31 October, 2011

It was a Mash, it was a Monster Mash (well, a monster Coffee Hour after Church)

These eyeball candies are made out of a round mini-pretzel, a white chocolate wafer, and a chocolate chip. We added some red sugar sprinkles for blood-shottedness. And wa-la, as the French say, bloodshot eyes! I called them Eyes of the Cyclops. Which I was completely unable to say without wanting to sing to the tune of Eye of the Tiger, that cheezball theme to one of the Rocky movies.

Eye of the Cyclops, it's the thrill of one eye,
Rising up to the challenge of our rivals,
I'm the one eyed survivor....

Making 50 of these little beauties took about 8 minutes, and that includes the oven time (to melt the white chocolate on the pretzels) and wouldn't you know, they got the most raves!

 Mummy cupcakes were another easy and cute thing. Bake cupcakes. Frost with white frosting. Add two Skittles for eyes. Cut out strips of white fondant and mummify! Ta da!

Here is the table as we were getting set up. See that cake with the white frosting? It is Jim's never fail pumpkin cake and it is absolutely delicious. He adds a little maple syrup to the frosting for that extra something. Pumpkin and maple, it's so damn season appropriate it practically screams autumn!

Are these the funniest? The webs are sugar cookies frosted with white, then black icing. The spiders (which actually looked a lot like cicadas) are dried apricots with licorice string legs and eyes made out of black and white jimmies. They were hilarious and got so many compliments. They were more for looks than eating...because to be honest, apricot and licorice is not a great taste sensation.

Sugar cookies. Jim used his secret ingredients for delicate, crispy cookies with a light citrusy flavor. First, baker's ammonia, then fiori di sicilia. Then, to roll those suckers out, you have to have cold dough and roll them thin, thin, thin. People wonder why they don't get great results with pre-made Pillsbury dough. Cupcakes, if you want delicious sugar cookies you have to be willing to work at it.

Jim and Andy did most of the work this time. I showed up late and helped with the eyeballs and all the cupcakes. We didn't get pictures, but the dirt cupcakes (white cupcakes frosted with chocolate icing, dusted with ground chocolate cookies, and decorated with a gummy worm) were also hits. The kids loved them, kids like anything gross.

I think our next theme coffee hour will be in Advent. I think we ought to pick one feature ingredient and see what we can do with it...maybe cranberry. Or pecans? Either of those could work. Hmm.

30 October, 2011

It's all I have to bring today – This, and my heart beside

Lawks. We are just about to run out of October. Tuesday we will find ourselves in the penultimate month of the year. I adore the word penultimate, having one beautiful word that means "next to last" makes me unreasonably happy.

But, back to November, that penultimate month. It starts Tuesday, and as soon as stores clear away the Halloween candy and costumes, they will decorate and stock up for both Thanksgiving and Christmas at once. The last two months of the year are an amalgamation of harvest colors and a red, white, and blue Christmas. Cookies must be baked. Turkeys must be roasted. Lists of exciting things that happened in 2011 will be made. By December, before we've even put UP the tree we'll be worrying about what our resolutions for 2012 should be.

I looked back at my first blog post of 2011 and noticed that I was doing well on my goals for the year. I have read at least one non-fiction book for each month. I believe I've read twelve books of non-fiction, so I'm ahead of the game.

I've done the volunteering for CSAC that I wanted to do. Mostly, I've done home visits. I go meet people and make sure their houses are dog safe. I also think the point of the home visit is to make sure that we are not adopting dogs to Cruella deVille...someone who wants to adopt a dog for nefarious purposes. I've also done a couple of adoption shows, although not recently.

I've done only one ATC swap, so I think today I will find another one to sign up for. It will give me an excuse to get out my art supplies and have some fun.

I never feel like my life is enough. Not interesting enough, full enough, exciting enough. I can't think what I would or should do to make it more something. It seems like I could figure out what would make me feel like enough, but so far I haven't managed to. I am not unhappy, just aware that I often feel vaguely dissatisfied and aching for something else. If I ever manage to figure out what that something else is, I will let you know.

25 October, 2011

It doesn't have raw fish in it, does it?

I went to a Big Chain bookstore a couple of weekends ago while my in-laws were still in town and had a frustrating hour looking for somebook, ANYbook, in the sci-fi/fantasy section that would appeal to me. It was awful. I don't read hardcore sci-fi, and the state of fantasy on the shelves at Big Chain was appalling. About 75% of the books are about my triumvirate of personal dislikes: vampires, werewolves, or zombies. Of the 25% left over, a large number seemed to be about mermainds and fae. Mermaids are probably going to go on my list of Things That Cause Books to Bite a Big Weenie. It is a long list that is only getting longer as I grow more crabby with age.

I struck it lucky at the library yesterday and found a novel that I enjoyed very much, Patricia Wrede's Across the Great Barrier. It is a sequel to a book I have not (yet) read, Thirteenth Child. Patricia Wrede is one half of the team of writers who wrote my very favorite fantasy/Regency Romance/mystery Sorcery and Cecilia and the author of the enjoyable Mairelon the Magician. I highly recommend her. I had no idea until I came across this book yesterday that she had a new series out.

How do you find good new books? Do you get personal recommendations? Haunt the library and bookstores and pick up everything on the shelves? Are there websites you check out? I really want to know. I did an Amazon search for new fantasy releases and there are many many many many many books listed, but most of them seem to be about: sexy vampires, sexy werewolves/shapechangers, and sexy (???) zombies. And now, sexy half-human, half future sushi people. AAaaaaagh.

Anyway, I am interested in knowing how you find good books if you feel like sharing.

24 October, 2011

I would so rather be reading

I spent the weekend reading. Also having lunch with friends both days, but mostly reading. And sleeping, a lot of sleeping happened in between bouts of reading. I plowed right through Snuff, a Discworld novel. It was good. Very good. Not GREAT, but very good. I actually liked Unseen Academicals better than Snuff, which was rather on the dark side. But still, an average Terry Pratchett book, for me, is better than some other author's masterwork.

I took it back to the library tonight so that the next Discworld fan could get stuck in. I'm just thoughtful that way, she said modestly.

I got my next non-fiction book, an autobiographical type thing by Simon Pegg, another funny Englishman. Shaun of the Dead Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz Simon Pegg; if you haven't seen these two films, what the hell are you waiting for? I can't be having with you not seeing these hilarious movies.

I didn't actually start Simon's book though, I am first reading John Grisham's Theodore Boone: The Abduction. Yes, I suppose that technically this is a children's book. I did find it in the New Children's Section of the BCPL.  It's an enjoyable sequel to Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. I feel no embarrassment about reading books from YA or the Children's section. A good book is a good book.

21 October, 2011

The intelligence of creatures

Today I was reading an article about Dachsunds and came across a mention of the book The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren.
Dachshunds are around number 49 on the scale of intelligent dogs. That means it takes them between 25-40 repetitions to learn a new command, and they obey a command the first time it is given 50% of the time or better. 
Cocker Spaniels are a 20 on the list, meaning it takes them 5-15 repetitions to get a new command, and they obey a command on the first instance 85% of the time or better. My own personal Cocker Spaniels don’t listen or obey worth a damn, but that’s because they are blind, deaf, and stubborn, no reflection on the breed as a whole.
Anyway, all this got me thinking that the way we quantify intelligence in animals is how quickly they do what humans want them to do. Dogs like the Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd, that are just dying for someone to give them a job to do are considered intelligent. A dog that doesn’t care what you want it to do is considered un-intelligent. I think that maybe we are looking at this all wrong.
Let’s look at it from the dog’s point of view, is any of that true? My dogs don’t do a thing I tell them and they still get food, treats, and a nice warm place to sleep. I spend my hard earned money on them, take them on nice walks every day, and clean up after them. Who’s the dummy?
Instead of calling all this intelligence, maybe we should call it Cooperativeness, or Desire to Please. Because, as I understand it, those intelligent dogs really like to have a job to do. They like working. It isn’t that the Poodle is smarter than the Dachshund, it is just more willing to go along with other people’s ideas. The Dachshund is independent and has firmer ideas about what it feels like doing at any given time. Just because you snap out a brisk “sit” is no reason that your dog is going to feel like sitting at that moment
My own experiences have shown me that while we are training our dogs, they are also training us. When Dru needs to go out, he comes and paws the chair where I am sitting, or my leg. If Ginger wants a treat, she sits in front of the treat jar and looks at it, then at me, then at the jar…until treats are forthcoming.  I wonder how I do on the dog’s scale, The Intelligence of Humans?

19 October, 2011

The play's the thing

We went to Center Stage tonight and saw The Rivals, featuring the marvelously misspoken Mrs. Malaprop. It was good. It was done in a fairly exaggerated style, typical of Center Stage. Their approach to comedy tends to be broad, sometimes even cartoon-like. Since they almost always have excellent casts and production values, they usually carry it off. I enjoyed tonight, there was much laughter and audience involvement.

The Rivals at Center Stage

One actress had a voice like a buzz saw and SO. BROADLY. OVERACTED, that I have to give this only a B+. I know they were going for the laugh, but listening to her shriek and whine, and watching her pout and grimace, yuk. Luckily, Lydia Languish spent much of her time offstage and didn't interfere with my evening's enjoyment.

I would like to talk to Center Stage's dramaturg sometime and discuss my impressions of Center Stage's theatricality. Years and years ago I saw (one of my favorite plays) She Stoops to Conquer at the Arena Stage in DC. It was done completely naturally, no fake British accents, clothes that looked like real people wore them (admittedly, they were period clothes, but they looked authentic). It was done in the round and was a very intimate experience. The audience was in stitches. I saw the same play at Center Stage some years back. It was a beautiful set and the costumes were brilliant and showy, and the acting was much more theatrical and mannered. It was still hilarious; it's a very funny play. But it had a completely different feel to the Arena Stage show.

Later this season Center Stage is doing  A Skull in Connemara, a mystery set in Ireland, we'll see that. I can't decide on our third play. They are doing American Buffalo, which isn't even tempting. I worked on a college production of that, and I sat through that often enough for one lifetime. Mamet, I know there are those who think he's a genius, the voice of American theater. I am not one of them. I don't know anyone who speaks like his characters, that oddly cadenced, staccato timing. It sounds like some kind of spoken word prose poem, and is too stagey and theatrical. Plus, there are never any nice/admirable characters in Mamet's plays, everyone is so unpleasant!

So, should I see Gleam (based on Their Eyes Were Watching God) or Into the Woods, which I saw 20+ years ago in New York? I think Thomas would not love Into the Woods so much, he's not a huge fan of musical theater. Maybe HE should see American Buffalo and I should see Into the Woods!

16 October, 2011

It's time I had some time alone

That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes,
an aeroplane - Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

I'm so glad for Lenny Bruce, although there are some who would argue that, being dead, he doesn't have a lot to fear. Aren't all our fears really shadows of the big fear, the fear of not being here any more?

It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it. (It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (It's time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

Yesterday, the first day of the rest of our post-visit life, was spent doing some fun things. We went to a wedding, had dinner with some friends, and visited with some other friends.

I did a home visit today for a family that wants to adopt a dog. Now I'm hanging out with my small family (more dogs than people) and watching The Peacekeeper War movie that ended Farscape.


14 October, 2011

The sound of silence

Thomas left a while ago to take the German parental unit to the airport. I leashed up Ginger and she and I went on a girls only walk. She will miss Rose very much; every day Rose took her on a LONG walk in the early afternoon. Add that to her regular walks, and she was getting about three hours outdoors every day and lots of quality exercise.

After our evening walk I came home to a quiet house. It is wonderful! Just knowing that I am the only one here, and that I can make all the noise I want to or do whatever crazy thing I want...priceless, as the commercial says. I haven't done anything even slightly crazy, just poured myself a glass of pinot grigio. I'm basking in the silence.

Tomorrow we go to a wedding and then are having dinner with Sarah and her new-ish husband, BJ. He's really not all that new any more, they got married about this time last year! He's new to me though, I only met him at the wedding.

Have a good weekend. Other than this wedding, and a home visit for CSAC on Sunday, my plans include doing a whole lot of NOTHING.

12 October, 2011

Is a penny saved a penny earned?

Did you know that it costs more than a penny to make a penny? Yes, it does! And we, the American tax-payers, pay the US Mint, one of the only profitable areas of government, an average of 1.2 cents to make those pennies.

So, let’s reduce the need for new expensive pennies by getting all the pennies we have been hoarding back in circulation. Yes, I did just accuse you of being a coin hoarder. Don’t bother to deny it, I know that somewhere in your house, office, or car, you have pennies. There is a cup, a jar, a basket, or a drawer full of loose change. You might call it your vacation fund. You might have all those coins laying around because they make your pants sag or your purse too heavy to carry. I don’t care why you have them, get them out.  Take them to the bank and change them to bills. Take them to the store and run them through the CoinStar machine (but we aware, those machines charge!) Start paying for your small purchases with coins.
If we all got those coins back into circulation, maybe we could reduce the need for the Mint to print as many new ones. Coins last a while, the ones you’ve been holding on to since 1982 spend just as well as the ones they are going to make next week.
And from now on, don’t bother offering me a penny for my thoughts. They cost at least 1.2 cents!

10 October, 2011

Columbus sailed the ocean blue

Today the Germans all boarded the early morning bus for Atlantic City. That means that since I got home from work today I have had hours of uninterrupted ALONE time. Can I get a witness for how awesome it is to have your home to yourself?!

Considering the uncanny good luck my spousal unit and his mother have, they may come home with some money. Probably not (the house always wins!) but it's entertaining to imagine what we could do if they won a big jackpot. Permanent tattooed eyeliner? Hmmm.

I'm reading a nice new book from the library, Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw. It's book two in a trilogy about Arthurian Britain. The first book, Hawk of May, was told from the point of the hawk himself, Gwalchmai, nephew of Arthur. Kingdom of Summer is narrated by Rhys ap Sion, Gwalchmai's servant. I really like these books, with one tiny, tiny little exception. Any time a book gets too specific about politics, I lose interest. When you get bogged down in who is allied to who and who is scheming against who, I start reading fast - one might say skimming - until I find some dialogue or action or something that moves the story forward. Fundamentally, I am a shallow, shallow person.

07 October, 2011

Danke Gott, es is Freitag!

In only 11 days, (Sir) Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel will be released. It's called Snuff, and apparently it features Sam Vimes. I am excited about that. That means we should get a little Carrot and Angua action, and maybe some Cheery Littlebottom.

I am 8th on the list at the BCPL to get the book. I hope they get a couple of copies and that the first seven readers are serious Pratchett fans. I can't be having with them putting it at the bottom of their to-be-read piles and getting around to it whenever. I think I'm going to go back and read Thud, for a steaming anticipatory pile of Ankh-Morpork, just to get myself back in the multiverse groove.

So excited!

I looked up Rosemary Kirstein online yesterday and found out that she's really nowhere near releasing book five of the Steerswoman books, major suckitude. I hate that she needs that real-life job that keeps her from writing fulltime. I want my authors to keep their noses to the grindstone, churning out entertainment for moi. Maybe if half of the 300,000,000 people in the US would buy her books, she could afford to write full time. So, my three readers, go out and buy Rosemary Kirstein's books and force all your friends to do the same.  I need a movement here...look at it as doing your part to jumpstart the economy!

This time a week from now, the in-laws should be winging their way back to their home across the sea. I'm mostly sort of numb about this visit. It's gone on so long that I've gone through all the stages of hosting:  Denial, Anger, Round-the-clock-Drinking, Bargaining, Plotting my Escape, Acceptance...now I am just getting through the days pretty calmly with occasional flashes of Will I Never Be Alone in My House Again?

Sunday is the birthday of my handsome husband. We are having a party with hot and cold running Germans, we are importing some from Deutschland, via Gettysburg. Actually looking forward to it, the food should be excellent, and all I have to do is show up and enjoy.

05 October, 2011


I played mah jongg tonight with some friends. Then I came home and read a book. There is a sad thing about 4/5 of the way through and I finished up the book with swollen eyes and a wet and teary face.

Then I turned on the innernetz and heard that Steve Jobs died today. So, rest in peace Mr. Jobs. I like my iPod.

04 October, 2011

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday I finished another non-fiction book that I started about a week ago. This was Ted Gup's A Secret Gift.

Back in the middle of the Great Depression, a clothing store owner named Sam Stone did an anonymous kindness for neighbors (and strangers) in Canton, Ohio. He placed an ad in a local paper right before Christmas, under the name of Mr. B. Virdot, asking for people who were down on their luck to write him a letter if they needed help for Christmas. He then sent $5 checks to 150 families. At that time, five dollars could make a huge difference for a family. It meant clothes, or food, or rent.

More than 70 years later, journalist/professor Ted Gup received a suitcase of his grandfather's papers. His grandfather was Sam Stone. When Gup started trying to understand the letters, written to Mr. B. Virdot, and what they had to do with his grandfather, it started him on a long journey. He learned about his hometown during the Depression, about his own secret family history, and about the hurting people who had reached out for help during one poor Christmas during the 1930s.

I enjoyed this book so much I'm thinking about giving copies as Christmas presents. It is just amazing, I loved going on this journey with Ted Gup, finding out why his grandfather gave the money away, and about the family history that had been hinted at, but never spoken about openly. The stories about those midwestern families who struggled to keep their homes and families together, with varying degrees of success, were very touching.

03 October, 2011

Have a drink and enjoy this!

If you have not been watching Ken Burns' PROHIBITION on Public Television, you need to watch it when it comes on next. It's fascinating!

The first two hours, titled A Nation of Drunkards, covers the history of alcohol production, consumption, and the temperance movement from the 1820s to the 19-teens, when Prohibition is passed.

As always, Burns uses photos, books, and letters, to give a clear picture of one piece of American history.

Pour yourself a cold one and enjoy!

Mo' non-fiction, mo' books

Just finished another non-fiction book called Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch, a memoir. The author read one book a day for a year, and blogged about it Read All Day (http://www.readallday.org/about_365.html).

This book is about how she decided to start this project, how it went, and what she got out of it. Basically, unresolved grief over the death of her sister three years before left Ms. Sankovitch feeling fragmented and broken; she was living her life at triple time, trying to run away from her grief. She decided to use a year of reading as a way of slowing down to examine her life through literature, to remember her sister, and to knit together the two parts of her life: before Anne-Marie died, and after Anne-Marie's death.

I never heard of the project before, and enjoyed the book. I'll be spending some time on the blog, Read All Day, to read her in-depth reviews. This book is obviously a condensation of that year.