3 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

Counting down the weeks to Christmas, hope you’ve managed to catch all of my Great Gift Ideas, if not you can catch them all by clicking on Gift Ideas in the right hand side column under Topics.

Western Horse Review lifestyle editor, Deanna Paulsen shared some of her “bargain buy” ideas with me recently, and here’s a few of my favorites.

Elusive Cowgirl, concho star Swarovski crystal sunglasses – $55.00. Amazingly vogue.

Reata Ranch Gear, iPhone and Blackberry western and horse themed cell phone covers – $39.00. I really hope I’m going to find one of these under our tree!

Miss Me boot cut jeans, available at many tack store retailers – $92.00. I have a pair of these and can give witness to their amazing comfort fit.

Gypsy Soule, bucking cowgirl belt buckle – $42.00. The epitome of vintage chic.

You can catch the rest of Deanna’s Bargain Barn suggestion in the Feb/Mar. issue of Western Horse Review. We’re already working on this issue, complete with redesign and a whole new take on content – we think you’re going to like it. Find it on newsstands and in your mailbox mid-February.

4 Weeks ’till Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

I think I’ve finally caught up to the calendar . . . just under four weeks ’till Christmas. I can hardly believe it.

I hope I’ve been able to offer you some unique and nifty ideas for holiday gifts. You can catch them all by clicking on Gift Ideas in the right hand side column under Topics.

My dream Christmas wish list usually involves plenty of travel – a little out of character for me, because I’m really a home-body. I love spending most of my time at the log house. Still, who doesn’t like to travel?

Continental or international travel is inspiring and opens my eyes to the lives of others and often, how horses figure into those lives. If I hadn’t have travelled to Europe in April, I wouldn’t have learned about jousting in Germany. And . . . I might never have found the time to finish the Nobel-prize winning novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, which I completed on the long plane ride back!

That sort of thing.

What I’m sharing today isn’t necessarily a gift idea, but it might help you plan, and save, on your next gift – in particular if it involves airline travel, and hotel stays.

Here’s a few of my best strategies for saving time and money on travel:

1) Stop considering it junk mail and start signing up for hotel and travel e-newsletters. They can be valuable time-savers. For instance, American Airlines sends out a “Netsaver Fares” e-bulletin every Thursday, offering last minute hotel and air travel deals. We found deals as fantastic as three days in Austin, Texas, at a luxury hotel, and flights included, for $550 per person.

2) If you’re not completely particular about which hotel you stay at, and can live within a certain flexibility, bid on your hotel room at Priceline.com. You can choose the destination, star-level, and length of stay, and bid on your room. We used this to book at the 5-star Boulders Resort near Cave Creek, where rates begin at $300 a night and garnered rooms for just over $100 a night. Be sure you specify star-level, or you might end up at the Bates Motel.

3) Be prepared to act fast. Pick a week, or weekend, and be ready to travel. Many of airlines offer last minute packages designed to fill hotels or flights. Be aware of this and you can translate an upcoming week into a spontaneous luxury vacation – often at a location or hotel you’d never have been able to afford by planning ahead.

4) I use Yapta.com to track airline flights from Canada to Arizona. Because of the number of “snowbirds” flying in and out of Phoenix, these flights are becoming increasingly difficult to purchase at low rates. If I know the dates I will likely be traveling, I’ll punch the details into Yapta months ahead, and receive regular updates on price drops through this site, which tracks all major airlines.

Airfarewatchdog.com offers a similar service, with a few extras.

5) Autoslash.com cuts through the clutter of rental car coupons and e-mail alerts and searches through all the major rental car agencies for best deals, taking into account discounts and promos. Best of all, once you’ve already booked, it keeps checking your rental for you. If the price drops, you can cancel and rebook at the better rate.

6) Expedia.ca is still one of my best go-to’s for booking flights and hotel rooms, particularly together. But also for searching out lowest priced rooms and flights. For instance, I recently booked a one-way flight back from Phoenix to Canada for my son through this site. Expedia put him on a United flight to Las Vegas, where he’ll switch to Alaskan Airlines for the last leg home, a combination I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own, and for less than half of what any airline was asking for a non-stop flight on the same date of travel.

Happy traveling!

Greycup Reflections & Help for a Rare Present

It’s kind of a sad day here at the farm. By now I’m sure you are all aware that the Roughriders lost in their quest for the Greycup, for a second time ’round yesterday.

Everybody has their own way of coping. Defeat was written all over quarterback Darian Durant’s face as the game moved into the final few seconds of play. When it was over, each of our friends wore the same shocked looks on their faces as we all departed from the Greycup party. And immediately after that, my husband felt the urgent and drastic need to move snow with his tractor.

But today is a new day. And lots of interesting things are happening these days as well. The 2010 Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, SK, wrapped up another year this past Saturday. Shawn Flarida and Shine Chic Shine are currently sitting at the top of the leader board in the Open Futurity division, as the end of the first go draws to a close and the second one begins in Oklahoma City, OK.

Oh and my husband has caught on to my Christmas shopping plans… While that may be a crime in itself, the real injustice is that I can’t find what he wants – anywhere! And I’m hoping that one of you fine friendly readers can help me? If anyone knows where I can purchase a rare DVD release of the inspirational, true story “Pharlap,” please drop me a line!

Please note that of the few DVDs I have found available for sale on the internet, all thus far are Region 4 versions – meaning they only work in places like New Zealand or Australia and will not play on North American machines. We’re looking for a Region 1 DVD.

Thanks for any help you can offer!

Duck You Sucker

So, last weekend, we decided to indulge in a retro Saturday night, by watching one of the collection of director Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.

(For those of you who missed the era, Spaghetti Western is really just a nickname for a broad sub-genre of Western film that emerged in the mid-1960’s and early 1970’s, so named because most were produced and directed by Italians, the most famous of which were the series of films Sergio Leone directed.)

I haven’t watched one of these films in a very long time, but last year for Christmas I gifted my boyfriend with the Sergio Leone Anthology, containing, most notably, the three movies in which Clint Eastwood starred, The Good, the Bad and the UglyA Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, as well as the lesser known Duck, You Sucker (1971).

It was the latter we decided on.

Duck, You Sucker.

Yep.

I wondered about that too. The story is Sergio was mistakenly under the impression “duck, you sucker” was a common slang saying in America. Later, the movie was renamed Fistful of Dynamite, and it’s lengthy two and a half hour span nailed down to under two hours for an American audience.

(I wish they still made movie posters like this, don’t you?)

The edit and re-title didn’t take, and the movie became a bit of a lost film.

That is, until the release of this anthology. For the first time on DVD, the fully restored English-language version of the original 157-minute Italian cut of Duck You Sucker, which was never shown in American theaters, is available for spaghetti western fans in the Sergio Leone Anthology.

And, I’ve got to tell you, I loved it.

The gist of the movie revolves around an Irish explosives expert, James Coburn, with a bad history back in his homeland, who meets up with a Mexican bandit, played by Rod Steiger. Together they become somewhat accidentally – at least on the part of the Mexican bandit – immersed in the Mexican Revolution. It is a story of race, of hardship, of friendship, and of the lessons learned in those friendships.

What with the Mexican Revolution central to the plot, the back-flashes to IRA activity, and even a crazed Nazi-resembling German thrown in, the movie is anything but historically in context.

But it matters not. The filming is ahead of it’s time, the soundtrack incredibly rich, and the story, ambitious and layered.

Don’t expect one of Eastwood’s Fistful’s with this film, but do expect a very unique Sergio Leone experience.

And, enjoy the Anthology, if you happen to find it in your stocking this holiday.

Here’s a sneak peek. . .

6 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

John Burgan has made a serious name for himself in the saddle-making craft with his Roo-Hide saddles. Originally from Australia (hence the Roo-Hide name and look), Burgan moved to the United States in 1984, and gradually grew a saddle-making business, having been fascinated with leatherwork since he was a child.

Roo-Hide’s semi-truck and traveling tack trailer have become a familiar sight at many national shows.

Here’s his “shop” in Ogden, Utah, at the NCHA Western National Finals.

Roo-Hide saddles have been known as quality pieces, and many of the trainers and riders I know own and use Roo-Hides. Swear by them. Love them.

We all know the value of a great quality saddle, but priced from $4,000 to $6,000 U.S. (not that the currency matters much at the moment, with the dollar at par), a Roo-Hide saddle is a dear purchase.

At least, until the Brumby.

At $2,450 U.S., Roo-Hide’s new line of saddle is quality at an affordable price. I’m not sure these are yet available in Canada, but if you’re in the market for a good quality saddle as a gift, they might be well worth checking out.

That places us halfway through our Christmas gift idea count-down. I”m hoping to catch up to the calendar sometime soon, perhaps even next week. Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Christmas Gift Guide on the Home Page of www.westernhorsereview, and if you didn’t catch them, earlier posts to this series of Great Gift Ideas.

A Collection of Wonderful Reads – Pt II

As promised, My Stable Life returns today with a couple more delightful books. If you missed the first installment, check out yesterday’s:

A Collection of Wonderful Reads

And if any of you have some great reading suggestions, by all means let me know! I love books that come with recommendations.

But without further adieu, let’s begin with the last three reviews:

HALF BROKE HORSES, JEANNETTE WALLS, $34.00 CDN Hardcover
THE GLASS CASTLE, JEANNETTE WALLES, $16.50 CDN Paperback

It’s hard to discuss Half Broke Horses without also mentioning author Jeannette Walls’ other publication, The Glass Castle. I’ve read both. Both books feature Walls’ fabulous eloquence and talent as an author with storytelling fashion. Both books are true-life novels. And both are spectacular recounts of Walls’ family history.

But I enjoyed Half Broke Horses in a way that doesn’t even compare.

The Glass Castle is a spellbinding memoir of Walls’ childhood growing up as the daughter of Rex and Rose Mary Walls. As one of four children, Walls tells of the family adventures doing the “skedaddle” and living like nomads across southwest desert towns, surviving starvation, fires and poverty and picking stars out for Christmas presents. She describes stories of her Father Rex, who was a charismatic dreamer and would drink the grocery money away. And of her mother, Rose Mary, who preferred to create paintings over making dinner for the family. It’s Jeannette Walls’ own life, in her own words and written with such fondness and genuine adoration for her parents that it left me shocked. The Glass Castle struck me to my absolute core and made me think, “Some people do not deserve to have children.” I know that sounds harsh, but it’s honest. And yet, the author doesn’t echo my sentiments. This book is a true testament to the human spirit and is a story of forgiveness that only love – in its truest, most genuine form – can offer.

Half Broke Horses on the other hand, studies Jeannette Walls’ family history one generation further back. It is the riveting tale of Walls’ grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, mother of Rose Mary Walls. Lily was a horse trainer by the tender age of 6, a teacher by the age of 15 – riding over 500 miles alone on her black and white mare named Patches to get her first job – and a bootlegger, rancher and pilot later in life. She endured the Great Depression, tornadoes, floods, harsh winters and heartbreak. She was a true cowgirl and possessed a spirit akin to a half broke horse herself. In many ways, I found myself able to relate with Lily Casey Smith when it came to her experiences with prejudices, untamed horses, personal tragedy and her sheer desire to live her life to the fullest.

As told by the author in a first-person voice, Half Broke Horses is true-life fiction book in light of the fact that Jeannette Walls had to fill in some of the details herself. Nonetheless, this is her grandmother’s story, as told to her by her mother and features the tenacity of a tough-minded, lion-hearted woman in the difficult era of the Wild West.

STAMPEDE!, GORDON PITTS, $21.95 CDN Paperback
I’ll admit, I actually picked this book up off the shelf after reading the front and back covers. But my gamble paid off. With the tagline: The Rise of the West and Canada’s New Power Elite, plus an image of a cowboy riding through the streets of an urban dwelling surrounded by skyscrapers on each side, I couldn’t help myself. STAMPEDE! had my curiosity immediately piqued.

Written by Gordon Pitts, and the recipient of the 2009 National Business Book Award, STAMPEDE! focuses on the new frontiers of wealth making headlines in Canada and the social and cultural emergence of the West. Simply by stating facts, Pitts analyzes the complex issues our country is facing and the changing dynamics that are reshaping the way we live.

From the hot button topic of the oilsands, to Montreal’s loss of aluminum giant Alcan, to Saskatchewan’s big stake in biosciences, Pitts evaluates the developments that are happening from coast to cost in Canada and points out surprising patterns. And regardless of your political views, chapters entitled, “Welcome to Edgary,” “The Prairie is Flat: The boom that knows no borders” and “Playground of the Petro-rich: The Colonization of British Columbia,” are sure to get your blood boiling with intrigue. Any way you slice it, Pitt’s thoughts and predictions are riveting to reflect upon as we approach 2011.

I realize it’s likely not all my Easterner friends will agree, but Pitts puts forward a theory in this book that is hard to ignore. And regardless of where in this glorious country you live, STAMPEDE! is a compelling read that evaluates the steady shift of power currently drawing up a curious blueprint for Canada’s future.

7 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

Photo collages are a creative way to utilize a number of photos from the same day, event or season. Think trail ride, vacation, horse show or banquet. If you love to take photos as much as I do, any of these are likely to create a scenario resulting in “photo-excess” for the purposes of a photo album or sharing with friends over e-mail and Facebook, but perfectly suited for. . . collages!

We’ve really gotten into building photo collages this Christmas season. Such as the one above, titled Two Ponies.

Here’s a heart shaped collage comprised entirely of photos of our foal, Oliver, in his first few days in the world.

If you’re adept at Photoshop, you can save your collage to a PSD format and create a printed message in the collage or manipulate the photos.

There are a number of collage programs out on the internet, but I’m choosing Shape Collage to share with you, because it is one of the simplest to master. Plus, it’s free. Download it, watch a three minute video, and you too, will be an artist.

Just like me.

Ha.

Wee plans on using it to create holiday messages for far-away cousins. It’s a fun way for her to share some of her favorite photos of the year and meld them together into a personal Christmas card. Best of all, unlike most holiday crafts, it requires zero-clean-up. That’s why she loves it so. For, you know, she usually does all the clean-up after one of her Christmas crafty adventures.

Yeah.

Not.

Which is why I love it.

Here, the munchkin created A Fall Day for y’all.

See how easy this is?

You can use as many or few photos as you like, and choose from a variety of shapes. E-mail the final collage, post it on your blog or Facebook, or print it out.

Find Shape Collage and download it at this link: http://www.shapecollage.com/

A Collection of Wonderful Reads

I love books. Books, books, books...

Have you ever spent time reading a book and put in the hours it took to complete the novel – be it fiction, a biography, a paperback, a hardcover, or whatever – only to regret the time it took to finish it? I have. That’s why when I am looking for a new read, I turn immediately to my best source for book reviews: my friends and peers. While it’s tempting to pick up the latest New York Times best seller off the rack, I first want to know if anyone in my circle (people who understand my likes and dislikes and share a similar outlook on reading entertainment) would recommend it. When a new title is suggested, I bombard that person with a battery of questions:

• Is this book powerful? Meaning, does this novel have the kind of emotional depth of prose that will make me feel something after reading it?
• Was it hard to put down?
• Will it frighten me to my wits end? (If so, typically I’m not interested).
• Will it keep me thinking long after I’ve finished the last page?

Today and tomorrow, I thought I’d share with you a handful of books I read this year. My reading interests are varied. I love a good fictional plot and I’m a sucker for rockstar autobiographies. I’m also very intrigued by books that focus on business. And while horses consume my real life, I still adore a great horse read. Between today and tomorrow, I’ll share with you five reviews are based on only a handful of books I read this year. If, my friends, you’re looking for great stocking stuffers, they might come in handy…


RIDING LESSONS, SARA GRUEN, $13.99 US Paperback
The debut novel of Sara Gruen focuses around the life and troubled times of Annmarie Zimmer, a Grand Prix rider and an Olympic hopeful who once sat high upon her rare coated, white-stripped chestnut gelding named Harry. Following a tragic accident, Zimmer wakes up in another lifetime facing divorce, a dying father and a teenager overcome with angst. Twenty years later, she returns home to her family’s New Hampshire horse farm and discovers she has become but a shadow of herself: the girl who once was so full of ambition, courage and desire to saddle up anything with four legs is now a jobless and lonely woman.

Life begins to take Zimmer in a different path when her ex-boyfriend / veterinarian / neighborhood-horse-rescuer discovers a woeful gelding that bears an astonishing resemblance to Harry. And things heat up even more as Zimmer finds herself teetering in the throes of her past love and the seductive allure of a trainer with world-class talents.

Gruen’s flawed characters are richly depicted and often easy to identify with, making this book a charming fictional read that is sure to warm your heart on cold, winter nights. Riding Lessons is a moving tale about overcoming loss, evaluating the error of past decisions, life, hope and “…the extraordinary capacity of a horse to elevate the human spirit.”


OUTLIERS, MALCOM GLADWELL, $30.99 CDN Hardcover
Malcolm Gladwell quickly became one of my favorite authors this year. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed his other novels as well; The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; and Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; but the book that spoke to me the most in regards to the horse industry was Outliers – The Story of Success.

Now if you’re thinking that this book is a reference guide to instant prosperity, it isn’t. In fact, in Outliers, Gladwell argues that the story of success isn’t always centered around a person’s intelligence or ambition. Instead, he gives real life examples of people who have thrived in business or in life because of circumstances surrounding them – for instance, their birthplace, their family history, and their generation, amongst other things.

Gladwell explains what Bill Gates and the Beatles have in common and makes sense of Silicon Valley billionaires. He examines the role culture and circumstances play in the difference between good airlines and airlines who have a history of crashing planes. And Gladwell will give you new insight for looking at the world of successful people. Outliers is thought provoking and upsetting at times because it defies logical thinking – but in a fantastic way.

8 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas

I walked out the front door of the log house this morning to be greeted by this.

The view to the West was unsurprisingly similar.

Apparently, it was a universal phenomena.

To the east the view was slightly warmer, but only due to the light of sunrise.

The first serious snowfall. Sometime in the night, the winds had blown in and created a masterpiece of beauty. Still, standing there in a housecoat, over my Duberry boots, I was acutely aware of the cold snap of weather accompanying this poetic still life.

Winter has officially hit.

It hasn’t quite reached these proportions, but we are all aware of the prognosis, aren’t we?

The entire scene reminded me of an Ian Tyson song . . . you know the one. . .

If I get there before the snow flies
And if things are going good
You could meet me if I send you down the fare
But by then it would be winter
Nothing much for you to do
And the wind sure blows cold way out there

And, that reminded me of the book I had just finished reading.

Which inclined me to remember my 12 Weeks ’til Christmas: Great Gift Ideas series. From there, it didn’t take long to crunch the numbers, and . . . bring you today’s Great Christmas Gift Idea – Ian Tyson’s just released memoir, The Long Trail: My Life in the West.

Tyson’s biography is candid. He writes unflinchingly about his life in the music business, from his start as half the duo of Ian & Sylvia in the folk scene of the ’60s, his fallout of the musical flavor of the next decades, and his re-emergence as the cowboy renaissance vocalist and writer of, perhaps, the century.

Throughout it all there has been the horses and the West, the changes thereof chronicled through the eyes of a man who has firsthand, from his ranch in the foothills, observed the disfigurement of the land. Tyson is a man who has fought against this destruction, through his work saving the historic OH Ranch, the Oldman Dam (though it was constructed), and against the drilling of exploratory wells in the eastern foothills of the Rockies.

Tyson lives and works at this own ranch, south of Longview. His descriptions of the ranch, the weather, wildlife and the horses are sentimental, loving and inspiring.

While his connection with horses began as a child and later, young man, near Victoria, British Columbia, where he rode broncs for the fun and thrill of it, it was in Ontario, where he met Walter Hellyer, and bought his first cutting horses.

Among them was a “big, buckskin broodmare” – a daughter of Doc Bar named Doc’s Able Mable.

“Having a horse with Doc Bar blood was a very big deal in the 1970s,” writes Tyson.

This was long before the time of chilled or frozen semen, so Tyson took the mare to Texas and had her bred to cutting legend Buster Welch’s rising star, Mr San Peppy. The resulting foal – “a little yellow colt” – was named Doc’s Summer Wages.

After his go at the Fort Worth Futurity with “Yeller”, Tyson eventually advertised him as a stallion, and today, many people are still riding the grand-get of this golden palomino.

It’s all in the book. If you love the West and horses, you’ll love the book, and you’ll appreciate Tyson’s truths about it all.

As he recently stated in a National Post article, “I’ve gotten the s–t kicked out of me, and writing the book was very emotional, but if you can make it through life’s trials and tribulations, it’s cool.”

Ian Tyson is the real deal, he’s lived the life that many only dream of.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.