Sunday, October 31, 2010

One More for the Road

Here's one last plug for scary reading:

Mercedes Lackey is a famous fantasy author who alone and with others has written more books than I've had time to keep track of, let alone read.  Three of them, though, are outstanding blends of magic and horror that make them perfect Halloween treats.

Diana Tregarde is a modern Renaissance woman - martial artist, romance novelist, empath and practicing witch.  In the battle of good vs. evil, she's firmly on the side of the angels.  That's fortunate, because the baddies just keep coming:

Children of the Night  - Gypsies, vampires, and a Japanese gaki make New York City even more dangerous and surreal than usual.

Burning Water - A string of ritual murders takes Diana to Dallas.  Who's to blame - a run-of-the-mill psychopath, a local Satanic cult, or an ancient Aztec god mysteriously restored to power?  Or all of the above?

Jinx High - Sex and Blood Magic wreaks havoc in a Tulsa High School, and Diana's spending her vacation tracing the psychic backtrails.  To quote the tagline on the back of my copy: "Teenage passion meets centuries-old magic...Prom Night's going to be Hell!"

These books have a higher "ick" factor than the others I've reviewed this week - some of the victims' fates are described fairly graphically - but they are intelligently plotted and eerily suspenseful.  Guaranteed to make the hair raise on the back of your neck the next time you hear footsteps behind you in the dark.

"One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses." ~Robin Wood (An Introduction to the American Horror Film)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Going Bananas

I've mentioned before that Barry likes to make banana smoothies after his workouts.  The corollary to this is that he stockpiles bananas like an acquisitive chimp, and he never manages to consume them all before they start showing brown spots.  He won't eat them after they start softening because he dislikes the texture of even slightly squishy bananas.  Sometimes he'll throw a lightly spotted banana into a smoothie, but generally he just leaves the fruit he considers too old to fester at the bottom of the banana bowl.

All summer long I've been throwing out his rejects, but autumn is here at last, and with it, baking season.  I love to bake, but I don't during the four months when heating up the oven will risk sending our overworked air conditioner into cardiac arrest.  Now, however, the weather is cooling off even in Arizona, and yesterday I made this fall's first batch of banana bread.

I used the recipe that my mother always uses.  I copied it years ago from her stained, handwritten recipe card.  I don't know where it originally came from; she may have invented it or modified someone else's recipe all out of recognition, as was so often the case with the food I remember from my childhood.  At any rate, this is one of the few recipes I usually follow exactly because it's so easy and tastes so good that I don't want to tamper with perfection.

Lillian's Banana Nut Bread

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
3 Tbl sour milk (or regular milk with a little lemon juice added)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 mashed very ripe large bananas
1 cup chopped nuts

Cream the sugar and butter together.  Mix in the eggs, soda, and milk.  Add the remaining ingredients and blend.  Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (at least 1 hour).  Remove from pan and cool.

For a slightly healthier version, replace half the flour with whole wheat and half the sugar with brown sugar and add some raisins.  The riper the bananas are, the sweeter they'll be and the more easily they'll mix with the other ingredients, but they shouldn't yet be leaking fluids or developing science-project mold.  If you don't have an hour for baking, use muffin tins instead of a loaf pan and bake 15-20 minutes.


“Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread - there may be.” ~David Gayson

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not a Photography Blog, But...

Why should little kids have all the fun (and get all the candy) on Halloween?  
Put on a costume, whip out your picture-taking cell phone, and have a spooktactular Halloween!

"Nothing on Earth so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night." ~Steve Almond

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Horsing Around for Halloween

Tomorrow my office is having its Halloween party during the day and Barry and I will be attending a Halloween-themed ballroom dance in the evening.  Late this afternoon I finally came to grips with the question of this year's costume.

I've reached the age where I'm reluctant to spend big money on looking ridiculous once a year.  Barry usually breaks out his tae kwon do gi for Halloween (he's a second-degree black belt), but I don't have anything similar in my closet.  I do have a small collection of accessories that I can wear with normal clothes - Minnie Mouse ears, linen poet's shirt, flapper beads and feather boa - but my friends are probably tired of seeing them.  After mentally running through my wardrobe, I decided that this would be the year of the cowgirl.  I have jeans, a suede vest, the aforementioned poet's shirt, a bandanna and a pair of brown leather boots that could pass for cowboy boots at a distance.  A few more accessories and I would be set - a hat, a toy gun, perhaps a hobbyhorse.  How hard could it be to find them?

Very hard.  Apparently, Woody and Jessie from Toy Story notwithstanding, cowpersons are now out of fashion, or perhaps (due to the guns) politically incorrect.  I searched several toy stores and a party store without finding a single cowboy/cowgirl hat.  The only hobbyhorses I saw were actually unicorns on sticks, in neon hues of pink and purple.  I located one reproduction Remington revolver with holster, in bright orange so no one could use it to hold up a bank.  At this point I realized that I should have decided on my costume some time prior to less than 24 hours before I needed to put it on.

I finally broke down and visited an actual western wear store.  There, as I expected, the adult hats were all too large for my small head and short hair, but they did have a modest selection of children's hats and even a teeny-tiny silver-colored revolver in a real leather holster.  I snatched them up, wincing at the price but determined not to appear yet again as Minnie Mouse.

The good news: my hat is a brown version of Jessie's hat.  I had one just like it except red when I was five, and it still looks great.  The bad news: I never did locate a hobbyhorse.  After I got home, I found just what I had wanted on  This will teach me to think ahead; a little more planning and one of these noble steeds could have been mine.

"Cowboys are proof that cowgirls can take a joke." ~Anonymous

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Haunting Classic

And the countdown to Halloween continues!

Ruth Bennett is a 40-ish widow who recently inherited a historic home in Georgetown.  Her niece, Sara, is staying with her while attending college.  Sara seems like a typical teenager until she starts sleepwalking - and worse.  Is the problem physical, psychological, or supernatural?  Could it be possession, and if so, by what or whom?  Sara's boyfriend and her anthropology professor, who is captivated by Ruth, rally round to help solve the mystery.

Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels is cleverly plotted and chillingly suspenseful, but its true charm is the interaction between the four main characters.  They are realistic and likable, and the main reason I've worn out two paperback copies of the book and bought all of the sequels.  Fortunately, it's still available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Other books about the supernatural by Barbara Michaels that you might enjoy:
  • The Dark on the Other Side - Michael has been hired to write the biography of Gordon Randolph, a man who has everything except a happy marriage.  What has driven his wife Linda to drink, and what is the "black dog" she fears?
  • House of Many Shadows - Meg thinks the visions she sees in her cousin's country house are lingering hallucinations caused by her head injury, until the caretaker starts seeing them, too.
  • Wait for What Will Come - Is Carla Tregallas the reincarnation of her ancestor Caroline, and will the merpeople who had supposedly taken Caroline's life come for her, too?
Like the novel I discussed yesterday, these books and Ms. Michaels's other works rely on suggestion rather than overt violence for their effects, and very effective they are, too.

"There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.~Alfred Hitchcock

Monday, October 25, 2010

Magically Horrifying

It's almost Halloween, so the annual round of slasher movies has been released and bookstores are prominently displaying the latest in vampire fiction.  My favorite horror novel, though, does not feature bloodsuckers, chainsaws, zombies, psychopaths or a post-apocalyptic civilization inhabited by human wolves.  Set on a peaceful small-town college campus, Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber relies on suggestion and suspicion to build an almost unbearable atmosphere of suspense before some of the traditional trappings of horror fiction finally kick in at the end of Chapter 14.

Norman Saylor is a young sociology professor who earned his doctorate with a brilliant dissertation on folk magic.  His stay-at-home wife, Tansy, enthusiastically helped him with the research.  In the first chapter of the book, Norman is appalled to discover that Tansy really believes in the magic they have been studying and has been trying to use it to protect him and advance his career.  He pressures her to stop and she reluctantly agrees.

Almost immediately things go wrong for Norman, personally and professionally.  Against his will, he begins to believe that Tansy was right in her assertion that the other faculty wives are also practicing witches who will stop at nothing to protect their husbands against the perceived threats posed by Norman's youth and brains.  Norman's and Tansy's lives and souls are both at risk, and the suspense is excruciating.

Conjure Wife was written in 1953 so some of it reads now like a historical novel, but the details of campus politics could have been lifted from last week, and the author's background research makes the folk magic sections totally believable.  Despite its age, it's still in print, so I'm obviously not the only one to consider this a classic.  Tired of zombie hordes and in-your-face violence?  Let Fritz Leiber show you the subtle side of horror.

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business. " ~Tom Robbins

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Through Several Pairs of Glasses, Darkly

My late husband, Tom, was 15 years older than I, so he was the first to need bifocals.  When that day dawned, however, he didn’t stop with one new pair of eyeglasses.  Noooo, he ended up with all-purpose bifocals, mid-range computer glasses, reading glasses, distance glasses for driving, bifocal sunglasses, driving sunglasses, sunglass clips for his bifocals and reading glasses, and several old prescriptions as backups.  The top drawer of his dresser was crammed with eyeglass cases.  We had a running joke that they were multiplying in the dark corners there.

When I too needed bifocals, I was determined to avoid the heap-o-lenses.  I bought just one pair of glasses with progressive lenses and some bifocal contacts.  Unfortunately, my brain never adjusted properly to the bifocal contacts.  I complained to my eye doctor and he proposed switching to monovision lenses.

I don’t know whether you are old enough to remember the series of Peanuts comics in which Charlie Brown’s sister Sally learns she has amblyopia and is forced to wear an eye patch; if not, click here to see the strip that explains what amblyopia is.  With monovision contacts, one eye is used for distance vision and the other for close work like reading.  One eye does all the work and the other takes a nap - in short, induced amblyopia.  The only difference is that the eyes take turns as the “lazy” eye.

I thought this was a ridiculous idea.  After all, what would happen to my depth perception?  To my peripheral vision?  Would I become an even worse menace on the highways?  Would I still be able to do computer graphics?  In the end, I was too vain to give up on contacts entirely.  I tried the monovision lenses and they worked.  But…

To get around the “no peripheral vision” thing when driving, I bought a pair of driving glasses to correct my reading lens prescription to distance vision.  Neither my contacts nor my bifocal glasses were ideal for computer work, so I bought a pair of computer glasses next.  All my new glasses eventually needed sunglass clips.  And a couple of old prescriptions are still kicking around, just in case.  So now I have a heap of eyeglass cases just like Tom’s, on a slightly smaller scale, plus all the cases and solutions and miscellaneous paraphernalia for my contacts.

I’m just hoping that I won’t need trifocals for at least another 20 years.

“No one knows for certain but all the evidence seems to point to the inventor of eyeglasses as an unknown artisan from Pisa, Italy circa 1286-87.” ~ David A Fleishman, MD. (

Update: I apologize for my erratic posting schedule this week;  our Internet connection has been only intermittently available.  I hope our cable provider finally has everything functioning properly!

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Now That's a Baby!"

When I mentioned in yesterday's post that I'm not normally excited by pictures of strangers' children, I couldn't help remembering my friend Paul's aversion to having photos of babies waved under his nose.  Paul was one of my co-workers in New York; he was witty and intense and dressed like a cover model for GQ.  He was also an only child and he and his wife were childless, so he had had very little contact with small children, and babies in particular made him very uneasy.  Because he was one of our marketing executives he traveled frequently to our customers' offices, where he was almost invariably waylaid by women twice his age brandishing pictures of newborn grandchildren.  He attracted them as if he were a magnet for bragging grannies.

"I never know what to say," he would wail after each of these experiences.  "They're all smushed and red and funny-looking.  I can't say they're cute because they're not."

The rest of us finally made up a list of rules for him:
  • Do not guess at the baby's gender.  Use neutral language until the relative lets slip a "he," "she," or unambiguous first name.
  • If possible, flatter the proud relative.  "Isn't that your nose? Don't you think the baby flatters your side of the family?"  If the baby is excruciatingly unattractive, give the relative a chance to dis the in-laws: "And who do you think the baby resembles?"
  • If you can't bring yourself to refer to the baby as "beautiful," "sweet," or "adorable," try noncommittal comments that the person hovering in a cloud of baby-love will interpret as positives: "Oh, look at that face!"  "What big eyes!"  "So much hair for a newborn!"  "Not very happy about the flash, is he/she?"
Armed with these suggestions he sallied forth with increased confidence.  I only regret that I didn't know Barry back then; Paul would have loved Barry's all-purpose response in similar situations: "Now, that's a BABY!"

“An ugly baby is a very nasty object - and the prettiest is frightful.” ~Queen Victoria

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Requiem for a Daydream

Today I was saddened by the news that one of my favorite blogs is no more.  To be exact, the blog is continuing, but the content that I loved has been deleted by the blogger and she will be taking the blog in a different direction.

Mila's Daydreams was a beautiful, unique photography blog by a Finnish designer named Adele Enersen.  She described it as her maternity leave project.  Almost every day when her baby took a nap on their fluffy white carpet, Adele cleverly arranged fabric, toys, and accessories around little Mila, photographed the resulting scenes, and posted them on the blog.  Mila made appearances as Red Riding Hood, a fairy princess, an astronaut and more.  I'm not normally a big fan of other people's baby pictures, but these were something more - fresh, imaginative, and amusing.

At first only Adele's friends and relatives viewed the blog.  Then came Fame.

Blogger chose Mila's Daydreams as a Blog of Note and the viewers multiplied exponentially - and so did the copyright infringements.  Despite her copyright notice and watermarking, theft of Adele's original work has become so blatant that she has withdrawn all but one of the large photos from the site and has stated that she will not post any more pictures of Mila.  She did post small thumbnails along with a request to turn in any copyright offenders we may encounter; if you haven't seen her creations yet, visit her blog now; this may be your only chance to see the adorable Mila in her many roles, and you may be the one to finger the heartless thieves who stole her from her fans.

"I think almost every newspaper in the United States has lost circulation due to the Internet. I also think the Internet will lead to a lot of plagiarism in journalism."  ~Will McDonough

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Don't Do Drugs!"

Ever since I saw Fargo, I've been a big fan of Frances McDormand.  Her face at first glance isn't very expressive, but she can use her eyes, her voice, and her body to portray absolutely anyone.  In Fargo she was the pregnant, low-key but stalwart sheriff; in The Man Who Wasn't There, the flashy, promiscuous wife; and in the movie we watched tonight, Almost Famous, the hero's scarily controlling single mother.  She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role, and was the primary reason we watched the film.

Almost Famous is the fictionalized story of writer/director Cameron Crowe's first writing assignment for "Rolling Stone" magazine - at the age of 15.  Instead of graduating with his high school class (he had skipped two grades), he was touring the country with an up-and-coming band and being introduced to love, sex, and the seamy side of rock-and-roll.  Ms. McDormand's was not the only notable role in the film; Kate Hudson also won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as a determined "Band-Aid," and Philip Seymour Hoffman should have been nominated for his role as a cynical older journalist.  Billy Crudup, Zooey Deschanel, and Patrick Fugit as William, the hero, also turned in solid performances.  Crowe won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

TCM gave this movie four stars.  Barry and I don't always agree with their ratings, but in this case we definitely do.  Almost Famous has it all - a great story; an amazing cast; the heady, often sleazy atmosphere of the early 70's rock scene; and a satisfying ending.  Not to mention Frances McDormand - every time I remember the way she intoned "Don't do drugs!," my face breaks into a smile.

“Rock and roll doesn't necessarily mean a band. It doesn't mean a singer, and it doesn't mean a lyric, really. It's that question of trying to be immortal.” ~ Malcolm Mclaren

Monday, October 18, 2010

Something in the Eyre

As the Monty Python guys used to say, "And now for something completely different..."

I've always been fascinated by alternative history books - what would have happened if Lincoln hadn't been assassinated, or if Louis XVI had married someone other than Marie Antoinette? - but lately I've been reading alternative reality books by Jasper Fforde, a British author.  He has several different series running, but the one I like best stars a character named Thursday Next and starts with The Eyre Affair.

For those who haven't yet encountered Thursday, the best analogy I can give to the universe in which she lives is the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  In the Fforde books, the part that Toontown plays in the Roger Rabbit movie is taken by the entire world of fictional literature.  Thursday works for SpecOps-27, the literary Detective division of the Special Operations Network, which polices works of fiction.  By "polices works of fiction," I mean making sure that books continue to stay as originally written despite attempts by their characters or outside forces to change their outcome.  In The Eyre Affair, Jane Eyre vanishes from her book and Thursday must attempt to find her and get the plot of the novel back on course.

The book is rife with puns and literary references, Thursday is a strong and engaging heroine, and the alternate universe Fforde has imagined is vivid and internally consistent, although it requires a considerable willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.  If you are looking for a funny and highly unusual read, try The Eyre Affair and its sequels; the next one is due out in 2011, and I can hardly wait.

"We were developing a machine that used egg white, heat and sugar to synthesize methanol when a power surge caused an implosion. Owens was meringued. By the time we chipped him out the poor chap had expired." ~ Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Mother, My Kitchen

My mother's mother died of colon cancer when Mom was in high school, leaving her alone with my eccentric, irascible and non-cooking grandfather.  Grandmother had been ill for a long time and never gathered the patience and the energy to teach my mother to cook, so poor Mom was thrown into the deep end of the kitchen with no preparation.  She tells one story about the fat green caterpillar that crawled out of her first tossed salad onto my grandfather's plate; other than that, she is silent about how she learned to cook via trial and error, a couple of cookbooks, and sheer determination.  By the time she married my father at the age of 19, though, she was more competent in the kitchen than his mother, who was a lovely person but should have been born in a city with plenty of take-out options.

Mom has never stopped trying to improve her cooking skills.  While my sister and I were growing up she regularly acquired additional cookbooks and subscribed to Bon Appetit.  I now regret the times I joined my father and sister in chorusing, "Another experiment?"  She was doing her best to feed us nutritious, attractive, and creative food in a part of the Midwest better known for beige hot dishes.  At this point, I truly believe she can cook anything short of flaming filet of yak.  (She's a small woman; butchering the yak might be beyond her.)

Since Barry and I have been cooking almost everything from scratch this year, I find myself falling back on some of her simple but delicious improvisations.  One of them is her method of serving dates.

Despite our best attempts to eat a balanced diet, both Barry and I occasionally suffer from potassium deficiencies.  Barry deals with this by making himself banana-based smoothies after his workouts.  I can't do that.  To me, one banana a month tastes great; three or four are much too cloying unless disguised under dollops of ice cream and hot fudge sauce - not exactly in line with our healthy eating plan.  I was reluctantly eating bananas on my Cheerios when a friend suggested Medjool dates.

Until then, I had never tasted a Medjool, but I was an instant convert.  Plump, sweet, luscious - they beat bananas four ways from Sunday.  According to Natow and Heslin's The Most Complete Food Counter, "[t]he recommended Daily Value (DV) for potassium is 3,500 milligrams.  Americans average about 3,000 milligrams a day" (p. xv).  Happily, they also say that 10 whole dates contain 541 milligrams of potassium, neatly filling the gap for only 228 calories and a trace of fat.  Dates also contain some folic acid and vitamin A.

However, the lovely Medjool is expensive and not always available in our local stores.  When this is the case, I buy cheaper dates.  Unfortunately, they tend to be both much drier and less tasty.  This is where Mom's ingenuity saves the day.

The pit of a date is roughly the size and shape of a slim almond kernel.  When we were small, Mom would slit dates lengthwise, pop out the pits, and insert a walnut half in each.  This instantly improved the flavor, added a little interesting texture, and contributed healthy omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidents (although we didn't know that then).  She usually served the doctored dates on a fruit plate with apple slices, orange sections, and (shudder) bananas.  I just eat them like candy whenever I feel a leg cramp coming on.

Mom, I apologize for every time I ever said or did anything to discourage your adventures in creative cuisine.  In the long run, I've learned more practical cooking from you than from all the TV chefs I've ever watched put together.

"Learn to cook--try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" ~ Julia Child (My Life in France)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's My Blog and I'll Whine If I Want To

Earlier this week I was distressed by a nasty comment that accused me of being totally self-absorbed.  I deleted the comment and then had second thoughts.  I'm sure that I do come across in this blog as extremely self-centered because this is the only place I have to put myself first.

I've mentioned several times that Barry, my partner, has Aspergers syndrome.  Aspergers is an autism-spectrum disorder;  the symptoms are enumerated in this list from the Aspergers Society:
  • Social awkwardness / no friends
  • Obsessions / focused on one subject
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Sensitivity to noise / touch / feel of clothing
  • Odd speech / extreme logic / very proper speech
  • Anger / aggression / hitting others
  • Craves ROUTINE!
  • Appears lost / in own world
  • Communication problems or motor skills problems
  • Stimming behavior [self-stimulation movements or tics, like rubbing the face or flapping hands]
Barry has all these behaviors, some of them to an extreme degree.  Perhaps the quickest way to explain the effects this has on our relationship is to repeat a joke someone told me recently: All cats have Aspergers.  One source I read estimated that 75% of relationships where one party has Aspergers ends up in couples counseling, and the failure rate for such relationships is very high.

Living with someone who has Aspergers demands a lot of patience.  I am his support system and his social buffer.  When we were first together, I handled all of our travel arrangements, home repairs, shopping, and anything else that required dealing with other people because these tasks flustered and angered him so much that he would verbally assault the other party.  After years of work and some help from an excellent therapist he has started to take care of more of these things himself, but he can still abruptly collapse or kick into a rage if things don't go exactly according to his mental vision.

In addition, Asperger individuals are neurologically unable to understand other peoples' feelings.  Barry loves me and says he wants to support me, but he doesn't really get what that means.  I tell him as clearly and as explicitly as possible what my needs are, but there's about an 80%  chance that he won't believe me.  Why should I want a silly thing like that?

Barry is a bright and sensitive person and I love him very much, but I doubt that I would have become involved with him had I known about the Aspergers from Day 1.  (He wasn't actually diagnosed until we had been together for several years.)  In many ways he is more like my child than an equal partner.  Navigating the rocky waters of his quirks, neediness, and anger some days takes all I have to give, or even a little more.  On the days when things go really wrong for him, I feel as if I am living with an emotional vampire, because by the time he is calmed down and functional I am totally drained.

So, this blog is where I go to talk about me.  If the individual who left me the nasty note doesn't like it, he or she can go read something else.  If any of the rest of you would like further information about Aspergers syndrome, I would suggest these online resources:

"I see people with Asperger's syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life" ~ Tony Attwood.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Renouncing the Colonel

When Barry and I went on our diet last year, we had a hard time giving up fried chicken.  How easy it was, after a difficult day, to visit Colonel Sanders' drive-through window and carry off a bucket of greasy delights.  How difficult to swear off fried chicken skin, especially KFC's extra-crispy recipe, which is almost like chicken enveloped in a doughnut and then deep-fried.  We were dedicated finger-lickers.  Salt, starch, and grease - three of the major food groups of unhealthy eating.  What was not to love?

However, give it up we did.  After some experimentation, we developed this spicy substitute, which is much better for us and (we think) even better tasting.  The crumb crust seals in the juices and the seasoning adds flavor to what admittedly can be a rather bland meat.  Our arteries are thanking us for the change.  We hope you will enjoy it as well!

Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken

Vegetable oil spray
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp dried onion powder
2 tsp dried garlic powder
1 Tbsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
2-4 cups panko bread crumbs - we like Ian’s Whole Wheat Style (4 cups gives you a mildly spicy blend;                                                                                                          2 cups is pretty zippy)
Boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 egg for every two chicken breasts used

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and spray a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl, mix the spices, brown sugar, and lemon zest with a fork or whisk.  When thoroughly blended, add the bread crumbs and mix again.  Place ½ cup of seasoned crumbs for every two breasts you plan to bake in a sealable gallon-sized plastic bag.  (Store the remaining crumbs in a sealed glass or plastic container for future use.)  Whisk the egg(s) in a shallow pan.  Roll one chicken breast in the egg and then shake it in the bag of crumbs.  When the breast is coated with seasoned crumbs, place it on the prepared pan.  Repeat with the other breast(s), one at a time.  Bake.  After 10 minutes, check to see whether the crumbs are getting too brown; if so, cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Continue to bake until a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breasts reads 165 degrees (the temperature will go up another 5 degrees or so after you take the chicken out of the oven); how long this will take depends on your oven and how large the breasts are, but start checking when the chicken has been baking for 15 minutes.  Variation: Use filets of tilapia or another firm white fish instead of chicken; reduce the cooking time.

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks." ~ Lin Yutang

Thursday, October 14, 2010

She Shopped, I Dropped

As you've probably already guessed, I am a compulsive reader.  User guides, food labels, license plates - I read anything with printing on it that passes before my eyes, and I probably critique the font choice, too.  Until this week, I can only remember failing to finish reading one work of fiction.  That was Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.  I bought it because I loved The Name of the Rose, but after four attempts at reading it, I gave up.  Always before, no matter how bad the book, I had read the whole thing, but Foucault's Pendulum was just too ponderous.  I was very disappointed because I had expected Eco to become one of my favorite authors.  Instead, I gave up on him, too.

This week I failed to finish a second novel, and again it was one I had hoped and expected to enjoy - Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.  I didn't read the book when it was first published and I didn't see the movie, but I saw ads for the movie and thought it looked both funny and smart.  Hah.

For the rest of you who have not yet read the book, the main character is a financial journalist who is also a compulsive shopper, and the book is supposed to be the story of how, despite failing to control her spending addiction, she ends up living happily ever.  Since I also hear the siren songs of designer names and final sales, I expected to empathize with the heroine and root for her throughout the book.  Instead, I hated her guts.  This character is so shallow, self-destructive and unlovable she makes pond scum look cuddly and deep.

The other reservation I have about this book has to do with the extent of the protagonist's shopping habit.  This is not just a woman who has a hard time passing up a bargain; if she were real, she would be a serious candidate for a 12-step program.  Making fun of "happy drunks" and people with eating disorders is no longer politically correct; why are compulsive spenders still fair game?  I realize the author is exaggerating for comic effect, but she went too far for me.  I only got a third of the way through before consigning Ms. Shopaholic to whatever circle of hell Dante reserved for debtors.  I don't understand why this novel was a best-seller, and I certainly won't bother with any of the sequels.

I apologize to anyone who thinks this is the greatest book ever.  I've never written a negative book report before, and the thought that I've done so now depresses me so much that I may have to go buy another book to recover.

"It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish." ~S.I. Hiyakawa

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Return of the Mutant Mucous Monster

There it sits by itself, having driven everyone away with its testy growling – a hunched, lumpy, purple creature with vicious red slits for eyes and a huge, swollen maroon nose.  A steady drip of fluid runs down its face and it periodically lets loose a hacking, phlegmy cough or an explosive, messy sneeze.  A mountain of crumpled used Kleenex rises at its feet, and a package of cough strips is its constant companion.  It is the Mutant Mucous Monster – aka me, in the throes of a seasonal allergy attack.

When I dwelt in South Dakota, alfalfa fields and dead leaves swelled my eyelids into puffy pillows.  In New York, the tree pollen that drifted like snow every spring kept me mopping my cracked and streaming nose until the abused skin peeled off my upper lip.  On vacations, I sneezed for days after encountering the pine forests of the Catskills and the Pensacola Killer Mold.  And now I live in Arizona, where both the spring and the autumn are filled with the dust, mold, and pollen that make my life temporarily a living hell.  Add to this the fresh air fiend I live with, who can’t understand why our windows should remain shut unless I’m actually broken out in hives (LIKE I AM NOW), and you can see why I consider this the least wonderful time of the year.

I’ve never been able to understand the evolutionary usefulness of allergies.  Surely they rank only slightly above the mosquito on the list of God’s Bad Ideas.  In an earlier era they would probably have killed me off in childhood.  Fortunately I have no children of my own; they might well have been plastic bubble babies.

I suppose I should bite the bullet and start desensitization shots.  I tried them once before; they worked fairly well until I moved across the country and encountered a whole new set of allergens.  Unfortunately, I hate needles, and my insurance won’t cover the cost.  Maybe I can cadge a free sample of Nasonex from my doctor; I did that last fall with reasonably good results.  Otherwise, I suppose I will tough it out with Puffs Sensitive, Visine-A, cough syrup, and double doses of minimally effective over-the-counter allergy pills one more season and hope I can afford the shots next spring.

Why have I never bought stock in any of the tissue manufacturers?

“I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.” ~James Thurber

Shaping Our Ends

When NBC rolled out the first season of The Biggest Loser, Barry said it was the stupidest reality show concept he’d ever heard of, and we didn’t watch it for several years.  Then we decided we needed to lose weight ourselves.

Last November, we completely revamped our eating habits.  We spent several weeks researching the changes we should make.  We visited online nutrition sites, checked out books on healthy eating from the library, and even bought a couple of low-fat, low-salt cookbooks.  One of the books we consulted was Biggest Loser Simple Swaps: 100 Easy Changes to Start Living a Healthier Lifestyle by Cheryl Forberg, the Biggest Loser dietician.  It’s a great little book, full of creative substitutions, delicious recipes, and advice from the program’s staff and former contestants.  We liked it so well that we started to watch the show.

By now Barry has lost over 50 pounds and I’ve lost 25, and we’re still watching The Biggest Loser every Tuesday night.  Seeing the contestants’ struggles with their obesity keeps us motivated.  Those people didn’t gain their excess weight overnight; it crept up on them a pound at a time.  If we’re not vigilant, the weight we’ve lost could sneak back the same way.  It was hard enough to lose it the first time; we certainly don’t want to have to go through the whole process again.

Here are a few of the other resources we count on to keep us on track:

This is the website for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.  Its most important link is to, which explains the food groups in a healthy diet and contains a calculator to help you determine how much of each food group you should be eating every day.

This site, by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers several brochures on healthy living, including the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were jointly developed by HHS and the USDA.  The dietary guidelines are published every five years; the 2010 guidelines are currently under development. 

This is the section of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) website devoted to Weight Loss and Dieting.  See especially the article on portion sizes and the Weight Loss and Control Organizations Resource List.

Web MD’s Healthy Eating and Diet Center.  “Diets A-Z” describes and assesses popular diets.

Eating for Life: Boost Immunity, Prevent Disease, Celebrate Good Food.  Better Homes and Gardens.  The title of this book says it all: Interesting recipes with nutritional statistics and information on the diseases they may fight.  Ethnic and vegetarian recipes included.
image of cartoon potato with glasses and a stack of books

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.   David Kessler.  The story of Americans’ food addiction by the former head of the FDA.  A real wake-up call.  If this book doesn’t convince you that excess fat, sugar and salt are bad for you, nothing ever will.

Cook This, Not That!  David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding.  How to lighten up home-cooked meals.  The same authors have published a series of Eat This, Not That! books for guidance when eating in restaurants.  See also their website (

So, it’s Tuesday night, and we’re cheering on the latest group of Losers.  Kudos to them for taking charge of their weight, their health, and their lives.  Next year if the show holds public casting calls again in Phoenix, we intend to show up and root for the prospective contestants in person.

“As for food, half of my friends have dug their graves with their teeth.” ~Chauncey M. Depew

Monday, October 11, 2010

When Two Rules Collide

I loaded the dishwasher after supper yesterday but didn’t start it.  The bottom rack still had room for the breakfast dishes, so running it last night would have violated one of Barry’s cardinal rules:  You should not waste water.

This morning, though, when Barry realized that yesterday’s dishes were still filthy, he blew up.  Apparently I had violated another rule, the one that says I should do things when he expects them to be done.  After a brisk discussion, he agreed the “save water” rule trumps the “keep on schedule” rule.  We live in the desert, after all.  Conservation is important.

I think we all harbor fuzzy, unspoken sets of internal “shoulds,” and when one of those “shoulds” is violated, we are angrier than the situation really calls for.  I was much less aware of this before meeting Barry.  Asperger’s sufferers have more rules than most people and are very dedicated to defending them.  Living with someone so bound by internal dictates has made me stop and consider what contradictory or dysfunctional rules may be cluttering up my own brain pan.  Here are a few I think I should throw overboard, or at least stop stressing about:
  •   Everyone around me should be reasonable and good-tempered at all times.  Only I am allowed to have snarky moods.
  •  I should be able to eat anything I want to without exercising or gaining weight.  
  • I should not even try to do something unless I’m sure I can do it perfectly.
Yes, and the tooth fairy should pay me the quarter she still owes me.

These are bad rules that limit my pleasure in my life as it is by holding out for impossible can’t-bes.  Jettisoning them and others like them will not be as easy as deleting unwanted files from my computer’s hard drive, but I think I need to try.  Otherwise, I will be endlessly disappointed that the house needs cleaning, my bank account is empty, and Barry continues to be upset with me for breaking his rules.

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” ~ Katharine Hepburn

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Holy Blogspot, Batman!

For some reason, the post where I said that “Have Thesaurus, Will Write” would look good on a business card got me thinking about T-shirt slogans for bloggers.  The obvious ones, of course, are “Born to Blog” and “Will Blog for Ink,” but my fevered imagination didn’t stop at that:
image of funny anti-spam t-shirt design
  • Blog Free
  • Have Laptop, Will Travel
  • It’s a Blog, Blog, Blogosphere
  • Blog Me, Baby
  • Fit to be Typed
  • OMB!
  • Got Grammar?
  • The Keyword is Mightier than the Sword
  • Blog – On What’s for Dinner
  •  I’d Rather Be Proofreading
  •  My Blog, My Self
These taglines and many more have been rolling around inside my head like those annoying advertising jingles from the 50’s.  I share them with you not because I think they’re clever, but in the hope that this will work as a memory dump and give me a little mental peace and quiet.  I only hope I’m not unwittingly violating the copyright of some righteous online T-shirt vendor whose lawyers will descend upon me in wrath and lightening.

“You shake a slogan at an American and it's just like showing a hungry dog a bone.”~Will Rogers

Friday, October 8, 2010

How I Won't be Making Money with My Blog

Earlier this week I browsed the latest Blogs of Note and happened upon Beta Dad and his contretemps with Single Dad Laughing.  My newbie blogger's curiosity was aroused by all the bitter comments from Beta Dad's readers about things SDL had apparently done in order to generate income with his blog.  Coincidentally, the next day I went to the library and stumbled upon How to Make Money with Your Blog by Duane Forrester and Gavin Powell.  I didn't start this blog to get rich, but I wouldn't turn down cash if someone threw it at me, so I checked out the book and dived in.

HTMMWYB was a quick read and full of practical, if useless to me, advice from experienced bloggers.  Why, you ask, do I say their advice is useless to me?  Well, apparently the commentators on Beta Dad's blog are correct; the keys to making money with a blog are shameless self-promotion and crafting one's posts around wildly popular keywords.  "How do you like me so far?" has never been my style, and the idea of writing on topics because they're trendy rather than because they interest me set off bad creative-writing-class flashbacks.  Not going to happen here.

So, I may never have more than seven followers (thanks for hanging in there, folks) and I'm sure I'll never have thousands of page views per month, but I'll still be having fun, which was the main reason I started this blog in the first place.  That and keeping my head from exploding, of course.

It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help. ~ Judith Martin  (aka Miss Manners)

You go, Beta Dad!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dentist, Anyone? :o

I’ve had bad luck with dentists.  One of them shot and killed a would-be robber in his waiting room; I wouldn’t have argued with him about that crown had I known he was packing a pistol.  Another’s office went down with the World Trade Center.  A third charged my insurance for an expensive procedure he never performed and that I didn’t need anyway.  My worst dental experience, however, was at the hands of my childhood dentist.  I was vividly reminded of it when reading a recent post by Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.

My first dentist had served in the Navy during WWII, so he was gray-haired as long as I knew him, and by the time I started high school his hands were disconcertingly shaky with the beginnings of Parkinson’s Disease.  Entering my senior year, I was finishing four years in braces when my orthodontist took x-rays of my mouth and discovered that my upper right wisdom tooth was coming in at a slant, heading straight for my back molar and ready to knock all my painfully straightened teeth back out of alignment.  He sent me to my family dentist to have the back molar pulled, calculating that the wisdom tooth would drop neatly into the empty space and save my family the cost of oral surgery.

In hindsight, the solidly-sited molar itself should have been excavated by an oral surgeon.  My dentist, willing but shaking like the proverbial leaf, gave me eight shots of Novocain without totally deadening my mouth before giving up and proceeding with the extraction.  He finished 45 minutes later, both of us covered in blood and spit.  The poor man was so pale I thought he was going to faint and I didn’t feel any better than he looked.  I really think the procedure would have violated the Geneva Convention had I been a prisoner of war.  After standing with his eyes closed for a few moments, breathing deeply, my dentist handed me the gory tooth, which had roots like a small tree, on a little pad of gauze.  That was the point at which the Novocain finally kicked in and my face numbed and blew up like a balloon.

Fast-forward to four years ago.  My latest dentist is ready to drill in my mouth for the first time.  As usual, the initial Novocain shot does nothing to deaden the tooth.  This dentist, however, nonchalantly pokes me in the mouth with a probe and asks whether I feel it.  When I say “Yesh,” he says, “Some people have an extra nerve in their mouths right there, and it looks like you’re one of them.”  He shoots me again in that exact spot and my mouth goes instantly numb.

Why did none of my previous dentists ever know about this mysterious extra nerve?  Were they sleeping in class on the day of that lecture?  The thought of all the needless pain I suffered over the years would make me grind my teeth were I not worried about losing more enamel.

I love the dentist I have now.  I plan to stick with him until death do us part.

"If suffering brought wisdom, the dentist’s office would be full of luminous ideas."  ~Mason Cooley

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Hunk, a Hunk of Burnin' Massage Envy

Today was a red-letter day at work.  One of my co-workers won lunch and 10-minute neck massages for all of us, and this was the day we got to collect.  For those of us who crouch over our computers for hours on end, a neck massage is closely akin to a temporary release from torture.  The chiropractor who did mine took about 30 seconds to find all the tight spots, and by the end of my ten minutes he'd managed to unknot most of them.  My spine was cracking and popping like a bowl of Rice Krispies.

I had my first professional massage only a few years ago, as a present from Barry.  That experience was even more sublime - low lights, scented candles, New Age Music and a tiny but muscular masseuse with fingers like steel pistons.  By the time she'd finished poking, prodding and kneading my helpless body, I could barely peel myself off the massage table.  It was an experience I've only been able to repeat a few times since, but it never fails to feel like a mini-vacation.

Of course, after today's ecstasy was over, it was back to the laptop.  Amazingly, during all the years I worked in insurance with a stiff neck, a muscle knot between the shoulder blades, and a decent salary, it never occurred to me that I could get rid of the kinks by scheduling regular massages.  Now that I've seen the light, I can't afford them.  Damn.  Talk about a serious case of massage envy.

"Your fascia called and it wants its good posture back." ~ Ryan Hoyme

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unlucky Crickets

Back at the dawn of time, the race of crickets must have hired one heck of a p.r. firm.  Think about it.  What are our mental images of grasshoppers?  Irresponsible fiddlers who participated in the Dust Bowl and the plagues of Egypt.  Crickets, on the other hand, are associated with good luck and Walt Disney, not to mention their glorification in The Cricket in Times Square.  Does this seem skewed to anyone else?

Until recently, I was fairly neutral on the subject of crickets, but for some unknown reason the cricket population in our neighborhood exploded this year; every time we go outside at dusk, we risk being pelted by a fusillade of insanely chirping insect life.  Still, this was bearable until they decided to stage a home invasion.

Partly this was our fault.  In a moment of penny-pinching insanity, Barry discontinued our extermination service this summer, and half the insect life in the area took that as a personal invitation to move in.  Among our new tenants - an apparently endless supply of crickets.

They moved into the front bathroom first.  At night I could hear one cricketing away in there, apparently in the ceiling.  At the time I thought it was kind of cute.  Then they started spreading out.  Now they chirp all over the house, day and night, and it's only a matter of time before they start gnawing holes in everything we own.  Occasionally the cat catches one or I beat one to death with a broom, but they're crafty little devils, generally heard but not seen.  The sound is really beginning to grate on my nerves - like the jungle drums in a B-movie ripoff of Heart of Darkness.

Unfortunately, the chirp of a cricket is smack in the middle of the range of sounds that Barry can't hear, so he can't understand why I'm getting so tense about this.  He also doesn't feel as strongly as I do that one's home should be a refuge from leaping critters, not a haven for them.  He feels no need to evict our insectile visitors.

image of cricket
This is October, though, and even in Arizona the nights are getting colder.  All the heat-loving insects who politely remained outside during the summer are starting to look for a cozy place to spend the winter, and that includes the rest of the restless cricket population.  As soon as I pick up my paycheck today I'm calling the exterminator.  I can't stand any more "good luck" than we already have.

“Too bad when I was a kid there wasn't a guy in our class that everybody called the 'Cricket Boy', because I would have liked to stand up in class and tell everybody, 'You can make fun of the Cricket Boy if you want to, but to me he's just like everybody else.' Then everybody would leave the Cricket Boy alone, and I'd invite him over to spend the night at my house, but after about five minutes of that loud chirping I'd have to kick him out. Maybe later we could get up a petition to get the Cricket Family run out of town. Bye, Cricket Boy.”

 Jack Handy

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sinister Television

Although we have cable TV, we don't get any of the premium movie channels, so until this week we had never seen Showtime's Dexter, the series about a serial killer who works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami police department.   Even if we did have Showtime I wouldn't expect Barry to be a fan of the show; he doesn't like long, drawn-out plot lines, preferring movies that wrap everything up neatly inside a quick two-hour time frame.  Having to wait a week between episodes that still leave viewers hanging drives him nuts.

For some reason, however, he recently added Dexter to our Netflix instant queue so we could watch it via streaming video, and we've spent the last several nights working our way through Season 1 and part of Season 2.  I like the show but find it disturbing at the same time.

Dexter is well-written.  The acting is good.  Much of it is extremely funny.  And yet...some of the Season 2 episodes debate whether the main character should be viewed as the "Bay Area Butcher" or the "Dark Avenger," and whether the publicity will inspire copycat murders.  If I were one of the producers, I'd be extremely worried about real nutcases deciding that they, too, should make a hobby of  "taking out the trash."

The parts of the show I like best - and, I think, the reason Barry keeps watching it - are the scenes where Dexter wrestles with the process of becoming a normal person.  He often doesn't understand the correct way to respond to humor, social situations, and emotional crises - a more extreme version of the problems that Barry, who has Asperger's syndrome, regularly faces.  Either the show's writers did a tremendous amount of research, or one of them is also close to an individual with an autism-spectrum disorder.  For some reason Barry finds advice about fitting in more palatable from Dexter's fictional foster father than from me; so be it.  We'll keep on watching for that, if nothing else.

I just wish we had managed to install the streaming video in our living room; sitting on the floor in the exercise room makes my tailbone feel like one of Dexter's victims.

"Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000" ~ TV-Free America

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Looking for Mr. Goodstudent

For the past couple of years I've been a part-time instructor for an online university.  I usually teach two classes at a time, staggered - one group of students will be in Week 4, for instance, while the other is in Week 8.  Today I'm pretty excited because I have a new session starting tomorrow.

Teaching online in an entirely asynchronous environment can be very odd.  At the start of each session I only know the students' names and what they choose to reveal about themselves in their biography posts.  I learn more about them throughout the course, but I never see their faces.  This leaves me free to fantasize.

I don't mean that in a creepy, stalker-like way.  I just occasionally have fun envisioning faces and backstories.  Some of the students who hand in the bare minimum for each assignment and don't engage in the class discussions come across as faceless automatons, while others have such distinct personalities (for good or ill) that I can't help seeing them as Mr. Incredible or Dr. Doom.  Among the non-traditional students I've met so far have been a woman with 10 children and two jobs (The Mighty Multi-tasker), an explosives expert stationed in Iraq (Da Bomb), and a Hawaiian girl who works with and wrote an awesome paper on dolphin conservation (Eco-Warrior).  Occasionally I also encounter The Excuse Mill or Missing in Action, but the vast majority of my students have been hard-working, upbeat people focused on improving their lives and the lives of their children.  Wonder Women far outnumber the Wonder Whiners in my classes.

So, tomorrow I'll be reading another new batch of bios.  Who will I get to meet this time - Shrinking Violet and The Invisible Man, or The Webslinger and The Princess of Persuasion?  Only time will tell.

“It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”
 Jacob Chanowski

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tanks for the Memory

The news that a close relative of mine is now on medication for memory loss sent a chill down my spine.  I've always had a memory like a sieve; if I lose any more of it, will I be able to function in polite (or even impolite) company?

I try to tell myself that I'm just absent-minded, and no more so than most people, but it's whistling in the dark.  Yes, many people forget where they left their keys, what they had for lunch, the names of casual acquaintances and the phone numbers they always speed-dial.  My issues go deeper than that.

My memory is hopeless whenever numbers are involved.  I don't remember prices, addresses, times, or dates; I was almost 30 before I could remember my own birthday, and I still don't remember my mother's.  Numbers aren't the only problem, though.  I've left my favorite rings on sinks in public restrooms, numerous purses under desks in classrooms, and an expensive raincoat (that I was sitting on) in an airplane.  I've mailed crucial documents without stamps.  I've dumped my income tax refund check into the book return at the public library.  I've forgotten to show up for jury duty, even though I fully intended to serve (sorry, officer, I'll go quietly now).  Fortunately, I've never had children; I could easily have been one of those mothers who walks blithely away from the sleeping baby in the back seat of the car.

Knowing that I am a memory cripple, I have stocked up on crutches.  I live for lists.  I am the queen of spreadsheets.  We have a combination whiteboard/bulletin board in our home office where all our appointments are writ large.  Watching me, strangers may well think I have OCD; I do things according to patterns that I've painstakingly developed to keep from forgetting anything.  Even so I occasionally space off something that leaves those around me incredulous.  How could I forget to walk the elephant?  Not a prob; the miracle is that I've never forgotten where I live.


Strangely, I score well on intelligence tests, and I remember an incredible amount of useless trivia.  Maybe I'm usually so preoccupied with the chatter going on inside my own head that I'm oblivious to the outside world.  Maybe the concussion I suffered at the age of two had something to do with it.  It could be some genetic quirk.  Whatever, if my memory tanks any further I will be, like Blanche DuBois, dependent on the kindness of strangers.  Because everyone will be a stranger.

Time to start donating my spare cash to Alzheimer's research.

"Memory is a net: one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking."  - Oliver Wendell Holmes