled. NH’s loon population has more than tripled in 27 years and The Loon Center is being expanded to allow continuance of this work. 
Markus Wildlife Sanctuary Trail Map

Lucky for us, our visit to The Loon Center came days before the center was closing indefinitely for renovations to provide more work and lab space for biologists and the addition of a field operations center with housing for field biologists and veterinary interns plus maintenance and storage of boats, trailers and field equipment.

The Markus Wildlife Sanctuary consists of upland forests, marshes, ponds, clear-running streams and over 5,000 feet of undeveloped shoreline on Lake Winnipesaukee. It's one of the largest remaining areas of natural shoreline on the lake. The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, including loons. 

Two walking trails wind their way through the Sanctuary and are open year-round from dawn to dusk. We walked both the Loon Nest Trail (1-1/2 mi.) and the Forest Trail (1/4 mi.) during our afternoon visit.

Only foot travel is allowed on the trails— no bikes, horses or motorized vehicles, no hunting, fishing, camping or swimming. The trails were described as country walking with sturdy shoes or boots recommended. We were glad to be wearing trail shoes. Sneakers would have this a difficult and uncomfortable hike. Regretfully, we forgot hiking poles at home. These would have come in handy in many spots (maybe next time).
Rocks and roots on Markus Sanctuary  Trail,

We weren't here early enough to catch sight of the Sanctuary’s nesting loons (late May-early June). We also managed non-sighting of waterfowl, woodland birds, deer, otter, or beaver. The only sightings were animal tracks in some mud flats, and no sightings of moose or bears, probably a very good thing.
Start of Markus Wildlife Sanctuary Loon Nest Trail

The Loon Nest Trail walk started relatively and deceptively easy. It was strewn with wood chips scattered along the path. Also, the start of the trail included a series of wooden walkways which were not connected but dispersed randomly over low-lying areas. 
Boardwalks on Markus Wildlife Sanctuary Loon Nest Trail

Further along the trail, we saw how hiking shoes were needed as the trail progressively became rockier, more root-filled, and somewhat challenging. We had a lot of time alone to experience nature's beauty and solitude. Until we headed back to The Loon Center, we didn't see another hiker(s). Trees along the trail were marked with yellow blazes, with was a good thing even if finding them wasn't always that easy.
Markus Wildlife Sanctuary trail blaze marker

We spotted many granite glacial erratics along the trail and, in some spots saw granite boulders split in half. Glacial erratics are stone and rocks transported by a glacier and left behind when it melted, and so called "Erratics" from Latin errare (to wander). These deposited rocks can differ from sizes and types of rock native to the area. Erratics can be carried for hundreds of miles, ranging in size from small rocks to large boulders. 
Glacial erratics on Markus Wildlife Sanctuary Trail

According to the trail brochure, the sanctuary included various wildflowers and wild blueberries, but the only vegetation we spotted were trees, ferns and moss on large boulders. The trail had numerous stopping resting points with granite benches where we enjoyed views of Lake Winnipesaukee. 
Lake Winnipesaukee viewed from Markus Wildlife Sanctuary Trail

The day we visited was fairly warm. Walking through the sanctuary, then visiting The Loon Center to view a film about loons was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. We were free to walk outdoors without masks and were definitely social-distanced from anyone. 

Not finished with outdoor activities during our stay, we played miniature golf. And, as it was a celebration, we treated ourselves a couple of times. We shared a banana split and an order of the Wolfeboro Tavern Potato Chip Appetizer (house fried chips, melted Swiss and Cheddar cheese, corned beef, Thousand Island dressing) — not both on the same day.
We shared these anniversary treats

A bonus to this road trip was a first time lunch time meet-up, Thursday at the Wolfeboro Inn with fellow blogger Erika (BioArt Girl). It was a great way to end our 21st anniversary celebration (even if we traveled ahead of the actual date).

Our (year-long) celebration will definitely continue with future road trips. We already have a couple of in-state day trips planned.

Friday, August 21, 2020

21 Years on the 21st

Anniversaries are special dates, no matter what year is being celebrated.
But, there's only 31 times when this will occur for some couples — It's happened for us🥂.

Today, August 21, we celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary💜. 
A collage of at-home selfies in Nashua, NH since shutdown
Masked up selfies as well
Originally, we were planning to make this year a very special celebration by combining it (belatedly) with our 20th anniversary. In late January, we booked a rail trip on the Rocky Mountaineer across the Canadian Rockies, which included airline travel to and from Canada. Initial deposit was paid in February with final payment due in June. Our travel was set to start on Sept 17.Then, the virus pandemic erupted and final payment was extended to July as the Canadian border was closed (ironically) until August 21. About the same time, the RM train announced that it was ceasing all 2020 travel operations. 

While offered rail and airline vouchers to reschedule in spring at no additional (higher) costs, we opted to request a full deposit refund (a 3-part process for airlines, insurance and train). Only hitch was that the RM rail company was issuing vouchers for future travel as were the airlines (the flights had not yet been cancelled). However, late last week Canada once again extended the border closing to Sept 21.

As odd as it sounds that extended border closure was the best anniversary gift we could have received. Our flights were cancelled by the airlines, which means we stand a better chance of a full refund vs. future travel vouchers. We're still pursuing the train deposit and insurance refunds through the AAA travel agency.

Just wondering? anyone else have travel plans cancelled and, if so, any alternatives?

While disappointed at our hoped-for travel plans going south nowhere, we have alternate plans. We will be taking some in-state (NH) day trips and longer road trips. This may extend further into other New England states (VT, ME, MA) depending on restrictions. 

Autumn 🍁🍂 in New England is a great time of year to celebrate everything.
Celebrate 🍾 everyday — The best is yet to come !

(The "best is yet to come" is associated with Frank Sinatra, who recorded it on the 1964 album, It Might as Well Be Swing, with Count Basie under the direction of Quincy Jones.)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

More Good Eats at Home

Way back in late May I did an at home food cooking post. Since we've continued to be mostly at home and still cooking, it was past time for an update.

Our windowsill herbs
In Nashua, NH, restaurants re-opened for outdoor dining in May. By July, they could have indoor dining, which is very helpful on rainy days when folks would not be outdoors. Social distance guidelines apply  and servers remain masked outdoors and indoors. Customers mask up when dining or entering and using the facilities. Some local eateries have also added planters with flowers and there's even several trees growing on Main St.

We have supported local restaurants on a weekly basis either for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Prices have been a bit higher because of increased food costs, but that's also been the case when grocery shopping.
Some formerly baked treats

Mostly, we've eating at home with one BIG exception — no baking, zilch, none has been done the past several weeks. This is very different from several months ago when banana bread made weekly (wasn't everyone doing this?) along with artisan bread. Also homemade cinnamon buns (they really were so good). Part of our self-imposed baking ban is part of a joint effort to loss weight. However, sometime in the future, a loaf of fresh bread and homemade pasta may be on the home dining menu.

We gave up on baked goods, but not entirely on pie and that's what's pictured below — this zucchini pie has ingredients of zucchini, eggs, Bisquick, cheese (cheddar and Romano), vegetable oil, salt and pepper and seasonings of your choice. Everything gets mixed together in one bowl. Leftover zucchini pieces were added on top with fresh parsley. This a very easy recipe and we enjoyed it with a side salad for dinner, then with toast for breakfast.

Zucchini pie (oven ready, baked and served)
None of our home meals have been very complicated. Cooking is one thing, but clean-up is less fun, and the easier and quicker the better. One-pan/pot meals are huge favorites. (Did I mention we both dislike cleanup?)
Homemade marinara sauce & zucchini lasagna
We like lasagna, but cutting out bread and pasta meant finding another recipe, and that's where zucchini came in again. Grenville used a mandolin to slice thin planks, which were then salted to remove some of the moisture. Despite this step, the lasagna was still more liquid than when made with past, but still delicious made with homemade marinara sauce.
Clockwise: Pork chili on cauliflower rice, pork chili omelette, shrimp on cauliflower rice & zucchini noodles

Seafood, chicken and pork are served more often than beef in our home. The top two pork meals were pork chili, made from a leftover pork roast with added beans and chopped tomatoes and spices, then served over cauliflower rice. Next to it is a breakfast pork chili frittata. Two shrimp meals were served over cauliflower rice and then over zucchini noodles (called zoodles). We're happy that summer squash is readily available at the Nashua farmers' market and in a grocery store, which sells local produce.
Cauliflower Tots (forks down from us)
Cauliflower has replaced rice for most meals in our dinner menus. It's also an easy side dish when roasted. Homemade roasted cauliflower tots ↑ got 2 forks down from both of us. Tater Tots have nothing to worry about in our opinion.
Homemade basil pesto

Pesto is a classic sauce made from basil, pine nuts, oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. In supermarkets it's usually in either the condiments or sauces section. But, many store-bought ones contain cashews, walnuts and not the traditional (and costly) pine nuts. Pesto is delicious, but very high in fat, when compared to a marinara sauce, made from tomatoes, garlic, onion, and seasonings (oregano, basil and marjoram). On the plus side it has a lot of antioxidants. We use it on cooked vegetables, like (surprise) zucchini but not every day. For watching calories, marinara is better than pesto. Alfredo sauce won't win a health contest, but is a go-to for a creamy addition to a dish.
Veggie egg bake
Veggies, eggs and cheese play a big role in our dinner plans. It's also been a great way to use peppers, onions and zucchini in an egg bake and leftovers means a nite or morning or no cooking needed! 

None of our home meals have been complicated. Simple ones are favorites here. Cooking is one thing, but clean-up is less fun, and the easier and quicker the better. 

This post excludes recipes or links. There's endless variations available online. In some cases, I've combined several recipes.

Sorry if any of these food photos made you hungry.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How They've Grown! 😀

It's been 11 months since the birth of our two great nieces, Autumn Rose and Savannah Marie. These cousins were born last October in NJ, the first grandchildren on both sides of their families.

Admittedly, the girls look alike, which is interesting as their moms, nieces Julie and Jamie are not birth-related. They were adopted as infants from Columbia and Guatemala by my brother and his wife, who last year became grandparents twice in one month.

It's been 3 months since the last post and, as everyone knows, children do grow up so fast. Since we've been unable to visit, their first-time moms have sent photos in the ensuing months and know I like to share.
Autumn Rose is the older by 2 weeks. According to mom Julie she has two teeth, talks a bit and is starting to take steps. She and her parents live in NJ, fortunately near both sets of grandparent who, we've heard, enjoy babysitting rotations.
Her cousin, Savannah Marie, and her parents, Jamie and Mike, lived in NJ until earlier this year when they relocated to FL. 
Both girls went to the beach in recent weeks as shown in these photos.
Both look like very happy babies in the received photos. We're glad to have seen them and their parents during our 2019 post-Christmas road trip. It seems long ago when we see how much they've grown in photos. 

Friday, August 14, 2020


Did you know there's a doll for times when that's exactly what you've wanted to say or have said (and wanted to hit something) ?

OK, some of you may have already known about this, but I hadn't seen or heard one before last week.

How did this pass me by?
Didn't know before, and now I not only know about a Dammit!® Doll, but have my very own. ↓ It was a surprise last week sent from a long-time friend in NJ. She told me she whacked hers against the wall on days when things weren't going well. You know those days we all have now and then, some more often than not lately.

What Are Dammit Dolls?
Here's an excerpt from the company website: Just give us a minute and we’ll tell you . . . Ever been so stressed that you feel a crazy urge to shout and destroy? Been there, done that. Which is why we created a 12-inch doll that can take a whacking! Dammit Dolls’ voodoo charm, fun prints and side-splitting poem quickly make it everybody’s go-to stress management tool. Not to mention it’s saved people tons in damaged property bills and prevented numerous arrests (we’re guessing). 

There’s a caution too: It’s not your typical doll — and it’s not for kids. 

The idea for the dolls was developed in 2010 by Drew Levich, a Wichita native and Los Angeles transplant. Now, they are part of a growing business and have gained popularity with celebrities like Betty White. The company’s website contains a variety of styles — classic, political, sports, cancer, here's a few from the website.
Images from Dammit!® Doll website

According to Levich, I wanted to do something that people would love, a fun product that would make people laugh. The closest distance between two people is a smile and a laugh and that’s what Dammit Dolls are about.

He said that some people thought he was a bit crazy. Your friends think you’re nuts because you started a doll company. 

The dolls are made in China (just so you know) and produced in limited runs with different patterns and hair colors. Years ago, Levich was quoted as saying, Dammit Dolls will never end up in Wal-Mart. We’ll never sell a billion dolls. When someone gives you one . . . it’s a special interaction. We’re keeping our brand unique.

How things have changed since that statement was made; it's not true now. An online search showed the dolls can be purchased at Walmart and online retailers, like Amazon.
Images from Dammit!® Doll website

Several folks commented that they would like to see one of these dolls in the image of someone who shall remain nameless here. Just check out the first one doll in the above collage. Hmmm look like anyone current?

Here's a larger image of the what's sewn on the front of each doll. I'm sharing the DD with Grenville; admittedly, we have hit the wall in jest with no yelling (we have neighbors).
Right now these dolls seem like a good stress reliever for lots of folks worldwide. If they had been USA made, I might have considered some gift recipients myself, but Made in China means not a chance.

Enjoy Your Weekend, Everyone
Cooler temps here. We're going on a drive

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reading and Writing

But, no arithmetic at least not unless you figure the cost of postage. 

These words might be more familiar — readin' and 'riting' and 'rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick — from the 1907 American song, School Days, written by Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards. Its lyrics reflect a couple reminiscing about their primary school childhood. The chorus is the best known part:

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
'Readin' and 'riting and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful, barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate, "I Love You, Joe"
When we were a couple o' kids

As often, I digress since this post is not about school or an old-time song, but about a current upswing in what's popularly called snail-mail correspondence or good old-fashioned letter writing. 

This rather very long post is about two things that myself and many others have been doing more or a lot of during the coronavirus pandemic — writing and reading.

Writing in the form of posted📮📬 letters, cards and notes preceding emails, texts, and for years the traditional way that many communicated, is once again in style. 

Reading is what I've been doing these past few many months in shutdown and isolation mode along with a lot of other folks. I've read more books than included here, but haven't posted about good (or bad) reads in recent months. So this is a catch-up post.

Traditionally and historically, people wrote letters and postcards all the time, granted there was no other way to connect with distant friends and family. Years ago, folks sent letters, travel postcards, and holiday cards (posted not e-cards). Remember when fountain pens were more prevalent than ball points? I had a Waterman pen that refilled from an ink jar. OK, I'm not dating myself; an online search showed these are available.

For many, the process of sitting down to write a letter or card, address it, then post it reflects an old-fashioned kind of caring that can travel far and simulate a hug. True, it's not exactly the same, but mail is a powerful link that connects people and communities separated now where contact and travel are not possible. 

Personal correspondence isn't just a form of communication, but often people to say more in a format where they can share things they can't in a text or email.

Many have remarked about the “lost art of letter writing” even back to the ancient world when the Roman statesman Cicero complained that no one wrote letters anymore. A frequent and well-worn excuse, people have given for not writing letters is, “I don’t have time.

That's one thing a great many of us have had time for in recent months. Think of a letter as a way to express not only how you feel not only about the current pandemic crisis, but about daily life other things too. A personal note can raise someone's spirits, and remind them they're being thought about. Another benefit is that unlike a social media post, it won't ensnare you in a backlash of online comments and possible reproach. 

In mid-March, AN Post, Ireland’s national service, announced it was giving every household 2 free postcards to write personal messages to post to family and friends across the country encouraging them to stay in touch as people became socially isolated. Suggestions from the CEO of An Post: Write to your grandparents or older relatives and friends who are self-isolating; write to someone who is living alone or could do with a boost. 

The post service created 5 million postcards for the campaign and delivered them to 1.8 million households countrywide. Extra sets were available for pickup at local post offices. Despite a searchI didn't find online statistics on the success (or not) of this campaign.

In SD, 11-year Emerson Weber admitted to a serious letter writing habit of regularly exchanging letters with friends, decorating envelopes with art. During the pandemic, she wrote to her local postman: I wanted to thank you for taking my letters and delivering them, you are very important...I make people happy with my letters, but you do too.”

The postman showed the letter to a supervisor, who wrote to thank Emerson and shared the story in a regional USPS newsletter. Later, two boxes of letters were delivered to Emerson from mail workers countrywide who said, They were told me about their families, where they work and what their job was in the postal service.

An NPR reporter after finding 10 leftover holiday stamps tweeted: Today I am going to write letters to send through the post ... Direct message me your snail mail address if you want a random letter. But, I only have 10 stamps.

Quickly, those 10 stamps ran out. She restocked and, when finished sending a paper letter to anyone requesting one, had written 50 letters addressed to almost every state. When writing, people mentioned hobbies, kids, pets, and told how they're spending their time.  Most asked if it was too late to request a letter; some requests were from friends as well.

The reporter said that many letter writers included hopes for what will come after this crisis, and that the slower pace and attention paid to each other will continue.

Are you a letter ✉️ writer — have you been sending more in recent months?

As for myself, letter writing plus sending cards, letters, notes and holiday cards isn't a new thing. Years ago, I had numerous pen pals, all living outside the US — Malaysia, the Netherlands, France, UK, Turkey, Ireland. This was during my high school days when letters were written longhand and posted. There wasn't another way to correspond; postal costs were significantly less too (sigh). While I'm no longer in contact with those early pen pals, I still enjoy regular snail-mail correspondence with several people in the states, UK and Canada, including fellow bloggers.

If you're interested in exchanging some snail-mail correspondence, contact me at my blog email.

Now my second post topic — Reading 📖 which I've been doing with borrows of e-books from the local library. While a printed book is wonderful, the building was shutdown from March to early July, but the online catalog was available. Curbside pickup of printed books, magazines, movies, and other items were also available as well. Since reopening, there are so many restrictions that I've continued reading e-books. It's easier to search online as users can't browse book stacks now.

Since January, my book total has climbed to about 35 book, which includes a couple that were started but unfinished. Favorites have included a number of historical fiction works.

The Fallen ArchitectThe Paris Architect, and House of Thieves (Charles Belfoure) are fiction novels written by an architect specializing in historic preservation. 

Two historical fiction novels by Heather Terrell who writes as Marie Benedict: The Only Woman in the Room is about Hedy Lamaar, who was not only a beautiful actress, but also an inventor and scientist. She was one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on the silver screen, and also designed a secret weapon against Nazi Germany. Lamaar also developed a radio communication device later used by the US Navy. This story provides an insight into a woman who not only possessed great beauty, but a great intellect too. Her contributions are in use today.

Carnegie's Maid is a fictional story about how a housemaid could have spurred Andrew Carnegie's transformation from industrialist to philanthropist. Clara Kelly is an immigrant housekeeper who arrives in Pittsburgh and ends up serving the Carnegie's  one of the city’s most famous families. The storyline is fiction and deals with an unexpected romance, immigrants, and the line between servants and the upper class.

The Last Days of Night (Graham Moore) is historical fiction about the feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the late 1800s and the battle to electrify America; one in which Nikola Tesla was also involved. The storyline includes many fascinating real-life characters even though it's a work of fiction. The battle between the two inventors and innovators was a very interesting read. (Author Moore is also the Academy award screenwriter of The Imitation Game.)

The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead) is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel based on the real story of the a state-run Florida reform school that was a house-of-horrors during its 111 years in operation. This was on my e-book wish list for a while. When it became available I downloaded and read it within a day. It was a heartbreaking story of abuse and death. (Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize award made him the fourth writer in history to have won the prize for fiction twice.)

The Splendid and the Vile (Erik Larson) presents an intimate chronicle of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz. Other Larson favorites I've read include The Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, and Thunderstruck. Larson's books are based on historical events and, while lengthy, were well worth the read. If you enjoy a narrative based on actual historical events, then Larson might be an author for you to check out.

Sold on a Monday (Kristina McMorris) is about the effects on children of the Depression. It was inspired by an actual newspaper photograph of a 1931 sign about children for sale on a farmhouse porch. I also enjoyed The Edge of Lost by McMorris, a fictional tale of immigrants and second chances. I plan to read future books by McMorris.

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) is a 2018 novel which has sold more print copies in 2019 than any other fiction or non-fiction title. The debut novel by Owens, a wildlife and nature writer, follows two timelines that intertwine; one is the life and adventures of Kya, a girl who grows up in an isolated NC marsh. The second is about the death of popular Chase Andrews. The story is about a young girl's coming-of-age, a murder mystery and celebration of nature and coastal life. Once started, I found it a compulsive read. 

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders) took some time to get into, but was worth the read. The novel takes place during and after the death of Abraham Lincoln's son William "Willie" Wallace Lincoln and deals with the president's grief at his loss. The bulk of the novel, which takes place over the course of a single evening, is set in the bardo, an intermediate space between life and rebirth. The novel was said to have been inspired by a story that Saunders heard about how Lincoln visited his son's crypt on several occasions to hold the body, a story that seems to have been verified by newspaper accounts at the time. I was tempted to not finish, but glad to have done so.

The previous books have not been part of a series. These recent reads are the first 3 of what's now a 12-book series a by UK author: The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone, The House at Sea's End. Domenica de Rosa writes as Elly Griffiths in this series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk County and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. It's mystery with a bit of history too. Thanks to fellow blogger Barbara (Coastal Ripples) who started me on this series and now there's 9 more to complete. Hopefully, I'll get them done before a 13th is released.

Along with books I really enjoyed, here's two that I completely disliked despite their generally well-received reviews. These were best sellers, enjoyed by many, just not me.

Normal People (Sally Rooney) became a best seller in the U.S.The novel is about the complex friendship and relationship between two teenagers, Connell and Marianne, who both attend the same secondary school in County Sligo and Trinity College Dublin. He's popular, she's not but then the tables turn years later. I confess to not finishing. Life is too short to continue reading a book in which the main characters become tiresome as these did for me.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) focuses on a 29-year-old woman, a social misfit with a traumatic past who becomes enamored with a singer she thinks she's destined to be with and spend her weekends drinking vodka. It deals with multiple themes including isolation, loneliness, trauma and loneliness, and depicts Eleanor's transformation journey. I did finish, but for me Eleanor was not fine at the end. 

Have you been reading more? If so, feel free to comment with recommendations too. And, do include those you regret having started as well!

Another way we've been self-isolating is binge-watching . . . details in a future post.