Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seven Swans A-Swimming

On the seventh day of the Christmas season, which is also New Year's Eve, we went to the vigil Mass at sundown. (Not only is tomorrow Sunday, but also the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.)

Thus I had the opportunity to reflect on the past year, the successes, the failures, the itchies that plagued my skin, the absence of bad colds, the times that made me feel good about myself, the aimless days that made me think I was a waste.

2011 was not the worst year I've ever experienced, by far. But there are things that I could improve upon as regards my own well-being, mentally and physically.

I'm not making a resolution, per se, but rather making an attempt to live a better life. Once again, I want to try to draw or paint something every day. I want to write a little every day, be it on the novels that need to be finished, or short stories, or blog entries (or poetry -- who can resist crappy poetry?) I want to sing something every day, even if it's just an Alleluia from Mass music. I want to exercise five times a week, be it riding my horse, taking a walk, or limping my way through a workout video that has sat unused on the bookcase for five years.

I'd like to do what Bernie has been doing, taking some time each day to read something in a spiritual vein, just a few paragraphs, enough to make thoughts occur that aren't just what I have to do, or what I'm going to eat at the next meal, but things about what is most important and real in life, the relationship with the Most High.

Noting that my voice, as I'm aging, is getting a bit rough and creaky, I'd like to read a paragraph aloud every day. My Pennsylvania accent is overtaking my spoken word, and I don't like that at all.

Finally, because I now have no health insurance and the only thing "wrong" with me is that I'm too fat for my little frame, I want to try to lose about another ten pounds, which means cutting back on carbohydrates -- oh, dear, that means my delicious Almaden Mountain Chablis.

There you go. Seven things, seven beautiful swans on the river of life, bemoaning that most of the time they'll be swimming upstream, hoping that they won't be taken by currents and flung off a precipitous waterfall.

How lovely they look at a distance, but when I approach them closely, will they hiss and bite?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Six Geese A-Laying

On the sixth day of Christmas, my family pulled an OccupyKitchen until such time as I would make the time-honored dish called, simply enough, Ham Meat Pie.

I grew up not thinking about the name of the dish much. It had ham, which is meat, and it was in a pie. We didn't get it much, because Mom always insisted on cooking her own ham ... and she more or less hated cooking, much less slicing up a hot and sticky ham.

Once I was married, I just bought ham by the thick slice (usually paying too much for it) and we had Ham Meat Pie as a special treat.

My mother also always cooked her ingredients for stew and meat pie separately. She explained that she didn't want potatoes to take on the color or flavor of anything else. She was my teacher in the kitchen, and if I had argued with her about it, I would have been OUT of her kitchen, so I just took her word as law.

I don't do that any more. I cut up my potatoes, cut up my ham (equal heaps of each) and throw them in the pot together to simmer, just covered with water. (I've also found it far more affordable, and convenient, to wait until fully-cooked spiral cut hams are on sale at the holidays, buy them, and freeze them. )

Use a slotted spoon to take the ham and potatoes from the pot when they are done (reserving the juice); they join forces in a pie shell (see that monster casserole dish? That makes about 12 servings) made from Bisquick baking mix and milk. In point of fact, I use the store brand baking mix, but people know what Bisquick is. (Bisquick in bowl, add milk until you've got a workable dough. Roll out on floured rolling board. Easy.)

Make a couple vent cuts in the upper crust, bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is lovely golden brown. Serve with the reserved juice and fresh chopped yellow onions sprinkled on it. Anyone in my family will eat your share if you don't like it.

The red dish of crackers are also Bisquick, the leftover dough rolled out thin, sprayed with olive oil and seasoned with a bit of onion and garlic powders, folded over, cut, and baked on a cookie sheet while the Ham Meat Pie is baking.

Where are the geese, or the eggs?  Oh, I have nothing of goosiness in the house. Instead, I have a syllabic stand in:

Six Peeled Potatoes!

Go ahead, sing it. It works.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five Golden Rings

 On the Fifth Day of Christmas, I played in the kitchen, tackling a couple dishes that have been on my mind lately.

The first, a vegetable medley in a chickeny-flavored sauce, comprised of sauteed onions, baby portabella mushrooms, steamed kohlrabi, and wilted strips of chard, served over basmati rice. It was pretty tasty, although the next time I want to tone it down to a hint of chicken flavor.

The second was catfish nuggets, breaded and fried. Sounds simple, but I never did it this way before: I used crumbs I made from a stale loaf of French bread, with Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic. It was wickedly good, so much so that I need to be careful about how much I make, and how often; I'm having a hard time staying away from the last pieces.

And then there is this duo:  a beautiful gray and black doily that my friend Cheryl made for me during NaNoWriMo. We were playing on a forum thread over there, a peculiar role-playing game that involves cooking sherry, macaques, and urinal cakes, and frequently, antimacassars and doilies. Black for my ninja garb in the game, gray to match my imaginary (and always full) tankard. To go with it, I bought myself a new little wine glass, no stemware for me, please, of the perfect heft and capacity.

Though I photographed them on a white background, normally the two accompany me at my chair and shelf in the front room, from which I coach NFL football and advance my intellect with the Food Channel.

Today I also had the now-rare pleasure of chatting online with Lydia Manx, of Piker Press vampire series. Lydia has lost her internet connection at home to alligators disguised as a cable company charging too much for services. I miss our formerly frequent evening chats very much, so being able to catch up on all our newses and opinions was simply wonderful.

Veggie medley, catfish nuggets, a perfect doily, a new wine glass, and a delightful chat with a good friend.

Five Golden Things.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Four Calling Birds

There are four novels on this laptop that need finishing: Out With the Trash, a Port Laughton novel that semi-parallels Dreamer and Time Traveler (as well as the tedious soap opera Transitions); the semi-titled Aser novel Murder Mystery; a story about a dead woman trying to save her still-living lover, the inaptly named After Life (there are so many books out there with that title it isn't even funny any more); and the current work-in-progress, Loon and Donkey.

I don't count the 100k+ train wreck Going Hungry, because what editing needs to take place in that one should only be done with the back side of a shovel.

Anyway, all four of these books are clamoring for attention. If I have a goal for this coming year, it will be to finish as many of them as I can.

Happy Christmas Season! Today our local grocery store marked down its seasonal display of doggie beds, big poofy, huggable doggy beds, 40" x 50" -- from $39.99 to $10, just as we were going through the checkout line. I've been admiring them since before Thanksgiving, finding the loft of the polyester fill to be seductively luxurious. $10?? I went back through the checkout line with a poofy giant pillow in my arms.

Howie will be most grateful, you think. You are wrong. Howie is an ingrate when it comes to dog furniture. He loves the couch, the loveseat, the chair (if the ottoman is with it), the bed. He rarely has used his blanket on the floor.

However, I am grateful, for this big, poofy dog pillow fits very nicely into my folding quad chair in the bedroom, making it instantly upholstered, and deliciously warm.

I'm in the chair with the dog pillow; Howie is on the bed, his head on my pillow.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Three French Hens

On the third day of Christmas, I went out to see Dink, with a big, juicy apple for the little horse.

One, I needed to administer wormer to the old dude, which he loathes, but tolerates remarkably well, in a most gentlemanly manner, neither rearing nor biting, even though I'm prepared for both. When I give him the squirty paste worm medicine (all horses need this treatment on a regular basis), I always let the lead rope untied, so that if he wants to throw his head up, he can, without feeling trapped. (My son-in-law, years ago, demonstrated an easy and quick way to do this dosing, which, oddly enough, the so-called professional horsewoman through whom I bought my first horse did not know, she being of a mind that it took two people to dose a horse.) Dink was not thrilled to smell the wormer, but after a bit of lip-clamping, he relented and let me squirt the gunk onto the back of his tongue.

Two, the old gent needed some exercise under the saddle. He's such a good horse, and even though it's been almost a month since I rode, he was as steady and calm as if he was ridden every day. The day was cold, the bit of the bridle was icy cold, yet he still put his head down to take the bit in his mouth. I could tell he didn't like the chill, because he drew his lips back, and picked up the bit in his teeth for a moment before taking it into his mouth, but he did it anyway, because he wanted to go out for a jaunt. I've known horses that threw their heads around in refusal to take a bit, horses who had to be tricked with an apple or honey to reach for a bit, horses who had to have special rigs so that the rest of the bridle was attached and the bit attached at the last in order to get it in the horse's mouth. Not Dink. He knows that if we're to go out, a bit is part of the rig.

Our ride was short, just around one orchard block. It was good; we saw a jackrabbit scooting off through the orchards, and Dink showed no hesitation about us setting off by ourselves without any other horsey companions. Not all horses will do that, and so I appreciate Dink all the more.

Three, I needed the exercise on the saddle. It's too easy to become a couch potato, or a woman who exercises only by walking. But the fact is, I love being on a horse, the feel of the movement beneath my Wintec saddle, the sound of the horse's hooves, the smell of the horse's hide. Every movement has a communique; every tug on the reins sends a message. With legs and hands, I let Dink know what is to be expected; with tons of personality and acknowledgement, Dink does what I ask. I can open and close most gates from his back; he responds to leg and rein and heel cues to such a degree that if I am paying attention to what's about us, I need never be scratched by branches above us, or worry about him accidentally smushing me against something. I can, if my hat is blown off by the wind, use my crop to pick it up from the ground without getting out of the saddle.

Good horse.

Also, he's got the cutest red ears on the ranch.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Two Turtledoves

On the second day of Christmas, we had ice on the swimming pool again, after the weather reports said we'd be above freezing the last few nights. The birds had to wait until nearly noon for the birdbath to thaw out.

Also on the second day of Christmas, we went to the movies again, this time to see War Horse. We were just at the movies on Friday to see The Adventures of Tintin, I know, and we can't afford to go to the movies twice a week every week -- but I don't think anything cool is coming out this Friday. Both movies were good, but if you have only one movie fare to spend, see Tintin. War Horse review coming out next Monday in the Piker Press.

In writing news, I've caught up with myself in terms of continuity with my current novel (working title Loon and Donkey), and am now moving on with the story. My main characters, however, are very passionate about one another, and it's an ongoing battle with them not to just leap into a sex scene. I have settled on a final scene, more or less, or at least a final sequence. I'm looking forward to getting to the end and splurging on printing the creature out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Partidge in a Pear Tree

Merry Christmas!

Here is Howie with his newest toy, having just thrashed and bashed it and thrown it high into the Christmas tree. Today the dogs played tug o' war with Sebastian's new toy, mooched pieces of giblets in the kitchen, and napped after the excitement.

That is, indeed, a wash mitt, purchased in an automotive department. Howie has always loved biting them, shaking them viciously, tearing them to shreds. After he, as a puppy, mangled the one we used for washing the car, we've just bought them for him for Christmas each year.

This year, I put two squeakers (from previous dog toys that Howie and Sebastian destroyed within the first five minutes of receiving them) into a denim sandwich, and put the sewn denim sandwich into the mitt with a double handful of denim cloth scraps, and stitched it closed.

Best toy ever!

Sebastian even envied Howie so much that he stole the mitt for a while, tucking it close to his chest and lying down with his neck covering the toy.

And now for my yearly yip about the Christmas Season.

Contrary to the stores' advertising schedule, tomorrow is NOT Valentine's Day.

The Christmas season is not over when the sun goes down on Christmas Day. Today is the START of the Christmas season, which lasts until Epiphany on January 6th.

Though we have no pear tree, nor partridges in this area, we did have a hermit thrush, bluebirds, finches, two kinds of sparrows, and our scrub jays all in the lemon tree, waiting for their turn in the birdbath.

God bless us, every one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Yep, that would be me.

I hate having pictures taken of me, have for years, since I quit smoking and got fat and unhealthy back when that jacket was new. But this one says a lot about me, if you know what to look for.

The 20-year-old jacket, for example. I think Alex was about 14 when I got it, on sale at the now-defunct Mervyn's chain of clothing. Alex got one in beige, I got a green one. Thick and oversized, it has five pockets: four on the outside, and a nifty deep pocket on the left inside. No cold foggy weather can touch me in this jacket, and though Alex wore hers to shreds, mine shows wear only on the cuffs. The jacket tells that I prefer utility to looks, and comfort to style. Also that I like pockets. Deep pockets.

That's why I don't wear women's jeans, either. Those baggy beasties are from Target, with nice deep pockets and lots of room where leg meets torso, which an old woman needs when she clambers up on her old horse. Again, utility and comfort.

The deerskin gloves I got at the hardware store, principally for riding, but the original pair is still in use, stained with horse sweat and slobber. This is the backup pair I finally took the tags off to wear on days when the sissy polyester gloves just won't keep out the cold. Men's deerskin gloves. The women's gloves, again, were stitched to make fingers look slender, not to make holding reins, or a dog leash easier. There was a time when I bought only Sullivan gloves, but those sweet babies cost nearly $45 once you pay for shipping, and the hardware deerskin in my portrait only cost $12. Utility and reality.

The sneakers? Well, they actually suck, and I'm still in the market for replacements. They're Payless sneaks, inexpensive ... and menswear again, as the women's athletic shoes just aren't wide enough for my pudding-like feet. It's funny, I can get summer flip-flops wide enough in ladies' wear, but athletic shoes? Forget it. Of course, the spread-out feet are probably a result of refusing to wear anything but flip-flops if the temps are above 60 degrees.

The shaggy gray hair: well, it keeps my head warm without a hat on all but the coldest days, and I don't intend to spend money on having it cut until swimming weather comes around again. My hair won't style, so there's no point in throwing dollars at having some stylist pretend that mop is something it isn't.

So I'm cheap and utilitarian, with a heavy dose of comfort-loving.

And I also get so lost in looking for birds in the trees I don't notice my husband sneaking in a picture of me.

And I love him so much, I'll forgive him for it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Abutilon at Sunrise
Ah, sunrise. How sweetly the sun gives the flower its first kiss of the day...

Guess again. If the sun is kissy at all, it's around three in the afternoon. Until then, the world is gray and white, thickly shrouded in fog, almost colorless.

Tomorrow is the first day of winter, they say, but I've had enough of winter weather already. The heavy fog traps the particulate matter in the air, and so the Valley, from top to bottom, is under a government "No Burn Day" restriction. That means, to keep warm, we have to run the forced-air furnace.

That means: we don't keep warm. The woodstove would heat the mass of the house; the floor and walls would be warm. The furnace heats only the air, and thus everything we touch is cold.

We need the jet stream to swing south and bring us some nice Gulf of Alaska winds with a spin-in of southern moisture, blow some of this junk out of the Valley, drench the air and get the sooty smog to drop out of the sky.

Also, our turnips need a rain.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Morning of the Day after I Did It

This was the sight from my pillow when I opened my eyes on November 26.

The dried brown leaves of my neighbor's sycamore were just catching the first rays of sunlight on a day filled with promise. A promise of eating leftover turkey sandwiches for breakfast, of cooking meatballs later in the day, of unhurried folding of clothes in the laundry room ... a promise that I did not have to write one more word on my novel until I felt like writing again, as I had made the requisite fifty thousand words the night before.

This was, to my surprise, one of the easiest NaNoWriMo challenges I've ever done. Through the first weeks of the month, I did not write at all on Sundays -- there were football games that I, as a lazy couch referee, simply had to watch. And usually I didn't write on Monday or Thursday evenings, for the same reason. But when I did write, wow, the words just flew.

How did the story end? In the middle of a sentence, I believe, at a point in which I had paused to check word count, and was surprised to find that I was well over the 50k mark. Well, no, that won't be The End ... and I'm not sure how it will end. My original thought was to kill off one of the main characters, and let tragedy reign. But that's a very simplistic ending; I'm thinking now that the story is more about ramifications of an event, rather than closure.

I've kept on writing a few paragraphs when I get a sense of where the action has to go; I've added a chapter and a half to the interior of the story to slow down the overly-rushed feeling it had.

Yeah. I think this time around, I want to go less for tragedy, and more for redemption.


Yep, that's a fit.