February 21, 2018

Throat Coat Tea to the rescue

Every other person I know is just coming down with a cold, is currently battling coughs and sneezes or is slowly convalescing from this pervasive respiratory virus.

Those of us who are singers are especially brought low by this illness when our voices are impaired.

Periodically sipping Traditional Medicinals’ Throat Coat Tea is the only way I could get through singing for a recent funeral. I was grateful that the warm liquid soothed that scratchy sore feeling in my throat between songs.

Traditional Medicinals ingredients include licorice root, slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, wild cherry bark, fennel fruit, cinnamon bark and sweet orange peel.

Another effective brand is Yogi Throat Comfort Tea which features some of TM’s same ingredients and a Honey Lemon version.

Other tea flavors that may be “medicine cabinet” candidates are peppermint and ginger for stomach upsets or echinacea and gingko for immunity boosting.

Who doesn’t feel better with a relaxing warm beverage? Milk, honey or lemon optional.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

If you have any young readers in your social circle, you may want to check out YA author Rick Riordan who has been appealing to the Harry Potter market. Riordan has cleverly used Greek mythology as the basis for many of his books, most notably Percy Jackson & the Olympians, a five book series with Percy/Perseus as the half human son of Poseidon as the main character.

Riordan first created the characters as bedtime stories for his son, Haley who had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, handicaps that Riordan gave to his fictional hero, Percy. He also created a 5-book sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus.

Based on my reading of the first book, The Lightning Thief, I can see why the books are popular. Riordan has cleverly incorporated the ancient names, relationships and story lines of Greek gods and mortals into a current day scenario with tweens and teens as the major players.

As much as I liked Edith Hamilton’s book, Mythology, these Rick Riordan creations would have made Greek mythological study much more palatable. While these works of fiction might not become as popular as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, they certainly would be great reads for adults and youngsters to share.

Defloured, baking gluten-free goodies for Chicago & Milwaukee

My dog Ralph turned me onto a bakery called Defloured. On walks, he would bee-line to this storefront and routinely use his paw to knock on their front door. Johanna, the baker/owner has become one of his favorite neighborhood friends, due in no small part to the treats he receives from her and her staff.

Defloured is a gluten-free bakery and creates sweet treats that suit many restricted diets. These are not your cardboard tasting health foods, but delectable brownies, bars, cakes, cupcakes, cookies and whoopie pies.

Not only do they sell delicious products from their Andersonville shop, but their baked goods are sold at some of the more discerning coffee bars, grocery stores (Whole Foods) and restaurants in Chicago and Milwaukee.

They also create custom cakes for events and cookie or bar trays for parties. Not only can they do gluten-free bar and cookie trays, but Defloured also can do vegan or dairy-free cookie trays.

Ralph and I both agree that this bakery deserves a big high-five paw up.


The Team, Danish crime drama on MHZ

The Team is a Danish crime drama television series which premiered in 2015 and is currently streaming on MHZ network. Lars Mikkelsen (seen in Borgen) is the Danish point detective Harald Bjorn working with Belgian homicide detective Alicia Verbeek (Veerie Baetens) and police superintendent Jackie Muller (Jasmin Gerat) from Berlin on a cross-border crime case.

Murders occurring in various European locales are suspiciously similar. The crime team connects the dots to determine the guilty party or parties.

We get glimpses of the European sex trade, human trafficking, political in-fighting within the police and pretty gruesome scenes containing waterboarding torture, the slaughter of chickens and the mutilation of corpses. If that does not put you off, you will be drawn into this story of international crime and intrigue.

For those that like a little emotional drama, there is also a sub-plot with two of the main detectives having had an adulterous affair that resulted in a child.

MHZ continues to offer some of the best European crime dramas. Danish, English, Dutch, French, German and Swedish are the languages heard in this production with English subtitles. Besides the scenes with subtitles, the principal actors all speak very clear English, with Mikkelsen having a scarily good British accent.

The eight 57-minute episodes of The Team are typical Scandi-noir with great cinematography, crisp dialogue, graphic crime depiction and an intricate plot. Is this perhaps your mug of glogg?

Brainwaves app

Brainwaves, an app for your phone or tablet boasts 35 binaural programs that combine brain waves with ambient music, nature sounds or your own iTunes music selections. Binaural means using both ears so the app works better with earphones.

You can program 5 minute to 8 hour sessions choosing themes like relaxation, deep sleep, energy, meditation and memory enhancement. The app actually makes use of delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma waves to enhance the experience.

At $4.99, this app is affordable and worth a try if you need stress relief or want to add more meditation and rest periods to your daily life.

Please read any health warnings before using this app. You can always resort to good old fashioned meditation. Or play your own nature sounds and music while you quiet your mind and breathe. Still, this app might be just the thing to encourage calm, sleep or concentration.

Thanks to Amy Lechelt Basta for the recommendation of Brainwaves. The app definitely chilled me down after my dog got loose and led me on a stressful chase. Om!

Scott & Bailey on Hulu

I had a ho-hum reaction when someone recommended the police procedural Scott & Bailey with it’s Cagney & Lacey parallels. Two women are detectives working together on major crimes, murder in particular. I watched a couple of episodes on Hulu and pretty quickly changed my mind about the appeal of the series. This show may have a boiler plate premise, but the acting, scripts and production values are first rate. The Manchester, England setting and the curious accents add to the entertainment.

Members of the Manchester Incident Team, Detective Janet Scott played by blonde actress Lesley Sharp and Rachel Bailey portrayed by dark-haired Suranne Jones are the major focus of the show, but boss Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore) seems like the Third Female Musketeer on the program. Bullmore is also listed as the scriptwriter for seven episodes.

There are men, to be sure, co-worker police staff, ex-husbands, lovers, witnesses and criminals, but the plot concentrates on the women of the show. Each episode has a stand-alone crime, but there is an over-arching storyline that involves love lives, friendships, ambition and problematic family members.

As a side note, Lesley Sharp’s real life husband, actor Nicholas Gleaves has an engrossing dramatic story line as her detective colleague and sometime adulterous lover, Andy Roper.

Season One has six episodes, followed by Seasons 2, 3 and 4 with eight episodes each, ending with a brief 3-episode Season 5. Bullmore is not in Season 5 which robbed the series of a little magic.

Nevertheless, if you like female-centric police procedurals, especially set in foreign countries, the 33 episodes of Scott & Bailey on Hulu might be a good candidate for your watch list.

The Namesake by author Jhumpa Lahiri

I was familiar with Indian-born author Jhumpa Lahiri, having read Interpreter of Maladies, her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection from 1999, but had not read any of her longer works. My book club devotee sister happened to send me a hard copy of her full novel for Christmas, The Namesake published in 2003.

Lahiri started the book as a novella for The New Yorker Magazine and then expanded it. The main character, Gogol Ganguli is named after the famous Russian author. Born in the United States, Gogol creates a life for himself in Boston and New York with uncomfortable periodic family visits to Calcutta.

We follow his life as he takes two brides, becomes an architect and grapples with his two names, his more conventional Indian name, Nikhil and that of Gogol, the nickname he acquired due to a freak accident that almost took his father’s life.

This is a timely read since it portrays the life of a child with foreign-born parents who desperately tries to breech the divide between his current American culture and that of his parents’ family in India. He talks like an American and dresses like one, but is he the hybrid result of his two cultures?

Lahiri’s writing has much in common with the Russian authors she must admire, not only Gogol, but Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin. Her prose is poetic and descriptive but never seems studied or stilted. Despite the literary bona fides, the book has an engaging plot that will keep you turning pages.

Thanks, Sis.

Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix

I vaguely remember news reports on the Unabomber, but the new Netflix series Manhunt: Unabomber takes you into the world of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous man who sent mail bombs from 1978 to 1995. Don’t view the series as true history however, since FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald, well-played by actor Sam Worthington, is a composite character who never actually interviewed Kacznyski.

As far as drama goes, you will be sucked into this compelling tale with Paul Bettany creating an amazing portrait of the genius serial killer. The cast is fine throughout, but you may be tickled by some of the star turns: Chris Noth as FBI boss Don Ackerman, Janet Lynch as Attorney General Janet Reno, Michael Nouri as Bob Guccione and Brian d’Arcy James as evil professor, Henry Murray.

My only quibble is with the time jumps between 1995 and 1997 which are sometimes confusing and leave some unanswered questions. The flashbacks to earlier decades are much easier to follow. Nevertheless, the 8 episode mini-series created by Andrew Sodroski, Jim Clemente and Tony Gittelson might be worth your time if you like crime drama and exceptional acting.

As we see electronics and artificial intelligence creep into every aspect of our daily lives, Kacynzski’s Manifesto can be read today as a cautionary tale, not only for what he was saying, but for making clear that there is no message that justifies deadly means.

And I must admit that I have looked at my delivered packages in a somewhat different light since watching Manhunt: Unabomber.

Wool by science fiction author Hugh Howey

Dystopian novels have started to bug me so I had vowed to take a break from them. My teacher brother-in-law got me to relent one more time with the highly recommended Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howey.

Book One is actually 8 books that depict life in an enclosed Silo, seen from the perspective of Holston, the Silo’s sheriff, Jahns, the Silo’s mayor and Juliette, the new sheriff after Holston chooses to leave the protection of the Silo. Juliette becomes friends with Lukas, an IT guy who is interested in astronomy. Bad guy Bernard, head of IT, engineers a coup that causes a revolt led by workers from “down below.”

Author Hugh Howey

Howey has created an unusual world filled with fascinating characters who get caught up in power trips, tradition and deception. While working at a bookstore, he wrote the first installments of Wool and self-published the science fiction piece on the internet. It was not until the work took off that he signed a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster. Twentieth Century Fox has purchased the movie rights.

The trilogy continues with Shift and Dust. I have copies of them waiting for me at the library. Hey, science fiction buffs, wanna meet me at the Silo? Let’s just say that I’m glad I made an exception for one more dystopian story.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

How have I missed reading Elizabeth Strout before now? I surely recognize titles like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton but I happened upon her current novel, Anything Is Possible quite by accident. I simply liked that hopeful phrase. Little did I know that Anything refers to both good and very bad things.

The novel unspools as separate short stories about the inhabitants of the small town of Amgash, Illinois. Many of the characters are connected in surprising ways with the fictional author of My Name Is Lucy Barton figuring into this current work.

Anything Is Possible reminds me of the famous play, Our Town but with even darker secrets hiding in the hearts of Amgash’s inhabitants.

Strout’s lyrical prose pulls you through passages of both great pain and joy. I may just have to explore her previous works to hear more of that voice that embraces all those who transgress, who suffer and those who transcend their trials.