March 2009

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28 Mar Frost and Stargazer

Innocent windowfrost--I think!It’s a good thing I’ve been procrastinating about putting in my spring garden, because winter isn’t going out gracefully—we are actually supposed to have frost tonight. And after reading my friend Claudia Gray’s new book Stargazer, I will never look at frost in quite the same way.

Stargazer is the sequel to Claudia’s kickass debut novel, Evernight. It continues the tale of Bianca Olivier, a sixteen-year-old not-quite-vampire (which is a story in itself—Claudia’s vampire mythology is unusual, detailed, and perversely logical), now a sophomore at the exclusive, darkly gargoyled private academy Evernight. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say Bianca now faces vengeful icy wraiths, vampires-gone-bad (What? You thought all vampires were bad? Welcome to Evernight), haunted humans and the fanatical guerrilla cult of vampire killers, the Black Cross (imagine Sarah Connor and crew chasing vampires instead of Terminators). And you thought when you were in high school you didn’t fit in.

Poor Bianca. On the other hand, she does get to be one point of an intense love triangle—with the other two points being her true love Lucas Ross and the delectable 300-years-young vampire Balthazar More.

The ice wraiths are scary critters. Imagine frost forming as you watch, faster and faster, creating feathers and curls on the windows, thickening and crackling and overrunning an entire room until the air itself freezes, the floor paves itself over with ice and glittering stalactites fall from the ceiling like huge silver spikes. Brrr! Thanks a lot, Claudia. Heh.

Fortunately we’re just going to have a little frost. I think.

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23 Mar More Words

This is a book I could just sit and read for hours on a rainy afternoon:

The Dictionary of American Regional English

Try some of the quizzes. Larrup! Maypop! Mulligrubs! Noshery! Being from Texas, I actually know what Juneteenth is.

Speaking of words, my revisions are moving forward in fits and starts. The new book is clamoring for attention and I’m having to pet it and chuck it under the chin and reassure it that yes, I will take it out for a nice long walk and maybe even a ride in the car next month when its older sister is finished.

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16 Mar Historical Bits and Pieces

Have I mentioned that I love history? I’m particularly partial to the sixteenth century, of course, because that’s the setting of my book (books, actually, because I’m beginning to work on another)—but I love bits and pieces of history from any time and any place.

For example, the Associated Press has this to say about Robin Hood:

Julian Luxford, an art history lecturer at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, says a 23-word inscription in the margins of a history book, written in Latin by a medieval monk around 1460, casts the outlaw as a persistent thief.

“Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies,” the note read when translated into English, Luxford said.

Luxford said he found the reference while searching through the library of England’s prestigious Eton College, which was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI.

And the Times Online reports that a very cold case has been solved:

Archeologists and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatra’s younger sister, murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen.

The remains of Princess Arsinöe, put to death in 41BC on the orders of Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony to eliminate her as a rival, are the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.

Cleopatra’s DNA! There has to be a story there.

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15 Mar The Ides of March

From Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene ii:

CAESAR:
What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.

SOOTHSAYER:
Beware the ides of March.

CAESAR:
He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass.

Fortunately there were no soothsayers around on the Ides of March some years ago, and my mother made it safely to the hospital to bring me into the world. Is the Ides of March a cool birthday or what?

My mother had a way with birthdays. My sister’s is April Fool’s Day. Really. And my brother’s is more or less on Thanksgiving (depending on the year). At least they’re all easy to remember!

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12 Mar Hambone and Bean Soup à la Broadcasting Legend™

Me: Give me the recipe for your wonderful bean soup! I want to share it with the world.
Broadcasting Legend™: Recipe? What recipe? You know I don’t cook from recipes.
Me: All right. Just talk me through it. I’ll write it all down.
BL: Well, first I bake a fabulous ham with cherry preserves and mustard and brown sugar glaze…
Me: Not the ham recipe, the soup recipe.
BL: That ham was really good, though. And hambones don’t just materialize out of thin air, you know.
Me: We’ll do the ham next time. The soup?
BL: Oh, all right. The night before I want to make the soup, I put a pound of navy beans to soak, in plain cold water with just a little bit of salt.
Me: (writes)
BL: The next day I drain the beans, rinse then, and put them aside. Then I take that big, meaty hambone and simmer it in a pot of water with secret seasonings.
Me: This is a recipe. You’re suppose to tell us what the seasonings are.
BL: Damn. You’re tough. Okay. Let’s see. A little bit of kosher salt because the ham’s already pretty salty, freshly ground black pepper, a cup of dry sherry, chopped onions. Oh, and my secret secret ingredient, celery powder. The celery flavor really cuts through the richness.
Me: Why not just put real celery in it?
BL: Is this your recipe or mine?
Me: Sorry. Go ahead.
BL: After a few hours I take the hambone out of the broth and shred off the meat. Then I put the meat and the soaked beans into the broth and let it simmer some more.
Me: By this time the house is really smelling good.
BL: Half an hour or so before supper, I taste the broth for seasoning, and add another one of my secret ingredients—a touch of cayenne pepper for heat. Just a little. Then I stir it up with the immersion blender. Breaks up some of the beans and makes it creamy. Not too much—I still want whole beans and chunks of ham.
Me: (writes and drools a little)
BL: Then I put in a couple of handsful of chopped carrots and simmer it all until the carrots are tender. Voilà! Hambone and Bean soup à la Broadcasting Legend™!
Me: (having stopped taking notes and started getting plates, pouring wine, and slicing a nice crusty bâtarde) Let’s eat!

(Note to self: next time, take a picture of the bean soup with the wine and the crusty bread and everything, before it’s all eaten up.)

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11 Mar The Worm Moon

Let's start calling it the Robin MoonWorm Moon? Who would name a full moon the Worm Moon? And in my birthday month, too.

The reason it’s called the Worm Moon, or so the tale goes, is that in March the ground at last become warm enough to bring earthworms back to the surface, which means robins will return (why didn’t they call it the Robin Moon? Much nicer-sounding) and the earth itself will soon be ready for tilling and planting.

Other names for March’s full moon are Crow Moon, Crust Moon (because the snow would thaw during the day and re-freeze at night, forming an icy crust over the surface, Sap Moon, and Lenten Moon. It’s the last full moon of Winter.

In other news, my revisions are proceeding apace. Both doggies seem to have recovered from their gastroenteritis. It’s (once again) gloomy, rainy, thundery and lightning-y today, but all is not lost—the Broadcasting Legend™ is making bean soup from scratch, with a ham bone and everything. Mmmmmm. Perfect rainy-day food. Tomorrow I’ll post his recipe.

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07 Mar Spring has Officially Sprung

Our Jessamina

 

Our jessamina vine (at least that’s what the Broadcasting Legend™ calls it—officially it’s a yellow jessamine or Carolina jessamine) has burst into bloom, and who can look at its tumbling waves of bright yellow flowers without feeling cheerful?

When I was growing up in Illinois we had forsythia to give us sunshine-yellow flowers in the spring. For some reason nobody seems to grow forsythia here in Texas (or lilacs, which I miss), but the jessamina is just as lovely. It has a sachet-like, faintly lavender/rose scent which reminds me of small hard candies I sometimes ate as a child.

What heralds Spring for you?

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06 Mar How Does She Do That?

And now Cressie has it!
Cressie is long-legged and lanky and when she stands on her hind legs scoping out the kitchen counters she seems about six feet tall. But she can curl up into the tiniest of balls. Where does she put those long bony legs and enormous (sorry, Cress) paws? One of the mysteries of nature.

Here we see her channeling Veronica Lake as she recovers from the gastroenteritis bug her brother Boo so generously shared with her.

She’s better today. I am now ready for everyone in this house to be NOT-SICK. Thank you.

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05 Mar The Stars of March

After all the excitement last month—comets! conjunctions! occultations! penumbral eclipses!—this month is quieter. There is some good planet viewing, however, particularly of Saturn.

  • March 8th: the moon, just two days to full, rises in the east at nightfall, just above the star Regulus (Alpha Leonis, the brightest star in the constellation Leo) and the plant Saturn.
  • March 9th: the moon rises between Regulus and Saturn, with Regulus above it and Saturn below it. A moon sandwich!
  • March 10th: the full moon rises below both Regulus and Saturn. Saturn is at its brightest for the year. One of my favorite childhood memories is the awe I felt the first time I observed Saturn and its rings through my little 60x telescope.
  • March 20th: the Vernal Equinox occurs at 6:44 a.m. Central Daylight Time, marking the beginning of Spring (yay!) in the Northern Hemisphere.

And speaking of Saturn: just this week it was reported that scientists found a moon hidden in one of Saturn’s outer rings. How cool is that? Saturn has a lot of moons (sixty-one, counting the new one) in addition to its rings, but there’s something about an unknown and mysterious moon hidden away within a ring. How could that be worked into a story?

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03 Mar Comfort Reading

We all have “comfort food”—foods that either evoke our childhoods or special happy times in our lives or just make us feel safe and comforted. One of mine is popcorn—every Friday night was popcorn night at our house when I was growing up, and I still have and use the pan my father used to pop his corn. He would make two pans’ worth, put it in a big roaster with butter and salt, and give each of us a little dish-full of our own. The dishes were green Melmac. Heaven!

Comfort food isn’t something we eat every day, or even necessarily our favorite food. It’s just—well—comforting. Comfort reading is much the same. My favorite sort of reading is a big, thick, richly-textured serious historical novel, with lots of detail about another place and time. But my comfort reading is E.F. Benson’s deliciously witty Lucia novels.

I love Lucia (Mrs. Emmeline Lucas to the uninitiated), her aide-de-camp in the culture wars Georgie Pillson, her great rival Miss Elizabeth Mapp and her lesser adversary Mrs. Daisy Quantock. I can read straight through all six Lucia novels and then go back and start again from the beginning. Bliss! Why do they soothe my soul so deeply? I’m not sure. English society was certainly undergoing enormous upheaval in the period between the two world wars, but in backwater villages like Riseholme and Tilling, order remained. It is that sense of order and place that I love. There was a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do. It had nothing to do with morality. It was about behavior. I think it’s the same craving for order that leads me to read old etiquette books with such nostalgic delight.

What is your comfort reading? How does it differ from your favorite books?

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02 Mar Boo Has a Not-So-Excellent Adventure

Poor Boudin, not feeling very wellA terribly sick doggie over the weekend. This morning at last he seems to be better. Not sure if it was some kind of bacterial or viral thing, or just some contraband delicacy he came across in the back yard—the vet seemed to be leaning toward a dietary indiscretion because sick as he was, Mr. Boo had no fever. In any case, about six-thirty last night he suddenly got up, stretched, ate food, drank water, and looked around as if to say “What’s all the fuss?” He slept normally through the night with no emergencies. Life chez Loupas can now carry on as usual, I hope.

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