Alaskan Holiday Book Review

At Christmas time I like to indulge in sweet romances. One of the best writers of this genre is Debbie Macomber. Her recent release, Alaskan Holiday fit the bill. I’ve never been to Alaska, but would love to go since it is the only state in the United States of America I have not stepped foot in. In the meantime I enjoyed reading Alaskan Holiday.

The point of view for the book switches back and forth between the two main characters. Palmer is a native of the state and appreciates the isolation of Ponder, Alaska. The last ferry out of Ponder is due and Palmer must work up the nerve to ask Josie to stay and marry him.

Josie is on the career path to chef stardom. Her first “real” job is in Seattle at a new restaurant. But she wiles away the time waiting for the opening by cooking at a summer lodge. She didn’t count on a marriage proposal. Thus, Palmer’s attempt at a romantic proposal throws her off-balance. She misses the boat, literally.

Characters

In addition to Palmer and Josie, there is a colorful cast of support. Jack, a bush man with an incredible appetite tries to patch things up between the lead characters. His suggestions and (failed) experience for romance keep things light. Jack is a good sidekick for Palmer.

Angie is a transplant to Alaska. She spends her time writing and raising a family during the long dark winters. Josie is appreciative of the friendship they develop.

Chef Anton is Josie’s boss. And the restaurant owner. He fails to meet Josie’s expectations.

Plot

Like many romances, Alaskan Holiday has a plot which begins and ends with a happy couple. However, the two must overcome various obstacles. Macomber does a nice job of bringing the characters to life. She also presents plausible problems and solutions. Alaskan Holiday is an easy evening read by the Christmas tree. Just grab a cup of cocoa, turn on the tree lights and immerse yourself in a sweet romance.

Craving Christmas Cards

Two Christmas cards on display
Old-fashioned Christmas cards via snail mail.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is sending and receiving Christmas Cards. So far, I have mailed out three dozen with another dozen or so to go. Alas, only two have made their way to my doorstep. Both are on display. But I fear Christmas cards are a dying tradition.

In times gone by, Christmas cards were a method of sharing school pictures or the latest family news to cousins, aunts and uncles. And childhood friends. Now that sharing is often done via social networks. Personally I limit the number of people photos I share on the World Wide Web. As a youngster, I read biographies and Charles Lindbergh’s left me with an irrational fear of kidnappers. So I have “hidden” the faces on the card displayed on the left.

Buying Christmas Cards

My mom always ordered the most beautiful cards with the family name printed inside the card. One of my favorites had an old map of the world embossed in gold with a message of world peace. Then my dad would write a handwritten message on the back cover.

Today, I buy my cards at the local discount store. However, I pick them out early so I can get the four dozen needed to all match. I lean toward nativity scenes but sometimes I will buy ones with winter scenes or with cardinals.

Some years it is difficult to mail Christmas Cards. This is especially true after the death of a family member. In this case the cards often are mailed with a simple signature and no news.

Other years, so many great things have happened I am tempted to print out a letter. But the tradition of handwritten notes continues. In 2012 I even mailed out a collage of photos from key events. That was a fun year! But most of the time our life is humdrum so the stock cards suffice.

Receiving Cards

The best part of course is receiving the cards. I know this is selfish and usually believe it is better to give than receive. But I really like Christmas cards! Each day the mail comes in December, I stop whatever I am doing and hurry out to the mail box. I look forward to seeing school pictures. Or vacation pictures.

My two cards (so far) this year have both been from cousins. Both are Texans although that may or may not play a part in the promptness of getting cards out. The first arrived December 1 with a comical cover and a handwritten note. A perfect start to the Christmas season! The other was delivered on the 11th.

This second card is from a cousin with many artistic talents. The two kids are featured with a background of the Brooklyn Bridge. Absolutely gorgeous-the kids, the back drop and the photography. My heart swelled as soon as I opened the envelope.

Christmas cards connect us with friends and family. Geographical distance makes it hard to see everyone on a regular basis. While the social networks help fill these gaps, Big Data may become the downfall of these networks. The quest for profits by selling information to advertisers has left a bad taste in many mouths.

I am connected via the same social network to both these cousins. However, the artsy photographer has not logged in for over a year. The other cousin is a bit better at keeping on top of things. My own log-ins are sporadic.

So I encourage all of you to consider sending some old-fashioned Christmas Cards. Ones that can be picked up and re-read over and over again. Cards that will not result in pop-up ads. Mail some Christmas cheer this year!

If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Book Review

 Children’s Christmas books are among my favorite gifts to give. Prolific authors like Jan Brett and Mercer Meyer and even Lemony Snicket have written Christmas themed books. There are also books such as Christmas Counting by Lynn Reiser and alphabet books such as B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner. But my favorite tale is If You’re Missing Baby Jesus: A True Story that Embraces the Spirit of Christmas by Jean Gietzen with illustrations by Lila Rose Kennedy.

The setting for If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a small oil field town of North Dakota in the early 1940s. A family has lost their nativity in moving from one small town to another while following work through the oil patch. So the mother buys a new nativity set at the local dime store. Once the nativity set is unpacked, the family discovers a major error. The set contains two figurines of the baby Jesus.

Family Reaction

The members of the family differ in their reaction to the extra baby Jesus. The father is quite pragmatic. He realizes the set that is missing baby Jesus could be anywhere in the country. The children like having twin babies in the manger. But the mother is adamant that they find the proper home for the extra figurine.

Thus a sign is displayed by the remaining nativity sets stating If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Call 7162. (For those of you too young to remember or in big cities, small towns on the Plains only needed four or five numbers dialed as late as the 1990s.) As Christmas draws closer, the mother becomes more anxious that the extra baby Jesus has not been claimed. Finally, on Christmas Eve she sends the father and children down to the store to see if any nativity sets remain.

The sets are all sold. But upon returning home, both the mother and baby Jesus are missing. Gietzen presents the true meaning of Christmas in the ensuing pages. The children embrace a chance to help others. Even the father loses his grumpiness and creates some miracles of his own.

I love this simple story. I have given many copies away to the younger generations in my family. If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a wonderful story to read aloud to children during the Christmas season. Buy a copy this Christmas season and enjoy sharing the story with the little ones in your family.

Nativity Set with copy of If You're Missing Baby Jesus

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2018

I have been contemplating a blog post on the top ten book reviews of the past year. However, there are several problems with this idea. Among them is the criteria used, the plethora of top ten book lists and perhaps the greatest challenge of all; limiting myself to just ten!

Criteria

I have often wondered how the top ten lists are compiled. Many times I have disagreed with the choices. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently released The 10 Most Intriguing Travel Destinations for 2019. Locations across the globe were on the list. Including Missouri.

Now I happen to love Missouri. I lived there long enough to graduate from one of the best public high schools in the country. I drive through there on occasion. Usually on the way to a vacation destination. Although I have attended weddings, conferences and a reunion, I never took my family there just for vacation. How did it make the list? Missouri must have met some criteria.

So what criteria should I include? Maybe I should count most likes. Or I could rank by most visits to the individual reviews. Or even the books I cite the most. What about the ones I like the most? Or books I found indispensable in real life? Finally, do I mix non-fiction and fiction together?

The Lists

A quick Internet search not only results in numerous lists, but indicates I am not alone in my concern to choose just ten. In fact, lists of both fifty and one hundred top books of 2018 appear in the search listing. Some lists are just fiction, others non-fiction and others a combination. I like the idea of a combination.

Some lists give a short review of each book. Since I have already reviewed each of my choices I will merely link to them. Just click on the title and the review will appear on a new page. Not all of my choices were released this year. So that may throw some readers into a state of confusion. These are my favorite reads of the year. The fiction side is a bit top-heavy with stories of twentieth century war. This I believe is a reflection of what is being released. Also, there are multiple debuts.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Non-Fiction

Raised Row Gardening by Jim and Mary Competti

Educated by Tara Westover

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes

Zero Waste by Shia Su

New Sampler Quilt by Diana Leone

As always feel free to comment. I would love to hear your favorite book of the year.

The Nightingale Book Review

Book Cover of the NightingaleKristin Hannah is an author that I first became aware of two years ago. So I am slowly progressing through her works. The Nightingale is among my favorites of her books. The story is typical of Hannah with a present day look at characters with the bulk of their story in the past.

Even though the novel opens in Oregon, most of the tale takes place in France. The lives of two sisters, one born prior to The Great War and the other after, are followed as France enters World War II. Both the age difference as well as the varied life experience impacts how each sister views the occupation.

Vianne

Vianne, the elder sister, was fourteen when her mother died. She and her sister Isabelle, a young child at the time were farmed out by their father. Instead of growing closer, the two girls grew apart. Thus they have very diverse lives at the outbreak of war.

Married with a child, Vianne loathes and fears the oncoming conflict. She and her husband reside in a rural part of France. Her closest friend Rachel is Jewish. This becomes an important part of Vianne’s story. Kristin Hannah conveys the danger for both those that are Jewish as well as those who sympathize with them.

The Nightingale

Isabelle Rossignol is just coming to age as the war approaches. A feeling of abandonment shapes her personality. She barely remembers her mother, and feels rejected by her older sister who married just a few years after their mother’s death. Her father shipped her from one place to another as she grew up.

After a dismissal from yet another boarding school she returns to her father. Thus Isabelle is in Paris when the occupation begins. She is ready for adventure. So it is natural that she joins the resistance.

Kristin Hannah

For those unfamiliar with Hannah’s writing, her books fall into that category of hard to put down. The Nightingale fits this description. Somewhat lengthy, readers may want to pick a weekend to begin the book. Otherwise, bedtime might be pushed to the limit.

The interweaving of tales is well done. In fact, the changing of directions may allow the reader to survive the tension and suspense. World War II in occupied France is brought to life by the author. The current story set in America adds to the mystery and provides an understanding at the end. Families are torn apart for many reasons. They can reunite if the circumstances are compelling. War creates compelling circumstances.

Hannah’s books are deep. The writing has meaning on so many levels. For instance, The Nightingale, the code name for one of the spies, translates from the French “rossignol”. The question for the reader is which one of the Rossignol family members is the Nightingale.

The novel runs the gamut of emotion. Thus, I was not surprised to learn a movie is in the works. I encourage you to read the Nightingale. Then look for the movie in theatres starting January 2019. I am not much of a movie goer, but I look forward to seeing Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale brought to the screen.

November Wrap-Up

Yes this month’s wrap-up is two days early. But the last day of November falls on a Friday. I try to keep Friday’s posts reserved for book reviews. The blogs I regularly read tend to keep a schedule and I know I am disappointed when a website goes off track. Perhaps one of you can offer a solution to conflicting posts other than releasing two at once.

November is a time to reflect. It is also a time of thanks. I shared many of the things I am grateful for in the post, Thanksgiving Thankfulness. Our own holiday gathering this year was small in numbers but the atmosphere was delightful.

I grew up in a small family. I do not remember having more than a dozen people for either Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. However, I married into a large family. Thus, one year I entertained over sixty in my home. We put up card tables everywhere! Of course this number included second cousins along with the various “Great” grandparents, aunts and uncles. It will be interesting to see how close the next generation remains. Rural areas continue to lose their younger generations to the cities.

Quilting

The quilting room is the focus of my days. I finished piecing the Love Quilt began last spring. This panel quilt combines pre-made panels with traditional blocks in an original design. The quilt is ready to layer. However, the completion of a small baby quilt takes priority. I will be a great-aunt yet again in January. Look for a post then on the design. I don’t want to spoil the surprise!

November Weather

Our weather has been quite wacky. We have already enjoyed the moisture from two snows. Yet today the temperature will be in the mid-sixties. On the plus side, I am still harvesting rosemary and sage from the herb garden. The mint on the back patio has also survived. While the raised row garden has been mulched with leaves for the winter, a few green onions remain to use in the kitchen as well.

However, the possibility for cold and snow makes travelling trickier. These last weeks of fall often resemble winter. Tips for winter travel sounds like a good idea for a post. Other posts to look for next month include a ranking of my top book reviews. Holidays are a great time to give books! They are also a time to try new recipes. Check back to see what December brings to Econogal.

The New Sampler Quilt Book Review

Back in the late 1980’s when I started quilting, one of the first books I bought was Diana Leone’s The Sampler Quilt. This was a how-to book building on an earlier pattern book. Later, Leone released The New Sampler Quilt.

For years I have been using The Sampler Quilt. But at the library book sale, I came across the “newer” version. It was fifty cents so I bought it. I am glad I did. Even though the edition I owned was good, the revised book is so much better. In fact, there is enough of an upgrade that I encourage you to find a copy online.

Key Differences in New Sampler Quilt Book

Right off the bat, the quilter knows there is a difference because the book more than doubles in length. Second, the new edition has colorful examples on almost every page. Even the index is enhanced. In addition to the list of terms and techniques, there is a pattern index. So you can quickly locate the instructions for whatever block you wish to make.

The details in the New Sampler Quilt pop out if you compare the two versions side-by-side. The original book contained a supply list on one page. But the new version expands to eight pages. Each supply category is explained and a visual aide is included. This makes the book much friendlier for a novice to quilting. Since the incidence of quilting (and even sewing) seems to decline each generation, the very detailed instructions are ideal.

Fantastic Features

Diana Leone includes a number of features either not included in other how-to books or not as well-defined or discussed. For example, she includes a section on hand piecing with tips only used for that technique. She then adds information on machine piecing. Her tutorial on the color wheel and color/pattern selection is also good.

But the section on Getting Started may be the best part. The block patterns are identified by the degree of difficulty. Then she accurately explains how to make the templates as well as how to cut the fabric. Each step uses a photo or diagram to aid the instruction. The quilter walks through the entire process one step at a time.

This is a great book to give someone who is starting out. The only negative is the exclusion of lap/crib quilts. Other than that, this is a book one can refer to for years. But, new editions must be ordered via print on demand. However a quick online search turned up quite a few copies for resell.

Quilt Block Examples

One of my current quilts in the making comes from this book. The blocks have been hand pieced. Some have the sash already added. Now I just need to decide if I want a square quilt which will mean adding another block. Or if I want to add additional borders and set the blocks into a rectangle. Most of the blocks are featured in this book. However a few are old favorites I wanted to include. Enjoy the slide show of blocks and check back to see how they are arranged.

Eight quilt blocks in purple and tealQuilt block in Lemoyne Star patternQuilt block Dresden Plate on purple backgroundQuilt Block of hexagonsCarpenter's Wheel patternQuilt Block teals and lavender on white backgroundQuilt block called Clay's CornerQuilt block in deep purpleLog Cabin block teals on one side purples on the other

 

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

Floral Thanksgiving cornucopiaPlease and Thank you are two words used frequently in this household. They were among the first words each of my offspring uttered. The first expresses a courtesy while the second conveys appreciation. My strong belief is life should be approached with politeness and thankfulness.

Strangers and acquaintances might roll their eyes at this. They might think I have had an easy life so being thankful is easy to do. However, those close to me know the hardships I have faced. Just like many of you have faced or are facing challenges. Indeed we all have tough times. But as I discussed yesterday with one of the beloved millennial’s in my family, happiness comes from within. Thankfulness is needed most when times are tough.

Social Networks

Social networks are one way to express thanks. My freshman roommate routinely writes a message of thanks each day during the month of November. I was concerned when I checked November 2, and there was no post yet. But the next time I checked, she had an explanation and I look forward to each of her posts. She is an elementary teacher. I am thankful this country still has great people in that profession.

As a blogger, I follow a number of blogs and actively participate in several. I am grateful for those blogs that provide knowledge in both the garden and the kitchen. Other blogs I read usually revolve around books. I am also thankful for those loyal readers of my own blog. Your feedback, whether a like or a comment is appreciated.

Millennials

I adore Millennials. Perhaps because I taught at the college level for so long or perhaps because most of my kids fall into this demographic. However, the age gap keeps me from sharing much of my personal life as is the norm within this demographic. But this is a time to share my thankfulness.

Some of these individuals that I follow on social media I know personally. Others are total strangers. But all have a positive impact on my outlook on life. Some are bloggers, others are entrepreneurs. They are at the beginning of their lives and have no qualms about sharing their experiences. I want to thank them all.

Similar to my freshman roommate, one millennial I follow is creating regular thank you posts on her Instagram account. I am proud of the young lady now in the running for the next Miss USA. Particularly since I believe this was one of her goals as she sat in my classroom.  I am grateful that she stays in touch even though she now lives in the big city. Those of you with Instagram can follow #madisondorenkamp as she prepares for the national competition.

In that very same classroom sat a young entrepreneur. His views often ran opposite others in class. Now he is enjoying success on many levels. His marketing podcasts and his posts from his speaking engagements across the country always pique my interest. I appreciate the information he shares. His company website can be accessed here.

At the present time, there are no grandchildren in my life. So I am very grateful to the young lady in Kentucky who makes sure I get to see her precious tots at least twice a year. (I am also grateful to their two grandmothers who don’t mind the hugs I receive.)

Furthermore this young lady is inspirational. She too, experienced the death of a sibling at a young age. Each year she honors him on Instagram. In addition, she recently lost a good friend to breast cancer. Her response was to join others to help create a foundation honoring one lost too soon. Consider donating to the Shantel Lanerie Foundation by clicking here. Even though we sometimes lose loved ones before a life fully lived, we are still thankful they were in our lives. And for their positive impact even after they are gone.

Family

Seldom do I discuss family. But I am most thankful for this group. Some are loyal readers and followers. Thanks go out to my cousin’s wife; one of my first followers, and my aunt and my father, also followers and providers of feedback. Blogs are challenging for 50 somethings, much less senior generations!

A special thanks to my offspring and their significant others. Thankfulness is in abundance for this group. Among them are loyal followers, participants in the challenges, photographers and even a comment now and then. I appreciate all of them more than they know.

They are a diverse group. Both ends of the political spectrum are represented, yet they still break bread at the table together. (Of course it helps not to talk politics at the table!) My hope is this tolerance for others’ views continues. Too often families divide over little things. Life is a long road and it helps to have support through the years.

Of course there is also the guy I share my life with. Thirty-three years together. Some blissful, others heartbreaking. When doctors give you bad news it is important to have someone rock solid beside you. The same holds true for other life altering events. Thankfulness barely touches the surface of the feelings I have for this man with whom I am riding the roller coaster of life.

Reflect on Thankfulness

Thanksgiving week is a time of cooking, baking, travelling and visiting. The weekend prior is spent sifting through family recipes and remembering feasts from long ago. The day before, full of prep in the kitchen. But the week is also a time to reflect.

Please take time to reflect. Reach out and let people know your gratitude. If fences need to be mended, mend them. If you are experiencing great loss at this time, have faith. Thankfulness reminds us of better times and gives hope for future times. Reflect this Thanksgiving on life and living with thankfulness in your heart.

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.