Author: Econogal

An avid reader, empty-nester and retiree.

Only Killers and Thieves Book Review

Tree suffering from droughtPaul Howarth’s debut novel Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping work of historical fiction. The story begins in 1885 and takes place in Central Queensland, Australia. The McBride family struggles to survive on the drought stricken land. Thus, from the start, the reader knows some hardship will befall the family dependent on a cattle operation for their livelihood.

Weaved into the plot is the tension between rival landowners, the indigenous population, settlers encroaching on native lands. But Howarth adds more. Only Killers and Thieves does more than give a glimpse at the past. This book reminds us how important it is to preserve an accurate history.

The McBride Boys

Billy is the elder. Sixteen at the start of the story. Tommy, 14, follows his lead. The third McBride child is Mary. Since the drought, most of the hands have gone. Arthur, a Mission raised black is the only reminder of a once productive operation. He is as much a mentor to Tommy as his father, McBride.

The only other help on the land is Joseph, a Kurrong. But Joseph leaves after the group finds the bodies of two Kurrong. The same two men the boys had recently seen alive chained behind the Native Police at the request of neighbor John Sullivan.

Soon after, tragedy strikes the homestead. The evidence seemingly points to Joseph. In the rush to get help for the gravely injured Mary, the choices begin. Once a path is chosen, the past cannot be undone. Tommy wants to head for the nearest town. The doc is there. But it is a two-hour ride.

Billy over rules him. Thus they ride toward the Sullivan holdings. Life changes forever.

Only Killers and Thieves

John Sullivan convinces Billy to alter the story of the evidence found at the homestead. Thus Billy tries to keep his younger brother out of the loop. But Tommy insists on participating. They become liars. Witnessing a sworn statement that a group of the Kurrong over ran their home. However, the downward spiral continues.

The McBride boys join the posse. Four white men and four Native Police comprise the entourage. The Kurrong are hunted. Then massacred. But Joseph is not among the group. Both teenagers take part. But the impact is not the same. Tommy has regrets. And questions. Why wasn’t Joseph with his people?

The division between the boys begins. Billy falls lockstep in with Sullivan and his view that all the blacks must be eliminated for the safety of the settlers. On the other hand, Tommy is truly a Doubting Thomas. He questions what really happened to his family. He questions himself. Then he seeks the truth and justice for the innocent.

Only Killers and Thieves is a work of fiction. But Howarth captures all the nuances of the time. The struggle between cultures. The fight to survive in a harsh environment. Furthermore, through the character of Tommy, Howarth displays how individuals must wrestle within themselves. Is there right from wrong? Is there a God? Or are we just specks in time?

This debut novel deserves much praise as does the author.

Picture of dry land with small patch of irrigated grazing

Winter Weather: Tips to Entertain Kids

The Northern Hemisphere is in the midst of the winter season. Many places have already experienced hazardous winter weather. Here in North America the jet stream is pushing one system after the next across the continent. Both Canada and the United States have websites focused on issued weather warnings. I like consulting these sites since they are straightforward and without media hype.

In fact non-profit and government websites along with blogs offer good advice for dealing with adverse weather. Sites like Red Cross, FEMA and the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (CA) have many lists to help one gear up to face adverse conditions sent by nature. But are there other situations to prepare for during the winter?

Kids and Winter Weather

Common sense needs to guide kid activities in winter weather. Most people understand bundling up the kids before letting them out to play. But how many realize how important hydration is in cold weather? Because of the extra layers, some activities such as sledding can cause excess sweating. Water is always good. But warm liquids help maintain body temperature. Since caffeine is counteractive to hydration think hot teas or warm milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Yet sometimes the outdoors are unsafe for anyone. Blizzards come to mind. In fact the Blizzard of October 1997 was particularly bad for us. The National Weather Service had issued advisories for both human and livestock a full 5 days prior to the weather event. I stocked up twice that week at the grocery store. With four kids under ten and one still in Pull-ups I didn’t want to run out. The preparations were well advised.

Three feet of snow with high winds made things treacherous. But one of the biggest tasks was keeping the kids entertained inside. The older ones were quite curious. So much so that I had to keep close tabs because they wanted to test for themselves the outside visibility. They had still not formed a sense of mortality.

Indoor Activities

Furthermore, blizzards tend to cause power outages and cause disruptions to T.V. and Internet. So a plethora of indoor activities are needed. Fortunately, my kids were (and still are) readers. Other ideas to entertain are board games and puzzles. A table set aside or card table set up will allow a long game like Monopoly or large puzzle to stay out during meals or sleep.

Prior to losing electricity or if you have a generator, kids can bake and decorate sugar cookies. If a storm is just prior to Christmas, Gingerbread Houses are also fun to create. Some may roll their eyes, but often winter storms are slow moving and/or come with bitter cold. A 72-hour confinement can make things tense. So the more options for entertainment, the less stress.

Away from Home

One scenario that offers even greater challenges is encountering bad weather away from home. Perhaps you are visiting relatives or stranded in a hotel. There are still ways to keep kids occupied. Charades is a game not needing any props. Drawing is another. Although crayons and markers are desirable, pen and pencil will work.

A favorite of my kids was the alphabet game. Although we utilized it most in restaurants and on airplanes, this can be played anywhere. First you pick a subject like animals or food. Then starting with the letter A, each person comes up with a unique answer. Of course some letters are tougher than others. Again no props are needed.

These are just a few ideas for those winter days where normal schedules are disrupted. A little creativity goes a long way in de-stressing the situation. Keep kids occupied and their unhappiness of being cooped up will diminish. And your sanity will remain intact.

Snow man

Nine Perfect Strangers Book Review

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is the most entertaining book I have read this year. One of those just can’t stand to put down books. If you like books that throw you for a loop then you must pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers.

The premise is straight forward at first. Various individuals are participating in a transformational cleanse at a health spa in Australia. Moriarty tells the story through each one of the characters. The alternation of the point of view is aided by chapter titles identifying which character the scene is centered on. Each of the characters has a story to tell.

Nine people; two single men, two single women, a young couple and a family of three check into the resort for ten days of renewal. They are expecting to cleanse themselves. Both a physical cleanse and a mental cleanse. Thus, no outside food nor electronic connections to the world are allowed.

Noble Silence

In addition to a ban on comfort food and social media, the Tranquillum House retreat commands absolute silence for the first five days. This noble silence will start the guests on their way to healing. Of course a rebellion rears up. Tony starts pushing back first. He questions whether the staff has gone through his bags. Both he and Frances tried to sneak in goodies.

Seemingly, Masha the director of the retreat gets everything back on track. Even to the point of re-starting the Noble Silence. But the temporary revolt has thrown her off track. After five days of “silence” and ordinary expectations of what goes on at a spa, Moriarty throws the readers for a loop. A totally unexpected discovery (at least to this reader) by one of the characters turns the plot line upside down.

Nine Perfect Strangers Unite

The story line becomes quite tense at this point. Each of the characters unravels. And in that unraveling readers will identify somehow, someway with at least one. Laughter, some tears, and a shocking revelation or two will keep the reader spellbound as these nine individuals work their way through a crisis.

Liane Moriarty has written another bestseller. I loved it. She ties things up and yet she leaves some things to your imagination. Nine Perfect Strangers may be as transforming to the reader as Tranquillum House was to the characters. The book is fun to read, it provides food for thought…and perhaps, most importantly, food for the soul.

 

The Train Quilt

One of my favorite things to make is a baby quilt. First of all, a new baby is someone special. A quilt just for the newborn is a wonderful way to celebrate. Secondly, the small size of the quilt makes the process fun. Even if you can only work on the project nights and weekends, completion occurs in no time at all.

The Train Quilt I just made for a great-nephew comes from the Railroad Crossing pattern found in Sweet Dreams: Heirloom Quilts for Babies. This detailed book of instruction for over a dozen baby quilts was written by Deborah Gordon and Helen Frost. The design looked very difficult but I was pleased with just how easy the piecing was and the applique train cars are adorable.

Color Selection

The colors chosen for this quilt reflect those of the nursery. Before I began the quilt I visited the expectant mother and took a peek at what she was planning for the baby’s room. A palette of primary colors with a deeper tone will create a room the child can grow into. The yellow is mustard, the blue is very deep with gray overtones and the red is also deep, either garnet or wine. Finding fabrics in my stash to blend well with this combination was fun. Knowledge of the color wheel is a must.

The picture to the right shows the railroad ties. The above mentioned colors have lighter colors mixed in as accents. The overall tone is warm. All the fabric used in this quilt was already on hand. A few pieces came from fat quarters which had not been used before, but most have appeared in prior quilts.

Quilt using mustard yellow, garnet and gray-blue colors as a base
Primary Colors with a Twist

I diverged from Gordon and Frost’s directions in color choice and fabric. For example, I used all cotton fabrics. I am already planning the next quilt with this pattern and I will have additional changes. I plan to use ribbon for the train ties. The quarter inch width is difficult to work with and the ribbon will automatically finish the edges.

Cutting and Piecing

Railroad Crossing provides printed pattern templates for all pieces. But the authors also suggest strip sewing. I opted for the strip sewing. But to vary the tracks, not all the strips were adjoined the same way. This added time to the work but allowed the use of extra fabrics. The directions called for eight. But this quilt has fourteen in the tracks and middle border. Additionally, the tracks are not all the same which I think adds interest.

The middle border was pieced in the same way. Instead of using six fabrics at a time I used groups of two and four. I like the randomness but still save time over cutting each piece individually.

Train Quilt Outer Border

I must confess. I have never used this pattern before because I was intimidated by the border. But, I remember how much my little ones liked the trains that run through our little town. So I gave the pattern a try.

Template of a caboose atop wine colored fabric
Plastic Template of Caboose

Templates are created by tracing over the patterns in the book. I did not add seam allowances. If you are fond of needle-turn applique you will need to add a quarter-inch. I chose to use fusible webbing to secure the train cars to the border. Then a combination of decorative machine stitches and embroidery floss finishes the applique. Remember to pull any threads on top to the underside. This will help secure them.

Machine Decorative Stitching outlines passenger car
Machine Decorative Stitching

Quilting

The suggested quilting for the large squares is an outline of the train engine. I opted to put personal details instead. So the quilt has the baby’s name, birthplace, date, time, length and weight spread across the different blocks. A light blue floss gives a subtle contrast to the blocks. Unfortunately, the camera does not do justice to this part of the quilt. But the close-up photo provides a better look.

I loved making this quilt. The piecing of the train tracks is very easy to do. Even though the applique outer border is intimidating, all but perhaps the newest of beginners should be able to accomplish this quilt design. The Train Quilt made for this latest member of the family has inspired me with an idea for the next addition. The little girl due in June will have her own quilt based on the Railroad Crossing design from Sweet Dreams but there will be quite a twist to the outer border.

Check back this summer!

 

Adding inner order to center of quiltAdding outer border to center of quiltQuilt with binding addedpieced box carfabric cutout of caboosefabric caboosecomparing colors of floss to quilt appliquefabric coal carfabric train enginedetailed quiltingcenter of quilt railroad crossing patternironing quilt seamsquilt pieces ready to assemblefabric log carfabric passenger car

Troublemaker Book Review

Troublemaker by Linda Howard was released in 2016. Even though I just now read the book I am so glad I did. This novel intertwines romance and suspense. The romance is spicy not sweet. But the hot scenes are tastefully done. What I like most about Troublemaker are the characters.

Both respect and envy come to mind when describing Howard’s knack for bringing both major and minor characters to life. Morgan Yancy is the leader of a secretive government team. He is ambushed and barely survives. His boss sends him to an ex-stepsister who resides in the mountains of West Virginia. Isabeau Maran, Bo for short, is the Chief of Police in Hamrickville. She reluctantly provides the place for Morgan to recuperate.

Howard fully develops both main characters. Their personalities are brought to life through prose and dialog. A grudging friendship realistically develops into more. The relationship does not seem forced in order to continue the plot. Howard is a master.

An addition to the couple trying not to fall in love while danger abounds, is Tricks, the smartest golden retriever you will ever read about. Now I am a cat person but I would make an exception for this dog. She steals the show. She is the love of the town and the life of Bo.

Multiple plot lines

Troublemaker pushes the ambush plot to the background while developing the relationship of the two main characters. The subplot revolves around the people of Hamrickville. This allows Howard the opportunity to fully develop both the main characters and the support crew. True to life, a domestic violence incident divides the small town. Bo has her hands full both at work and at home.

Fortunately for the human heroine of the story, Morgan is intent on regaining his strength. He saves the day on several occasions. But Howard does not denigrate the females in the story. They hold their own. Furthermore, the developing partnership between Morgan and Bo is part of what makes their relationship one to relish.

Troublemaker is a great book for a weekend read. There is definitely adult content. But the scenes are not over the top. This was the perfect relief from some of the heavy books I have been working through. If you like the combination of romance and suspense, I encourage you to find a copy of Troublemaker. I think you will enjoy it.

Free Style

Sometimes topics do not flow easily. This is one of those times. Indecision strikes from time to time. Then my writing becomes free style.

Part of the problem is a waiting game. I have a wonderful baby quilt to post about, complete with pictures. But the baby isn’t here yet and the quilt is a surprise. It is hard to keep surprises when blogging on a public domain.

A great fun read has been written about. But it is not Friday. I plan to keep the book reviews for the end of the week. Just in case someone wants a weekend book recommendation.

I could talk about some of the horrible political junk out there. However, I do not want to run the risk of slander or libel. We live in such a litigious world. Plus negative news spurs on the winter blahs in my case. I lack the power to change others. I can only change myself. Hence, the tendency to make Econogal upbeat.

Even though I grabbed some herbs and onions out of the garden, wintertime is still in full swing. Not much is going on outside. Furthermore, planning for spring planting is limited to perusing seed catalogs with an occasional order.

My lack of photographing constantly hinders the kitchen articles. Last night’s pizza would have made for a great post. The dough was made from strong flour. The fine texture of the milled wheat lends itself to both pretzels and pizza dough. Perhaps I will make some pretzels AND remember to take photographs. Besides, my pizza dough is not measured out. I just look for the right consistency in the mixing bowl. Tough to share a recipe under those circumstances.

Thinking Block

I am actually experiencing more of a thinking block than a writer’s block. I have yet to decide any New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. So by default the ones I made in 2018 will continue. Plus, I have a number of quilts pieced and waiting for their turn to be quilted. For once I do not have one at the piecing stage. A similar decision problem is holding me back. I need to pick a pattern and a color palette. The same is true for the acrylic painting. What subject and what colors will I attempt next?

Free Style Motivation

Creativity can falter when you try too hard to come up with something new. Writing prompts can help motivate writers. But writing free style seems to help me the most. The unrelated paragraphs jolt my mind. Gray matter stirs into action just from putting words together into (hopefully) coherent sentences.

I am not a jealous type, but I envy the many prolific writers. Those writers that write and publish multiple times per year. They are far more talented. However, my writing brings me satisfaction and happiness. Two good reasons to keep writing. Even if the result is free style. The motivation derived from the writing is immeasurable. I am ready to create.

 

 

The Elements Book Review

The Elements

Some things I don’t remember learning. Reading for example came early, I just don’t know how early. Other concepts are vivid. Multiplication tables were memorized in third grade and the periodic table in high school. I wish The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray had been around back then.

Gray has produced a classic. The Elements is a fantastic example of how to make learning exciting. He starts off the book by giving a general overview of both the elements and the periodic table. Gray includes information on how the different types of elements are grouped together on the chart.

Also provided is a guide to the information he presents on each page. The reader can quickly identify such properties as State of Matter, Density, Atomic weight and radius on the sidebar labeled Elemental. Then Gray delves into the heart of the book-the individual elements.

Individual Elements

As you may recall, each element has a number. Thus the periodic table is not arranged alphabetically. (Probably why I had such a hard time memorizing the information.) Hydrogen has the first position on the table. The book finishes with Element 109 Meitnerium. To be honest, I don’t recall anything past (94) Pu or Plutonium. Fortunately Gray even has a brief explanation for these additionally named elements, those numbered from 95 to 109.

The elements I do remember each have a double page unto themselves. Gray includes pertinent information about the individual element. Then, photos illustrate the pages with either the raw material or examples of products made from the matter. Some elements such as lead and gold rate multiple page spreads.

Theodore Gray shares the information on each element in a readable entertaining style. He engages the reader and piques ones interest and curiosity. Thus one is not put off by the potentially esoteric subject matter.

For this reason, I include The Elements by Theodore Gray with photographic credit to Nick Mann as well as Gray as one of the must have books in a home library. The book was released in 2009 but I have seen it on bookstore shelves within the last 12 months. Of course online sources have copies as well. Take action now and add this to your collection.

 

Page from The Elements by Theodore GrayBarium Page in The Elements by Theodore GrayEinsteininium page from The Elements by Theodore GrayFluorine page from The Elements by Theodore GrayPage on Iodine from The Elements by Theodore GrayPage from The Elements by Theodore Gray on Protactinium

December 2018 Wrap-Up

December 2018

The last month of the year has come and gone. December 2018 provided a chance to travel and see family. Additionally, I acquired the last of my six learned skills for 2018. Furthermore I successfully kept my 2018 New Year’s Resolution. All in all I am quite content with the outcome.

My focus this winter is quilting. Soon I will post about the baby quilt I am working on. The little guy is expected any day. I want the pattern to be a surprise and since my niece is a reader of this blog the arrival date is delaying the article. Then I will move on to quilting the one pieced for the baby due in June. I also have a larger quilt to work on.

We have been enjoying the fruits from last summer’s labor in the garden. A serious dent has been made in the supply of canned goods. A recent cold snap made trips to the grocery store dreaded and delayed. Ratatouille pressure canned (one of the six learned skills) last summer made a great meal from storage.

Reading List

The cold weather also provides opportunity for reading. My reading list continues to grow. In addition to books, I am busy reading recent issues of both The Smithsonian and National Geographic. Both are good publications even if I don’t always agree with the editorial view point.

Several works of non-fiction are on my list in addition to my favorite genres. The current economic book I am reading is interesting and perhaps a bit controversial. Everything for Everyone by Nathan Schneider in the early going presents a case for cooperatives. I will keep you posted.

Resolutions Kept

Perhaps the best thing about December 2018 is that the month was completed with a final skill. Some of my millennial readers will shake their heads and claim it doesn’t count. But I am counting the downloading of a share riding app, installing and using that same app at 2:00 A.M. at the end of a 22 hour travel day as a skill. No one coached me even via text. And the travel circumstances are incredibly hard to believe. I am now a convert of this type of transportation.

Of course a successful year of keeping resolutions makes me want to try for a repeat. The problem is not knowing what to work on. I need to improve in many areas. As I wrote in Econogal’s Tips to Keeping 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, specifics help. I am stuck on the specifics for what I would most like to improve. The desire to articulate is a priority. But just how can one measure improved communication specifically? I also would like to carry on with the goals from this year, but I don’t think any carry-over should count as new resolutions.

Happy New Year Everyone!

The Break Down Book Review

Cover of The Break Down by B.A. ParisThe Break Down by B. A. Paris provides great satisfaction for the reader. The novel falls into the murder mystery genre. But the book also contains a psychological component. And many secrets and lies. While I did not read the debut work by Paris, I enjoyed The Break Down so much I plan to catch-up on her releases.

Rainy Night Break Down

The story centers on Cass, a thirty-something school teacher married less than a year. At the novel’s open she is leaving a faculty party as a storm is approaching. She tells her husband she is headed home. He implores her not to take the shortcut home. But she does. And then the lies begin.

The inability to tell the truth pushes Cass down a path that could lead to personal destruction. She becomes mentally unhinged by the death of the motorist she leaves behind. Unbeknownst to her, outside forces are an integral part of her slipping memory.

Early Onset Dementia

Paris uses a family history of Early Onset Dementia (EOD) to provide a pivotal twist in the story. One of the secrets separating Cass from her husband is a lie of omission. Cass neglected to tell him that her mother died from EOD. Now she fears she is experiencing symptoms.

Dementia is a malady that many can identify with. Paris is masterful with her incorporation of the illness and the many symptoms that accompany dementia. Cass is understandably fearful of EOD. This reader responded with empathy toward the character.

The first chunk of the book focuses on the downward spiral of Cass’s mental capacity. She fears she will be murdered. Irrational fears are a leading indicator of dementia. Pure luck rescues Cass. The last third of the book provides redemption.

The end of the novel is so satisfying, I read it twice. The many loose ends are tied up nicely by the author.
If you have not read The Break Down, find a copy. B. A. Paris is a relatively new author who has a lot to say. I look forward to reading more of her work.

The Perfect Holiday

Egg casserole with a bit of liquid in the bottom.
Delicious in taste but a bit too much liquid for a perfect start to the day.
Christmas has officially come and gone for 2018. As a holiday, the day may not have been one for the record books, but from a personal standpoint things were good. Perhaps aging provides perspective. Or maybe I am losing some of my Type A personality. But things no longer need to be perfect. Just enjoyable.

The start could have been smoother. The breakfast casserole that I threw together Christmas Eve was a tad bid liquid. Maybe it was the bacon pieces rendering too much fat as they cooked. Or perhaps the frozen potatoes not soaking up the egg mixture. The nine eggs and cup or so of milk seemed to cook into the correct consistency on the bread layer but not necessarily the potato layer.

Even though most of the family enjoyed the casserole, I will not be sharing the recipe. In the past this rocky start could have ruined the day. But not this holiday. There were too many timelines to meet.
Since one family member resides in a nursing home, the soggy breakfast accompanied by some burnt toast (perhaps an attempt by someone to sop up the juices?) gave way to the needed departure. Loading wheelchairs into trunks adds to travel logistics. But worth the effort to see the smile on a beloved face. In a perfect world our bodies would not betray us. Nor would our minds.

Adults Only Holiday

The youngest in the group is old enough to have voted in the last election. The pitter-patter of little feet does not apply (yet) to the gathering. In some ways this stamped the day. The opening of presents was staggered throughout the day as some family members did not reach the house until after a Disney Brunch. The oldest member of the group (wheelchair bound) received gifts at lunchtime. The house is not handicapped accessible. There was an ebb and flow as the entourage split up and regrouped.

An abhorrent thought in the past, this unity/non-unity allowed individuals to seek out diverse holiday experiences. This was good. The group thrived while sharing a special meal. The dining selection of Paradiso 37 at Disney Springs provided an opportunity to commune. The menu offered selections from the appetizer portion of poutine, a Canadian favorite, to Tres Leches, from our southern neighbors, as a dessert option. The flexibility created a laid back vibe to the celebration. Sometimes banner days need not be choreographed.

A perfect holiday occurred this Christmas. The perfection came from the pleasure noted at the end of the day. I missed the sound of laughter and even an occasional squabble from the under twenty crowd. But my great nieces and nephews celebrated elsewhere. Sometimes we need to enjoy those we are with and forget about the soggy eggs and the lack of squeals.

Heads You Win Book Review

Book Cover for Jeffrey Archer novel Heads You WinHeads You Win is Jeffrey Archer’s newest release. The novel reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories my kids use to devour. However, Archer divides story into two versions. Of course, the reader is compelled to read both. Fortunately, the author is skilled so the divergent plots are entertaining.

Same Beginning

Book One or the first thirty pages is straightforward. The story opens in 1968 Leningrad. The focus is the Karpenko family. Konstantin, a dock worker secretly organizing a labor union, his wife Elena, a renowned cook for the officers stationed at the dock and their son Alexander comprise the key characters. Alexander, the protagonist in both plot threads, is an extremely bright, loyal, dedicated young man.

Secondary characters at Leningrad include Vladimir, another ambitious young man and a classmate to Alexander. Also, Major Polyakov, a villain in the story is introduced. Finally Kolya, Elena’s brother that aids in mother and son’s escape to the West.

Flip of a Coin

Alexander flips a coin in order to decide whether to flee to Great Britain or the United States of America. It is at this point Archer could confuse some readers. Frequently,the characters lament the coin toss and the what-ifs. For the most part the divergent story lines are both entertaining.

In order to keep the stories straight, Alexander becomes Sasha in Great Britain and Alex in the U.S.A. The author creates some parallels. Elena remains a chef in both countries and becomes a restaurateur in both. Archer continues the parallel with both copies of Alexander marrying women interested and linked to the art world. Indeed, the two versions of the man have quite a few coinciding events.

Heads You Win Differences

Yet, perhaps the most interesting (to this reader) was the somewhat stereotypical attributes given each man depending on which country was featured. Alex, the American, chose entrepreneurship over politics and post-graduate education. Whereas, Sasha’s interest in top educational accolades and the political theater almost ruins the family business.

Another key difference is the American involvement in Vietnam. This particular side plot provides a deep look into the character of Alex. The same depth was not repeated in Sasha. But, in many ways the British version of Alexander created more sympathy with this reader.

The Ending

Perhaps the only disappointment with this novel surfaces at the end. Unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books, only one Alexander can continue. The two merge back to one in a plausible if contrived manner. Plus, Archer adds a bit of a political twist that for this reader did not really add anything. But others may disagree.

Heads You Win is certainly entertaining. Those of you looking for gift ideas might consider buying a copy for your favorite bookworm. The novel keeps one cheerfully oblivious on airplanes full of children excited for both Christmas and Mickey Mouse.

Christmas Shopping Challenge

‘Tis a week before Christmas and my Christmas shopping is only half done. While my greatest wish is for good health, happiness and World Peace, I also hope to give meaningful gifts to those I love. This is tricky. My gifts tend to be practical and perhaps not always appreciated. I confess to having traditional tastes.

 Practicality

For some oddball reason, I came equipped with a practical outlook on life. One Christmas my greatest wish was for a new dishwasher. Not jewelry, not clothing but a dishwasher. I had four hungry youngsters at home not to mention neighborhood friends. My small town offers primarily fast food. Furthermore, certain dietary conditions meant I cooked a lot. From scratch. The result was three loads a day in the dishwasher in a town of water so hard the softener could not keep up.

Furthermore, I am practical with my gift giving. Books are always on the list. Knowledge is power. But reading is enjoyable as well. So finding books that will be read and treasured is a challenge that I will cheerfully continue to face. Fortunately there are many lists one can review including Econogal’s Top 10 Favorite Books of 2018.

The gift of clothing is also practical. I live in rural America but am lucky enough to have three good women’s shops located in and around the county seat. So all the women on the list are covered. But I always fear my tastes are too old-fashioned. This perhaps gives me the greatest heartache since both my grandmothers and my mom were fantastic at picking out clothes I loved.

I fear I sometimes fell short. I refused to buy holey jeans for instance. No way would I spend $60.00 for jeans that were too ripped up to even make into jean quilts. The practicality gene at work.

Fun Gifts

Kids are easy to find gifts for. Even for those of us striving to stay away from electronics. (Although I fear that becomes more difficult each year.) My favorite fun gifts tend to be classics. Lego’s, dump trucks, stuffed animals and dolls are items I love to give. Puzzles and board games also make the list.

Teenagers can be trickier. Sports nuts can be given the appropriate gear. But not everyone is into athletics. So, again much thought is needed if you are Christmas shopping for an individualist. Those able to give the greatest gift throughout the year-the gift of time will be in a better position to find a thoughtful gift.

However, if this is not possible, the challenge remains. So as lame as it may sound, a gift certificate may be the best solution. Just make it fun. Perhaps to a movie theater, a clothing store, or even if must be, an electronics outlet. I hope the teenager on my list doesn’t roll her eyes too much Christmas morning.

Christmas Shopping Challenge

Adults are the hardest to buy for in my opinion. For one thing, they have spending power. So Christmas shopping for adults can be just as complicated as for kids. My biggest problem is I have great ideas of what each grown child would like, but find out they have already filled the need or want. This problem only increases with age.

I have yet to buy anything for either the two most significant older men in my life. Fortunately, the eldest is a regular reader of this column and mentioned how much he liked the review of Where the Crawdads Sing. But that still leaves the most important person of all. So I have a week of braving crowds to find something with enough meaning to convey my feelings. Christmas shopping at the last-minute. I hope I am up to the challenge!

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.