Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings

This photo is in Yoho National Park, British Columbia taken after a snowfall.

For all my blog visitors and friends, may you have a Merry Christmas and enjoyable festivities over the holidays. I'm looking forward to roast turkey with all the trimmings with friends and family tomorrow, and, yes, the leftovers of turkey soup, turkey casserole, turkey pie. Sometimes over indulgence in food leaves one refusing later servings.

One year during my childhood, my mother was hospitalized for minor surgery as she was a teacher and couldn't really take time off during the other part of the year. My father, sensing a deal in cheap cranberries, bought a bushel worth. Taking over my mother's normal duty of Christmas dinner, my father made enough cranberry sauce, jelly and pies to last us six months. One of my brothers cannot eat cranberries today (50 years later).

Another Christmas, when I was in the hospital as a teenager, I ate a large box of Turtles over two days, and it took about 25 years before I could eat another one. Even now I rarely eat them.

Any of you ever have over indulgences at Christmas or holidays?

Photo Credit: Cuppojoe CC=nc-sa-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Homesteader: Finding Sharon by D. M. McGowan (Book Review)

From the back cover:

“Staking a claim to a homestead in the rugged, untamed Canadian frontier of the 1880s was hard enough. But when someone tries to run roughshod over the “nesters”, a man has to take a stand.

“There is more than bad weather from Hank James to contend with as he rides in search of the land of his dreams and the woman of his heart. Portis Martin, manager of a large cattle company, has no use for the small homesteaders that have begun to pepper the area…and he isn’t afraid of using every dirty trick he knows to run them out.

“And Portis had been doing a pretty good job of it—until Hank James and his partner arrived.

“The dreams of early homesteading were not always strong enough to see them through adversity, but with Hank James on their side, the people might just find a way of uniting for the common good and building a dream that can endure.”

This western story opens in 1886 in foothill country near Cochrane in the North-West Territories of what will later become Alberta. Henry “Hank” James, late of Farwell (Revelstoke, B.C.), is on a mission to find a woman. While in Farwell Hank James had built a prosperous freight business and, what he thought, a promising relationship with Sharon Dalton, housekeeper for the magistrate. Sharon had left Farwell in September 1885 after learning that the B.C. police knew about her past and association with some outlaws in Missouri. Hank wasn’t too concerned as some of those outlaws had been his relatives.

After deducting that Sharon had taken a train east to Calgary, Hank, and his partner, Scott Gilmore, went east to search for her. Hank’s other intention for going east was to locate appropriate land for a cattle and horse operation under the Homestead Act. Gilmore is half Lakota Sioux, raised in St. Louis, Missouri with a university education, and from time to time educates Hank James.

A neighbour, Lottie McAdams, is running a homestead after the death of her husband and trying to keep that fact a secret. Under the Homestead Act women had no rights to own property, only men were allowed a quarter section consisting of 160 acres to prove up by making the required improvements.

Portis is a nasty antagonist, keeping the story going well with all sorts of conflicts. He’s used to getting his own way, and when Hank James gets back at him legally he turns to more ruthless methods.

David McGowan has history well documented for the time with the homesteading, the lack of rights for women (considering they were only a man’s property), the North-West Mounted Police, the special promotion that the Canadian government in Ottawa gave to the European and English nobility and gentry to open up the land for business, over the single family homesteading operations. If the small operation homesteaders were run off by the cattle barons, Ottawa tended to look the other way or take sides with the larger ranches.

The story moves along at a good clip with action and new conflicts in each of the chapters which are eventually resolved. There is a continuity to the story without any of the slumps sometimes found in novels. Does Hank James end up with Sharon Dalton? I’m not telling. But I will say that I didn’t want to put the book down once I began it because each chapter urged me on.

Something I really appreciated was that Mr. McGowan included an Author’s Note to verify some of the historical episodes related in the book, although I’m well versed in the history of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

I look forward to reading more of Mr. McGowan’s western books as I like stepping back into history in western Canada. Some times it feels like I’ve gone home because there are phrases that have carried over from those early years to now.

Book format: Paperback (223 pages)
Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing
Author website: David Milton McGowan

Available at:

Sunday 20 December 2009

Emerald Lake in Winter

This photo is of the Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park, neighbour to Banff National Park. For information about staying at the lodge here is the link.

To see Emerald Lake in the summer and a fisherman's paradise in an earlier post here.

Photo Credit: Cuppojoe CC=nc-sa-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Friday 18 December 2009

Bench of the Week (31)

This bench is located in a picnic and recreation area in the town of Banff near the Cave and Basin road. Cascade Mountain to the north is one of many views available.

RuneE of Visual Norway has an informal Friday meme of posting benches. Visit his blog to learn of other participants.

Photo Credit: kiwanja CC=flickr. Click to enlarge.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Book Review)

From the inside flap:

“Set in late-nineteenth-century Egypt, this award-winning novel introduces the work of an acclaimed Egyptian writer for the first time to Canadian readers.

“When disgraced military officer Mahmoud Abd El Zahir is sent to govern the remote Egyptian oasis of Siwa, he knows the danger he faces—two of his predecessors were murdered. But having been accused of disloyalty to the current regime and its British overlords, he has little choice. Rather than stay behind in Cairo, his Irish wife Catherine, insists on accompanying him, hoping to reinvigorate their marriage and to pursue the secrets of Alexander the Great, who she feels convinced is buried in Siwa.

“Neither is prepared for the stultifying heat, the hostility of the townspeople—all but the seductive and troubled Maleeka, who develops a strange friendship with Catherine—or the astonishing and disturbing events that befall them in the dreamlike other-worldliness of the Sunset Oasis.

“In turns mesmerizing and shocking, Sunset Oasis is a complex tale of love and frustrated passions, and of the vicissitudes of power during a time of change, as it tells of people struggling to free themselves from the grip of the past. It is a striking, haunting work by one of the Arab world’s most celebrated writers.”

This book took me right into story immediately, immersing me in the political climate of the time along with the cultural differences of the Egyptians and the nomadic people with the British overlords. Mr. Taher has an excellent way of introducing the conflicts which produce a variety of responses from Mahmoud, Catherine and the residents of Siwa. The mesmerizing description of the desert with its inherent dangers, the caravans, the Bedouin, the townspeople of Siwa and their beliefs, including the historical background all tie in the various details to make the story captivating.

Once I began this interesting book I found it difficult to put down. I wanted to know more about the people who lived so far removed from Cairo, via a caravan trip of two weeks along a trail that may disappear at any time with the winds shifting the sand over the tracks or the wells where the camels were to be watered. A mighty Persian army from long ago on its way to Siwa had been buried forever under the shifting sands. There were also the hazards of wolves, snakes and scorpions that frequented the campsites.

There were situations Catherine got herself into that I recognized would lead to conflict with the townspeople: wearing men’s clothes and going without a veil, and going to homes without being invited first. The woman seemed oblivious to the reactions she was creating while going on about her explorations of the town and nearby areas in the search for Alexander the Great’s burial site, other antiquities and painted hieroglyphics.

Mahmoud is stuck in a tough situation and location due to his alleged disgrace. He does the best he can under the circumstances and procedures he has been provided by the British overlords.

Many of the secondary characters hold their own mystique within the story: Sergeant Ibraheem, assigned to Mahmoud, is elderly with many grandchildren to feed as his children had died of an cholera epidemic; Sheikh Yahya, an elderly scholar, wise beyond his years; who perceives trouble brewing among the council, and his niece, Maleeka, married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather to settle her mischievous ways; Maleeka, a precocious girl, interested in things no one before or after her was interested in, such as the statues and paintings in the ruins of antiquities, of her ability to sculpt from a handful of clay statues that matched those in the ruins perfectly.

I recommend this book for anyone wanting to escape to another place to become immersed into a different culture in the heat of the desert.

BAHAA TAHER was born in 1935 in Cairo, Egypt. After many years of living in Switserland, he has recently returned to Egypt. Now one of the most widely read novelists in the Arab world, Taher has received the State’s Award of Merit in Literature, the highest honour the Egyptian establishment can confer on a writer. He is the author of four collections of short stories, several plays and works of non-fiction, and six novels: East of the Palms, As Doha Said, Aunt Saftyya and the Monastery, Love in Exile, The Point of Light, and Sunset Oasis, which won the inaugural International Prize for Arabic fiction in 2008.

Translated by Humphrey Davis who has lived in Cairo for more than twenty-five years.

Book format: 311 pages, hardcover
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Author: Bahaa Taher


Sunday 13 December 2009

Bow River Bridge


During my early childhood trips to Banff in Banff National Park one of the best experiences was crossing the Bow River over this bridge. Crossing meant going to: the trout fish hatchery (now closed), the Cave and Basin lower pool (closed due to a tiny snail known as the Banff Springs snail which is considered threatened -- I did a guest post at Shelley Munroe's website last year where I mentioned the snail and its environment), the Administration grounds with lovely manicured lawns and flowerbeds with gazebos, the Upper Hot Springs pool, the Banff Springs Hotel and its famous golf course.

When viewed from the side or above from the sidewalk and leaning over the stone railing underneath each of the lamp-posts, one can see that there are Indian heads in full feather headdress relief. These always intrigued me, and were part of the magic that this town held for me: and still does.


The Bow River bridge was built in 1923 and the Indian heads were designed by James L. Thomson.

Photo Credits: [1] melnielo CC=nc-flickr; [2]-Denni Schnapp CC=nc-sa-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Friday 11 December 2009

An Echo In The Bone by Diana Gabaldon (Book Review)

From the inside cover flap:

Jamie Fraser, former Jacobite and reluctant rebel, is already certain of three things about the American rebellion: The Americans will win, fighting on the side of victory is no guarantee of survival, and he’d rather die than have to face his illegitimate son—a young lieutenant in the British army—across the barrel of a gun.

Claire Randall knows that the Americans will win, too, but not what the ultimate price may be. That price won’t include Jamie’s life or his happiness, though—not if she has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile, in the relative safety of the twentieth century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Roger MacKenzie, have resettled in a historic Scottish home where, across a chasm of two centuries, the unfolding drama of Brianna’s parents’ story comes to life through Claire’s letters. The fragile pages reveal Claire’s love for battle-scarred Jamie Fraser and their flight from North Carolina to the high seas, where they encounter privateers and ocean battles as Brianna and Roger search for clues not only to Claire’s fate but to their own. Because the future of the MacKenzie family in the Highlands is mysteriously, irrevocably, and intimately entwined with life and death in war-torn colonial America.”

This is the seventh book in the Outlander series, consisting of historical adventure laced with romance and time travel, one which I had eagerly awaited and was not disappointed as the stories within unfolded. Each time I pick up any book of the series it is like seeing old friends after a long absence to catch up on past news.

There were several secondary characters to make their reappearance: Lord John Grey (whom I particularly enjoy reading about despite his predilections); Ian Murray (Jamie’s nephew) and his wolf-dog, Rollo; Fergus Fraser (Jamie’s adopted son from France); William Ellesmere (Ransom) (Jamie’s illegitimate son and stepson of Lord John Grey); Harold Grey (Lord John’s brother); Archie Bug; Jem and Mandy MacKenzie (children of Brianna and Roger MacKenzie); Jenny Fraser Murray (Jamie’s sister) and her husband Ian Murray; Laoghaire Fraser and her daughters (Jamie’s ex-wife—complicated with a history); and William Buccleigh MacKenzie.

Several new delightful characters were introduced: Denzell Hunter, a physician, and his sister, Rachel, Quakers; Henry Grey (Harold Grey’s son); and not so delightful, Robert Cameron.

Historical figures Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin,and Major John André made brief appearances.

Jamie Fraser, Jacobite, laird and 18th century Scotsman, has decided his participation in the American rebellion for independence is best suited with his printing press, and with Claire returns to Scotland to get it. Their journey is fraught with pirates, privateers, sidelined to assist the American rebels at Fort Ticonderaga before continuing across the Atlantic to Edinburgh.

There are love triangles, battle scenes, vengeance, comeuppance, reconciliation, deceptions, surgical procedures, visits to Quebec City, secrets, conspiracies, confessions, betrayal, greed, and surprise marriages between unlikely partners. The thoroughly researched historical medical descriptions and in-depth look into the early days of the Colonies with their desire for independence from British rule have kept me well entertained.

Ms Gabaldon has provided several cliffhangers plus a particularly excellent twist at the end to keep readers anxiously awaiting the next in the series.

There are multiple POVs meshed in with the numerous subplots, but were relatively easy to keep up with. This is a book that could be read on its own as hints from the past are included as explanations throughout. Many of the preceding books are not true stand alone books. I had begun with the third book, Voyageur, on the recommendation from a friend to read the passages about sailing, and once I was finished it I went out and bought the first book. I haven’t looked back since.

Book format: hardcover, 848 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, division of RandomHouse Canada
Author website: Diana Gabaldon
Published: September 22, 2009

Thursday 10 December 2009

Bench of the Week (30) - Toronto

These benches are located in Queens Park in Toronto, Ontario. Yesterday parts of the city received 15cm of snow and freezing rain which isn't such good weather for benches.

RuneE of Visual Norway has an informal meme on posting benches on Fridays. Please visit him for other participants.

Photo Credit: Alanah CC=nc-sa-flickr. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Moving residence is akin to deciding what to take on a backpacking trip when one can only take certain items. I downsized my living area and purged my belongings as I tend to pack-rat items. When I worked overseas for two years I learned how to live out of a couple of suitcases, and somehow when I returned to Canada the packratting began again. Spaces had to be filled up with something in a North American sized apartment as those in London tend to be small (the bachelor flat in South Kensington was like a match-box).

Now my re-organization will begin while I spend more time at my writing, reading the review book copies and taking life a little easier.

It's nice to be back to the blogosphere.

Photo Credit: x-ray CC=nc-nd-flickr. Click to enlarge.