Yesterday, after I’d fed and watered the chickens, I grabbed a two-gallon bucket and a ladder to pick some apricots for canning. But my morning didn’t go as planned when I spotted a cloud of bees swarming in the very fruit tree I was preparing to climb into. Nothing like a honeybee swarm to make you switch tasks in a hurry.

 

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

 

 

There’s a centuries-old saying among beekeepers: A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay . . . a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon . . . a swarm of bees in July ain’t worth a fly. My beekeeper neighbor says simply, “A swarm in July . . . bye bye.” The rhyme echoed in my brain. Even early July? Should I try to save them? I donned my beekeeper suit and gathered together the items I would need for the rescue.

 

Ironically, in late winter I had hung a swarm catcher in the tree next to the swarm. A swarm catcher makes it easy to hive the bees since they are all inside the bucket-shaped unit with a small hole on one side and a large covered opening on the other. They go inside and you dump the bees into the hive box. I’ve had three swarms this year and not one of them went into the swarm catcher despite me putting attractant (a type of scented oil) in the vial inside the unit. Go figure!

 

Yesterday’s swarm wasn’t as big as the two I captured in May and June. I’m not even sure if I could save this one, but trying was better than losing them. I decided to help the small population along but putting into their hive some frames of comb and honey.

 

A swarm at this time of year (approaching the end of swarming season) will require extra food if the bees are to make it through autumn when they kick out the drones and then winter when their food and nectar sources become scarce.

 

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

 

 

I draw hope from the fact that August in the Bay Area brings blooms to certain species of eucalyptus and also star thistle. My bees also have access to lots of lavender. I have planted several types of it around my farmette.

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers in bloom

Giant sunflowers in bloom in dinner-plate size

 

 

The sunflowers in my garden are blooming now and will (thanks to consecutive planting) over the next several weeks. And I’ve got two raised beds designated as bee gardens full of blooming flowers and herbs like borage that attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

 

 

It remains to be seen if this July swarm will have any worth at all. I think they’re going to need a lot of help. That means keeping my eyes on them as I take care of my chickens and keep the summer canning going.

 

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If you enjoy reading about the workings of an urban farmette and also appreciate a good, clean mystery, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES.  I also write wellness and spirituality books–SACRED TRAVELS (soon to be updated to include color images), RITUALS FOR LIFE, and MY POCKET MEDITATIONS.

 

All my books are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other traditional and online bookstores everywhere.

 

 

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

Meera’s mystery series

 

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus...all it takes is a moment

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus…all it takes is a moment

 

 

 

 

 

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In college, I often washed my then waist-long auburn hair with apple cider vinegar to keep the locks healthy and shining. And years ago, I discovered the decadent pleasure of a hot rosemary oil treatment and scalp massage that uses lavender oil.

 

 

If you grow your own herbs, making hair-care products couldn’t be easier.

 

 

Lavender is an old-time favorite herb that can be used in many beauty products

Lavender is an old-time favorite herb for homemade beauty products

 

 

 

The following are simple recipes you can make with home grown herbs and essential oils available in health food stores.

 

 

Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse Recipe: 4 cups of warm water to 1 cup apple cider vinegar. After you’ve washed the shampoo out of your hair, use the vinegar water as your final rinse.

 

 

Alternatively, you could add a couple of ounces of your favorite herbs like lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, or rosemary sprigs along with scented essential oils to impart shine and fragrance to your hair.  Rosemary is also good for promoting hair and scalp health.

 

 

Rosemary Rinse Recipe: 4 cups of boiling water poured over 2 ounces of rosemary springs. Let set overnight under a lid or cover. The next day,  strain out the rosemary sprigs and add to the liquid 10.5 ounces of apple cider vinegar and 10 drops of rosemary essential oil. Wash your hair, rinse, and as a final step pour through your hair the rosemary rinse.

 

 

For dry hair and scalp, create an oil treatment that you can do once every three weeks or a on a monthly basis. You’ll need rosemary, lavender, and a bit of tea tree oil (which possesses chemicals that may kill bacteria and fungus and reduce dandruff).

 

 

Hot Herbal Oil Treatment: 2 drops each of the following herbal oils–rosemary, tea tree, lavender–in 6 tablespoons of coconut oil. Thoroughly combine in a dark bottle, seal, and store. When you are ready for your hot oil treatment, sparingly apply the oil to strands of dry hair until all is lightly coated, not saturated. Cover with a hot towel for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the towel and wash with shampoo as usual.

 

 

 

 

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If you love all things natural, country, and homemade AND you enjoy a cozy mystery, check out my novels available online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other retail outlets as well as in bookstores everywhere.

 

For my newest novel, A HIVE OF HOMICIDES, click on the link: http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

 

 

 

 

COMING Sept. 2017

Available NOW

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

Meera Lester’s debut novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Homemade Soap in Under an Hour

Author: Meera, June 28, 2017

My grandmother grew up on a farm in Boone County, Missouri, and from spending a childhood with her I learned how to be frugal, self-sufficient, and someone who values time and efficiency.

 

 

On laundry day, she would whip out a big bar of grayish soap she’d made from an old country recipe and use it for scrubbing dirty clothes. The soap contained lye, grease, ammonia, borax, and water.

 

 

It looked like an ash-colored cake; I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some ash in it. That soap was utilitarian to be sure, but nothing you’d ever want use for a bath, although I suppose on occasion it might have been used.

 

 

 

Soap molds allow you to create pretty shapes

Modern molds make it easy to create gorgeous soaps, in sensual and also rustic shapes

 

 

 

Bath soaps have come a long way since the 1920s frugal creations of farm folks like my grandmother. Today, you can find exquisite artisan soaps–many are imported from France, Italy, and elsewhere–in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and scents. Or . . . you could make your own.

 

 

 

The imprint on the soap is part of the mold

The imprint on the soap is part of the mold

 

 

 

 

At hobby and craft stores, you’ll find soap-making kits that provide the basics for making soap in under an hour. You’ll also need some soap color to give your soap an appealing hue (otherwise, the soap comes out white). Finally, drops of your favorite essential oil will give your soap a sensual fragrance.

 

 

Recently, the birthday of a friend inspired me to quickly make a few bars of bath soap to wrap and tuck in my “spa” gift package for her. If you haven’t made soap before, start with a kit for soap making such as the one sold by ArtMinds and found in craft stores.

 

 

 

Items needed for soap-making; use the lemon only for zest  in the soap, if desired

Items needed for soap-making; use the lemon only for zest in the soap, if desired

 

 

That particular kit uses a goats milk recipe with a suspension formulation that allows additives to float freely throughout the soap. This is important when you want to add to the soap rose or other flower petals or herbs  like basil, lavender, or mint. The finished bar of soap lathers luxuriously and leaves your skin feeling squeaky clean.

 

 

 

Lavender-Scented Soap Using the ArtMinds Kit

 

 

Ingredients:

 

1 Goats Milk Soap Kit with 32 scored cubes

 

1 package of soap-making color (comes with blue, green, and purple); use purple for lavender soap

 

Lavender essential oil

 

Plastic sheet of soap molds

 

*Wooden spoon

 

*Pyrex glass measuring bowl or microwavable dish

 

*Do not reuse soap-making utensils or bowls for food service.

 

 

 

Directions:

 

Remove 10 cubes of “raw” soap formulation. Melt the cubes in a large glass measuring bowl for 30 seconds; if not completely melted, microwave in 10-second increments.

 

Add drops of lavender color until the desired hue is achieved. Add ten drops of lavender essential oil. Stir to thoroughly mix ingredients.

 

Pinch off the tiny florets of a sprig of fresh lavender. Drop into the soap and gently blend them in.

 

Pour the soap to the top of the mold(s). Let set for 20 minutes before removing the hardened soap. I suggest wrapping each soap individually to give as gifts.

 

 

For more resources, check out Marie Browning’s book, Natural Soapmaking (Sterling Publishing, NY) or visit Rebecca’s Soap Delicatessen at http://soapdelinews.com/2015/07/how-to-make-cold-process-soap-from-scratch.html

 

 

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If you’re interested in farmette topics and storytelling, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. All three books in the series are available in numerous formats and can be ordered  from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere online as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere. See more at http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

 

 

 

 

The newest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette of cozy mysteries

The newest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plant for the Pollinators

Author: Meera, June 20, 2017

I seldom need an occasion to put in another bed of flowers, but this is National Pollinator Week. I think a new bed is in order to attract local bees, birds, bats, and butterflies–all considered pollinators. Having these small creatures around benefits landscapes, gardens, and orchards.

 

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

 

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that over 75 percent of our plants are pollinated by birds, animals, and insects. We can help ensure these creatures will be around for a long time if we restore their habitats and ensure they have food and water.

 

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

 

 

 

There are many lovely plants you can grow that don’t require a lot of care.

 

 

 

  • lavender
  • bee balm
  • echinacea
  • sage
  • cilantro
  • thyme
  • sunflowers
  • sweet alyssum
  • anemone
  • borage
  • geraniums
  • scented pelargoniums
  • mint

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

Sunflowers are a favorite of bees and the seeds are loved by squirrels and birds

 

 

 

 

A tapestry of colorful herbs and flowers beautifies your landscape and pollinators love the diversity. If you don’t have a lot of space, grow some of these plants in planter boxes, clay pots, or other types of containers.

 

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

 

 

 

Put in a water feature, too, such as a table-top or larger fountain that recycles water. Even a pottery saucer filled each day can attract pollinators.

 

 

It won’t take long for the bees and hummingbirds to find the water. Their frequent visits are fun to watch, and they’ll likely be sipping throughout the day.

 

_________________________________________________________________________

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing. My newest novel includes delicious recipes, tips on keeping bees and chickens, and much more. Click on this URL for more information, http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

.

 

 

Coming Sept. 2017

Coming Sept. 2017

 

 

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What’s Growing in the July Garden?

Author: Meera, July 19, 2016

 

 

This mammoth sunflower towers towers at least four feet higher than the corn

Sunflowers are native to North America and were taken to Europe in the 16th century; however, they date back to  roughly 3,000 B.C. Honeybees love sunflowers.

 

 

Towering above the squash and lavender in my garden are rows of green corn stalks bearing ears of sweet, plump kernels. Snaking along the rows at the base of the cornstalks are vines laden with butternut squash and Armenian cucumber.

 

 

 

heirloom tomatoes taste great

Heirloom tomatoes are flavorful and sometimes exotic looking in terms of shape and color.

 

 

 

There are ripe tomatoes, too, especially the prolific heirloom–Red Beefsteak. I love cutting up some of these fresh, thin-skin tomatoes and combining them with basil, olive oil, grated cheese, and pine nuts as a topping for pasta. Add some grilled, seasoned chicken and you’ve got a quick and delicious summer lunch.

 

 

 

Zucchini and yellow squash sport large, showy blooms and are producing like crazy this month. While you can harvest and eat the blooms, we prefer the squash. Zucchini is delicious grilled or tossed with rosemary potatoes and onions or made into a French lentil and tomato salad (see recipe from last week’s posting).

 

 

sunflowers planted at the end of the corn rows

Sunflowers planted at the end of the corn rows

 

 

Growing on vines trained over a wall and on supports, the green table grapes are beginning to swell. The taste is still a little tart, but will sweeten with the passage of another couple of weeks.

 

 

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot (the darker purple ones partially obscured)

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

COMING SOON: The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

 

 

 

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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.

 

 

Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.

 

 

Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.

 

 

Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.

 

 

 

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.

 

 

 

As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.

 

 

 

But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.

 

 

*          *          *  

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uses of Herbs in Your House and Garden

Author: Meera, April 18, 2016

Herbs in abundance line the shelves of local garden centers now, and for good reason. Many of these versatile plants are hardy and adaptable and have myriad uses in a landscape.

 

Herbs in a pot for use in the kitchen

Herbs in a pot for use in the kitchen

 

 

 

Cooks, especially, appreciate access to culinary herbs near the kitchen. Grow cilantro, parsley, sage, tarragon, chives, basil, anise, dill, mint, and other desirable culinary herbs in boxes or giant pots on a kitchen patio. The location will make it easy to water and gather them.

 

 

Many herbs like chives, sage, and dill re-seed themselves, therefore, consider growing these in containers unless you have a designated space in your garden for them.

 

 

For shady areas in a landscape or garden, plant sweet woodruff, Borage, and chamomile. In areas that receive full sun, plant rosemary, mother-of-thyme, caraway-scented thyme, and woolly thyme. In areas that remain moist, plant angelica, mints, parsley, and sweet woodruff.

 

 

 

The leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri

The leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri that utilizes herbs, seed pods, spices, and citrus peels

 

 

To grow herbs for potpourris and sachets to scent rooms in your home, cultivate costmary, English woodruff, and lemon-scented herbs like pelargonium and verbena. Also rose geranium and lavender add a lovely scent to mixtures of herbs for potpourri.

 

 

With so many different ways to use herbs to beautify a garden or patio and to flavor foods and scent a home, there’s no reason not to grow a few. Remember, herbs (like mint) can be dried for tea or crumbling over salads and you can collect herb seeds or propagate cuttings for next year’s herb garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heirloom Herbs for the Kitchen

Author: Meera, January 12, 2016

The green stalks of the red and yellow onions I planted in late summer are now up about a foot in a raised bed. The garlic that I planted around the same time is also poking up. Having onions, garlic, and fresh culinary herbs available year-round is not impossible in the Bay Area’s mild climate, especially when they are grown in cold frames, protected areas, and raised beds.

 

 

Use garlic for companion plant to deter pests from lettuce and cabbage

Garlic growing in our garden during spring last year produced lots of bulbs for cooking.

 

 

 

Some will re-seed themselves in the growing beds or around your yards. We’ve got Greek oregano and chives growing all over the place. Some of my favorites herbs include basil, cilantro, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, lemon balm, lavender, oregano, mint, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, and savory.

 

 

 

We also grow a few ornamental herbs such as borage, hyssop, and catnip (for our new kitty), tea herbs (chamomile and mint), and medicinal herbs (like echinacea).

 

 

 

Herbs in a pot for use in the kitchen

Parsley and basil share space in a pot on the patio

 

 

 

 

 

Herbs are easy to grow. Their blooms will attract insects beneficial to the garden. Butterflies and hummingbirds are also attracted. And herbs don’t need much–light, and porous soil, warmth, and decent drainage. For a light feeding of the herbs, we make chicken poop tea. With so many varieties of herbs available, why not tuck a few in your garden or in containers in a protected but sunny and warm area of your patio to enjoy in your culinary creations?

 

 

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Easy Peasy Holiday Potpourri

Author: Meera, November 12, 2015

Potpourri mixtures are easy to create and their long-lasting fragrance can add an attractive visual appeal and fresh scent to any room. You can find many items in nature. Use a festive basket or crystal bowl for displaying your potpourri.

 

 

 

 

The leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri

A five-pointed, dry and leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri

 

 

 

 

Go on a nature walk to hunt for materials (see the List of Potpourri Items below).

 

Visit a shop for spices–whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice.

 

Cut or purchase herbs (preferably dried)–lavender, rosemary, and mint.

 

Combine nature’s materials with spices, dried herbs, and dried citrus slices and peels.

 

Add rose petals, lavender buds, and/or pinecones and red cedar bark.

 

Arrange pretty seashells or small pieces of driftwood.

 

Include fresh leaves and berries from eucalyptus trees  and also he fuzzy seed pods of wisteria.

 

Put the potpourri in a pretty basket or cut crystal bowl; add a drop or two of essential oil if desired.

 

 

 

LIST OF POTPOURRI ITEMS

Combine using any of the following to create interesting mixes, textures, and colors.

  • pinecones
  • eucalyptus leaves and berries
  • rose hips
  • citrus peels
  • pomegranate peel
  • lavender buds
  • rosemary
  • yarrow
  • seed pods
  • red cedar bark
  • cinnamon sticks
  • dried rose petals
  • citrus slices
  • allspice
  • peppercorns
  • dried nutmeg
  • dried apple slices
  • carnation petals
  • seashells
  • dried rose petals
  • dried mint
  • essential oil—(rose, lemon, lavender, vanilla) to intensify scent

 

 

 

 

Find other ideas for farm crafts and delicious recipes in A BEELINE TO MURDER.


Click here:
http://tinyurl.com/nhdae39

 

 

 

 

Meera Lester and her cozy mystery, A BEELINE TO MURDER

The author and her debut cozy mystery, A BEELINE TO MURDER

 

 

 

 

 

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Re-Cap of the Mini-Maker Faire at Barnes & Noble

Author: Meera, November 10, 2015

My fingers still smell like French perfume lavender and rosemary from all the organza sachet bags I helped customers fill as a giveaway during the three day Mini-maker event this past weekend. Hosted by the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble Bookstore, the event was a huge success for the store, the customers, and participating authors.

 

 

I wore an apron bearing my book cover while I helped stuff bags with lavender and rosemary

I wore an apron bearing the image of my book cover while I helped stuff bags with lavender and rosemary

 

 

All the signed copies of A BEELINE TO MURDER sold out and only a few unsigned copies are left. I gave away close to 100 organza bags and special embroidered bags I made for the event. Thank you citizens of the East Bay!

 

 

I met a lovely eleven-year-old boy who wrote novels. We exchanged email addresses and he’s already sent me his first two. I’ve promised to read and send him comments. All the while he was talking to me, I kept thinking “boy, did I get a late start writing.”

 

 

Another lovely customer bought the book for her mother back in North Carolina because winters on the other coast can be harsh, and a lover of mysteries can’t have too many on hand when the storms hit.

 

 

Ready to prepare some sachets and sell and sign a book

Ready to prepare some sachets and sell and sign a book

 

 

 

The mother of a Girl Scout  invited me to do a presentation before their troop in early spring. I love the organization and will give it my best shot at the end of February or early March. It’ll be a chance to talk to the girls about writing books as a career, making things from nature, and having the courage to follow your heart (as I did when I established my farmette).

 

 

I enjoyed explaining to a darling Asian girl, while her parents looked on, the differences between wasps and honeybees. It was a great point of departure into a long conversation. We all became fast friends. She danced away holding her little bag of herbs beneath her nose.

 

 

In all, I had a great time. I think the store was pleased with all the “makers” who participated. And I’d do it again.

 

 

Meera Lester's debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

Meera Lester’s debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

 

 

A BEELINE TO MURDER is available through your local Barnes & Noble stores as well as online at BarnesandNoble.com. Books make wonderful holiday gifts and foster the pleasure of reading.

 

 

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