Archive for August, 2011

t4_imageOnce again playing catch-up on the books I have read this summer – I finally finished Fall of Giants by Ken Follett and enjoyed it immensely.  I am a big fan of Mr. Follett’s work.  From the iconic “Pillars of the Earth” to his thrillers like Eye of the Needle, and the excellent Night Over Water, Mr. Follett is a master story teller.

About Fall of Giants: Fall of Giants is (Ken Follett’s) magnificent new historical epic. The first novel in The Century Trilogy, it follows the fates of five interrelated families-American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh-as they move through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.”

Fall of Giants is not a breezy read, the story is epic and there is much exposition as the author is setting everything up for the entire trilogy to come.  This first volume of the planned trilogy focuses on the early years of the 20th century through World War I.

Like many Americans, I am not nearly as familiar with World War I as other conflicts in history.  Although fiction, reading this book gave me a better understanding of what led up to the war, the true devastation that resulted from it, and the impact it had on the world for decades to come.  This history is the backdrop to the lives of compelling characters Mr. Follett has created, from heroes to villains to everything in between, Mr. Follett presents a cast of characters seemingly independent of each other who inevitably cross paths.

Again, not a mindless beach escape novel, but if you are looking for a novel that is entertaining, thrilling and rewarding – then Fall of Giants may be a good bet.  If you are already a fan of Mr. Follett’s novels, then reading this is a must.

Fall of Giants is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

LGPWhen I was a kid going back-to-school the best I could hope for where book covers made out of paper bags, and the closest thing to an iPad I had was an Etch-a-Sketch.  Although I would never want to be a kid again (being a grown-up is way more fun) I do envy the options today’s students have to customize their school stuff.

Case in point, the cool coordinating school supplies I recently found at Lifeguard Press

About Lifeguard Press’ designer school supplies: “Wow your friends, classmates, and even teachers with coordinating school supplies from top designers Lilly Pulitzer, Jonathan Adler, or Dylan’s Candy Bar. Stock up on our designer notebooks, colorful pens, pencils & highlighters, iPad sleeves / netbook sleeves, laptop sleeves, patterned file folders, stationery, sticky notes & notepads, and of course, our agendas. Go beyond your standard supplies for school and throw in a candy-scented iPhone® cover or a desk dock organizer! Then be the talk of the lunchroom crowd with an insulated lunch bag tote and coordinating water bottle or thermal mug!”

These designer school supplies are so fun you may want to buy some for your non-school life – imagine taking notes at your next board meeting with one of these cool Jonathan Adler pens?

See the full line of Lifeguard Press’ designer school supplies here.

Checkout all of the cool stuff Lifeguard Press offers here.

ts1My house-sitting gig I have been writing about for the past few days was right in the path of Hurricane Irene.  This put a little bit of a damper (pun intended) on my plans for my time here.  It also put a little more responsibility on me for the other part of my gig – caring for friends’ three dogs and three cats.

I was particularly worried about the littlest three adorable Yorkies, Chloe.  Chloe is so small and so adorable, I worry that I am going to step on her or something.  Or worse, I worry that a hawk is going to swoop down and take her away while I am playing with her in the yard. 

The extra responsibility came with Chloe’s fear of thunder and loud noises that come along with storms like Irene.  I was told about her shaking and hiding and it broke my heart to think that she would suffer during the long duration of the storm.

But I need not have worried… I had Thundershirt.  This is going to sound like shameless plug for a commercial product, but it is a sincere endorsement.

Thundershirt is basically a compression shirt that makes a dog feel secure when under stress – just like the kind Chloe suffers from. It turned out that my friend had ordered one of the shirts for Chloe and reported that it had worked.

About Thundershirt: “With its patent-pending design, Thundershirt’s gentle, constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs if they are anxious, fearful or over-excited. Based on surveys completed by over two thousand customers, over 80% of dogs show significant improvement in symptoms when using Thundershirt. Thundershirt is already helping tens of thousands of dogs around the world, and is recommended by thousands of veterinarians and dog trainers.”

The other night I was hanging out on the front porch in the humid calm before the storm when the first bands of rain came through.  It was really nice to be out there – so warm, no wind and the falling rain.  However, off in the distance I heard a single clap of thunder and quickly ran into the house to find Chloe awake from her most recent nap and she was already shaking.

I quickly found the Thudershirt and put it on her.  She looked so cute in it – but more importantly, she calmed down and settled right back into her calm.  I kept it on for the duration of the storm and she was a dream.

Meanwhile, thankfully Irene as a whole was just remnants of a tropical storm by the time she reached us just south of Boston.  However, there was a lot of rain and wind and left some minor clean up for me in the yard.  But the silver lining was higher water levels on the pond – perfect for some late summer canoeing.

Chloe riding out the storm in her Thundershirt:

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t1As I have mention many times here, I have been trying to plant things for years and have not had much success.  My garden of choice has been container gardens with herbs, vegetables and the occasional flower.

My permanent gardens at the New Hampshire home are country gardens – which means I don’t touch them and just sit back and wait to see what comes up every summer.  I have enjoyed this, as the wildflowers and random cultivated plants have turned out to be quite pretty – if unorganized.

Because of my ignorance, I don’t weed too much.  There are some things that I would have pulled as weeds that grew into gorgeous flowers – so I have learned not to be too rash.

I admire anyone with the so-called “green thumb.”  To help me in my garden pursuits I rely on the fun little kits that make growing fun and easy.  Like the fun products offered by Dune Craft.

Dune Craft has some great micro terrariums.  I purchased a couple of them, including:

Tasty Herb Egg: “This delectable collection of herbs is sure to amaze your eyes and tantalize your taste buds. Basil, sage, and several other herbs will sprout in a matter of days and are ready to sprinkle on salad within a month.”

Rocket plant:  “Watch in amazement as the Rocket Plant speeds through its life cycle. This extraordinary plant will grow, flower, and produce seeds of its own within two months of sprouting.”

I placed the micro terrariums on the window sill in the kitchen, and sure enough they sprouted within a couple of days.  I plan to transplant them out to the containers on the back porch for some end of season results. 

Check out the micro terrariums and all of the fun planting items from Dune Craft here.

GE.D4.2One of the things I was looking forward to while house-sitting this week just south of Boston was taking advantage of all the great culture the area has to offer. I was thrilled to learn that the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) just outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA was mounting a revival of George and Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess.

I was even more thrilled to find out the production was set to star the wonderful Audra McDonald and would be running while I was in the area. I immediately purchased a ticket and was looking forward to seeing the show.  So there I was yesterday, while waiting for hurricane/tropical storm Irene to hit the area, I was fortunate to have a great seat for the afternoon matinee of this amazing new production, which will be transferring to Broadway next season.

From A.R.T.’s production notes: “In 1935, Porgy and Bess premiered at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. Now, 76 years later, the A.R.T. brings back Porgy and Bess in a new production. This classic American tale is set in the 1930s in Catfish Row, a neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. Bess, beautiful and troubled, turns to Porgy, the crippled beggar, in search of safety after her possessive lover Crown commits murder. As Porgy and Bess’s love grows, their future is threatened by Crown and the conniving Sporting Life.”

The heartbreaking love story of Porgy and Bess includes some of the most enduring music of the Gershwins including “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Summertime.”

The American Repertory Theater always does a great job, and with the iconic material by the Gershwins and the incredible talent of three-time Tony award winner Ms. McDonald and the whole cast, this was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

The show has been – somewhat controversially – re-imagined for modern audiences.  However, the core of the piece is intact and as beautiful as ever.  If you are in the Boston area in the coming weeks and love great musical theater, I highly recommend checking this show out.  Or, wait for what is sure to be a hot ticket when it hits New York and beyond.

Click here to see the A.R.T.’s interactive guide to Porgy and Bess.

GE.D3.3So let me paint the picture of my evenings here on my house-sitting gig at my friend’s pond-side retreat when I am not dodging hurricanes.  As the last light of day reflects on the pond and a light warm breeze rustles the trees, plants and flowers in the yard, I relax in the hammock that slowly rocks with my legs over the side and my feet anchored on the ground.  Nearby are a couple of lounging dogs and a cat or two.

Nearby I have set a small table. On the table I have my iPod linked to speakers with some nice music (the Avett Brothers are my band of the moment), a citronella candle, a glass of nice cold seltzer and two of my favorite things: a snifter of fine bourbon and nice fat cigar.  Ah!

There is nothing like winding down a summer’s evening with a little bourbon and a few puffs of a cigar.  Now, I am not really much of a drinker or a smoker, but these two long-standing manly pursuits are great – in moderation. 

There are many nice bourbons on the market these days.  I fancy Knob Creek a nice smooth drink that compliments a fine cigar.

About Knob Creek:  “Handcrafted in limited quantities, Knob Creek is aged nine years to fully draw out the natural sugars in its charred white oak barrels. As a result, this exceptional, full-bodied bourbon strikes the senses with a maple sugar aroma, distinctive sweetness and rich, woody, caramel flavor with a long, smooth finish. Made at 100 proof and created to reflect the flavor, strength, care and patience that defined pre-prohibition whiskey, Knob Creek is perfect straight or cooled slightly with one or two ice cubes.”

For my cigars, I use the online store of Famous Smoke Shop where you can find a huge selection of fine cigars in all price ranges.

About Famous Smoke Shop: “Famous Smoke Shop is the nation’s leading discount retailer of imported premium handmade cigars, offering one of the largest selections of premium cigars, cigar humidors, and cigar accessories.”

Again, I am not a regular drinker or smoker. However, I like to treat myself to the best of both when I have the opportunity.  I make it a little ritual, like something you do on special occasions which makes it all the more enjoyable.

Bourbon and/or cigars may not be your thing, but I am sure there are other things you can do to add a special touch to your relaxing evenings, and I suggest you make the time to do it when you can.

GE.D2.1While I am on my house-sitting gig at my friend Lynda’s pond-side home, I was looking forward to taking her canoe out for a spin.  Lynda and her husband have a few boats moored to a little dock on the pond including the canoe, a rowboat and a good-old-fashioned (read: FUN!) paddleboat.

I love canoes and the whole summer camp culture that they invoke.  Which is why I love Winnipesaukee Canoe Company, based near my New Hampshire home in lovely Wolfeboro Falls.  Winnipesaukee Canoe Company is dedicated to all things canoe, and they offer some products from model canoes, to canoe-inspired home decorations, and vintage canoe signs.

About Winnipesaukee Canoe Company:  “Winnipesaukee Canoe Company was created out of a love for wood canoes. There is something special about the way a wood canoe is constructed. From the ribs and gunwales to the seats. The beautiful patterns and lines painted on the canvas covering these early canoes, was equally as impressive as the construction itself.”

Winnipesaukee Canoe Company’s products are a great Find for those of us who love canoes and want to enjoy them even when we are not fortunate enough to be on a pond on a lovely summer’s day.

Check out Winnipesaukee Canoe Company here.

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lf1Starting today, I will be the guest blogger on my good friend Lynda’s wonderful blog, Grateful Evermore, while she and her husband are on a trip to Washington State.

Don’t worry LostCowboy fans, I will be continuing to post here as well, but I encourage you to check out what I am doing on Grateful Evermore, and while you are there look into the archives to see what the blog is all about.  I am confident you will love it as much as I do.

I am not only the guest blogger on the site, but I am also house- and dog-sit for Lynda at her lovely pond-side home on Boston’s glorious South Shore. I am taking a break from my home base in Carroll County, NH for a few days – so a visit to suburban Boston also means I also have an opportunity to enjoy all that this area has to offer

While Lynda is away, I will be resting in the lovely home and grounds she and her husband have created.  The house is amazing, with soaring windows overlooking the nature of the pond and beautiful gardens and hidden nooks perfect for relaxation.  I am most looking forward to lounging on the hammock in the front garden overlooking the pond; taking the canoe out for a spin; and taking Lynda’s three adorable Yorkies for walks and playing with them.

I will be co-posting most of what I write on Grateful Evermore here as well, so you won’t miss a thing.

Meanwhile, I have been told by many of you that the ability to comment on this site is not working.  We are trying to figure out what is going on there and hope to remedy it soon.  In the meantime, please email me directly with any questions and comments:  jim@lostcowboyfound.com.

CC1I am a little late with this, with Labor Day weekend only 10 days away, but I have been doing a ton of reading this summer and I wanted to share some of the better books I have read.

I was reminded to do this when I saw a list of the books President Obama took with him on his vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.  Less about the President’s reading and more about Martha’s Vineyard made me think of one of the great reading experiences I have had this summer: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

About Caleb’s Crossing: “Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.”

I really enjoyed reading this book as it did what good books can: it took me away to another time and place and had me fully engrossed in the world it described.  As a fan of history, New England and just a good story, this was the perfect book for summer reading.

The story is told in journal form from the perspective of a young girl whose family were early settlers of Martha’s Vineyard.  The story of her daily life and friendship with a native boy is the backbone of the book, but there also is a rich history of early colonial life described here that is truly compelling.  It took a little patience to get into the book as it is written in an old English style of the time, however, soon I was totally engrossed in the compelling story.

I would recommend Caleb’s Crossing to anyone who likes historical fiction based more in fact and a story that is believable as opposed to a fantasy with an incidental historical backdrop (not that there is anything wrong with that – I love that genre too).  However, having read this book, I feel a little bit smarter and much more knowledgeable about the brave souls who developed the path of our great nation.

Caleb’s Crossing is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

KC1My parents spent much of the past 25 years working the craft show circuit in New Hampshire and environs.  My dad retired early and joined my mom in her life long dream: spend her days sewing and sharing her creations with people at craft shows and in her own little shop.

My mom never wanted to make money at this endeavor, she just wanted to do what she loved and share it with others.  It turned out that my mom, who is an excellent seamstress, was particularly good at making doll dresses.  She found this out by accident.  She really wanted to make stuffed animals, like rabbits and cows.  She made several bunnies and cows, that were actually dolls, and they were really stuffed works of art.  She figured she had better dress the dolls, so she also made clothes for them. 

The finished creations were a huge hit.  The bunnies and cows and the occasional rag doll were flying off the shelves and special orders kept mom busy for quite some time.  Somewhere along the way, one of her customers took a dress off of a bunny and found that it fit her granddaughter’s American Girl doll perfectly.

The next thing you know, my mom was spending all of her time making dresses for these dolls – and collecting the dolls herself.  Soon, these dresses and outfits were her niche.  She spent all winter sewing – and the rest of the year sewing and selling at craft fairs throughout New England and in her own by-appointment shop here at the house.

My dad was the business manager and road crew, helping to set up the booth and such.  And for years they had a nice little gig going.  Sadly, they had to give this life up a few years ago as I have written about before, but they had a good run.

Anyway, I visited them at many of their shows over the years and I noticed that every time I did, my dad would have a big bag of kettle corn that he would share.  He said that no matter where they go – at every fair – there is always a kettle corn vendor who seems to set be located upwind from my parents’ booth – which meant he couldn’t resist.

This summer, as I have traveled around to many arts and craft shows myself, I have noticed that indeed there is usually a vendor making kettle corn and it makes me smile.

I instantly think of my parents and I look around and picture them amongst the booths, still enjoying what they loved and hoping that soon I will know what it is like to find my own niche and play it out.

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