Travelling the Saguenay Fjord

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

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

Exploring the Fjord

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

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

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

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

Rural Quebec

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

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

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

Commercial Ferry

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

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

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

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

Sainte-Rose-du-Nord

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

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

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

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

Saguenay

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

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

Enjoy this latest slide show!

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

Fall Travel Through Quebec Province

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

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

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

Montreal

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

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

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

Vieux Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train to Vieux Quebec City

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

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

Quebec City

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Herb Boxes in Montreal

Little Witch’s Big Night Book Review

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

Children's books

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

Little Witch and The Trick-or-Treater’s

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

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

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

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

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

The Blinds Book Review

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

The Blinds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Book Sale

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

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

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

Book Donations

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

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

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

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

Tables of Books on Sale

City of Endless Night Book Review

City of Endless Night

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

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

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

New York Post

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

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

Psychotic Villain

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

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

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

September 2018 Wrap-Up

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

September

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

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

Challenges

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

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

Final Quarter of 2018

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

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

An Unwanted Guest Book Review

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

Plot

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

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

An Unwanted Guest

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

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

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

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

Personal Challenges

Aspen trees leaning
Falling Aspen Trees

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

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

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

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

Vail Xtreme Hike

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

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

View of Mountain
Climbing Vail Mountain

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

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

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

The Little Paris Book Shop Book Review

The Little Paris Book Shop

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

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

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

Book Shop Characters

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

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

Suggested Target Audience

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

Sleepless Nights

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

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

Disadvantages of Sleepless Nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Your Online Community Book Review

Build Your Online Community

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

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

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

Finding Information Online

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

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

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

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

Endurance

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

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

Fund Raising

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

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

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

Cystic Fibrosis

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

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

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

Endurance

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

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

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

Where The Crawdads Sing Book Review

Where The Crawdads Sing

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

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

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

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

Uniqueness

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

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

 

Online Passwords

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

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

Risky Passwords

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Breaches

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

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

Strong Passwords

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

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

Financial Institutions

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

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

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

Passwords for social media accounts should never be used elsewhere.

Emails

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

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

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

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

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

There Are No Grown-Ups Book Review

There Are No Grown-Ups

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

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

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

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

Privacy Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2018 Wrap Up

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

Travel

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

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

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

County Fair

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

4-H Competition Premiums

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

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

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

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

Econogal Challenge

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

National News

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

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

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

The Verdun Affair Book Review

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair reminds me of the books assigned in my high school English classes. Full of deep meaning, filled with ambiguity. Fodder for discussion. Passages to quote. Books such as Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only time will tell if Dybek will reach such a point. But sentences such as “He couldn’t have known that a lifetime is a sad thing, that, in the end, it is a bridge between two worlds that don’t believe in one another” which ends Chapter 3, have the depth for quotation. And discussion.

I struggled reading The Verdun Affair much as I struggled to read the above mentioned classics. The plot was fairly simple, the characters straightforward. But the presentation is one of shifting back and forth between the years.

The story is split between 1950 and the post World War I years. Tom, an American boy caught in France during the war tells the narrative. He is but one of many orphaned by war. He comes of age under the care of French priests and remains in Europe following the war.

The aftermath of The Great War led to many families, parents and wives, searching for those missing or lost. Tom’s task is to recover bones from the battlefields of Verdun while the priests tend to the many searching for lost loved ones.

The White Lie

The story truly unfolds from there. In the absence of clergy, Tom is tasked with consoling a fellow American, Sarah Hagen, searching for her husband. In an attempt towards compassion, he tells a lie. Some would classify it as a White Lie. He claims to have met her husband. This gives her hope. But it will haunt him.

Sarah continues searching. She travels to Italy in hopes that an amnesic is her missing husband. Smitten, Tom finds a way to follow. Italy introduces other key characters. One of whom, Paul, also has a presence in both past and present tales. He, too is searching for someone and thinks the amnesic is that person.

Purpose

The Verdun Affair ponders much. Truth, revenge, conflict and purpose are all posited for the reader to reflect upon. Dybek shows how war affects those involved directly as well as indirectly. Actions have consequences. This novel creates many questions for the reader. When does truth matter? How does one let go of a loved one? Is revenge always needed? How do actions today steer one’s life tomorrow?

I believe this book offers much to the reader looking for reflection. It is not an easy read, but life is not easy. The Verdun Affair is the type of literary work students should be assigned. But, it also holds value for those of us on the other side of the bridge.

Pressure Canning- My Newest Skill

Long-time readers will remember one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn six new skills. Pressure canning is now on the list of acquired skills. I have canned, or in layman’s terms, put-up jams, jellies, and salsas for years. Last year I added pickles. Now that I have successfully learned how to use a pressure canner I expect to really expand my preserving.

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

There is quite a bit of difference between the water bath canning I have done for years and pressure canning. For starters, water bath canning really does not need special equipment. Although I have a large water bath canner, for many years I just used my spaghetti pot and lined the bottom with a towel. However, a pressure canner is designed just for canning.

To be honest, I have had the canner for a few months. But it sat in its box. First in the basement, then for the last month at the top of the stairs. Its’ main job was intimidation. Yes, I was scared of this device.

For those of you that don’t can, a water bath canner is used with foods that are acidic in nature. Or have lots of vinegar in the recipe. As long as you achieve a good seal on the can, there is little to fear. On the other hand, low acid foods need pressure sealing in order to eliminate the danger of botulism. Therein lies the source of my fear. I worry that I will not use the pressure canner correctly. And there is no one I want to poison.

Abundant Garden

This year the garden is in overdrive, thanks to the new raised row garden. Therefore, I need to learn how to can. My green beans, eggplant, acorn squash and pumpkin all need preserving. I only have so much freezer space! So I decided to start with something simple-green beans.

I spent two days procrastinating by reading everything possible about processing green beans. Then after picking four pounds of green beans, I opened the pressure canner box. Reading the directions and assembling the canner delayed the moment by another hour. But finally I was ready to can.

Snapping four pounds of green beans takes a bit of time. It brought back memories of the women on my Dad’s side of the family snapping beans at what used to be the family cottage in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. Not a bad thing when you are alone at the kitchen sink washing and preparing to can.

Moment of Truth

Finally, the time arrived to can. The green beans were ready, the canner was fully assembled.  Then following the canner directions, I placed three quarts of water in the bottom of the canner. I added warm water. I have a quart size Pyrex measuring cup which I nuked in the microwave. The book suggested warming to no more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t measure, but it wasn’t boiling.

I had kept the canning jars hot by filling with boiling water while the beans were being processed.  The beans were boiled for five minutes, partially cooking them. When I water bath can, the jars are in the canner until ready to fill. So this step was different.

After filling the jars with beans and leaving the proper head space of an inch, I placed the five pints in the canner. I lined the arrows on the lid and canner top, rotated clockwise and turned up the heat. Then I waited. And waited.

Steam needs to vent for ten minutes before the pressure regulator is placed atop the vent. Time passed fairly quickly as I was able to clean up the mess I made snapping the ends off the beans. But then time seemed to crawl once the pressure regulator was put in place. An automatic air vent/cover lock struggled to pop-up. Perhaps it was because of the first time use. Or maybe this is normal. Future canning’s will tell.

Pressure Time

Finally, the pressure gauge began to move up. My altitude dictates a pressure of 12 which is just above the standard. The trick to pressure canning is to keep the canner at the right pressure. If the canner falls below the pressure needed for your altitude it means resetting the clock. This I did not want to do. So I watched like an eagle. I did have to adjust the heat throughout the canning. But it was worth it in the end. No restart of the clock for me.

After the twenty minutes elapsed, the pressure canner was lifted off the heat and allowed to cool. Think of a car radiator, much the same concept. You don’t want to open either when hot. Once the canner cooled down, I lifted the lid and removed the five pints onto a kitchen towel. Longtime preservists will appreciate the thrill of hearing five metallic pings shortly thereafter.

The four pounds ending up filling five pints with enough left over that I froze the remainder in a quart size freezer bag. I am out of pint size jars. So is my small town!

Final Thoughts

I am so glad I learned this skill. The lovely pings indicate a good seal. I have a feeling this new pressure canner will get plenty of use this fall. Unlike a water bath can, I will need to stay in the kitchen paying close attention to the pressure. But I think the time spent will be worthwhile.

A major difference between the two types of canneries is how altitude is handled. In water bath canning, additional time is added to the process. However, in pressure canning all geographic locations use the same amount of time. It is the pressure which is changed.

Yes it is far easier to buy the cans at the grocery store. But I love to garden and I don’t want the produce to go to waste. I can control what goes into the food. Next time you read a label with lots of hard to pronounce ingredients, you might understand my point. Of course reading labels could be a whole separate blog post!

If you so desire I would love to hear about your successes. Feel free to share recipes too! I was so caught up in the process only a few pictures were taken. But there is always next time!

Green beans piled in front of a pressure canner
Ready to start
Cannery with pressure gauge on top
Intimidating Dial
Empty large pot
Empty canner
5 jars of green beans alongside recipe books
Final Product

 

Zero Waste Book Review

Book Cover of Zero WasteReduce, reuse, recycle is one slogan I grew up with. But Shia Su takes this mantra to a whole new level with her book Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks To Drastically Reduce Your Trash. The cover of the book shows a glass jar, approximately quart size with the trash she generated in a year. This is truly cutting waste to zero.

The book has a pictorial Table of Contents. There are lots of pictures throughout for illustrative purposes. The content is such that you can either read straight through or skip around to what you need. Zero Waste is a good resource book.

Su has highlighted tips throughout. Some of her suggestions I already practice. For instance, at the grocery store I seldom use the small plastic bags in the produce department. I just place the items in the cart and group them close together at check out.

Other concepts, such as the high-tech toilet seats from Japan, I have only just heard of. (A neighbor took a trip to Japan this summer and came back raving about the toilets.) I was however, surprised that the cost was not higher. Bidets are certainly not new. But my understanding is the Japanese manufacturers have taken the concept to a whole new level.

Many of the tips are cost savers. But some of the Zero Waste ideas would be tough to convert to. The various personal hygiene tips top the list in this department.

On the other hand, the food storage tips and most of the housekeeping tips are doable for me. I also found her comments on clothing donations informative. We tend to forget economic dumping is not limited to large manufacturers.

Su is a blogger. Her site is Wasteland Rebel. Just a quick glance at the blog after reading the book shows a lot of carryover. So, if you like holding a book in your hands, buy Zero Waste. Or you can subscribe to her blog. Either way, I think you will find the information interesting. How many of us could fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart jar?

Simple Concepts

A Little Bit of This

“A little bit of this….”was the beginning of the title of one of my favorite first books. To be honest, I think the title finished with “a dab of that.” But when I did a quick Internet search I was inundated with results far different from my original understanding of dab. Perhaps the book is no longer in print. Maybe if I patiently clicked through thousands of hits the book would pop up and I could cite the author. At any rate, I still remember the story over 50 years later. The kids in this early reader book were making sandwiches and adding “a little bit of this and a dab of that.” A simple concept that stuck.

So how does someone come up with a simple concept? Many are inventions of necessity.The Flintstones had wheels of rock on their cartoon cars. But perhaps the first wheels were attached to carts to make things easier to drag along.

Simple Concepts

How are simple concepts monetized? I think one would fall back on the old standby answer, it depends. If you use the example of Walter Hunt, an inventor of the early 19th century, some of his inventions could be considered simple. The safety-pin is one of his inventions. What a great idea! Yet Hunt sold the patent to pay a small debt.

Hunt is a very interesting man with a couple of biographies. The first, written in 1935 by Clinton N. Hunt is titled Walter Hunt American Inventor and the only copy I could find through the search engines resides in a Berlin, Germany library. Fortunately for me since my curiosity has been piqued, Joseph Nathan Kane penned Necessity’s Child: The Story of Walter Hunt, America’s Forgotten Inventor in 1997 and copies are still easily available. Stay tuned for a review!

In contrast to Hunt, who merely paid the bills with his inventions, are the modern-day profiteers. Think pet rock, or even more successful, the Beanie Baby. These creations generated tremendous profits. But how have they advanced civilization?

Many of today’s money making inventions are marketing successes as much as needed creations. All fill a need, it is just our needs have changed. For example, one of my favorite pieces of exercise equipment is the Simply Fit Board. I love it! The board definitely falls into the simple concept category. But if I lived a hundred years ago, I would get fit from all the manual labor required to get through each day.

A Dab of That

The passage of time has made other changes in our daily lives. Earlier this month, Econogal sponsored the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon. Sports competition has greatly evolved. During the same time period Hunt was working on his many inventions, very little occurred in competitive sports. Baseball, with its murky origins appears to have predated both football and basketball. Modern day organized track and field events also occurred in the late 1800s.

This very informative article from The Atlantic published in 2013 discusses the tie between mandatory education and organized sports for youth. According to the author, organized sports first catered to the poor. Only in the 20th Century did middle class kids enter into competitions.

I would concur with the article that the rise of competitive leagues for kids dovetails with the educational push starting in the 1960s to lessen competition in the classroom. In theory, this would allow all children to achieve self-esteem. (I could write a series of blogs on the pros and cons of this theory.)

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon

Thus I did not find it unusual that the youngest participant in the Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon was six years of age. In fact I was pleased to see a youngster competing in this event. I think personal challenges of this type are what really create self-confidence. Competition with others can be good, but improving upon your own measurements, I think, creates positive self-esteem.

Congratulations to all the participants. Thank you Rhonda Snyder for the shared photos. Next year I hope to travel to Rocky Ford to compete in the 2019 Rocky Ford Melon- Man Triathlon.

Swimming PoolMan on bicycle

 

 

 

 

Runners at Starting Line

The Alice Network Book Review

Kate Quinn offers a treat for history buffs and those who like a bit of romance. Her book, The Alice Network, is set in the years immediately following World War II. But, the focus of more than half the book is World War I, also known as The Great War.

Charlie

Alternating chapters reveal the stories of two women. Charlie, short for Charlotte, opens the story in 1947. She is searching for her cousin Rose. The family lost contact with Rose while France was occupied by Germany. Charlie has one lead, Evelyn Gardiner.

Charlie is also running away. Her story is a combination of post war stresses as well as her search for Rose. War has long-lasting consequences for both soldiers and families. Quinn does an outstanding job of conveying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout Charlie’s tale.

Fans of romance are treated to just a bit as Charlie becomes attracted to Finn Kilgore, employee of Evelyn Gardiner. Kilgore’s background is of a former soldier with some issues. He is struggling a bit but is a rock to both Eve and Charlie.

Eve/Marguerite

Evelyn Gardiner is the protagonist of The Great War story as well as the support Charlie needs in her search for Cousin Rose. Evelyn now known as Eve and sometimes as just Gardiner, is a drunk. But during World War II she served as a spy with the assumed name Marguerite.

Marguerite Le Francois is an integral member of the Alice Network. She is recruited in England but placed in France. Her fluency in English, French, and German makes her an ideal spy. Of course Marguerite is entirely concocted by Quinn. But The Alice Network was real. So too were some of the key supporting figures in the story of Eve. The weaving of fact and fiction is expertly done.

The Alice Network

Throughout history, women have been a party to war. During the Great War, women served as key figures in spy rings operating behind enemy lines. In the chapters focusing on Eve’s storyline, Quinn demonstrates the sacrifices made by these women. Then through Charlie’s story, she gives the readers a glimpse of how long-lasting the impact of war is.

I really enjoyed The Alice Network. The back and forth between storylines worked. Although the reader knows Eve survives World War I since she is still around in 1947, there is still quite a bit of suspense to this novel. I greatly appreciated the author’s notes at the end of the book. Quinn spells out fact from fiction as far as the war events. Those more knowledgeable of The Great War might not appreciate the notes as much.

I strongly recommend this book. The members of The Alice Network went to great lengths to shorten the war. The author does a really good job of showing the impact of war on soldier and civilian as well.

The characters are endearing. The story is suspenseful. The ending is akin to a romance novel even though there is a dose of bittersweet. Kate Quinn has a winner in this well researched and well written book.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Fun

One of the best things about summer is the abundance of Farmers Markets. Just spotting them from the road gives me a smile and a lift in spirits. But getting a chance to wander around one takes the enjoyment to a higher level. Last weekend I happened upon a great Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, New York just loaded with fun.

Fresh Produce

The first thing I love about Farmers Markets is all the fresh produce. Ears of corn, tomatoes of all colors, beets, carrots and peppers are all standard at a market. The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market had all of these and more. Fresh milk, cheeses, honey and mushrooms were spotted, sampled and purchased as I wandered through the stalls. Other goods such as jams, flowers, herbs and home-made spirits were fondly looked at, but hard to fly home with, so just admired.

Ramble Creek Farm

Most often I see beautiful examples of farm product I am familiar with. But at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market I found a new to me item, a mushroom called Lions Mane offered by Ramble Creek Farm in Greenwich, NY. As you can see from the pictures, this mushroom has both a textured top and bottom. An unusual seafood-like taste makes this mushroom unique. But what intrigues me the most is the health properties. Lions Mane is thought to have positive effects on brain health. Visit this website for more information. Those new to Econogal can read the About Me section for a glimpse into why I focus so much on the brain.

I wish I lived closer to Ramble Creek Farm so I could purchase more of their organic food. I loved visiting with one of the owners. They have an approach to farming that I commend. Please visit their website by clicking here. If you live in New England you may live within their delivery area!

Saratoga Suds

Another entrepreneur I chatted with at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the soap lady. These were not just your ordinary hand-made soaps. These soaps had style! The cupcakes looked good enough to eat and were what first caught my eye. Saratoga Suds originated over 45 years ago. Of course the company offers traditional styled soap, but the creativity in the shapes and the scents sets this company apart from the rest.

Furthermore, this Farmers Market find is once again a natural product. Visit the website for Saratoga Suds by clicking here and order some soaps today. I think you will like this mineral water soap as much as I do.

Food to Go

In addition to farm products to take home and prepare, there were many vendors with food to eat right then. The piping hot dishes looked great but I opted for my traditional travelling fare, bread and cheese. I washed it down with some delicious lavender lemonade although the fresh bottled milk was tempting.

The croissant purchased from Mrs. London’s Bakery paired nicely with the kunik cheese and honey purchased from Nettle Meadow. The French style bakery and café has been treating the residents of Saratoga Springs for over 20 years. Few food operations last past the first five years, thus Mrs. London’s Bakery is an exception as well as exceptional. The croissant melted in my mouth.

Nettle Meadow had an engaging spokesperson and an informative display. The operation is a farm and a sanctuary. While goats are the star of the show, sheep, llama, chickens and ducks share space on the farm which is open to visitors. This popular stall at the farmers market offered a variety of goat cheeses. Their kunik cheese is an award-winning blend of goat’s milk and cow cream. I now have a new addiction.

I did not discover the stall for Saratoga Crackers until after enjoying every bite of kunik. But these crackers are delicious just on their own. Like many of the farmers market booths, samples were available. I could not decide which I liked best, the Garlic Parmesan or the Rosemary Olive. Both ended up coming home with me. I love the fact that Saratoga Crackers is focused on healthy natural ingredients and would love to someday meet The Cracker Master and learn of her ties to the Saratoga horses.

Farmers Market Music – Running The River

Another first for me at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the live music. Two trios were performing at a far enough distance that the tunes did not conflict. While I liked the group playing music from my younger years, I loved the group Running The River. Their schedule indicates a regular appearance on market days along with many other events in the surrounding area. They have two new CDs Longbow and Riverside which showcase some of their original work as well as favorite cover songs. Their website which can be accessed by clicking here has a calendar with performance dates and locations. Running The River members are great entertainers. Make sure to watch the short You Tube Video of Running The River below.

The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market is superb. I think this ranks as the top farmers market I have wandered through. From glancing at Running The River’s performance schedule, the market seemed to be open longer than the traditional months. So I scoped the Internet and learned that this particular farmers market is open year round. If you are ever in the area, make sure to stop by. No matter the time of year!

The Day the Crayons Quit Book Review

Book, coloring book and crayons
The stars of The Day the Crayons Quit ready to color again.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers have a winner in The Day the Crayons Quit. Each of the colors in a crayon box has something to say. This children’s book is sure to be a hit with your favorite youngster.

I feel this is a book which is designed for an adult or older child to read to the younger crowd. The story is definitely geared toward a preschool or early grade school crowd. But the vocabulary is not for beginning readers.

Striking Crayons

The story is engaging. Duncan wants to color in class but finds a stack of letters instead of his crayons. Each color has hand written a note. Thus some of the book could be difficult for an early reader to decipher. Adjacent to the note is artwork featuring that color. Most colors complain, some need a referee and a couple are downright hilarious. The humor is perfect for the target audience. But I appreciated it as well.

In addition to the story line, Daywalt provides a personality for each crayon. Then Jeffers brings the color into focus with illustrations any child can relate to. The duo have created a children’s book which has lasting value. Humor rules throughout. This story fits in many places. The book is appropriate for story hour at libraries, reading time in schools and naturally bedtime.

Read Aloud

The Day the Crayons Quit harkens back to a time when youngsters were entertained by someone reading to them. This book provides the opportunity to spend time with a child. Reading aloud is an activity that requires participation by both reader and listener. Thus, a far cry from the electronic entertainment seen so often today.

I encourage anyone with a young child in their life to find this book. This includes daycare providers, elementary school teachers and librarians, parents and grandparents. The Day the Crayons Quit is a great addition to the library.

I have just one question for Daywalt and Jeffers. Whatever happened to Mr. Brown Crayon?

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!