Review: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As my friend Carol said, just because this book is short doesn’t mean it isn’t deep. This is a beautiful, funny, powerful book. An honest letter from friend who has been there from childhood through adulthood. It’s one I’m sure I will read again and one I will give as a gift to friends who have baby girls.

I am something of an old-fashioned traditionalist AND I am a feminist. These things are not mutually exclusive. I have always believed that women can do anything they want and that we are equal to men. I have not felt less than or excluded but this may be more from my outlook on life. It may be that I have never wanted to excel in an area that is traditionally male and been denied.

I’ve always been uncomfortable calling myself a feminist because of some of the bra-burning man-hating connotations. Sometimes I feel like calling myself is getting up on a high horse, on a soapbox and ranting about how the world should be. But I’M JUST GOING TO HAVE TO GET OVER THAT. I am a feminist. I believe women are equal to men. I believe there is change that needs to happen.

I appreciate being taken care of and having roles in my family but I believe Stephen appreciates being taken care of, too. Our roles tend toward the traditional – I usually prepare meals and he usually takes out the trash and does the lawn – but we have both done all of these things and more and neither of us has to do them because of our gender.

My amazing Granmama was a quietly strong feminist in the 50s and 60s as a working woman moving up in corporate America. When she was first promoted to treasurer of a large corporation in the South, she signed every employee’s check with her initials so they wouldn’t know she was a woman. Then she didn’t. That and other actions she took surprised me when I was a teenager and she told me about how she had to be tough and work harder as a woman. I always knew her as the incredibly giving, humble woman who cooked and cleaned and doted on me. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much she did these things because she wanted to show love through them not because she had to. She is an amazing woman and my hero.

There were a few things Chimamanda said that I don’t think I agree with. I don’t believe holding doors open for ladies is wrong. It is not done because a woman is weak but out of respect. I also hold doors for men because I don’t want doors slamming in someone’s face! I understand where she’s coming from though and respect her opinion.

She also said that men shouldn’t be thanked for taking care of their children, nor should women because it is their job to do so. While that is true, I think you should thank your partner for taking care of your children, for cooking, for being there because gratitude is important. Just because someone is supposed to do something doesn’t mean they always do it. Saying thank you, being grateful just makes the world a better place. Doesn’t it feel good to be thanked?

This was the second book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My book club read Purple Hibiscus. I also heard her speak a few months ago at the Baltimore Book Festival as the One Maryland One Book author. She is AMAZING!! AMAZING! I can’t wait to read more of her books.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Book Club: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Sweet T’s Book Club Selection for August 2017

Major Pettigrew’s Last StandMajor-Pettigrews-Last-Stand-cover
By Helen Simonson


Book Club Rating: Thumb’s Up

Sweet T’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Our book club really enjoyed reading this comedy of manners set in modern day England with a decidedly old-fashioned Major Pettigrew and circumstances that try his patience and test his heart and his backbone.

Major Ernest Pettigrew is retired and living a simple, routine life in a pretty and quiet village. His days include regular golfing and shooting outings and lunches at the club. The death of his brother sends him into a state of grief, just as a woman, Mrs. Ali, becomes more than just the village shopkeeper to him. He suffers agitation from his self-centered son and a cast of town characters and busybodies and witnesses surprising prejudice from those around him.

Helen Simonson’s writing style is a delicious mix of beautiful words and images. It has sharp, wry humor with an underlying depth of feelings and ideas about society and morality.

We had the delightful opportunity to Skype with her!

A conversation with Helen Simonson about Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

We asked how she comes up with her fascinating characters and what experiences and people from her life brought these interesting folks to life. She responded, “the characters walk into my head whole-hearted. These people emerge from the soup in my head.”

Surprisingly, she shared that the character of Roger is her. She relayed some of her own thoughts and both real and imagined interactions with her own parents. I found that to be such an interesting personal revelation because Roger is pretty annoying and selfish. I think she’s being hard on herself and relaying the worst of what is in her heard. I admire that honesty.

She laughed about her writing process. She suggested that anyone who set out to write should do it in an orderly way, writing an outline and certain number of pages a day but that wasn’t how it worked for her. She thought about the book for three years, letting it come together inside her head then spent six weeks allowing it to flow out of her head and onto the page, almost completely in its final form.

She grew up in the town of Rye in Sussex and Henry James lived in her hometown. She was influenced by English writers from the 1930s and before like James and his friend, Edith Wharton and others like P.G. Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham, and, of course, Jane Austen.

She feels like modern writing is a product of our post-Hemingway world – short, simple, clear statements. She loves the English language and using a wide vocabulary and descriptive prose. She did say Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell has it all “Others can stop writing and go home. He can do it all.”

author photo
Photo credit:

She met her husband, an American exchange student in England, they fell in love and she moved to New York. She had children and was a stay-at home mom. Needing more than playtime and diapers, she began writing at workshops as a way to get out of the house and have intellectual conversations with other adults.
This led to her getting an MFA and writing Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand with the support, structure, and feedback of professors and others in the program. She published it at age, 45, saying, “I hope I am living proof that it is never too late to follow your passion, or find a new vocation.”

The Summer Before the War, her second novel was written very differently, alone and without that support system. She said it was a lot more work and deeper in it’s message because it is historical and about a war, it required more research on the Edwardian age. When I asked her why we should read it, she said because she is paying for her two children’s college educations and her MFA, that’s why! That British wit! Within just the first few minutes of talking with her, the source of the Major’s dry humor was clear and ringing!

She is currently writing her third book. It is more humorous, more like Major Pettigrew. She says it is often a struggle because real life in our current time is stranger than fiction.

We asked about prejudice in England and how true her depiction was. She said it is pretty bad, even worse than her book portrayed and noted, “Prejudice is a human condition, not an America condition.”

We concluded our wonderful discussion with Helen, where she encouraged us to Skype her again after we read The Summer Before the War! We’ll do that  We will probably read it next Spring or Summer.

We talked a little more about this fun but many-layered book, drank more wine, and shared some of our favorite quotes from the book.


While the lake lapped at their feet and the mountains absorbed their calls and the sky flung its blue parachute over their heads, he thought how wonderful it was that life was, after all, more simple than he had ever imagined.”

…I tell myself it does not matter what one reads–favorite authors, particular themes–as long as we read something. It is not even important to own the books.

…as I get older, I find myself insisting on my right to be philosophically sloppy.

The day before book club, I reached out to one of our members and asked her to come, even though she hadn’t read the book, because she hadn’t been in a while and she was born in India and could provide some additional insight. It was an interesting dynamic that the rest of us were interpreting the book explaining it to her. I found it to be a very intriguing method of discussing a book. See, I’m tricky like that!

She also brought peshwari naan (naan bread stuffed with pureed fruits and nuts) with a ginger and cottage cheese sauce and she deemed the chicken tikka masala as excellent! You thought I wasn’t going to talk about the food, do you know me at all?!

The food for Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand book club

Here is the recipe our hostess, Gail, used to make the chicken tikka masala from

She also made a madeira cake with jam and grilled peaches. It’s basically pound cake and you are supposed to drink madeira or sherry or other liqueur with it.

We had wine and tea with a little somethin’ somethin’ added! And the tea was made in an authentic Russian samovar (what a funny production). There is a fire in the pot with the tea and it has a smoky flavor to it. It’s really pretty but a possible fire hazard. Gail kept wanting to bring it inside. Her husband didn’t think it was a good idea! Funny! Since we were enjoying book club outside, anyway, it worked out! Haha!

Others added cheese and homemade tea cookies – using a friend’s British “authentic” recipe, she painstakingly translated the metric measurements, then realized they were the same as her grandmother’s recipe.

We also had homemade peach salsa/bruschetta and peach cobbler. It was a wonderful peachy summery night with good friends!

Book Club: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Sweet T Book Club Selection for July 2017

By Rainbow Rowell

Book Club Rating:  Mostly Thumbs Up

Sweet T’s Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Hey y’all!! I’m baaaack!!! It’s been a looong time since I blogged. Where have I been? I turned in my capstone project for my master’s degree in emerging media (the reason I started this web site in the first place), walked across the stage to get my diploma, and checked out (not necessarily in that order). Well, it was more like I gave out. I ran out of steam.

After years of hard work and intense study, I needed a break. I didn’t realize how much. Even though reading and sharing with you is a passion and something that makes me really happy, the concentrated focus of it wore me out.

What an accomplishment, though!!  Here’s me being all excited on stage!  Mission accomplished!!  Call me Master T!  Master Sweet?

I’ve also had a lot going on in my real job. Summer is the busiest time for my team as we have five full-time student interns working with us.  They are awesome!  They bring such energy and enthusiasm into the office!

I’ve still been reading, enjoying summer and riding my bike, but not running, even a sunshine and heat-loving Southern girl has her sweaty, so-humid-you-can’t-breath limits.

I feel great and I’m ready to get back to sharing my bookish thoughts all over the interweb! So now, here are my bubbling, random, thoughtful thoughts about July’s book club book, Landline by Rainbow Rowell.

First, the food.

Book clubs don’t HAVE to have gourmet chefs as members (especially if there is a Weigman’s nearby!) but I’m here to tell you, it is a super bonus! I’m not a great cook, (I’m willing to try) but my friends are awesome!

Jen, our hostess, found inspiration from the book and made comfort foods like Georgie’s mom made for her girls. She fed us well with tuna mac, subs, veggies and dip, chips, and cookies. Other feastly contributions were sushi, edamame/cranberry salad (Yum!), shredded kale and Brussels sprouts salad, cheesecake, homemade chocolate and nuts, and delicious pesto zucchini noodles. Oh and our Pampered Chef representative made Trisha Yearwood’s grape salad with brown sugar, walnuts and cream cheese. OMG.

Pesto Zucchini Noodle Recipe

3 zucchinis spiralized (can be raw or sauteed)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup Pesto Sauce:
2 cups fresh basil
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
1/2 cup parmesan

* combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper and process for 30 seconds. Transferred to bowl and mix and cheese.

Pesto zucchini noodles

Over the summer, with folks on vacation and busy doing things, our gatherings are smaller. This time we were seven – what some would think of as a reasonable book club size instead of our usual 12 to 18! Haha! Maybe we should call ourselves a book mob (a book gaggle?)

We sat outside on Jen’s new deck, eating, and talking about life, laughing and enjoying each other, then, of course, we talked about the book.

What did we think?

I was surprised that everyone gave it some degree of thumbs up. Some were more middling than others but no one disliked it (but then, Elizabeth wasn’t there).

When I first read this book months ago, I liked it. To be honest, I didn’t love it but it was something I wanted to share with others. I wanted to ask about their thoughts on love and marriage and Rainbow Rowell’s dialog and characters and magic telephones to the past.

Rainbow Rowell Photo by Eric Francis for USA Today

I’ve read several of Rowell’s other books, most of them are young adult and they all have that flavor to them but the situations and ages of the characters are older. They’re all love stories about awkward geeky people. There are lots of pop-culture references. Eleanor & Park is great. Fangirl was fun. I really liked Attachments – the 80s style was so much fun. I like her style. She’s funny and good with dialog.

She does a great job of capturing the worries and anxieties that we all have – sometimes silly and sometimes warranted without making them feel overwrought. At least I think so. It’s a fine line. Almost all of us have those crazy neuroses but seeing them happen to someone in a story can sometimes be really annoying.

Sometimes timing can be a big factor where this is concerned. My first reading of Landline I was more patient. I tried to listen to it a second time as a refresher a few days before book club and I just couldn’t. It annoyed me some.

I realized there were a lot of tv and movie references that Gail wouldn’t get (She’s only seen 7 or 8 movies in her life). Some of them were: Back to the Future, M*A*S*H, Mork & Mindy, Barney Miller, Gossip Girl, and Quantum Leap.

Our Book Discussion

I always have some disucssion questions prepared but we didn’t really use them this time. I always prefer when our conversations are more organic, when one topic leads to another. I generally don’t consider anything off-limits for our conversations and when the conversation becomes less about the book, I, or someone always brings it back. I love that about our group. Everyone who comes has read the book or at least most of it. We talk about lots of other things for our first hour together, then we wholeheartedly talk about the book.

That’s a great segue – back to the book… we liked it. It is a story about Georgie McCool, who decides to spend the Christmas holidays staying in California to work while her family – her husband Neal and 2 young children – travel to his parents home in Nebraska. She wants to go with her family but this is her shot, her chance, she has to write scripts for her tv show, the show she has dreamed about doing for her whole life.

While he’s away, she can’t reach Neal on his cell phone. This sends her reeling. She didn’t think the separation was a SEPARATION. She didn’t think her choice to stay and work would lead to them breaking up. She realizes the stresses that have been on their relationship and how unhappy Neal has been.
She thinks about when they met in college and fell in love and how their lives together have evolved.

One of us compared it to What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty in that when someone is in a relationship, she gets so caught up in the present, short term situations, forgetting the past reasons that brought love together.

I asked everyone a two part question. Did you relate to Georgie? Did you like her?

I think most of us could relate to her, some as working women, working mothers, passionate about a career or a personal calling and having to balance that with a relationship, a family, the needs and desires of others.

But most of us weren’t big fans of her as a person. I threw out the idea of her as selfish but that wasn’t really how others said they would describe her.

Our opinions of Neal were also mixed. Most of us liked him a lot better as he got older. Maybe we liked him better as a husband and father than as an odd college student. It is interesting how Rainbow Rowell described him as big-eared, short, fat, hobbitty, pale, unlaughing and rarely smiling – rarely giving him traits that would make most people love him (or even like him). But Georgie was clearly attracted to him and fell in love with him. I think the author made him less attractive to us as the reader to emphasize the personal qualities of their attraction and love. They matched.

It contrasts to the ways they didn’t match. Georgie had a career as a Hollywood writer while he hated California and having to make small talk at parties. She wanted to impress people and he could care less about what others thought. He disliked her best friend and writing partner, Seth.

We didn’t really talk about Seth that much except one said she didn’t like him. We could have said a lot about him but we focused more on the primary story.

Georgie falls apart emotionally when Neal leaves. She can’t reach him on his cell phone and it causes her to question their relationship and wonder if his leaving is a bigger split than she first thought.

Enter the magical yellow rotary landline phone to the past. Some, including the publishers, say this makes this book science fiction – BALONEY!! It’s a story-telling device that lets Georgie tap into her memories to help her realize what she was taking for granted with Neal and to reconnect with him.
(Spoiler alert) The brilliance is that Present-Day Georgie talked to Past Neal at a time in their relationship when they were broken up, making Past Neal realize how much he loved her, that he couldn’t live without her and it led to him rushing back and proposing to her. AND at the same time, these conversations made Future Georgie realize how much she loved Neal and couldn’t live without him and led to her fly to Omaha to be with him and her daughters for Christmas.

SOOOOOO….during that whole time, neither had any conversations with each other in their current same time. Present-Day Georgie didn’t talk with Present-Day Neal and Past Neal didn’t talk to Past Georgie. Mind blown, right? I thought it was super fun. And not science fictiony at all! (For the record, I like science fiction but most of my book club girls do not. They don’t know what they’re missing).

So a magic phone to the past…who would you call? Most of our group wanted to talk to mothers or fathers who had passed to know more about their family history and to fill the holes in their lives or to warn them about decisions and preparations. One said she would call herself to put herself on a better track in her formative years.

I would call my Granmama ten years ago. She’s still alive but she’s in a nursing home and doesn’t talk on the phone much anymore. Ten years ago was the time when we talked almost every day. She was still living in her home and doing great. Mama had died several years before. Grandaddy had been gone a long time. We had each other most.

I would relive our old conversations or have new ones. Either would be wonderful. We talked about everything, current events, sports, relationships, the past when she was a girl, our family, our values. We laughed. Oh my goodness, how we laughed. She’s the funniest person in the whole world, not because she tells jokes but because she’s just funny. (It’s the same way my friend Gail is funny).

It’s not a case of not knowing what you had til it’s gone, I always knew what I had and I always knew it would end one day. We talked so much about life, about how it ends, how it’s not always what you expect but you have to move forward the best you can with what you have. That you have to choose to be happy, to be in the relationships you are in and to make them the best and to be the best you can be.

And oh boy did we talk about books! It’s taken this whole book club to fill some of that void. And I appreciate that, too.

I hope you enjoyed Landline and it made you think about things.

I had prepared some questions from the publisher. Here’s a link to them on a great web site, Litlovers.


Review: American Wife

American Wife
By Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Do you ever see someone famous and think about what it’s like to be them or what it would be like to live their life? Or do you ever wonder what your life would be like if it took some incredibly different turn? If you married into vast, ridiculous wealth and privilege?

That’s what American Wife is, an imagining of a life inspired by the life and personality of first lady, Laura Bush. It is not a book based on her life but sparked by public situations and personalities and imagined empathy. It’s not just about politics and her marriage to the President. That comes later, much later. There is a whole beautiful story, a whole lifetime before that happens.

I found it fascinating. I saw myself in the main character, Alice. I do that with many books I read. I interpret a character by how similar she is to me, how much I can personally relate. But I don’t always do that and I don’t have to relate to a character to understand a story. Some books aren’t like that. Some characters I fall in love with or I dislike or I feel sisterhood with or learn from or just watch them live on the page.

I related so completely to Curtis Sittenfeld’s main character, Alice Lindgren Blackwell. Her actions and emotional life are so complex but also simple. Her life is incredibly sheltered and incredibly blessed. She does for others but feels like she should be doing more, especially when she is given the power to do more.

As first lady she chooses issues that are not controversial, Issues that are self-evident and do not require her to make an argument about whether they are right or wrong. Like me, she is not a fighter or a protester but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel or doesn’t act in other ways.

There are also complex relationships with others in her life, her fascinating grandmother, her childhood best friend, her high school love, her husband. Relationships are complex. You can love the people in your life so deeply and completely yet disagree with them strongly but choose to let it go. I regularly choose to let it go. Everyone has flaws. I certainly do.

I wonder if others feel the same connection to this character. I wonder if these are common thoughts women have or only a few of us. I feel certain it is generational but is it generational to people born before 1975 or generational to women who are in the middle of life? I wonder if other people would agree that I’m like Alice or if my perception of myself are not the same as my outward persona.

I know there are some people, some of my friends who really won’t like this book. For one thing, it’s very long. The audio was over 23 hours! It addresses issues like homosexuality, abortion, race issues, class issues, the war in Iraq, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, born-again Christianity, agnosticism.

Alice’s husband, Charlie Blackwell is so much like my perception of George Bush – I would love to have a few beers with him but have him leading the free world, not so much.  And there’s a little too much graphic sex with this guy who is so much like the former President…I feel grossed out.

Some reviewers were outraged at this seeming invasion of privacy of a public figure.  They think fictionalizing the life of Laura Bush was a cowardly way to push a personal agenda.  I don’t think so.  I just think it was inspiration.

This is the third book I’ve read by Curtis Sittenfeld. They’re all different.   She’s definitely well-educated and well-read. I read Prep years ago, in 2005, when it was first published. I liked it but it made me uncomfortable… very angsty.  I read Eligible a few months ago. It’s a fun, silly, sassy modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read Sisterland a few months ago, also, and it’s an odd book that I liked but didn’t.

Her writing is good. She is very in tune with people, how complicated we are, how we don’t always want what’s best for us and we don’t understand why. She’s very good at capturing moments between people, those moments where you know exactly what they’re feeling and your heart is breaking with them.  But sometimes the writing gets slow, bogged down in the intimacies of detail and character instead of moving forward.  The sex seems gratuitius, and did I mention it’s with George Bush, oh wait, only inspired by him.  ew.

So anyway, did I mention Alice is an avid reader, like me. My friends, if you decide to read this book, let’s have lunch or a drink and have a two person book club. I have a lot to talk about!

Book Club: The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone
By Richard Preston

What an incredibly gross, terrifying and amazingly interesting book we read this month!  It was made even better by a super-fun, show-n-tell book club filled with expert knowledge and hands-on experiences (and gourmet food and wine, of course!)

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is an engrossing book that traces the roots of Ebola from Africa through an outbreak outside of Washington, DC.

First published in 1994, it’s over 20 years old but it is still relevant in describing Ebola and the history of various strains and virology in general.  There are more recent events and new procedures in safety that made for very interesting discussion. Not every book club is fortunate enough to have a member and hostess who is a biosafety laboratory professional and has been the president of the international association for her industry.

But more about that later.  First, the food!

Book Club Food Ideas and Recipes for The Hot Zone

We had a lot of fun with the theme this month!  Our ladies are up for any challenge when it comes to cooking! So much deliciousness!

Our amazing hostess created an African couscous paella.  Here is the recipe from

African couscous paella

She also made wonderful yummy monkey bread, which lead to an interesting discussion about how it got the name monkey bread.  Which led to asking the source of all knowledge …Google…

Monkey bread, also called monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread, African coffee cake, golden crown, pinch-me cake, and pluck-it cake is a soft, sweet, sticky pastry served in the United States for breakfast or as a treat. It consists of pieces of soft baked dough sprinkled with cinnamon.”

Wikipedia says, “The origin of the term “monkey bread” comes from the pastry being a finger food, the consumer would pick apart the bread as a monkey would.”  But we also heard it was because the dough looked like monkey toes.

All I know is that it is incredibly delicious!  Here’s the doughy, buttery, yummy recipe!

We had a Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies.  The recipe is detailed at the end of the post.  It was surprisingly delicious and fresh tasting with the lemon.  I had an anchovy and I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. They’re so salty! But I hear they’re good for you. Isn’t it a fascinating shape?  Like a turtle or skeleton or some creature.

Here’s a gross looking but delicious dish.  Ebola is a string virus, shaped like a tube or noodle, so red beet noodles were perfect!  Someone said she didn’t like beets but enjoyed this.  Roasting them makes them taste less like dirt!  Here’s the recipe for Spiralized Mediterranean Beet and Feta Skillet Bake.

Other wonderful savory dishes included cheese balls with salami and a white pizza with spinach and artichoke hearts.


 The sweets were also wonderful. Homemade banana cream pie and monkey balls,


and coconut macaroons (sooo delicious) and hemorrhagic cupcakes…I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture of the bloody, oozing cherry filling!!  Love the warning sign she put on them!

Decor for The Hot Zone Book Club

We were warned as we entered…


Our hostess, Melissa, created an awesome table setting that included safety suits for biological and chemical situations, Ebola and Black Plague stuffed “animals” (You can buy them at! who knew!), Moroccan spices, blood sample shooters, “bacteria” Good n Plenties in Petri dishes and all kinds of information about biosafety.



Melissa and her lovely assistant, Mindy, gave a demonstration of how to put on a biosafety suit with HEPA filter and mask.




The Hot Zone: Book Club Discussion

Melissa’s father was an army veterinarian with U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and was a colleague and personal friends with Drs. Jerry and Nancy Jaax, the army veterinarian and pathologist who were key contributors to the Ebola removal operation in Reston, Virginia in 1989 and featured in The Hot Zone.  He shared some background with us and as a special treat, we connected with the Jaaxes, recently retired from working at the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University, over FaceTime from Maryland to Kansas!  

They were awesome!  They said that, though Richard Preston put a few words in people’s mouths, the details and events of the book were accurate.  The book is accessible to everyone from 4th or 5th graders to microbiologists.

The book gave the public relations and advertising the army couldn’t buy and the Jaaxes were able to give talks while they were still on active duty.  They are still “trotted out as talking heads” any time Ebola experts are needed, like the 2014 doctor and healthcare workers who returned to the U.S. from Africa with Ebola. They said there were so many people who told them they became virologists or veterinarians or biologists because of reading The Hot Zone.

They also talked about the biowarfare and weaponization of viruses and diseases programs in the U.S. and Soviet Union. President Nixon halted the very robust U.S. offensive operations but defensive programs continue.

I asked if they were scared during the operation in Reston and he said, no, “It was cool”  He really enjoyed being a part of things during that time, exploring, learning about uncharted territory!  They were discovering new things. They trusted the protocols and equipment. They said the equipment that was state of the art then is now in high schools. They took their kids to see the monkeys at their offices at USAMRIID.  Now they would be locked up for that!

Jerry Jaax received over 50 vaccinations.  Nancy joked the worst one she got was botulism because not only was the “bot shot” very painful, it made her immune to botox.

We toasted them with test tube blood sample shooters made with cranberry juice, Tito’s vodka, and Malibu rum!


Melissa led a continuation of the discussion. Our group has 4 lab scientists and several nurses so we had a lot of scientific knowledge in the room. Melissa told us about her career and the path that led to it. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry with a premed focus, a master’s degree in Environmental Management and an MBA, but there is no degree for what she currently does. ABSA International is creating programs.

She is in charge of the division of research safety and serves as the institutional biosafety officer for a major university medical health system. She tries to make sure everyone goes home healthy and doesn’t bring home anything that could harm their family.

Her focus is in biosafety and biosecurity. There’s a lot to that-conducting biorisk assessments; establishing written biological safety policies and procedures; developing exposure control; emergency response planning; participating on engineering project teams to build or renovate biological laboratories, high containment facilities, and animal facilities; partnering with occupational health professionals to develop and implement medical surveillance programs for personnel working with infectious agents; providing technical advice on shipping, importing and exporting biological materials; auditing biosafety and biosecurity programs; and managing regulated agents and materials. She has other staff that focuses more on the chemical and radiological hazards in the research lab.

Here’s our girl on the job!

She showed us pictures from the lab where she works and the latest in safety equipment and procedures. We talked about recent situations in the news including bird flu, MERS, and smallpox. We also talked about movies like Outbreak and Contagion.  Jerry Jaax had contrasted Hollywood’s version of how things work versus real life.  Melissa and the Jaaxes agreed that Contagion was the real experience.

This may have been the best book club ever! The book was a unanimous thumbs up for everyone. It was awesome!  It was fun and we learned a lot.  Here’s another recipe!  Happy reading!!!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies


4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to drizzle
Pinch of red chili flakes
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 cups green or black lentils
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
2 sprigs fresh sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads fennel, halved lengthwise
2 cups fresh ricotta
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Anchovies, if desired.


Place lentils in a heavy, medium pot with both garlic-head halves and sage. Cover lentils with 2 inches water and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer lentils until tender but still whole, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add extra water to keep lentils submerged throughout cooking. Strain lentils and season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Slice fennel into very thin slivers. If fennel is woody, sprinkle with lemon juice to soften. Season with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Place ½ cup ricotta on each plate. Season cheese with salt and arrange dressed fennel on top. Spoon lentils generously over fennel. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley and anchovies, if desired.

Do you change your Goodreads ratings?

Do you change your Goodreads ratings? Confession. I change mine. ALL. THE.TIME.

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how you rate a book on Goodreads?

If any of you don’t know what Goodreads is or don’t use it, it’s a wonderful website and app where you can loose lots of time!  You can store the books you’ve read, the books you want to read, and you can rate, review, and discuss them with other book lovers.  It’s one of my favorite apps. ever.  I LOVE it!  I want all my friends to use it.  It helps me figure out what to read next and what to pick for book club (since my book club makes me pick most of the books we read).

And did I mention you can make lists?  And vote for books on the lists  – Best Books Ever, Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once, Best Historical Fiction, Best Books of the 20th Century, Best Book Boyfriends, Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and many many many more!

I don’t always agree with the rankings – The Hunger Games is definitely not the best book ever.  But it’s fun!

My Daddy likes books where things blow up.  I did a search for that and unfortunately only came up with  Fictional Books About Nuclear War, The Blitz, Best Bloke Books (seriously), and Must Read Books Before the World Blows Up.

So back to the book ratings on Goodreads. Do you ever change your ratings? Friends – more than one – have made fun of me for flip-flopping.  I think it’s funny they notice! And this was before I started blogging and posting them online with bright pink stars! They call me fickle.  And maybe I am a little. Sweet T, the fickle pickle.  I might have a product there???

I’ve changed a rating then changed it back.

(more than once)

Do you do it, too? Why?
I mean, what is our problem? Why do we care?

Sometimes a book stays with me and I keep thinking more about it so it has a bigger impact than I first thought.  I changed my rating for These Is My Words from 4 to 5 because I loved it.  It wasn’t the most life-changing book in the world and I think that’s why I held back at first but I loved it and that’s enough!

I changed my rating for Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, several times.  I was really mad at her for being so dumb but it was such a powerful book, especially the more I thought about it.  And it was one of the best book club discussions ever.

Sometimes I change it because I like a book less.  I loved Big Stone Gap when I first read it years ago.  When we reread it for book club, it just didn’t resonate the same.  Sure I was influenced by other’s opinions but it just didn’t sing to me like it had before.  I still liked it but I wasn’t in love with it.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Can we just be friends?

Sometimes I change it based on other books. One 4 just doesn’t compare to another.  That’s probably not a good reason but it is. I rate the majority of the books I read as 3 stars. It’s easy.  It feels comfortable.  I don’t feel as much pressure to convince others they should like it.(Hmmmm, that says a lot about me, doesn’t it.  Psychology folks, analyze that!) There is a lot of wiggle room, a wide variety of likability in the 3 area!

Timing is SOOOOOO influential to how well I like a book.  What I’ve read before – not just what I’ve read in the past but the book I read immediately before.  ONe friend read The Help recently.  She didn’t like the book we read for book club. SURPRISE!  There are very few books that would hold up to that book depression. I just Googled post reading book depression and there were a lot of hits!!!  The struggle is real, y’all!

If I had read The Alchemist in my 20’s, I would have probably rated it a 5 but since I didn’t read it until I was in my 40’s, I had read other books that taught the same lesson and had so many more experiences that made it feel small and trite. I just noticed I rated it a 2.  I kindof want to change that to a 3 right now…


10 Things to Know about Hygge AKA How to Get Your Hygge On!

10 Things to Know about Hygge aka How to Get Your Hygge On

I’ve been hearing a lot about this Danish thing called Hygge.  So on my recent little get-away to Florida to escape the cold, I checked out a book from the library called The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking and read it on the plane. Yep, in one little two-hour flight.  Here are 10 things I learned.

My picture with bare feet and sunshine are not common to the Danish environment for the majority of the year but you’ll soon see it is very hyggelig!. Here are 10 things I learned about hygge.

1. Books are very hygge.

And this one ‘s size and feel are super awesome!  It made me happy just to hold this small, pretty book – and that is hyggelig (hygge-like).  It’s the same size as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo‎. Both have such a pleasant feel and spark joy when you hold them!  The cover is pretty and the inside art is cute.

2. It’s pronounced Hue gah.

It kindof rhymes with cougar without the r, if you’re from Boston. Kindof.

Here’s a  jazzy guy spending way too much time explaining it with a French lesson thrown in.

And here is an adorable Danish couple pronouncing it, many times, so you get it.

3. So what the heck is hygge?

It’s a feeling of coziness and friendship and happiness when things are warm and slow and natural – casual.  It’s wearing a thick, soft sweater in front of a fire while wearing cozy socks, drinking a warm beverage and spending time with friends or family or reading a book while a stew is simmering on the stove.  It’s about switching off – less cell phone and tv, more conversation and reading.

I would like to think book club is hygge but we may need to spend more time in socks.

Here is a some hygge from Gaff Interiors, who interviewed the author for design inspiration.  Don’t you want to spend a lot of time there?!

4. Soft light is an essential element of hygge

Whether it is candlelight, firelight, or soft diffused lamplight, the right lighting is a very important part of the ambiance of hygge.  Fireplaces are very important. The soft glow of the setting sun in my Florida picture with the book is just perfect!

Danes are apparently crazy about candles.  I found these survey results really interesting.

5. Texture is key

Soft cozy blankets and cushions, animal skins, rugs, natural wood, ceramics and a warm drink, tactile elements make a hyggelig setting.

A Hyggekrog, which roughly translates as ‘a nook’, is the place in the room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea. Then bring in nature. Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside. Any piece of nature you might find is likely to get the Hygge greenlight. Leaves, nuts, twigs etc. Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room? Then think tactile. A Hyggelig interior is not just about how things look, it is just as much about how things feel. Letting your fingers run across a wooden table, a warm ceramic cup is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic.”

6. Dressing hygge is all about casual, minimalism and warmth,like soft, bulky sweaters and warm wool socks,

Oversized sweaters, cardigans, pajamas, and slippers. Wiking says Danes wear lots of black, and scarves.  The Sarah Lund sweater from the Danish tv series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is a great example of casual even at work; she’s a police detective. I have never seen The Killing but I like the sweater. It does look comfy cozy! The British call it a jumper. I don’t get it.

7. You need a warm beverage.

Live today like there is no coffee tomorrow.”

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate – the book has recipes for grogg and mulled wine – a hot drink is the number one thing Danes associate with Hygge.

8.  Food

Sweets make people happy and Danes love them. Pastries and baking are very hygge. I mean, come on, they have the Danish.  Things that take a long time to cook are very hygge.  The book has recipes for skibberlabskovs (skip-er-lap-scows) or skipper stew, boller karry (ball-r e cari) or Danish meatballs in curry and Snobrod (sno-broed) or twistbread.  I’m telling you, this would make a great book club menu!

9. Danes are not the only ones who practice it.

Meik Wiking, the author, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He has spent years studying Danish life and what makes people happy.  According to many studies, Denmark is the happiest country in the world.

Other countries have similar traditions and expressions. The word hygge originally came from a Norweigian word.  Canadians call it hominess, The Dutch call it gezelligheid, and Germans talk of Gemutlichkeit.  According to Wiking, it is different in Denmark because of its importance in culture and national identity.  They talk about it often and the lanugage is rich when it comes to talking about it.

10. There are many books about it.

I created a list on Goodread’s Listopia with 55 books that have Hygge in the title.  Here are a few I’m thinking of reading. They have pretty covers.


The Little Book of
Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
by Meik Wiking

Sweet T’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It was an interesting concept to learn about and a super cute book!


Book Club: The 13th Tale

Book Club Ideas for The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield from www.sweettnbooks.comThe 13th Tale 
By Diane Setterfield

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for August 2016 (originally July 2016)

The mysterious story of world-renowned, reclusive author Vida Winter, who has grown ill and needs to tell someone the story of her life. At least the version she wants told.

She chooses Margaret Lea, the daughter of a rare bookseller, to write it.  But Margaret has never read any of Vida Winter’s books and she has only written a quaint biography of a little-known author. Why has this woman chosen her when she can have anyone write her story.

As Ms. Winter tells the strange story of her family and growing up on the estate, Angelfield, I found myself drawn in along with Margaret.  These people were so strange – the beautiful Isabella, her doting father and her cruel brother, the red-headed twins who were left to their own devices to roam and live as they pleased, a ghost, a governess, strange experiments, and a fire.

Vida Winter’s story makes Margaret confront her own troubled past.

I love this photoshoot by palewinterrose inspired by the story.

And this one from Wickedmistress777.

I feel like this book may have been a little cursed.  Originally we were supposed to read this in July, but almost everyone had a conflict on our original date so I postponed it for a week, then the day before our gathering, I fell in a cycling accident and broke my wrist. I’ll spare you the beautiful X-rays and gory details.  But it was a doozy!

We finally met to discuss it in August.  It was a good book.  The writing is eloquent and elegant and so gothic and creepy and beautiful.

Here is a quote …
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

This was the first time we got a Book Club to Go kit from the library. It’s a ginormous canvas bag with10 paperback copies of the book and a discussion guide. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ruthie Henshall and Lynn Redgrave.

One of our funny ladies likes to read and float in the pool. Unfortunately, her book didn’t survive very well, at least not to the library’s standard! lol!  Our book club now owns this lovely book and we’re getting some mileage out of it!  One member who moved to California took it with her to read by the pool there!

There is also a BBC movie out starring Vanessa Redgrave, Olivia Colman, and Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones. But it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.  Boo!!

My favorite book club blog, Delicious Reads had a lot of fun with this book.  Read about their quotes quiz and cool bibliotherapy prescriptions!

Book Club Ideas: These Is My Words

Book Club Ideas for These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 from

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

by Nancy Turner


Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for September 2016

This is s a love story with a strong female protagonist set in the wild west. Our book club loved this book (most of us). It was a great book to discuss and I highly recommend it for book clubs.

We liked this book because it made us wonder what we would do in the same situation, in such a different surrounding than our own. We thought about whether we would want to be pioneer women, leading a life of adventure and terror! We loved it because it was a funny, sweet, heartbreaking and heartwarming story about love and family.

Told from the point of view of Sarah Agnes Prine over twenty years of her life from a girlhood traveling with her family on covered wagons through working a ranch in the Arizona Territories to forming her own family, it is a story of physical and emotional hardships. Life in that time was rough and short for many, especially children.

But it’s also a story of family, friendships, and love filled with humor and sweetness.

The beginning was CRAZY and confusing. You were hit with the chaos of traveling in wagons and Indian attacks and people moving around and dying before you really got to know any of the characters. I think that was a taste of what life was like as a settler in the territories back then. It certainly wasn’t quiet and routine. They were trying to survive and create a new home.

Sarah is everything. We were impressed by her general badassedness. She did everything the boys could do – and she did it better. She saved her friends from a terrible assault. She won a shootout with a bunch of grown men. She shot a rattlesnake that was inches from her tiny daughter. And the only thing that made all of this even better was that she was so modest, even a little embarrassed about all of these things. She was strong and fierce and skilled and tough and smart and resilient and sensitive and hopeful and scared and vain and real.

Sarah began unschooled and rough but she really wanted an education.  When she found an abandoned cart of books, it was a great treasure. Throughout the book strove to learn through reading. She built a shed to house and protect her treasured books. Her personal learning is reflected by the building of a school then university in town, the community’s learning institutions mirror her progression. Her language and writing improved and became more mature and educated

We set the scene with delicious settler themed victuals – chicken white chili and vegetarian chili,  jalapeno cornbread, a beautiful salad with make-your-own add-ins, trail mix, flaky apple pie, homemade apple berry cobbler, and banana bread. It was delish!

Cobbler and photo credit Sherry LaRose-Cooke.

We loved the Jack. He had a perfect blend of cockiness and gentleness. Sarah and Jack had such a strong relationship, but it didn’t change who they were as individuals. They needed each other, but they also still needed to be the people they were before they met each other. I love that Sarah took care of the ranch and her soap business by herself while Jack did his thing with the army. I appreciated that they weren’t willing to sacrifice the things that were important to them. They were fiercely in love but their relationship had its difficulties and trying circumstances.

This book made me feel the power of women. A member of an online book club I admire, The Life of Bon, said this.

“Feminism is multi-faceted. Sarah is tough and skilled like a man, and most of the men in her life treat her much like an equal. Savannah embodies more of your generally “feminine” characteristics with her mild temperament, “genteel” behavior, naturally nurturing inclinations and even dignified submissiveness. I loved both of these women. They were both strong, humble, good people, not to mention excellent mothers. Sarah wanted to emulate Savannah, thinking that she was somehow lacking what she needed to be a “real” woman and Savannah looks the same way at Sarah. She admires her strength and resiliency. She loves her so dearly, and she needs her.

There’s no “right” way to woman. Woman how you wanna woman, women! Sarah is amazing. Savannah is amazing. Even Mama with her mental illness is still pretty amazing. Women are amazing and when you see all they’ve gone through (which we usually don’t have the benefit of knowing) they are even MORE amazing.”

Now that’s a quote for you!

The author, Nancy Turner started this book as a community college fiction assignment when she was in her 40s. She decided to keep going, and These Is My Words was published in 1998.

It’s a fictional account of the life of her great-grandmother Sarah Agnes Prine, who died in Texas in the 1960s. The series was inspired by a handwritten 1920s memoir of Sarah’s brother, Henry Prine, who came to Arizona in the 1870s as a teen. I have also read the sequels, Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden and enjoyed them. When Nancy was asked if she would write more, she declined saying, once the story gets into the 1920s it would reference people who are still alive or whose children are still alive.

This was the book club where Sweet T was born! I told the group about a project for my graduate class in emerging media applications where I had to create a web site and social media about me as a brand and as a lifestyle. EEK! I want to make it about my love of reading and sharing books with others and book club. We brainstormed together and Angie burst out, “Sweet T!! You’re sweet, you’re southern, that’s it.”  And it is!  So, that’s me! My Granmama always told me to be sweet!


P.S. Here’s a fun Pinterest Board on the Arizona Territory from 1863 to 1912.


Book Review: Britt Marie Was Here

Book Review of Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman from SweetTnBooks.comBritt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars (3.5???)

Good for book club? Sure but I would read  A Man Called Ove by Backman instead like we did.

Oh, this book…THIS.BOOK. WTF Fredrik Backman. I spent hundreds of pages frustrated. I almost abandoned it. Several times. I was so irritated by annoying, bland, insipid Britt-Marie. She’s a character from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry but this is not at all a sequel. It’s barely related.

I’ve been reading this book since January. I’ve listened to seven audiobooks in that same amount of time. SEVEN! Including A Visit From The Goon Squad, Daring Greatly, and The Goldfinch which is over 700 pages! It wasn’t until I was over halfway finished that it caught my interest. It wasn’t until the last hundred pages that it grabbed my heart and twisted it and made me feel so many feelings, like a flood, a flood of feelings.

Backman’s style is flowy (yes, that’s a technical term), thoughts are often incomplete. The story is told from the black and white, stodgy point of view of sixty-something, Britt-Marie, who has lived an orderly, mostly eventful life. One day she suddenly, uncharacteristically leaves her cheating husband, Kent. She just walks out the door and drives away.

Her car breaks down in a broken-down town that could be any small town in the world affected by recession. She meets Somebody, who spends the whole book as Somebody. She meets the children, the men with beards and hats, the women with walkers, and a whole cast of characters.

Britt-Marie believes everything can be cleaned up with baking soda and Faxin. And who knows, maybe it can. Backman’s books shed light on characters who are not charming or outgoing. They are not easy to be around and are hard to get to know. He wants you to know they are worthy of being known. They are valuable even though they are different. Somehow, he also seems to be applauding those forceful personalities who bully people into friendship.

Part of me wants to give this book 4 stars.  Part of me, that mulish part with its bottom lip stubbornly stuck out still feels resentful about this book being at least 150 pages longer than it needed to be. I’ve gotten so used to audiobooks.  When a book is slow at the beginning or in the middle, they keep barrelling through toward the finish.

Bottom line, Backman has a great sense of humor and a giant heart that won me over in the end.  It honestly should have been a quick read that took me too long.