Activity – CROSSWORD Puzzles

We have always loved crossword puzzles. We both start our day with one regular crossword from a newspaper and we also do the New York Times Mini, Seven Little Words, Waffle and Wordle. Barbara adds Dordle and Quordle. So we thought we’d see if there was another puzzle type we could get into (the more daily puzzles, the later we would have to do start something like-ugh-cleaning).

Laura surprisingly found a puzzle book given to her by our friend many moons ago. We sampled several puzzles. The verdict was:

Crypto-Clans – might be good but we didn’t have the patience for it so maybe not a morning puzzle.

Crosticlue – might be fun but the one we sampled was all about sports figures so we couldn’t do it.

Pencil Pointers – too much like a normal crossword puzzle.

Logic Problem – this also may be fun but you needed to be able to concentrate.

And the winner was: Can You Top This? This was a puzzle that was just the difficulty level needed to be both fun and challenging yet finished before your second cup of coffee.

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New author – Chris Cleave

Barbara: I usually am not crazy about English authors – although I love their television shows and movies- but the main characters in the book “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” had such wonderful turn of phrases that I was definitely drawn into their world. The book focused on the toll the war took from 3 different viewpoints: on friendship, on soldiers and I especially liked how he showed the effect on a woman who seemed to join the war effort thinking it would be a lark. It’s a recommend from me.


Barbara: This is C month so I decided to go to Champagne, France. No, of course not but what a great coincidence that a trip I’ve been planning for a year coincided with the letter C.

I love every place I’ve been to in France, and this was no exception. From the beautiful churches – the stone one below had stained glass by Marc Chagall – to the quaint little buildings in old towns that made me feel like I was living in a period piece movie, to the fantastic champagne it was a trip well worth the wait!

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New Restaurant: Bread Zeppelin

Many of us know Led Zeppelin but how many of us have heard of Bread Zeppelin? We found this delightful place in Carrollton. Their schtick was serving salad in homemade artisan bread, with an option of choosing a bowl. We opted for the Shanghai and the Plymouth Rock. Overall, we enjoyed both and would return.

Activity: We don’t know Beans about Beans Taste Test

We’ve had many dishes such as chili that include beans in the ingredients but realized that we really couldn’t tell one bean apart from another. Which beans did we really want to eat if left on its own? This is the kind of thing we wonder about, so we set out to do a taste test of our own. We tasted 7 beans:

Pinto (which gets its name from the Spanish words for “painted beans”) – good, versatile, can blend in with anything, a little heavier than some of the others; Barbara wondered if these are what refried beans are made from and as it turns out they are!

Navy (an American term coined because the U.S. has served this bean as a staple to its sailors since the mid-1800s) – more flavorful than the pinto, we got a new appreciation for that bean and would eat it on its own as a side dish.

Great Northern – similar in color but larger than the navy, closest in size to the pinto, pleasant taste similar a bit to a potato.

Cannellini – another white bean but not uniform in size; when tasting a spoonful there appeared to be a daddy bean, mommy bean and baby bean. Not as pleasant a taste as the others, had a grittier taste. We wouldn’t eat it on its own.

Kidney (named after the human kidney due to its shape) – we love this bean in chili but it was not very tasty on its own.

Lima (named after the city in Peru where it was first found) – this bean wasn’t even shelved with the other beans so perhaps it is in a slightly different category. It has a mushier consistency, a little pastier like a black bean, tastes better hot but Barbara didn’t like them growing up and still doesn’t.

Black – we knew in advance we’d like this bean because we’ve had them so often in Mexican restaurants and as dips.

All told, we learned a lot about this small legume including the origin behind the many idioms about beans so this was a worthwhile activity for us!

Learning Center: Bean Idioms

Spill the Beans”: Apparently, in Ancient Greece, the voting process involved candidates leaving their upturned helmets in a line. Voters would then go up to the helmet of the person they wished to vote for and place a bean inside it to indicate their vote. The candidate with the most beans in their helmet at the end was the winner. When the voting process ended, the winning candidate would receive their helmet, containing all their victory bean votes. In front of everyone, the newly elected official would then spill the beans from their helmet before placing it upon their head, revealing the outcome and signifying their acceptance of the new position. And that is why spilling the beans today means to share something that was previously a secret. 

A Hill of Beans”: A hill of beans is a symbol for something of trifling value, as in expressions like “it ain’t worth a hill of beans”. The mundane bean has for at least eight centuries been regarded as the epitome of worthlessness. Part of the strength of the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk is the contrast between the valueless beans Jack was given in exchange for the cow and the riches revealed by the full-grown beanstalk. The expression was first used in 1858 and was referring to the idea that if one bean was worthless, a whole hill of them would be even more so.

“Don’t know beans about (something)” :  Some say the phrase originated in early nineteenth century American mercantile stores that stocked a variety of legume called “blue beans.” The outer skin had a bluish tint, but when it was removed, the interior was white. A popular riddle was “How many blue beans make seven white beans?” If you didn’t know the answer was seven, you didn’t know beans.

“Cool beans”: Growing up most kids know a variation of the rhyme “Beans, beans, good for the heart, the more you eat the more you fart, the more you fart the better you feel, beans, beans for every meal.” That’s right, folks. According to research by Lauren Oyler, “the phrase “cool beans” stems from the phrase “some beans,” which stems from the phrase “full of beans,” which probably stems from horse farts. And that, I think we can all agree, is pretty cool.”

New Restaurant: Bruncheon

On our return from the Highland Park Library (see last post) we decided to try another new B restaurant and found Bruncheon in Richardson. Judging by the amount of people there, it is a very popular restaurant and we discovered why. The menu was varied and extensive and the food delicious. Laura had a brisket skillet and Barbara had a vegetable skillet, both great. But during the course of the meal, we watched as the chicken and waffles went by and a plate of French toast topped by the crispiest, juiciest looking bacon which we had to restrain ourselves from leaping up and grabbing off the lady’s plate. It looks like we’ll be returning.

Activity: Baking Bread

This was the least successful of our Bs in the Belly. We have made many recipes from the Los Angeles Times California Cookbook and they’ve all turned out to be favorites so we were very disappointed when we made their Pineapple-Macadamia Nut Bread. It looked great because it rose high but it was completely tasteless.

New Book: (not a B in the Belly but worth mentioning): Bomb Shelter: Love, Time and Other Explosives

Laura: If you’re a mother (check), a worrier (check) and appreciate humor and excellent writing (check), you’re going to really enjoy this memoir-in-essays book. I was immediately hooked because I felt a bond with Mary Laura Philpott, the author, over two incidents she related rather early on. First, she recalls a childhood memory of creating a dance routine in the ocean while being completely unaware that she was wading through a school of stingrays and that folks were calling to her to get out of the water. My childhood memory is that of thinking I was moving horizontally across the ocean while in fact I was going diagonally deeper in a strong undertow. I saw people on the beach lined up calling and I thought it was for someone else until the lifeguard came toward me. These incidents were so embarrassing to me and the author. The other thing we have in common is she has a turtle (Frank) that goes to their back door and bangs his head until someone comes to feed him while I have a squirrel (Lady Chatterley) that scratches at the back door, then peers in and stands up to beg until we feed her. But aside from the personal connection, I loved how she explores life, love, death and fear and coats it all with insights and humor.

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We never got around to our A month reading challenge so this month we are doing both A and B.

“A” Month Reading Challenge: Attend a talk, reading or open mic night — virtual is more than encouraged! — for an Author about whom you know nothing.

We had never been to the Highland Park Library so when we saw that an author would be there, talking about his book “Deadly Dallas: History of Unfortunate Incidents & Grisly Fatalities”, we were intrigued.

This was like no library we’ve ever been to. You couldn’t tell that it was a library from the outside. When we arrived at our destination this is what we saw:

No signage indicating a library; perhaps limiting who they wanted to enter?

We entered, walked down a long hall and the library itself looked almost like a lovely old bookshop. The hall we were directed to seemed like one in which the someone would give judicial testimony. Quite unusual.

We really enjoyed the talk given by Rusty Williams. We had no idea of the many ways in which everyday life in the late 1800s in Dallas were deadly, from elevators which no one had operated previously to the fact that one was more likely to get run over in the streets in those days than someone in the present driving the length of the Dallas North Tollway in reverse! So glad the ABC Life inspired us to hear this amusing and very interesting talk.

“B” Month Reading Challenge: Discover a new Book podcast

Barbara: I sampled three book podcasts. Sampled, because I didn’t care for any of them. The first was Beaks and Geeks. I have no idea how that title relates to the blog but it was an interview with an author. I’ve concluded that listening to an author I don’t know talk about a book I haven’t read is not at all appealing to me. So, I moved on to the second, Banging Book Club. This was hosted by two women who I’m guessing are in their early 20s and they were talking to a young author but all through the portion of the podcast I listened to the three of them were giggling. I’m sure no one wants to hear my friends and me giggling so on I moved again. The third and final podcast I sampled was Backlisted but it was too dry. My conclusion: I’d much rather read the book and then discuss it with my friends or book club members than sit through a podcast.

Laura: I approached this challenge with trepidation, already a bit biased against book podcasts after talking to Barbara. Well, I totally agree with her views. Book podcasts are not my thing. The first podcast I sampled was Sarah’s Bookshelves Podcast. I really enjoy her blog so I was disappointed that I was bored and disinterested in the episode I listened to. Then I tried So Many Damn Books. The moderator immediately did a commercial for Bomba socks! Really? My third and final try was somewhat successful. It was Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year. The episode was talking to Jonathan Freedland about his book The Escape Artist. They got right into discussing the book so at least you were listening to what you tuned into hear! I realize there are many out there who love book podcasts so the lack of my listenership will not be missed.

Follow up to our last post: In keeping with our vow of B Begone! Barbara has already donated 17 Blouses and 8 Belts and tossed a great number of unused Beauty products. Laura has bagged 4 pairs of Blue Jeans, 7 Beauty products, 10 Books and 1 Bayonet (just kidding).

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Laura had been to the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney but Barbara had not and neither of us had seen the Native Butterfly House and Garden so we were looking forward to some beauty. Of course, we picked the hottest time to go which was a mistake and led to disappointment. The butterflies were very scant and although we expected to see a variety, there was only one type of butterfly. It was a beauty but not what we were expecting. We did, however, get to see a lemur in the Wild Animal House which always gives us a little chuckle. We’ll go a little earlier in the season next time.


As part of our vow to declutter our houses, we’ve decided to start with B and before we overthink it, give away any belts, blouses, beauty products and bracelets that we haven’t used in at least a year, if not more. I’m sure we’ll each have a full gallon bag of stuff to donate by the end of the week.

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An Additional A

New RestaurantAnasofia’s Mexican Grill
Discovering a new place for lunch or dinner is always a fun experience – and Anasofia’s Mexican Grill in Plano did not disappoint. The food was quite good (the brisket omelette particularly yummy) and the swirl margharita was potent and delicious, but what struck us the most was the staff. The greeter/waitress and the bartender/waiter (owners we think) were so friendly, humorous and welcoming that it made our dining adventure stand out from the ordinary. We both feel motivated to support this relatively new restaurant and will return.

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A’s been a strange month. Covid has made it impossible to do much together and then Barbara went on vacation (more about that below) and like a snap, July is gone. We’re hoping to get the most out of the next month, including our A & B reading challenges.

New streaming series: America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston

Laura: This new PBS show explores our relationships with outdoor spaces and I find it to be relaxing, educational and enjoyable. A welcome trio! As a former Southern California gal for more than 25  years, I chose to first watch the Los Angeles segment. I was fascinated with some aspects of this episode, particularly the portion toward the end that showed how clueless we are that we are swimming close to sharks. A jaw dropper of a reveal (pun intended)! Next I watched the episode on Appalachia and discovered not only that I have been mispronouncing this area forever but how little I know of this region. When your personal travel days are on hold, being able to “visit” new places and learn new things is a real treat and this show delivers.

New ActivityArctic Adventure in Iceland

Barbara: This has been the year of cold weather travel. First Norway in February and now Iceland. Iceland was a land of surprises for me. First, I had little expectations for the food (unknown why) but it was delicious! The seafood was the best I’ve ever tasted, and they eat a lot of lamb, so I was in my happy place. I tried whale (not bad, like steak with a little fish undertone) and sticky toffee pudding (oh my!) plus had the best hot dog this New York gal has ever eaten (made with lamb, of course). And the landscape was haunting and unusual, from stunning waterfalls to lava fields to geysers and craters and caves, etc. They don’t plant many trees because they want to be able to see nature and I don’t blame them. I can definitely recommend a trip to this beautiful country.

New streaming series: Africa , Season 2 of Moving Art

Laura: Another amazing show. Love this. Moving Art has no words, no plot. Just beautiful and inspirational visuals that provide a 30-minute journey of spectacular wildlife and terrain. For “A” month, I watch the episode on Africa and next I went to Iceland so I could have somewhat of an inkling of what Barbara was seeing. I absolutely love this show! Now, when I just want to totally relax and feed my soul, I will tune in to this show and be moved!

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We can’t believe we are starting a 3rd iteration of the ABC Life already! So many things we would not have seen, done or learned about if it were not for the ABC Life. But we needed to loosen up some of our rules and add some categories, to be able to keep doing things we haven’t done before and still fitting them into the alphabet. So, for example, even though we have been to an ART gallery, if we go to one in a different city from the last time, we can count it in our A month. Or when reading a new book, the A can be the author name, the title, or the subject matter as in…..

New Book – Subject Matter – Apothecary

“The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner

Barbara: This book fits into several of my favorite qualities of a book: it is compelling (I always wanted to read one more chapter), it was about a subject I new little of (apothecaries) and it alternated chapters by character’s voice.

Of course, I had to learn a little something about the history of the apothecary. According to Wikipedia, the profession of apothecary can be dated back at least to 2600 BC to ancient Babylon; clay tablets have been found with medical texts recording symptoms, prescriptions, and the directions for compounding. The apothecaries were chemists, mixing and selling their own medicines. They sold drugs from a fixed shopfront, catering to other medical practitioners, such as surgeons, but also to lay customers walking in from the street.

There were ongoing tensions between apothecaries and other medical professions. Often women (who were prohibited from entering medical school) became apothecaries which took away business from male physicians. In 1865 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to be licensed to practice medicine in Britain by passing the examination of the Society of Apothecaries. By the end of the 19th century, the medical professions had taken on their current institutional form, with defined roles for physicians and surgeons, and the role of the apothecary was more narrowly conceived, as that of pharmacist (or dispensing chemist in British English). However, in German-speaking countries, such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, pharmacies or chemist stores are still called apothecaries.

In “The Lost Apothecary” a visitor to England finds an apothecary vial from the 1700s and it leads to unravelling of a mystery from that century. Not a heavy subject, but I don’t like reading only a constant stream of heavier books so I definitely recommend it.

Laura – New TV show – American Anthems

Grab some tissues and get ready to experience a rush of positive emotions. This new show on PBS, American Anthems, actually brought me joy! The program celebrates unsung heroes whose unselfish efforts help improve the lives of others. Each half-hour episode introduces a person who is making a definitive difference and has a country music star (Jennifer Nettles is in Episode 1) write and perform an uplifting, original song that honors these local heroes. The first episode is about a family man who came up with the idea of starting the organization “Stomp the Monster” while undergoing chemotherapy. The scene where he explains why he got the idea to start Stomp was perhaps the most moving moment of the episode for me. Highly recommend this show!

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The end of the alphabet isn’t ending with the bang we’d like, but you gotta roll with the punches, right? Next month we will be figuring out some ways to change things up or loosen our restrictions, just to make the ABC Life fresh for us. But for now….

Activity – A walk in the park

Barbara: A friend of mine introduced me to the Parr Park Rock Art Trail in Grapevine. I had no idea this place existed. There are 24,459 painted rocks along the trail and it made the Guiness World Record. It was created by Ron Olsen and the Chris Penny family “to spread joy during the pandemic.” The rocks were organized into themes and there were also some that were brought by families and the theme was their family. I understand that people all over the world have sent painted rocks here. What a great project for someone to do with their grandchildren…have them paint rocks to represent their own family and add them to the trail.


New Author/Editor: Kate White

Laura: When you are addicted to browsing through cookbooks and love reading a good mystery, you experience a little thrill when you come across The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For by Kate White. This was a fun book to read – not necessarily for the recipes but for the introduction of them by the more than 100 authors, among which were such notable names as Lisa Scottoline, Scott Turow, Harlan Coben, James Patterson, Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark and Louise Penny. Some of the author anecdotes were charming, many were humorous and others were more straight-forward. But they all revealed some aspect of the author’s personality. Plus, I now have a slew of unread authors to check out! I’m delighted with this task ahead – no mystery here!

New restaurant – Yo Lobster

We were very excited to try this restaurant. Not only because we love the lobster rolls from the east coast but because our movie group got so many laughs from our reviews of the movie “The Lobster.” But alas, we were SO disappointed. The lobster roll in the picture below looks a whole lot bigger than it was but the main issue was that the lobster was tough and tasteless. I guess our first clue should have been the fact that we were the only diners in the restaurant. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.


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Life definitely has a habit of getting in the way of best laid plans and it certainly did for Laura so our last posts of the alphabet will be a little too Barbara heavy. Hopefully things even out next month.

Reading Challenges: (luckily there were no X or Z challenges)

W: Pick at least one word from your book that appeals to you and use while talking to friends.

Barbara – I recently read an article by Susie Dent at the Guardian who talked about words that are no longer in our daily usage such as cacklefarts (eggs), snottingers (hankies) and others but the one word she wants to bring back into usage (and it should be) is respair: fresh hope, the recovery from despair. 

Laura and I have both always been fond of special words. When we didn’t live in the same city, many years ago, she used to call me at work and assign a word to me and we’d both have to use it during our work day. I wish she had given me cacklefarts; now that would have been a challenge. But for this challenge I particularly liked the word jubilant, chiefly because of the definition given it by a character in a book I was reading: “jubilant: makes you feel you finally possess everything you’ve always wanted, you were that happy.” I suspect that is how I will feel if I ever hear I’m going to be a grandma. Another word I liked is in the book I am currently reading, “Young Jane Young” by Gabrielle Zevin. The word is “peeve” as in pet peeve. The reason I liked it so much is that the character in the book hopes to get a pet so that she can say “this is my pet, Peeve.” Boy, do I want to do that!

Y: Challenge yourself to read one book that was nominated or a finalist for any literary award the year you were born.

Barbara: I haven’t done that one yet since I’m in so many book clubs and my to-be-read list is huge, but I’ve got one on my list (you’ll just have to guess at the year)!

New Movie: Val

Laura: The 2021 documentary Val is a compilation of more than 40 years of Val Kilmer’s documentation of his own life and craft. Val and his two brothers had thousands of hours of footage from 16mm home movies they made. Those projects, together with scenes from many of the movies Val was in, present a montage of his life and an insight into the man and the actor. Yes, he comes across as a vain and self-absorbed person but an interesting and intelligent one as well. It’s sad that we now see the results of his bout with throat cancer: he has to press a button on his throat to speak and his voice is unsettling and robotic. (The film is mostly narrated by his son.) But it doesn’t stop him from public appearances, where his fans continue to show him love and respect. I enjoyed this documentary and felt admiration for his spirit. And…I just found out that Val Kilmer used voice AI to speak in the current hit movie Maverick. They were able to dub him with his own voice. When I see this movie, I’m definitely going to pay attention to that remarkable technical achievement.

New Author:  Yara Zgheib

Barbara: I’ve read several books revolving around eating disorders but “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” was the one that affected me the most. It is a heart wrenching novel, more impactful than the movies I saw because it went into more detail about all the different ways it affects the body and your loved ones. The author had anorexia so that could be the reason it was written so realistically and had such an impact.

New documentary – Wrinkles the Clown

This is one that both Laura and I watched together. OMG, talk about disturbing! Wrinkles is a clown that wears a horrible and freakishly scary mask but the thing that makes this story so horrifying is that parents call him to come to their homes to scare their children who are misbehaving. Who would do that?! You can hear how scared the kids are when they play audio of the parent making the phone call to Wrinkles. A child psychologist stated that he thought it was a form of emotional abuse and we agreed with him. Also disturbing were the people, including some kids, who found it “cool”; one preteen made a similar mask and was aspiring to be like Wrinkles. We don’t know about you, but we’ll be checking under our beds for the next couple of days!

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