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Featured

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (Agatha Raisin #7) by M.C. Beaton

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Agatha Raisin’s neighbouring village of Ancombe is usually the epitome of quiet rural charm, but the arrival of a new mineral-water company – which intends to tap into the village spring – sends tempers flaring and divides the parish council into two stubborn camps. 

When Agatha, who just happens to be handling the PR for the water company, finds the council chairman murdered at the basin of the spring, tongues start wagging. Could one of the council members have polished off the chairman before he could cast the deciding vote? 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this series so much. Still laughing over this one. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always great. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a light-hearted, good time.

The story
Water rights, the environment, an internal will to adapt a healthier lifestyle, and of course, the pursuit of love, the timeless subject matter paired with topics relevant to today even though it was written over 20 years ago, that being in 1998.


As Agatha Raisin mills around the village as her merry self, I appreciated the tension and predicament straightaway, making for an inviting lead to both the community and personal battles. I loved how the author consistently brought all people and circumstances into such a tight, adventurous plot.


The writing
I loved the transitions from back story to the dialogue scenes.

This has become one of my all-time favorite book series.

FAVORITE LINES:
The world is one planet full of tourists… or displaced people.

Did anyone ever age gracefully? Or was it a choice of giving up or going down fighting?


View all my reviews

Weary traveler stop and stare
 At the water gushing here
 We live our days in this veil of strife
 Bend and drink deep of the waters of life
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Weary traveler stop and stare
At the water gushing here
We live our days in this veil of strife
Bend and drink deep of the waters of life

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Categories
Featured Gardening Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂ Travel Stories

Bugs of Malawi: A Mob of Ants in My Garden

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The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Malawi Government.

Mountain Sunrise Over Lake Malawi | Erica Robbin

Nauka Makola! Good morning!

Welcome to the series about my volunteer experience serving overseas with the United States Peace Corps.

I departed for Malawi, Africa about a year and a half ago. Unfortunately we were evacuated out of our countries due to the COVID-19 situation, resulting in a departure from my site earlier than expected. However, I had an amazing time and will be sharing a bit about my journey.

Malawi is a small, beautiful, landlocked country with a rather large population relative to land size. Geographically defined by the Great Rift Valley and enormous Lake Malawi, it’s located in southeastern Africa. Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” people are warm, friendly, and very welcoming, striking up a conversation with enthusiasm and genuine interest.

Starting with just one small segment of a larger part of my life there, I’ll post a series of insects I came across, which I mentioned I wanted to do in my post Happy New Year! What I’m Looking Forward to in 2021.

Eventually I will write about other topics related to my experience living in Malawi. A bit more personal while reserving other aspects. Likely more in present tense as I didn’t have access to consistent electricity much less internet at the time I drafted most of my posts.

I hope you enjoy the series!

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My happy, peaceful garden

Being out in the garden is a place of solace for me. It’s satisfying to wake up and see on how much the vegetables have grown, getting my hands in the soil at each stage of the process, the earthen smell after a night’s rain.

I find it relaxing even on days when the water and electricity goes out and I have to ride my bike to the well, hauling about 3-4 jugs of water to ration out a little sustenance in anticipation of a hot, sunny day.

Rainy season in Malawi is an incredible blessing.

Onions, like this little sprouted seedling, need a lot of water.

Malawi Garden | Erica Robbin
Malawi Onion Sprout | Erica Robbin

As far as volume, rainy season is often similar to the desert monsoons of Arizona, releasing several inches over a very short period of time.

Massive flooding occurs in areas where the ground cannot absorb water fast enough.

Difference is, rainy season can also come as a steady pour most of the day, every day from November to April.

Woodchips Around Sweet Basil Plant | Erica Robbin
Basil seedling

As rains stop midmorning and the sun rays beam intensely over the country’s coordinates, about 933 miles south of the equator, the sandy soil turns fast draining. Drying up quickly like it never even rained that day. A hard crust forms. Cracks appear.

With intermittent access to water I had to take full advantage of the rain, collect it, and find ways to retain much needed moisture for the soil. Otherwise soil becomes like brick, smothering vitality from my plants as it prevents oxygen from reaching the roots.

Wood chips sprinkled over top of a good early morning water seems to be the best technique with the resources I have.

Unfortunately… wood attracts insects like termites.

All those brown piles, breakdown from the termites.

They do seem to aerate the ground though, so not too much of a problem, plus they don’t eat any of my plants.

Termite Mound in Garden | Erica Robbin

After taking up gardening a few years ago, I’ve always pictured myself like Snow White.

Friends with all the woodland creatures.

A mutual symbiotic relationship.

Everything good and dandy.

Except termites attract insects like ants.

All kinds of ants. Definitely not the cute, tiny sugar ants that parade around if you leave something sweet on the kitchen counter.

No, most of the ones I saw look like ginormous carpenter ants, others known as siafu, driver ants, or Dorylus, are quite powerful and can take down small livestock.

I found these three wandering around my garden. Some subtle differences, all registering as ants on my Picture Insect identifier app.

Termite VS Flying Ant Orkin | Erica Robbin
Orkin bug comparison chart

One day my site mate had just come over, was quietly reading a book on the porch, us enjoying the tranquility of the day.

Completely immersed in gardening tasks, I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds, which I find rather calming, when a swarm of what looked like ants came filing in. Lines and lines. A mob of ants from every direction, completely out of nowhere.

Suddenly I was thrashing around violently, trying to brush them off, screaming, “Oh my gosh! Ouch! OUCH!”

It was frightening! I’m usually not too disturbed by bugs in the garden, but what bothered me is that these ants are stealthy.

Before I knew it, thousands were surrounding me. They crawled in my shoes, socks, pants. Pinching my skin with their mandibles and wouldn’t shake off. They clung on angrily with all their might. I was the one that invaded their territory and they didn’t want me to forget it. I couldn’t get away fast enough and I still had so much work to do.

Stirred up by my presence, they made this buzzing sound.

After about 20 minutes of their purposeful mission, weaving in and out of the termite holes. They marched off. Leaving as promptly as they came, not one to be found. I was shaken up a bit, but it was peaceful in my garden once again.

Did You Know? Ant Facts for Kids | Erica Robbin
Did You Know? Ant facts for kids article from a Malawi newspaper clipping

Are you itching yet?

Malawi Village Landscape | Erica Robbin

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest form of appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy 

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Gardening posts

Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

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A divorced woman returns to her childhood home where she confronts the memory of her parents’ confounding yet deep bond.

The accidental near-drowning of a child exposes the fragility of the trust between children and parents.

A young man, remembering a terrifying childhood incident, wrestles with the responsibility he has always felt for his younger brother.

In these and other stories Alice Munro proves once again a sensitive and compassionate chronicler of our times. Drawing us into the most intimate corners of ordinary lives, she reveals much about ourselves, our choices, and our experiences of love.

Hippo Group, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin

Why am I so beautiful?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the writing in this one. It just flowed easily, hitting the highlights of human emotion, connection in a beautiful way. It’s a collection of short stories.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are simply wanting to try out short stories, a book that’s a very accessible in introduction, and as one you can simply pick up and read a bit during an in-between time, keeping it on your nightstand for a short nightly book with substance read, before bed, wind down, type of book if that makes sense.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The stories.
Straightaway it was so immersive, happenstance and bigger life preponderances. Ones that are almost obscure.

Takes you through the waxes and wanes of someone’s lived experiences, good and bad, as if they were yours to experience first hand, though you didn’t see it coming because it’s the subtleness that’s powerful.

When you ask yourself, “Did I just have those thoughts as the character had them?” Or “I could totally see how that could happen in those circumstances and how it affected them.” It’s a step beyond believability, but experiences you take on as your own or as someone you know well in your personal life.

It takes a unifying theme into different directions, different perspectives, making for lovely short stories of sorted emotions.

It carries on with strong direction, not needing any explanations or reckoning but the stories exist on their own. And as short as the short stories were, they were really fulfilling and complete.

Such a good writing.
That is what makes a good book become great to me. Certainly there is a time and place for books that are forth right and telling (evidence and emotion and your proposed/expected reaction right in front of you type of scenario), which I enjoy from time to time too, but when the writing is deep and descriptive, yet also rather simple and concise at the same time, it’s this well-seasoned writing style that just makes me indulge in the stories and invest in the characters.

I’m not a fan of writing that pairs every single noun with an adjective or appears to pull incredibly convoluted/out of character words from a thesaurus just for word variation. This is rather writing that doesn’t waste words nor fluff them up for bulk. Rather it hits the ground running and maintains sustenance with every sentence and paragraph. Nothing is without place and purpose.

I liked certain ones better than others. Some I wasn’t as fond of. But it won’t stop me from making this book a favorite of mine, even if it was the first short story as representative of one of my favorites alone.

My favorites were:
The Progress of Love
Lichen
Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux
Miles City, Montana
Eskimo

Overall, it was a moving and settling, valuable reading experience and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

View all my reviews

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Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Book Blog Books Featured Inspiration Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂

Books I Want to Read in 2021

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Here’s what I’m most looking forward to reading this year. Be sure to let me know what you plan to read in the comments below!

Book Nook | Erica Robbin

First, what do I typically read?

I like to read all kinds of books, especially historical-nonfiction, sci-fi, outlandish adventure, and satire.

I also like to surprise myself once in a while, hence the unexpected and welcomed love for cozy mysteries.

Joy in Reading the Whole Year Through

I keep a physical, digital, and audiobook on hand at all times.

I find rotating between different subject matter/genre among formats helps me be able to switch back and forth without getting plots confused.

If I get tired of reading one for a while, I can easily get into the mode of a renewed reading experience by easily making a switch.

When I can’t read a physical book for whatever reason, like not being able to take all my physical books with me on a plane, digital and audio save the time and space.

I’m able to read more throughout the year because accessibility is key.

If you’re a mood reader like me, give this method a try. You might find it useful when you get stuck in a rut or reading slump.

Physical Copies

2021 Book Shelf | Erica Robbin

My physical TBR bookshelf is looking quite varietal at the moment.

I won’t list each book out but I feel like I have quite a bit of diversity of genres, topics, new, and backlisted books. I have a lot of catching up to do from the last year or so as you can tell.

I enjoy rereading classics each year.

Next up on my list for classics is Treasure Island from The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. I found my this copy at an antique shop. It’s super brittle, undated, 1920s most likely, I’m going to have to be so careful with it.

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First Book of 2021

I’m starting off with The Progress of Love by Alice Munro. It’s been on my current read for about a year, having added it from SunBeamsJess Book Club. I’m a year behind on this one, but that’s okay, I will still make the most of it!

Seasonal Reads

The little stash on the bottom is my seasonal ones I’m looking forward to. Spring, summer, autumn. These were released in 2020.

Season Reads of 2021 | Erica Robbin

Digital Reads

I currently have 584 books on just my Books app alone. My brother gave me several which I’m quite excited about.

Most are hard-science fiction and fantasy books. Old-school, classic ones from the genres.

I have everything ranging from authors like Brandon Sanderson, Dean Koontz, Carolyn Keene, Jeff Vandermeer, Veronica Roth, Kat Richardson, Simon R. Green, and of course a few cozy mysteries from authors like Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries series which I adore.

SciFi Digital Display 1 | Erica Robbin
SciFi Digital Display 2 | Erica Robbin
SciFi Digital Display 3 | Erica Robbin
SciFi Digital Display 4| Erica Robbin

My Current Sci-fi Reads

The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 (The Wandering Inn #1) by Pirateaba

A couple thousand pages long, I’m still working my way through it. I kind of don’t want it to end though! It’s one I’m savoring, take my time with.

The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 (The Wandering Inn #1) by Pirateaba

Earth by David Brin

I started this during a read-a-thon in 2018. I started reading it in digital but I keep waiting for an audiobook to come along.

Earth by David Brin | Erica Robbin

Audiobooks

I love the Agatha Raisin series from M.C. Beaton. Clever, fun, short, uplifting little stories! They are relevant yet lighthearted and the perfect in-between book, especially after reading something on the heavier side.

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton | Erica Robbin
Agatha Raisin Series | Erica Robbin

Piranesi 
by Susanna Clarke

Just new, in 2020, long-anticipated from Susanna Clarke. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I’m sure I will love this one too!

Upcoming Releases

Anticipated reads to be published this year!

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Books Inspired by My Travels

I always make a point to check out the local author section of bookstores and airports when traveling through.

These shots were taken from O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa back in March of 2020.

Johannesburg International Airport Book Display 3 | Erica Robbin
Johannesburg International Airport Book Display 1 | Erica Robbin
Johannesburg International Airport Book Display 2 | Erica Robbin

Have you read any of these?

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Magazines

Taste of Home is one of my favorite food magazines. Amazing recipes! This Dec/Jan 2021 issue has a Portuguese Shrimp recipe that looks incredibly satisfying.

Book Club Picks

I belong to a few book clubs.

Life’s Library Book Club 

SunBeamsJess Book Club

Peter Likes Books 

BookswithEmilyFox

Literally Dead Book Club

The Poisoned Pen SciFi & Fantasy Book-of-the-Month Club

This month for Life’s Library Book Club we’re reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This will be my 3rd time reading it but that’s actually fine by me as I’m kind of curious to see what my thoughts will be after having now lived in Malawi, Africa this past year.

I’m looking forward to reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, the Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-fi Book Club March book. Debut novel, published in 2019.

It’s a historical time piece of the early 1900s with mysterious fantasy elements.

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

I’ve been craving a book like this.

“A gorgeous, aching love letter to stories, storytellers and the doors they lead us through…absolutely enchanting.”–Christina Henry, bestselling author of Alice and Lost Boys. LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER! Finalist for the 2020 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards.

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My Current Reads

A Cup of Coffee | Erica Robbin

I love reading and cuddling up with a cup of hot coffee or chai. What’s your reading beverage of choice?

Oh there’s so many good books out there that I want to check out that were published in the past 1-2 years.

There are many more releases to come that look very enticing. I have to restrain myself a bit as I want to finish the books I already own, but I can tell already, that my 2021 new release book list is going to grow exponentially and quite I’m excited about that!

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Erica’s bookshelf: currently-reading

Earth
tagged: currently-reading
The Wandering Inn: Volume 1
tagged: currently-reading
The Progress of Love
tagged: currently-reading
The Secret Seaside Escape
tagged: currently-reading
When Bunnies Go Bad
tagged: currently-reading
Fear on Four Paws
tagged: currently-reading
A Caller's Game
tagged: currently-reading
Lost Property
tagged: currently-reading
Their Eyes Were Watching God
tagged: currently-reading

goodreads.com

How You Can Support Local, Independent Bookstores During the Shutdown

I love wandering around a good, old-fashioned bookstore. I would be torn to see them become something of the past like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. It has been tragic to see local businesses shutting down, but good news is, we can keep them alive with our book purchases.

Let’s preserve the joy in reading and future visits to local, independent bookstores and not forget about supporting them.

My all-time favorite is the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. 30 years, still going strong. Be sure to subscribe to their e-newsletter for latest releases and events. Check out their YouTube channel, Facebook, and podcast for author interviews.

You can help support your favorite bookstore by purchasing audiobooks from Libro.fm, where a portion of your purchase will go to your bookstore of choice.

Libro.fm | Erica Robbin

I hope you have an amazing start to reading in 2021! What books are you planning to read this year?

Let me know what your reading goals are for this year, as well as any books we may have in common that you are wanting to check out, and any book recommendations in the comments below!

Categories
Featured Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂

Happy New Year! What I’m Looking Forward to in 2021

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Aside from wanting to participate in the usual social aspects of life, dining out as a big group, not having to wear a mask, shopping in public spaces with a coffee in hand and sipping at my leisure, I have been lamenting over creative activities that I’ve been missing out on for the past year. Whether as a contributor or consumer.

Without as much indulgence and excitement of creative expression as in previous years, I feel like there has been a big sense of void. Much like the fog in these photos I took last year, swallowing up every happy thing around it.

Happiness is to come though. And these crazy times aren’t going to last forever.

I guess I’m sort of one of those people that has to have some sort of creative outlet. It balances out stress. Otherwise I feel like my world is falling apart.

This year as really put a damper on a lot of my creativity for several reasons. My hope is that the creative desire and productivity really comes to life this year.

I don’t typically set New Year resolutions or goal dates to accomplishing anything. I prefer to pick up and go as I please. Time pressure demotivates me. The less pressure I put on myself, the better. The way I go about goal-setting is to jot some thoughts down and go from there.

Here are some specific things I am looking forward to, mostly of the creative realm, in hopes that life will begin to return back to normal soon in the most positive way.

Watch a Movie at the Theater

Oh it’s so sad to see companies go! I read an article listing 30 companies that went under last year with AMC predicted to run out of cash, needing $750 million to keep afloat. I haven’t heard so much about Harkins and how they’re doing.

Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I have some gift cards and I’m ready to spend them! I could go for a rerun of a classic. The Matrix or John Wick.

Get Dolled Up and Go Out

Such a small thing, but I really want to get dressed up, put on some lipstick, and go out to dinner and a movie.

I must say wearing masks all day hasn’t completely stopped me from wearing lipstick. Lipstick is one of those secret treasures that brightens your face and makes you feel instantly better about yourself.

But I miss that mainstay part of my get-ready routine so I’m really looking forward to wearing my entire range of lovely shades on a more regular basis once all this mask-wearing madness is over.

I’ve been on a makeup-no-buy since 2017, that said, however, I really want to get a set of Lisa Eldridge’s stunning reds to wear.

How gorgeous is this Velvet Ribbon red shade?

Creative expression. That’s what I want more of in 2021.

Piercings

On that same note, I’ve been wanting to get all kinds of piercings for quite some time now. Almost 2 decades actually. This will be the year. I’m looking at getting some similar cartilage piercings like SunBeamsJess. Rooke, helix, tragus. I want to get just a few more. Dainty and cute, yet elegant.

Piercing update at: 13:29.

Improve My Cursive Penmanship

Both as graceful technique and how to write much neater with some fancy calligraphy pens using various whimsical styles.

My day-to-day, casual penmanship is a mess, but when it comes to special notes, the nicer side of my handwriting comes out.

Sketch Book
Calligraphy Practice | Erica Robbin
Calligraphy Alphabet Letters | Erica Robbin

Is cursive becoming a lost art?

I read an article a while back about cursive not being an essential part of primary school curriculum anymore. It was a reality check at the post office recently when I mailed a letter and the girl at the checkout told me she didn’t know how to read cursive.

My heart actually sank a little bit!

I truly hope it comes back. Cursive is so beautiful. I remember in my first 1st grade classroom, there was a poster of the alphabet stretching across the width of the room near the ceiling. All in cursive. Each letter looked so ornate. I wanted my writing to look like so.

I’m going to work on developing a more mature writing style this year.

I’m still not sure how I want to consistently write out my capital G, L, Q, S, and lowercase v. A couple choices.

How do you write out your cursive letters?

Writing Expression

Writing exercises are what I’m going to focus on.

Maybe it’s age and I’m forgetting, maybe it’s something I have to come to accept as I learn additional languages, maybe it’s a COVID-19 phenomenon, but I’ve been really struggling to find my words.

When I can’t think of what I want to say in English right off the cuff, I always revert back to Spanish, asking myself ¿Cómo se dice? How do you say?

Over the past 3 years I’ve learned French, Chichewa, and Tumbuka. Since then, my words have started to run together, getting mixed up.

Even though Romance languages often have the same root words, I have to pause and think about what I’m going to say, a lot.

I’m realizing that there are unique expressions in certain languages that really get the heart of certain sayings that I find myself getting stuck on.

So one goal is to learn how to be more concise and descriptive at the same time. Articulate my thoughts better. In the correct language.

Arriving to my house in mid-January is a book I ordered, How To Write It: Work With Words by Anthony Anaxagorou.

I think it will be a great asset to my writing skills.

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I also want to participate in some writing prompts.

Last month, our Life’s Library package contained a little booklet perk which will be a great source of inspiration for me.

Life's Library Prompt Book | Erica Robbin

32 writing prompts in total.

Life's Library Where are you right now_ _ Erica Robbin

Books

I read so many amazing books in 2020!

2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge Banner | Erica Robbin

Here is a snapshot of what I read on Goodreads.

81 in total, which is just above the Goodreads user average of 61 that was pledged, with over 5 million readers participating.

I’m excited that I had the opportunity to read quite a variety of genres and subject matter in 2021. From Butchering Chickens to Harry Potter, which was the longest standing one on my shelf. Half read for over 20 years at that.

Butchering Chickens: A Guide to Humane, Small-Scale Processing by Adam Danforth | Erica Robbin
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling | Erica Robbin

I always set my yearly reading goal to 24 books. 2 books a month feels achievable and allows me to reserve wiggle room for tomes. Plus I’d rather take satisfaction in hitting the challenge earlier than later.

I find that I don’t much care for pressure reading throughout the year probably because I’m a mood reader. I read whenever and whatever I feel like at the moment. I prefer to submerge myself into the experience of reading over the end point of a numerical equation.

What are your current reading goals? Numerically, perhaps content, or genre?

My Shelves

There are so many books I’m looking forward to this year.

For my TBR, I’m going to focus a lot on backlisted books, choosing from both my physical and digital shelves.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munrow | Erica Robbin

I’ll be starting this year with the pick from SunBeamsJess June 2019 Bookclub.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro.

I’m super behind on the book club. But that’s ok. It’s one I’ve been looking forward to reading since last year and I just started it.

Here are my book notes so far:

I love the writing in this one. It just flows, hitting the highlights of human emotion.

Straightaway, so immersive, whether happenstance or bigger life preponderances.

It takes a unifying theme into different directions, different perspectives, making for lovely short stories of sorted relationships.

Hits the ground running and maintains sustenance with every sentence and paragraph. Nothing is without place and purpose.

It carries on with strong direction, not needing any explanations or reckoning but the stories exist on their own, without moral judgement leaves reader to make their own conclusion about what constitutes the progress of love.

Book Clubs

I’m also looking forward to this year’s book club picks. I belong to several. Here is a list, if you’re interested in joining us, I invite you and hope you enjoy reading along together!

Life’s Library Book Club 

SunBeamsJess Book Club

Peter Likes Books 

BookswithEmilyFox

Literally Dead Book Club

The Poisoned Pen SciFi & Fantasy Book-of-the-Month Club

Earth by David Brin | Erica Robbin

What year would be complete without having this one on my shelf?: Earth by David Brin.

As for audiobooks, I’m working my way through M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series and I want to listen to Piranesi by Susanna Clarke next.

ARCs I’m reading at the moment.

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Getting a Little More Crafty

I really enjoy making these adorable cards.

From purse/handbags to adorable dress shapes, teapots and coffee cups, and regular open at the fold-type cards, they’re really fun to make!

This year I want to draw printable PNG templates and vector images for Cricut so they will be available for download. I have to learn how to create vectors, which is another project on its own that I’m looking forward to trying out.

If you enjoy paper crafts or just want to give a simple-to-make, yet fancy card to a special someone, you will have such a fun time making these cute cards. All you need is paper, glue, and scissors, any type of decorative strands of beads, ribbon, or twice, then grab some wine, snacks, a little music, it’s a paper party!

Drape the handle around a bottle of wine for an adorable touch to your gift.

Animal Print Purse Card | Erica Robbin
Animal Print Card Inside | Erica Robbin

Write a simple message inside or score four corners to hold a gift card.

Cards and Purses | Erica Robbin

Baking Inspiration

Here’s a sneak peak of a recipe I’ve been working on.

Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies | Erica Robbin

More to come from my kitchen!

Bug Series

Oh Mama | Erica Robbin

I was living in Malawi, Africa over the past year. I hope to post some topic-based posts related to my service endeavors.

I haven’t quite decided how I’ll go about it posting the content, but I’m thinking of starting with a series about some rather interesting bugs I encountered.

It’s only one small aspect of a larger part of my life there, but we’ll see where it takes us.

I can’t believe the size of this bug. A ginormous moth, nesting her future on my bicycle tire. Bigger than my thumb, all head with gigantic whale eyes.

Nesting the Future on My Tire| Erica Robbin
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What are you looking forward to this year?

Do you have any thoughts, dreams, challenges, personal goals, resolutions, planned activities, or opportunities you just can’t wait to get started on or go back to? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!

Categories
Featured Photography Thoughts for a Rainy Day ☂

Goodbye 2020!

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Potamic River, D.C. | Erica Robbin

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.”

~Unknown

Like so many of you, I’m definitely not going to miss 2020. Ready for this year to be over.

Stressful, lack of concentration, uncertainty, isolating, frustrating, dispiriting, maddening, and absolutely exhausting.

Do I dare say the word unprecedented?

Like a whirlwind storm and pretty disorientating. The familiarity and security of basic routines and promises, the anticipation of favorite holiday festivities, hobbies, pastimes, traditions, all disrupted. Many times I asked myself, “What day is it? What month are we in? What about that meteor coming? Aliens?”

It feels so good to get texts from other time zones, celebrating and wishing me so much for the New Year!

I took these photos in Washington D.C. An annual legislative trip. The landscape is a picture of the Potomac River. It had been freezing and snowy. A bit disappointing for plans to go around touring the city at the time. But that storm left. Clearing overnight. The early hours of sun warmed up the ground, melting the snow into what actually became a rather beautiful, site-seeing morning.

Storms that pass remind me that I have a lot to be thankful for. A greater appreciation for things to come.

Hopeful.

In spite of the circumstances, though my upcoming winter trip to D.C., like all other events and leisureliness, will be postponed, digital in avenue, a pause in the path we’re in, abandoned plans replaced by newer ones.

I’m excited for brighter days.

Much to look forward to.

Here’s to brighter, happier adventures. A different outlook on life.

A grateful one.

Happy New Year, 2021!

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Categories
Entrées Featured Recipes

Kimchi Stew

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kimchi Stew | Erica Robbin

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

This will warm you up on a cold winter's day!

This is a very simple recipe. It works well on its own or poured over steamed rice.

Blanching the cabbage ahead of time saves on cooking time and preserves color. Prepare cabbage by placing cabbage into boiling water for 3-5 minutes, just until it begins to turn soft.

An alternative way is to just to add cabbage in raw and simmer stew on low-heat until tender.

I like to add a bit of fried tofu.

I prepare mine by squeezing out excess moisture overnight. I do this by pressing the moisture out between flat hands, then I place the tofu block between two deep plates to drain, placing a cast iron pan over top, and letting it sit in the fridge overnight.

Slice, season, and lightly fry tofu in oil over high heat.

Fried pork, chicken, or beef works well too.

Or put a halves of boiled eggs on top.


Credit: ericarobbin.com

Ingredients

KIMCHI STEW:

  • 2 tablespoons oil such as olive or sesame
  • 3-6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon Korean chili pepper
  • 2 cups white cabbage or bok choy, chopped and blanched as above
  • 1 cup kimchi, any style you prefer
  • Water, to consistency
  • Tofu or meat of choice

Directions

KIMCHI STEW:
  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat
  2. Add garlic and brown sugar and cook until garlic just begins to toast
  3. Add scallions and pepper, cook until just barely soft.
  4. Add cabbage and kimchi, simmer on low with desired amount of water until warmed and tender, just enough to allow greens retain their bright color.
  5. Add to tofu or meat as preferred, heating thoroughly.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Childrens Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

See it on Goodreads

Check it out on Amazon

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe it! I finally read Harry Potter! The first one anyway.

Goodness. I started it over 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time and I was so happy to see something of interest on the NYT Best Seller list at my library that wasn’t political, wasn’t about war, or police procedural.

I never finished it though. My parents made me return it for being too dark (yet Stephen King was ok, go figure) and I wasn’t really sure I felt drawn into it by the first couple pages anyway.

And I don’t think my opinion about the first tastes of my reading experience has changed much actually after picking it up again. It definitely reads more middle-grade to me, which was hard to warm up to. The sentence structure was not very fluid, in fact quite rigid. I stumbled over it much of the time especially at the beginning.

Content-wise though it was definitely super quick with sharp descriptions and inferences, which I adored, especially after the strengths of adventure plot and tension started to really drive the story and connections into the world and each character were being made. Feelings were rarely conveyed though but it was the witty observations that made up for this lack of sensing and feeling.

I’m not sure how invested I am in the series at this point, but I’m part of the “I read Harry Potter” world now, ask me anything. I don’t know which Hogwarts House I belong to though, the kids say I’m probably Hufflepuff, so we’ll go with that.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out by Michelle Balz

In No-Waste Composting, you’ll discover the hows and whys of composting and find over a dozen practical step-by-step plans for building both indoor and outdoor composting systems that require a minimal amount of space. 

“I don’t have enough space to compost.” 
“I don’t know what’s safe to compost and what isn’t.” 
“I live in the city, so I don’t think I can compost.” 
“Indoor composting systems are smelly.” 
“I don’t have a garden, so I don’t need to compost.”

You can actually overcome all these doubts and obstacles with the advice found in this book!

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No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out. Plus, 10 projects to repurpose household items into compost-making machines by Michelle Balz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

To answer to the book’s first question, I would say I’m definitely obsessed with composting. Whenever I throw a banana peel away without having access to throwing it into a compost, my heart turns a little, thinking of what could be in the little garden of mine.

This is an excellent book. Content, organization, visual appeal and composition, it’s just perfect. I learned a lot. I’m a hobbiest gardener, it’s one thing I’m super passionate about, and one thing I could do all day, every day, gardening is so incredibly rewarding!

I’d recommend this to any gardener, whether a novice gardener starting out, nervous and a notorious killer of your gifted house plants to an expert who can grow passion fruit and lemon trees indoors like my sister, I think anyone will find a treasure of gardening value in this book.

First, the sans serif stylistic heading and body fonts made the reading experience fun and allowed for an ease of reading that drew me in, which is what I’ve really felt I needed this year.

As far as content, it makes a great case for composting and the enthusiasm is inspiring. I liked the troubleshooting, many methodologies, and the boldness to present how domestic animal manuring could be done.

The writing style is very conversation like, inviting, not overly academic yet packed with useful scientific information and rationale.

Structurally this book is very solid. Introductions to a concept, followed by real-life examples, then how to, step-by-step instructions in creating your own project with very affordable options. You can go fancy or budget.

It has a great amount and mix of photos with graphic images along with excerpt tidbits of supportive, detailed side notes that expanded on a lot of good topics.

I will say there were just a few small parts that were repetitive in nature like the urine being higher in nitrogen, benefits of coffee grounds, layering with leaves, burying the fruit and vegetables to avoid pests, but they were minor and I suppose it was good to be reminded of those principles.

I am so excited for next gardening season! If you are too, I’d highly recommend this one!

Looking forward to trying Bokashi method and I’m curious to try spraying the Bokashi tea on leaves, the terra-cotta method, and the Hügelkultur method. Be sure to tag me with your gardening adventures, I’d love to see what you’ve been up to and what methods you use to amend your soil.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery

Christmas Cupcake Murder (Hannah Swensen #26) by Joanne Fluke

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Featuring over a dozen cookie and dessert recipes from The Cookie Jar—Hannah Swensen’s famous bakery, this festive new Christmas mystery from the Queen of Culinary Cozies is just the holiday treat you need this season!

Christmas Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Loved the cover, definitely drew me in! Very adorable, the beautiful contrasting icy blue and red color scheme, cute graphic, that extra reflective pearl which looked so pretty in person!

However something about it overall just didn’t work for me. The writing style seemed so incredibly different compared to other books I’ve read by the author.

My favorite part of this book was the recipes. The recipe font, placement, instructions, hints, and preferences were easy to read and very accessible. I’m not as keen on powdered sugared icing and boxed cake recipe variations though. I prefer traditional buttercream and cake from scratch myself. I’d pick my own grain and ground it into flour by hand if I could. Not completely ragging on the recipes, they certainly have their place in life (I will say readers and bakers who love simple recipes with ingredients they may already have on hand will absolutely love them), but for myself, I became so much happier to see there were others to choose from that were a little more what I would consider to be closer to homemade. And when I get some pickles, I will be looking forward to trying out the Rainbow Pickles recipes. So weird, made with unsweetened Jello, I really want to try it. That and the eggnog.

What I wasn’t keen on was that this book so incredibly slow! Read like a middle grade chapter book with loads of overly detailed plot filler. The plot, character development, barely trudged along. Oh my. It took a lot of effort to get through the first 30 pages. Then I skim read through the rest, stopping mostly at the recipes.

Every littlest action by the characters took was documented. Dialogue was flat and overly detailed. A lot of telling without much interesting nuance or subtle expression of intent or deeper connection and purpose. There was not a lot of thinking involved on my behalf. The characters didn’t show their personality, they hardly went anywhere physically, mentally, or emotionally. They were just there, doing day to day things in the most detailed way.

Nothing really mysterious either unfortunately. I was expectantly waiting for the stranger in the cafe to die off or someone to fall off the ladder with a cupcake in hand.

A bit disappointing, a big deviation from what I’ve known in the past books. I’ll have to check out the others.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

In this dazzling collection, Annie Dillard explores the world over, from the Arctic to the Ecuadorian jungle, from the Galapagos to her beloved Tinker Creek. With her entrancing gaze she captures the wonders of natural facts and human meanings: watching a sublime lunar eclipse, locking eyes with a wild weasel, or beholding mirages appearing over Puget Sound through summer.

Annie Dillard is one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary nonfiction and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Teaching a Stone to Talk illuminates the world around us and showcases Dillard in all her enigmatic genius.

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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was alright.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about myself. Well more confirmation about my taste in books actually.

I’m just not much for books that are super contemplative.

Contemplating your naval type stuff. I like action. Like John Wick action. Take me somewhere I didn’t see coming. An underlying life lesson is fine. Some distinct pull from reality or unique observation. Or a cutesy little story about a relationship gone awry and a character who ruins, then saves the day. Or educational, I love educational.

So I have to be honest in that I don’t have the patience for books like this.

I read this one for Life’s Library. I must say it’s introducing me to books I wouldn’t normally read and I do find some value in that.

I read alternating print and audiobook. The audiobook was narrated by Randye Kaye. The audiobook was great at some points, but mostly sounded too much like a computer with mixes of voice inflection that were either jarring or mismatched. Words were typically ran together which was less to my liking. Funny enough though, when sped up, the running of words actually became more isolated, distinct, and more thus more clear.

A variety of POVs. First person present, ugh. Deep contemplation with inferences I didn’t feel attached to most of the way.

A lot of similes which sometimes I appreciated, but so many made it feel like a college entrance exam.

Too abstract for my taste and mood right now. It was overly descriptive for my liking.

There were a lot of general mere observations which I found rather boring to read about. I just didn’t connect to all of the stories. Not real memorable for me.

So what did I like?

I found the mundane activities described about attending the Catholic church, a childlike outlook, deciding which parts were performative and which were meaningful, was confirming to experience.

My favorite part was the telling of the girls of the village wanting to braid and re-braid hair. I think that’s always something so strong among every culture, with integration and an expression of acceptance, endearment, exploration of the world and self, building connection, a bit of joy, skill, and bonding, is girls, mothers, sisters, friends, doing each other’s hair.

I liked the mention of solar eclipse. Having witnessed a few totals and partials in my lifetime, I could appreciate that chapter. The excitement, yet eeriness of birds going silent, darkening, and wondering what people back in the day thought about the world ending.

I also liked the little booklet we got in our subscription package. Has some good writing prompts in there that I might try answering on my website/blog. 32 questions in all. Might be an interesting personal exercise.


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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Centennial by James A. Michener

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Written to commemorate the Bicentennial in 1976, James A. Michener’s magnificent saga of the West is an enthralling celebration of the frontier.

Brimming with the glory of America’s past, the story of Colorado—the Centennial State—is manifested through its people: Lame Beaver, the Arapaho chieftain and warrior, and his Comanche and Pawnee enemies; Levi Zendt, fleeing with his child bride from the Amish country; the cowboy, Jim Lloyd, who falls in love with a wealthy and cultured Englishwoman, Charlotte Seccombe.

Centennial by James A. Michener

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love these books.

I listened to this one via audiobook narrated by Larry McKeever, who was just the perfect narrator for this series once again. Easy to listen to and I liked his pronunciation of Arkansas.

In today’s world, it is so hard to imagine travel of the time. It took all day just to go 15 miles. The whole family in tow and none of the luxuries of radio, audiobooks, podcasts, A/C or heating, readily available maps, petrol stations, ice chests, or favorite road trip snacks like Black Forest Gummy Bears, Cheetos, or a grande, hot, white chocolate mocha with 2.5 pumps of white chocolate, 1/2 pump of peppermint, with whipped cream- my go-to travel drink from Starbucks.

I started this one over summer, traveling through the mountains of Colorado, it was neat to hear to the commentary of the terrain while visually seeing granite rock layered like a tilted stack of pancakes with edges toward the sky. The erosion, hoodoos, those top heavy rock formations that look like they could topple at any time. Hearing about how it took years of volcanic ash to just drift its way over, the violent collision of tectonic plates, forming areas where mastodons and bison would eventually wander around, once a place where ocean deposited sediment as it peacefully filled the basin of land from melting glacier.

Originally published in 1974, it marries nonfiction accounts of the formation of the Midwest, geographically, population settlement, industry, and relationships with sweet, interesting, sometimes brutal tales of fictional characters so seamlessly integrated into what daily life may have been like in a fascinating, yet incredibly comprehensive historical novel.

50 hours and 5 minutes actually.

Michener was just so clever. I loved the themes, the pacing, the wealth of information.

I loved Rufus the bull story, the beavers, the real origin of horses, and Nacho.

MY FAVORITE LINES

“He tested his scales as carefully as Saint Peter is supposed to test his while weighing souls.”

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