Coronavirus Diary: May 1, 2022

May 1, 2022

For the first time since he was born, my 13-month-old grandson came to Florida. My son and daughter-in-law haven’t visited since pre-pandemic, so at least two years now. Then, while they were here, a trump appointed federal judge in Florida lifted the mask mandate for public transportation, including planes. All the major airlines immediately dropped their mask requirements, and at least one airport in South Florida, the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, also immediately dropped their mask requirements. That is the airport they were flying out of to head home, on a JetBlue flight that now was not requiring masks.

If it was just the two of them, two adults, they could wear their masks and feel fairly safe flying home. But they have this beautiful baby who is too young to be vaccinated or wear a mask. Sitting on an airplane full of unmasked people was a very scary thought for his safety. After briefly kicking around the idea of driving home instead, they reluctantly decided to fly and hope for the best. So far, it appears that their luck held. They made it home and everyone remains healthy.

But now the concern is this: do they dare fly anywhere again with their unprotected baby? Do they wait until a vaccine is available for him? Do they just plan trips where they can drive instead of fly? Or just throw caution to the winds and hope for the best? I’m sure they are not alone in their fears, but does that make it easier? Then this showed up on Twitter:

Celebrate that an unprotected baby might get sick from some unmasked passenger? Seriously?? I can’t even.

Jeep Beach

Since 2014, my husband and I have driven three and a half hours up to Daytona Beach for Jeep Beach. It’s a gathering of “Jeepers”, thousands of people who own and love Jeeps. They come from all over the country and Canada. We’ve even seen license plates from Alaska! They have these gathering all over the country, but this is the only one we’ve ever attended.

Daytona Beach is an old Florida city mostly famous for the Daytona Speedway, which is where the event is held. Jeeps take over the city and it’s always a lot of fun. It happens every April, although it was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. There are a tons of vendors selling everything Jeep related, from t-shirts to bumpers to stereos and well, more stuff than I can even name. The people who go are sort of divided into those that use their Jeeps as their primary cars, as my husband does, and those that are into off-roading. There are tracks set up and people attempt to drive their Jeeps over giant mounds of dirt, rock, etc. It’s fun to watch for sure, but every year we see at least one Jeep sustain serious damage.

Daytona is also famous for its beaches, where the sand is hard enough and wide enough to drive on during low tides. Weather permitting, there is a Jeep Parade on the beach Sunday morning. Jeeps as far as the eyes can see – and I swear, you don’t see two Jeeps alike. Jeepers love to customize their Jeeps, from wheels to tops to paint jobs to everything else. And driving so close to the ocean is pretty magical!

Book News

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Coronavirus Diary: April 1, 2022

April 1, 2022

Is Covid gone? Not really, but it’s definitely much, much better. There are new variants popping up: The W.H.O. says the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is driving most cases around the world, but supposedly it isn’t going to cause much trouble. I like how the New York Times charts the pandemic: Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count. I really like that they have made their pandemic coverage free for everyone, instead of putting it behind a paywall; this is what journalism at its best looks like.

Covid deaths in Florida now over 73,000 as of 3/31/2022

I’m a librarian at a small, private university and as of March 28, masks are only required in the Health Center, nowhere else on campus. I work from home two days a week, and the days I am on campus I tend to stay in my office as much as possible.

We went to Costco the other day and didn’t wear masks for the first time. We went at dinner time when the store is the least busy (not that it’s ever really quiet there!) but we kept away from people and felt fairly safe.

My husband and I are vulnerable, and I figure it can’t hurt so why take chances. I’m hoping that I will be more comfortable going without a mask soon. Now that we are eligible for a fourth shot, AKA second booster, once that is in the rear view maybe I’ll be able to relax for a while? I’m not rushing to get it though, but will soon.

We also did something we haven’t done for two years, almost to the day. In March of 2020, we and a group of friends attended a Swank Farm Dinner right before everything shut down due to Covid. Well, I was thrilled to be able to do so again this year! It’s all outdoors and that helped us feel safe. It was so much fun to just hang out with good friends – it felt so normal when I haven’t felt that way in so long.

Living in Florida is becoming more and more problematic. I don’t trust our governor and his state surgeon general. Our local newspaper, The Sun Sentinel, ran this editorial earlier this year: Joseph Ladapo and his contrived evasiveness must go. They are both anti-science and act like children, thumbing their noses at the CDC. In fact, the governor’s policy is to do the opposite of whatever the CDC recommends. It’s maddening and frightening and illogical. It is his base that is unvaccinated and dying.

Meanwhile, the governor’s priority is in rousing his base as he readies himself to run for president. That is not reassuring to me, to say the least. He is all about banning books, banning abortion rights, making sure our children remain ignorant and uneducated, and is hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, among others. He has his own Brownshirts, AKA the Election Police, poised and ready to intimidate voters, and you can guess the types of voters they will be intimidating. It’s all just unimaginable to me, to be living in a society like this. And even more disheartening, polls show Biden and Trump virtually tied in the next election. The only saving grace is that it is still a couple of years off. I can’t imagine what life will be like in America if Trump, or one of his disciples (like Gov. DeSatan,) gets into office. It may be April 1, but this is no joke – it is my worst nightmare.

I can’t help but wonder how much longer I will live in Florida. I love my life here – I love my job and my co-workers and my friends. But sea levels are rising – hello, climate change! My husband, who has two degrees in oceanography and marine science, fears we will be under water sooner rather than later, even though we are about 14 miles inland from the coast. Not to mention the political climate, which is becoming untenable for me. But I do love the weather here and truly hate the cold. I am uncomfortably cold when it drops below 70!

I grew up in New York but moved to Florida when I was 17 years old and went to the University of Miami. That was the year it snowed in Miami! When I lived in New York, I had terrible bouts of strep throat and bronchitis, year after year, not to mention terrible allergies. I still have allergies, but they are much milder, and haven’t had a strep throat or bronchitis since I moved down here. But my grandchild is in NY, so if I have to move, it will be somewhere a lot closer to my family there. Not sure when that will be, but eventually. Maybe. Who knows!

Book News

A Scientific Explanation for Your Urge to Sniff Old Books: Jude Stewart Breaks Down the Chemical Reactions Behind Olfactory Bibliomania (yes, I do that!)

The fantasy author Brandon Sanderson set out to raise $1 million on Kickstarter* in 30 days to self-publish four new books. He reached the goal in about 35 minutes — and has now topped $37 million.

How fiction and poetry can help you navigate a loved one’s dementia* Caretaking is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs anyone can do. Maybe this will offer a bit of relief.

The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past Fifty Years* from the New York Times, some real gems on there!

Library Insanity

They’re burning books in Tennessee

Schools nationwide are quietly removing books from their libraries*: Meet the librarians fighting bans and scrambling to preserve children’s freedom to read

Texas Library Association Forms Coalition to Battle Book Bans: The move comes as efforts to ban books, primarily books involving race or LGBTQ issue, have increased dramatically.

Idaho Republicans push bill that would fine and jail librarians for certain books. The bill, which has passed the House, would come with a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail. And my favorite part: they’re not saying which books.

Publishing Giants Are Fighting Libraries on E-Books: The Association of American Publishers filed suit to block a new Maryland law that aims to increase public libraries’ access to e-books, with support from a powerful copyright lobbying group. If you’re wondering why you have to wait three months or more to borrow a new bestseller for your Kindle, here’s why.

And finally, some good library news!

What’s Cooking

Since Pi Day, 3.14 (March 14,) fell on a Monday and it was the first day back to school after spring break, it seemed like a good day for pi. Pie, that is. Did you know that cheesecake is actually pie? And that Boston Cream Pie is actually cake? Librarians; we do the deep dive for you!

A few of my colleagues and I made pies for our student workers and staff. I made the pumpkin using a recipe based on a Paula Deen recipe that I tweaked. I upped the spices, used some brown sugar, and ditched her idea of buying pie crust for a ginger snap crust instead.

1 (8 oz) package softened cream cheese (I leave it out overnight)
1 can pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk (or 2%)
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups Ginger Snap crumbs (Trader Joes preferred!)
6 T. butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown or white sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Easiest way to make the ginger snap crumps is to dump a little more than 1 1/2 cups of broken ginger snaps into the food processor and pulse until finely ground. Measure out 1 1/2 cups and remove the rest (great on ice cream or sprinkle on top of the pie.) Put the crumbs back in the food processor and add sugar and melted butter. Pulse until like wet sand. Press into deep 9” pie plate and bake for 8-10 minutes. It should barely be brown around the edges. Let cool while making pie filling.

Turn down the oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium high until fluffy. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined with no white streaks are left. Add the sugar and salt, and beat to combine. Add the egg with the yolks, heavy cream, milk, and melted butter, and beat on low until well mixed. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and beat just to combine.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is set. Check it after 30 minutes and cover the pie crust if it is getting too dark. (I use this: Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate when cool. (If you look carefully at the picture, you can see that I forgot to use the deep dish pie pan when I made this, so I had extra pie filling leftover. Don’t be me!)

In exciting news from my world, my grandson recently celebrated his first birthday, and he is learning Spanish as well as English!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Coronavirus Diary: March 1, 2022

March 1, 2022

The news from Ukraine is just heartbreaking. My grandmother was from Kyiv, although I grew up being told she was from Russia. Turns out she was born in the “Russian Empire” in the city of Kyiv in the Ukraine. Her parents were killed and she was sent to America as an infant to live with an aunt and uncle in upstate New York. That was around the turn of the last century. And here we are again, the Jewish president with a target on his back and the country invaded by another madman.

Here’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine* via the Washington Post. I donated to World Central Kitchen, Chef Jose Andres’s foundation. He is already there, feeding the refugees and anyone else who is hungry.

With all the wars the US has been involved with in my lifetime, somehow what is happening in Ukraine feels different, even though American lives are not on the front lines. In 1990, I purchased a book called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The review is buried deep on my blog, so I’m adding it here. It is one of the seminal works of the Vietnam War. Interestingly, O’Brien won the National Book Award for Going After Cacciato (another excellent book) but not this one which has become a classic. Why am I bringing this up? Yesterday, I saw that title in the New York Times in reference to this article about Ukrainians fleeing their country: The One Item They Had to Take When These 6 Afghans Fled*

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien: I bought this book in 1990, read the first few chapters/stories and then came to “On the Rainy River.” It upset me so much that I put the book down and didn’t pick it back up again for sixteen years.

I don’t think most people would pick that particular story as the most upsetting, or the hardest to read, because it’s not about the horrors of Vietnam. Instead, it’s about the horrors of a young man getting his draft notice, and as that was a much more personal recollection for me, it packed an enormous emotional wallop. For me.

“I was a coward. I went to the war.”

I’m sure others had a much harder time with “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, about a soldier who smuggles his girlfriend in from the states and what happens to her during her stay there, or with “The Man I Killed” with a grenade or with “The Ghost Soldiers.”

This book is a novel, a memoir, a collection of stories, a series of vignettes, the seminal work of fiction on the Vietnam War – take your pick, it’s all of these and more. The title page emphatically states that it is fiction, and indeed, there is even a chapter/story entitled “How to Tell a True War Story”, yet it is also dedicated to men with the same names as the characters in the book, and there is even a character named “Tim O’Brien”. But as O’Brien points out, the truth is a slippery thing, and if calling it fiction works best for the author, especially in light of the recent brouhaha over creative nonfiction writing, I certainly won’t argue the point.

Several of the chapters were previously published as short stories, including the title piece, “The Things they Carried”, an amazing piece of writing either on its own or as the opening to a novel. O’Brien lists the physical items that men carried with them in Vietnam, from the mundane like canteens and a toothbrush, to the war necessities of “…the three standard weapons – the M-60, M-16, and M-79 – they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.” They carried good luck charms, a rabbit’s foot, a pebble sent from a girl back home. They carried diseases, and “…all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing.”

The stories are often tellings and retellings of the same event from different perspectives, again proving how difficult it is to nail down the truth. They flow, never moving linearly but rather back and forth through time, before the war, during the war, and homecoming. All in all, a very emotional read for me and I’m very glad I finally finished it. The first half or so of the title story is available on Google Books if you want to take a look.

“But this too is true: stories can save us.”

04/06; updated 03/22 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

It is starting to feel like life is getting back to somewhat normal, or a new normal, at least. As of Feb. 25, the CDC has updated its Covid-19 guidelines. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the COVID-19 Community Level is low, all restrictions have pretty much been lifted. You can check your Community Level by entering your state and county on the online form here: As of yesterday, where I live the level is “Medium” which means masks are not really needed unless you are high risk. That said, I’m not quite ready to stop wearing a mask in busy public indoor spaces, but I am definitely in the minority.

I think most people are just sick of it all – sick of wearing a mask, of isolating, of this whole damn pandemic. And I get that. But I still have some fears, especially concerning my husband and his health issues, and my too-young-to-be-vaccinated grandson, so wearing a mask makes me feel a tiny bit safer so that’s what I’m doing. For now. If my community level drops to “low,” I will probably retire my masks. As far as flying goes, that is up in the air (sorry!) The federal mask mandate is set to end soon, but whether it will be extended is unknown at this time.

Despite updated COVID-19 mask guidance announced Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lifting of mask mandates across the country, the federal mask mandate covering planes, airports, trains and other public transportation is in effect until at least March 18.

What’s Cooking

I may be late to the party but I decided to try the viral recipe for Pasta Chips from TikTok, where all viral recipes come from now.


#pastachips are my new favorite chips! They’re so good and make the best appetizer! #pastatiktok #summertime

♬ Music Food (Director Cut Mix) – Chad

I know that when I make baked pasta, like baked ziti or lasagna, my favorite bites are of the crispy pasta on the top, so this sounded interesting to me. I made some soup the other night and had some leftover “pasta ribbons” so I decided to give it a try. I accidentally bought these instead of egg noodles – they look like egg noodles but they don’t have eggs in them, so Publix calls them “pasta ribbons.” I tossed them with a bit of olive oil. I decided to go with a “cacio e pepe” flavoring, so I grated some Romano cheese, coarsely ground some black pepper, and tossed it all together. I threw it in a single layer in the air fryer, and voila! Pasta chips.

It took about 10 minutes or so in the air fryer, and since I already had the cooked pasta, only another minute to grate everything and mix it up, so it was pretty easy to make. Most people serve these with some kind of dipping sauce like marinara sauce, and a feta dip is pretty popular, too. I didn’t bother since I only had a cup or so of the noodles, so we just ate them as is. They were tasty – not the best thing I’ve ever made by any means, and nothing I would set out to make. I mean, I wouldn’t cook up a pound of pasta to make this. But if I end up with some leftover pasta again, I would make it again. As far as snack foods go, it’s probably on the healthier side of things if you don’t mind the carbs. And by that I mean healthier than Doritos or potato chips!

The Washington Post wasn’t thrilled; this was their headline: TikTok’s viral pasta chips are a mediocre mess that I’ll never make again*. That said, they did their excellent reporting anyway and dug deep into the history of this dish. That led me to Toasted Ravioli*, which I’ve been meaning to make. I even bought a small bag of frozen smoked mozzarella ravioli from Aldi to try it with, but haven’t gone there yet. But now that Voraciously, the food arm of the Washington Post, led me to their recipe, I will give it a try soon.

Chile Peppers

I stumbled across this article in the Washington Post from a few years ago: A guide to dried chile peppers — your secret flavor weapon in the kitchen. I took a cooking class several years ago and they gave us some dried arbol chilies. I didn’t know what to do with them besides the recipe we made and I wasn’t sure how long they would keep, so I ended up throwing them away. Foolish me. Recently, I was at Aldi’s, the first time since the pandemic began (!) and they had a few different kinds of dried chilies from the Badia spice company. I purchased the ancho and guajillo, and have almost used them up already. It’s been cold here in the Sunshine State and I’ve been making chili.

Unfortunately, my experience with Aldi is to not bother making a list, I just wander through and see what they have. Most of the time I never see the same things there again. Even basics can be frustrating to find. I’ve looked for celery or cucumbers or Greek yogurt and they haven’t had them at one time or another. And this was pre-pandemic/supply chain issues! But I do enjoy the serendipity of shopping there occasionally, like finding smoked mozzarella ravioli and dried chilies.

Book News

How a Book Is Made*: Ink, paper, and a 200,000 pound printer! Have you ever wondered how a book becomes a book? Join the New York Times as they follow Marlon James’s “Moon Witch, Spider King” through the printing process.

Lisa Gardner, the Thriller Writer Who Loves Historical Romance*: I’ve known Lisa for years, and now you can, too!

2022 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees have been announced!


Megan Abbott – THE TURNOUT (Penguin/Putnam)
S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Flatiron Books)
Alice Feeney – ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (Flatiron Books)
Rachel Howzell Hall – THESE TOXIC THINGS (Thomas & Mercer)
Alma Katsu – RED WIDOW (Penguin/Putnam)
Eric Rickstad – I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM (Blackstone Publishing)


S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Macmillan)
Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White
Samantha Downing – SLEEPING DOG LIE (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Melanie Nicholls-King and Lindsey Dorcus
Rachel Howzell Hall – HOW IT ENDS (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Gregg Hurwitz – PRODIGAL SON (Macmillan)
Narrated by Scott Brick
Nadine Matheson – THE JIGSAW MAN (HarperCollins)
Narrated by Davine Henry


Abigail Dean – GIRL A (HarperCollins)
Eloísa Díaz – REPENTANCE (Agora Books)
Amanda Jayatissa – MY SWEET GIRL (Berkley)
David McCloskey – DAMASCUS STATION (W.W. Norton & Company)
Eric Redman – BONES OF HILO (Crooked Lane Books)


Joy Castro – FLIGHT RISK (Lake Union)
Aaron Philip Clark – UNDER COLOR OF LAW (Thomas & Mercer)
Jess Lourey – BLOODLINE (Thomas & Mercer)
Terry Roberts – MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK (Turner Publishing Company)


S.A. Cosby – “Not My Cross to Bear” (Down & Out Books)
William Burton McCormick – “Demon in the Depths” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Scott Loring Sanders – “The Lemonade Stand” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Jeff Soloway – “The Interpreter and the Killer” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
John Wimer – “Bad Chemistry” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)


Maureen Johnson – THE BOX IN THE WOODS (HarperCollins)
Nova McBee – CALCULATED (Wolfpack Publishing LLC)
Ginny Myers Sain – DARK AND SHALLOW LIES (Penguin Young Readers)
Courtney Summers – THE PROJECT (Wednesday Books)
Krystal Sutherland – HOUSE OF HOLLOW (Penguin Young Readers)


Greig Beck – THE DARK SIDE: ALEX HUNTER 9 (Pan Macmillan)
John Connell – WHERE THE WICKED TREAD (John Connell)
Wendy Dranfield – LITTLE GIRL TAKEN (Bookouture)
E.J. Findorff – BLOOD PARISH (E.J. Findorff)
S. E. Green – MOTHER MAY I (S. E. Green)
Andrew Kaplan – BLUE MADAGASCAR (Andrew Kaplan)
Karin Nordin – LAST ONE ALIVE (HarperCollins)

ITW will announce the winners at ThrillerFest XVII on Saturday, June 4, 2022 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York City. Congratulations to all the finalists!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Coronavirus Diary: February 1, 2022

February 1, 2022

Welcome back to the pandemic that never ends! Ever hopeful, last June I changed the name of this monthly journal from “Coronavirus Diary” to “Cerebration,” meaning to use the mind, to think. Plus it sounds like “celebration” which I thought we could do because, no more Covid. It seemed like the worst of it was over. There were vaccines available everywhere. I was so naïve. Here we are almost two years in and the experts still can’t agree on anything except the novel coronavirus is here to stay, in all its variant glory. I give up; my Coronavirus Diary is also here to stay.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the “On Parenting” newsletter written by Jessica Grose for the New York Times. I have a grandson now and things have changed a lot since my kids were infants, and I like to keep up on what’s new, so I subscribed. Anyway, Grose mentioned how her 9-year-old daughter was wondering if the pandemic would still be around when she was ready for college, and she goes on to say she wasn’t “quite ready to break down the difference between ‘pandemic’ and ‘endemic.’” That was in the newsletter I received, but she also wrote an op-ed, Your Kid’s Existential Dread Is Normal. that touches on parenting during this pandemic that parents may find helpful.

We keep thinking this will end at some point, this life with masks and vaccines and incredibly selfish people who use neither. But what if we are wrong. What if, without our even realizing it, this pandemic has evolved into an endemic. And why do we never hear “epidemic,” which seems most like what we are experiencing? I looked to the internet and Merriam Webster for answers.

epidemic: an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time an outbreak of epidemic disease

pandemic: an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population a pandemic outbreak of a disease, i.e. a global pandemic

endemic: 2: restricted or peculiar to a locality or region, i.e. endemic diseases. Used in a sentence:

The reality is that the virus will eventually become endemic, like many other pathogens that humanity lives with.— The Editorial Board, WSJ, 21 Dec. 2021

It turns out that a lot of people are talking about an endemic, with the general consensus being the Covid pandemic will evolve into an endemic in 2022. This year. Pretty much any day now. And that is a good thing, believe it or not.

Omicron might mark the end of Covid-19’s pandemic phase — unless a certain scenario happens, Fauci says. “A disease that is endemic has a constant presence in a population but does not affect an alarmingly large number of people or disrupt society, as typically seen in a pandemic.”

Doctor [Amesh Adalja, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health] thinks COVID-19 will transition to endemic status in 2022. “Adalja said COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere but will likely transition this year to endemic status, meaning it’s always around but we have tools to fight it — things like monoclonal antibody treatments, antivirals and most importantly, vaccines.”

We are on track for Covid to evolve and be treated more like the flu. It’s only taken two years since the defeated former president “admitted to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in early February that he knew the coronavirus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” but the [defeated former] president continued to compare Covid-19 to the flu for weeks following his conversation with Woodward, claiming he “wanted to always play it down.” Forbes, All The Times Trump Compared Covid-19 To The Flu, Even After He Knew Covid-19 Was Far More Deadly

Life goes on, with any luck. I am double masking at work. I start every day with a smile, as soon as I look at a picture of my grandson. I further escape into books. And cooking/baking.

What’s Cooking

Here’s the best thing I made in January: Short Rib Onion Soup from Smitten Kitchen.

short rib onion soup – smitten kitchen

It is not a last minute dinner decision, a thirty-minute meal, or a sheet pan dinner, but you know what? Not everything has to be! It’s not made from pantry ingredients, either. I had to go shopping and buy short ribs and more onions and fresh thyme (my herb garden is dead) and a leek. On the plus side, I had some beef stock in the freezer that was going on six months old and needed to be used immediately, if not sooner. (Please don’t tell me we are all going to die because it was too old or whatever; I used it, we ate it, it was delicious, we lived.)

It took me a good part of the day to make this, but I didn’t mind a bit. First of all, it smells amazing every step of the way, from heavily browning the short ribs to braising them in the oven to caramelizing the onions to broiling the cheese toasts. You can make the short ribs a day ahead, if that helps. My husband and my daughter kept wandering in to see what was cooking, so that was fun.

By the time it was all ready, the incredible smells that had permeated the house all day had us so crazed and hungry we scarfed it down like we hadn’t eaten in a week. (Seriously, which means I didn’t get a picture, so I borrowed this one from Deb Perelman. Thanks, Deb!) Everyone loved it, and if you enjoy an occasional day of slow cooking, I promise you won’t be sorry you made this. (Other than the expense – short ribs are $$$) But I have enough left over for another dinner, and that will take less than thirty minutes. And something to look forward to – a new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is coming in fall 2022!

Book News

This village was a book capital. What happens when people stop buying so many books?* This is a wonderful article in the Washington Post about Redu, Belgium, and how they saved this small village by opening bookstores. A lot of bookstores. If you’re familiar with Hay-on-Wye, this is the first “copycat” town.

F.B.I. Arrests Man Accused of Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts* The New York Times reported that Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who worked in publishing, was charged with wire fraud and identity theft for a scheme that prosecutors said affected hundreds of people over five or more years.

A Library the Internet Can’t Get Enough Of* Why does this image keep resurfacing on social media? The New York Times investigates this viral photo of an incredible home library.

Finally, I can’t not mention Wordle. Back in December, I discovered this game (from my son? from an article? I don’t remember!) and I fell in love. In case you aren’t on social media, don’t listen to podcasts, or read the news, it is the latest fad to hit the pandemic. It’s an old school word game that you play on a bare bones website. No app. No ads. No sucking you in and playing all day because <gasp> there is only one puzzle to solve each day. It takes me anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to play and it is one of the most satisfying five to fifteen minutes of my day. There has only been one puzzle so far that I couldn’t solve (WHACK) and once I had a twofer – solved it in two guesses (MOUNT). If you want to try it, best hurry – the New York Times just bought it and will be (I’m sure) rolling it into their games app. Although they did say it will be free initially, so kudos NYT on that, for however long it lasts. And honestly, kudos to them for buying it, they could have created their own version. There have been several copycat versions with a twist, like Lewdle, Queerdle, and an archived version, and some wiseasses stole the game, turned it into an app, then tweeted about how they were monetizing it. Apple removed those apps from the App Store (and I’m assuming other app providers did as well, but I don’t know for sure.)

I think one of the most fun things about it is how easy it is to share on social media. You can show your score and it doesn’t give anything away. There’s a Facebook group, (probably several by now, but that’s the one I joined back when there were only a few hundred members – today there are 22,000!) It seems to be mostly on Twitter though, or at least it started out that way. It’s just the spot of fun that we all sometimes need in our day. I’ll write about my other word game obsession, the New York Times Spelling Bee, another day!

Play Wordle

The New York Times Buys Wordle

Listen to the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast on Wordle: Wordle is a daily dose of delight, despair, and sometimes smugness

The most common letters in Wordle

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Cerebration: January 1, 2022

January 1, 2022

I’ve been on vacation. Again. Apparently, I needed it.

I’m thinking about moving to a once weekly blog update. Maybe on Fridays, in time to find a few good reads for the weekend. I’d appreciate your thoughts on that.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been having eye issues for a few years now. In fact, I’m legally blind in one eye. Fortunately, the vision in my good eye is 20/15. It used to be 20/10 in both eyes. Just like Chuck Yeager:

In addition to his flying skills, Yeager also had “better than perfect” vision: 20/10. He reportedly could see enemy fighters from 50 miles away and ended up fighting in several wars.

I’m sorry to say that I never did anything the least bit heroic with my superior vision. My husband appreciated it though; he used to say that I could read the signs on I-95 before he even realized there was a sign. It’s really tough going from excellent vision to where I am now. If I bob and weave, I can test out at 20/20 on an eye exam, but the DMV doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t renew my drivers’ license until I got a note from my eye doctor.

I’m complaining about my vision again because it is taking me a lot longer to read and review than it used to. I’ve been reading Tell the Bees I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon for days and I’m barely half way through. I know her books are dense and not a quick read, and in my best days I never finished one in less than at least two days, sometimes three, but I am not used to having to spend days and days reading the same book. Luckily, I love her characters and the world she created for them so I enjoy spending time there. Good thing, too, since I’m going to be there a while longer.

If you want to make a charitable donation to start the new year, I hope you will consider the Seva Foundation; they are working to restore sight in the Americas. I have a Facebook fundraiser if you ware interested in helping:

I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something about this past year. When 2020 ended, I was so hopeful about 2021. I was looking forward to most people being vaccinated and the U.S. achieving that elusive bitch, “herd immunity.” It never happened, thanks to the conspiracy theorists and their moron of a leader, the feckless incompetent who lost the presidential election and built a house of lies upon it. And more Covid. Delta. Omnicron.

Wild fires. Climate change is changing the world in front of our eyes, and again, the conspiracy theorists and those devoid of any kind of common sense are happily ignoring it, leaving the planet a big mess for my children and grandchildren. The insurrection. OMG, the insurrection. People need to be held accountable for their participation. Especially the politicians, including the former president and all his minions.

Betty White dead at 99: Best moments and quotes
Getty images, New York Post

The people we lost this year, especially the authors: Eric Carle; Beverly Cleary; Eric Jerome Dickey; Joan Didion; Lois Ehlert; Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Maria Guarnaschelli; bell hooks; Norton Juster; Larry McMurtry; Gary Paulsen; Sharon Kay Penman; Anne Rice; Wilbur Smith; Andrew Vachss – to name a few. If you’re not sure who these authors are, they are all worth knowing and easy to look up. The last gut punch to the year, (per my daughter, and she’s right,) we lost Betty White* yesterday. 

But I am ever hopeful, however, that 2022 will be a better year. I can’t even fathom of a year that could be worse than the last two we have weathered.

I wish you all a happy, healthy new year, filled with love and joy and lots of good reads!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to the New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to this article, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Cerebration: December 23, 2021

December 23, 2021
Happy Holidays!

I am hard at work putting the finishing touches on my favorite books of the year list. I hope to have it posted in the next couple of days, probably right after Christmas. While I don’t celebrate Christmas, I do love making the Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve, and a nice dinner for Christmas day. My husband is Italian, and while he is not religious at all, he does enjoy the holidays as I do.

Especially the cookies! I’ve been baking a different cookie every day since the library closed for the holidays. So far, Chocolate Babka Rugelach; Apple Cider Rugelach; Eggnog Snickerdoodles; Unfussy Sugar Cookies; Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard; and sugar free Iced Oatmeal Cookies – I subbed King Arthur Baking Sugar Alternative for the granulated sugar, and Swerve for the brown and confectioner’s sugar. Yum!

My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were supposed to come down for a few days over the holidays. But I started getting really nervous about it as more news came out about the Omicron variant. They live in Brooklyn, New York, and it’s really bad up there now. I live in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the number of cases has doubled in the past week and we are now considered to be in the “red” danger zone. Plus we have a moron running the state who has outlawed mask mandates and vaccination mandates and anything that might keep people from getting sick and dying.

My son is worried about my husband, he has some health issues and it would not be good if he got Covid. We are worried about our grandson; he’s nine months old and cannot be vaccinated or wear a mask. The science just isn’t there yet on how much immunity a baby gets from its vaccinated mother – they know some is passed along, but not how much. And while most children who get Covid tend to have mild cases, not all do. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to that sweet baby or anyone in my family, so I told my son I would understand if they wanted to cancel their trip. They thought about it for a few days, and we all kept an eye on the news, and they decided to stay home. I was relieved, yet heartbroken. I miss them so much. We have plans to go to NY for his first birthday in March, and hopefully things will have calmed down again by then. Meanwhile, it’s just my husband, my daughter, and me, alone together again for yet another holiday. To be honest, it sucks.

My all time favorite series is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. These books are massive, well researched, and completely enthralling. They are those rare books that defy genre, encompassing historical, time travel, romance, and best of all, they are beautifully written. They have been turned into an amazing TV series on Starz, and I highly recommend it. It does start deviating from the books a few seasons in, but since it’s been so long since I’ve read the books that diverged in the TV series, I’m fine with it.

I’m rambling about the Gabaldon series because after waiting for seven years, the ninth book in the series, Go Tell the Bees I am Gone, is finally out. The reviews pretty much say it was worth the wait, which doesn’t surprise me at all. I am off from work until Jan. 3, and my plan is to read this behemoth before year end. It clocks in at 928 pages and generally these books are quite dense, not fast reading. By the way, this is not the longest book in the series! But I have loved every page so far, and will undoubtedly love this one as well. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to finish it that quickly, but I’m going to try.

Meanwhile, I only have a couple of reviews in the wings that I’ll be posting next week. And of course, my personal best books of the year list. Please be patient with me. My vision is impaired which has slowed down my reading and reviewing considerably.

I wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas! As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

Cerebration: December 1, 2021

December 1, 2021

For the first time since I started book blogging, I took a vacation. We are talking over 20 years! I was just feeling completely burnt out. I’m still reading, of course, but I just needed some time to not do anything else. Well, I cooked for Thanksgiving, but that was it. But I’m back now, and the reviews will follow. Plus my favorite books of the year list are coming soon!

This is it. The end of the year is fast approaching, and all I can do is hope that next year will be better. Safer. Healthier. Less angry. Less violent. More vaccinated. What can I say, I am still an optimist, despite this pandemic and Trump/Trumpism trying to beat it out of me. I am eternally hopeful!

Something to look forward to – there are lots of great books coming out next year! Not that this year is done yet. I always feel bad for authors whose books come out in December. Especially novelists. They tend to get overlooked, especially by list makers and awards. December is a good month to publish cookbooks and coffee table books and other kinds of gift books.

Speaking of which, Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen) has a new cookbook coming out late next year! I love her. Did you know she started a YouTube channel? You should definitely check it out! So far, my favorites are Salty Brown Butter Crispy Treats (these take Rice Krispies Treats to another level!) the “I Want Chocolate Cake” Cake, and the best Broccoli Slaw ever! I mean, I never even knew broccoli slaw was a thing, or that I needed it in my life. Thanks, Deb! Her videos are as adorable as she is, they’re pretty short, all are under ten minutes, they come out once a week while she’s filming, so just do yourself a favor and subscribe. You’ll thank me! To me, Deb is the next generation Ina Garten. All her recipes work.

The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125 and they are celebrating! This was posted last month – it’s a sort of history of reading in public in NYC with lots of photos. I am someone who reads all the time, even (or maybe especially) on vacation, and most of my vacation time has been spent in NYC since 9/11/2001, when I became quite homesick. I read on the train, I read while waiting for pretty much anything, so I can relate to a lot of these pictures!

Even amid the clamor of a city of millions, New Yorkers have always been able to escape into a good book…These photos — all drawn from The Times’s vast photo archive — show that, in New York, there’s no place too busy for a book.

Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate! My house will smell like latkes for a few more days. Then we head into Christmas! Then Kwanzaa! And New Year’s!

I like to take a minute at this time of year to say thank you. I want you all to know how grateful I am to my readers, my subscribers, and especially to those of you who comment or email. I wish you all a joyous holiday season filled with love, laughter, family, and good books!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!

*Thanks to the New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to this article, a lovely perk for subscribers.

Cerebration: November 1, 2021

November 1, 2021

This year is just flying by – maybe because we are not stuck inside anymore??! I’ve been working on campus three days a week and I love seeing the students again!

Today is Founders Day at Lynn University.

Founders Day is the day that the Lynn University community celebrates the founding – and the founders – of the university. The first Founders Day was held on March 29, 2006 to honor Donald and Helen Ross as they retired after 35 years as president and first lady of Lynn University. Every Founders Day since has been held on or around November 1 to mark the date Donald Ross arrived to purchase the library books of the financially troubled Marymount College in 1971.

from Lynn University Archives:

Every year they celebrate with some fun activities – there’s a welcome breakfast, then later in the day a Big Wheels race, food trucks, carnival rides, music, and more. All the students, faculty, and staff get free shirts as well. It’s a lot of fun!

In book-related news, I have slowed down a bit on posting reviews. While I’m still reading a book a day for the most part, I am not always posting a review a day. I try, but sometimes life gets in the way! This week, for instance, I read The first two books in the Bad Bachelors series by Stephanie London. (I had read the third book a while ago, and just stumbled onto the earlier books.) I read The Wedding Crasher and the Cowboy by Robin Bielman; Highland Games by Evie Alexander; Christmas Grace by Mindy Steele; Neanderthal by Avery Flynn; Well Matched by Jen DeLuca.

I’m sorry to say I am struggling through Better Off Dead by Andrew Child & Lee Child, the 26th book in the Jack Reacher series. Reacher is one of my favorite characters, and this is one of my favorite series. But this is the second book by Lee Child’s brother, Andrew Child, AKA Andrew Grant, and I am finding it slow going, to say the least. I read on my Kindle, and I keep checking to see how far along I am, and I’ve been shocked every time to find I’m not nearly as far along as it feels like I should be, if that makes any sense. I’m sure I’ll finish it eventually but I keep putting it down and picking up other books instead. Which makes me sad. Especially since I had a similar issue with the first book authored by Andrew Grant/Child, but I was hopeful he would find his way. Now I’m not so sure he did.

On the other hand, the new TV series, Reacher, is expected to premier on Amazon Prime sometime in the spring of next year. I think the casting looks good – finally! There were two movies made, Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and while they weren’t terrible, they were completely miscast with the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the 6’5″, 250 lb. Jack Reacher character. Cruise is always good in action films, but there was a real disconnect there. This was one of my favorite headlines: “‘Jack Reacher’ Getting Rebooted as a TV Series; Lee Child Says Tom Cruise Was Too Short.” So the new guy playing Reacher is (drumroll, please!) Alan Ritchson!

At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds (according to Amazon), Ritchson is closer to Child’s description of the physically imposing character (who’s described as standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds). Reacher is a military veteran who lives a nomadic life as a freelance investigator and problem solver.

So, basically he’s a big guy (check!) and not too pretty (check!) The inaugural season is based on the first Reacher book, The Killing Floor, which is excellent, so I’m looking forward to this new series.

Yesterday was Halloween and we had a handful of kids come by. It was my grandson’s first Halloween, and he went out in style! Wish I could have been there, but at least I have pictures!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!

Cover Reveal! THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews

October 14, 2021


Summer begins with MKA, in this delightful summer read about flipping houses, and finding true love! From the New York Times bestselling author and Queen of the Beach Reads!

Hattie Kavanaugh went to work helping clean up restored homes for Kavanaugh & Son Restorations at eighteen; married the boss’s son at twenty; and was only twenty-five when her husband, Hank, was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Broken hearted, but determined to continue the business of their dreams, she takes the life insurance money, buys a small house in a gentrifying neighborhood, flips it, then puts the money into her next project. But that house is a disaster and a money-loser, which rocks her confidence for years to come. Then, Hattie gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: star in a beach house renovation reality show called “The Homewreckers,” cast against a male lead who may be a love interest, or may be the ultimate antagonist. It’s a question of who will flip, and who will flop, and will Hattie ever get her happily-ever-after.

Filled with Mary Kay Andrews’s trademark wit, warmth, junking trips, and house porn, The Homewreckers is a summer beach delight.

I can’t wait!

Pre-order the hardcover

Pre-order for Kindle

Pre-order on Audible

Me & MKA circa 2016; it’s been way too long!

Cerebration: October 1, 2021

October 1, 2021

I cannot believe it is October already! Autumn is officially here, even in Florida. A few days ago when I left for work at 6:30 A.M., it was cool out, a nice surprise.

October is prime time for all those Christmas romances I love. And a Hanukkah one! So get ready for lots of holiday book reviews. I also just noticed that Hanukkah comes out early again this year. The first night is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which is better than when it fell on Thanksgiving -but barely in time for Black Friday. Not to mention there are all sorts of warnings out there: “Logistical issues, including ongoing manufacturing and supply chain disruptions, may make the hottest toys and most popular gifts sell out fast or go on waiting lists. And they might not be available at all in the typical Thanksgiving-to-Christmas Day holiday shopping window this year.” So this is a good year to start your holiday shopping early.

The Time to Start Your Holiday Shopping Is Right Now

Retailers’ Latest Headache: Shutdowns at Their Vietnamese Suppliers: Factories in the country, a major apparel and footwear supplier to the U.S., have been forced by the pandemic to close or operate at reduced capacity, complicating the all-important holiday season.*

My husband and I flew to Chicago last week for a wedding, which was held in the Newberry Library. It was my first library wedding and it was beautiful! The library is old but renovated, and it is gorgeous. They posted a few pictures of the wedding on their Instagram, which I’m borrowing.

I was thrilled to get to hold my beautiful grandson during the ceremony. But when he started getting restless, I handed him off to my husband who took him for a walk around Washington Square Park, a registered historic landmark that is better known by its nickname, Bughouse Square. It was the most celebrated open air free-speech center in the country, and that was where the ceremony was held.

We made sure to have Chicago deep dish “pizza” at Lou Malnati’s, and my husband enjoyed the Italian Beef sub at Portillo’s. Luckily, both places had nice patios outside where we ate. We also hit the Museum of Contemporary Art, and my son brought the baby along. He seemed to enjoy his first museum visit!

Also have to give a shout-out to United Airlines. We had two completely uneventful flights, there and back. Everyone wore their masks. The planes were clean and they handed out wipes as we boarded. I never was much of a fan of flying and it is especially difficult during a pandemic. But we are all fully vaccinated and careful, and I’d lose my mind if I didn’t get to hold that baby now and then! Plus there’s this: United Airlines to Fire Workers Who Refused to Get a Vaccination. On the other hand, my son & his family had their Delta flight delayed and then cancelled, followed by a flight the next morning from NYC to Washington DC, an 8 hour layover, then off to Chicago. With a baby. Delta has done them dirty twice in the past couple of months. Last time was a trip to California (also with the baby) where they got to spend hours and hours sitting on the runway only to be let off late at night and told to come back the next morning. They are so lucky to have such a resilient baby who just goes with the flow.

Covid still in the news. Guess I changed the name of this journal too soon (it started out as the Coronavirus Diary.) I am feeling somewhat safe these days, even though I live in Florida with an anti-science moron running the state (and that’s the nicest thing I can say about him.) I’m fully vaccinated, as are most of my family and friends. I am working remotely two days a week (when possible) but that means three days of exposure to colleagues and college students who may or may not be vaccinated. I hide in my office 90% of the time. I wear a mask 90% of the time and 100% of the time when I’m not in my office. I don’t eat at work, I wait until I get home. I am saddened and confused by the vast numbers of unvaccinated people dying and taking up every hospital bed around here. I am even more confused about the shortage of ivermectin (horse dewormer) for the horses that need it because ignorant Covid patients are taking it. I don’t understand parents who insist on sending their children to school without masks. And worst of all, the unvaccinated health care workers giving their patients Covid. Check out this opinion piece by Christina Baker Kline (author of The Exiles, The Orphan Train, and many other books.)

Opinion: My father should be in surgery rehab. But with beds full of the unvaccinated, he died in covid quarantine*

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!

*Thanks to the New York Times and Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.