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15 Apr Cressie Hesitates

Tennis ball? Pot roast? Tennis ball? Pot roast?Cressie has been sulking since I posted the picture of Boo. “Me me me!” she’s been whimpering. “Me too!” So here she is.

There’s a story behind this picture. (Isn’t there always?) As you can see Cressie had collected a tennis ball from somewhere, and to make sure it was safe from predators (those Schnauzers, you know) she took it to her pillow with her when it was time for her afternoon nap.

I thought she was so cute curled up around her tennis ball that I got down on the floor to take a picture. Just then the Broadcasting Legend™ opened the refrigerator door. Both dogs can hear that refrigerator door from anywhere in the house. (Actually, they could probably hear it from down the street.) Her head came up and she put out one paw preparatory to leaping up and running into the kitchen just in case Master dropped a pot roast. Then she froze. I could see her little mental wheels going around. Tennis ball? Pot roast? Tennis ball? Pot roast? I snapped the shot at the last possible moment, because in the next second she was up and gone.

Poor tennis ball. It just didn’t measure up.

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13 Apr Boudin the Sentry

Boudin the SentryBoo sits at our front windows and waits for intruders. This means little girls on bicycles, teenage boys on scooters, frisking squirrels and rabbits in the front yard, and other dogs being walked along the front sidewalk. In our neighborhood that includes Golden Retrievers, Chocolate Labs, a Min-Pin, a magnificent and playful Weimaraner, a Dachshund-Poodle mix named Max (I suggested “Yankee” because as a Dachshund-Poodle he was clearly a Doodle, but for some reason that didn’t fly), and most dangerous of all, the Schnauzer.

Boo barks at all of them. Mostly he’s just chatting. But we always know when the poor woman with the Schnauzer walks by, because Boo goes ballistic. We have no idea why the Schnauzer in particular is The Enemy, but when Boo sees him he flings himself at the window and howls his beagle howl. The Broadcasting Legend™ and I look at each other and say wisely, “Must be the Schnauzer.”

Good thing we have Boo, or we’d be overrun with Schnauzers.

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09 Apr The Pink Moon

Tonight is April’s full moon—the “Pink Moon.” It’s called that, or so the story goes, because in the spring the meadows are covered with moss pinks, also known as wild ground phlox. Other names for April’s full moon are the Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among some coastal tribes of native Americans, the Fish Moon, because in April the fish swam upstream to spawn.

Funny thing is, the moon actually was pink tonight, as it rose over our back fence and the rooflines of our back neighbors’ houses. I tried to take a picture of it, but until I get the gizmo that attaches my camera to the telescope all I’m going to get are blurry bright circles. But truly, it was pinkish. Probably just some kind of esoteric pollution—but I’ll cling to my romantic notions, thank you.

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07 Apr No Cucumbers Yet, But…

We have lilies:

Backyard lilies on a cool, overcast morning

And we have Peace roses:

A full-blown Peace rose

My beloved Robert Browning’s Pippa knew of what she sang:

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

Although here along the Elm Fork of the Trinity, it would most likely be a mockingbird instead of a lark.

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06 Apr The Prince of Castaways

I love Edwin Arlington Robinson’s work so much, and I think my favorite (although it’s hard to choose) piece is “Flammonde,” from The Man Against the Sky. In fact, I suspect reading “Flammonde” for the first time when I was probably ten or twelve made such an indelible impression on me that my favorite sort of male main character, both to read about and to write, is a Flammonde-like mystery:

He never told us what he was,
Or what mischance, or other cause,
Had banished him from better days
To play the Prince of Castaways.
Meanwhile he played surpassing well
A part, for most, unplayable;
In fine, one pauses, half afraid
To say for certain that he played.

Like another of my great favorites, dear Mr. Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” “Flammonde” tells us a story about an enigmatic man, both attractive and repellent. However, unlike Browning’s Duke of Ferrara, who speaks to his mysterious listener and thus reveals himself (however one might interpret that revelation—see The Second Duchess), Flammonde says nothing: we see him only through the eyes of a puzzled observer:

Why was it that his charm revealed
Somehow the surface of a shield?
What was it that we never caught?
What was he, and what was he not?

There is a story behind “Flammonde,” and what a lovely novel it would make. Just looking at that picture of Caroline Swan’s house makes me curious, so curious, to know what went on behind those precisely balanced, shuttered windows. Whatever it was, it did not end well:

Rarely at once will nature give
The power to be Flammonde and live.

Yes, I’m a romantic. I admit it. Absolutely incurable.

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03 Apr Tzatziki Time is on the Horizon

Cucumber blossom (from last year)
I think the frost is over, and I’m about to sow my cucumber seeds. Mmm, fresh cucumbers straight from the vine! That means TZATZIKI!

Tzatziki is a Greek sauce for souvlaki and gyros, although we gobble it up as a dip with pita triangles (or, to be frank, with just about any sort of chip we can lay our hands on). If you can find thick Greek yogurt, use that—it’s turning up in grocery stores more and more. If you can’t find Greek yogurt, use regular full-fat yogurt, well drained.

There are as many recipes for tzatziki as there are Greek cooks. Here’s the Broadcasting Legend™’s version:

1 quart plain full-fat yogurt
1 cucumber
1 clove of garlic
The zest of one lemon
Kosher salt to taste—start with half a teaspoon
2 teaspoons of dried dill
Fresh dill for garnish

The night before (don’t you hate it when recipes start with “The night before…”?), strain the yogurt. It’s easy—line a large strainer with cheesecloth (a couple of dampened paper towels will do in a pinch), put it over a glass bowl, and scoop in the yogurt. Cover the whole shebang lightly with more cheesecloth or paper towels and leave it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, discard the liquid in the bowl. In the strainer you will have delicious thick yogurt. Put this yogurt into the rinsed and dried bowl. Rinse the strainer because you’re going to need it again.

Peel, seed, and rough-chop the cucumber. Put it in a food processor (yes, we take the easy way) with the garlic clove, the lemon zest, the salt and the dried dill. Process until combined. Leave it slightly chunky so your tzatziki has some texture. Drain this mixture in your strainer. Press down hard. The idea is to remove as much liquid as possible so your tzatziki is delectably thick.

Add the cucumber mixture to the yogurt and fold them together well. Taste and add salt if necessary. Divide into serving bowls and garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.

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02 Apr #Agentnonpareil

Have I mentioned lately how much I my manuscript? I’m in the last couple of chapters of revisions and I’m so happy with how it’s turning out.

I also have to say that I my agent Diana Fox for her suggestions and support. Everybody’s been talking about #agentfail and #agentwin, it seems, but for me Agent Diana transcends all the categories into #agentnonpareil. And no, I don’t mean those little chocolate candies with white sprinkles.

Although chocolate is always good.

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01 Apr The Skies of April

And speaking of stargazing: this month the Moon finds its way from planet to planet, with a star cluster thrown in for good measure; and the Lyrids return.

  • April 6: Saturn, which will look like a bright gold-colored star, appears close to the Moon tonight. Observe them together and meditate on the vast distance that actually separates them.
  • April 18: Jupiter appears a little to the lower left of the Moon in the very early morning, low in the southeast.
  • April 21: Meteors! The Lyrid meteor shower is at its best tonight. For more information click here. Meteor showers are a law unto themselves, sometimes dazzling, sometimes virtually unnoticeable. Bit of historical goodness: in 1095, an April meteor shower (almost certainly the Lyrids) was so spectacular that one Gislebert, Bishop of Lisieux, took it as a sign of heavenly approval for what became the First Crusade.
  • April 22: The Moon, Venus, and Mars appear close together low in the east, just as it begins to get light. The Moon will actually occult Venus, hiding it briefly from view.
  • April 26: The Moon, the planet Mercury and the Pleiades align low in the west-northwest as night falls. Mercury will look like a fairly bright star. The Pleiades star cluster is a little below the Moon, sandwiched between the Moon and Mercury.

Happy sky-watching!

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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.