Get new posts by email:

Archives

Currently Reading

Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

The Concubine, by Norah Lofts. Over the years I’ve read several books about the wives of Henry VIII. All quite fascinating. This one is all about Anne Boleyn. It’s historical fiction, in that the author gives a voice to all the characters, including Henry himself. Henry waited years upon years to have his way with Anne (she holding him off because he still was very married to Catherine of Spain). There’s one tidbit of insight (true? who knows?) that once Henry finally bedded Anne, he was quite disappointed with the act, and barely bothered to visit her bed except to his need for a son, each time equally disappointed (with the act). Such an interesting sideline to the fated life of Henry (and Anne), wanting nothing more than a son to succeed him. Henry did marry Anne Boleyn, but then beheaded her 2 years later, claiming she’d been an adulterer. Many people of the time called Anne The Concubine, hence the title. No one knows for sure whether she was or she wasn’t an adulterer. Made for a good read.

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark. Oh my goodness. One of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. I love nothing better than being engrossed in a book, so much that I can’t wait to get back to it. This book takes place in Maine, in some previous decades, and revolves around the friendship between two women and their families. This fictitious area, called Fellowship Point, was purchased by a small group of like-minded couples, as a place to spend the summers raising their children. There was a special land grant for this property, and as these two matriarchs reach old age, their purposes are at odds. The book covers so many subjects (let alone the beauty of the Maine landscape, which plays large) including reflections on aging, writing, land stewardship, family legacies, independence, and responsibility. Secrets are kept and then revealed. I guarantee you’ll be intrigued once you begin the first page.

On Mystic Lake, Kristin Hannah. One of Hannah’s earlier books. Another one I could hardly bear to stop reading. A woman sees her young adult daughter go off to school. In the next breath her husband tells her he’s in love with someone else and leaves. She’s nearly off her hinges. Grief? Yes. Disbelief? Yes. Eventually she retreats to her hometown in Washington State, hoping for some peace and understanding. She meets someone. Well, read the book.

A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira. A very different historical novel about the Pacific Northwest in its very early days. In the fleeting days of youth, in Scotland, a boy and a girl fall in love. The girl, with her family move to America, to some unknown place in Washington Territory. It takes years, but the boy makes his way to America too, to find her. Wishing doesn’t always make the best bedfellows. There is great plenty (coal) and great hardship (from the unforgiving land and equally unforgiving landlords of the coal industry). Very interesting history; liked the book a lot.

The Women, Kristin Hannah. Obviously I’m a fan of Hannah’s writing. She tackles some very difficult subjects, and this one is no different. During the Vietnam War, gullible Americans like me, believed what was delivered via media that there were no women in military service in Vietnam. Not true. Although this book is fiction, it delves deeply into the harsh environment of the nursing corps (and doctors too) who did their best to patch up the thousands of soldiers who could possibly be saved after the ugly battles. Another book I could hardly put down. It also covers PTSD, not only in the badly wounded soldiers, but the doctors and nurses who were bombed and lost lives too. The book is an eye-opener and one every American should read.

The Map Colorist by Rebecca D’Harlingue. Who knew there were such map-coloring artists back in the 1600s. And to find a woman doing it was unheard of. I was very intrigued by the actual art involved, and in this story she had to hide behind her mother’s skill because a young person simply couldn’t do the job, so the publishers thought. Her skill comes to the fore as she begins working with a wealthy man in her Dutch neighborhood. Very intriguing story. D’Harlingue is a very good story teller.

The Paris Novel, Ruth Reichl. Such a cute book – I devoured it. As much for the story as the occasional descriptions of food. Stella receives an unlikely inheritance from her mother – a one way ticket to Paris. The time is right and she goes. Wandering the streets she spots a vintage Dior gown hanging in a consignment store. The store owner insists she try it on, and then insists she buy it and wear it for a night of new adventures. Next stop: oysters at Les Deux Magots. There she meets an octogenarian and her real adventure begins. Hold onto your seat as Stella’s life takes on wings. So cute. A little bit of magical thinking, but plausible and fun from beginning to end. Loved it and could hardly put it down.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. Amazon tells it best: “Where do you see yourself in five years? Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers. She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content. But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.”

The Paris Daughter, Kristen Harmel. Never ceases to amaze me how authors can come up with a different take on a war novel. Riveting. Two young women meet in a park is Paris in 1939. Elise and Juliette and Juliette’s very young daughter. Elise must run as she’s Jewish, but she entrusts her baby to her friend Juliette. At the end of the war Elise returns to Paris to try to find her daughter. Oh, what a wicked web we weave sometimes. You’ll hang onto every new revelation in her journey to find her daughter.

Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo. This book almost defies belief, but it’s a true story. In 1848, an enslaved Black couple, she fairer skinned, him dark skinned, manage to escape bondage by posing as a white woman with her slave (not husband). They journey from Georgia by various means, mere feet from the slave traders trying to find them, with ingenious methods of disguise. They’re handed from one “underground railroad” home to another, in between taking public transportation. Their goal: freedom in Philadelphia. Yet once they get there they don’t feel free, so they continue their journey northward. What a story. Another one every American should read. This book has been given many awards; so worth reading.

The Tiffany Girl by Deanne Gist. Such an interesting story. Flossie Jayne, a student at the Art Institute in NYC, is asked to help THE Mr. Louis Tiffany, finish the very elaborate glass chapel at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, when the glassworker’s union goes on strike. Many women were employed (when it was thought they couldn’t possibly have the strength to cut glass), working day and night, to finish the work. This is Flossie’s story, of the people she meets, and foists off, but always with her eye on the dream, succeeding in the art of cut glass design. Very interesting story. If you’ve ever admired Tiffany glass lamps and other decor items, you’ll enjoy learning more about what’s involved in making them.

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki. Ah, to live within the life of the rich and famous. This is a book of historical fiction, but is very much the story of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her life. Her goals. Her daughters. Amazon notes: “Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got.” Her life wasn’t all sweetness and light. She was a survivor, had a good solid head for business, and married several times. Her life was very Oprah-esque, with fresh flowers in abundance every day, dripping with jewels and custom clothing. But she also knew how to scrimp and remake herself. Fascinating read. Wish I could have met her and  had tea (one of her favorite things).

Fox Creek by William Kent Kreuger. A Cork O’Connor Mystery. Kreuger is known for his love of the land. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. This one is new. This one weaves Indian territory and mores with a murder mystery. Very riveting as any mystery should be.

Chenneville, Paulette Jiles. From Amazon: Union soldier John Chenneville suffered a traumatic head wound in battle. His recovery took the better part of a year as he struggled to regain his senses and mobility. By the time he returned home, the Civil War was over, but tragedy awaited. John’s beloved sister and her family had been brutally murdered.” This is the story of his dogged, relentless journey to find and kill the killer. Grip your seat as he weathers some very treacherous adventures. Really good read, rugged outdoors kind of story. I’ve loved Jiles’ writing ever since I read News of the World by her. She’s a really good story-teller.

The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. Oh my goodness. From Amazon: In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were swept away by a tsunami. Only Sonali survived to tell their tale. This is her account of the nearly incomprehensible event and its aftermath.” I’ll tell you, this is a very hard book to read. The writer, the victim, tells you in intimate detail what happened at the time, immediately after, and then recounts months by month and a loooong time after her journey of grief. She barely functions. Wishes she’d been swept away too. Harrowing account of the facts and the journey of living again.

The Art of Resistance by Justus Rosenberg. From amazon: Unlike any World War II memoir before it. Rosenberg, has spent the past seventy years teaching the classics of literature to American college students. Hidden within him, however, was a remarkable true story of wartime courage and romance worthy of a great novel. Here is Professor Rosenberg’s elegant and gripping chronicle of his youth in Nazi-occupied Europe, when he risked everything to stand against evil.” His parents sent him off to Paris early on to go to school, from Danzig (which likely saved his life), but he becomes the hunted, and eventually part of the underground. Gripping book; well worth reading.

The Royal Librarian by Daisy Wood. A little bit of a reach, but believable nonetheless. A young woman, an accomplished librarian from Austria in 1940, is sent to Windsor to sort the centuries of valuable books, maps and treasures of the Royal Family. She believes she’s on a mission for British intelligence. She very distantly befriends Princess Elizabeth. Years later her sister unearths documentation about her sister, and she undertakes a journey of discovery too. You’ll learn a lot about Windsor Castle, even what they did during the Blitz. Lots of intrigue. Very sweet book and interesting since I love books about the Royal Family.

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea. If you watch any crime shows, you know how important DNA is these days. Here is a mystery that comes from familial DNA, in a framework of a current day research project. The protaganist is a fellow (woman) preparing to be a medical examiner. She’s assigned a project regarding DNA, requiring her to submit her own. She knows she was adopted, but nothing more. Oh my, stand by as this book unfolds with drama within nearly every page. Could hardly put it down. Her life is threatened and she doesn’t know who is friend or foe.

A Most Intriguing Lady, by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye. Sarah Ferguson, yes, that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has now written her second novel. About a very astute young woman who deftly avoids the marriage mart, but comes from the ton. She wants to “do” something with her life other than be a companion to her aging mother. Plenty of characters, some intrigue, a love interest, cute story, you know how it will end, but good reading nevertheless. I liked Ferguson’s first book better, Her Heart for a Compass.

Under the Java Moon, by Heather Moore. Sometimes these WWII books are tough to read. This is a true story (written as fiction, though) about a few Dutch families who are taken prisoner on Java Island, by the Japanese. Certainly it’s a story about unbelievable deprivation and sadness, but also about resilience too. Not everyone survives, as you could guess, but you’ll be rooting for young Rita who takes on so many responsibilities far beyond her 6-year old’s abilities. I read this because a dear friend of mine’s husband (now deceased) was in the Army during WWII and spent a lot of his duty in Indonesia and had horrific stories to tell about the weather and environment (awful!). A period of his life he liked to forget. The book certainly brings that period and place to the forefront. I’m glad I read it.

Never in a million years would I have picked up Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West. If I’d read the cover or flap that the bulk of the story is about basketball, I’d have put it back on the shelf. But oh, this book is – yes, about basketball, but it’s about a place in time in Montana, a few decades ago, when a tiny town supported their high school team. It’s about a dream. About the town who believed in them. About a tall young man who comes to lives in the town, and his deliverance, really, from a pretty awful background as he plays basketball, when he’d never played before. It’s about relationships, marriages, families and about how this little team makes it. Such a great story and SO glad I read it.

A Girl Called Samson, by Amy Harmon. I’m a fan of anything written by Harmon, and this one delivered as all her books do. 1760, Massachusetts. Deborah Samson is an indentured servant but yearns for independence. From being a rather tall, skinny kid (a girl) to faking it as a young soldier (a young man) in the Continental army. You’ll marvel at her ability to hide her true self. It’s quite a story. She’s thrown into the worst of situations in the war and comes through with flying colors. You’ll find yourself rooting for her and also fearing mightily that she’s going to either get killed, or be “found out,” by some of the men. Riveting story beginning to end. There’s a love interest here too which is very sweet.

On Mystic Lake, by Kristin Hannah. This is a book Hannah wrote some years ago, and tells the story of a woman, Annie, who finds out (on the day their daughter goes off to a foreign land for an exchange quarter) that her husband is in love with another woman and leaves her. Annie, who has been the quintessential perfect corporate wife, is devastated. She felt blind-sided. She cries and wallows, but eventually she returns home to her small town, where her widowed dad lives, in Washington. There she runs into many people she knew and at first feels very out of place. Slowly, she finds the town more welcoming and she helps a previous boyfriend, now widowed with his young daughter. A connection is there. Annie has to find herself, and she definitely does that. Her husband rears his head (of course he does!) after several months, and Annie has to figure out what to do. I don’t want to give away the story. Lots of twists and turns.

The Vineyard, by Barbara Delinsky. A novel with many current day issues. Husband and wife own a vineyard in Rhode Island. Husband dies. Widow soon (too soon) marries the manager, a hired employee, much to the consternation of her two grown children. Widow hires woman as personal assistant (much of the book comes from her voice) and she gets entangled into the many webs, clinging from the many decades the winery has tried to be successful. Really interesting. Lots of plot twists, but all revolving around work of the vineyard. Cute love story too. It wouldn’t be a Delinsky book without that aspect.

Consequences, Penelope Lively. I’ve always loved this author’s writing style. Have read many of her books. This one follows a rather dotted line family, the women, as they grow through worn-torn London and England. There’s poverty and both major events and minor ones that send the story’s trajectory in new directions. Riveting for me. Lively won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger, her most famous book.

Below Zero, C.J. Box. Mystery of the first order. A Joe Pickett novel (he’s a game warden in Wyoming) with a family member thought dead is suddenly alive. Or is she? Joe’s on the hunt to find out. I don’t read these books at night – too scary. I love his books, though.

Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, by Sylvain Tesson. I’m not sure what possessed me to read this book. About a late 30s guy who seems to crave solitude; he’s offered a 11×11 cabin in the cold/frozen Siberian outback, on a huge lake that freezes over in winter. Here’s a quote from the book: “A visit to my wooden crates. My supplies are dwindling. I have enough pasta left for a month and Tabasco to drench it in. I have flour, tea and oil. I’m low on coffee. As for vodka, I should make it to the end of April.” Vodka plays large in this book. Tesson (who is French, with Russian heritage) is a gifted writer, about the wilderness, the flora and fauna, about the alone-ness, the introspection. Mostly he ate pasta with Tabasco. No other sauce. Many shots of vodka every day. Drunkenness plays a serious role too – what else is there to do, you might ask? He lived there for about a year. I’d have lasted a week, no more.

The Auburn Conference by Tom Piazza. Another one, given my druthers I’m not sure I’d have picked up. For one of my book clubs. Excellent writing. 1883, upstate NY. A young professor decides to make a name for himself and puts on an event, inviting many literary luminaries of the day (Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Forrest Taylor and a romance novelist [the outlier] Lucy Comstock). Part panel discussion, part private conversations, the author weaves a tale of discord, some moderate yelling, some rascism and much ridicule of the romance novelist. Also some words of wisdom, maybe not from the authors you’d have expected. Unusual book.

As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. 1918. Philadelphia. About a young family arriving with the highest of hopes. Then the Spanish Flu hits and dashes everything. You’ll learn a whole lot about that particular virulent flu and the tragic aftermath. Really good read.

Hour of the Witch, by Chris Bohjalian. Boston, 1662. A young woman becomes the 2nd wife of a powerful man, a cruel man. She determines to leave him, something just “not done” back then. Twists and turns, she’s accused of being a witch. Story of survival, and a redeeming love too.

My Oxford Year, by Julia Whelan. At 24, a young woman is honored with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. She’s older than most of her fellow classmates, and as an American, doesn’t fit in very well. She’s left a good job back home, but determines to try to work some for the political campaign job she’s left, and also do the work for her Oxford scholarship. She meets a professor. Oh my. Such an interesting book. I loved learning about the culture of Oxford, and there’s a fascinating romance too, somewhat a forbidden one with said professor.

Madame Pommery, by Rebecca Rosenberg. I love champagne. Have read a number of books over the years (novels) about the region (and I’ve visited there once). This is real history, though in a novelized form. Madame Pommery was widowed, and determined she would blaze a trail that was not well received (no women in the champagne business for starters). And she decides to make a different, less sweet version. She’s hated and reviled, but sticks to her guns, veering away from the then very sweet version all the winemakers were producing. Fascinating story.

The Wager, by David Grann. A true tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder back in the 1740s. Not exactly my usual genre of reading, but once I heard about the book, I decided I needed to read it. This is a novelized version of the story, based on the facts of an English shipwreck, first off Brazil, then later off Chile. Of the men, their struggle to survive (and many didn’t). Yes, there’s murder involved, and yes, there’s mutiny as well. Those who survived stood trial back in England many years later. Riveting read.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate. 1939. A shantyboat in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. A 12-year old girl is left to care for her younger siblings when her mother is taken ill. A mystery ensues, and soon officials chase these youngsters to take them into an orphanage, one that became infamous for “selling” the children, weaving wild tales of their provenance. Dual timeline, you read about a successful young attorney who returns home to help her father, and questions come up about the family history. Fascinating read. You’ll learn about this real abominable woman, Georgia Tann, who profited by her “sales.”

The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Goff. This tells the story of a young servant girl, in the aftermath of the starvation in Jamestown, the beleaguered town that virtually disappeared because the people weren’t prepared for the harshness of survival in those days. She escapes before the demise of the town and heads west, with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing. She survives longer than you might think, and encounters a lot of interesting experiences and people. Very interesting historical read.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Woman, Lisa See. Historical fiction, from 1469, Ming Dynasty, China. Based on the true story, however, about a young woman mostly raised by her grandmother who is a well known physician. Her grandfather is a scholarly physician, her grandmother, more an herbalist, or like a pharmacist of the day. Tan eventually marries into a family and is immediately subjugated by the matriarch, who won’t allow her to practice any of her healing arts. Quite a story, and also about how she eventually does treat women (women “doctors” were only allowed to treat women) as a midwife and herbalist. You’ll learn a whole lot about the use of flowers and herbs for healing and about the four humors.

Winter Garden, by Kristen Hannah. Quite a story, taking place in Washington State with apple orchards forming a backdrop and family business. Two sisters, never much friends even when they were young, return home to help care for their ailing father. Their mother? What an enigma. She took no part in raising them, yet she lived in the home. She cooked for the family, but rarely interacted. Yet her father adored his wife, their mother. How do they bridge the gulf between each other and also with their mother. Another page turner from Kristen Hannah.

Trail of the Lost, by Andrea Lankford. Not my usual genre. This is nonfiction, about Lankford who has plenty of credentials for rescue services, and is an avid hiker herself, determines to try to find some missing people who have disappeared off the face of the earth on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about how rescues work, everything from the disconnect between active citizens who want to help, and seemingly the unwillingness of authorities to share information. Not exactly a positive for law enforcement in this book. Really fascinating. There are hundreds of people who have disappeared off various long hike trails in the U.S. This is about four who were hiking (separately and at different times) on the PCT.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. I’ve never been a “gamer.” Not by any standard definition, anyway. Not like people who really get into games, adventure, killers, etc. And this book isn’t a game .. . but it’s a novel (and a great story, I might add) about how these games come into being. How they’re invented, how they morph. First there were two college students, then a third person is added, and they end up creating a wildly popular game. A company is born. And it goes from there. Mostly it’s about the people, their relationships, but set amidst the work of creating and running a gaming company. Not all fun and games, pun intended.

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Oh gosh, what a fabulous book. It’s a novel; however, much of the story is about the intelligence of octopus. In particular this one, Marcellus, who lives in an aquarium in a fictitious town in western Washington State. More than anything the book is about relationships, not only Marcellus with a woman (of a certain age) who cleans the aquarium at night, but the various people in this small town.

Trust, by Herman Diaz. This novel is an enigma in so many ways. It’s a book, within a book, within a book. About the stock market crash back in 1929, but it’s about a man. Oh my. It’s really interesting. This book won the Pulitzer. That’s why I bought it.

Cassidy Hutchinson is a young woman (a real one) who works in politics or “government.” She’s worked for some prestigious Washington politicians, and ended up working for Trump. The book is a memoir of her short spin working at the highest levels, and obviously at the White House. She worked under Mark Meadows and suffered a lot of ridicule when she quit. Truth and lies . . . when she couldn’t live with herself and subvert the truth. Enough, gives you plenty of detail leading up to and after the January 6th uprising. She testified to Congress about what she knew. Really interesting. I almost never read books about politics because I think many (most?) of our elected politicians succumb to the lure of power and forget who they work for, us, the public.

Becoming Dr. Q, by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. This is his memoir about how he went from being a penniless migrant from Mexico to one of the world’s most renowned experts in brain tumors.

The Invincible Miss Cust, by Penny Haw.  In 1868 Ireland, a woman wasn’t allowed to attend veterinary school, much less become a veterinarian. It took  years of trying (to the horror of her aristocratic family) and finally someone took her under their wing, she enrolled using a pseudonym (a name not revealing her gender). This is a true story of Aleen Isabel Cust, who did just that.

Her Heart for a Compass, by Sarah Ferguson (yes), the Duchess of York. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book that it wasn’t the usual romantic romp – there’s more to this story than you might think. Ferguson utilizes some of her family ancestors as real characters in the book. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes.Nisha, our heroine, is a wealthy socialite. She thinks her life is perfect. At the gym someone else grabs her gym bag, so she grabs the similar one. Then she finds out her husband is leaving her and he’s locked her out of their high-rise apartment. She’s penniless. No attorney will take her on. She has nothing but this gym bag belonging to someone else (who?).

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. What a story. Ben, part of a Montana college football team in the 1940s, joins the service during WWII. So do all of his eleven teammates. After suffering some injuries in pilot training he is recruited by a stealthy military propaganda machine. His job is to write articles about his teammates as they are picked off at various battle theaters around the Pacific and Europe. Ben goes there, in person, to fuel the stories. Ivan Doig is a crafty writer; I’ve read several of his books, my favorite being The Whistling Season.

Wavewalker, by Suzanne Heywood. Oh my goodness. A memoir about a very young English girl who goes off with her besotted and narcissistic parents and her brother on a years-long sailing journey supposedly following the route of James Cook. A very old, decrepit 70-foot schooner. Four people, 2 sort-of adults and 2 children. Sometimes a helper or two. A seasick mother. A dad who is driven to the extreme, whatever the damage he creates. She spent 10 years aboard.

Claire Keegan wrote Small Things Like These. It’s won a lot of awards, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Takes place in Ireland. Some profound questions come up in this novella, about complicity, about restitution. There’s a convent nearby, and attached one of those places young girls were sent if they found themselves “in the family way,” and about how the church helped, supposedly, by taking the children and placing them in homes, without consent. It’s ugly, the truth of the matter. Really good read.

Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author I read very often because his books are pretty sappy, but daughter Sara recommended this one, The Longest Ride. It begins with Ira (age 93), stuck in his car as it plunges off the edge of a road, and it’s snowing. As the hours tick by, he reminisces about his life.

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, by Barbara Lipska. Interesting that I’ve read two books recently about the brain (see Doctor Q above). This is a true story about a woman, a neuroscientist, who developed a metastatic melanoma in the brain.

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe. This is a mystery, of sorts. Our heroine is an up and coming employee at Christie’s (auction house). In bringing a large collection of expensive art to auction, she makes a misstep about the provenance of a desk. She’s fired. She goes back to her roots, takes a job at a small antique store where she used to work.

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese. Did you read Cutting for Stone, years ago, by this author? Such a good book, so I knew I’d enjoy this one, and oh, did I!. The book takes place in a little known area of southern India, and chronicles a variety of people over a few generations, who inhabit the place.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts. My friend Dianne recommended this book to me, and it was so special. Loved it beginning to end. It’s based on the story of 77-year old Maud Gage Baum (her husband Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz).

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. It’s about a young Indian woman, Geeta, as she tries her best to make a living after her husband leaves her. Yet the community she lives in, thinks Geeta murdered him.

Attribution, by Linda Moore. We follow art historian Cate, as she struggles to succeed in her chosen field against sexist advisors. She finds what she thinks is a hidden painting.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick. Oh my goodness. This story grabbed me from about the third sentence. Everyone in the world finds a wooden box on their doorstep, or in front of their camper or tent, that contains a string. Nothing but a string. The author has a vivid imagination (I admire that) and you just will not believe the various reactions (frenzy?) from people who are short-stringers, or long-stringers.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. True stories, but in novel form, of a special Axis group of men and women librarians and microfilm specialists, sent to strategic locations in Europe to acquire and scour newspapers, books, technical manuals and periodicals, for information about German troop locations, weaponry and military plans of WWII. I was glued to the book beginning to end. Fascinating accounts.

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley. What a story. 1850s gold rush, story of two young prostitutes, finding their way in a lawless town in the Wild West. There’s a murder, or two, or three, or some of the town’s prostitutes, and the two women set out to solve the crime.

Storm Watch, by C. J. Box. I’m such a fan of his tales of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s adventures catching criminals. Loved it, just like I’ve loved every one of his books.

Defiant Dreams, by Sola Mahfouz. True story about the author, born in Afghanistan in 1996. This is about her journey to acquire an education. It’s unbelievable what the Taliban does to deter and forbid women from bettering themselves.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers.

The Rome Apartment, by Kerry Fisher. Such a cute story. Maybe not an interesting read for a man. It’s about Beth, whose husband has just left her, and her daughter has just gone off to college. Beth needs a new lease on life, so she rents a room from a woman who lives in Rome.

All the Beauty in the World, a memoir by Patrick Bringley. Absolutely LOVED this book. Bringley was at loose ends and accepted a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He’d been a journalist at The New Yorker magazine, but after his brother was ill and died, he needed refreshing. After his training at the museum, he moves from room to room, guarding the precious art, and learning all about the pieces and the painters or sculptors.

The Queen’s Lady, by Joanna Hickson. I love stories about Tudor England, and this one didn’t disappoint. Joan Guildford is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Oh my goodness are there twists and turns.

Once in awhile I’m ready to read another Louise Penny mystery. This time it was World of Curiosities. Usually I’d write something wonderful regarding “another tome about Three Pines.” Not going to say it this time. Three Pines becomes a sinister place. Murders (many).

Over the years I’ve read many of Jodi Picoult’s books. This, her newest, or very new, is called Mad Honey. Oh, my. This book is beyond Picoult’s usual borders, but then she always writes edgy books. That’s her genre. This one is written with a co-author, a woman who is gay (I think) and also a trans-gender.

Philippa Gregory is one of my fav authors. Just finished her 3rd (and last, I think) in the Fairmile series called Dawnlands. If you scroll down below you’ll find the 2nd book in the series, Tidelands. Very interesting about English history, but about the same families from the first book in the group. Loved it, as I loved all of them.

Am currently reading Rutherfurd’s long, long book, Paris. I love these involved historical novels about a place (he’s written many about specific places in the world). It’s a saga that goes back and forth in time, following the travails of various people and families, through thick and thin. Some of it during the era of the King Louis’ (plural, should I say Louies?). Very interesting about some of the city’s history and royalty.

Although this book says A Christmas Memory, by Richard Paul Evans, it’s not just about Christmas. A young boy is the hero here, but really an older widower man who lives next door plays a pivotal part of this book.

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. Another page-turner. I loved this book. A thirty-something woman, about to take a trip with her boyfriend, when Covid breaks out. Covid plays a major role in this book, beginning to end. She decides to go anyway as her boyfriend is a doctor and cannot leave. She ends up on a remote Galapagos island, and you go along with her – with people she meets, the life she leads, the isolation she experiences, the loneliness she feels, but the joy of nature is a sustaining aspect.

Not everyone wants to read food memoirs. When I saw Sally Schmitt had written a memoir, titled Six California Kitchens, I knew I wanted to read it. I met Sally a few times over the years when I visited Napa Valley, and bought some of her famous pickled items, chutneys, jams, etc. She was the original chef at The French Laundry, before it became truly famous by Thomas Keller.

Being a fan of Vivian Howard (from her TV show), when I saw she’d written another book, I knew I should buy it. This Will Make It Taste Good is such an unusual name for a cookbook, but once you get into the groove of the book, you’ll understand. What’s here are recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Usually I don’t seek out short stories. I might have purchased this book without realizing it was. There aren’t that many stories – each one gets you very ingrained in the characters. I love her writing, and would think each story in this book could be made into a full-fledged novel.

A Lantern in Her Hand, by Beth Streeter Aldrich. A very interesting and harrowing story of early pioneer days in the Midwest (Nebraska I think); covered wagon time up to about 80 years later as the heroine, Abbie Deal, and her husband start a family in a small town.

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick. From amazon’s page: Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I’m a fan of this author and relished reading his book about a year in his personal life, with his wife and very new, newborn twins. Doerr was given an auspicious award – a year of study in Rome, with apartment and a stipend. There are four chapters, by season.

Kristin Hannah’s Distant Shores is quite a read. Some described it as like a soap opera. Not me. Interesting character development of a couple who married young. She put her own career/wants/desires aside to raise their children. He forged ahead with his life dreams. The children grow up and move on. Then he’s offered a huge promotion across the country. She’s torn – she doesn’t want to be in New York, but nothing would get in the way of his career.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton is divorced. But she’s still sort of friendly with her ex. It’s complicated. Out of the blue he asks her to go on a trip with him to discover something about his roots.

Tidelands,  by Philippa Gregory. It tells the tale of a peasant woman, Alinor (an herbalist and midwife), who lives barely above the poverty level, trying to raise two children, during the time of great turmoil in England, the rancorous civil war about Charles 1.

Read Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. A page turner of a story. A young woman is convicted of a crime (young and foolish type). Once released her sole purpose is to be a part of her daughter’s life.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Oh my goodness. The wicked webs we weave. How in the world did the author even come UP with this wild story, but she did, and it kept me glued. Sophie walked away from her wedding day, and always wondered if she made the wrong decision.

Very funny and poignant story, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). Mrs. Palfrey, a woman of a certain age, moves into an old folks’ home in London. It’s a sort of hotel, but has full time elderly quirky residents.

For one of my book clubs we read Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. This book is so hard to describe. Elizabeth is a wizard at chemistry and struggles to be recognized for her intelligence and research. She meets a man at her company who is brilliant too. They make quite a pair. They have a child, then he suddenly dies. Her work isn’t taken seriously, so she leaves her employment and becomes an overnight phenom on a cooking show where she uses the chemical names for things like sodium chloride, etc. You go alongside her struggles, and her raising of her daughter. LOTS of humor, lots to discuss for a book club.

Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loved it from the first page to the last. Sad when it ended. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the minuscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however.

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration.

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers.

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words:

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Travel, on November 19th, 2015.

termite_mound5

Termite Mounds. That above is a live one.

Other than seeing termite mounds on TV, usually on National Geographic programs, I’d not paid much attention to them. They’re odd looking. Many are phallic-shaped, and some jesting was mentioned amongst our group about that. The one above is a fairly young mound, probably only about 4 feet tall. And when I tell you they “pepper” the African landscape is an understatement. They’re everywhere.

As days went by and we drove by hundreds of them (pictures below) I began to notice the differences between them, and could tell whether one was live or not. The answer to that has to do with the color and look of the stuff you see on the outside – this one is dark colored, meaning that the workers (the termites who take care of the mound, build it, clean it, excavate it) have been doing their jobs by removing detritus and dung, pushing it up and out, where it clings to the outside. There are vent holes in the mound, which are kept scrupulously clean by the workers.

The soldier termites defend the nest (mound) and have unique stuff they excrete onto attacking animals or insects that becomes a glue-like substance, in effect paralyzing the attacker.

termitemound1The surface of these things is hard. I never did go up to a fresh mound and push on the dark stuff (we were rarely out of the Land Rovers) – perhaps I could have budged it – but I wasn’t interested in touching termite dung. As the weather on the savanna changes the surface of the mound becomes hard, almost like rock.

Termite mounds have a king and queen (similar to a bee hive but without a king bee), worker termites and soldier termites, and believe it or not, a mound can live for about 20 years. Eventually the life span of the insects wane and the mound dies. When that happens other rodents move in – mostly mongoose. Or snakes (but not both).

At first, I thought the termites must choose a place near a tree (because so many of them were mounded next to one), but actually not. These termites aren’t exactly wood eating (like the type that live in the wood in my house) – they eat anything that contains cellulose, which they forage from the surrounding landscape. It’s in hay and other botanical stuff they find. The workers and soldier termites are both blind.

termite_mound_abandonedThere at left is an abandoned termite mound – note that there is no fresh (dark colored) stuff on or around the mound. And the mound has been cleaned out by rodents with plenty of escape holes.

As a termite mound rises in time, baboons use the tops of them as a sentry post, scanning the savanna for predators. And those baboons poop as they’re sitting there. Because baboons eat botanical stuff, their poop contains seeds, hence you can see behind this termite mound a tree that’s grown up beside it. So here I thought it was the egg and the chicken, but no it was the termite first, then the trees.

Utterly fascinating, this planet of ours and how it all works!

Posted in Travel, on November 15th, 2015.

coke_light_no_ice

coke_light_ice

I took a photo of this, just so I could show you the difference about 5 minutes can make in the life of one can of Coke Light in the summer African bush. First it was poured into the glass, with ice, and I’d sip it some, and within 5-7 minutes or so it would be like the left one, all the ice had melted and it was diluted and getting warm.

Those of us on this trip talked about our obsession with ice. Every one of us was asking for ice – ice in our water, ice in our cocktails, ice to take back to our cabin, and ice in our soft drinks. At one of the camps they ran out of ice. I’m tellin’ you, that was one very sad day. Of course, remember that it was hovering at about 100° every day, so except for lying on our beds under the light breeze from the A/C, we were in the heat elements. Our water bottles were at room temp. None of the tent cabins had a refrigerator. We did have one at our first camp, but it wasn’t a safari tent cabin – it was a tree house and a more permanent structure. We did keep water cold in that one.

bush_boutique_sign

At our last stop, Stanley’s Camp, we all did some shopping at their little boutique. They had a nice mixture of things and since I left behind most of my clothes, I was able to fit in a few trinkets. baskets_for_sale

bush_banner

At left is a banner – I’m not sure what it was made of. At right was a shelf full of baskets of all shapes and sizes. There was one I wanted, but it was a bit too big to get into my duffle.

colorful_baskets_forsale

More baskets of all shapes and sizes. bead_figures_4saleI bought one of those bush figures – the one at left with green trim. I loved the orange one, but I have no place in my house where an orange figure would fit very well.

guide_stanleys_camp

morning_coffee_stanleys_campOne of our guides at Stanley’s Camp. He was a happy person and grinned all the time.

There at left is the lovely tray of coffee and cookies our room attendant brought to us both mornings. Very nice. We sat out on our spacious front deck, enjoying the view over the reed-filled savanna, listening to the morning birds. Did I mention that mostly we had French press coffee everywhere. They’d bring all the parts, with a thermos of hot water and we’d make it ourselves.

blacksmith_lapwing

After I got home, I did some research about the many birds in Botswana, and I identified this guy as two different ones, so am not sure what he was. Pretty, though – kind of like a sandpiper with a similar running gait.

tent_cabin_stanleys_camp

That’s our front porch. Too hot to sit there in the heat of the afternoon, but it was really nice in the early mornings. There were tarps on the sides, so we had some privacy, but the front just had screens, which was fine.

Posted in Travel, on November 13th, 2015.

elephant_baby1

This was the first grouping of elephants we saw, and this cute little baby (he was actually about 3-4 months old) was not far from his mother. Of course, it was a big thrill – that first elephant as we watched the breeding herd forage. They’re slow and soft-footed and their trunks are almost in constant movement. As the babies move about – usually quite close and almost dangerously (you’d think) under their mothers, but the moms are very aware of where the baby is. The baby usually has his trunk nuzzling some part of the mother, and occasionally reaching down to the grass, or pulling a small twig from a tree as this little guy was doing.

elephants1

So many times this was the scene from our Land Rover, watching a herd of elephant crossing an open savanna, probably on a path that’s unseen to us. Sometimes the lead female would glance over at us – they have an acute sense of hearing – and she might pause – but unless she felt we were threatening her or her brood, she went back to foraging or walking. The herds were usually in groups of about 4-6.

lion_hidden_in_grass

Can you see why lion are almost invisible? If they’re lying down you absolutely can’t see them – only when they move does the shape become something. During the daytime the lions will walk some, but their goal is to find a comfortable shady spot to sleep away the intense heat. This female was with a young male (probably her brother) and another young female and they were just moving from place to place. They weren’t hunting, and they gave us no never-mind, as the saying goes. They didn’t even look at us. When the Land Rover got near (with the diesel engine running) sometimes they’d get up and move. Occasionally they’d lift their heads up and glance at us, but usually they’d fall back to a recline.

warthog1

Warthogs, part of what’s called The Ugly Five (hyena, marabou stork, vulture, warthog and wildebeest). So named because they jokingly say they’re so ugly only a mother could love them. We saw wildebeest, but I didn’t get a photo. And I don’t think I took a picture of a vulture – we saw lots of them, but usually off in the distance, circling. Warthogs are elusive – once they spot a safari truck they usually make themselves scarce. We saw the backsides of many of them as they scooted off into the bush.

savannah_view1

Before I go on with more animal pictures I want to paint a picture for you. And this, to me, is the most important paragraph I’m writing in this post, maybe in all of my posts about my safari experience. For the most part, the African savanna is peaceful. It’s amazing. Awesome in its beauty. Eerily silent sometimes, and wildly loud at others. A few times during our game drives the guide would stop, pause when we’d enter a big, wide savanna (I love that word, it’s so soft and descriptive). Once, and this is a time, at a place, that I’ll have indelibly imprinted on my mind . . . we were in a fairly round savanna, with a ring of trees off in the distance – maybe about 1/3 of a mile off. Much like the photo above, except it was that kind of a view, 360°. Off to the left, about a block away, was a small grouping of elephant. Gently walking and foraging. Further right was a big herd of impala, motionless for a second or two until they identified the Land Rover and went back to walking and foraging. Further on was a herd of kudu. So elegant in their stance, with the male horns protruding in the sky. Then there was another small herd of elephant, a bigger grouping with babies in tow. Further right was a small group of giraffe. They’re so graceful – the most graceful of all the animals we saw as they reach and stretch to find the most tender of new leaves on the trees, ever watchful, though. And yet they were almost intermingled with the kudu. Yet further to the right we saw a small group of warthogs that flitted off into the brush. And then there was a small grouping of Cape buffalo. None of the other animals want to be around them – they’re not king of the jungle by any means, but they’re feared by most. They too, were foraging. Walking slowly, feeding. And lastly, another small grouping of elephant.

That place was magical for me. To see these wild animals, all in one place, all living peacefully alongside one another. There were no predators (cats) anywhere. Time and time again we saw similar scenes, but not usually with so many animals visible.

I never saw a kill during my safari trip. Although I’m well aware of the way of life in the wild, I usually close my eyes when I see it on TV. And a kill happens all the time – somewhere. Yet for the most part, the animals graze in peace, their brains watchful for danger, but not dwelling on it. Not like we would if we walked into a drug- and gang-infested neighborhood at night, knowing our lives were in jeopardy.

impala

Note how they blend into the background. Impala are identified by the dual vertical black stripes on their back end. They look much like deer.

kudu3

There’s a kudu. A male. They’re noted for the vertical stripes on their sides, and by their darker color. They’re also big – about the size of elk. And, they’re known for their unusual curlicue horns. Did I mention that once a kudu has 3 full curls on his horns, he’s reaching the end of his life? They’re fast – very fast, and lion don’t generally go after kudu unless it’s a young one or an old one that’s weakened.

xudum_elephant_stomping

This gal didn’t like us. She turned just after I snapped that picture and stomped toward us with her ears full forward. But she stopped. Note the dust around her back feet – she was getting ready to move. They kind of run toward you and bluff you into moving on. There were other elephant back in the brush behind her. The guides are very attuned to when an elephant is going to do a bluff move, or if they’re really charging in earnest! We never saw the latter, when the elephant might have attacked the Land Rover with her tusks. Just let me tell you that when she charged us, the hair on the back of my neck was at full attention!

Note in the picture that the elephant’s far horn is stunted. Most of the elephants we saw were left-tusked and many had a stunted left tusk. Meaning that they used their left tusk for most of the work, scraping bark off trees, moving logs mostly to get at good vegetation to eat, and sometimes they jamb the tusk into a tree (they like to eat the interior of trees) and then can’t get it out, and it gets broken off extracting themselves from the tree. From that point, the elephant may still be able to use the left tusk (they learn to sharpen that tusk on trees so it’s still useful, albeit short), but not so well. Occasionally they will develop skills with the other tusk, but one guide said no, he’d never seen that. If a female loses both tusks, she becomes a breeding female only. If you’re interested in reading more about elephant characteristics, click this link.

zebra2

We saw zebra several times, and what intrigued me about them was that off in the distance (let’s say a block away) they were completely invisible in the brush. You’d think those vertical strips would be a dead give-away, but no, when they’re still, they blend into the trees (the stripes looking much like short brush or trees).

xudum_elephants

That’s not such a great photo because I’m inside my tent cabin and this group of foraging females surrounded my cabin. The blurred effect is the screen. They stayed there for nearly 2 hours, moving around and around my cabin finding leaves and grasses to eat. They were almost silent except for the occasional foot-fall as they crunched some dry leaves.

savannah_xudum

That was the view near the lodge at one of the camps. Peaceful for sure. Birds of all variety noisily talking, maybe a hippo snorting out in the pond, and frogs chirping.

baboon_sandibe

We saw baboons in lots of the camps, and they’re quite mischievous. They’re big, and also can be vicious. We were told that generally they wouldn’t attack us if they were outside our tent cabins, but that it would be best to wait until they moved on. At one of the camps they liked to sit on the edge of our private pool and take sips of water. They were quite docile if you observed them doing their thing, but if I’d opened a door they might have become aggressive.

bat_sandibe

We saw bats sometimes at night as they swooped down over the water. This little guy hung inside the roof of the lodge nearly all day. I was very close to him and he watched me quite carefully.

Our best sighting of lion was one day when we followed a trio – a brother and sister, and another young female. The mother was nearby, and the guides told us that when males get to be older adolescents, the dominant male wants them out of the pride and tries to run him off.

lion_pair

So, the females (the mother usually) leads a smaller group off to find food and share a meal, to protect the young male for one more season before he must leave the pride.

Once they do leave, young males form a bachelor pride and begin their search for a group of females, as one by one, they think they might be able to fight for, and win.  These two were searching for shade. They walked right up to the Land Rover and right in front of the front bumper as they walked leisurely on to find a place to nap.

cape_buffalo_sandibe

The Cape Buffalo. The horns are so beautiful and such a unique shape. Usually the buffalo move off when we approached, but this group just stared at us for awhile before turning to wander away. As I think I mentioned, they can be very aggressive if provoked.

leopard_tree

A young leopard female. They told us she was very hungry, but because she’s young, she was having lots of trouble catching anything. Unless they’ve made a kill (see below) they nap in the trees. This cat was so startlingly beautiful – the coat, and her piercing eyes. I’ll never forget the eyes – which you can’t see in that photo. She turned, opened her eyes wide (they’re quite big), looking at us. Her pupils were thin slits and the rest of her eyes were like molten gold. A few hundred yards away this female’s mother had killed an impala.

leopard_impala_kill

She dragged the impala several hundred yards, under the shade of a tree and began the meal – from behind the animal’s back legs. Once she’d feasted for awhile, she got up (see picture) and laid down to take a break, with her tail swishing around the head of the impala. She was just feet from us and totally ignored our presence. After awhile she moved back into position and began eating again. Others who visited this site the next morning found her still there, eating. By evening, though, another truck visited and she’d allowed her daughter to have some of the kill. The mother was sated. The next morning the entire animal was gone – with the hyena having eaten all of the bones and other scavengers having eaten the last of the meat. Sometimes the leopard will drag the kill up into a tree – away from the scavengers – and the lion – because the lion won’t (can’t) climb trees. The guide explained that all that was remaining were the insects who were carrying away the last of the kill.lions_resting

There is the threesome we saw earlier – as they checked things out before lying flat to snooze. As before, they totally ignored our presence, so close to them.

giraffe1

We followed a group of giraffe one day, as they were eating the new leaves from the trees.

The male is the darker one, with 2 females in tow. The females are young, lighter in color. They weren’t willing to mate yet, but obviously one was showing interest because he followed her around, never getting more than a few feet from her, nuzzling her neck now and then. Very sweet. All part of the mating dance.

Whenever we saw giraffe, they were gracefully walking. Only occasionally did we see them run. It takes them a few seconds to gain momentum, which is why a lion can catch a giraffe sometimes.

jackal1

There’s a jackal. Beautiful coloring on them. She just trotted along a path near the Land Rover and crossed in front of the truck and went off on a mission, or a trail. She never even glanced up.

A second one, more tentative, came out of the bushes, following the same path, but much more wary of us, but she went along the same route and off into the bushes she disappeared.

hyena1

And there, lastly is the hyena. We were approaching a watering hole that was completely invisible because of the tall grasses. A family of hyena lived in/around this watering hole, but the young adolescents were busy in the hundred yards or so around the water. There were two of them, and this one, a male, was quite curious about us in the Land Rover, so he approached and actually looked up at us from within about a foot or so. He hitched his front leg up on the tire so he could get a better sniff of us, then jumped down and wandered off. His sister approached but didn’t get as close.

I have photos of birds, which I guess I’ll do another post since this one has been way too long! I sure hope you’ve all enjoyed seeing the pictures and hearing my stories.

Posted in Travel, on November 9th, 2015.

xudum_baobab_tree

For years, I’ve been enamored with baobab trees. They have a very unique shape and they are such a stately tree. The baobabs hadn’t yet begun to leaf out (they’re late bloomers in the spring) when I was in Africa. I took several pictures of them, but this one was my favorite.

There are 6 varieties of baobab (by the way, it’s technically pronounced bay-oh-bab, but the natives pronounced it bow-bob), yet only one variety grows in central Africa. It’s often referred to as the upside down tree because it looks like (some more than others) the tree got stuck into the ground with the roots on the top. The trunks (which can grow to a huge diameter) hold water (tens of thousands of gallons) which keep it alive during the hot, dry summers.

The elephants like to eat the inner bark of the baobab – it’s such a shame because they can, eventually, kill the tree. They rub up against it to remove the outer bark, then they get to the reddish interior bark that they enjoy eating. They just keep rubbing and rubbing to expose a big area of that inner layer. Then more elephants stop by and do the same thing, until they’ve badly damaged the tree. The tree can regenerate its bark and will usually recover.

xudum_tent_cabinWhen we arrived at Xudum (pronounced koo-doom), we had lunch, then were shown to our tent cabins. This one was on two levels (half levels) with the bedroom upper, and the bathroom (huge) was 5 steps down.

We had a relaxing afternoon, more of that 100° heat and so Gwenda and I stretched out on those beds with the little A/C blowing right on us. We read, relaxed, snoozed and it never took us more than about 3 minutes to unpack our duffle bags at any camp. We took dunks in the pool – because the A/C stopped working at this camp and we were so hot we could hardly stand it. The water in the pools was always cool, so it was refreshing.

All of the camps provided lovely toiletries for us. One brand, Africology, was popular at several of the camps. I didn’t care for it – the shampoo or the body lotion. The shampoo was really hard on my hair, and the scent in the body lotion was just odd. I can’t tell you why – it just didn’t smell like anything I really wanted to put on my body – but since it was all we had, obviously I did! I read the label, but it wasn’t definitive enough to tell me what kind of weed, bark or flower provided the scent. Whatever it was it wasn’t an aroma I liked. Gwenda didn’t like it either.

Speaking of odd scents – all over in Africa we encountered wild sage. It grows everywhere on the savannas. The Land Rover drove over it, around it and it popped right back up. It has small yellowish flower on it. We didn’t much care for the scent of it and were surprised to learn it was in the sage family. Finally I looked it up in a botany book at one of the camps. Under the description it said the scent was most closely aligned with perspiration. Well, no wonder we didn’t like it! Although all of us smelled of it – perspiration –for the entire trip!

xudum_bathroom

There at left is the spacious bathroom. Most of the tent camps had slatted-floor showers. You can see it there behind the bathtub. Since it was so hot all the way through our safari stays, we rarely had to use much of the hot water, but it was plentiful. Just behind the tub is a tall screen (decorative and functional) and the shower head was on the far wall so we girls had some privacy. I have to laugh – Gwenda and I didn’t really know each other well before we went on this trip, but modesty played no part by about day 4 of our safari camps.

sausage_wheelThere at right was a spiral wheel of bush sausage – it was beef and was cooked on a propane cooker out on one of our sundowner evenings. It was delicious!

xudum_sundowner_ladderThere at left was an old ladder that they used for displaying all the liquor brought along for the sundowner boat cruise. It was just such fun. Not only the boat ride – pictures later – but at the end we stopped and they’d set up this lovely light repast – they’d put a very clean linen towel down the steps of the ladder and had the liquor varieties just so. On the nearby table were glasses and mixers and Amarula. At rightamarula_cocktail is the cocktail they made for most of us – it’s a pour of crème de menthe on the bottom, then they carefully poured Amarula on top. I’m not a fan of crème de menthe, so I opted to have a gin and tonic.

The wild game didn’t come into that clearing – maybe the staff at the camps use these places frequently enough that the animals don’t come near. It was just getting dark and we looked out at the water – just steps away – and there was a hippo who wanted to retake his territory. There’s a rule in the bush – no boats on the water after sunset because the night belongs to the animals. Sure enough, when we were done, the Land Rovers arrived to drive us back to our camp, which wasn’t far away.hugsOne morning we were offered the option of going on a nature walk. It’s something they are just introducing into the camp. In came two of our guides (who are hamming it up) with the 3 women who were going. Gwenda (my roomie) is on the left, in the middle is Carol, our leader (travel agent and fondly called Mother Hen – and that’s a compliment) and at right another Carol in our group. The guys were in native wear, obviously and the gals are all laughing because they were holding onto the guys – on bare skin and the rest of us were teasing them. I didn’t go on the walk – it was in the morning, but not really early morning, so it meant it was going to be very, very hot. They were told to wear very nondescript clothing (no color). The walk was about 2 1/2 hours long. Those who went said they learned a lot about the flora and fauna and the men demonstrated how to start a fire with sticks, etc. Very boy scout territory. They didn’t see any game, as I recall. These two guides were just so much fun – actually all of the guides in all the camps were well-spoken (meaning they spoke English well – they learn it in school) and they sincerely worked at engaging us and showing us a good time. And they worked hard – long hours.

xudum_sunsetIsn’t that just gorgeous? That was out on the boat cruise – we ended up in this rather large channel (felt like a lake, but it wasn’t) just as the sun was dipping behind the clouds. xudum_downed_tree

Posted in Travel, on November 7th, 2015.

xudum_channels

Everyone in our safari group had the opportunity in one or two camps to take an evening ride in a small boat. Some in a 2-person canoe type thing with a guide, others in a 4-6 passenger outboard, flat bottomed. By 4:30-5 pm every day the temperatures started to wane (thank goodness) and off we’d go in the boat. The Okavango Delta is so beautiful. Quiet. Peaceful. If they stopped the boat and turned off the outboard (as they did often) you could hear the birds, maybe crickets and frogs. Maybe you’d hear an elephant trumpeting in the distance.

The goal was to see game, but from a different angle, obviously, than in a Land Rover criss-crossing the paths and roads on land. The guides knew these waterways like the backs of their hands, so they zipped up and around many different channels, seeking some of the typical watering holes for hippo, but mostly we were seeking elephant.

xudum_lily_pads

In some of the more still waters there were jillions of lily pads and some blooming lilies as well. I didn’t happen to catch any in my camera lens as we zoomed along.

There are frogs of all sizes in the water there. As I listened to a TV show  (here at home) the other night, about a couple who were doing a research study in Botswana about elephant bones, they were trolling along in a boat and I could hear the very unique tink, tink of a particular frog sound. It almost sounds like an outdoor wind chime. Every night – if we were near water – we could hear them. I loved the sound. Have no idea what type of frog made the sound, but one of the guides told me it was frogs.

xudum_frog

There’s one of them at right. He couldn’t have been more than 1/2 inch long and he blended right into the reeds. Our guide spotted him as we slowly trolled in the reeds. He stopped the boat and I reached out and grabbed the reed stem and snapped a photo of him. There was another one – an almost translucent yellow one, about half his size on a further reed, but I messed up trying to reach out for the branch. I nearly fell out of the boat trying to reach it and I scared him off.

We had to be very careful about crocodiles. It’s very easy to get lazy about what kind of predators live in the water when you don’t see them. We actually scraped over the top of a croc on the boat ride and he may have sustained a bit of damage from the outboard. We had no idea he was in the water – he was right in the middle of one of the main water channels. It’s tempting when the boat is trolling slowly to drag your fingers in the water. Unh-uh. No-no. We saw a young crocodile one evening when we returned late from a game drive. He was in the watering hole we had to ford (this was in the Land Rover). One of our group spotted him and by flashlight we could really see him well. He was scared-off from our light and as he flipped over a fish jumped out of the water and the croc just quick-like swallowed him. The croc was about 2 1/2 feet long – young. We helped him with dinner, you see!

xudum_channel_view

Did I show this picture (above) already? Maybe I did. Sorry if it’s a repeat. That was at the end of our boat journey – loved the reflections in the water.

flying_okavongo_delta1

There’s a photo I took the morning we flew out, the beginning of the journey home. We flew out of one of those small sand-packed air strips and flew at very low altitude (because it was only a 15-20 minute flight to Maun, a small city in western Botswana). The dark places are areas where there is still water.

flying_okavongo_delta2

The Delta is so beautiful. Some of it has lots of greenery. Other parts of it are vey arid and dry as a bone.

When we were out on game drives we saw all types, but mostly the dry, arid types as that was where the game was – en route to a watering hole, usually.

They can’t all live by a watering hole – the predators would corner them and they have to go great distances to forage for food. They like the open spaces to run away. I think that’s the case. If they’re lucky.

flying_okavongo_delta3

There’s a more typical bit of arid space and a big watering hole. In the winter – the rainy season, all of those slightly green areas are abundantly full of water. The cycle of seasons in Africa is quite distinct and it’s hard on all the animals during the dry season as they have to go great distances to find water, which most of them do at least twice a day.

Posted in Travel, on November 5th, 2015.

pom_pom_waiting_lounge_termnal_1

Passenger Waiting Lounge, Pom Pom Airport, Okavango Delta

Like that picture? We went in and out of this airport (nothing but a compacted sand strip) several times as we hopped and skipped between safari camps. And indeed, one of the times our plane had mechanical trouble and we had to wait – in that lovely little covered space, for about 15 minutes (yes, in the 100° heat) until another plane came to get us. We also referred to that hut as “baggage claim,” and most commonly “Terminal One.” We all had many a laugh about that rickety structure!

Once we arrived here, the safari trucks (Land Rovers or Land Cruisers) met us – they’d be waiting in the shade nearby if they could find it and once we’d landed they’d drive up to the bush planes. Baggage out (sometimes food for the camp too) and into the waiting trucks we’d go, for another bumpy, hot ride to our next camp. This time it was to Xaranna, pronounced ka-ran-ah. We arrived in time for lunch. The staff would meet and greet us with dance and song, and more of those cold washcloths and a fruit drink to quench our thirst.

Here’s a typical day in the bush, at a safari camp:

bush_planes_mackair1. 5:30 AM A staff member would come to our cabin outside (remember, mostly no walls, just screens or canvas tarps) and call to us  – “it’s 5:30, time to get up; breakfast at 6:00.” We’d answer and say we were awake. We’d quick-like get up, wash our faces (no time for a shower – no sense anyway because we were going to be out in the dust and sand in the bush), throw on our every-other-day safari outfits (remember, we had but two), maybe put on a dash of eye make-up and lipstick, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.

2. 6:00 AM Having trekked to the lodge (sometimes only 100 yards, sometimes 1/4 mile, being ever watchful of wild game wandering through the camp) there would be coffee and tea, bread or croissants, toast, fruit, juices, sometimes muffins, sometimes some cheese. Although we always needed water, the more fluid we drank the more risk there was that we’d have to ask for a “comfort stop” on the game drive. Nobody really wanted to ask. Because of the heat, very few times did we have to ask because we were all somewhat dehydrated the entire time. We’d wolf down some food and at about 6:27 the guide would call us all to go climb on the Land Rovers. And off we’d go. With me on the game drives was: my long-sleeved shirt, usually wearing it, my camera, my safari hat, a Kleenex stuffed into a pocket, and a bottle of water. Oh, and my dark glasses for sure!

comfort_stop_table_xaranna3. 6:30 AM We’re off on a game drive that would last for 3 to 4 1/2 hours. All depended on how much game we saw and how far afield we went from the safari camp. Bone-jarring rides in the Land Rover. At first, at 6:30, it’s cool – very pleasant – but within about an hour it begins to heat up and has reached the high 90s by about 10 or 11 AM. Wickedly hot. If we wore a long-sleeved safari shirt, it got peeled off soon enough. But we all wore our safari hats, with the chin strap fastened securely. I’ll do a blog post about the animals (a separate post altogether and put all the animal photos in one post). Sometimes we’d stop for refreshments part way through – coffee, tea, Amarula, snacks (usually peanuts and dried mango slices) and cold soft drinks and beer.

4. 11:00 AM – (approximately) back to the lodge, with cold washcloths and a cold drink. Refresh ourselves at the lodge co-ed bathroom, wander around, stretch our legs a bit, then a lovely sit-down lunch with a couple of courses. Always good food everywhere (this was an Abercrombie & Kent tour, remember). Wine was offered at both lunch and dinner. I preferred a very cold Coke Light on lots of ice.

5. 1:00 PM – (approximately) trek to our tent cabins for an afternoon rest, a snooze, reading, relaxation, watching for game wandering through the cabins, maybe a dunk in our private pool and/or a refreshing cold shower.

6. 4:00 PM – meet back at the lodge for “afternoon tea.” Usually it was a dessert of some kind and whatever kind of drinks, hot or cold, that you wanted.

xaranna_tent_cabin

Our tent cabin at Xaranna, partially clad in wood, screened around the front (the view).

7. 4:30 PM – afternoon game drive. All aboard, and off we’d go for another 2 1/2 – 3 hour game drive. Usually to see the same animals, but we never saw everything on every game drive. Always there were birds, usually elephant, always some impala (remember, they’re kind of the bottom of the food chain for the wild cat family). We’d stop part way through and have a sundowner – same as the morning refreshment stop except that there would be gin and tonic, bourbon, and other types of alcohol, beer, Amarula, soft drinks and water. We’d stand around the Land Rovers sipping drinks, looking out in the distance, aware of the silence.

8. 7:00 PM – (approximately) back to the camp, maybe time to refresh ourselves before dinner. Often we’d gather for a drink and appetizers on the main deck of the lodge, talking, telling stories about the different experiences on the game drives.

9. 7:30-8:00 PM – dinner at the lodge. Always sit down – sometimes within the confines of the lodge; sometimes out on the sand around the lodge. Often a campfire (did we need a campfire? absolutely not, but it was part of the ambiance).

10. 9-10:00 PM – a walk, with a guide, and a flashlight, to our tent cabins and we’d promptly fall sound asleep. Sometimes we’d wake up in the middle of the night to hear animals nearby (baboons playing on the roof) or something furtive going by the tent. I never was scared inside our tents despite the mammoth elephants that walked by.

elephants_by_pool_xaranna

At Xaranna, as I mentioned earlier, I was surrounded by a herd of female elephants and their babies one afternoon. Gwenda was over at the lodge and I was just resting, when I heard rustling. I looked up and here were elephants very softly foraging for new, green leaves on the trees and shrubs around my tent. I dared not open any of the screens as they were no more than 5 feet from me, and with babies in the midst I knew the mamas would be alarmed. I did open the bathroom door enough to take this picture at left of two adolescent elephants foraging around the plunge pool at our cabin. They took a little drink now and then. They didn’t seem to be alarmed with me there – the only thing that was outside the room was my iPad and my forearms.

baobob_trees_decor

There at right is a little bit of décor at one of the camps – made with dried bark and twigs, they’re a depiction of baobab trees. I wished I could have bought some, but there was no place whatsoever to put them in my little duffle bag! After doing some research online, these baobab trees may be made of painted (dried) banana leaves. Very clever. If I ever find them online, I’ll be ordering at least one.

xaranna_terrace

There’s the lodge deck as we relaxed in the late afternoon. There were always plenty of places to sit and read, relax or write notes at a table, and be served a refreshing drink or cocktail. Always there was someone available to help.

Each of the camps did have a tiny gift shop. They didn’t have a lot of merchandise, but some were baskets and trinkets made by the staff during their off hours, or during the off season. Still I was limited because of my small duffle and no room to put anything. At the last camp many of us bought some things – because we’d unloaded the safari clothes and left them for the employees to use or give away – so I did buy some things. They’re sitting on the mantle in my master bedroom – I need to take photos of them to share here on my blog.

If you click on the links (the safari camp names) in all of my posts about the safari camps you’ll get a much better overview of the camps and how luxurious they are, and how open they are to the savannas. My photos don’t do them justice.

cotton_grass

That’s something they call cotton grass. There have been fires in the Okavango Delta in recent years and the cotton grass is one of the things that comes up after a fire. My photo doesn’t show it very well, but the cotton grass went on and on almost as far as the eye could see in this area.

game_drive_2nd_seat

That was my view, most frequently, when we were out on a game drive. I preferred to sit in the front row seats, mostly because as a very short person, getting into the lower level (that’s still up about 3 feet above ground but requires agility to get in) was always a challenge. The taller people had an easier time climbing into the higher tiers.

The road there in the picture is actually in really good shape – I think this was the road to the airport. The tracker is sitting out front and he’s eyeballing the road for animal tracks. Every trip to or from an airport was also an opportunity to see game. He’s holding onto a bar on his left side, attached to the seat, so he can stay in place. The roads were bumpy, and when I say bumpy, they were BUMPY. Had he not held on he’d be tossed off the Land Rover in a jiffy. One thing I never realized, when you watch National Geographic or documentaries about African wild animals is that all of Africa is just a maze, a spider web, an irregular one, of tracks. The single-file tracks are either people tracks from one village to another, or elephant tracks. And the 2-tracks, obviously are used by vehicles. All the animals, but particularly the elephants and the cats, use the tracks and roads to get around. This was such a surprise to me – I just assumed they went their own way, regardless of a road or track, but they find it very easy to get around – easier than strolling in the ordinary bush. Not that they don’t go off-road – they do – but when they want to get from one place to another they use the roads just like we do!

When you fly over Africa, at low altitude (which we did in between the different camps) you can really see the maze. I’ll post pictures of that at the end of my African sojourn.elephant_hole

Now there, is an elephant hole. Perhaps a few weeks before this it held some water (see the mud all around), and the elephants used it as a small watering hole. But as the savanna began to dry out in the spring heat, the holes dry up. And because the elephants are smart – very smart – they will dig down into a drying up flattish watering hole to try to find more water, rather than walk another mile, perhaps, to find a bigger water source. So they use their feet to dig. This hole didn’t happen to be ON a road, but on one of our game drive trips the tracker, who is responsible for looking out for elephant holes, was scanning off in the distance, and BOOM, we drove the left front wheel right into an elephant hole. Needless to say, the Land Rover came to a complete stop with the front wheel down about 2-3 feet into the hole. The tracker went flying off. I ended up in the left seatmate’s lap, my knees jammed into the roll bar in front of me, and my camera took a flying leap. Fortunately it landed inside the truck and wasn’t damaged. I was amazed. No one was hurt, thankfully. We all had a laugh about it, though. When you think about hazards in the bush, you may not realize until you’ve been there that an elephant hole can be a serious one!

land_rover_tracker_seat

Another view of the tracker’s seat, attached to the front bumper of the trucks, with a roll bar and wire foot rest. You can just barely see the handle on the far side of the seat. The back folds down when no one is sitting in it, and when we began tracking cats, the tracker gets into the body of the truck – too dangerous to stay out front.

xaranna_sunset

Up in the treetop you can see a bird. It was a lilac-crested roller, I think, though I wasn’t taking notes. I might be wrong. In that waning sunset light even if I blew it up I’m not sure. The sunsets on the savanna were absolutely beyond gorgeous.

Posted in Travel, on November 1st, 2015.

At the camp in Zambia, we were there to visit Victoria Falls. The day before we were told that unfortunately, in October, there is no water flowing on the Zambia side of “Vic Falls.” We all gave a collective groan. Oh no. But they said if we were willing to pay extra, they’d take us into Zimbabwe, we’d pay for a Zimbabwe car/van and guide. We all did that. That’s why it was fortunate we’d all decided to get the visa that encompassed a few other countries, so we were able to get into Zimbabwe. So off we went. First we came to the Zambia border crossing (the leaving Zambia side). Picture below was approaching it. I think this is much like I’ve seen on tv. People waiting for people. People wanting to sell trinkets. Our guide wanted us to have nothing to do with the hawkers there. It wasn’t very nice to look at – lots of squalor and trash. Poor people. They weren’t living there, just spending the day there. But maybe they were eking out a living this way. There were dozens and dozens of semi’s parked along the road, waiting and waiting. Only trucks of a certain size are allowed to cross the bridge (see below), and I’m guessing they do it mostly at night when there isn’t much tourist traffic.border_crossing_zimbabwe_thumb1

We parked and all of us trouped into the small building and waited in line for someone to eyeball our passports and stamp us out. Back in the van we shortly came to a bridge.

Now, I’d never heard of the Victoria Falls Bridge before, and I’d suppose, unless you’ve been there, you probably haven’t, either. It’s an arch bridge, constructed in 1904-05 by an English engineering firm. It victoria_falls_bridge_thumb1was fully constructed in England, then shipped to Africa and re-constructed. When the workers got close to meeting the two sections in the middle, they were absolutely perplexed because there was a gap – the bridge didn’t meet. Oh my. The team of workers left and “slept on it.” During the night, in the cooler air, the bridge relaxed and by golly, the next morning they discovered the bridge had come together. They locked it in place and it’s been there ever since. The bridge is 420 feet above the water below. Dizzying, I’ll tell you. Cars and trucks cross the bridge from both directions, but only one at a time – it has just one lane. Safety concerns were voiced about 10+ years ago, so the bridge was somewhat reinforced. On some tours people are encouraged to walk the open grid cat-walk underneath the bridge. Not me. Actually, doing that wasn’t offered to our group. There’s also a bungee jump from the center of the bridge. And sure enough, while we were there someone made a jump.

vic_falls1We did another border control stop on the other side of the bridge – to get into Zimbabwe, went through a museum about the local national park there, then drove further and parked. Our guide said, as we were standing in that 100°+ heat, that we needed to take the right path first, to go to the bridge (where I took the photo above), then we’d take the longer meander along the edges of the cliffs to take photos of the falls themselves.

And oh, are they glorious. They’re in a chasm, a gorge, plunging down over 400 feet. It’s mesmerizing. Noisy. Misty. A place to take in the power of God who created this magical place.

vic_falls2

Note the man (a native) standing on the far side. He was a guide, leading a group of Asians who had purchased a special tour package – right where he’s standing the group was going to jump down into that little niche below him. It’s a sort of cauldron, a pool, where you can sit in the cauldron for awhile with just your head above water. And then he would lead you up onto some precarious steps and climb your way out. We didn’t stay long enough to see the people do it. There were about 6-7 people carefully picking their way to where the guide was standing – it was obviously very rocky and uneven because it took them a long time to go 50 yards.

vic_falls3

We just continued to walk along the path, with occasional viewpoints. And can I just tell you how unbelievably hot it was? Oh my. We were all soaked through in sweat – nothing to do with the mist!

vic_falls4

We had no time to go down further (picture left) but with that picture you can see the depth of the gorge and the power of the mist.

Back in the van we retraced our paths, going into the border crossing building – to leave Zimbabwe – to drive across that bridge again, having to wait awhile as there was a bit of a traffic jam waiting – then stopping on the other side to re-enter Zambia, getting our passports stamped there also. So hot. I thought I was going to faint. Cold water in hand, that quickly warmed to 100° bottled water. I learned on this trip that I don’t much like sipping 100° water. But when you’re dehydrated, you’ll drink anything!

That concluded our Vic Falls visit. We went back to our lodge near Livingstone, rested up, had a lovely dinner, then departed the next morning for our next camp.

Posted in Travel, on October 29th, 2015.

sussi_chuma_overview_river

That’s the Sussi & Chuma safari camp, near Livingstone, Zambia. We’re on a boat out in the Zambezi river. My cabin is on the left, nestled down low in the middle of those green trees at the left – you can barely see it. On the far right was the bar where we enjoyed drinks both nights, along with the bugs. At the center right is the pool – an infinity pool actually (where the speck of red is). The lodge itself is back behind those buildings. If you go to the website you can see a beautiful shot of the lodge.

We flew from Johannesburg to Livingstone – about a 90-minute flight. Livingstone is named for the 19th century Scottish explorer who lived in and around this area on many of his expeditions. Susi and Chuma were his loyal attendants through all of his years in Africa. Per his wish, upon Livingstone’s death, Chuma & Susi (both spellings of Susi or Sussi are found) removed his heart and it’s buried nearby. His body was shipped back to Scotland. So, the safari camp took the Chuma and Sussi names to give it some local credence, I suppose.

At the airport we paid $50 for a visa that would allow us to visit several countries in this area – good thing, as we ended up going to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls. Entering Zimbabwe hadn’t been on the itinerary. Also at the airport someone stood near the passport control and pointed a small hand-held box at our heads (not in our ears) to take our body temp. That’s how they check for Ebola. None of the countries in southern Africa have had Ebola, thankfully. From the airport we took our first bouncing rides into the remote bush.

bed_sussi_chuma_livingstoneOnce we arrived at the camp – at every camp – we were greeted by the staff – all of them singing, clapping and dancing – and smiling as we pulled up into the camp. The guides always called ahead on the walkie-talkies to tell them we were about 10 minutes away. We were given chilled washcloths to clean our hands and faces (so welcome after being in the dusty bush), and usually some kind of fruit juice drink or iced cold water to quench our thirst. We’d walk into the camp lodge, find a seat, then we were given a little orientation, this being our first one about living in the camps. To learn things like “don’t go to your tent cabins at night without one of our guides.” Interpretation: there may be animals, snakes, the elephants may have destroyed the walkway (very common) or some kind of danger. Or, “don’t drink the water from the tap.”tree_house_room Interpretation: dysentery may ensue. Bottled (filtered) water was always available. “Use the air horn if you’re in danger at your cabin.” Interpretation: probably wild animals are nearby or baboons are ransacking the tent cabin exterior, or as in my case, come get me because my cabin has been surrounded by elephants for 2 hours. Or, as was the case in a couple of the camps, the power went off at the cabins, which meant in the very small space underneath the A/C units (hung on the wall up above the beds) wasn’t cool anymore, so it quickly became unbearable. In most of the tent cabins we had no way to talk to the staff (no intercom or phone) so the only way to get someone’s attention was by using the air horn. Above was our first tent cabin bed. Yes, we had to ask them to make it into 2 beds. And yes, at EVERY safari camp the mosquito netting was put down and around the bed EVERY night. And at right above is the tree house we stayed in. It’s elevated about 10-12 feet above the ground and you walk on wood catwalks to get to-fro to the lodge. We never saw elephants below ours, but many others did.

Daytimes we could make our own assessment of the safety – of walking between our tent cabins and the lodge. Many times over the 2 weeks at safari camps we encountered animals, and frequently we stepped in elephant dung. It just gets matted down and becomes part of the fauna of the paths. Fresh dung we stepped over, thank you. See why I left my pair of closed-toed Skechers behind? If elephants were around, nobody challenged them to rights to the paths – we were told to go back to our cabins and wait until they’d moved on. They’re somewhat used to seeing people at a distance away, but not up close.

All of the camps we stayed in were luxury ones. And even though our rooms were tent cabins and somewhat rustic, they were still luxury. I’m making a water_color_bostwanageneralization here, but I think we had much better food than some camps (based on my conversations with other friends who have done similar tours in the last year or so). And except for one, we had an A/C unit over the bed in every camp. I think that constitutes luxury out in the bush. There is no wired electricity from a power plant – this is the African bush – they run generators, or some have solar panels too. We had ample water for showers and baths every day, although the water is loaded with iron and is discolored. See photo. I’d been told not to take white clothes because they wouldn’t come back white. And yes, I washed and showered in that water. It was clean, just loaded with iron. Most camps, the water strangling_figwasn’t as dark as this in the photo (that photo taken at another camp). The camps do your laundry for you (except underwear).

In the afternoons, after lunch, all of us went to our cabins and rested. I sprawled on the bed and cranked up the A/C to full power if I had a choice, and just laid there trying to get tell myself I was getting cooler.  Sometimes not very successfully! I read a lot and rested or napped. Remember, it was about 100° every day, and even with the small A/C unit running, it brought the temp down by only 6-8° I’d guess, providing you were right under it. At night, once the mosquito netting was down, that seemed to confine the cool air some, so we were usually more comfortable sleeping and the temps did go down at night.

Above is a tree with a strangling fig killing the main tree. It takes sometimes years, but eventually the main tree dies and the strangling fig flourishes using the main tree as its anchor. Kind of sad, I thought. Sort of like mistletoe.

tree_on_zambezi

One of the nights we took a boat ride – a sundowner cruise, they’re called – and saw all kinds of wildlife. This was our first views of African wildlife – we saw elephant, kudu, impala, crocodile, baboons and dozens and dozens of hippos.

zambezi_hippo_boat

There were two boats of us, and those little black things beyond the boat are hippos. More pictures of them below.

hippo_zambezi

I didn’t get a photo of them with their monstrous yawning jaws open. You see them in the river because of their ears – the body could possible be a rock, you’d think, except their ears are brownish pink and they flutter – then you know they’re hippos. They were feeding. Hippos walk on the bottom and then rise up to breathe. We didn’t get very close to them – it’s not advisable. There were youngsters in that group too.

zambezi_view1

The guides drove the boats into the shore near here – several hundred yards away from the hippos – and sat in them and had a sundowner (a drink – any drink – it doesn’t matter – it’s just that it’s partaken at sundown). The guides brought out all kinds of alcohol and mixers, plus nuts and nibbles for us to eat. All while sitting in the boat. Baboons were nearby playing – fortunately they didn’t bother us. I had a gin and tonic, the only type of drink I had on the whole trip, I think. Oh, other than the Amarula.

Posted in Travel, on October 27th, 2015.

saxon_hotel_pool_johannesburg

Unless you study the art of safari travel, people don’t know that the jumping-off point for safaris for southern Africa is from Johannesburg. Jo’burg doesn’t have a very good reputation. I can’t exactly tell you why – but many consider it a dangerous place to be. We didn’t see the downtown – we drove from the airport to a remote residential area to a lovely oasis of a hotel called the Saxon. Abercrombie & Kent insisted our group should stay saxon_room_twin_bedsthere, rather than at one of the plain-Jane hotels at the airport. And oh, was it ever lovely. Once through their very secure gates, behind high walls, we were treated to a luxury hotel experience. The Saxon is on a huge piece of land, all lushly landscaped. The hotel could have been anywhere – as we were totally insulated from the outside elements, cocooned inside the sprawling grounds and treated so very well. We arrived quite my_last_latte_saxonearly in the morning, and as luck would have it, none of our rooms were yet available. So, the hotel encouraged us to go into the restaurant and have breakfast – their gorgeous breakfast buffet. We did. Then we lounged outside for awhile, even waiting long enough to need lunch. Once our rooms were ready, most of us took a nap (we’d flown all night), and then gathered on the beautiful terrace for dinner. I was very sorry to leave there the next morning. But leave we had to do. The bed above was two twins very close together. Gwenda and I gave up on trying to get rooms that had separated twin beds. There at the foot of the bed you can see our two duffle bags, one each, of course. The bathroom (see photo below) was quite luxurious.

Our next morning we had breakfast, again, in the dining room (lovely food) and I ordered a latte. It was to be my last latte for the next 2+ weeks. It was delicious.

We journeyed back to the airport by small bus and took a flight from there to Livingstone, in Zambia.saxon_bath

Posted in Travel, on October 25th, 2015.

dubai_skyline1

Just one of the views from the hotel, the Taj Dubai, somewhat on the perimeter of 2015 Dubai. In another year all the empty space you see in that photo will be completely filled in with more buildings. I think I counted 9 cranes working on the rooftops of the buildings just in that view.

Let me backtrack just a little bit. The small group tour I was on (planned by my travel agent, Carol) had 16 people, including Carol and her husband (they are long time personal friends). The tour actually started in Johannesburg, but all 16 of us had to get there, and there are many ways to do that. Carol recommended I go by Air Emirates, the airline of Dubai (UAE – United Arab Emirates). It’s one of the top reviewed airlines for comfort and safety, and the price, flying business class, was reasonable, I thought. It was about $6,000. If you haven’t priced going on safari, you may be in for a surprise – it’s very pricey. Had I gone solo (without a roommate) the trip would have been over $25,000. Fortunately, I did have a roommate, Gwenda. She is good friends with others who were traveling on this trip, so it worked out well. I didn’t know her prior to this trip, but we got along very well. Having a roommate brought the price of the trip down to something in between $16,000-18,000. Even with the business class tickets.

air_emirates_biz_class_seatI suggested to Gwenda that we fly to Dubai 2 days early, just so we could do a bit of touring in Dubai. I probably won’t ever be in that part of the world again, so might as well give it a whirl. Gwenda was game, so we flew from LAX (Los Angeles) to DBX (Dubai) nonstop on an A380. Just so you know, going that direction it was about 15 1/2 hours, which I find amazing. I can’t imagine how big the fuel tanks are! And wow, what a plane. There at right is my little space – it was all mine. Storage compartments under the windows, a console on the near side with an iPad to use if I chose to. The seats were very comfortable and once airborne with the touch of a button the seat moves forward and my feet went into a well in the seat ahead of me and the seat makes into a completely flat bed. We were served wonderful meals and I managed to sleep about 6 hours, I think. I watched 3 movies (nothing memorable) and read on my Kindle quite a bit.

The Dubai airport – all I can say is WOW. It is gigantic, and opulent. Vast, high ceilings, marble and sparkle everywhere. Very clean – spotless, actually. We got through customs, immigration, passport control, etc. No visa is required to visit Dubai unless you’re staying awhile. We were met by a driver who whisked us off to our hotel. The Taj Dubai is quite new and they were offering fairly affordable room rates. If you’ve never priced hotel rooms in Dubai before, you’ll be in for a shock. Most rooms are about $800-900 a night. Carol managed to get us a deal at this new hotel, at not quite half that price (and only because the hotel is new and trying to gain tourist traction).

dubai_skyline_harborSo what’s Dubai like? It’s not normal to most people. It’s a city of skyscrapers, every bit of it, almost. Dubai (situated right on the ocean, the Gulf of Oman) didn’t exist 13 years ago. It was nothing but sand. In a way, Dubai is similar to Las Vegas in that it’s nothing but big buildings. But there aren’t neon lights, nothing blinking – just a vast landscape of tall buildings in mostly shades of gray (cement and glass) in varying shapes. Architects have had a field-day in Dubai, designing ever more elaborate ways to build a high-rise with jutting blocks or rounded shapes. In the photo at left, the far left building actually curves 90°; it was designed by an American architect.

We took a 4-5 hour city tour on our last day there and gotImage result for palm jumeirah to see some more of the high rise landscape, including the Palm Island, the one that was built out into the sea in the shape of a palm tree (picture at right from wikipedia). It’s quite a tourist attraction. The leaves of the palm are all residential, and access is denied unless you live there. But getting from the base to the far tip (up the trunk of the palm) is public, lined with huge sprawling hotels. Those are not high rises, except the one at the end. We visited the harbor area (the older part of the city) with boats of all shapes and sizes, lined with restaurants and hotels.

One important fact you need to know about Dubai – the drinking of alcohol is somewhat limited. If you LIVE in Dubai you’re issued a card that permits you to buy a minimum of alcohol in a month. They want no drunkards there. Hotels serve alcohol, and ALL restaurants are attached to hotels so they can serve alcohol. Dubai is a very cosmopolitan city – very upscale. Most everyone is well dressed (except Gwenda and me who were en route to safaris, so we didn’t have very nice clothes. Remember, they had to fit in the duffle. I wore my airplane outfit all 3 days we were there. I was really embarrassed, but I couldn’t do a thing about it. ceramic_bottles_dubai_hotel

Those pretty ceramic bottles were on a high shelf in our hotel room. We saw some beautiful ceramics in our travels around Dubai. Including this ceramic_pot_dubai_hotellovely piece at left, sitting on a table near the elevator on our hotel floor. I wanted to buy it and ship it home. Alas, I never saw anything like it in our shopping travels in the city.dubai_hotel_chair_lobby

At right was a very pretty, traditional kind of wing chair, but it had a lovely purple and gold back cushion. Quite elegant looking I thought. Behind it is the hotel lobby. We ate breakfast and dinner in the hotel. Lunches we had out – both times a restaurant in the Dubai Mall.

You may not have heard about the Dubai Mall – oh my gosh – it’s gigantic. I don’t know if it’s larger than the Mall of America, but it was 4 stories high and about the size of 2-3 city blocks. It houses an aquarium, a 4-story waterfall (pictures below right), an ice rink (only one person was skating when we walked by), a big movie theater, and one entire area with nothing but children’s stores. Probably about 40-50 children’s clothing stores mostly, maybe a couple of toy stores. Lots of mothers with their children – mothers wearing an abaya, children colorfully dressed. One day we had a Subway sandwich. You’d be surprised how many American restaurants exist in Dubai. They’re everywhere. The other day, believe it or not, we wanted to have a carbonated beverage with our lunch, and many restaurants don’t serve them (no, I don’t know why) and finally we found Coke Light at the Rainforest Café. dubai_mall_waterfallNOT where I wanted to eat, for sure. But it was convenient. There is lots of beef in the Middle East (no pork in Dubai, obviously), and ample vegetarian selections too.

No expense is spared in Dubai. Everything we saw was quite elegantly outfitted. Lots of luscious velvet, marble, polished brass, silver, pewter, tile. And the waterfall there at right is many stories high with the sculpted divers looking like they are headed for the pool at the bottom. Nearby there is a huge Bellagio-style synchronized water fountain. Shows are offered at 1 and 1:30 in the afternoon, then every half hour in the evenings. To see it you must go outside. With the temps over 100, I opted not to watch it. We visited a Starbucks so my roomie could buy a Starbucks’ Dubai coffee mug for her son. There were many famous label designer stores there as well. And a Pottery Barn. Really!

One evening we had pub food in the honest-to-goodness British pub in the hotel. I certainly wasn’t expecting fish and chips in Dubai. There is definitely a British influence there, though.

dubai_mall_sign

Note the Arabic signs. Fortunate for me much of their signage is in English and in Arabic.

There was a Mario Batali Eataly store in the Dubai Mall. We walked through it – didn’t find anything we wanted – but we couldn’t buy anything as it had to go into that tiny duffle bag anyway.

No question, there is a lot of money in the Middle East. Dubai has oil money, and Saudi Arabia is just a hop skip and a jump on the freeway. The Saudis come to Dubai often, and I would guess they spend well. abaya_store_1

See photo at right – a store for abayas. They were having a sale. I didn’t see anyone in the man_kundura_fountain_dubai_mallstore. Many of the women wear only black with an almost full veil. Others were dressed with color (as in the mannequin in the middle).  Our guide on our city tour filled us in on a lot of the dress customs. Many of the men were dressed in kundara (as the man at left was busy on his cell phone in front of the fountain). We learned about studying the male head dress (you can tell where they’re from) and the shoes (men from Saudi wear black dress shoes – the Dubai men wear sandals). Cell phone use is every bit as prevalent there as it is anywhere. When we sat at the Rainforest Café a family of Chinese sat next to us. They were speaking their native language, and as soon as they ordered, all 6 people in the group began using their cell phones and didn’t talk to one another. Such a sad state of affairs!

view_122nd_floor

We went up in the extremely tall spire, a focal point in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa. We zipped up the 120+ floors in 50 seconds and walked all around taking pictures of the view. At one time the building was the tallest in the world, but some other city has taken over the honors now. It was pretty amazing.

In the photo at right the bottom left is the Dubai Mall. The building next to it is one of the very popular hotels, and at the bottom is the water fountain.

Burj_al_arab_dubai

At left is the famous Burj Al Arab – also a hotel – one of the earlier ones built in Dubai. Each suite in the hotel is 2 of the floors you see there. I don’t remember for sure, but I think the guide told us that the hotel rented that 2-floor suite for about $40,000 a night. I cannot imagine . . .

Dubai is a top get-away destination for people from India and other parts of the Middle East. There are people there of every nationality, and dress is as varied as you can imagine. We did see a few women in scantily clad short-shorts, but not many.

What I didn’t mention to you is that almost all of our time was spent indoors. We did our level best to STAY indoors as much as possible because it was insufferably hot and humid (100° and 100% humidity). I can’t imagine living there, yet lots of people are in love with the place. There are virtually no sidewalks – almost no one walks anywhere – you take taxis. Our hotel was close to the Dubai Mall, but there was no way to get to there, so we took a hotel shuttle, and a taxi to return. The little bit of time we spent outside was awful – we were drenched in sweat in minutes.

But, we did it. We saw it. I can now say I’ve been there, done that. No real wish to return.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...