There Still Are Buffalo Book Review

Book Cover with buffalo herdAnn Nolan Clark’s children’s book, There Still Are Buffalo is a beautiful example of narrative poetry. The tale of a buffalo bull from birth rolls off the tongue if read aloud. Indeed, even reading the story silently, the words sing inside one’s head.

Clark captures an era of long-ago. There Still Are Buffalo, first published in 1942, describes the life of a buffalo and his herd from the time perspective of roaming wild buffalo. But the story references an attempt by man to corral the beasts. This provides a time stamp.

The story opens in the Dakotas. The Sioux have set aside land for the buffalo. Wide open plains provide space for the buffalo to roam as they have from the beginning. But there is little mention of these human stewards for this is a story of the giant beast which at one time dominated the open prairie.

Life Cycle of the Buffalo

The second stanza begins the tale of one special bull calf. Clark’s words describe the first hours of life. The protective mother standing guard over her bull calf until he is able to stand and walk. The baby joins the herd just a few days after birth.

There Still Are Buffalo describes both the workings of the herd and the individual life of this new calf. The stanzas progress through the life cycle. But they also provide a naturalist look at nature and her dangers. So, the reader learns much from this book.

Ann Nolan Clark

The life of Ann Nolan Clark is as interesting as her story. She was born in the late 1800’s in the small New Mexico town of Las Vegas. However, once, Las Vegas was one of the larger cities of the old west. Since it was a stop on The Santa Fe Trail, it was a rival of places such as Denver and Dodge City.

The city history seems to have influenced Clark’s outlook on diversity of cultures. In some ways she may have lived a hundred years before her time. Her life work shows her appreciation for many cultures. While There Still Are Buffalo alludes to Native Americans, other works by Clark share cultural tales from Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia.

Her writing is incredible. I strongly recommend There Still Are Buffalo. But I encourage you to find copies of her other stories as well. This is a great American writer.

Changing Gears: Outdoor to Indoor Hobbies

Quilt top before layeringWe are about halfway through the fall season. Much of the time it feels more like winter. However, we still have some afternoons that are enjoyable without jackets. The changing weather means it is time for changing gears with respect to hobbies. The garden has been put to bed and the quilt room is now the focus of activity.

Late last spring I wrote about panel quilts. The Love Quilt was patiently waiting for me to finish piecing. So that is where my time has been spent this week. The strip blocks had been completed. But the four side blocks remained a mystery. So it was time to consult my quilt books. The trick was to find or adapt patterns to fit the 9 inch width I needed to line up with the strip blocks.

This is not an easy task. Instead of focusing on watering schedules and harvesting time tables, my mind is changing gears and contemplating fractions. Two of the blocks are old favorites; the Log Cabin and The Trip around the World. Two were new patterns. All involve math.

The first of the new patterns requires the kaleidoscope tool. This plastic wedge indicates block sizes along the edge. The tool had a 9 inch grid. Thus the decision to include this block.

The last of the blocks involved using a new technique. I cut a 9 inch square and then folded it diagonally. Next, I sewed strips of various widths to half the block in a triangle pattern. The second half was folded back so it would not be caught in the seams. After enough strips were joined, edges were trimmed and the bottom triangle removed.

My reluctance to use this technique stems from a concern of wasting fabric. But I am saving the triangle in one of my scrap boxes which I do dive into often. This way of piecing was much faster. If the extra piece is used in the near future, I will be more likely to repeat the process.

Changing Gears- Indoor Hobbies and Activities

In addition to the extra time spent in the quilt room, my attempts at acrylic painting continue. At the recent book sale I purchased Creative Painting from Photographs by Rudy De Reyna. My hope was to improve my technique.

Inspired by a former colleague’s beautiful aspen paintings I have attempted some of my own. In the picture to the right, I attempt to copy the popular technique seen in many galleries. The second painting (still unfinished) is from a series of photos. I have found De Reyna’s book helpful. Once that painting is finished, I will post it in one of my monthly wrap-up columns.

 

Of course changing weather gives more time for reading. I am into part two of Book One of The Stormlight Archive. This is Brandon Sanderson’s novel The Way of Kings. Quite captivating so far. However, the thousand plus pages will take some time to read.

The holidays are just around the corner. Soon I will add baking into the mix. I may be changing gears from outdoor to indoor, but activity is still at full speed. Retirees can be very busy!

Silver Anniversary Murder Book Review

Silver Anniversary Murder

Leslie Meier is the author of the Lucy Stone mystery series. Her 2018 release is titled Silver Anniversary Murder. Most of the series takes place in the fictional town of Tinker’s Cove, Maine. However, much of this installment takes place in New York City.

Like many authors, Meier relies on a familiar cast of characters. This creates an audience for future books. I discovered the Lucy Stone mysteries many years ago. The writing flows and allows one to escape real world stresses for a few hours.

New York City

The story line begins in Maine with a bickering but business minded couple dreaming up a themed weekend designed to attract tourists for a weekend. The couple, the Bickford’s, sell the idea to the Chamber of Commerce. Lucy is assigned to the story.

Before the plot becomes too involved, Meier switches the backdrop to Lucy’s hometown of New York City. The protagonist attends the funeral of an old friend. Naturally, the death is not straightforward. So Lucy makes a second trip to the city to investigate.

Thus, for the most part, the characters in this particular Lucy Stone murder are new to series devotees. Meier does a nice job of creating interesting characters. The old adage It’s Always the Husband is a bit complicated since the deceased was married four times.

One by one, Lucy seeks out each possible murderer. The ex-husbands leave a lot to be desired. Furthermore, any one of them could be the villain. Also thrown into the mix is a cross-dressing son with a beautiful voice and another former childhood friend.

Lucy Stone

Lucy has evolved over the years. So has Meier. Recent releases include commentary on current culture. Also, one gets the feeling that the author’s politics are a bit left of center. But neither circumstance distracts from the writing. Indeed the cultural references tend to provoke thought. Silver Anniversary Murder touches upon a range of societal ills. Included in the plot are over-prescribed drugs, human trafficking, fanatic cults and business corruption.

The main character sometimes needs help. But, for the most part, the writing includes quick thinking and action by the heroine to solve problems. Thus Lucy Stone does not always need rescuing.

As usual the major and minor story lines merge at the end. The denouement takes place back in Tinker’s Cove. The Silver Anniversary weekend serves as a lure. Finally, the reader discovers the truth.

Epicurean Experiences in Quebec

Quebec Provence is heavily French-speaking. My knowledge of French culture is a bit lacking. But there are two items I associate with the French;their fashion and their food. Both were evident on my trip to Quebec. Suitcase space limited my shopping. But a person needs to eat at least three times a day. So the epicurean experience was a highlight each day of the trip.

Star of Saguenay

Our trip up the Saguenay Fjord produced a day of eating pleasure. While the breakfast at Tim Horton’s aligned more with a treat of pop culture, thereafter each dining experience climbed the rungs of culinary delight. The culmination was the evening meal.

La Cuisine is a French restaurant just a few blocks from the water in the older part of Saguenay. We dined there mid-week on a blustery night. Yet the restaurant had a group in one of the second floor rooms and about fifteen of us dining downstairs in the main room.

If you are ever in Saguenay La Cuisine is a must visit. The gourmet meal was a true epicurean experience. We started with a charcuterie platter for an appetizer. The three meats were a smoked duck breast, Perron pork rillettes and a homemade terrine. Accompanying the meat were a jelly, marinated vegetables and thinly sliced onion.

We asked about the terrine, a pate made in a specific container named terrine, hence the name. This was one of the few times our inability to speak French created a breakdown in communication. We settled for the French name and to this day do not know what wondrous ingredients comprised the terrine. This charcuterie platter was the best I have ever eaten.

The entrees managed to top the appetizer. Hard to believe, yet true. My travelling partner ordered the salmon from their regular menu but I opted to order from the seasonal selections. The Elk Medallions were tender, flavorful and accompanied by roast vegetables. The presentation of the dishes equaled the taste. Truly a memorable meal.

Montreal Treats

Each and every meal in Montreal was delightful. Perhaps the only reason I did not gain weight was the walk-ability of the city. I know I consumed more calories than normal. Meals ranged from Italian to French, seafood to beef with just a bit of sugar thrown in here and there.

Millennials traveling to Quebec will find Taverne Gaspar to their liking. The energetic vibe filled the air. There were very few people over forty in the restaurant the Saturday night we visited. I loved the music and the casual atmosphere. This place was made for people watching.

The food was quite good as well. I enjoyed sharing a charcuterie and cheese platter followed by a lobster roll. I am not an oyster fan but many orders were served to the crowd. Other favorites include a fish and chips platter and various burgers.

The setting added to the ambience. Taverne Gaspar is located in an old warehouse. The thick block walls served as a backdrop for a variety of art deco. Our table was underneath a door turned art piece. The location in the old part of Montreal along the waterfront is also a plus.

My favorite breakfast was a sinfully sweet chocolat et fruit croissant from Marche de La Villette. The restaurant was packed on Sunday morning as were all the nearby eateries. I allowed myself this treat even though reading The Case Against Sugar has altered my eating habits.

The tables were full, but for those who did not want to wait, the bakery counter at Marche de La Villette offered another option. Breads, croissants, sweet rolls and even cronuts were available. A cheese selection accompanied the baked goods.

Downtown Montreal Delight

Most of our meals were enjoyed in Vieux Montreal. However, my second favorite meal of the trip was from Rueben’s Deli and Steakhouse. The location at 1116 Sainte-Catherine St. W was crowded in the middle of the afternoon.

An arrangement of cakes in a glass display case
A dessert case greets you as you walk in the front door reminding you to save some room. Their smoked meats enjoy a case of their own. We sat in a corner booth with a view of the busy sidewalk. This location is in the heart of downtown Montreal allowing for people watching while waiting for your order. In addition to the people, we watched a few snowflakes falling from a seemingly cloudless sky.

The service is great. Once again there were no problems with communication. Menus are available in both French and English. Greetings are in French, with a rapid switch to English depending on the response.

I ordered the Famous Super Sandwich. The smoked beef is thinly sliced and piled high. The customer can add cheese if desired. The rye bread and mustard compliment the cured meat. This is not a sandwich I usually order. But I am glad I took the waiter’s suggestion. Truly a delightful meal. Of course the carrot cake I split for dessert added to the culinary experience.

Epicurean Experiences

A week of eating our way through Quebec Province could start a small book if each meal were described. I have shared some of the highlights. Other dishes you might want to try would include poutine which is French fry based, their berry pies, the crab cakes and if you are a coffee drinker, a morning stop at a Tim Horton’s.

The Canadians also have a knack with pizzas and flat breads. There are micro-breweries, wineries and fromageries to tour and sample. You will not go hungry travelling through Quebec Province.

This vacation was one of the best experiences of my life even though our travel dates were about two weeks too late for warm weather. Be sure to read the post on Lac St. Jean. Finally consider a trip this region so you too can enjoy the many facets of Quebec.

The Mitford Murders Book Review

Book Cover of The Mitford MurdersThe Mitford Murders

The Mitford Murders is the debut novel from Jessica Fellowes. Sort of. Fellowes is also credited for producing five companion books to the Downton Abbey British television series. From my research, the collaboration on the series is with a family member.

I have not read (or even watched) any of the Downton Abbey series. But I enjoyed the Mitford Murders and think a series of books revolving around these characters is in order. Of course there needs to be demand for this first novel for that to happen.

Fellowes has combined two of my favorite genres in The Mitford Murders. First and foremost it is a murder mystery. However, two of the central characters enjoy a sweet romance. For those not in the business, a sweet romance is one that is chaste.

Cast of Characters

The book revolves around a handful of characters. The working class and gentry are both represented with some overlap. Guy Sullivan is railroad police who falls for Louisa Cannon at first sight. He has ambition, and very poor eyesight. Louisa has some secrets and a real need to escape her current place in life. Sullivan helps get her to an interview which will lift her out of her current circumstances.

Nancy Mitford is the teenage daughter of a Baron. It is into this household Louisa lands. The two females are close in age. One on the cusp of adulthood and the other just barely arrived. A stilted friendship forms. Stilted due to the class structure of the British aristocracy.

The novel takes place following the First World War. Some of the characters were actual people. For example, the victim of the crime, Florence Nightingale Shore. But the events described in the book are pure fiction. The book solves the mystery but in reality, Shore’s murder is an unsolved crime.

This is a well written debut novel. Hopefully many will follow. Mystery series’ are fun to read. The reader becomes comfortable with the characters. There is room for development from the large Mitford household. Plus, the kindling relationship of Louisa and Guy.

Put this on your list of must read if you are a mystery or romance fan.

October 2018 Wrap-Up

October 2018


Some months fly by. October 2018 traveled at supersonic speed. This month of seasonal change is one of my favorites. Leaf color, crisp mornings followed by warm afternoons and bountiful harvest highlight the month each year.

The first freeze of the year arrived mid-month. I missed it here on the High Plains. But Mother Nature gave me a taste of it the very same day in Quebec.

Trip to Quebec

My trip to this Canadian Province has been highlighted in three posts thus far with another scheduled next week. Please take time to read about the travels in Fall Travel, Saguenay Fjord, and Quebec Province. The slide shows share some of the picturesque scenery. I believe the Province of Quebec rivals New England for Fall Color.

Most of my travel revolves around work or family. The trip to Quebec was pure vacation for us. Perhaps this is why it has made such an impact. I currently have a Louise Penny book checked out from the library. She is a Canadian writer with a mystery series centered on this region. Stay tuned for a review.

Harvest

This year I tried sweet potatoes in the garden. Most of the slips were planted in raised boxes with one slip going into the Lasagna Bed created in the fall of 2017. The yield was good for this part of the country. But the big success of the year was the raised row garden.

Early last spring I reviewed Jim and Mary Competti’s book Raised Row Gardening. Then I followed the directions to a tee. My fellow homeowner was skeptical. But the bountiful harvest has convinced him. I tried to keep track of the harvest amounts, but the totals became too great.

By Early October the Roma tomatoes were yielding over 5 pounds each day. The carrots large and sweet. Unfortunately the freeze zapped the cantaloupe with over a dozen on the two vines. Beans, peppers, eggplants, tomatillo and squash were prolific. Much time was spent canning in the kitchen.

After the freeze I planted garlic. The Indian summer has the flat green leaves popping out of the ground. In preparation for winter, the beds have been mulched. But green onions, Swiss chard and Kale are all still thriving.

Reading Discovery

I continue to read both printed and online material. One of my finds this month is a blog by Tim Harford. Naturally this writer for the Financial Times has much to say about economics. Among the non-fiction work I read this month was The Virtue of Prosperity. You can read the review by clicking here.

Among fiction reviews, I routinely read The Critiquing Chemist. She often reviews audio books. Commuters may want to visit her site. I am amazed at how many works of fiction are read each month by some of these reviewers. Often I struggle to find time to read and then review one a week.

Challenge

Many of you took on the challenge I issued after writing Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events. The three months are over. I hope you all have benefited. Physical health has direct links to Brain Health which of course is very important to me.

At this point in time I am still meeting my New Year’s Resolutions. This has been quite challenging for me. I find the social aspect the hardest. But I am getting better. As an introvert, small talk is not one of my strengths. But there is always room and for now, time for improvement.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Quebec Province-Lac St. Jean to Montreal

Econogal’s Note: This is the third part in a series about the Province of Quebec. Details of a drive from Lac St. Jean to Montreal follow.

Our stay in Saguenay was brief since we woke up to rain. We were very satisfied with our meal from the previous night so just grabbed coffee and chocolate chaud from a nearby Tim Hortons. However, the manager did need to come assist us since she was the only one fluent in English. Since we were rapidly becoming Francophile we took the difficulty communicating in stride.

My travelling partner decided to drive up to Lac St. Jean to begin the day’s travels. Even with the periodical rain showers, the countryside was beautiful. There are many farms in the area dotted along the rivers and numerous lakes left behind by the retreating glacier.

This area is heavily French-speaking. Mid-morning, several stops were made in an attempt to find oatmeal. My travelling partner had searched for the translation, but perhaps the pronunciation was way off. Finally at one of the ubiquitous Tim Hortons, a picture of a bowl of oatmeal accompanied by the simple word gruel appeared. However, smiles and patience translate well. We did not experience any unfriendliness.

Lac St. Jean Tourism

There are indications of tourism throughout this area. But we did not see any tour busses. Unlike the United States, the area lacked chain hotels. But campgrounds were located both along the large Lac St. Jean as well as along the rivers and lakes of the various Canadian Parks we drove through on our roundabout journey back to the St. Lawrence River.

We drove up Highway 170 and turned west once we reached Lac St. Jean. Soon after, we began noticing the bike lane which would merge with the roadway from time to time. A key attraction of the area is the Velaroute des Bleuets. This extensive circuit offers cyclists many levels of difficulty for biking around the lake. We did not see any, most likely due to the weather and possibly the school year.

We missed our turn at Chambord. It was a fortuitous mistake. The road runs right alongside the lake on the way to Roberval. We found a wonderful lookout near the historic site Val-Jalbert. This vantage point allowed us to watch the storm squalls roll across the lake.

Some of the pictures of the lake and those of the farm fields come from this stop. The farm had strawberries and asparagus in close proximity to the rest area. Perhaps some blueberries were in another field.

This vantage point also allowed us to spot a place to park lakeside. We drove there and snapped a few shots against the whipping wind. Since we were not hungry we did not pop into the small seafood restaurant. This location appeared to be a major stop along the Velaroute des Bleuets.

Journeying Toward Trois-Rivieres

While we would have liked to drive the perimeter of the lake, our timetable did not permit. So we turned back toward Chambord and headed down Highway 155. This route follows the Bostonnais River for many miles. Again there were numerous campsites.

The drive is about 300 km so we did not take any detours. However, there are many hamlets along the road. One is La Tuque. The population of just over 10,000 made it similar in size to our home town. By this point, the Saint-Maurice River flowed alongside the route.

Toward the end of the drive, we passed the city of Shawinigan. A glimpse from the highway indicated manufacturing. Shortly thereafter, I was hit with a familiar waft of paper mill. Perhaps the next trip to Quebec will allow time to explore this area.

Return to Montreal

The leisurely drive from Saguenay up to Lac St. Jean and then down to Trois-Rivieres allowed timed to reflect. Our trip thus far had been wondrous. Yet we felt like we wanted to spend more time in Montreal. Thus we cut short our exploration of the countryside and returned to this city.

We began our morning with the familiar, a drive along the St. Lawrence. This time we were headed west on Highway 138. Sprinkled among the small towns and farms were numerous construction sites. New homes and new commercial buildings joined road construction to make the drive a bit slow. Anxious to return to Montreal, we joined the Interstate about a half an hour outside of Montreal.

Upon returning the rental car, we walked about a kilometer to our hotel where we left our bags until our room was ready. This time we were staying at the downtown Sheraton. As much as we liked the old part of the city, I was anxious to explore the heart of Montreal.

I fell in love all over again. The city bustled with activity. Streets were clean and I felt safe. While the city is built on the up-slope from the river, the streets running parallel to the river are somewhat level in elevation. Furthermore, there is a huge underground.

Shopping in Montreal

While walking along St. Catherine Street, we entered an area with a movie theatre and discovered the complex of stores and tunnels multiple flights below ground. Everything was well-lit with multitudes of people. Retail shops carrying items from clothing to jewelry to art supplies spanned blocks of the city. All underground. The result is Montreal now takes third place on my list of favorite places to shop. Only NYC and Chicago rank above.

The last morning in the Province of Quebec we split up. I returned to the underground shopping while my travelling companion wandered about. This is unusual for me. I seldom take off on my own when visiting a new city. In fact never before in a foreign country! But I felt so comfortable in Montreal. My only wish was for a map of the underground tunnels.

Returning to the airport, we cleared customs in Canada versus upon our return to the United States. I had not travelled outside of the U.S.A since 2012, so I do not know when the new machines came into play. Now you begin the process at kiosks by sliding the passport along the scanner of the touchscreen machine. Then you line up for a photo. Hats and glasses need to be removed. A slip of paper emerges with your photo verification. Finally the slip is handed to a live human further down the hall. I plan to count this as a new skill since my brain did learn something new.

Please enjoy the latest slide show and check back next week when I share information on the wonderful meals of our trip.

The Virtue of Prosperity Book Review

The Virtue of Prosperity by Dinesh D’Souza was written at the turn of the century. The book looks at the impact of technology on various aspects of life from economics to morals. This work is part philosophical, part opinion. Some readers may find the arguments hard to follow.Book Cover

D’Souza divides everyone into two positions,” the party of Yeah or the party of Nah.” This generalization places society in two camps. The first camp is composed of mostly younger people who are embracing technology with little regard to the many warts. Then there is the second party, “the party of Nah” that sees nothing but warts.

The basic premise shared by D’Souza is that old cliché, rising tides raise all boats. He cites many instances of how Western Civilization is thriving. Even the poorest of the poor are better off. He does however give evidence from both sides.

Pros and Cons on The Virtue of Prosperity

Things I liked about The Virtue of Prosperity include the ability to look back at forecasts and see how they turned out. For example, when the book was written, prior to 9/11, cell phones existed but they were not as overwhelmingly present as today. Nor did they have the highly computerized functions of today’s Smart Phones.

Another thing I liked was the self-reflection stimulated by his view of the divide we are currently experiencing in the world. D’Souza’s division seemed to be along an acceptance of technology among moral grounds as much as age differentiation. I think our divide is too complex to easily categorize. But the book did make me think on this critical subject.

On the other hand there were some things I struggled with. The author is obviously well-connected. However, some of the anecdotes seemed to be along the lines of name dropping. Furthermore, some of the chapters were a stretch.

Quite a few dealt with moral issues, including the one focused on biotechnology. But, unless I missed it (always a possibility) some of the everyday good vs. evil problems were overlooked. In my opinion, one of today’s biggest problem with technology comes from hacking. This was not covered at all. In fairness, perhaps this is a matter of the topic being somewhat outdated.

I picked up The Virtue of Prosperity at a book sale. This book would also be good to check out from the library. The author is earnest in his concerns, but the reader might not agree with some of his generalizations.

Travelling the Saguenay Fjord

Econogal’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the Province of Quebec

After two nights in Vieux Quebec, we decided to continue our travels via car. Enterprise allows you to rent a car in Quebec City and return the vehicle in Montreal. However, there is a drop fee. For us, the fee was less than a return train ride.

Exploring the Fjord

My prior research of Quebec uncovered the fjord. I was intrigued because this type of waterway conjures the Scandinavian countries along with the State of Alaska. Since, I have never been to either of the locales, the Saguenay Fjord was at the top of my list of possible destinations for the three unplanned days.

A day long car ride with some quick stops worked to counter the blustery weather. High winds are not a problem for us since we live on the High Plains where wind is normal and sometimes seems constant. But I was appreciative of the low profile VW Passat we rented.

We drove up Route 138 East. I cannot justly describe the incredible view. The St. Lawrence River was so expansive! The color change mid river on Ile d’Orleans was matched by the vividness of the trees on the hills sloping up from the river. We stopped several times to photograph both the river and the trees.

A key tourist stop is the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-De-Beaupre. We did not stop since two large tour busses had just unloaded. But the architecture was striking. The fall foliage on the sloping hill above made an amazing backdrop. Look for the shot from a quay on the Saint Lawrence in the slide show.

Rural Quebec

Not far past the shrine, the highway curves in from the river. But the road winds back and forth giving glimpses of river and land all the way up the coast to the fjord. Small towns dot the landscape. Farms and dairies make up much of the industry. The hotels are all Mom and Pop as are most of the restaurants. However, you will find a Tim Horton’s here and there. They truly rival Dunkin’ Donuts.

Our next stop along the highway was to buy some cheese. Many fromageries are located in this part of Quebec. Each claims to have the best cheese including the one we stopped at. Fortunately we could communicate. Once you leave the cities more and more French is spoken and English is a second language. We bought the house cheese, crackers, and salmon. The crisp temperature allowed the food to safely ride in the trunk.

As we made our way up the coast, we debated which route to take along the fjord. We needed to decide by the time we reached Saint-Simeon. The guide-book I used was in French. My French is non-existent but since it is a Latin based language, I was attempting to learn from the guide. Quite a few of our English words are derived from the French language as well. Between the maps, pictures, and recognizable words here and there, we opted for the road on the far side of the fjord. This meant crossing on the ferry.

Commercial Ferry

I have been on many ferries in my life time. Most carried cars across short stretches of river. One was even limited to pedestrians and bicyclists. All charged a fee. However, this one was free. (I am sure taxes paid for the operation. Taxes are very high in Quebec Province with a provincial tax on both goods and the Federal Tax. Thus a tax on a tax. But I digress.)
Our vehicle was the last to load. We might have missed the ferry if the 18 wheeler loading in front of us had not taken his time. The heavy trucks are placed in the middle with cars to the outside. The water was very rough from the high winds. The salt spray left its mark on the vehicles. I ventured outside just long enough to snap a few pictures. Usually I like to stand outside when on a ferry but the wind was just too much.

However, this first view of the fjord was incredible. The geography of a fjord is unique. Glaciers cut into the land carving the valley. The retreating, melting glacier leaves a body of water that is very deep. The Saguenay Fjord is almost 900 feet deep at its deepest point. For more information on how fjords form click on this National Geographic link.

Both highways along the fjord weave upward in elevation from the river. Our route, Highway 172 has several turn offs to drive down closer to the fjord. However we by-passed the earliest places to turn in search of a sheltered place to picnic.

Many visitors to this region choose to camp-out. Eventually we pulled off beside a creek and enjoyed our lunch. The tree tops quaked in the wind. But we stayed in the car with one window down so we could hear the stream tumble.

Sainte-Rose-du-Nord

After lunch we continued on the route toward the city of Saguenay. We climbed in elevation with no glimpses of the fjord. So we left the highway toward Sainte-Rose-du-Nord. The guidebook map indicated this small hamlet was on the shore of the fjord.

In warmer conditions, this must be teaming with tourists. As it was, we stopped at a shack (yes a shack) for one of the best blueberry pies I have ever eaten. The shack was not full. Mostly locals but I think a few were other tourists. Space heaters helped fight the cold. That and the body warmth of about twenty adults in a small area. We were the only ones conversing in English.

Sainte-Rose-Du-Nord has quite a dock although no boats were present. Along the dock are informative historical plaques in both French and English. The guide-book indicated a series of hiking trails that start behind the shack. We took the shortest one which led to a platform above the fjord. The weather was ominous so we did not venture farther than the roughly half mile loop.

As we were leaving, the high tide arrived. It was fascinating to watch the water rise as we were many miles inland from the mouth of the fjord. The slips jetting out from the dock bounced higher and higher as the tide came in. The wave action pushed on by the wind caused water to top the furthest slips even as they were bouncing several feet up into the air. The movement was riveting. We were hooked on the fjord.

Saguenay

Nonetheless, we pushed on. Our hotel reservations for the night were at the Delta Hotel on the far side of Saguenay. We wanted to reach our destination before nightfall. Crossing the Saguenay River into the town we spotted the historical section. Like many of the towns we passed, a church steeple rose above the buildings. We considered exploring the area the following morning. Just in case the weather continued to discourage walking about, we booked a dinner reservation at a restaurant in this old part of town. The meal at La Cuisine turned out to be the culinary delight of the trip.

Check back in a few days to read about the remainder of the trip as well as a subsequent review on the many delicious meals we consumed. For more information on the fjord, read this website post from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Enjoy this latest slide show!

  • Old church with backdrop of fall foilage
    Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre

Fall Travel Through Quebec Province

Note From Econogal:  This is the first of multiple posts. Check back 10/23/2018 for Part 2.

Fall is a lovely time to visit the Province of Quebec. The trees are glorious. But the weather can be a bit unpredictable in mid-October. On our recent visit we experienced some rain, wind, the regions first freeze and even a few snowflakes drifting down from the sky. Yet nothing detracted from the beauty.

Our trip planning was a bit haphazard which definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Hotels were booked for the first four nights in advance but not the last three. Why? Because this was our first visit to Eastern Canada and we weren’t sure where the road would take us. Also the closer the approach of the departure date, the less travel friendly the weather forecast became. However I am glad we incorporated this bit of flexibility.

Montreal

Our visit began and ended in Montreal. Since the nearest major airport requires a two hundred mile drive before embarking on the flight, we prefer flying direct. (An overnight experience sleeping at the Philadelphia airport with four youngsters many years ago sealed the deal.) However, the non-stop flight arrived just after midnight so we opted to stay at an airport hotel the first night. This fits in with my Travel Safety tips.

The Fairfield Inn we stayed at was incredibly quiet. I could not believe a train track was right outside our window. Furthermore, trains used the track regularly. The hotel must have had extra sound proofing! It also was a favorite with late night arrivals. The hotel shuttle had standing room only space at almost one in the morning. Fortunately for us, the others on the bus were part of a tour group. They had room keys handed to them at the airport by their tour guide. Thus, our check-in was easy.

The following morning we walked the short distance to the train station. We wanted to buy tickets to Quebec City for the following day. Plus, we wanted to see the cost of taking the train into downtown Montreal. After purchasing tickets for the next leg of our trip, we opted for an Uber drive into Vieux (old) Montreal.

Vieux Montreal

Since it was still morning, we dropped our bags at the Springhill Suites centrally located in the old part of the city. Immediately we set out to explore. Quite a bit of construction made the walk a bit tricky. Indeed almost everywhere we traveled in the Province were signs of development or upgrading of existing infrastructure. In Montreal we mostly saw the latter.

Strolling down Place Jacques-Cartier we spotted a horse and carriage parked at the bottom of the hill along Rue De La Commune. CiCi is a beautiful Belgian draft horse. Dennis, her driver takes very good care of her. He also served as a very knowledgeable tour guide. Perhaps just as important, the carriage included a very warm blanket which kept the misty air at bay.

A Belgian Draft Horse standing before a carriage.
The wonderful CiCi, a Belgian Draft horse with her carriage.

The hour-long tour is not cheap, (100 Canadian dollars) but gave a very good over-view of old town. The views of the mighty St. Lawrence River competed with the fall foliage and historical buildings. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect for me was how the old buildings were topped with new additions. Unlike the pop-topping done in major cities of the United States, these additions did not blend the new with the old.

However, newer buildings squeezed in among the old did a better job of blending in. But the masonry used helps distinguish new from old. The photos show some of these differences along with the small bits of wall still existing in Montreal.

Our carriage tour was one of the highlights. In part because of the friendliness and knowledge of the driver. He gave us history as well as recommendations on where to eat and what to experience with regards to museums. He also warned us about the hills we would find in Quebec City. Plus, he liked the fact we were taking the train to our next stop.

Montreal captured our hearts with our experience of Old Town. We loved the location of the hotel. But they were sold out for the night before our return flight. As a consequence, we left Montreal unsure if we would spend another night in the city or take transportation directly back to the airport.

Train to Vieux Quebec City

Montreal’s Central train station reminded me of the stations in Germany. However, since we departed on a Sunday many of the dozens of food outlets were closed. The station looked new inside but we knew the vastness inside harked to an age of more train travelers. A more modern sign of the station harking to old days was a bank of pay phones. Something I have not seen in years. Even so, the two trains we witnessed boarding had between fifty and a hundred individuals queuing for their trains.

The train ride to Quebec City allowed both of us to absorb the scenery. The brilliant colors of the fall provided a backdrop to the many farm towns along the route. I have included these colorful pictures in the slide show.

Quebec City

Our arrival to Quebec City posed some logistical problems. A long line formed for taxis and the Uber App would not load. Indeed, access of many functions on my cell phone ceased to work. Thus we walked up some very steep hills to the Hilton Hotel. Both the train station and the hotel are located just outside the walls of Vieux Quebec City. Unfortunately, the two locations are not in close proximity. I would estimate we traversed about a mile along crowded sidewalks to reach our destination.

There were many, many tourists in Quebec City. Even though large cruise boats docked at both Montreal and Quebec City, the effect was more pronounced at the latter. My travelling partner (who picked the travel destination) was amazed at the crowds at what he thought would be off-season. Alas, even though he does not share my enthusiasm for fall color, multitudes of others do. The crowds of camera wielding tourists were a bit overwhelming. Vloggers abounded. While I always try to show consideration with my picture-taking, the video cameras are large and they can become intrusive. Tripods blocked the sidewalks. Retakes sometimes held things up for the rest of the crowd. All in all a bit of a distraction.

Following the advice we received in Montreal, we opted to use the Hop-on Hop-off bus in Quebec City. The air was quite brisk on the top of the Double Decker vehicle but offered great views. The tour bus offers a number of languages to choose from. If your head sets are not working well, try to switch seats. We did this on more than one occasion.

There is much history in Quebec City. But if you have mobility issues, getting around is a bit difficult. I loved the statues, bronzes and fountains that appear everywhere. But perhaps the greatest view is of the St. Lawrence. The river seems to explode in width at this point. The view was particularly great from the top of our hotel.

Like Montreal there is much construction in Old Quebec. The city is actively protecting the centuries old wall with re-fortification. But there is also ongoing preservation of the newer buildings. The building and refurbishing lends an air of prosperity to this city and to the region in general. From an economic standpoint, I found this quite interesting since my understanding is that this Province is a bit behind much of Canada. Thus, I plan to do some more research.

Enjoy the slide show and check back Tuesday to see where we went after leaving Quebec City.

  • Herb Boxes in Montreal

Little Witch’s Big Night Book Review

Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a child. I loved going out to Trick-or-Treat. We did not have candy in the house, so I learned to stretch the goodies out. Sometimes I made the treasure trove last until the first of the year. Thus, when I had kids, I did not hesitate to buy easy-to-read Halloween books. Little Witch’s Big Night was a favorite.

Children's books

Deborah Hautzig teamed with illustrator Marc Brown in the mid-1980s to bring this good little girl to life. This Step into Reading book is geared towards kids in early elementary. The premise of the story is that the young Witch is being punished for good behavior. In addition to making her bed, she swept away the cobwebs underneath.

Little Witch and The Trick-or-Treater’s

Thus Little Witch stays home on Halloween. At first she is sad. Halloween of course is a big night for witches. But then three Trick-or-Treater’s knock on the door. Since Little Witch has no sweet treats to hand out, she offers each a ride on her broomstick.

Hautzig weaves a fun tale. So it is no surprise the book is still sold in retail stores more than 30 years after the initial release. Little Witch includes vocabulary that will challenge young readers. But the story and illustrations will keep the youngsters from getting frustrated from the occasional new word.

The story is not scary. Naturally a suspension of belief occurs with the broomstick rides. But, for those of us that like kids to stretch their imagination, this is not a problem. Little Witch’s Big Night offers an innocent look at Halloween.

Over the years, certain holidays have taken a hit. October 31st is the day preceding All Saints’ Day. Hence, Hallows’ Eve became Halloween. Perhaps those who see this as a pagan holiday have forgotten this connection to Christianity. Unfortunately, Halloween is frowned upon in some places by some people.

If you still celebrate Halloween in your family, I highly recommend Little Witch’s Big Night. This is a good book about a good child. I think your young reader will read it again and again.

The Blinds Book Review

Adam Sternbergh’s novel The Blinds is an interesting read. The pace is slow at the beginning as he sets the background. But this is appropriate. The back story is what makes The Blinds such a fascinating book to read. The book is not totally a mystery, crime or adventure. Nor is it a psychological thriller, although psychology is at the core.

The Blinds

The Blinds is the nickname the residents of Caesura have given their dusty remote location. Much like the lyrics in Hotel California by the Eagles, the town is programmed to receive. In theory the residents are free to leave but they cannot come and go. Because they are all there as part of a witness protection plan. Or so they think.

The desert fortress is isolated. The first inhabitants arrived eight years ago. For the most part, the time has passed unremarkably. Only one person chose to leave. Since she survived less than a week outside the compound others have not followed.

Sternbergh weaves a fascinating tale of memory loss and new beginnings. Both his main characters, Calvin Cooper and Fran Adams, and the many secondary characters are well-developed. Cooper is the Sheriff of the town and Adams is one of the original eight. She gave birth to her son shortly after arrival.

Since their memories have been altered by a new technique, none of the characters know if they were innocent witnesses or criminals that flipped on their cohorts. Thus all have hope that they were (and are) one of the good guys. As part of the experiment, some have more memory than others.

Many of the residents were truly evil and a few have unremembered connections to others. Their coexistence begins to unravel with multiple shootings within The Blinds. Sternbergh does not leave the reader guessing as to who the shooter is. Or his motive.

Yet the ending is a bit surprising. The reader will have a chance to reflect on what makes evil. And cruelty.

I recommend The Blinds. This novel is entertaining. The back story, once it is fully revealed, makes one reflect on many levels. The residents of The Blinds may be miscreants, but they rally around when needed. They truly deserve a rebirth. But not as originally designed.

Library Book Sale

A dozen booksMy community holds book sales twice a year. I try not to miss these sales. Each book sale benefits the local library. Naturally the books come from a wide range of sources. Many people buy books and then donate them. Some are even current releases.

A few even come from the library itself. I asked our librarian how they determine which books stay on the shelves and which go into the sale. Her response disclosed quite a bit of thought and planning.

Of course, the library naturally looks at check-out rates. If the book is consistently checked out, it stays on the shelves. But other factors come into play. Even if the check-out rates are not high, some books are kept. For example, if the book is from a local author, it may stay on the shelves a bit longer. Other reasons to keep a book is if it is the seminal book on a particular topic. Or if it is a classic which will most likely come back in demand.

Book Donations

Most of the books at this sale were donated. Sometimes the donations come from estates. But other times homeowners are just making room on their shelves for new books. This recycling of books allows more people access to reading material.
There is a downside for writers. Resell books do not provide royalties.

In defense of both book sales and used book stores, I find many new to me authors from these sources. Then I look for their new works. For example, I bought Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child as a resell. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that another member of the household was persuaded to read it. A few months later I spotted City of Endless Night which Child recently co-wrote with Douglas Preston. Since I enjoyed Terminal Freeze so much, it was easy to choose that book over another.

An upside to these sales is getting books into households that may not have the ability to buy reading material at retail prices. My county has a low household income average. Reading is a major factor in increasing knowledge. This in turn can increase the standard of living.

Do you have library book sales in your town or county? How do you support these efforts? Which of the above books should I read first?

Tables of Books on Sale

City of Endless Night Book Review

City of Endless Night

City of Endless Night captivates the reader from the word go. Even for someone unfamiliar with the crime series involving FBI Agent Pendergast and NYPD Lieutenant D’Agosta. Although this was evidently not the first book in the series, it was the first time I had read anything by the writing duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I am delighted by this discovery of a new to me writer combo in one of my favorite genres. However, long-time readers will remember I favorably recommended Child before in the review of Terminal Freeze.

The mystery opens up with the discovery of a headless body. This gruesome crime takes place in New York City. The victim turns out to be the daughter of a tech giant. D’Agosta takes Pendergast along to break the news to the father. Tech giant Anton Ozmian does not react well.

Then another headless body turns up. And another. These latter two involve older, wealthy men murdered in their ultra-secure homes. At least seemingly secure in their own homes. The M.O.’s differ enough from the first young victim to muddle the investigation.

New York Post

There are a handful of side stories mixed in. Most involve false leads. But one is crucial to the storyline. A reporter for the New York Post, Bryce Harriman ramps up the heat for Pendergast and D’Agosta. His dirt digging turns up a possible tie in of all three murders. He posits the theory of a vigilante murderer. One that goes after wicked members of the one per cent. In his reporting he coins the phrase City of Endless Night.

Of course his negative reporting of the first victim stirs the ire of tech father Ozmian. The sensational reporting also provides instant fame for Harriman. In an ironic twist, Harriman becomes greedy himself. But his greed is for fame not money. So he continues his zeal against the super rich. This includes continued mudslinging involving the young Ozmian. Then her father exacts revenge through digital methods.

Psychotic Villain

Meanwhile, the psychotic villain strikes some more. Even though the media, the public and even the NYPD have bought into Harriman’s theory, Pendergast has not. Unfortunately, he does not have an alternate theory. Hence, he and his colleagues fall into the trap of a man hunter.

The denouement actually takes place well before the end of the book. This allows the authors time for a thrilling hunt between good and evil. Thus, even though the reader discovers the killer, some suspense remains on the outcome.
City of Endless Night has a good amount of twist and turns. There are some exciting action scenes. In addition, the writers also offer commentary on culture today.

For the most part, this book stands on its own. However, as is the case in many series, some characters appear very briefly, yet the reader is expected to make a connection. In these cases, I think I would have benefitted from reading previous the previous books. I plan to read more of this series from Preston and Child in the future.

September 2018 Wrap-Up

September 2018 focus was on harvesting from the garden and personal growth. To be honest, I lost track of how much I put up canning-wise. But my garden was the most successful ever thanks to following the advice learned from Raised Row Gardening. Jim and Mary Competti also offer great advice on their Old World Garden Farms website. Their book will surely make the top five under the non-fiction category for 2018.

September

My favorite part of September is the cooling down, at least at night. As usual, my part of the country did flirt with triple digit temperatures mid-month. But the evenings have brought some much-needed relief. Even though we have yet to see some color change in my small town, I did enjoy the turning aspens on my Xtreme Hike.

The twenty plus mile hike allowed for personal reflection as well as satisfaction. Achieving ones goals is always uplifting. The social interaction also kept part of my New Year’s Resolutions going strong. The physical aspect is also key. Brain Health goes hand in hand with physical well-being.

Challenges

Those readers taking the no-alcohol challenge are two-thirds through. I am receiving positive feedback from several individuals. Keep up the good work.

Personal challenges for me are also on track. Part of this year’s goals involved learning new skills. This past week I successfully learned how to convert a Microsoft Office power point to Google Slides. This was necessary to upload some You Tube videos for a presentation. I am still amazed at just how proprietary the competitors are. It is an understandable part of capitalism. But does create added work for non-profits and others developing presentations.

Final Quarter of 2018

The last three months are upon us. My cucumbers have already quit producing. We usually have a freeze in October. Sometimes just as the Trick-or-TreaLooking upon a mountainter’s are making their rounds. Thus the garden will soon be put away. Then it will be time to focus on quilting again.

Congratulations again to those meeting their own personal challenges. Growth is measured in many ways. Those of us getting on in years need to keep reaching for the stars as much as we are able. Personal growth may mean spiritual growth, improvement in mind and body, or just the ability to relax and be happy with our journey through life.

An Unwanted Guest Book Review

Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest reminds me just how entertaining a mystery can be. I rank this book alongside the many Agatha Christie’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels. But the one thing missing is a single protagonist who figures out the crime.
An Unwanted Guest is a story with a large cast of characters. Each of the individuals is trapped by a winter storm. Some appear as couples, some are friends and there is an odd singleton or two. Added into this mix of strangers are the innkeeper and his son.

Plot

The tale starts on the road to the inn. Lapena introduces each character one at a time. This is very reminiscent of several of my favorite writers. When done well, the author hooks you in. Shari Lapena did an amazing job of hooking me.

In brief, an oncoming storm approaches at the same time as the hotel guests. Bad weather is the backdrop, trapping the guests inside as one after another turns up dead. Thus the theme is an old one, but Lapena makes it seem brand new.

An Unwanted Guest

Most of the characters assume the first death is accidental. But one of the more dominant individuals, David Paley, has his doubts. Yet he keeps quiet, just insisting the body stay front and center.

Shortly after the second death, evidence appears to point out the possibility of an unknown individual. This throws many into a panic. Tensions increase as the power remains off. Paley, tries to hold things together. He insists they all remain together. But there is a bit of a rebellion once his past is revealed. Then things go from bad to worse.

Sheri Lapena does an amazing job on two fronts. First, her writing allows you to know each of the characters. Second, she subtly leaves the clues to the mystery. Somehow, I missed the evidence. Perhaps after reading more of her work (and I plan to) I won’t be surprised by the end. But I did not figure out who killed everyone until the author’s reveal.

I highly recommend An Unwanted Guest. The denouement made sense. The reader is left wishing some of the characters have a happily ever after and knowing some won’t. The shades of evil are well painted. Lapena reminds us that ghosts from the past can haunt both the present and the future. If you like mysteries An Unwanted Guest is a must read.

Personal Challenges

Aspen trees leaning
Falling Aspen Trees

Most often personal challenges are discussed at the beginning of the year. Many articles and blogs write about New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes, people discuss challenges during the summer. These tests usually involve athletic feats such as triathlons or Xtreme Hikes.

I heard recently from some of the readers taking the no alcohol challenge. For those who may have missed the original post click here. One of the readers even cited a statistic from the recent WHO report as written about in The Guardian. Deaths linked to alcohol top 5% with the percentage among the younger population numbering in the double digits.

If you are one of the readers still participating in the no alcohol until Halloween pact please let us know how things are going in the comment section below. How are you feeling? Are your activity levels higher? Any unexpected side-effects?

On a personal note, I find it hard to cut out sugar. Chocolate and ice cream are my downfall cravings. I try to limit chocolate to no more than one ounce a day, preferring dark chocolate. However, after participating in the Vail Xtreme Hike, I could not consume enough chocolate for about 30 hours afterwards. I even had two small-sized packages of peanut butter chocolate M&M’s during the hike. I am happy to say the chocolate craving is rapidly diminishing.

Vail Xtreme Hike

The Vail Xtreme Hike was personally fulfilling. My Gear S2 indicated 22.4 miles were covered. That would include the walk to and from the starting line. But what I gained the most from participating was social. Individual hikers and volunteers all had different stories and motivations. Many, but not all, knew individuals directly affected by Cystic Fibrosis. The fundraising effort is an important part of the event. Even more important is the reason for the funds. I am glad I hiked up, around and down Vail Mountain.

Most would see covering the twenty miles at altitude difficult. The altitude at the bottom was roughly 8500 feet above sea level. Climbers making it to the highest elevation at Buffalo Creek reached an elevation of 11,500 feet.

View of Mountain
Climbing Vail Mountain

However, discussing personal experiences face-to-face was the toughest part for me. I am by nature an introvert. I love participating in online groups and thrived in online classes. But sharing one-on-one is tough. In person, you share not only your words but your body language as well. Unless you are a heavy user of emoticons, the written word can help you hide emotions.

Even though it is only late September, I am giving some thought to next year’s resolutions. So far, I am meeting the ones set for this year. The social aspect has been tough at times but is where I have had the most growth. I still need to pick up two new skills. But, I have a quarter of the year left.

Personal challenges can be physical or mental. Both allow for growth. Feel free to share some of your challenges and accomplishments in the comment section below.

The Little Paris Book Shop Book Review

The Little Paris Book Shop

The Little Paris Book Shop published originally in Germany back in 2013, was written by Nina George. Unfortunately my German is too limited to read the initial version. Fortunately, Simon Pare translated the work into English in 2015. This book moved me. But readers need to be forewarned. This book is deep. Soul-searching and beautiful, but the material requires a certain maturity.

The protagonist is Jean Perdu. The owner of a floating barge bookstore called la pharmacie litteraire or in English, The Literary Apothecary, Perdu prescribes books for what ails you. The barge is moored in Paris on the River Seine. The Little Paris Book Store has been the rock Perdu has clung to for the past 21 years. Ever since his beloved walked out on him.

But that is just the surface. George has written a novel which entertains. However, she also makes the reader contemplate their own failures, successes and even happiness as they follow Perdu down river facing the mistakes of his past. Personal growth is a large part of the story. Writers are another. Grief is yet another.

Book Shop Characters

The cast of characters in The Little Paris Book Shop follow the theme of missed opportunities. Floating along with Perdu are various individuals in mid-life. Some divorced, some bereft by an early death and one or two who have yet to find love. Much less lose it. The one youngster in the group is a twenties something best-selling author who has lost his muse. He fits nicely into the tale.

George explores life on many levels. Her writing describes contrasting life paths. But the road not taken is only part of the story. My interpretation was one of accepting the path chosen and appreciating the life around you. As I stated above, The Little Paris Book Shop is deep. Personal reflection is one of the benefits I derived from reading the story.

Suggested Target Audience

My suggestion for a target audience is over twenty-one. Partly for the European attitudes regarding relationships. But even more, I think readers who have suffered major setbacks (or even minor) in life will benefit the most. Nina George ends her novel in an upbeat way. The message is not only life goes on, but life can be even better. Perdu does a lot of soul-searching. As did I.

Sleepless Nights

Some nights I fall right to sleep only to wake up at two or three or four in the morning. Other nights I just can’t get to sleep. No matter how tired I am. I have tried many things. Over the counter sleep aids, herbal remedies and long ago even prescribed medications. The results varied. But none have been truly successful, since once again I am sleepless.
Tonight, there is an extra inning ballgame to occupy my time. But I prefer writing these thoughts. Perhaps it will be a blog entry. I am sure there have been stranger posts. In fact many times when I do fall into a quick slumber but then wake up, I opt for writing.

Middle of the night writing has many advantages. No one knocks at the door in the middle of a thought, or paragraph or scene. The cat doesn’t beg to go out and the phone doesn’t ring. Thoughts can flow and usually they do.

Disadvantages of Sleepless Nights

Of course there are some disadvantages. Staying up half the night even when productive can have a negative effect the following day. It is best not to drive long distances for example. Or try to make critical decisions. Sleeplessness tends to impact my decision-making the following day.

Perhaps a solution would be to work all night and sleep during the day. But I would need some type of blackout curtains. As it stands whether I have slept two hours or seven hours, the light of day signals my body to rise if not shine. Yes I am a grumpy morning person after a sleepless night.

The absolute worst case scenario is when I have multiple sleepless nights in a row and yet I still can’t sleep. Another rough situation is when I am bone tired from a strenuous day of exercise or labor and still can’t sleep. My body really needs that time to recover.

Sometimes reading a book helps. Especially text books. But other times, I get too caught up in the story to stop, even if the yawning has commenced. Other than sports, I am not much of a TV person so that doesn’t work either.

I am not a scientist, but I think the key to my problem is the inability to shut off some of my brain cells. My thoughts keep percolating. I try to avoid heavy thinking in the hours before bedtime. Admittedly my worst nights are when I have become keyed up about something. The something could be personal. Or it could take place thousands of miles away.

Hurricanes do a number on me and I live in the heart of flyover country. Other types of events that keep me up are election results, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Sleepless nights are definitely aided by the instant communication of a Twitter Feed.

I have tried various tactics. There are lots of articles on how to sleep better. Even the book I review this next Friday gave advice on sleep and it was a novel not a self-help book. So I have finally decided not to fight the sleepless nights. They may turn out to be hereditary. There are tales of insomnia running through the family. So instead I will embrace them and write. Perhaps I will finally write something worthy of publication. If not, at least I have this post.

Build Your Online Community Book Review

Build Your Online Community

Jan Burns has written an excellent guide discussing online communication. Building Your Online Community: Blogging, Message Boards, Newsgroups, and More is geared toward teenagers. But I learned from it too.

Although this book was published in 2011, it is written in such a way that most, if not all is still relevant. The book is still available for purchase. I think it would make a great gift for anyone 12 and up. In fact, seniors who desire some general knowledge of online communities would also benefit from reading this book. I discovered it while browsing the non-fiction section geared toward young adults at my local library.

Burns informs the reading audience in a straightforward manner. She gives a nice history of computers and the Internet. Then she devotes a chapter to each of the groups named in her subtitle. While I am very comfortable about my knowledge of Blogs, I found I was lacking in the other two. In fact, until reading the book, I did not know how to access Newsgroups. Now I know. (Plus I sidetracked a bit from getting the book read and this post written after discovering Newsgroups.)

Finding Information Online

Burns discusses the difference between web directories and search engines in her chapter Searching For Information. Even though this book was published over five years ago, her information remains current. Her discussion of search engines includes biases and how to compensate for them. This search engine bias is a still a hot topic.

The last part of Build Your Online Community discusses safety issues of having an online presence. I found the author’s warnings to be level-headed. I believe her approach is one that shares not scares. Burns uses multiple examples of how anonymous postings may not be enough to protect ones identity.

This is a great book. Many segments of the population will gain knowledge from this book. Even though the target audience is young teens, I enjoyed reading it. Furthermore, I think my parents’ generation would learn from Build Your Online Community as well.

Be sure to look for this book by Jan Burns in your library. Additionally, I found copies available for purchase online. Build Your Online Community is a winner in my opinion.

Endurance

Endurance is defined as the ability to withstand hardship or adversity according to Merriam-Webster. The first use of this word traces back to the 15th Century. My belief is the usage at that time revolved around the hardship of living from day-to-day.

At present the word is used as both a noun and an adjective. In some parts of the world endurance references day-to-day survival just as in the 15th Century. However, endurance also connotes the ability to perform certain types of athletic feats. Examples would be marathons (or ultramarathons), triathlons (Iron Man), and mountain climbing (Think Mt. Everest).

Fund Raising

Tests of endurance have become a part of fundraising for various causes. In 2010, I participated in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). To gain an entry spot my running partner and I needed to run a qualifying race at Quantico. Since the MCM is affiliated with a government entity, the organization itself does not raise fund for a charity. However, runners are allowed to raise funds in support of an organization of their choice. We raised money for the scholarship fund at our local community college.

Another test of endurance is the Tough Mudder. Not long after the MCM, I witnessed rather than participated in this obstacle course. Crawling through the mud and crossing streams via rope netting were doable but I balked at the idea of running through dangling wires, some with electrical currents. However, I supported my colleagues with my presence and my donation. The team raised funds for The Wounded Warrior Project.

Soon I will participate in an Xtreme Hike to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. This test of endurance will include hiking 20 miles up and down Vail Mountain in Colorado with an altitude change of 3250 feet. Any sane person will ask, why not just donate? Why push the limits? Endurance is the answer.

Cystic Fibrosis

For the individuals I personally know with Cystic Fibrosis, endurance is needed for day-to-day living. The disease affects the lungs and the pancreas. It is an inherited disease. Thus someone is born with it. At this point in time there is no cure. But research scientists are working hard to develop better treatments as well as to find a cure.

Current treatments include pancreatic enzymes such as Creon taken with each meal and snack, bronchodilators and airway clearance vest machines. (Hopefully insurance companies now cover the airway clearance vests. I fought an insurance company for two years over the necessity of this expensive machine.)These are everyday treatments.

Anytime a CF patient becomes ill, treatments intensify. Courses of antibiotics and additional bronchodilators are added to the daily regimen. More time is spent on airway clearance. Sometimes the airway clearance is measured in hours. Thus, endurance becomes second nature to the patient. And the caregiver.

Endurance

The CF patient raised in my home is now an adult living half a country away. I no longer have the day-to-day responsibility of a caregiver. But endurance is an ingrained fiber of my being. Therefore, I plan to participate in both the fundraising and the hiking. If my offspring can endure in the face of adversity so can I. But sometimes I need to prove this to myself.

Participating in Xtreme Hike Vail is one way to reaffirm my commitment. The physical duress will pale in comparison to the hardship faced by those afflicted with this disease. There is no way to mimic their challenges. But empathy is an important part of human nature. I think the stresses on the lungs of physical activity at ten thousand feet above sea level will simulate the challenge breathing holds for those with Cystic Fibrosis. Just breathing. Something to think about.

So I am adding a link to the hike on the sidebar or you can click here to donate. Those of you who personally know me can find my team. Just scroll down to the Top Teams Box and click on “more.” For everyone else, pick a team, any team. The cause is what is so important. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Individuals with Cystic Fibrosis are the epitome of endurance.

Where The Crawdads Sing Book Review

Where The Crawdads Sing

The debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing is one you will want to read. This is the first foray into fiction for Delia Owens whose previous works have been in the realm of non-fiction. Her expertise in wildlife creates a wondrous background for the novel. A story so gripping you won’t want to put it down.

The setting is the lowlands of North Carolina. Owens brings to life the creatures of the marsh through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist of Where The Crawdads Sing. The first glimpse we have of Kya is as a six-year-old confused by her mom leaving their swamp shack in high-heeled faux alligator shoes. She waits for her mom to turn around and wave good-bye. The mom keeps on walking, right out of Kya’s life. The first to abandon the little girl.

Owens uses a dual narrative approach to spin her tale. Thus, the riveting saga of Kya alternates with the murder investigation of a local hometown hero. Several characters overlap between the two tales. The modern-day plot takes place in 1969. Kyra’s mom walked out in 1952. Eventually time merges. Along the way the reader glimpses an accurate picture of the Deep South.

Where The Crawdads Sing is hard to classify as far as to which genre it belongs. Yes, there is a murder involved. But the story really isn’t a “who done it?” The bulk of the tale revolves around the young abandoned girl as she matures into adulthood. Of course there is some romance involved too as is often the case with coming of age stories.

Uniqueness

What I liked about the book the most was the uniqueness. I encountered a suspension of disbelief which allowed me to totally immerse myself in Kya’s circumstances. The author has created a character rich in complexity. She is different. How she became different is a critical part of nature. And an integral part of the novel.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. I am amazed that this is a first novel. Furthermore, the ending was a total surprise. Any serious lover of fiction should add Where The Crawdads Sing to their must read list. I sincerely hope Delia Owens produces another work of fiction.

 

Online Passwords

Passwords have become a ubiquitous part of life. This is because so much of life now takes place online. Many people shop online and each of these stores request a password. Social media sites also want passwords. Banks offer online access and naturally they want passwords. In theory, these passwords protect the consumer. But having a password isn’t enough protection from hackers.

For starters, many people use the same password over and over. Yes, this does make life easier. For you. And for hackers. Theft, both monetary and of your identity is what a hacker is after. Therefore, a password is of utmost importance.

Risky Passwords

I have had the privilege of working with several IT gurus. They each have their own insights into password security. Each say total security is impossible. Security breaches will happen. But steps can be taken to reduce that risk.

First, don’t save your passwords on a computer file or even a caveman file, named passwords. Preferably don’t have a written list at all. But if you absolutely need one, bury it under a different name or folder. Second, don’t use the same password over and over again. Ideally each password should be unique. Yes, that means dozens of passwords.

Passwords should not be obvious. In other words, your online bank password should not be Bank 1234. However, there are some ways to compromise so that you can remember a password without writing it down.

It is also a terrible idea to share passwords. My family gets frustrated with me because I will not even share my password to fire up my computer. Just remember that old adage: loose lips sink ships and politely refuse.

Another poor habit regarding passwords is using the same one forever. I am guilty of this myself. However, there may be some safety in my approach. My one account that has not changed in almost 10 years is a social account. It is tied to an email created to join that network. Neither the email, nor the password has been used for anything else. My other accounts are changed on a regular basis.

If at all possible, do not log in on public computers. Public Wi-Fi is also a sketchy proposition. Furthermore, if you are in a public place be sure to keep your laptop, tablet or cell phone with you at all times.

Security Breaches

Breaches in security happen frequently. If you are contacted about a breach do not delay in checking the account. After scanning for unauthorized activity, change your password, even if it is fairly new. Because a breach means someone may have access to your password.

Businesses are changing protocols in response to hackers. For example, I recently booked an international flight. The first day’s attempt went nowhere. The airline site kept sending an error message. Turns out their security had just been breached and they shut their system down. The following day they were up and running. But a digital code was needed to complete the purchase. The code was emailed to me from the bank which issued my credit card. This double-check is a necessary nuisance.

Strong Passwords

In addition to businesses instituting double checks, strong passwords are important. The strongest are software generated. These are available both online and offline. Naturally, both have some risks. Anything online can be hacked. Furthermore, with the IOT (Internet of Things) even some risk occurs with software uploaded onto a computer. Nevertheless, computer generated passwords are extremely strong.

There are some old school methods to creating a random password. A favorite of mine is to use a newspaper. Find an article and count down a random number of words. The word you use should be at least five characters long. This will serve as a base for your password. Then scan the paper for a number with at least four digits. Combine the two making sure to capitalize one letter and one number. For longer passwords add a second word or set of numbers. This method is great for creating a password you will never use again and don’t need to remember.

Financial Institutions

Very strong passwords are needed for accessing accounts held in financial institutions. These passwords should also change frequently. This includes accounts such as savings, money market and C.D.’s. People routinely monitor their checking account, but all types of accounts are vulnerable.

I like using short sentences for these accounts. Then I can remember the words and hopefully how I altered them. For instance, She Hates Turkey can be written as $H3h2t3sTurk3y or S434@tuRK3y or $434@T3$turk3y. You need to create your own secret code. These short sentences can reflect the business such as Always Great Service or the day you created the password: Rain, rain and more rain. The trick is to alter the letters into numbers and symbols. And then to remember how you altered them.

Numbers are easily converted to symbols. Simply shift to capitals. For a really difficult password, set the cap lock before typing a series of random letters and numbers.

However, using an alteration of the company name is not advised. Randomness and length are what lead to strong passwords. So if the site says a password should be 8-20 characters long, don’t settle for 8.

Social Media

In my opinion, social media presents great opportunity for hacking. For one reason, many people use the apps and so they don’t sign out. In other cases, public devices are used and then clicked off without signing out. This leaves the door wide open.

The best solution would be similar to what I referenced above, have a separate email and a separate password for each. The next best option is one email for social media sites that is never used elsewhere. Again each site needs a unique password.

However, if the accounts are already set up and an email is used for both social and non-social sites, make sure you change passwords often. By often, at least four times a year and more frequently is better. Don’t simply change a digit at the end of the password to make it new. For example Twitter1 should not become Twitter2.

Passwords for social media accounts should never be used elsewhere.

Emails

Creating a new email account for business only is advisable, but sometimes the migration in use is slow. I have multiple email accounts in order to keep usage separated. But these email accounts do lead to vulnerability. You are not required to provide an email at box stores. However, many online merchants require the information for purchase.

Organizations are now requesting emails as a form of communication. Almost everyone I know has an email. (I can count two holdouts.) But not everyone understands how to safeguard these accounts. Passwords for emails need to be very strong.

Due to the rise in fraud, many transactions are verified through either email, phone call or text. An email account can be open on more than one device at a time. If someone has access to your email account and its password, fraud is easily committed.

Therefore, vigilance is needed. Many of the carriers notify via email if a new device has signed onto the account. If this was not you, take action immediately.

Cyber security is crucial for protecting your identity and your assets. Strong passwords play an important part. So does a vigilant attitude with respect to changing passwords and screening for breaches. Remember to use a unique password for each account. Change passwords frequently. Finally, look for the secure symbol on websites before submitting emails and creating passwords. Never enter credit information without the padlock symbol and the word Secure on the browser line. Sites such as Econogal pay for this extra security. Just another step in protecting your identity.

There Are No Grown-Ups Book Review

There Are No Grown-Ups

Pamela Druckerman is an established author. She is an expat living in France and her books are non-fiction. There Are No Grown-Ups is the first of her books that I have read. Perhaps it will be the last. At heart I am a prude. Thus her early revelations regarding an intimate birthday present for her husband turned me off.

However, you may see things differently since sometimes I feel like one of the few “Grown-Ups” not to have read Fifty Shades of Gray. Writing is a personal thing, deeply personal. As is reading. So I am reluctant to totally pan There Are No Grown-Ups.

Druckerman bares her soul in addition to her body. Although she is closer to my age, she reminds me of many of my students. TMI (Too Much Information) is a concept that is lost on some. So, be forewarned, Druckerman reveals all in an attempt to explain concepts such as the body ages long before the mind for many.

I understand this idea. Furthermore, I can connect with Druckerman on some levels. She describes throughout her book the frustrations and challenges life delivers. She discusses candidly her battle with cancer. Druckerman also shares how she has handled the notoriety and fame garnered from her writing.

Privacy Issues

But my biggest problem stems from what is the very essence of the book. In There Are No Grown-Ups, there is also no sense of privacy. Everything is shared. For Druckerman, her success as a writer stems from being true to her own identity. But does this mean one must tell all?

Some relationships should remain private. In my opinion, a couple’s intimacy falls into this category. I am not necessarily advocating for secrecy. Rather I believe in discretion. This is at odds with much of the publication.

Throughout the book, Druckerman discusses her family background. Her parents were not wealthy. Nor were they poor. Furthermore, for reasons revealed toward the end, they only discussed positive things in front of her.

So there are parallels with my background. I also grew up in a family that did not discuss certain topics. Then, Druckerman discloses that she raises her children via open discussion. I did not. Age appropriate discussions were the norm in our household. My belief was and is that children need the freedom to be children. Adulthood is difficult enough.

This key difference with regards to privacy may explain why I am uncomfortable recommending There Are No Grown-Ups. But, the problems are numerous. The Ménage a Trois birthday present, was TMI and something I am totally opposed to. Additionally, I view friendship quite differently. Furthermore, my belief is that the writer doth protest too much. I had trouble believing all the shared self-doubt.

I am sure there are many who will love this book. I did not. Nor do I recommend it. But I believe There Are No Grown-Ups has its place in the world. This was a library check-out. If you think you would be interested, I recommend finding it at a library near you.

August 2018 Wrap Up

I usually find August unbearable. Hot winds out of the Southwest make life miserable. Much of the time my garden shuts down because it can’t handle the windy triple digit days. This year was different. Cool, rainy days prevailed during the early weeks with just a couple of hundred degree days toward the end. ‘I could get used to this’ to paraphrase an alien busting actor.

Travel

In fact, weather in my hometown rivaled Saratoga Springs during the early part of the month, although we lack any farmers market. Other travel trips were limited to just a few hours. But one I will share took place in the Rocky Mountains. I joined a young couple in hiking around Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We will participate in the Xtreme Hike Vail in late September. This is a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Feel free to contact me through the mail button at the top if you wish to donate.

View of mountains in distance
Looking West from atop Golden Gate Canyon State Park
two people hiking on a trail
Hiking Mule Deer Trail

High altitude certainly slows me down. On this particular hike, each mile took about twenty minutes. The three hours of “moderate” trail left me feeling confident that I am up to the challenge. I did ice my ankles and stretched afterwards. Both actions keep me on top of my game. Read my post recommending the book Stretching if you don’t already have a routine.

County Fair

August heralds the county fairs in this part of the country. I entered quite a bit of produce and some canned goods this year. Although I did not win a top prize, I was proud of my garden efforts. The Raised Row Garden certainly is a success. My plan is to continue this technique another two years before placing permanent fencing around the perimeter. So far the temporary fence is keeping the critters at bay.

4-H Competition Premiums

A comment on the fair. There were over eighty kids in the parade of champions. This is a good number. However, I believe most were competing in the livestock divisions. The other divisions were not well represented.

For example, only four articles of clothing were entered by three separate 4-H kids. This was disappointing to me. With the exception of cake decorating, the entries in the non-livestock division were sparse. I don’t think most of the kids showing animals will use the skills as adults. Much of the competition centered on lambs and goats. Outside of the Easter season, few in this country eat lamb on a regular basis.

But I do see this as a principle of economics. The premiums for animals participating in the livestock division are determined via auction. The townspeople bid on the animals (but don’t actually purchase them) and the kids keep this premium. The bids are usually in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. The kids can then sell the animals at market price if they wish. This doubles the money.

However, the 4-H entries in subjects ranging from dog obedience to cooking to rocketry to woodworking (the list of skills is extensive) earn premiums paltry in comparison. The Grand Champions of each division are awarded seventy-five dollars. If you were a kid, which activity would you spend your time on?

Econogal Challenge

In July I challenged my readers to abstain from alcohol, or if they did not drink form their own challenge. An article and scientific research indicating a rise of liver disease among Millennials prompted this challenge. The feedback is positive. Those involved feel free to share in the comment section below. Or in the comment section of the original article Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events. One month down, two to go!

National News

The investigation into the involvement of Russian election interference continues to twist and turn. I urge my readers to read my reviews of both New York Station and Hidden Target. History reveals such interference is not new. However, current technology has taken everything to the next level. I have talked about technology before. I am currently working on a post concerning cyber security. There are some things one can do to limit the invasion of privacy. However, only going totally off-grid eliminates breeches to personal data. My preference is to protect what I can with the knowledge that everything is vulnerable.

This past week, Senator John McCain lost his battle with cancer. I did not personally know Senator McCain and did not always agree with him on political matters, but I admired his devotion to this country. Over the next few days, media coverage will focus on the ceremonies recognizing this statesman. Honoring those who give much to society is important.

Even more important is each of us doing our part to make society better.