17 November 2017

Marina Life On A Bulletin Board

How do you know when it's busy season at Indiantown Marina? It's easy to tell. There are lots of Canadian license plates in the parking lot. You have to wait in line for the bathroom. There are empty beer cans on the patio tables in the morning. The washing machines are always in use. And the bulletin board is chock full of notices.

I kind of think that the bulletin board at Indiantown Marina offers a little glimpse into marina life. It's up by the marina office, right next to the dryers. This picture reminds me that I used to think it was weird to do laundry outside. Now it seems perfectly normal.

Here's the main bulletin board. It gives you something to read while you're waiting for the ladies room.

This notice makes me a sad - a missing cat. There were two cats aboard this boat that went missing. One was found, but I don't think this one has been yet.

Have a look at the card for Ristorante Beppe above the missing cat notice. I think this place is in Italy. It would take you a long time to get there from Florida on your boat. And right below it is a flyer for an introductory HAM radio class. A number of sailors have their HAM licenses, including me. The exam was a nightmare full, of 800 fun-filled technical questions. That's something I don't want to go through again.

This is another odd thing to see in Indiantown - a pamphlet for the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, right next to a card for a guy who can help you out with your hydraulic hoses.

There's lots of stuff for sale.

I met the guy selling this stuff while I was getting my clothes out of the dryer. He just completed a solo five-year circumnavigation. His wife flies in and meets him at various ports. Turns out he reads our blog. The thing I'm most fascinated by that he has for sale are the "tubs full of boat stuff." What kind of goodies are inside those tubs?

And the thing people are most excited about is the Thanksgiving celebration, which kicks off on Saturday with a Beatles tribute band. The marina owner puts on several days of festivities, including free food, drinks, dinghy racing, and bands, all culminating in lunch on Thanksgiving Day.

Do you have a bulletin board? What kind of stuff do you put on it? Are you celebrating American Thanksgiving? If so, how?

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15 November 2017

Wordless Wenesday | Lawn Bowling In Scotland

Wordless Wednesday is supposed to be about posting a photo(s) without any words. But, I'm a rule breaker, so here are a few words:

1 - I've never played lawn bowls. It's probably for the best. Someone would likely get hurt. Let's just say when it comes to tossing around balls, they never end up where they're supposed to be.

2 - I wish I had tried it though when we lived in Scotland.

3 - We did play in a curling league for a while, which is popular in Scotland. Again, probably not a good idea to let me loose with a really heavy curling stone and have me chuck it down the ice in the general vicinity of other people.

What words does this picture(s) bring to your mind when you look at it?

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here

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13 November 2017

Usually, Normal & Abnormal | A Few Of My Favorite Words

Usually, I have blogs posts written and scheduled in advance. Not today.

I like the word >>usually<<. It refers to normal conditions, which means that sometimes there are abnormal conditions.

Sure, you could argue that abnormal conditions are undesirable or worrying - they're not >>normal<<. But you could also argue that sometimes it's good to not be stuck in the normal.

Right now, things are >>abnormal<< around here. I'm completely focused on editing my manuscript and getting it ready for my beta readers. If things were normal, I'd try editing for a few minutes, get frustrated, and find something else to do, like writing blog posts. Instead, I spend hours and hours each day working on it.

Maybe this abnormal will become my new normal.

So what this means for you is that there isn't an exciting blog post today, just some weird ramblings about a few of my favorite words.

But to make that up to you, here's a picture of one of the things that interrupted my editing this morning. If you know what it is, you'll probably wrinkle your nose and say >>gross<<. If you don't know what it is, consider yourself lucky.

What are your favorite words? Have things been normal or abnormal for you lately?

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10 November 2017

Seven Days, Seven Black & White Photos, Some Explanation

There's this black and white photo challenge going around Facebook. The instructions I got were:
Seven days, seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Tag someone to invite them to join.

Surprisingly, I followed the rules and posted my photos without explanation. But I was dying to explain just a little bit. It was all I could do to restrain myself from adding words to each Facebook post. Because, I like words. Words are good.

So, here are some words which provide some explanation about my photos.

Day 1 - Winch Handles

I took this photo at a marine consignment shop in Stuart, Florida. In the cozy mystery I'm working on, one of the murder weapons is a winch handle. I'm thinking of designing some sort of nautical based Clue game. Something along the lines of, >>The Captain committed the murder in the galley with a winch handle.<<

 Day 2 - Indiantown Marina

We're currently living aboard our boat in Indiantown Marina, which is between Lake Okeechobee and Stuart, Florida. There are alligators, turtles, and armored catfish living in this water. We also get the occasional visit from manatees.

Day 3 - Killer Bunnies

This game is so much fun! It's called >>Killer Bunnies<<. Here's a top tip - read the weapon cards thoroughly before you play them. I didn't and ended up killing all of the bunnies on the table, including my own.

Day 4 - NaNoWriMo

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month) again this year. It's an insane challenge in which you try to write a draft 50,000 word novel in November. My trusty Guardasaurus keeps an eye on me to make sure I hit the word count each day.

Day 5 - Schooner

Cute puppy, huh? Her name is Schooner. She belongs to Tracie and Steve from Sailing Saga Sea. On their way back to Texas from Miami, they stopped by Indiantown Marina to say hi. Always fun to meet fellow bloggers.

Day 6 - Spices

I walked up to the local grocery store the other day for a few odds and ends, including cumin seeds. I've found that the Hispanic lines of spices can be far cheaper than some of the other brands I'm used to buying. And as a bonus, you get to practice your Spanish while you shop. >>Mas semillas de comino por favor.<<

Day 7 - Chaos

If you live on a boat, you quickly learn this one simple rule - >>Anything important that you need will be located in the most inaccessible part of your boat<<. I needed to get my sewing supplies out of the v-berth. This involved moving everything out of the v-berth and creating chaos in the process.

If you had to post seven photos of your life, what would they be of? Do you prefer black and white photos or color ones?

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08 November 2017

Wordless Wednesday | Atlanta Street Art

Wordless Wednesday is supposed to be about posting a photo(s) without any words. But, I'm a rule breaker, so here are a few words:

1 - One of the upsides of Hurricane Irma was evacuating to Atlanta, Georgia to stay with some friends of ours. We got to explore the city and see some of the fun and funky street art scattered about.

2 - We saw great street art in our walks around Atlanta.

3 - Some of it it might be considered graffiti by some, others might call it art.

What words does this picture(s) bring to your mind when you look at it?

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here

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06 November 2017

October In Numbers

Clockwise from upper left: (1) Cleaning up a portlight frame; (2) Heavy rains led to flooding at the marina; (3) It's good to have friends who bring you over nachos; (4) Organizing our spices; (5) Fun with Amazon deliveries; and (6) Checking out books at the local library.

It's time for our monthly recap by the numbers. The month started out with some heavy rains leading to flooding at the marina. The electricity got shut off for several days and it was a bit dicey getting on and off the boat. Top tip: when you're stepping in over a foot of murky water, always look to see if there are gators lurking about first. We tackled a few boat projects before Scott went back to Scotland mid-October. Since he's been gone, I've successfully ignored the rest of the items on the boat project list.

So, enough with all of those words, here's the usual random nonsense recap by the numbers:

  • 7 - What Spanish level I'm at on Duolingo. We're talking about cruising in the Western Caribbean this season and Spanish sure would come in handy. So far, I can say useful things like, >>Soy un pinguino<< (I am a penguin) and >>Yo no como pinguinos<< (I don't eat penguins). 
  • 5 - How many cookies I bought at the Guatemalan bakery. I gave three of them away. Did you know that if you share your sugary treats, you get good calorie karma?
  • 8 - Number of dubious looking apples that I turned into applesauce. 
  • 10 - How many books I checked out of the library. 
  • 2 - How many cans of potatoes I used in my new >>Experimental Potato<< recipe. It involved a lot of seeds (cumin, coriander, mustard, carroway), turmeric, and garam masala. Nobody seemed to require hospitalization after eating it, so I've declared the experiment a success.
  • 3 - How many bolts you have screw in when you're replacing the blower fan in our vehicle.
  • 2 - How many attempts I made to try to line up the bolts with the holes, which I could neither see nor feel, and screw the darn thing in place.
  • Nil - How many blower fans that have successfully been installed.
  • 15 - How many >>zoodles<< I ate at a lovely dinner I was invited to. Ever had zoodles? They're adorable. Zucchini is always more fun when you spiralize it. 
  • $20 - How much my new snorkel mask cost. It's one of those full face ones which I've been really interested in trying out. I figure if I don't end up liking it, I won't have wasted too much money on it. 
  • 795 - The number / name of the Dow Corning sealant we used for our portlight. I don't know why they call it by a number. They should give it a more interesting product name, like >>Captain Ron's Magical Water Repellent Solution & Denture Adhesive<<.

And that's all for this month. In case you missed them, here are some of our favorite blog posts from last month:

Morning Coffee: Random Thoughts & Oddities
Cruising in the Bahamas Season Recap: Provisioning, Cooking & Eating Out
Do I Really Have to Make My Bed? Or, The Mysteries of Facebook
How did last month go for you? What are you looking forward to this month?

Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - we'd love for you to pop by and say hi!

04 November 2017

Saturday Spotlight | Book Lovers Day

In addition to the usual blog posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday about our eccentric travel adventures and day-to-day life living aboard a sailboat, I also occasionally post on Saturdays, focusing on things related to writing such as cover reveals, book launches, reviews, interviews with authors etc. So if you're a bit of a book nerd like I am, check in on Saturdays - you never know what might pop up.


It's Book Lovers Day today! Sure, some people might say that you're supposed to celebrate Book Lovers Day in August, but the internet tells me that we can also celebrate it today so I am. Don't you just love it when the internet tells you you're right? Although, do we really need an excuse to celebrate our love of books. In fact, every day should be Book Lovers Day, not to mention Chocolate Lovers Day and Cute Kittens Lovers Day.

So go ahead, get yourself a stack of books, grab your favorite form of chocolate and snuggle up with an adorable kitten and have yourself a good read today.

If you're looking for some suggestions on great books to read, here's a shameless plug for the two Insecure Writer's Support Group anthologies.

This is where the "shameless plug" comes in. The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) has an annual short story contest and I was lucky enough to get picked last year for the Hero Lost anthology. I can't tell you how much it boosted my self-confidence as a writer to be selected, especially given the immense talent of my co-authors. If you're a writer (newbie or established), check out the IWSG - great support and great resources.

For those of you who like speculative fiction and fantasy, then these anthologies might be right up your alley. If you're a fan of mystery/crime/thriller genre, then keep an eye out for the next IWSG anthology which will be published next year.

Parallels: Felix Was Here
Print ISBN 9781939844194
eBook ISBN 9781939844200
Science Fiction/Alternate History

Available at:
Amazon (US)
Barnes & Nobles

Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life
Print ISBN 9781939844361
eBook ISBN 9781939844378

Available at:
Amazon (US)
Amazon (Canada)
Amazon (UK)
Barnes & Noble (print book)
Barnes & Noble (ebook)

The anthologies were published by Dancing Lemur Press, which also publishes some other great books that you might want to check out.

I'm a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy geek, so I really enjoyed Alex J Cavanaugh's Cassa series books. If you like a good space opera with engaging and interesting characters, then this series might be one that you may like too. You can even download the prequel to the series, CassaDawn, for free and try it out. Once you're hooked, check out the other Cassa books on Alex's author page on Amazon.

CassaDawn by Alex J Cavanaugh
eBook ISBN 9781939844354
Science Fiction-Space Opera/Adventure/Military

Free download:
Barnes & Noble

CassaSeries by Alex J Cavanaugh
eBook ISBN 9781939844118
Science Fiction-Space Opera/Adventure/Military

Available at:
Amazon (US)
Barnes & Noble

The Remnant by William Michael Davidson is another one of the books published by Dancing Lemur Press which I've read. It's a cautionary tale of what can happen when freedom of worship and freedom of speech is curtailed. Perfect for those of you who like dystopian thrillers.

The Remnant by William Michael Davidson
Print ISBN 9781939844293
eBook ISBN 9781939844309
Science Fiction/Christian Futuristic Fiction

Available at:
Amazon (US)
Barnes & Noble


Dancing Lemur Press has lots of other interesting looking titles in their catalog. I can't quite decide what to read next. Maybe one of Jolene Nowell Butler's psychological thrillers - Matowak: Women Who Cries and Maski: Broken But Not Dead - or LX Cain's paranormal thriller - Bloodwalker. If you've read any of these or others published by Dancing Lemur Press and have a recommendation, let me know. Check out their website for details of what's on offer. 

Are you celebrating National Book Lover's Day? If so, how? Have you read any of these books? What books would you recommend?

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03 November 2017

Going For A Crazy Cabbagetown Walk In Atlanta, Georgia, Pt 1

Remember when we evacuated Florida to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma? Well, we ended up crashing with our friends, Greg and Duwan, in Atlanta. While we were there, we did a bit of walking.

Okay before we get into the walk, let's start out with a little confession. I have no idea if this all took place over one day, two days or more. That's because things got really blurry during our time in Atlanta. All my memories are jumbled up like those Kitchen Sink cookies at Aldi's. You know the ones with pretzels, chocolate chips, nuts etc. Pretty much everything thrown in there but the kitchen sink.

I imagine some of you are thinking, "Hmm...can't tell one day from the other. Exactly how much beer did you drink while you were there?"

Sure, there was some beer drinking, but that's not the reason for my jumbly memory. It's because every day was fun. Every night was fun. Even my dreams were fun. It was just a big mish-mash of fun. Who keeps track of days of the week when you're having fun?

So, let's just pretend that this walk took place during the course of one fun-filled day. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't.


Here's the start of our walking adventure.  A cute house in Cabbagetown, which is a funky neighborhood in downtown Atlanta. Don't you love the colors? Greg's a house painter. If you live in the Atlanta area and you need your house painted, he's the man. You can find out more here.

This is Greg and Duwan by the way. Yep, not only does Greg paint houses, but he also plays the accordion. We're not talking your ordinary polka-kind of accordion playing. He and Duwan sing crazy cat lady songs in Spanish. The paper bag Duwan is holding up has the English translation written on it so that Scott and I could follow along. And, yes I know what you're thinking, but honestly, beer was not involved.

Oh, yeah, back to the walk. Sorry I was lost in thought thinking about crazy cat lady songs and Duwan's awesome granola bars. They have mini chocolate chips in them which explains the awesomeness.

We walked up to the park. It's a park. There were kids running around. There were dogs running around. I have no idea what the modern art sculpture dotted about is meant to represent, but I'm sure it's something profound. I don't do profound. Too much mental energy is required for profound.

We walked up leafy streets. Cabbagetown kind of reminded of us the Hawthorne district, our old neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, except on steroids. Funky, arty and a little bit weird in a delightful sort of way.

Want to see some of the weirdness? Check this out.

Across the street from this fence lives an artist that Greg and Duwan know. This is what Cabbagetown is like. You just stop, knock on the door and say, "Hey, can we show our evacuees* around your place?" The answer is always, "Sure, come on in." More often than not, they also add, "Want a beer?"

{*We got referred to as Greg and Duwan's 'evacuees' during our time there. Anyone who was anyone in Atlanta had their very own evacuees during Irma.}

This is how I like my scary sea monsters - beached on a lawn in Atlanta, not swimming in the sea near my boat.

This is one of the ways out of Cabbagetown. Not that you'd ever want to leave, mind you. But occasionally the lure of cheap beer and pizza forces you to venture further afield. That's us about to walk through the underpass which is decorated with lots of street art.

At some point, we went to a festival. I couldn't tell you which festival it was. There are a lot of festivals in Atlanta. You could spend every weekend being festive at the festivals.

I don't know who these guys are, but I'm sure they're thrilled to be featured on the blog. I just took the picture to capture the whole neighborhood feel of the festival. I wonder what they're talking about. Whether or not pretzels belong in cookies?

Lots of people walk around Atlanta. It really surprised me. Downtown Atlanta is full of lots of different neighborhoods. It's nice to see a vibrant downtown area with people out and about enjoying the good weather.

That's Joanne in the picture below. She's a lot of fun. You tell by the way she's dancing in her chair. Her husband, Vic, is lots of fun too and he wears great hats. Don't you just love a great hat?

Joanne has two dishwashers - one for clean dishes and one for dirty dishes. Why bother to unload the dishwasher and put things away when you can just pull out a clean dish from the clean dishwasher and deposit the dirty one in the dirty dishwasher? Genius. Of course, we don't have a dishwasher on our boat so anything having to do with dishwashers seems genius to me.

Just ignore the beer in the picture above. It wasn't ours. Someone left those pitchers on our table accidentally. We went to this place for the pizza, not beer.

This is a sign of good pizza - grease residue on the paper your slice came on. It's not a sign of a good-for-your-health pizza, but let's not talk about that. Pesto pizza is my new favorite thing.

Look - more people walking. That's the BeltLine, a former railway corridor that they've transformed into a multi-use trail.

We walked up the BeltLine to another festival - the Lantern Festival. I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of some fun lanterns. But don't worry, there's more to come soon. Did you notice the Part 1 up in the blog post title? As I've been going through photos, I've realized that there's too much to share with you in just one blog post. So, good news...another installment of "Crazy Cabbagetown" is headed your way.

Have you ever been to Atlanta? If so, what would recommend people see/do there? Do you like going to festivals? Do you play the accordion or another instrument?

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01 November 2017

Simon The Time Traveling Cat Coughs Up A Hairball | IWSG

The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) is a place to share and encourage, where writers can express their doubts and concerns without appearing foolish or weak. It's a great place to mingle with like minded people each month during IWSG day.

Every month there's an optional question which may prompt folks to share advice, insights, a personal experience or story. Some folks answer the question in their IWSG blog post or let it inspire them if they're struggling with what to say.

This month's question is:

"Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNoWriMo* project? Have any of them gone on to be published?"

Check out how people have answered this month's question, as well as the other insecurities and writing topics they may have shared by visiting the IWSG sign-up list here. If you want to see how I answered the question, have a look below.

*Note: NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an insane challenge where people try to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. 


Image via The Graphics Fairy

"Oh, my god!" I screamed. "Why is there a hairball on my manuscript? That's disgusting!"

I looked over at the large gray cat snoozing on the settee. "Did you do this, Simon?"

Simon lifted his head, yawned and peered at me with half-opened eyes. "Keep it down, lady. Some of us are trying to sleep here."

"Sleep? How can you think about sleeping at a time like this? I leave you alone for just a few minutes and look what happened. Couldn't you have deposited that thing somewhere else?" I shook my head in disbelief. "Or better yet, since you're a time traveling cat, can't you go back in time, redo the whole thing and cough up that hairball on the dock instead of inside of my boat?"

"Geez, lady. No need to get so worked up. It's just a bunch of stupid papers." Simon stretched his front paws in front of him and then rolled over on his back. "Besides, if you didn't want anything to happen to it, you shouldn't have left it out on the table. Now, scratch my belly."

"You don't deserve to have your belly scratched." Simon turned over and glared at me. I glared back. After a few minutes, I looked away. I should have known better. Simon always wins staring competitions.

I sat next to Simon, scratched behind his ears and sighed. "Now what am I going to do. I just printed that out so I can do some final edits before I send it to some beta readers."

"Use your nails, lady." Simon turned his head slightly so that I could scratch under his chin. "What's a beta reader anyway?"

"They're people that offer to read a draft of your story and give you helpful advice about how to make it better. I'm just about finished revising the novel I wrote during last year's NaNoWriMo and really need to get some other people's perspectives on it."

"Good luck finding anyone, lady. Nobody wants to read a stupid cozy mystery set in a marina."

"But, it's got a cat in it. Everyone likes cats."

"Oh, please. The cat in your book is stupid. If you were going to write about a cat, you should have written about one like me."

"It's enough that I have to live with you, Simon. The last thing I want to do is write about you too."

Simon jumped down from the settee and walked over to the galley. He washed behind his ears and then stared at me pointedly. "Hey, lady. It's time for my afternoon saucer of milk. Hop to it."

I held my nose with one hand and picked up my manuscript gingerly with the other. "Okay, just let me clean this hairball up first."


This month's IWSG question was a good reminder that I need to do something with last year's NaNoWriMo project. The working title is "Murder at the Marina" and it's a cozy mystery (around 70,000 words) featuring a reluctant sailor turned amateur sleuth. And, yes, a cat features in the mystery. Fortunately, she's a nice cat, not a crotchety old cat like Simon.

I'm a few weeks away from having a draft ready to send to beta readers for review. If you're interested in being a beta reader, leave a comment or shoot me an email at thecynicalsailor (at) gmail (dot) com and I can send you more details.

If you want to read about my first experience with having my writing critiqued and beta readers, check this post out.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Did you win? Did you go on to publish your project? Have you ever had a cat cough up a hairball on anything important? Interested in being a beta reader for me?

Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - we'd love for you to pop by and say hi!

30 October 2017

Do I Really Have To Make My Bed? Or, The Mysteries Of Facebook

Image via The Graphics Fairy

Last week, I shared a post from Purple Clover on our Facebook page that posed the following question:

"Are there actually people out there who make their beds every morning or is that just myth?"
I expected that maybe a 100 or so people would see the post in their feed and that I'd get a few likes and maybe a couple of comments. What I got instead astounded me - the post reached over 13,000 people, has over 160 likes and there are more comments than I can possibly read in this lifetime.

For the record, the majority of people who commented make their bed every morning. Or their wife does. Some people even said that they make the bed if they're staying in a hotel.

Their reasons varied - it's a habit ingrained from childhood, you start the day off right by making the bed and accomplishing something, the cats need a nice place to sleep during the day, the house is more orderly, it's nicer to tuck yourself into a freshly made bed at night etc.

A few brave souls confessed that they don't make their bed every morning. For many folks, their reasoning was that it's healthier to air the bed out during the day. But my favorite reason was that an unmade bed has less bugs in it. I think I found my perfect rationale for not making our bed everyday.

And then there was this comment that cracked me up - "I made my bed once, then I remembered the old adage, 'You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it.' Climbed back in and missed a day of work."

So this all leaves me wondering why was this Facebook post so popular?

We only have 1.5k people who like our Facebook page and only a fraction of them probably see our Facebook posts in their feed regularly. What made this post so popular? Was it some mysterious algorithm that Facebook uses that caused this to pop up in everybody's feed? Is the topic of bed-making really that fascinating? 

By the way, if you're one of the folks who liked the bed-making Facebook post or commented on it, thank you! It's been so much fun to read everyone's comments. I'm really sorry that I haven't been able to respond to all of them. If I did, I'd never have time to make the bed.

Do you make your bed every morning? If so, why? If you don't, why not? What's been your most popular Facebook or blog post?

Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - pop by and say hi!

28 October 2017

Saturday Spotlight | Around The World In 80 Books, Update #12

In addition to the usual blog posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday about our eccentric travel adventures and day-to-day life living aboard a sailboat, I also occasionally post on Saturdays, focusing on things related to writing such as cover reveals, book launches, reviews, interviews with authors etc. So if you're a bit of a book nerd like I am, check in on Saturdays - you never know what might pop up.


Remember when I started that "Around the World in 80 Books" challenge? The one I was so gung-ho about, but then never finished. Yeah, I had completely forgotten about it too until my mother reminded me about it. So, while we're land-locked and working on boat projects, I thought this would be a good time to start ticking more countries off of the list.

The idea of the challenge is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update (which was ages ago), I've read books set in five more countries – Austria, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan and Portugal.

That makes a total of 60 books since I started the challenge - only 20 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6, Update #7, Update #8, Update #9, Update #10 and Update #11.


THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS by Allison Pataki | Austria

The Accidental Empress is a historical novel about Sisi, a Bavarian Duchess, who accompanied her sister to the Hapsburg Court back in 1853. Sisi's sister was supposed to marry Emperor Franz Josef I, but Sisi ended up snagging him herself, becoming the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary in the process. Don't feel too bad for Sisi's sister. She was relieved that things turned out the way they did. After all life in a royal court can be daunting.

The Accidental Empress is an engrossing read, full of romance, intrigue and interference from an annoying mother-in-law. In between descriptions of gorgeous dresses and royal etiquette, I got a feeling for what Austria might have been like at the time. The countryside sounds idyllic. Makes me want to travel to Austria and go for long hikes and have picnics up in the mountains.

"Sisi kept herself occupied in the nerve-fraught coach by staring out the windows and imagining what life must be like in each Alpine home she passed. While the farms appeared idyllic, the goat herders had it the best, she decided. For the goat herders were free to set out each morning from their cliff-side chalets and march into the hills. Armed with a block of cheese, a loaf of bread, and a skin of wine, they could wander and explore the mountains and creeks with no one to answer to. Or they could find an open, sunlit field and lie down on the grass, passing away the hours under a sky so close that Sisi longed to reach up and pull some of its blueness down into her hands."

You can find out more about The Accidental Empress on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

LAND SHARKS: A SWINDLE IN SUMATRA by Nancy Raven Smith | Indonesia

Land Sharks is a fun, light mystery about a fraud investigator, Lexi, who is sent to a resort on Sumatra, an Indonesian island, to bring back the daughter of one of the bank's biggest clients who is there with her latest boyfriend. Lexi's sidekick is her boss' young son who bumbles alongside eagerly, trying to learn the ropes and often getting in the way. Lexi soon uncovers a larger mystery, runs into an old flame and encounters danger in the form of deadly animals, criminals and murderers.

While the mystery is set in the lush jungles of Sumatra and you get a feel for what the hot, tropical environment might be like, I wished there had been more details about the peoples and culture of Sumatra. Indonesia is a place that I'd like to visit one day, although I'm not to sure about the possibility of being eaten by crocodiles or sharks:

"Steve's right. I'm not thinking straight. If the crocodiles don't get us, the sharks in the bay surely will. The canoe is our only answer. We stumble as fast as we dare in the dark as we hurry back along the twisty path to the river. This time I'm so mad the critters better look out for me."

You can find out more about Land Sharks on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

THE DEVIL IN JERUSALEM by Naomi Ragen | Israel

Let me start out by saying that this is not an easy book to read. I found it to be very disturbing. But since it's about child abuse and cults, how could it not be disturbing? The book depicts the investigation into the abuse of two brothers brought into the hospital with horrifying injuries and the path which led their parents into a cult which abused their children. It's inspired by the real-life Elior Chen trial which took place in Jerusalem. 

The following passage depicts the father's search for religious meaning and truth in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community which ultimately led him and his wife to blindly follow and obey the will of a false Messiah.

"The words spoken by Reb Amos, a shaggy-haired blond guru with a large, white knitted cap of Breslove Hassidim, fascinated him. Amos was treated like a king by his followers, who stood up in awe of him when he entered and waited for permission to sit back down. Yes, Shlomie thought, drinking in the words deeply. This is the truth I have been seeking!"

To be honest, I'm not sure that I'd recommend this book. Although it sheds some light on how people can be drawn into cults and evil, it's certainly not for the faint-hearted.

You can find our more about The Devil in Jerusalem on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.

SUMMERS UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE by Sumayya Usmani | Pakistan

Scott and I have been obsessed with making our own curries lately from scratch. As a result, we've been checking out a number of cookbooks from the library. Most of them are your run-of-the-mill cookbooks - full of recipes and photos of finished dishes. But Summers under the Tamarind Tree is different. Sure, it's a cookbook, but it's also a memoir of the author's time spent in Pakistan. Scattered among the enticing recipes are memories of her family, cultural tidbits about life in Pakistan and gorgeous photos of everyday life. 

One of the things I've been trying to do as part of this challenge is read books in different genres. It never occurred to me that a cookbook would tick that box, but in this case I think it does. Here's a great passage on celebration feasts to give you an idea of how Summers under the Tamarind Tree is much more than just a collection of recipes:

"Food takes centre stage in all Pakistani gatherings and festivals. I'm sure I remember people arriving right before meals were served at weddings, so as to avoid having to wait through the rituals before eating. Food would be cooked behind the scenes in massive steel cauldrons for hours before eventually being served at midnight, and people would pounce on it like hungry cats."

You can find out more about Summers under the Tamarind Tree on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon

THE ANGOLA CLAN by Christopher Lowrey | Portugal

I have to admit, before I read The Angolan Clan, I didn't know much about the bloodless Portuguese "Carnation Revolution" which overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo government in 1974 and led to the withdrawal of Portugal from its African colonies.

Reading dull, dry history tomes isn't really my thing. I'd much prefer to read a novel where historical events provide a dramatic backdrop for interesting characters and thrilling adventures. The Angola Clan fit the bill for me in that regard. The book opens with three seemingly unconnected murders in New York, Switzerland and Spain which leads two women to explore what happened in Portugal and Angola during the revolution.  

The Angola Clan is a thriller and there are lots of twists and turns along the way. The author did a credible job of portraying the fear, uncertainty and chaos that people might have experienced during this period of Portugual's history. The following passage describing the airport in Luanda, Angola, full of people trying to flee the airport, stuck with me:

"After showing their documents and opening their bags, they walked through to the arrivals hall. It was chaos. Hundreds of people were crammed into the area like sardines in a can. Africans and Europeans alike were loaded down with trunks, bags, children, boxes, parcels. Women in brightly colored wraps, bandanas and scarves carried bundles on their heads. Some were carrying crates of chickens in each hand. There were children leading goats, pigs or dogs on pieces of rope. Families were camped out on thee floor, many of them eating their evening meal, bags and possessions strewn all over the place."

You can find out more about The Angola Clan on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.


If you're participating in the challenge too (or any other reading challenge), I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Kiribati, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia,  Scotland, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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27 October 2017

Flashback Friday | Polar Bear Defense Systems {A Public Service Announcement By My Nieces}


Flashback Friday takes place on the last Friday of the month. The idea is to give a little more love to a blog post you've published before that maybe didn't get enough attention, or is something you think is still relevant or even a something that you really love and want to share again.

Many thanks to Michael d’Agostino for starting Flashback Friday and inspiring me to go back and revisit some of our earlier blog posts.


When I was visiting my family in Portland, Oregon back in 2014, I spent some quality time hanging out with my nieces. Quality time, of course, means building a polar bear defense system out of Lego blocks. 

When I re-read this post, I laughed out loud remembering the fun we had. Then I felt really old when I realized that my then 12-year-old nieces are going turn 16 soon (yes, they're twins). How did they 
get so old? How did I get so old?

{This post was originally published in August 2014. You can find the original post here.}  


Polar bears seem cute, but it is important to keep your distance.

My 12 year old nieces and I were talking the other day about how Scott and I might go sailing in Alaska one day. And of course, if you're going to sail in Alaska, you have to watch out for the polar bears. It is critical that your boat be equipped with a polar bear defense system.

We've done some research and the most effective polar bear defense systems use a catapult to hurl marshmallows onto the ice (also known as a "Marsh-A-Pult"). Polar bears absolutely love marshmallows and the minute they see a marshmallow, they immediately lose interest in you and your sailboat and run off to gobble them down. Ideally, your marshmallows should be pink so that they show up on the snow.

In the interest of public safety, we decided to do a polar bear defense system photo shoot so that everyone is better informed about this important topic.

Preparing for the Photo Shoot

To prepare for the photo shoot, we first had to dye our marshmallows. We couldn't find any pink ones at our local Safeway, so one of my nieces turned our ordinary white ones into really cool looking ones.

First, get yourself some food coloring, some water and marshmallows.

Then mix up your dye and dunk your marshmallows.

Once you're done, you get these really cool looking marshmallows. They almost look tie-died and we think they would appeal to vampires, as well as polar bears.

The final step is to get the set built. We don't have a sound stage, so we used my sister's dining room instead.

Once your set it built, then you're ready to begin the photo shoot!

The Unprepared Crew: Sailing without a Polar Bear Defense System

Here are some folks out sailing in Alaska without a polar bear defense system. Silly people - what were they thinking?

They see some polar bears hanging out on an iceberg and think to themselves, "How cute!!! Let's take some pictures!!!"

Unfortunately, while they were looking for their camera, their boat capsized and the polar bears attacked.

The Coast Guard came out to try to rescue them, but it was too late. If only they had had a polar bear defense system, things would have turned out so differently.

The Prepared Crew: Sailing with a Polar Bear Defense System

This boat is much more prepared. The crew is towing a catapult behind their boat. Smart thinking!

They see the same polar bears hanging out on an iceberg.

But instead of rushing to get their camera, they set up their catapult system with a marshmallow.

The polar bears see the marshmallows and rush off to eat them and the crew is able to make a quick getaway.

My other niece made this amazingly cool video about the "Marsh-A-Pult" polar bear defense system. You should definitely check it out on You Tube.

After the Photo Shoot

If you have a bag of marshmallows left over from your photo shoot, the best thing to do is to turn them into "mice krispies". Yum, yum!

Have you ever had mice krispie treats? What kind of silly things do you / have you done with kids? Would you go sailing in Alaska? Ever seen a polar bear in real life?

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