Monthly Archives: February 2012


Ready to set sail.

(This week’s Photo Challenge theme is “Ready”.)

186 cookbooks; Ladies and gentlemen, we have a loser



This is an old one. (Published in 1966.) Probably it had a dust jacket once, but if so it’s long gone. So –




Here’s the cover page too.



So far, all the recipes I’ve tried have been hits.

This is not helpful. The goal here is to identify cookbooks that I might as well get rid of. So I’m thrilled to announce that the latest experiment – “smoored pullets” – was really, really bad.

It’s not that the recipe was hard. It’s just a variation on basic ol’ fried chicken. For Smoored Pullets, you flour and brown the chicken, salt and pepper it, add a little water or broth, cover, and let it cook until done. Then you mix some sour cream into the pan juices, and sprinkle with parsley. What could go wrong?

Once in a while, you stumble across a combination of ingredients where each individual component has a distinct, pleasing taste – but together they taste like nothing in particular.  This was one of those times. We ate until the first edge of hunger was gone, then finished up the vegetables, and threw out most of the chicken. It was that bad.

Now, slathering the chicken with salt might have made the meal taste better, but for health reasons, I’m not going to do that. And it’s very possible that chickens and sour cream from Scotland – now, or Once Upon A Time – were / are much more flavorful than what I can get.

Doesn’t matter. I won’t ever make this dish again, and the rest of the book doesn’t seem to have anything very exciting to offer. Next!

Happy birthday to the Incomparable

Image from Wikipedia entry on Charles Dickens

That’s right. Charles Dickens is 200 years old today, or would be if he hadn’t died back in 1870.

I have to admit; I’m a fan. But why? The man was notorious for improbable plots, even if they did result from writing himself into blind alleys by publishing novels as serials before figuring out just how he was going to wrap everything up.

And except in some of his late books, he couldn’t write a plausible young woman to save his life. Usually they’re boringly, inhumanly pure little prizes for the hero, except for the few Fallen Woman who are boringly, inhumanly guilt-filled, moaning puppets. He seems to have hated politics and economics, or at the least to have no idea how they work. He loves to hang over deathbeds in a way that makes us very uncomfortable now – though maybe that’s because, in modern, prosperous countries, we can usually keep our distance from death in a way that wasn’t possible in Dickens’ lifetime. And that’s just a few of his faults as a writer, and doesn’t even touch on his flaws as a man.

And I still love his stuff. It’s so full of energy, so full of precise details. I come away feeling as if I’ve really visited Jacob’s Island, or been invited to dinner at the Veneering’s, or spent Christmas at Dingley Dell. It hardly matters if anything like them ever existed in the first place, they’re so alive on the page.

So, happy birthday, Mr. Dickens, and long may you stay in print.

Mixing It Up – Un Lun Dun

Review – Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

A keeper? Dear God, NO

Un Lun Dun? It’s Un Reed Ubble. (Alas…my first review for the Mixing It Up Challenge. I picked this one for the Horror category. It’s a horrifying book, all right, but not in the genre sense.)

More than anything else, this one reminds me of the kind of movie where interchangeable puppet characters chase each other back and forth blowing things to little, little pieces, for no real reason. Interspersed with plenty of special effects.

The story starts out reasonably well. Two young girls – I’d guess them at what we’d call middle school age in the U.S., around eleven to thirteen or fourteen – have a series of bizarre, unsettling experiences. A fox comes to their school and bows to one of the girls. A bus driver, who may be crazy, says meaningless things. A freak mist causes a car accident – one of the girls is almost run down by her own father. A broken umbrella climbs a wall. All of this weirdness works because the girls react like normal people, with a mixture of denial and growing fear. We’re ready to be afraid with them. It only gets worse when one girl finds her way into a strange building (trailed by her worried friend) and starts compulsively turning mysterious wheels…and suddenly they find themselves in a place that vaguely resembles London, but isn’t.

Why am I complaining, if it’s that well set up? Because the part of the book I’ve described only takes us to page 22, and there are another 407 pages to go. Reading the rest of the book is just as hard as the world-saving, or city-saving, struggle the girls are thrust into. Maybe harder.

During those interminable 407 pages, the two girls – later just one girl – lurch from one lovingly described random strangeness to another. (Roaming bridges! People with heads stuck full of straight pins (and he’s one of the good guys)! Carnivorous giraffes!) Everywhere they go, they meet people (for a certain stretchy definition of people) who either launch into LONG globs of tell-don’t-show exposition, or try to kill the girl(s) in various unpleasant ways. Eventually the good guys are declared the winners, more or less, and the book stops.

Now, apparently this is meant as a children’s story. (I didn’t realize that before selecting it for this challenge, or before buying it. I had heard of China Mieville as a writer for adults.) And the general Scooby-Doo cartoonish feel of the book might entertain young children, if it wasn’t So Stupidly Long. Kids who are old enough to handle the vocabulary and length – the younger siblings of the crowd who made Harry Potter famous – are probably ready for something better written.

Well. THAT was a Superbowl.

(All right, I know I have people outside the U.S. who follow this blog. Bear with me for the moment. The Superbowl is the final game of the American football (not soccer) season, between the two top teams in the two conferences.)

And I don’t even care about football. (Or soccer, either.) I wasn’t going to bother watching this game, not even for the commercials. (Which are always notoriously expensive and creative, and are only shown this one time.) And I didn’t watch the first half; it’s all my husband’s fault, really. Because I couldn’t help hearing the commentary while he watched, and the first half was a real back-and-forth dogfight. So after we ate, I sat down to watch a few minutes of the second half.

If you were watching too, you understand why I never escaped, never even stood up, until the game was over. If the first half was unpredictable, the second half was a thrill show of contested calls (Did he have both feet on the ground within bounds?? Well, yeah.) and unexpected turnovers and heartstopping drives, right down to the last five seconds when the entire game turned on a gap of inches between ball and reaching hands.

I don’t care about football. But everybody likes suspense and drama. Wow.

Balance while juggling

I haven’t been doing very well at keeping my life in balance over the past several weeks. That sculpture in the photo, the one that looks like a pile of chairs almost ready to topple? That’s how I feel.

True, I tend to leap feet first into many more projects than anybody has time to manage. And true, it’s been a stressful month, realizing that my mother needs a lot more help than she used to but really, really hates accepting help, and trying to find ways to help her that she’ll put up with. And true, I’ve been writing a lot more over the past month, not just blogging – though it’s been a bloggily productive month – but, more important, noveling. And I’ve been ensnarled in several quasijobs that I’ve promised to other people.

But I really need to find time to put the laundry away and get back to throwing things out!

Ah well. Just at the moment, I feel like I’m dropping balls, tripping over them, and winding up in unintended cartwheels. Luckily, I’m skilled and experienced at lurching away from disaster. And I never even aspired to ballerina-like grace, at least not after flunking out of dance class at the age of three. (Really.)

I would like to find a way to continue giving all the projects and duties little dabs of effort, though, enough so that they stay airborne, or at least enough so they haven’t rolled out of sight before I can collect them and toss them up into the juggling circle once more.

52 books / 52 weeks – Michael Collins & The Troubles

Review – Michael Collins & The Troubles,
by Ulick O’Connor

A Keeper? Probably

Well, I know a LOT more about the Irish revolution than I did a week ago.

Admittedly, what I knew a week ago was almost nothing. When I was in high school, history class somehow always ran out of school year around about 1870. If the material had been paced better, I’m sure my teachers would have taught us about World War 2, and even World War 1, before finding time for a (still) controversial period of somebody else’s history. I had heard, vaguely, of Eamon deValera and Parnell, enough to know they were involved in the Irish fight against England, and that there were some sort of events known as the Easter Uprising and Bloody Sunday (and I knew about that partly because of the song).

Ulick O’Connor does not even try to play the historian’s or biographer’s game of blank slate objectivity. He’s pro Irish, all the way and no matter what. The book starts well before The Troubles, well before Michael Collins was born, with the story of how the British Secret Service spied on O’Connor’s great grandfather Matthew Harris during the 1870’s and 80’s. Then we’re taken through the ins and outs of Irish politics, and British politics as they related to Ireland, over the next thirty years; and somehow O’Connor makes it all understandable and mostly interesting (I’ll admit that sometimes I got a little weary of the parade of names and the fine points of policy). Ulick O’Connor stresses repeatedly how important these century-old events were to later movements of civil disobedience and anti-imperialism.

Oddly, though perhaps unavoidably since O’Connor needed time to explain the background, Michael Collins doesn’t appear until halfway through the book, at the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin and the siege of the post office – a catastrophe for the people directly involved, but apparently crucial in kickstarting the rest of the Irish revolution. Before long, Collins, still in his twenties, is one of the main revolutionary leaders, the organizer of IRA assasinations – particularly Bloody Sunday. (All fully justified, O’Connor assures us.)  We follow Collins’ career in detail from then on until his assassination in 1922; then a brief wrapup of Irish history since those days, and the story’s over.

(But what genre is this book? I’m not really sure, though probably it doesn’t much matter. We hear less about Michael Collins’ life before 1916 than we do about the backgrounds of various other Irish leaders; Wikipedia gives much more detail there than O’Connor, and Collins isn’t even seen for the book’s first hundred pages. So it must be a history, not a biography. On the other hand, once Collins makes an entrance, he is the primary focus, and the book pretty much stops with his death, before the Irish Civil War is finished, before Ireland is officially its own country. So it must be a biography, not a history. Oh well.)

After the comfort zone

I was lucky with my first week in the No Comfort zone. A project chased me down and dared me to escape it, and I was able to wrap it up within the week. That won’t be true every time. There are a lot of things I want to explore that I won’t even get a general overview of within a week – no more than a first, misleading glimpse.

In aikido training, we practice and repractice techniques again and again. At first, as a new student, everything is challenging and confusing. Then you start to feel comfortable with some techniques – you may even think you’ve mastered them. But the time comes when you realize there’s a whole hidden world in the technique you thought you knew everything about, something more to explore, landscapes you couldn’t see at first, so that you have to forget the mastery you imagined and start learning afresh. In the same spirit, I’ll post about my long-term No Comfort projects when I start on them, then leave them unmentioned until I find myself in one of those new areas of challenge.

And sometimes I’ll settle for short and sweet.
* * *
Oh, and it seems that this is my one hundredth post. Yay me!

She’s at it again – No Comfort

Yes, I found another bloggy webby challenge to get entangled in – “No Comfort Zone.” This one’s dedicated to the goal of making yourself do one thing a week that you wouldn’t ordinarily try, and if the idea intrigues you, by all means click on the button to the right and learn more.

I have a LOT of things I’d like to tackle – silly and fun, to practical, to over ambitious, to is-she-nuts-or-what. But I don’t have a  list of weekly projects to carry me all the way to the end of 2012 right this minute – I’m sure things will come up, though, not to mention projects that will carry over past their assigned week. (More on that topic in my next post.) But my first No Comfort project almost fell, or jumped, into my lap:

How the heck DO you get one of those special buttons to show up in the side column of your WordPress blog?

Done, at last, after several days of worrying at it when I had five spare minutes. If you find installing those buttons – “Widgets” – confusing too, well, Inside Out Cafe has a helpful page of instructions. If you’re like me and still don’t get it, go to the source – take a look at the instructions on WordPress support.

Done with that one. Whew.

At work – the photo

Another entry in the 2012 Dark Globe February Shoot-off – category is “People at Work”.

He’s working three jobs at once – he’s a wheelwright caught in the middle of making a hub for a wagon wheel; he’s an actor playing the role of an 18th-century craftsman at Williamsburg, Virginia; and he’s a teacher ready to explain how wagons were built all those years ago.