Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deep Thoughts, or maybe not so deep

  1. Maine has a relatively low price for vanity license plates, so it seems a lot more people have them here. Just now walking Rusty we heard barking coming from a car. I knew what kind of dog was barking before we got abreast of the car, because the license plate said LAB NOIR.
  2. That reminds me to give you a link to a hilarious YouTube video by one of my favorite humorous mystery writers, Jeff Cohen. On the DorothyL list, we're always talking about the different subgenres of mysteries -- Jeff lays it all out for you here.
  3. We just came back from a benefit supper for my 2nd cousin's husband, who was in a car crash about 3 weeks ago. They are among the many, many un- and underinsured as far as health insurance (and probably carried the minimum legal car insurance too, to save money). I wish we didn't have to have this kind of thing, but at least it was heartening to see the large number of people who attended, worked on the supper, donated raffle prizes and bought raffle tickets. This is the third such supper we've attended since we've been here -- the others were for people we knew slightly. Long lines out the door are common at these events. Everyone knows it could be them or their loved ones another time.
  4. Kind of a grey, gloomy day, but then again it's 38 degrees out at 7:30 pm, I was able to walk Rusty wearing just a fleece jacket over my Norwegian sweater, and no hat, mittens, or special footgear was needed. When I hear about blizzards in Colorado, the skies opening up in Florida and Georgia, and possible flooding in Fargo, I can't complain at all about our weather here today.
  5. Now it's time to go watch the remaining two episodes of Planet Earth that are on the disc, so I can review it on my other blog. I hope there is less "Nature red in tooth and claw" on these two than on the first one.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Five: Blogroll Spotlight

Over at RevGalBlogPals, Mary Beth remarks:

"On my blog sidebar is a list titled, "Blogs I Read Every Day." After my mother became a blogger, she asked me how I could possibly read that many blogs daily!? I had to confess it then: Okay, I don't read them all every day! I have over 100 on there! But I have favorites, and you do too.Some of you probably use feed readers to let you know when your favorite bloggers have posted...not me, not yet. I just have folks who are part of my day-to-day.So for today's Friday Five, give us five blogs you visit regularly, and tell us briefly WHY you like them. These can be RevGal and Pal bloggers and others ... or news sites, knitting sites, etc. Who are you showing the love to on a pretty constant basis?Hopefully we will all get to know some new bloggy friends this way!"

Well, oddly enough, I already did a very similar post earlier this week when I got around to responding to the Fabulous Blogger award I got from Kaye, a fellow mystery-reader who blogs at Meanderings and Muses. However, there are also some other blogs I follow, so here goes:

1. Rick Horowitz and I both went to A Host at Last U, and both worked on the student newspaper. Rick pitched for the baseball team and was the Sports Editor, among other things; and a couple of years after graduation gave me a fleeting moment of fame when he mentioned my name in a column he wrote for the New York Times which was widely syndicated. He actually makes a living writing, and his trenchant remarks on politics and other current events are well worth reading. He also appears sometimes on Wisconsin Public TV, for you lucky Cheeseheads out there.

2. Julie Bowe is Onkel Hankie Pants's cousin, and has also been making a living writing for quite a while. She's published two good children's books and I think the third is not far off. I like to keep up with what she's doing -- a post a while back about making aebleskiver with her son was especially great. Hmm, both my first two choices live in Wisconsin!

3. Crimson Rambler is a RevGalBlogPal and gives us the Canadian Anglican viewpoint. I think maybe we are kindred spirits and I just love the way she puts things. I'd read her every day if she posted every day, but I know she is very busy.

4. Celeste is a friend of my elder daughter's with whom I've spent only a few hours of facetime a couple of years ago. She's currently the stay-at-home mom to "the cutest baby ever" (according to my younger daughter who got to visit with the family recently) and as always, an artist who amazes me with her unending creativity. She also sells some of her art on Etsy, which is a site well worth looking at.

5. Poe's Deadly Daughters is just one of several group blogs I read, all connected with mystery/detective fiction in some way. I chose them because I won two books in one of their recent giveaways (never let it be said I can't be bribed!) They're all good writers and they also occasionally have guest bloggers or interviews with other mystery writers. They're quite entertaining even when they aren't writing mysteries.

Thanks, Mary Beth, for this Friday Five. Many of the blogs I read and love came to my attention through other people's blogrolls!

Announcing My Second Blog!

In case anyone is interested, I've started a second blog just for keeping track of the films I see. I'll review them, too, of course. It's called Queuing Up and has two posts so far. Check it out if you have a mind to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can't Resist a List: Update and Comedy

Since I last wrote on this subject I've read several more books from the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. (It's actually closer to 1100 if, as I do, you count multi-volume sets as the separate books they are rather than as one novel.) Here's what I've added to this particular Life List:
4 of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort, Equal Rites
Jack London: The Call of the Wild
Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell): A Dark-Adapted Eye -- this was a twofer as it was also an Edgar winner for Best Novel
David Lodge: Changing Places
If I keep up at this rate I shall be well ahead by the end of the year. I've reviewed all these books on Goodreads, where I am also known as Auntie Knickers.

I had promised a list of my Top Ten favorites from each of the Guardian's categories, and now I come to Comedy. Oddly enough, although this list includes some of my favorite books, it was also one in which I had read remarkably few of the books listed. One might attribute this to the Anglo-centricity of the list, were it not that nearly all my favorites are British books! So here they are, in order of publication:

1. Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). 1889. This will be a difficult list for those who dislike or don't "get" British humour. The tale of three friends (and don't forget the dog) on a boating trip on the Thames is a true classic, as enjoyable today as when it was written. After you read this one, go get Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog -- she is a fine writer of science fiction/fantasy and I only wish she wrote faster.

2. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. 1908. As the Guardian editors point out, "Comedy" doesn't mean that you will laugh uproariously on every page. There are certainly laughs in this lovely book, but there are also passages of astonishing lyricism (the chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, for instance), loving descriptions of the English countryside, animal characters in whom we can see ourselves, and one of my favorite Christmas chapters (Dulce Domum).

3. E. F. Benson, Queen Lucia. 1920. I saw the adaptations on Masterpiece Theatre years ago and immediately had to read the books (this is only the first). Benson details social life among the wealthy provincials of Riseholme with all its teapot tempests; as ridiculous as the characters often are, we still care about them, and that is why the books are still read.

4. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. 1932. This is one of my favorite books of all time, in fact, I might even take it to a desert island. It parodies a certain style of book that is no longer much written or read (although The Beans of Egypt, Maine comes close), but it transcends parody. The plot? Bright Young Thing Flora Poste pays a visit to her country cousins, the Starkadders. Hijinks ensue and she sorts them out good and proper. I have to agree, you must read this book.

5. P. G. Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves. 1934. There are several Wodehouse books listed in the Guardian's 1000 Novels -- in fact he got his own sidebar. I've chosen this one as it is the first novel about Jeeves, and it was the Jeeves and Wooster books that introduced me to Wodehouse. I must say that one thing I enjoy about Bertie Wooster is that, silly ass though he may be, he constantly makes literary allusions (quite often Biblical, as he won the prize for Scripture Knowledge at school), and it's fun trying to identify them.

6. Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One. 1948. Before Jessica Mitford and her non-fiction work, The American Way of Death, there was Evelyn Waugh and his darkly humorous novel of Hollywood and Forest Lawn Cemetery (called Whispering Glades in the book). Very funny but will also give you many points to ponder.

7. Barbara Pym, Excellent Women. 1952. Or anything by Pym, actually. However, of the two books chosen for the Guardian list, this is my preferred volume. As are many of Pym's heroines, Mildred Lathbury is a high-church Anglican spinster, one of those "excellent women" who serve on the Altar Guild, organize the jumble sale, and show up for every special service and Evensong. Some new people come into her life and changes occur. Pym's plots are not known for high drama, but her characters are drawn as perfectly as Jane Austen's.

8. Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City. 1978. This is actually another case where the Guardian listed several books as one. Tales of the City is the first of a series about the lives of a number of San Franciscans with many different "alternative lifestyles." You'll laugh, you'll cry, you won't be able to put it down.

9. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. 2003. Narrated by an autistic teenager (probably with Asperger's syndrome), is this comedy, mystery, coming-of-age novel? The narrator's voice is one of the most individual I have read in some time.

10. Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader. 2007. What if the Queen were to stumble upon the Palace bookmobile, and out of noblesse oblige, to check out a book? What if she then discovered the joys of reading and reflecting on what she read? How would it change her, and how would those around her react to the changes? This charming little book raises a number of interesting questions such as those, and is entertaining as well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Awards Scare Me!

Back on March 13, Kaye Barley from Meanderings and Muses emailed me that she had chosen me for a Fabulous Blog Award. (You can see her post on the subject at her place). This recognition comes with rules -- and I quote: "You must pass it on to 5 other Fabulous Bloggers in a post. (You might find their email addresses on their Profile page or, if not available, post as a "comment" to their latest post.) You must include the person who gave you the award, and link back to them. You must list 5 of your Fabulous Addictions in the post. You must copy and paste these rules in the post. Right click the Award icon and save it to your computer, then post with your own awards. To my way of thinking, this is not only a nice tribute, it widens the reading audience."

Whether from a paralyzing fear of success, too much time spent on Facebook, or sheer laziness, I haven't blogged since! But now I'm back and resolving to do better. How did I get started blogging anyway?Add Image

I remember a dinner party a year or so before we moved from City of Lakes where 3 of the 4 men present talked animatedly about all the blogs they kept up with each day. Onkel Hankie Pants was the fourth man, and I don't think either of us really understood what was being discussed -- we knew the word and that was about it. In retrospect, I think our friends were all reading professional or semi-pro political blogs, of which more later. We also wondered how these guys got any work done!

When we moved to Maine, we had a bit more time on our hands and we each got our own computer (my recipe for a happy marriage, especially in retirement or semi-retirement.) We were visiting different churches and looking at their websites, and one website recommended Songbird's blog. One visit and I was hooked. I started reading her blog regularly and then dipping into some of the others on her blogroll. About that same time my elder daughter started a blog. This daughter is the middle child, and as we know, the middle child is more peer-oriented; plus she was in the Pacific Time Zone, making telephone communication difficult. I read her blog simply to keep in touch! Some time later, Onkel Hankie Pants started blogging, and, not to be outdone, I began Exile's Return. After a while I joined the RevGalBlogPals blogring, and I continue to sample blogrolls. There are blogs on almost any subject, including many that interest me, and before the election I was even checking in fairly often at some of those political blogs mentioned above. (Now? Not so much, unless one of my favored bloggers links to one, except for my old college chum Rick Horowitz's funny take on politics and other aspects of the news.)

Some of my favorite mystery writers have blogs. Vicki Lane, who passed the Fabulous Blogger award to Kaye, who passed it to me, has a beautiful one -- just looking at her photographs of the Carolina mountains each day lifts my spirit. Some other writers have joint blogs (you'll find a couple in my blogroll) which is a Good Thing -- with only one post a week, they have more time to write more mysteries.

I wish all my friends had blogs! I've recently joined Facebook, and it's been fun keeping up with some more people that way, but the short status updates aren't quite enough for me. I want to know what you think! DorothyL and Goodreads have proven good ways for me to reflect on what I'm reading. I joined a site that promised to do the same sort of thing for movies, but I'm not pleased with it and I may need to follow Sisterfilms' example and start another blog for film reviews.

Without further ado, here's my list of Fabulous Bloggers -- check 'em out!
1. Meanderings and Muses -- where I'll be guest-blogging in June!
2. Cordeliaknits -- there is quite a bit about knitting, but more besides, and some great photos.
3. Are You There, God? It's Me, Elinor -- my younger daughter and a deep thinker, seriously.
4. Processing Counselor -- someone I don't know in person but who is in many ways a kindred spirit, and in others quite different, which keeps me interested in what she has to say
5. The Owl's Song -- taught me that people of faith and goodwill and eminently good sense come in all denominations -- even ones I've tended to think of almost as "the enemy."

And my Fabulous Addictions:
1. Reading and acquiring books: here's a photo of one of my TBR shelves,
note double-shelving!

2. Christmas music: here's a photo of where I keep it:
3. Genealogy: here's a photo of just some of my files and resource material:
4. Ripping Yarns: Here are two examples of the kinds of books and movies I call "Ripping Yarns"--
I'd probably count National Treasure movies as one of my guilty pleasures even without
Nicolas Cage, and Patrick O'Brian, while of another literary order entirely, writes a great Ripping Yarn.

5. And last but not least, How to Be Perfect books. These fall into many categories (if you look hard you can spot at least one in each of the two photos of bookshelves above) and here is my latest purchase, which I couldn't resist when I came across it in the used bookstore last week:

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Five: Hasty Pudding Edition

Songbird, pinch-hitting at RevGalBlogPals, says: "Our regular poster, Sally, having been oppressed by Blogger today, I bring you a hasty Friday Five on the subject of pudding. If you are not a fan of pudding, then you will feel solidarity with Sally, except that you will be oppressed by pudding instead. ;-)"

1) First of all, thumbs up? or thumbs down? Do you like pudding?
Yes, I love pudding, just about any kind I've ever had except Grape-Nut Pudding. (It's a New England thang.)

2) Instant or cooked? (Does anyone make pudding from scratch?)
I like just about any pudding but I do, in fact, sometimes make chocolate pudding from scratch, and it really isn't that hard. I have also made bread pudding, rice pudding, and Indian pudding from scratch.

3) If you had to choose, would you prefer corn pudding or figgy pudding?
I have just been thinking about corn pudding, which my mother used to make toward the end of the month with hot dogs cut up in it. (My father got paid once a month). There's a good recipe in my Thanksgiving cookbook, which I don't make then because of lack of oven space; I should make some soon! So, corn pudding it is. A savory pudding.

4) Have you ever finger painted with pudding?
No, that would be playing with your food.

5) Finally, what is the matter with Mary Jane?
Even something as wonderful as rice pudding can get tedious if too often repeated!

Bonus: Share a favorite recipe that includes pudding!
I'll come back and do this later, I'm going to have green pepper karhi, rice, and jalebis for dinner at my niece's house! Probably no pudding, though. OK, it's the next morning, here's how to make chocolate pudding from scratch:
Real Chocolate Pudding
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I usually use 1 1/2% but it probably works with whatever you have)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter

In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually stir in about half of the milk until smooth, then stir in the remaining milk.
Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until the mixture is thickened and comes to a boil, for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cook, stirring, one minute more.
Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter until smooth. Pour into four individual dessert bowls or a larger serving dish. If you don't like "skin", place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent it from forming. Chill until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes. (Large bowl will take longer to chill, small ones less time). 
Garnish with whipped cream and shaved semisweet chocolate or what have you. In my childhood we just poured milk on it. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?