Friday, March 29, 2013

5 Things- Whiskey, Turquoise, and Sand

I have Good Friday off! It means my plans for today consist entirely of the magic and whimsy of Whatever-I-Feel-Like-Doing. Which, sadly, needs to involve at least some cleaning. But after that, time with friends and bike-riding! It'll be my first ride on my own bike of the season. If today is anything like yesterday, it'll be perfectly gorgeous for the ride.

Unfortunately, my Plans for Today don't leave a ton of time for any blog posts, so I'm throwing an old-school 5 things post at you. Maybe I will actually let someone take a photo of me during something that smacks of exercise during the ride.

Or... maybe I'll just show you a photo of the cupcakes and/or coffee that may occur.

You never can tell with me.

 1. I know, it's way too chilly to actually wear this. I can dream, right? It'll be 90 degrees and 120% humidity before we know it!

I was just thinking about South Carolina summers and found myself sort of absently browsing clothing sites and decided to try and put an outfit together. So, here it is; an outfit made entirely of things i don't own (... yet).

The sandals are really what I'm wanting. Well, those and the bag. And the necklace. And the shirt...

Shirt Jeans Necklace Shoes Bag

2. Ernie Button's incredible photography work. Believe it or not, this is a shot of the remaining film at the bottom of a glass of single-malt scotch.

Ernie has taken this mundane moment and used lights and photography to create these sort of strange, eerie landscapes we would never have seen.

His work was talked about on NPR earlier this week, which caused me to take a closer look and now I am just... enthralled. Just click through. Keep clicking. Click forever.

To find it, scroll to the bottom of his home page; it's the only image in the final row. I don't mean that you should ignore the rest of his stuff; he's a talented photographer!

I am prepared to be as enthusiastic as I must to get you to go look at this stuff.

3. This Sumatran Tiger, a photograph taken as part of Joel Sartore's Project Biodiversity assignment.

Sartore takes photos of endangered animals in various zoos around the country. Anteaters, hyenas, bobcats, chimpanzees, lizards, snakes... there are all sorts of creatures involved in this project. Click through the photos! One of my favorites is the series of a chimpanzee destroying the set without ever setting enough of a foot on it to have her full picture taken.

Why did I choose the tiger above?

Because this tiger lives at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois... which just so happens to be the first zoo I knew anything about, and the one I've visited the most in my life. We used to do field trips to Miller Park all the time. I was... somewhat unreasonably excited to see that small-city zoo pop up in three or four photographs!

And also, because I am a fan of tigers. All the time. Forever.

4. This Garden & Gun article about a man who shall not be named, who works under-the-radar to disarm Civil War shells that are still being found all over parts of the South, for collectors who will then hold onto them personally.

It's an underground movement; if you tell the law about finding these things, a bomb squad will show up and confiscate it for public safety reasons. They are still active shells, and could go off with a spark, however unlikely it may actually be. People like the Big Iron Man allow them to circumvent this, and to hold onto their own personal piece of history.

It's a really interesting article about a kind of fascinating thing I hadn't ever really given any thought to.

Garden & Gun never ceases to give me something new to become fascinated with. I've never regretted this subscription for a second; I've even managed to get one of my coworkers subscribing to it, too.

5. This piece on NPR, entitled "How to See the World in a Grain of Sand."

I like this meditation on William Blake's old poem. It's the first in a series Adam Frank will be doing, and I loved listening to it in the car on the way home from work, able to sort of thoughtfully relax, nothing to distract me from what he was saying.

It is a statement of the sheer beauty and the sacred involved in science, something I think too many people discard; they assume that because religion exists, that science has no beauty in it by comparison. And they're wrong.

Read this quote:

Through the lens of science we can see how even the smallest thing can be a gateway to an experience of the extraordinary, if only we can practice noticing.

We walk past a thousand, thousand natural miracles everyday, from the sun climbing in the sky to the arc of birds seen out our windows. Those miracles are there waiting for us to see them, to notice them and, most importantly, to find our delight in theirs.

Somewhere in this, I felt a pretty concrete sense of yes in agreement with him. There are some incredible things in the world, and I think we do ourselves a huge disservice when we try to pretend that there isn't any value in knowing them. What are we, if we turn away from understanding? If we ignore a natural wonder our ancestors built their civilizations on? If we don't even stop to look at the sunset or comment on the way the moon turns orange in some places in the fall?

It got me thinking, is all.

Happy Good Friday!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Curry, Crock Pots, and Clouds

I always make these grand cleanliness plans for myself. I go to bed Sunday night thinking, "Tomorrow I will clean the kitchen AND the bathroom AND do laundry!"

I fall asleep full of confidence.

I wake up the next morning, squint blearily at the mess that comes with living, and then shrug and go have a cup of coffee on the couch with the dog dozing at my side and the cat resting against the back of my neck.

This is one of the grand joys of adulthood, though we spend more time feeling guilty than really enjoying it; as an adult, there is no one to tell me I must clean anything. If I want to put it off, I am perfectly welcome to do so.

Of course, there is also the big downside to adulthood; if I (or Jason) don't clean it up... no one will.

So eventually I was able to rouse myself enough to grab some groceries, run the dishwasher, clean a single counter top, and at least get the dog's bedding through the wash. And a walk! I went for a long walk and coffee with a friend.

I also made dinner:

And a grand piece of crock pot majesty it was. It's Curried Lentils With Chicken and Potatoes out of Real Simple's March Issue, only instead of lentils I used a bag of dried split peas we've had sitting around forever. It was lovely and delicious and warm and perfect for how chilly it's been since mid-afternoon.

I spent maybe fifteen minutes putting it together at 11:30 and then ignored it until 6:15. Crock pots are proof of mankind's genius.

Crock pots and green tea ice cream.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tomboy Style, of a Sort: Navy Equals Classy, Right?

Just to ensure everyone is happy, here is a photo of my dog.

I don't mean to do another Tomboy Style so close on the heels of the last one, I just don't have much to say today. I didn't plan out a 5 Things post, so I am devoid of thoughts. I am brainless. I have the dumb. So clothes photos it is.

I just finished reading Banished by Lauren Drain, a memoir about her life in and what led her to leave the Church-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named... you know the one I mean. The one from Kansas with all the signs. That picket the funerals of soldiers and gay people. It is compelling and uncomfortable and enraging and enthralling all at the same time. She does the best job I've yet seen of explaining how the actual members of said church reconcile their beliefs with the terrible things they are party to.

Definitely recommend.

So, anyway.

I like color.

I'm not sure you noticed.

I especially like wild color on days that promise to be gray, which is a promise I can safely say today has kept and then some.

Keepin' it classy with navy. Because if I add navy, it makes a whole outfit instantly classy. I think I read that somewhere.

Also, I am aware that there are people who do not like self-portraits in blogs. If any of those people want to come take photos of me, that would be awesome. Because I don't particularly like 'em either. I just like the mental image of everyone slowly shaking their heads as they scroll down this post.

This picture included entirely because my dog is staring all confused in the background and that amuses me.

The green shirt (the color no longer exists) and vest (this link is to the plus-size version, which is the only version left; mine isn't plus-sized I think) are from the Lands' End store inside Sears and were a Christmas present from my awesome mother, scarf is from New York & Company (old), necklace made by a local artist that I carry in my shop at work, cardigan and shoes from Target, jeans from Old Navy.

And now I am off to eat random-stuff-from-the-cabinet-casserole, which promises to be a culinary delight... or at least be full of surprises.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Not at All Wordless Wednesday: Time

Photo taken at the Benjamin Mays Historic Site in Greenwood, South Carolina. This is the childhood home of Benjamin Mays, born in the town of Ninety Six in 1894. His parents were formerly enslaved, and were tenant farmers when he was born. 

Dr. Mays became incredibly important in the civil rights movement and in politics in general. He was a giver of incredible speeches, a minister, professor, dean, school board president, wrote a compelling autobiography, and was an activist. He was a mentor and a close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He delivered King's eulogy at his funeral. 

I stood inside his childhood home and thought about a little boy at the turn of the century looking out onto his front porch, watching his father's life threatened during the Phoenix Riots, a moment Dr. Mays described as intensely influential in the path his life took.

This may not be where the home stood when it happened (they moved it into town, allowing for better care and a better location for visitors), but it is his home, one hundred nine years after his birth. It's pretty cool to stand in the first house one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights movement was born in.

Time is a strange thing.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tomboy Style, of a Sort: Now There are TWO Foxes

If I'm going to keep doing outfit posts, I suppose I should come up with some sort of label for them. We're going with Tomboy Style, of a Sort. Because I'm not sure it's style, but I am definitely a tomboy. One out of two ain't bad, right?

And yes, these are all pictures I took of myself. Turns out that's just the way things are when you have no tripod and your camera's timer is... shady.

 The shirt we are showing off today is the last of my birthday presents off of etsy; it arrived while I was gone on my work trip. This one I ordered from Lisa Higuchi's dandyrions shop. This is what I found when I opened the package:

A helpful caretaking note from Lisa letting me know how to care for my new shirt.

Here's why the shirt needs special caretaking;

Because it has a fox. And the world is grand and delightful because it does.

We were going to Barnes & Noble to see some friends of ours for a book club meeting, so I thought... why not?

Why not, indeed.

The stitching is high quality. The fox is made of felt, so obviously the shirt is a hand-wash only deal, but I think I can learn to live with it if it means I get to wear a fox all the time.

The only issue is entirely my own and nothing to do with the shirt itself; I have to wear a tank top or just some kind of layering shirt underneath, otherwise I'm pretty sure I would be arrested for indecent exposure.Which makes for a good story, I guess, but I'd like to stay on this side of jail if it's okay with my blog readers.

I'm pretty sure you are not allowed to wear fabulous foxes in jail.

Don't quote me on that, though; I've never actually checked.

My best attempt at 'fashion blogger' face. I'm not sure I look pensive enough.

The orange jacket up there, my jeans and the tank top are from Old Navy, shoes are from Walmart (don't judge me, they are like six years old and still goin' strong), the necklace is something Jason bought me up at the Apple Festival a while back, bracelets are from Macy's believe it or not, purse is from Ameribags, the scarf is from a place in Greenwood called Uptown Pizzazz, and the shirt, of course, is from dandyrions.


Usually like three-fourths of my outfit is from Target or JCP and that paragraph is a lot shorter.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Best Food in the Middle of Nowhere

If you are ever driving to Belton, or at least towards it, you will come upon a giant chicken situated at a crossroads in the middle of no place at all.

Just behind that chicken, there will be a white building with a red roof.

 If you see that white building, you need to stop.

Stop right that second and go in. Assuming, of course, the white building is open at the time. If it's not, then you need to go to wherever it is you're headed, then turn around and come right back the next morning when it is.

This building is Grits and Groceries. I've heard of it before, as it's been written about as some kind of paradisaical wonderland by Garden & Gun, so when my coworker and I happened by it on the route we had to take back from our work conference, we knew we had to stop.

 And you need to know that you will need to stop, too.

They have a base menu, but also a specials menu that changes depending on the day of the week. We decided to stick to the specials menu.

My coworker had shrimp and grits, served with a ham gravy. He seemed to lose all capacity for human speech while eating it, but as he was very nearly licking his plate clean at the end, I'm assuming it was good. Very good indeed. The only actual words I was able to coax out of him were something about 'best shrimp [he'd] ever eaten'. And... something else about the gravy, but that was mostly incoherent.

I had this -

and this.

 Stuffed artichokes and a grits cake with tomato gravy, respectively. The stuffed artichokes were cheesy and gooey and wonderful. They came in a tiny ramekin, which is perfect because I don't think I could have eaten any more than the delightful little serving I had. The grits cake was the best part, actually; creamy regular-grits texture on the inside, with a crispy crunchy fried outside. The tomato gravy was the best kind of tomato soup, and just paired really well with it. I was sopping up the last vestiges of tomato from my plate when the waitress (friendly, personable, and really good at talking us into things) asked if we had given any thought to dessert.

No. No, we had not. And when we waffled, she said, "Surely you've left y'all some room! Joe makes all the desserts himself!"

I fall hard for a well-placed "y'all". As a transplanted Midwestern Yankee, it gets me every time.

Here's the thing about Grits and Groceries; the owners, Elizabeth and Joe Trull, are a pair of trained chefs, who decided to head back to the region they knew best when they started their family. Joe was a head pastry chef at one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants in New Orleans for quite some time. The man knows his sugar.

 When we waffled some more, she described what was on offer; a blackberry crisp, with a dollop of chocolate-flecked whipped cream on top. My coworker had that. I was offered a different dessert, if I wanted it; a ginger-lemon cake.

Did I want that?

Is that even really a question?

Look at it.

Bask in its glory.

Joe brought it out himself; maybe just so I could get a good look at the person who first turned dessert into a religious experience for me.

I asked for a little whipped cream on the side, because I am a sucker for it. It was vanilla bean-y as all get out. The cake was great; just a hint of ginger spice, a strong lemon taste, lots of mellow spice-cake flavor.

Just wanted to make sure you got another look at that thing of beauty.

We will definitely go back; although this time I mean 'Jason and I' by 'we'. Because Jason needs to eat here, so he can understand why all other food will forever pale in comparison now for me.

They focus on breakfast and lunch, so plan accordingly.

The prices are incredibly reasonable (remember to bring cash or a check, though; no plastic!), literally everyone working there said hi to us at some point, and somebody's super happy German Shepherd even hung out outside the door. The place was pretty busy while we were there, but there was never a feeling of being 'rushed'. There's a small amount of seating inside, with more outside. This allows the place to be pretty dog-friendly, since the outside seating is covered and you can bring your dog out with you.

They also have grits, jams, and some other things for sale, but we were in a bit of hurry to get home after our conference ended, so we didn't have much time to really look around.

Seriously, though; go to a crossroads, and look for a giant chicken. I promise it's not the devil trying to buy your soul, although if he did this'd be the place to do it.

He'd just have to offer to buy your lunch here. You'd find yourself signing the dotted line with a forkful of shrimp in your other hand.

Friday, March 15, 2013

5 Things - I LOVE TEA

Most of you are probably aware that I'm currently out of town for a work conference. Well, I decided that rather than take an actual break, I'd just go ahead and write my Wednesday and Friday posts ahead of time, since Wednesday is just a picture and the only writing I do is a single period, and I was planning to talk about tea today anyway.

So, right.

This week, I'm going to talk about my favorite teas, or rather, five of my favorite teas that I sort of arbirtrarily picked because I have the same problem with teas as I have with books. Now, if Jason was writing this post it'd just be five kinds of black tea. Earl Gray, Irish Breakfast, Assam, English Breakfast, and... I don't know. Earl Grayer. Something else along that vein. I like black teas, but I just really do tend to prefer the kind of random flavors.

I do, however, have a favorite kind of tea above all, and I'll start with that.

1. Chai.

I like Bigelow Vanilla Chai; where we lived back in Illinois, it was a seasonal tea that we only saw around the winter and so I would stock up on it like a madwoman to get myself through the summer. I've made it iced, too. This tea is made for honey and a little milk. It's very mild; some chais really lay the spice on thick, but this is more about the vanilla and cinnamon flavors.

I also own this rooibos chai from Yogi, for when I want chai but the caffeine seems like a bad plan (usually if I've had something around my body weight in coffee that day).  It's a brighter chai; the flavors are more distinct, and it's also super affordable.

Amanzitea and Teavana also have neat tea blends based on chai, if you're into the higher-end looseleaf stuff. Which I totally am. Teavana's White Ayurvedic Chai (linked to Teavana name over there) is probably the best thing I ever got from Teavana.

I just have a greater fondness for this awesome, basic, tea in a bag chai.

2. Traditional Medicinal's Seasonal Herb Tea Sampler.

Because I believe in witchcraft.

Or, you know, herbalism. Or something. I'm pretty clearly a giant hippie. I'm okay with that.

I picked this up on a whim back in Illinois when I had a cold, figuring I'd give it a try. Traditional Medicinals are widely available all over the place, and I'd seen a lot of their teas, in Wal-mart, the local co-op grocery, just everywhere. I now swear by it.

Look, I'm not going to sit here and describe how it has worked miracles on me. But my colds definitely don't last as long as they used to. I cycle through them in a few days now, instead of nearly two weeks. And that's probably psychomatic? But I don't see why anyone should discount a placebo effect if it does what you need it to do. I don't like taking your average over-the-counter medicine, at least not for anything like the common cold. I'd rather drown myself in tea.

The only one in the pack I don't care for is the Echinacea Plus; I just don't particularly like the way echinacea tastes. The rest of them are more pepperminty than anything else. Again, add a little honey and milk and watch your sore throat melt away.

Their Ginger Aid is also awesome if you need something to settle your stomach.But, uh. The name is not in any way misleading. Be prepared for some spicy ginger goodness.

3. Amanzitea's Chocolate Mint mate tea.

Okay, so mate's are probably my second-favorite kind of tea after chai. Traditionally, you get yerba mate, which is the caffeine drink of choice in some South American countries. This is another milk-and-honey-equals-perfect kind of tea, too. In fact, I used to stop by Earth Fare on grocery day back when I lived on that side of town just to get their Mate Latte, a yerba mate and milk concoction that was probably made by angels? But I can't prove that.

This, though.

This is chocolate and mint and Girl Scout thin mints and life is good.

It's a great dessert tea, but again, it does have caffeine in it, so... time accordingly. Or sometimes I make this tea first thing in the morning, if I want to wake up to something sweet.

I also like Republic of Tea's Yerba Mate Latte. It has a much milder tea taste and a stronger taste of almonds. Teavana's Mate Vana is also awesome (strong taste of chocolate and almonds here).

4. Teavana's Tiramisu Trevino.

I won't even pretend this tea is redeeming in some way. It is pure and perfect dessert. It's meant to taste like the dessert it's named after, and there is definitely a hint of espresso and vanilla and cream in the taste.

The best part about this is that it's a caffeine-free tea, so it's great for late-night sweetness.

I'm almost out, which is somewhat depressing, but I'll learn to live, I suppose.

For other dessert teas, Amanzitea's Pumpkin Cream is delicious, Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond is a good, mild black tea, and Bigelow's Vanilla Caramel is great, too; I don't even add milk to it.

5. Amanzi tea's Candy Cane.

Yep, Amanzi tea gets two mentions. That's mostly because I'm in "try everything" mode right now, so I have quite a few of their teas. Their Thai Green is my favorite green tea right now; it's a good, grassy green tea with strong coconut flavors. Really, I should have done a section on green tea, too, since I am loving this green tea with acai berry and blueberries.

Wait, I got distracted.

The Candy Cane is a seasonal tea blend (hence no link for this one, it's not available right now), and yes those are little shards of peppermint candies in there. I'm not defending this tea for its health benefits, let me tell you that. I just add a little milk to this one and call it delightful, no sugar beyond what's already in there.

Plus, it's rooibos, so it's caffeine free.

I'm trying to ration, but I'm almost out of this, too.

Because maybe I drink too much tea.

But I'm pretty sure you can't have too much of that, either.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hot Toddy

Well, the sore throat's gone. It left a bunch of angry little germs in my sinuses, though, so I'm still sniffly as a kid denied a candy bar.

I've also had my body weight in tea today as well, so at least I'm not dehydrated? I've got that goin' for me.

Because I am still feeling so delightfully mushed up inside, I am doing two things that are guaranteed to make me feel better; we're having soup and cornbread for dinner, and I'm having a hot toddy for dessert.

Using this.

While downtown today, I stopped over at the Dark Corner Distillery to see if they had any of Batch 3 left on their Lewis Redmond bourbon. Jason and I have been watching it and debating picking it up since the debut of the first batch. Since at this point the only thing they make we haven't owned or at least had drinks made with is the absinthe, you might say we're Dark Corner fans. Seems kinda natural to add to the collection, right?

Totally natural.

I swung in today and got one of the last five bottles of the third batch.

I'm not sure what it says, though, that when I wandered into the store, the guy remembered me from previous visits. Even though it's probably been since just before Christmas since we made it inside.

Does that mean we visit too much? Own too much moonshine?

Is there any such thing?

I sampled some before I committed to buy, and it's definitely some good bourbon. Smooth enough to sip, and I got a lot of vanilla in the taste. Normally I'd drink it straight or with the barest bit of ice, but I had a different idea today.

The perfect drink for when you're feeling under the weather; a hot toddy! Good for what ails you, or so those old wives say, but make sure you've had plenty of water, because it does dehydrate.

Hot Toddy

What You Need:
 6 ounces water
1 - 2 oz bourbon
honey, to taste
1/4 tsp lemon juice or more, to taste
Save the lemon slice for garnish 
Cinnamon stick, roughly 1 inch

Onto the Creation!
 Easiest thing in the world:

Pour lemon juice, honey, and bourbon in a mug. Heat water until boiling.  Pour into the mug. Mix everything together and top with lemon slice. Drink, and feel every muscle relax. 

Excellent bourbon = excellent bourbon drinks.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Very Little Ado About Sunday

Good day. Long walk with some friends of ours and the dog, wandering all over the landscape around our house. I love where we live; it's nice to be so close to everything and yet still be able to wander into a meadow less than half a mile from my house, and find trails through the woods, winding in and out of the Swamp Rabbit. It feels similar to where we lived at our last place in Illinois, where we were at the edge of town right off the fields. Relaxing, but I still get delivery food if I want it. And I do. I do want it.

Delivery food never ceases to be a novelty.

Well, I imagine it will cease to be a novelty eventually. Right now I am still a giggly child at the idea of someone bringing food to me. If they put in a delivery Starbucks down the road, Jason would have to take my debit card away.

We had lunch at Moe's, which is basically the best way to completely undo any good your exercise for the day has done you. Well, that and the kale-and-ramen soup I'm having for dinner. Or maybe the giant iced latte I had halfway through the walk. Any one of those things, really.

I've been fighting a sore throat off and on for the last week or so. It never gets bad enough to actually impede my ability to function or anything, but I've been drinking hot tea basically nonstop today, and will probably continue to do so long into the night. I think my next 5 Things list will be my favorite teas we own, because man am I making a study of them today.

Doing my best to fight it off; I have a work conference out of town for a few days this week, and I'd hate to be under the weather in any serious way while I'm there.

Daylight Savings Time is seriously painful, isn't it? This morning when my alarm went off, I just stared at it, bleary. This can't be right. I considered the thought that perhaps I had managed to mistake "7 AM" for "4 AM" when setting it; I was that exhausted. Cutting off that last hour of sleep is apparently a Serious Thing for my brain.

Time to spend a week being fatigued, yay!

On the other hand, spring is here. Flowers are starting to bloom, the grass is turning green, today was more than warm enough for shorts. I was able to spend a good chunk of it outside really enjoying things, which definitely made for a great Sunday.

Especially since I even got to see a baby snake up close and personal today. He went slithering out onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail while we were walking, and we were a little worried he'd get run over or stepped on.

So, Lauren carefully moved him into the leaves and grass where he could hide and sent him on his way.

One cannot say we are not friend to all animals!

... even the slithery ones.

Friday, March 8, 2013

5 Things - My Favorite Books

I'm doing my 5 things list a little bit differently this week. Instead of bringing you things from around the internet, I thought I'd focus a little more heavily in on things in my actual life for a few weeks. So we're going to be doing a few 5 things lists that are more focused on the things Jason and I already have, do, or love.

So I thought I'd start with the greatest love of all; I disagree with Whitney Houston's take on this. To me, the greatest love is books.

Just... books.

All the books.

I often tell people I read the way people breathe; it is like oxygen and I need to read to survive. Our house is full of books, so many that we don't have enough shelves for them and some are still unpacked (well, until we get the shelves built in the living room... then hopefully we will have some room to start adding to our collection again! Also Jason's eye just twitched when he read this, I guarantee it.)

So, here are 5 books that I have in my life:

 1. Favorite Book, Non-Fiction:

This has been one of the most interesting books I've ever read.

Jared Diamond goes into great depth and detail on several "vanished" societies - as well as societies that very nearly collapsed but made choices to save themselves- exploring what happened to them and what choices that that particular civilization made that contributed to their collapse or success. Easter Island is one of the best sections of the book; not only does Diamond lay out how the famous Easter Island heads were made and moved (because, despite popular contention, that mystery has long since been solved), but also what made them deforest their own island until it became nearly uninhabitable.

He also looks at the ancient Pueblo known as the 'Anasazi' in popular circles, the Maya and Aztec civilizations, historic Japan in the Tokugawa era, Tikopia, China, Henderson and Pitcairn islands, and the Viking settlement at Greenland. Diamond goes very in-depth, and ends the book with a look at the Rwandan genocide and how it resembles the failing societies of the past and what choices could be made to save it, as well as modern deforestation.

His chapters on Viking settlements in Greenland is great. Even if you just pick it up at the library for this section alone, it will be utterly worth it. He compares the settlement to a similar settlement that took place on Iceland at around the same time, and what choices Iceland made that allowed it to survive and thrive as compared to the Greenlanders, who died or faded away.

I pick this book up all the time, and consider it invaluable research just to have that knowledge in my head. I love nonfiction books, but this is definitely my current reigning favorite.

2. Cookbook:

This is a new cookbook of mine, a Christmas present that has been one of the best gifts I've received. As a warning note, this is not a cookbook to pull out when you want a fancy dinner party. These are back-to-basics recipes, from pot roast and rabbit to making your own farmer's cheese to pies, cakes, cookies, and casseroles.

Marie is a native of the Northeast, and many of her recipes are somewhat cold-weather-centric, but I have found them super helpful even here in upstate South Carolina.

These are recipes that rely heavily on garden and farm-produced foods, as it should be. Vegetables are focused on what would be in season. There are sections on cheese-making, canning, curing meats, and all kinds of preservation methods.

I've been making it a point to make at least one recipe per month out of that month's section. Her basic herbed biscuit recipe has become a mainstay in our house already; a perfect, easy side. Just make the recipe, add whatever random cheese bits go with your dish, and BAM.

Her goulash was great as well, and she has lots of notes on what you can use if you don't have certain ingredients in your pantry already.

Right now I'm in the process of brining my own corned beef for corned beef and cabbage next week, using her brine recipe. There's also a Boston Cream Pie recipe that I'm holding onto until Jason's birthday, when I will be bribing my friend Sarah to help me make it since it's his favorite dessert food. And because she's better at desserts than I am, and eminently bribe-able.

I have fancier cookbooks, but this one's a great resource for the basic stuff, and especially if you have your own vegetable garden.

3. Favorite Book, Fiction:

I know, I know, I'm sure you're completely shocked. I've no doubt the surprise has just rendered you speechless.

I am a horror reader. I love reading different takes on horror stories, and Bram Stoker wrote one of the great genre-defying novels. His is by no means the first vampire novel, and it has by no means been the last, but it is one of the greats.

His Dracula set the standard for many vampire stories to come; a good man ends up victimized by a powerful vampire, who he flees from but cannot escape. The vampire begins to prey on the good man's friends and family, and they band together to find a way to beat him.

Stoker's writing keeps up a good pace, and his epistolary style (the novel is a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, clippings, and other documents rather than existing inside any one character's head) allows him to tell a wide-ranging story without sacrificing detail. It is very much an old style of dialogue and characterization, though, which may be difficult for modern readers who are less used to archetypal characters and more used to shades of gray. This is very much a black and white story about good vs. evil.

But it's also a fantastic horror novel, and probably my favorite book I own.

4.  Currently Reading:

I've had this book for some time and picked it up before, but I feel like I'm gaining a lot more from it this go-round. Maybe I'm just in the right place mentally for a book this full of detail. Craig Childs here studies the 'Anasazi' or ancient Pueblo peoples, working to decipher their lifestyle and why they seem so suddenly, historically speaking, to have vanished from the grand civilization they built.

"Anasazi" is a word that doesn't honestly make much sense as a label for the people who lived in the great cliff-dwellings built into the landscape in the Southwest, and Childs notes this early on. "Anasazi" is a word the Navajo used to describe the people who had lived there once upon a time (they were mostly gone from the cliffs by the time the Spanish came and started sticking random names on things), and it was not a label that cliff-dwellers would have used for themselves, as it was... not flattering. The descendants of the people who lived in these buildings are still around, and it seems oddly unkind to tell them that we will decide what their ancestors were called, when they have perfectly good names for themselves.

On the other hand, you'd probably appreciate it if I don't go into a rant about the disrespectful and occasionally frankly offensive nature of naming conventions when it comes to Native peoples and places... so I'll stop now.

What Craig Childs wrote here is a travelogue, of sorts; he is moving from pueblo site to pueblo site, and along the way we hear about archaeological digs, destruction, and what history has been pieced together from the artifacts, geologic studies, and from the stories of the locals themselves. Oral history is a neglected study, to be honest; we assume too readily that stories are just stories, with no basis for reality.

His writing is beautiful, and he describes the Southwest with the zeal of someone who has fallen deeply in love. The opening chapters alone, in which he describes hopping into a flash flood outside a canyon and letting the rush of muddy water and debris carry him in, is exhilarating.

This book is definitely worth a read to anyone who likes archeology and has an interest in the American Southwest, which has been an archaeological goldmine that was too shabbily treated for too long.

5. Favorite Book, Children's

The Giver by Lois Lowry and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle.

Yep, it's a tie.

Actually, if I allowed myself to do this, I would pick something like seven kids' books and call them all my favorite. I am an avowed lover of books for kids, even into adulthood. Odd and the Frost Giants is the newest as far as publishing date I've picked up. I tell myself I'm building a library for my future children.

I tell myself a lot of things.

In this case, though, I only allowed myself to pick the two and call it a tie.

I don't even know what a seven-way tie is called. Is there a name for that?

The Giver is dystopia done right. Lowry writes from the perspective of Jonas, a boy growing up in the Community, a society of peace and harmony. He is raised by people who are not, strictly speaking, his parents; it doesn't work like that. His little sister is not his biological sister; she was assigned to the family when he was young. Details are given out sparingly at first, as needed. Because we are in Jonas's head and he has lived here his whole life, there are dark undercurrents to society that only become truly apparent as time goes on and Jonas himself learns how to see the world in a way he could not have imagined before.

There; I'm not giving anything away. This book should be read by adults as well as children. It's probably Lowry's finest writing. A coming-of-age story in a world where no one is allowed to choose anything for themselves.

The ending is a heartbreak, but by that I don't mean to say it's a bad ending. It's... perfect.

As far as A Wrinkle in Time is concerned, it's straight science-fiction that has an oddly fantasy feel to it.

Meg is an unusual main character for a young-adult/kids' book; she's a mouse-haired nerd girl who wears huge glasses and has anger and self-esteem issues galore. The child of brilliant scientists, Meg finds herself simply unable to fit in. She doesn't think she is smart enough to fit in with her parents, her twin brothers work hard to be as absolutely middle-of-the-road normal as possible, and her littlest brother Charles Wallace is a certifiable genius child, who seems to be the only person who understands her.

Then Meg's father disappears, and she discovers that he's alive... but not on Earth.

L'Engle was an excellent writer, and any one of her books is a perfect example of great writing for kids. She manages to tell a complicated story about the nature of time, space, family ties, and not judging by surface appearances without talking down to kids, yet is perfectly understandable to them. A series of her books deal with Meg, Meg's family, and her life. I own most of them and am trying to own them all.

I just keep running into this problem where I have no more room for books.

So there; there's this week's 5 things. I'm going to try to do this weekly. Hopefully I can come up with something vaguely interesting for next week's edition.

If I can't, I'll just spam you with photos of my dog. That seems to be working really well so far.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Notes to My Pets

Dear Indiana Jones,

(My dog. I don't think Harrison Ford is super open to my notes evaluating his performances, especially since the one for Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull (aka, the movie that doesn't exist in the paradise of my imagination) just consists of a lot of swearing and 'come on, seriously?!')

Wait. What are we talking about?


Dear Indy,

You are indeed super cute when you bring me toys to play. This is a definite plus in this whole 'you are our dog' arrangement we have going. The way in which you convince all of our friends they kinda want dogs too is also a huge mark in your favor.

You are indeed adorable when playing. There's only two notes of possible improvement I'd like to make;

is there any way the toys we buy you could start lasting more than four days? This was a tightly braided three-weave rope toy on Sunday.

Now it's just... rope.

Frayed rope at that.

Yes, I see your point. Part of it is still braided.

Your adorable puppy growls notwithstanding, we really need to work on this. That plastic hamburger I also bought you on Sunday? There's a hole in it the size of my thumb.

Four days, dog.

Didn't even last a week.

At least the hot dog, chicken bone, and steak are all still lookin' good.

Oh, and your Wubba! You know, that supposedly awesome industrial strength toy? It came with legs, Indy.

It has no legs now.

And no head, either, for that matter. It's just a big squeaker torso. I'll admit the head part was my fault, since it looked like a rabbit.

Your energy is adorable. We loved letting you out in the yard to run and play and growl at tree branches. Which is where my other note of improvement comes from. We liked letting you out in the yard. It's why we have a fence, so you could just run around and come back in when you were ready! Good times had by all!

Then we found you in the neighbor's yard, and thought, eh he dug himself under the fence there. We'll just lay out a cinderblock or two.

That worked, for a while.

Then on Monday I found you in the back neighbor's unfenced yard, with no conceivable hole to have wiggled through. Because you 'forgot' how you got over the fence once you saw my face, I couldn't get you back over and had to carry a kitchen chair out and put it on the other side of the fence, squeeze my hands through the chain link to get your leash on, and then pull you by your leash up onto the chair, then deadlift you, then pick up the chair and get both back into the house.

That... could have gone better for both of us.

Then, the last two nights in a row, we've found you in the side neighbor's (thankfully fenced) yard when we let you out for the last time for the night. Jason had to pick you up and carry you over the fence, since once again you conveniently 'forget' how you get through the moment the people show up all troubled and panicky.

So now we go outside with you. Which seems to be troubling you, Indy, since you go sit by the back fence and wait for me to leave. When I do not leave, you give the fence a longing stare, paw at it once, and then woefully trot over to me to play.

I know what's what, little puppy.

I wasn't born in a barn, you know.

Your cuteness has no power over me.

Well... maybe a little power.


Dear Tsertsa, whose name is Russian and whose spelling I am mostly making up,

You spend your entire day eating, sleeping, drinking some water, and sleeping some more.  You only seem to want to play at 3 AM when Jason and I are asleep. This sleeping offends you in some way, so it cannot be allowed.

It's okay; you are very cute, even at 3 AM.

Occasionally, when you feel you have the energy during the day, you walk carefully over to one of our laps and force your head under our hands and start to purr.

Your hints are not subtle.

On the other hand, I have never found you wandering around an unfenced yard just off a highway, even when we let you out. You just stay in the yard, and come back inside when I call.

When we call to the dog to go into his crate at bedtime, half the time you try to muscle him out of the way and go in yourself. You know where the treats come from.


Carry on.