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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

    If you had the chance to live a different version of your life would it be better? This is the question explored and here is my book review The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

    Nora Seed thinks her life isn’t worth living. So she is considering ending it. But instead of dying she wakes up in The Midnight Library. Between life and death lies the Midnight Library. A place with an infinite number of books, each one representing Nora’s alternative lives. Each life based on Nora’s life choices and how those choices unfolded.

    All the limitless choices Nora has made in her life, have lead her to the life she is living. The life she no longer wants to live. But what if her choices had been different? Would we make different choices along the way if we knew how life would turn out? In the library Nora sees her alternative lives; married and running a pub, rock star Nora, glaciologist Nora. Would these lives be better in reality?

    This book was enchanting and fun to read, but also painful and sad. We can’t go back and change decisions we’ve made…we can only move forward and try to do the best with what we have. The Midnight Library offers this lesson in a beautifully written fantastical tale of fulfillment and redemption. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

    *****Five stars for the Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

    Read last week’s review of Deacon King Kong.

    My current read The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

    See this week’s top performing pin here Idle Away in Idyllwild.

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    North America Travel

    Flora of the Desert

    Location: Palm Springs Calfornia

    I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the desert. But after two and half months in the Coachella Valley, I’ve been inspired and intrigued with the unusual beauty of the flora of the desert.

    Sunnylands

    Flora of the Desert

    Coming from the wet and evergreen region of the Pacific Northwest I was unfamiliar with desert plant life. Of course I have seen a variety of deserts in our world travels, but never have I spent an extended period living in the desert. From our Airbnb in Palm Desert California I quickly became infatuated with the unique variety of the flora of the desert as well as the beautiful and musical birds.

    Roadrunner

    The Coachella Valley

    The Coachella Valley is an ancient seabed but today it is an arid desert 50 miles long and 15 miles wide. Surrounded by mountains, including two of California’s highest (San Jacinto and San Gorgonio) the valley sits in a rain shadow from the Pacific Ocean air. This dry region has more than 300 days of sun and averages 3.3 inches of rain a year. So the flora of the desert is uniquely suited to this harsh dry environment.

    Moorten Botanical Gardens

    There are dozens of ways to get into the desert and explore the beauty of it. There are also options right in town to learn about the desert without venturing out into the harsh climate. Whatever suits your needs, you will find it here. No matter what you do, take a moment to learn a bit about this magnificent ecosystem, its plants, birds and wildlife.

    Where to Explore and Learn

    Here is a list of some of the best places to enjoy the beauty, learn the lingo and history, and revel in the unique beauty of this valley.

    Close to Town;

    Living Desert and Zoo, Palm Desert – You’ll need to buy a ticket to the zoo, but it’s worth it to get out into the natural environment adjacent to the zoo known as the Living Desert. If you are up for an invigorating hike, climb up Eisenhower Mountain to enjoy the valley views and look across to the San Andreas Fault. The natural desert landscape is dry and barren with cactus, mesquite, creosote and much more. Learn more here.

    Living Desert

    Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage – the stunning landscaped desert gardens offer four distinct looks at desert life including an audio walking guide. All for free. The gardens include a sunken garden, a wildflower garden, a labyrinth and a wide variety of cactus. To visit the landscaped area around the mid-century modern home you can take a guided tour for $25. This is possibly my favorite thing in the greater Palm Springs area. Learn more here.

    Sunnylands

    Coachello Preserve, Thousand Palms

    This little known spot turned out to be one of our favs. You can wander the Palm oasis or venture out into the desert known as Moon Country. There are several hikes offering great 360 degree views. Learn more here.

    Coachella Valley Preserve


    Moorten Botanical Gardens, Palm Springs – this little hidden gem in the heart of Palm Springs has a $5 entrance fee. Wait. What? How can this 85 year old cactus oasis only be $5? Best little gem in the valley. Learn more here.

    Moorten Botanical Gardens

    Indian Canyons, Palm Springs – entrance to this area on the ancestral lands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is $9 per person but the wide variety of hiking options is totally worth it. A great way to see and enjoy the palm oasis and palm trees in their natural, unadulterated habitat. Hike to a waterfall, see a wide variety of cactus and birds. Picnic areas available. Learn more.

    Indian Canyons

    Shield’s Date Farm, Indio – Date cultivation is big business in the valley, but date trees are not natural to the valley. Learn how the dates have been adapted to this desert area at Shield’s Date Farm. Learn more.

    Further Afield;

    Joshua Tree National Park – a little more than an hours drive from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is chock full of nature walks and longer hikes to get up close and personal with some of the high desert flora. You’ll also see astonishing boulders and of course, the namesake of the park the Joshua Tree. The park has three entrances (north, south and west) with the west entrance closest to Palm Springs. Learn more.

    Joshua Tree

    Palm to Pines Highway – Highway 74, fondly known as the Palm to Pines Highway leaves from Palm Desert and climbs up up up. Even if you only go as far as Vista Point (great views back on the valley) or the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point (interpretive signs tell the story of the ancient life of the Cahuilla people) it’s a fun and easy tour of local flora.

    Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point

    Like any natural environment be aware of your surroundings at all times. Rattlesnakes are present even in landscaped and cultivated areas. Other predators are also present, watch for warning signs. Always bring lots of water and stay hydrated. Even when cool the dry air can take it’s toll. Wear a hat and sunscreen whenever you are out and about.

    Joshua Tree

    Visiting the Coachella Valley of California is a must for anyone who loves plants and appreciates our earth’s varying ecosystems. Learning about the ancient history of this valley will help you appreciate what remains of the vast desert that once stretched for miles.

    Read about our visit to Idyllwild California – Idle Away in Idyllwild

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    See this week’s top performing pin here Nashville for First Timers.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Deacon King Kong by James McBride

    Reading Wednesday

    Deacon King Kong

    It’s been probably 7 or 8 years since I read McBride’s novel “The Good Lord Bird” and it remains a favorite read of mine. So when my husband suggested I read this latest novel by McBride I was anxious to. Here is my book review Deacon King Kong by James McBride.

    Deacon King Kong

    I had a lot of distractions going on in my personal life while I was reading this book. Some days I didn’t have time to even pick it up…other days it was a great little retreat for me at the end of a crazy day. McBride’s writing is superb, and in fact even better in Deacon King Kong than in The Good Lord Bird. One of the reasons this book has enjoyed so much acclaim and awards.

    The year is 1969 and the place is the “projects” in Brooklyn New York. A rundown neighborhood slowly becoming a drug capital. We are introduced to the men, women and children of the ‘hood, whose lives revolve mostly around each other and church. The majority are black from the South, some Puerto Rican and some Italian. The protagonist is Deacon King Kong who, we will learn, goes by many other names as well. A widower, a deacon, a gardener, an umpire, a coach, a janitor and a drunk. This is the story of Deacon King Kong and all the versions of his life, and all the people in his life and how the story is set in motion on the day he shoots a young drug dealer in the neighborhood.

    Three Things I Loved About This Book

    1. Multiple storylines, each one fully developed and engaging, culminate beautifully in the end of the book.
    2. Spectacular character development. There are numerous characters and McBride is brilliant in this area. You truly are rooting for all of these people to make it and to come out happy on the other side.
    3. And the narrative setting of Brooklyn in the tumultuous 1960’s plays out so well in the writing as the multiple storylines follow cops (both good and bad), race and racism, mobsters and drug dealers, poverty, community and faith.

    McBride shows us in this book how things may not always be what they appear, how lives can be entwined in ways we may not understand, and how compassion and gratitude can change lives beyond our own time on this earth. This book is about faith. I hope you enjoyed my book review Deacon King Kong by James McBride

    *****Five stars for Deacon King Kong

    Read last week’s book review of Oona Out of Order here.

    My current read Simon the Fiddler

    This week’s top performing pin Idle Away in Idyllwild

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    Deacon King Kong
    Food & Drink  --  Inspire

    My Favorite Coffee Around the World

    Coffee Drinkers of the World!

    Location: Around the World

    This is one of our favorite blog posts from 2020. Enjoy it again or for the very first time.

    Lucky am I that I have tasted coffee all over the world, in fact, in 110 countries. Wow that is a lot of countries and a lot of coffee. I’ve been able to narrow down my favorite coffee around the world. I do love coffee and although there has been many countries where the coffee was downright lousy or non-existent, luckily there have been many countries where it was delicious and abundant.

    Enjoying Cyprus coffee

    Cyprus

    We are currently hunkered down on the island of Cyprus, where coffee rules. Cypriot coffee is much like the coffee of Turkey or Greece, and is usually made in a Cezva, a metal cooker with a long handle and a pouring lip. The coffee in Cyprus is arabica coffee and is ground so fine it is almost like a powder. Traditionally cooked in sand over an open fire, many traditional houses will still make the coffee in a machine that uses sand very hot, then place the Cezva into the sand and bring the coffee to boil twice.

    I had never seen coffee made in this manner and it was something fun and new to see.

    Brewing over the hot sand

    Cyprus is another of a long list of countries who know how to make good coffee, even though they don’t grow their own beans. Many countries with the best coffee don’t grow beans. It’s all in the way it’s prepared.

    So I thought today I would share with you all my favorite coffee around the world, in addition to Cyprus. Some of the worlds best and most delicious. Whatever you call it; java, joe, mud, cuppa, brew, cafe, octane, rocket fuel or juice – here is my favorite coffee around the world.

    Coffee in France
    Espresso in France 2007

    France

    I visited France in 2007 and despite the Starbucks phenom in the USA, France was the place I had my first and most memorable cup of real good espresso. And I didn’t have just one. I drank so many cups of espresso during my ten day visit to Paris and northern France. I learned how much I love a deep, dark rich cup and I have loved it ever since.

    Italian coffee
    My husband enjoying coffee in Italy

    Italy

    Most people think of espresso as Italian, and certainly they are credited with the invention of the espresso machine. I loved this amazing coffee here as well, and was a bit confused by the social etiquette surrounding your morning coffee. Most baristas were kind and assisted this silly American.

    Ethiopian coffee
    Ethiopian woman preparing the coffee

    Ethiopia

    My 2008 trip to Ethiopia remains one of the highlights of my travel life, and learning the complicated process the Ethiopia Coffee ceremony encompasses is one of the most interesting things I have ever seen. Ethiopians strongly claim their country as the birthplace of coffee, and they take the ceremony of coffee very seriously. You can’t be in a hurry for your morning cuppa here…but it is very much worth the wait.

    Zanzibar Coffee

    Zanzibar

    The beautiful island country of Zanzibar (actually a self-governing island of Tanzania) has many coffee plantations as well as beautiful and interesting spice plantations. On a tour of one of these plantations we learned a lot about the coffee culture of Zanzibar and enjoyed drinking the rich dark brew at Zanzibar Coffee next to our hotel.

    Moroccan Coffee
    Coffee at Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca

    Morocco

    There are so many things I love about Morocco, including the food, and the coffee is high up on that list of favorite things. We drank it in all parts of the country and it was rich and delicious no matter where we were. Moroccans could be found drinking it morning and night, but for me I had to stick to the morning, or I would have been awake all night long.

    Greek Coffee
    Coffee in Greece

    Greece

    Another country that really knows how to do coffee is Greece. Like other European countries coffee often comes with a “biscuit” for dipping, and a cup of beautiful dark coffee in the afternoon was my favorite mid-day treat.

    Breakfast in Qatar

    Qatar

    This photo does not do justice to the coffee we had in Qatar. We transited through Qatar and spent only one night, and enjoyed on the morning of our departure what I can say is hands down the best breakfast I have ever eaten…including a pot of delicious brewed dark coffee.

    Vietnam Coffee
    Almost always served in a glass cup in Vietnam

    Vietnam

    We spent a month in Vietnam and really grew to love the coffee there. Often served with sweet milk, but you could order it without, the local coffee was almost always served in a clear glass cup without a handle.

    Guatemalan Coffee
    Coffee in Guatemala

    Guatemala

    When we returned home after our month in Guatemala we brought with us six pounds of coffee…now one of my favorite coffee around the world. The production of coffee is big in many Central American countries, but of all the countries we visited we liked Guatemalan coffee the best.

    Vietnam Coffee
    A special latte made to look like me in Vietnam

    So there you have it, my favorite coffee around the world. I can’t wait to continue my coffee culture research when we can start traveling again and continue our ’round the world travel. Coffee makes me happy!

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    Check out My Favorite Cooking Classes Around the World here.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

    Reading Wednesday

    Oona Out of Order

    I was on the waitlist at my local library for this book for what seemed like forever. So I had high expectations. But it started kinda slow for me, and I was initially dissapointed. But I’m glad I stuck it out because I really began to enjoy it in time. Speaking of time…this book is about time. Here is my book review Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.

    In hindsight I might have struggled in the beginning of this book due to the fact I had just finished The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (which I loved, see the review here) which is a little bit about time travel. And indeed so is Oona Out of Order, coincidentally. But the concept and plot is very different.

    On New Years Eve 1982 at midnight, which is also Oona’s 19th birthday everything changes. That is the day that Oona begins living her life out of order. Unlike most people on their birthdays who become a year older, Oona is transported at the end of each year to another time in her life. From 19 years old to 52 years old to 35 years old etc. It’s a jumbled up life full of questions and problems.

    There are only two constants in her life, each helping in their own way to keep Oona safe as she jumps around her life. The first one is her mother, who is always there until she isn’t. The second is a young man who is never there when she jumps to early years but is always there later in Oona’s life.

    Sounds crazy? Yep it is, but Montimore does a bang up job keeping the reading in line with the developing mixed up plot even while Oona often doesn’t know where she is or how old she is. Sometimes sad and frightening, but also funny, sweet and poignant, it’s a lovely story about family, love and perseverence.

    This is another book I expect to be a movie, it’s perfect for the big screen and special effects. I vote for Sandra Bullock as Oona. I hope you enjoyed my book review Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.

    ****Four stars for Oona Out of Order

    Read last week’s review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue here.

    My current read Rabbits for Food

    See this week’s top performing pin here- Book Review Ordinary Grace

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    Oona Out of Order
    North America Travel

    Idle Away in Idyllwild, California

    Location: Idyllwild California

    It’s been five weeks since we arrived in Palm Desert California for a bit of winter sun and fun. Despite the pandemic we have found lots of outdoor activities we can enjoy in the region, while staying safe and protected. This past week we took a fabulous two-day excursion to the little mountain town of Idyllwild. What a hidden treasure. When in Southern California, you must idle away in Idyllwild California.

    Less than an hour from our Palm Desert Airbnb but like a whole different world, Idyllwild is a breath of fresh mountain air. From Palm Desert at 300 feet above sea level you climb the beautiful Palm to Pines Highway (Highway 74) into the San Jacinto mountains and to the little village of Idyllwild. At 6000 feet this area is popular with the Los Angeles crowd on the west side of the San Jacinto and the Palm Springs crowd on the east side. Locals know the secret to idle away in Idyllwild California.

    Welcome to Idyllwild

    The desert valley Cahuilla Indians came to the region for generations to escape the heat of the desert. In the late 1800’s a summer camp was opened called Idyllwilde, and later a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. Although there is no skiing in the area, Idyllwild today attracts hikers, mountain climbers and cyclists.

    Taquits Rock also known as Lily Rock

    Two beautiful rock formations look down on the village nestled in the small valley where the Strawberry Creek runs, famously known for wild strawberries in the summer. Tahquitz Rock, also known as Lily Rock juts majestically out of the mountain while Suicide Rock is less steep but no less beautiful. Rock climbers love the area.

    On the trail over the creek

    Hikers Paradise

    We aren’t rock climbers but we are definitely hikers and we took advantage of the sunny and cooler mountain weather. We arrived on a quiet Tuesday and spent several hours exploring Idyllwild park just a half mile from town. The Idyllwild Nature Center is currently closed (check website) but the trails are open and mid-week we practically had it all to ourselves. Amazing views no matter where you look.

    Hiking Trails

    The gorgeous Ponderosa Pines and Sugar Pines as well as Manzanita, fir trees, oak and many other beautiful green flora contrast with the gorgeous blue skies and I was smitten. Signs warn of mountain lion, bears, rattlesnakes and poison oak. We did see some poison oak (educate yourself) and lots of gray squirrels and birds…but no snakes or large mammals.

    Tranquility Room at The Grand Idyllwild Lodge

    Lodging and Food

    We checked into The Grand Idyllwild Lodge, one of the premier lodging choices in the area. There are many options for overnight stays, but The Grand Idyllwild Lodge came highly recommended to us so we splurged a bit and were glad we did. We had a beautiful cozy room in the three story lodge, including an amazing “continental” breakfast. On weekends the breakfast is “gourmet” but the weekday “continental” was pretty darn gourmet in my opinion. Fabulous. Currently The Grand Idlywild Lodge is “contactless” and masks are required. They are following California Covid regulations so both guests and staff stay safe.

    Continental Breakfast

    Idyllwild is home to a wide variety of eateries from pizza and tacos to burgers and fine dining. We enjoyed an after hike beer (or two) at the Idyllwild Brewpub. We did not eat here but the food that was coming out of the kitchen looked amazing. The beer WAS amazing.

    Cafe Aroma

    The only meal we ate out was dinner, and again on recommendation from our friend we headed to Cafe Aroma just down the street from our lodgings. Outdoor seating under current California Covid rules was well done with large mega heaters keeping us toasty in the cool mountain evening. The service was incredible too. We enjoyed wine with our dinner from their extensive wine list. I had fresh-made Tomato Basil Soup, and Pork Chops with Potatoes. My husband ordered the Steak Frites special which was huge and delicious. We finished our lovely day with fresh made Beignets and coffee.

    Giant Boulders on the mountain side

    Day two we headed out for another hike along the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail. National Forest or National Park pass required, so stop in at the Ranger station before heading up Fern Valley Road. Park where the road ends and begin your walk. Here on the north facing slopes we encountered some snow from the big storm more than three weeks ago. But easy passage brought us to south and west facing trail with dry and beautiful trails. The incredible giant rocks in this region are astonishing, tumbled down from the mountains and strewn about – the rounded boulders reminiscent of dinosaur eggs.

    We returned to Palm Desert late Wednesday via the Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Hwy (Rt 243) where astonishing views nearly to the ocean welcomed us along the way. At Banning we picked up Interstate 10 east into the greater Palm Springs area and back to our Palm Desert Airbnb.

    Manzanita

    It would have been very easy to idle away in Idyllwild California for a few more days. I’m not sure how I have never been to this lovely little treasure of a town high above the bustling Los Angeles metropolis. Add it to your list. You won’t regret a day or two enjoying some idle away in Idyllwild California.

    More Palm Desert posts coming soon. Meanwhile we love it when you pin and share our posts.

    See this week’s top performing pin here – Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

    Reading Wednesday

    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    This book fell into my lap just when I needed it most. I was bored and having trouble concentrating and needed a book that was “different”. Addie LaRue met that challenge. Here is my book review The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab.

    We have all read or at least heard of stories where the protagonist sells their soul to the devil. We have also had a variety of books available over the decades about time travel. In addition there are so many books floating around out there about magic and curses, witches and spells. But here in V.E. Schwab’s remarkably unique novel we find a beautiful, touching, sad but heartfelt story that covers all of these topics.

    Spanning more than three hundred years, the exceptional and creative story development of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, keeps the reader tied to the story through the decades as historical events come and go but Addie LaRue remains.

    Young Addie LaRue makes a deal with a spirit ( a sorcerer? the devil?) in the year 1714 in France so she can avoid marriage and live a free life forever. But foreveris a very long, long time, and thus begins The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, where everyone she meets forgets her within seconds.

    Until nearly 300 years later, Addie meets a young thoughtful and somewhat sad man who doesn’t forget her. The first person in 300 years who remembers her and who can say her name.

    I loved this book, which beneath the exquisite writing and plot development is just a beautiful little love story. And in my opinion, an Oscar winning movie waiting to jump off the pages and onto the big screen. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab.

    *****Five stars for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab.

    Read last week’s review of Valentine.

    My current read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

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    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue