I Set My Birthday Present on Fire


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Hello faithful readers who have not abandoned me in my absence! I am afraid that other writing projects and life itself have distracted me from being similarly faithful to this blog.

The first of those projects is that I have been writing reviews for the Uncustomary Book Review! The first of them is on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and you can read it by clicking here. My second, on Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, should appear at the end of September.

Indiana has had a rough time lately. He was attacked by another dog while we were out for a walk on Labor Day, though by some good grace he managed to come out with only bruises and scratches. And less than a week later he had an appointment to be neutered! Couple those along with the fact that Husband is out of town most of this week, Indiana is not the happiest of puppies and makes his opinion known by getting up to various hijinks, which includes peeing on the rug, running mad puppy circles around the living room, and stealing his mommy’s socks.

In more recent news, Weston gave me a fancy-dan meat thermometer as an early birthday present (it was smaller gift that accompanied by a bigger one–he gave me an acoustic guitar, which I am trying to teach myself) of the kind where you can leave the probe in the meat while it is in the oven while simultaneously attaching to a little electronic read out that sits outside the oven and tells you when your meat has reached the appropriate temperature. It’s pretty much best way to make sure your roast chicken is cooked all the way through without drying it out with over-cooking. This is a legit kitchen gadget.

Well, Weston was making pork chops. And nobody like to dry pork chops, right? So we thought we would try it out. I stuck in the probe, closed the oven door, and waited for the beep while watching Weston make cranberry chutney (yum!). A couple of minutes later we noticed gray smoke coming through one of ranges on the stove top.

We opened the oven to discover that the cord attaching the probe to the read out was on fire! It burned out in a minute after the oven door was opened, and I gingerly removed it with an oven mitt and doused it in the sink. It also sprayed little pieces of burnt plastic all over our pork chops.

And every cook knows that burnt plastic is really not the best seasoning for pork chops.

You should mostly feel bad for Husband. He always tries really hard to find a great gift! Thankfully my new guitar (SO EXCITED) will distract me from lack of ability to properly roast chickens.


Tuesday’s TED Talk


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This one is for my writing friends. I responded to it because I have always associated a great deal of anxiety with my creative process, and in this video Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gives a rather controversial solution to such a common problem: stop feeling responsible.


Discussion Questions:

1. Short of believing in fairies, do you believe, or can you pretend to believe, that an outside, supernatural force is acting on your creative work?

2. Is the pain of falling short in our creative endeavors worth the pride we feel when those endeavors are fulfilled?

3. Does your creative process include anxiety? How does it affect the rest of your life?

Me Being Literary with Bram Stoker’s Dracula


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I think most of us are all at least familiar with the premise of Dracula. There’s a vampire who comes to London. He feeds on people. Some bad ass professor named Van Helsing chases him and eventually kills him. We are all safe to walk the streets at night once more.

I’m here to write about the female characters of Dracula. Because, as in most Victorian literature, most of them fall into some pretty basic archetypal categories: the angels and the whores.

First we have Lucy. Lucy is one of Dracula’s first victims when he comes to London from across the sea. The most common word Stoker uses to describe her is “sweet.” She’s innocent and lovely and not terribly reliable, but men are so enamored with her that she gets three marriage proposals in one day. The reader is aggrieved to watch her waste away into what we first believe is death but is then revealed to be not death but vampirism. The stark contrast between what she is in life and the “voluptuous wanton” she becomes in her un-death makes her part in the story all the more tragic. She is feminine innocence corrupted and destroyed by evil.

And on the other side of the spectrum is Dracula’s harem. They are three vampires who live in Dracula’s castle, his “wives” for lack of a better term, and they are everything there is that is tempting about vampirism. Even the stoic, devout, engaged Jonathan Harker, who admits to a “wicked, burning desire” for them, is not entirely resistant to their charms. They attempt to seduce and feed upon Harker and Dr. Van Helsing before they are finally destroyed. They are feminine corruption feeding off the weakness of men.

And then there’s Mina.

Mina starts the novel as Jonathan Harker’s fiance and marries him as the book progresses. In some ways, she is the novel’s central figure. She is responsible for compiling all the notes, the diary entries, newpaper articles, etc, that she and the other characters have on Count Dracula. She is a practiced transcriber, and has the sturdiness of character to not faint at the mere mention of the atrocities that Dracula has most recently committed.

There is a softness to her; all the male characters feel the need to tell her about their experiences, and she listens to them and comforts them gladly. But unlike Lucy, though she is a victim of Dracula’s attack, she does not succumb to vampirism, and even makes all the male characters promise her that they will kill her if she does become one. She is stalwart.

Van Helsing tellingly describes Mina: “She has man’s brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a woman’s heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good combination.” (Van Helsing is Dutch, so excuse his poor English grammar). Mina is an odd conglomeration of male and female archetypal characteristics. As a character of contrasts, masculine and feminine, victim and hero, character and narrator, she is also, arguably, the core of the story. All the novel’s themes seem to pass through her at some point.

It brings up one of the crucial questions of feminism: what does a good, empowered woman look like? Some feminists condemn Lucy as overly frail and hold up Mina as an example of women being just as intellectually and morally capable as men. Others say Lucy’s traits are misinterpreted as weak and the Mina’s maleness is just a bad case of penis-envy. And even then we have others holding up Dracula’s vampire-wives as women who are wrongly depicted as evil because they have openly embraced their sexuality, and that Lucy and Mina are sexually repressed prudes created by a patriarchal society.

I, personally, identify with Mina. The only thing that bothers me is that her strength of character, her stalwart attitude, is described as a “man’s brain.” Why is Mina’s quiet strength considered a masculine characteristic?

I suppose I should just be grateful. That a popular English novel about vampires written in 1897 should discuss such vital feminist ideas is amazing in and of itself.

Nobody Was Hurt


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I was in a car accident on Wednesday.

Indiana was in the car with me. Normally I would have his leash tied around the front passenger seat so he would have to stay at least within my peripheral vision. On Wednesday, his leash was coiled on the floorboards. He decided to take this opportunity to try to crawl into the back seat.

I turned my attention from the road to pull him into the front, and when I looked back I saw that I was approaching a red light. I braked as hard as I could. Airbags blew, and the interior filled with white smoke. Too shocked to panic, I grabbed Indiana and my purse and stumbled out into the beating sun and the honking of horns.

I was taken home, for the second time in my life, in a police car.

Even now that it’s over, the insurance agency called and given charge, my ticket been paid, I find it hard to think of anything else. Every time I look at Indiana, this little living creature for which I am responsible and could have grievously injured, I feel sick to my stomach and struggle not to sob. I stare at the welts on my right arm and stomach for long minutes, noting the most recent shift in the hue of my bruises from red to purple to yellow. I close my eyes and see white smoke and hear the hissing of Nitrogen gas.

When I get back on the road, every car and driver is an enemy out to maul my body, my reputation, my sense of self-worth.

I’ve entered this alternate dimension where life goes on, where I make breakfast for my husband, where I take Indiana on walks, where I watch hideous amounts of Netflix, but all with the added sinister undercurrent of a dream or a nightmare. In this other universe I go through my daily routine but with the knowledge, a constant at the back of my mind, that I have been in a car accident. The knowledge that I will never feel safe ever again.

It could have been much worse. The other driver and I both have good insurance. The police were polite. We have a rental car narrow enough to get through our back gate and into our driveway. Friends and family have been incredibly supportive.

Thank goodness nobody was hurt.

Adventures in (Puppy) Parenthood, Part 1


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It has been almost four weeks since Husband and I brought Indiana home. There have been tears. There have been stains. There has been incessant whining. There has been cajoling, begging, cuddling, growling, jumping, and running in circles. There have been waggy tails (which are some of the best things on earth).

The tears were mine. Before we got a puppy, I was just beginning to feel like I had a got a hold on my life. I was living in a house again. I had projects. I was going to write about those projects. I was going to unpack all my books and read books. I was going to bake and cook and the resulting food would be delicious. I was getting used to being alone during the day and doing what I wanted when I wanted to do it.

Taking a nap after chewing up some cardboard.

And then there was this little furry creature running around my house who had to be watched constantly, who whined every time he was left alone in his crate, who never stopped begging for food, who really kind of hated going outside (in this heat, couldn’t blame him). I was a little bitter about it. I wanted my life back. I felt like I couldn’t leave the house. I felt guilty just putting him in his crate long enough for me to take a shower, and you can forget about taking a nap. I was exhausted.

He got too fast for me to catch him. He found ways out of his box, and then his crate, and then the kitchen. He slipped under end tables, behind refrigerators. I’d take him for walks and all he would do was strain against his leash toward home or jump on my leg to try to get me to pick him up.

Learning to love the crate.

And then we started to adjust to one another. Indiana whines less and less when  left alone. I whine less and less when he pees on the carpet in a fit of over-excitement. He learned to sit and I learned to play. We have been learning to communicate our needs to one another, Milkbone by Milkbone. Sometimes he even seems to enjoy going on walks. I realized all he really wants is for everyone to be happy (and to have all the Milkbones he can eat); everyone, but especially me. He was trying so hard to learn what I wanted, how could I not put in the same effort? And then, all of a sudden, he was house trained. He started responding to commands.

We still don’t always agree on what’s best. He still wants to put everything in his mouth. He still follows me around the kitchen but then refuses to come when I actually need him to follow me around the kitchen. He still curls up on my slippered feet when I’m sitting at the dining table, typing a blog post. We are growing together.

Arbitrary or Absolute: A Middle Ground on Modesty


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I have never seen my father wear jeans. I have heard tales of his doing so in his youth, have caught an occasional glimpse of a faded photograph with a bit of denim in the corner, but I don’t think my father has even owned a pair of Levis since I was born. I’ve also never seen him attend a Sunday morning church service in anything more casual than a button-up and slacks with a sweater vest. He’s a suit man. He wears them well. And he had the same high standards of dress for me and my sister while we were growing up.

In the summer after I graduated from college and before I got married, I was living at home for a couple of months. I had this dress. I had bought it for the presentation of my senior paper because it was cute, but still professional, and also as a reward to myself for finishing the crowning achievement of my college career. It fit me perfectly, and I found it on the clearance rack. What further evidence did I need to know that God meant me to have it?

I wore it the first Sunday I was back in California, though I’d fallen into a habit of wearing more casual clothing to church while I was in college. I had only one black slip (does any woman under 40 wear slips under dresses and skirts anymore? I’ve never met anyone my age who does), and it was little longer than the dress, but since it had a lace edge and was less than a 1/4 of an inch past my dress’s hemline, I decided to pass it off as a lace border at the bottom of my dress.

I first showed it to my mother, who immediately said “I can see your slip,” in the same way another person would say “You probably shouldn’t go to your job interview naked.” She then pointed it out to my father, who asked me “Do you have something else you could wear? Maybe a nice blouse with a pair of jeans?”

At first I was confused, then horrified, and finally I became obstinate with irritation. I told my parents that everything else I had was packed away and wrinkled or needed to be laundered. They asked me if I was sure. I said yes. They asked if I wanted to see if one of my mother’s slips would fit me. I told them it wasn’t necessary. Mom asked me why  I bought a dress that was so short. I didn’t respond. I went to church in my dress.

I steamed the whole day, thinking to myself: My parents think I’m dressed like a prostitute. I thought I looked like a professional, not like a professional lady of the night. My father would rather I wear jeans! I was furious. Well, I was annoyed. And rather chagrined.

I’ve always considered myself a modest dresser, particularly for my age and demographic. In the beginning this was because of how self-conscious I was. I covered up everything because I was sure my best bet was to hide as much of my body as possible. As my confidence grew, I paid more attention to how I dressed and became more adventurous–I wore clothes that were fitted and cut to flatter my figure, wore skirts that were cut above the ankle, bought v-neck t-shirts and skinny jeans. I started receiving compliments, and my confidence grew even more. I took pride in how I dressed. I wasn’t slovenly. I wasn’t provocative. I just dressed well. For the first time in my life I was beginning to be happy with my womanly figure and wanted to flaunt it a bit, but only a bit.

I knew that my parents and I didn’t always agree on what an acceptable amount of flaunting was, but for my father to prefer that I wear jeans? To church? I was stunned.

As a feminist, I believe a bit of modesty, as well as a flattering dress and the right shade of lipstick (for my blog post on the empowering qualities of lipstick, click here) gives women power in social situations that they wouldn’t have otherwise. The unfortunate truth is that being either too attractive or too unattractive means that you will have a much harder time being taken seriously. Realizing that not everyone believed that I had achieved a happy medium between the two reminded me not only just how arbitrary modesty standards are, but also how we treat those standards as absolutes despite their arbitrary nature. I probably should have given a better tip to that waitress with the unbuttoned polo shirt and the mid-thigh skirt. And I probably should have changed into jeans and a nice top for my parents.

We all want to draw a line in the sand: below the knee or right above the knee, spaghetti strap or halter top, flats or kitten heels, sweetheart or boat-neck. I think the most important thing, however, is that we continue to struggle to find that happy medium, that we consider the sensibilities of others while trying to remain true to ourselves. Maybe I’m just a wishy-washy, mushy-middle compromiser. But I think we all could use a little more understanding and few less absolutes.

Fatty Lumpkins Should Be Eaten


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These Fatty Lumpkins are for eating, not smoking. When I first tried this dish in Virginia, I immediately asked for the recipe. Unfortunately, my copy was lost in our recent cross country move. When I attempted to look up the recipe on the internet, I discovered that Fatty Lumpkin is more commonly known as a euphemism for marijuana. There is no marijuana in this recipe. Just so you know. Remembering some of the ingredients, this is what I managed to patch together.

Fatty Lumpkins are just as bad for you as they sound, but they are the pinnacle of comfort food. In essence, they are canned crescent rolls stuffed with, well, just about anything you want to put in them. We stuff them with cream cheese, chicken, onion, garlic, and green onions, but you could just as easily find some other savory combination, or even something sweet (I’m tempted to try apples and cranberries with brown sugar and cinnamon. Yum!). One can with eight crescent rolls is perfect for two people.

I couldn’t even wait long enough to take a picture before I had to try a bite. Yum!

For our Fatty Lumpkin filling, you will need:

  • 1 chicken breast, cooked (we prefer boiled and shredded)
  • 2-3 oz cream cheese brought to room temperature
  • 2-3 tbs butter, melted
  • splash of milk as needed
  • 1/4 cup of onion, diced
  • 1 stalk of green onion, diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, pressed or grated
  • salt
  • pepper

The crust of the Fatty Lumpkin needs

  • 1 can crescent rolls (8)
  • 1 tbs butter for brushing
  • breading (we use breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, but you can use crushed cornflakes, potato chips, whatever suits you)

Saute your onion, green onion, and garlic in a pan. Once everything is cooked through, put those ingredients in a bowl with the chicken, cream cheese, and butter. If you are having trouble getting everything combined, add a splash of milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

After preheating your oven to 350, take the crescent rolls out of the can. Make two dough triangles into one rectangle by pinching the dough along the perforated edges. You should end up with four rectangles. Spoon the mixture from before on to one half of each rectangle and then fold over the dough and pinch together. Brush the outside with butter, then roll in breading.  Place the Fatty Lumpkins in an oven safe dish, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!

And Suddenly We Were Parents


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I’m not pregnant. And after what’s happened, I may not be for a while.

Husband and I got a puppy. Indiana is a yellow lab, just shy of two months, and he enjoys chewing his squeaky Mr. Hedgehog, chasing his tennis ball, and taking massive dumps on the carpet.

At this point I should probably mention that I never had a real pet growing up. I received a beta fish when I was seventeen, fed it for six months, then had to give it away when I moved into a dorm room 3000 miles away from my parents’ home. Perhaps this is why massive dumps on the carpet have such a profound effect on me.

Having grown up with dogs, Husband wanted a puppy ever since he moved away from home to go to college. Having a mild allergy to pet dander, I never had the same compulsion. Puppies were cute and lovable but I had the inkling that they would only remain so as long as I could leave them at the home of their owners and return to my pet free life. But Husband really really really wanted one, and I could tell that it was not just a matter of wanting but a matter of a kind of companionship that I had never experienced. So I acquiesced.

Indiana loves to chew on Mr. Hedgehog’s snout. Thankfully, Mr. Hedgehog is extremely laid back.

But then there was the wedding, and the two mandatory cross country moves, and business trips, and it was not until a year later that we could make the transition between cooing at puppy photos on Google and legitimately starting the search for a new member of our family. We thought it would take months to find exactly what we wanted, but it took us less than a week of fiddling around on the internet to find Indiana, who lived 40 minutes away from us with fourteen brothers and sisters. Next thing I knew, I was in the car on my way home with a bundle of tawny cuteness wrapped up in an old towel.

I stroked him the whole 40 minutes home, perhaps not so much to soothe him as to reduce the size of the anxiety bubble expanding in my chest and pressing against my lungs. I was now responsible for the little life form in my arms. Responsible. I quietly tried to stifle my inner panic.

What if he ruined our furniture? What if he stained our carpet and we lost our deposit? What if I accidentally left my favorite bra on the floor and I came home to find it mauled to an early death? What if he choked on something? Ate something poisonous? Ran away?

Too many things could go wrong. So horribly horribly wrong. How do people even think about having children? Good grief, at least babies wear diapers and are allowed into grocery stores.

But here we are, Indiana and I, nearly constant companions for the last three days. Anxiety has to take a back seat when there is a puppy to love and care for. I hope my readers are looking forward puppy pictures and poop drama. Wish me luck!



And We’re Back!


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Husband and I are almost done unpacking after our second cross-country move in the last four months. We are crossing our fingers in hope that it will be our last for at least the next couple of years.

Between furious fits of emptying our infinite number of dusty boxes, recently rescued from storage, we have both been getting our DIY groove on. I’ve been baking flat bread and beer bread and planting an indoor herb garden, while Husband has been building book cases and making homemade cheese.

Oregano sprouts

I’ve planted rosemary, spearmint, chives, sweet basil, and oregano on the long windowsill in our dining room. Unfortunately, only the basil and oregano have sprouted–even though they were supposed to be the temperamental ones! The other three are supposed to grow indoors at first without a problem. I’m going to give them another week before I try to plant new seeds. But I hope by the end of summer I’ll be able to use fresh herbs in my kitchen. Yum!

Flat bread fresh from the oven, if a little misshapen.

I’ve also started baking flat bread and beer bread on a regular basis. The flat bread is for Husband’s sandwiches (though I definitely eat it too), but frankly the recipe is still a major pain in the butt and needs to be tweaked before I can post it here. The beer bread recipe is incredibly easy, and especially good when I make it with Husband’s homemade beer! I have served it with our schnitzel, but it is good just on its own with honey and butter.

Husband built this book case with his own two hands!

Husband in the meantime has taken up carpentry. We realized that even in our last place we didn’t have shelves for all our unpacked books, much less the ones that had never gotten out of their boxes. He has already finished one bookcase, is working on a second, and has repainted an ugly one we already had to match the rest of our furniture. He has insisted the bookcases are very simple to construct, so I’m hoping I can get him to write a guest post on it! The materials are not too expensive and the result is much more sturdy than the economical book cases you can find at Target or Wal-mart (and you can paint them any color you like!).

Homemade farmer’s cheese.

But by far the most exciting thing Husband has done is make homemade cheese. Husband and I love cheese. Cheese is half the reason we moved to the Midwest. The homemade cheese turned out fresh and soft, a mild farmer’s cheese. I think it’s somewhere between cream cheese, mozzarella, and chèvre. We put it on our flat bread sandwiches, but I’m planning to try it with a slices of tomato and basil in a caprese salad.

Look forward to posts on these projects and others in the months to come. It’s good to be blogging again!

Tuesday’s TED Talk


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We should really be watching TED talks every day, but I could not resist the alliteration. Today’s talk is by Brenè Brown on the power of vulnerability in human connection. The next twenty minutes could turn around your day, and maybe even your life. Enjoy!


Follow up questions:

1. How are our lives shaped by our attitudes towards vulnerability?

2. How do we cope when vulnerability is rejected or shamed?

3. Is it possible to be too vulnerable?