Monday, March 02, 2009

Chasing rabbits? Headfirst down the rabbit hole...

I finished a delicious book last night.

It was Rebel Giants: the revolutionary lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin by David R. Contosta. A lot of fun. I have read perhaps 5 or 6 Darwin biographies but scratching my head, no reading of a Lincoln bio that I can remember. Just absorbed the Lincoln mythos via osmosis. Must find one -- he was awesome! I am smitten, what a truly amazing man.

Especially taken by his darkness, a lifelong depression that he actually fully acknowledged, perhaps even at times reveled in -- at any rate, President Lincoln had no shame in claiming his melancholia.

Have been feeling kind of low, myself, lately.

This is not new.

In fact it is old and wearisome.

Things had gone on long enough that very many months ago I sought help and got a dandy prescription for an antidepressant.

This is not unusual, lots of people are doing well and getting better with chemical assistance.

But the antidepressant exacerbated insomnia and somehow the insomnia increased the asthma and the asthma medicine created more insomnia and then both treatments made me more anxious and before I knew it, I had drugs to compensate for the side effects, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication and new, better asthma medicines and pretty soon things began to go...

out of control.

Too many drugs and not a clue how I was really doing. Not to mention a few evenings of being totally out of my head. Add a couple glasses of wine to the mix every few days (and once, a recent totally lost evening that involved half a bottle of champagne) and well... disaster.

Quit everything.

Haven't crashed yet.

Image above is from an illustrated book called Living with a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone. Honestly, for the most part, Churchill's black dog has been beaten to death by every gloomy blogger out there. But I found this book (well, at least the bit of it posted on The Guardian's website) enchanting.

Sorry, rather another non-post.

Next up: a juicy expose of my EXTREME crush on Stevie Smith. Fasten your seat belts. Apologies for this one.

Your contrite, morose, sorry old laundress.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Wandering (back on track?)

Managed to finally resume walking-commuting. Waffled awhile before deciding the Yaktrax were jinxed, so I left them in their package. Sidewalks were icy, but I neither witnessed nor participated in any falls. Decided it is foolish to believe in bad luck and jinxed footwear... expecting even better hikes tomorrow.

New plan, to snap out of the winter blues/dreadful funk that has seized me, will just try posting a bit of something here. Precious little bit, but enough for tonight!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Famous foot -- where???

Apologies all around for my non-blogging lately.

I have been caught up in New Year's resolutions gone terribly wrong!

The first weekend of 2009, prior to returning to work, I went shopping for YakTrax (little slip-on devices to improve traction when hoofing it on ice). The basic intention was to return to my walking-commute immediately in 2009 and also to start Dr. Walford's caloric-restriction (CR) diet.

Alas, things went horribly askew.

I was shopping with Best Friend and teen daughter. She found a cute hoodie, I scored my YakTrax (highly recommended by former co-worker, J.J.). We were happy. BF pooh-poohed both hoodies and winter footwear -- he was recovering from his latest surgical excavation of skin cancer and spent his time at the outdoorsy store (where all winter garments were on deep discount) looking at sunhats. What a contrarian. The irony of his misguided attentions became immediately apparent as we exited the store (me, triumphantly waving about my sackful of YakTrax and hoodie)...

... and poor BF stepped onto an invisible sheet of glaze ice and did a spectacular loop-de-loop, avoiding landing on his face because he very wisely rolled his shoulder into the fall. He landed with an impressive, loud thud -- right in the middle of the road.

Stood up, shook off. Daughter and I gasped in horror (he is so skinny, to make such a resounding THUD). We asked, was he okay? And he assured us he was fine...

and asked that we should proceed to the local emergency room immediately. Hah. BF is no whiner. He shattered his shoulder, and is now is facing physical therapy (after surgery to plate-and-pin things together). It could have happened to anyone. Alas it was him (poor sweetheart). Him and 181 other hapless victims.
Our hours and hours of waiting in the hospital emergency room witnessed an endless parade of ice-stricken victims. Things were gummed up forever! It was a weekend of especially dangerous ice and many ice-related casualties. The back injuries were the worst to view, they came in writhing and we didn't see any of them leave. Leg, arm and shoulder folks just cooled their heels for hours, the ER was swamped.

Sweet daughter should have been studying for her first high school finals, instead she took long hikes around the hospital and ate many, many candy bars from vending machines.

I consumed 9,000 calories in Cheetos. Drowning anxiety and boredom in Cheetos? How pathetic.

I have no excuse, other than this is my usual hospital waiting room behavior. Hospitals and Cheetos made me what I am today.

Well, dang but the winter weather (and caretaking of BF) have led to a serious crimp in my New Year's resolution to return to walking-commuting. Also, there is a certain nervousness about how quickly this happened and how long the recovery time will be -- I have been feeling rather safe in my giant Swedish fortress of a car.

But... walking and blogging are both in my plans, starting next week. I am still out to lunch on Dr. Wolford's diet. Most especially because, today I ate lunch at the local Cheeseburger in Paradise (Jimmy Buffett-owned chain restaurant, with vaguely tropical decor). Discovered something interesting -- the restaurant is on the outskirts of our city, which has a restrictive smoking ban. No such ban apparently exists over the border! It is also mainly a bar, perhaps that explains the peculiarly high rate of adult smokers inside (ME! the lone non-smoker! how funny is that?) and 75 other adults puffing away.

At any rate -- far from a tropical escape, it was like spending my lunch hour in a high school girls bathroom, circa 1977. All smokers on this side of town have gravitated to this restaurant. I guess it is just to flippin' cold to smoke outside.

Taking me back...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Ringing in the New Year (better late than never)

Happy New Year!

Glad to still be around. Delighted that you are here too.

Did you have a good New Year's celebration? Did you do something glitzy? Did you have fun? I hope so. Tell me about it!

Mine was mild. So mild that no effort was made to pop the cork on our $3 bottle of sparkling pear cider. Ah, but I was longing for a bit of glamour and some bubbly.

Instead, 2009 came in like a lamb.

Watched dvds of The Tick (animated, seasons one and two) snuggled up on the good, old couch with my son and our Big Orange Kitty -- in the newly-reclaimed family room, on a television freshly-whisked out of the main living area and bumpily* settled into this previously uninhabitable space. Husband declined the invitation to join us and retreated to party into the new year by reading in bed with his favorite small cat and James Church and Inspector O.

(*er, that means it was dropped and not quite the same since.)

The bulldogs and guinea pigs and birds disregard holidays and other festivities. For them, it is lights out and sound asleep by 9:00 pm, no matter what.

Once again, I was struck by the brilliance of Ben Edlund and wondering if I should be emulating American Maid. Now, she is glamour. Perhaps I should swap the Yaktrax and balaclava (which doesn't really make me look like a ninja) for stilettos and a tiara? Seems like a no-brainer, what a gorgeous character.

Anyhow, just an abbreviated bit of my family (myself, sleeping son, purring Big Orange Kitty) rang in 2009 together.

My daughter had gone off to a party, and I was staying up to chauffeur her home.

Here comes the scary part...

My daughter attended a New Year's Eve party that lasted past midnight. Yep, she is that big now.

The party was hosted by the eldest daughter in a family of five kids. The parents were entertaining 15 additional high school freshmen (I often find just one is too many to amuse) plus allowed each of the younger siblings to invite one friend as a sleep-over buddy (to keep the younger siblings out of the big kids' hair?)

24 children, ages 15 and younger. Not a wealthy family with a slew of hired help and paid entertainment and thousands of square feet to disperse them in. The kids went out and played in the snow, came inside and played that marvelous game Apples to Apples plus drank a barrel of sparkling grape juice and devoured a truckload of baked goods. I know, that sounds pretty precious. But it wasn't, it really happened and it seems to have worked quite well.


And here I die a thousand, hopelessly inadequate parenting deaths.

Your laundress can barely cope with one cousin sleeping over for three nights. That happened between Christmas and New Year's, one sweet extra kid but I was going nuts with the bickering, the teasing, the jolly loudness when all was going well, the damn responsibility of one more person under the roof. And I LOVE the kid. My kids love this cousin. My husband hits it off fabulously with him. He is a great person and good at handling our unruly pets. It was just -- almost -- too much for me.

These people? They had courage. They had pizazz. They had an awesome Christmas tree still up with an amazing model railroad running around it. Mom was smiling when yours truly and other parents showed up at her door, 30 minutes into the new year. Happy, noisy teens were milling around plus a few sleepy little kids were straggling here and there, in pajamas. I am pretty damn positive their teeth were brushed.

30 minutes into the new year and already I am feeling woefully inadequate and hopelessly jealous? Dang but things must improve. Inside my head.

Dark, mean little laundress.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Buttoned down (pig, in a blanket!)

I have a warm (though aged) down coat. It has served me well, surviving last year's walking commute without any troubles.

For Christmas, this year, my husband gifted me with a Polar Parka -- a goose down good 'til minus 100 kind of winter coat. He bought this garment in size SMALL. Uh huh. For your truly, the corpulent and exploding out of compression garments laundress.


I told him it was lovely. I told him I loved it. I told him I love him.

I hate.

Hate the damn big coat that is way too small for me. Hate me for being too big for the huge little garment. Hate the whole holiday and the idea of giving people you love something they might love so they may love you more.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Cat feeders and shrewd larders

Do you feed wild birds?

When we first moved into our current house, I did.

I maintained three birdseed feeders and a woodpecker station plus a suet board and two platform feeders (primarily for squirrels and chipmunks--stocked with cracked corn and stale bread).

All of the feeders were a source of endless entertainment and fascination for me and the kids. An amazing array of songbirds, woodpeckers, birds-of-prey, rodents, deer, raccoons, and opossum, and assorted other wildlife(!) visited the feeders.

But our most memorable visitor was a feral cat.

A Siamese cat of formidable power and build. Apparently an important local feline, he often sunned himself on our front porch. He was a handsome cat but definitely not people-friendly.

Admiring glances were welcome but, please, no petting.

Mr. Big-stuff Siamese would just slink away if you got too close.

One morning, little daughter C. and I were looking at goldfinches on the niger thistle tube and suddenly a velvety brown paw slashed forward and decapitated a finch... head flung one way, body the other, blood spurting everywhere.

C. was screaming. I was annoyed. The aloof Siamese? Turns out he was a homeless guy masquerading as a bank president.

A bit of investigation led to the discovery that this mighty hunter had a bad rep all over the neighborhood -- for leaving mostly-uneaten though mortally maimed songbirds next to everyone's feeders.

neighbors were sheltering and feeding the stray Siamese beast: besides the hearts and livers of goldfinches, he was consuming tuna fish, fancy canned cat feasts, leftover chicken wings, and other delights -- while lounging in garages or porches, often on special cat beds purchased for his comfort. Nobody could pet him, let alone get too close. This cat walked alone. But he liked an audience.

His highness, the death machine.

I decided to trap this cat.

My husband was annoyed with ME about my decision, this was one of the blow-out fights of our marriage. He said I would be catching one of our neighbor's pets (the cat obviously wore a collar and tags) and they would justifiably hate me for it and only an idiot would do such a socially-irresponsible thing. I countered that our neighbor should be keeping their cat indoors, where it would not be destroying songbirds and wreaking environmental havoc.

Anyhow, after capturing an interesting array of other wildlife, I successfully trapped the yowling feral Siamese. Because he was still wearing a collar with an expired rabies tag from a vet clinic in a faraway city, the local cops were able to reunite him with his "owner", a woman who had been missing her kitty for over a year. She had resorted to hiring a psychic, after lost-pet posters and all else had failed. The psychic told her the cat was "living near water and happy". The psychic was right. The Siamese had gained weight in his year plus of living wild, and he could enjoy a view of the lake while lounging on the roof of our garage.

Lord knows he spent enough time up on top of the garage, sunning his rotund belly full of goldfinches and fledgling cardinals and baby chipmunks. The killer-Siamese's human mom figured out where I lived from vague police reports with a vicinity and house description... and she showed up to shower me with thanks! When she knocked on the door and sternly asked if this was the house that had trapped a cat, thinking of my husband's admonishments, I wanted to run and hide. Couldn't because she was hugging me too much.

A happy ending!

Especially for local birdlife.

When H. was sick, none of this bird feeding mattered anymore and I let it all go. The feeders were empty for several years, listing over and lurching sideways. Mostly empty: house sparrows filled one up with grass and twigs and raised families. That was interesting, they reared their babies in a glass-walled house, just a few feet and a energy efficient double-walled pane of glass away from me, as I stood at my ironing board.

Last weekend, I straightened the tilted feeders and refilled them, and added a new platform feeder just outside the family room windows.

Cat TV! Our cats have been glued to the recently exposed row of three windows in the newly-christened family room. The family room, formerly known only as an inhospitable repository for stacked up dozens of boxes, filled with weird Victorian glassware, heaps of assorted trash and Lederhosen and bazillions of bridge tallies, etc.

Having set up an environmentally-friendly covered platform feeder (made of recycled plastics), what kind of visitors should be expected? Turns out they are of all kinds-- and most interesting ones!

The image above is famous. It is from a Flickr account labelled Cool Cat in Bird Feeder, which was invited to participate in LOL Cats. I am still a dismal failure at getting any of our THREE digital cameras (let alone two cats) to cooperate with my blogging photography endeavors. If I could only get a digital camera to function, LOL Cats would be begging me for permission to post images of my cats observing the new platform feeder.

Meanwhile, believe me, the cats are gorgeous and spend most of their days happily glued to their observation posts on the windowsill. Watching chickadees and nuthatches and squirrels and, most recently, a mysterious animal that was moving at lightning speed.

My husband mentioned on Sunday afternoon that "the cats seem more interested in the fast mouse than anything else at the feeder."

I went to check out the "fast mouse" and it was like no mouse I had ever before seen...

a swirling tumult.

A pane of glass and about two inches of distance away from the kitties and my eyes. Diving over and under fallen leaves and bark mulch. Squirming above and then below my line of vision, under the feeder, next to the feeder, in the feeder. No visible ears, with minute, probably useless eyes. Tiny, stub-tail. Covered in a thick and lustrous pelt of dark black-gray fur.

This was NOT a mouse.

Not a mole.

Wracking my brain, suddenly figured it out: A SHREW!

More specifically, upon checking my field guides: the Northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda). A really common animal that I had never observed before.

How cool is this -- Northern short-tailed shrews are poisonous mammals! B. Brevicauda is thought to have emerged in the middle to late Pleistocene, but their ancestors were around much earlier than that. Here is a press release from the University of Alberta, Researchers find first evidence of venom system in extinct mammal :

Currently, there are three types of living mammals with salivary venom-injecting capabilities: the Caribbean Solenodon (found primarily in Cuba), the North American short-tailed shrew, and the Eurasian water shrew. The Australian duck-billed platypus also has venom-injecting capability through a spur on its heel.

Okay, I did know about poisonous spurs on platypuses. Who doesn't? If you grew up reading The Guinness Book of World Records, you know about the platypus. And solendons are just plain weird. I had heard of them but remembered nothing other than their name and strange appearance. But poisons in shrews? Especially local ones? WTF?

Here is reliable info from a print resource:

MacDonald, David (ed.)
The Encyclopedia of Mammals
Facts on File, c1994

P. 762+
…shrews can detect a very wide size range of prey, from 10 cm earthworms to 1-2mm nematodes. Even small mites and the animal’s own external parasites are not exempt…

The bite of some shrews is venomous. The salivary glands of the American short-tailed shrew, for instance, produce enough venom to kill by intravenous injection about 200 mice. The poison acts to kill or paralyze before ingestion, and may be particularly important in helping to subdue large prey like fish and newts which water shrews are known to take.

200 mice? They devour their own parasites? Famously voracious, shrews must consume an average of 43% of their weight daily. Shrews also cache food, especially in fall and winter. Their poison, which includes both a neurotoxin and hemotoxin, is much like snake venom. Specifically, shrew poison is like cobra venom.

Short-tailed shrews can not, like a snake, directly inject poison -- instead they chew it into their prey. Shrews use their toxin to immobilize snails and other foodstuffs, which can then be cached in their larder, insuring a continuous supply of fresh foods. This is important if you need to eat 43+% of your body weight every day.

Owls are the most common predators of Northern short-tailed shrews. B. brevicauda have pungent musk glands on their bellies and flanks, which make them unpalatable to most predators. Cats and dogs will pursue them but rarely eat them, the same is true for most other carnivores. They are just too stinky. Only my beloved great horned owls are regular predators of the short-tailed shrew.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has an excellent brief article on B. brevicauda, which includes animations, pictures and diagrams and a link to a pdf of a much more detailed description from the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM). Here is how the ASM describes the coat color of Northern short-tailed shrews (okay, I found this poetic, hope you do too!):

"sooty-plumbeous above, ashy plumbeous below, varying with the light"

From notes on Blarina brevicauda from the NatureServe Explorer:

Food Comments: Eats earthworms, slugs, snails, insect larvae, millipedes, other invertebrates, and small vertebrates (especially mice in winter). May hoard food (especially snails).

I wanted more information about these spectacular shrews. Especially, how their poisons are delivered and how they work.

Bone Clones offers elephant shrews and tree shrews, but alas, no Northern short-tailed. They do have a seven-foot tall reproduction of the skull and neck vertebrae of a giraffe. Just shy of two grand, mounted on a stand. Not too much cheaper, you can get the giraffe head and neck dis-articulated and without stand. Nevermind the whole giraffe, seven feet of profile is plenty, eh?

The Bone Clones site also offers forensic and comparative anatomy models. These do not come cheap either. For example, you could snap up a Fetal oranguatan for $395. Who on earth is seeking facsimiles of fetal orangutans, enough so that they are commercially available? Well, they are and I must be damn stupid. But dang, Bone Clones have no B. brevicauda whatsoever.

Okay, getting over this, but Northern short-tailed shrews, aka mole shrews, have some kind of funky poison spit going on...and everything about them is pretty fascinating. They do not hibernate. They communicate and observe through echolocation. Cool and then cooler!

Mammals of Wisconsin ( I am reading the print version, but it is also available online) includes quoted material from former-President Theodore Roosevelt on the habits and behavior of the "mole shrew". What? Love that former-President TR is off conducting weird experiments on natural history, especially those involving shrews. Bill Clinton is no way near as inspirational, love that Teddy R. was observing and recording data on B. brevicauda. Don't you, too?

The Shrew (ist) Site is a fantastic web presence, a "shrew shrine" of interesting links and discussion of all things shrewish. Obviously, there are others out there who know and appreciate the shrew in ways far deeper than your laundress and her cats!

Anyhow, the fact that shrews get to eat 43% of their weight, just to maintain themselves, has left me dumbfounded. For I am on forever on a diet and, more recently, badly wearing compression garments yet again. Besides that, guess I am truly sucky at blogging. But hey, like the pugnacious Siamese, I am out here, doing my thing. Say howdy, tell me your feral cat and/or shrew tales.

Best to all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Emancipation of American Women: a video vacation

I really needed to pull up my flaps, been draggin'. But then I discovered a fabulous video: Mother Takes A Holiday. 1952. Sponsored by the Whirlpool Corporation. It just blew me away. Hope you like it as much as I do!

Found the film clip via a web vacation to London's Science Museum, which hosts an impressive web exhibition called Making the Modern World: Stories About the Lives We've Made.

Monday, November 10, 2008

cooking with gas (a blast from the passed)

Even though refrigerators cost almost twice as much as an automobile, manufacturers were not shy about touting their many benefits. In fact, several went so far as to imply that a woman wasn't a good mother unless she had a refrigerator:

You, as a conscientious mother, buy the best food for your children, prepare it with scrupulous care and cook it correctly. Yet, in spite of all, you may be giving your children food which is unwholesome – even dangerous! For even the best food becomes unsafe to eat unless it is kept at the proper degree of cold, which medical authorities agree should be 50 degrees or less – always. ... There is only one way to be sure that your children’s food is fresh and healthful – correct refrigeration.

From Housekeeping to Homemaking", Trail End State Historic Site -- Sheridan, Wyoming.

Aw, when you were a kid, did you ever give your mom shit about the milk going sour? Act like she was personally, irresponsibly poisoning your breakfast cereal? Ouch. I did. So did my siblings and I am guessing other folks might also be guilty of blaming mother for failed refrigeration.

Our former home (the two-unit) had aged appliances, mostly in early '70s harvest gold. They worked just fine until the day that they died (only occasionally going out in flames). I was ridiculously pleased to replace all major appliances for both apartments in the late 1980s. It didn't cost buckets of money and it seemed reassuring that the new appliances would be around for many years to come.

But they weren't. The second time around, replacing all appliances for both units a scant decade later, it became apparent that they sure don't build 'em like they used to...

Your laundress currently lives with a refrigerator that costs as much as a damn good used car, but is about as reliable as a really bad one. A rustbucket Yugo with a brand-new Ferrari price tag. It has had several factory recalls, involving replacing the door hinges, then the door, then the hosing for the icemaker, then the whole damn thing. In-between times, it has leaked, drooled, flaked off enamel and generally misbehaved. A stainless steel behemoth of ridiculous proportions. It is lousy. I have lost sleep and wasted time, mopping up after this leaky convenience.

Recently, I repurposed an old ice chest, made of oak and lined with zinc, to function as an end table. It is large and solid and you can tuck all kinds of reading material inside. A proud, shiny brass placque on the front labels it "Hall's Reliable". Maybe this product should be used as originally intended? It was supposed to leak. It has a large drain hole and a nice-sized drip pan to accomodate leakage.

Is there a life lesson here, a take-away message on household appliances? They don't make them like they used to? You don't get what you paid for?



Just finished:

digging out basements -- the final episode.

The process has pretty near been the death of me, most of this year's vacation days were spent unpacking and dispersing the contents of moving boxes. Moving boxes often stuffed with souvenirs of other people's fun vacations.

Souvenirs from generations of people much fancier and more sophisticated than me, who took swank trips to enviably exotic and faraway places. Now they are all dead people, their final journey being one in which I am in no hurry to follow. But I do suffer major vacation envy.

Often, the basement souvenirs are survivors of holiday destinations that no longer exist -- or anyhow places where names and borders and politics and boundaries and such have changed.

My mother-in-law bet on horse races in Cuba in the 1920s. She lost on the ponies but kept her ticket stubs and a racing bulletin. I have also discovered playing cards from Venice, matchbooks from Thailand, a hat-check ticket from Monaco, stir-sticks from every island in the Caribbean, plus the ridiculous number of Lederhosen from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Prague and Budapest are well-represented, by several generations of travelers. Memorabilia from trips to London and Paris are positively tiresome. Handsome flyers and brochures from extinct resorts all over the U.S. had perhaps their final refuge, right here in the middle of (well, you know). Someone in my husband's extended family was creating wooden bicycle racing rinks in Bolivia in the late 1880s and sent home photos. And on and on and on...and it all came home.

In a box.

Everything was boxed. Mixed in with kitchen utensils, half-used cans of motor oil, broken wine glasses, high school yearbooks, and a jaw-dropping array of bridge tallies. Visit the local St. Vincent de Paul shop, and many of these wonders could become yours! Except for the motor oil (sent to the appropriate recycling facility) and the broken glassware and the moldiest of the Lederhosen.

The scrap of paper pictured above caught my fancy and perhaps will charm you too. Good lord, what kind of dedicated housewife goes on vacation and attends a cooking school? That would be like yours truly traveling to Miami to attend workshops on shirt starching and household organization. Blecch.

I was delighted to find evidence of someone in the past taking a lousy trip. Maybe that special attraction, the lecture on "Electric Refrigerator" was too much of a novelty to pass up?

What is the date of this mysterious cooking school?

It was sponsored by Majestic Refrigerators. Here is the cover art from a Majestic cookbook, dated 1931. This one was not in my basement, found it posted for sale ($12) over the delicious Heavens to Betsy Vintage (1930s-1980s sewing patterns and cookbooks) website, which encouragingly notes "Leans towards the elegant. You'll find some nice molded and jellied recipes in this one!"

Walt Disney World did not officially come to Orlando until 1971. Walt Dated World is a sweet website shrine to Disney Worlds of the past, Extinct Orlando is another long-gone Disney shrine.

I have never visited a Disney theme park. Neither have my children nor my spouse. We have no intention to do so... many perfectly fine people do adore all things Disney. We aren't them. This is okay. However, if I could time travel, I would kinda like to be sitting in on the cooking school with the Indiana hausfrau who saved her pink program guide. Thinking this might have been my mother-in-law, but maybe some other relative? Anyhow...

Prior to riding roller coasters and romping with Mickey, visiting Orlando meant you could attend edifying workshops, such as the Yowell-Drew seminar -- and learn to create some tasty recipes and curious cooking techniques (such as steaming fish for three hours).

The Yowell-Drew Cooking School had formidable recipes, no doubt targeting a refined audience. Check out the delish crabmeat and whipped cream icebox treat, "Frozen Crab Salad". Reproducing the recipe below, in case you have trouble reading the 2 point type from the image:

Frozen Crab Salad

2 cups flaked crab meat
1 tablespoon chili sauce
3 tablespoons salad dressing
Salt and paprika
2 hard cooked eggs
1 cup cream
Slices of lemon
Strips of pimento
(added in pencil: 1 cup celery)
Blend the crab meat with egg, chili sauce, parsley, salad dressing, pickles and seasoning. Whip cream, fold in, freeze in tray 3 to 4 hours.

There you go. Summer bridge club delight.

Does pimento = pickles? Where does the parsley come in and how much... a sprig? a bunch? Several pounds?

Never mind possibly wild variations in "chili sauce" and "salad dressing" (in the midwest, that can only mean Miracle Whip, right? Neatorama explains the difference between Miracle Whip and mayonnaise here, worth checking out plus noting Miracle Whip did not appear until 1933 -- does that help date this document? or did I just make up this whole digression on creamy white dressings?)

Also included in the Yowell-Drew brochure, a recipe for deviled crab, made with with canned crab meat and canned mushrooms -- so easy to recreate back home in the midwest. The cooking school's stuffed eggplant: fill it up with minced ham and lumps of butter. YUM. These are practical recipes to take back and serve to the bridge club.

Okay, this post was going to meander into some curious recipes for meatballs and a rant on the latest tooth-whitening versions of Nicorette plus some speculation on why various John Prine lyrics have deeper current social relevance than anything Bob Dylan ever thought of...

But I am tired and anxious to try um, actually POSTING something on this blog. So here you go, sweethearts.

Hugs and please say hi!

your cranky old

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Me 'n Barack: gone to the dogs? For better or worse or whatever

"Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House." Calvin Coolidge

"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Harry S. Truman

"...Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. " President-elect Barack Obama, Victory Speech

Barack Obama has been elected and it seems like most of the country is feeling like he promised us all a new puppy. The better economy, end-of-war, health care reform, improving environment: these issues will take some time. But, damn, the new puppy? We want it now!

There is a Presidential Pets Museum, recently relocated to Williamsburg, Virginia, which has a fun web site. Calvin Coolidge had a particularly diverse menagerie, though apparently the irresponsible Coolidges ditched many of their pets when they left the White House. At least, that is what this newspaper article implies: What is to Become of White House Pets When Coolidges Depart?

The Theodore Roosevelt family had the best presidential pet names -- a snake named Emily Spinach (named by his daughter, Alice: "Emily in honor of a very thin aunt, and Spinach because it was green"), plus guinea pigs with intriguing names such as Bishop Doane and Father O'Grady. You can read about the Roosevelt guinea pigs at Project Bartleby, where Roosevelt's Letters to Children are published. Check out Fine Names for Guinea Pigs.

Did you grow up with family dogs?

If yes, were they mutts or purebreds?

What about now --breed loyalist or pound rescue?

For a long time now, the Obama PR machine has been publicizing Barack and Michelle's promise that the kids would get a puppy when the campaign was over, regardless of the outcome. Little Malia, who has asthma, has done her home work and is reportedly lobbying for a goldendoodle. Doodles are also known as "designer dogs" and "purebred mutts".

Yay! The real Obama girls will finally be getting their family dog. Best of all, after all kinds of politicking on the part of the American Kennel Club (lobbying for a purebred with their "Presidential Pup" survey and coming up with a poodle) and of the general public (with Obama Family Dog pounding hard for a rescue or shelter pup)... Michelle closed the deal and said they would go with a rescue dog. There is a rescue group for doodles, the International Doodle-Owners Group, which is eager to help the Obamas find the right First Pup. That ought to keep both factions happy.

My neighbors have a doodle and it is HUGE, way bigger than the average golden retriever or standard poodle. Sometimes, mutts turn out larger than the sum of the parents. Pictured above left, a contender for the title biggest dog in the world: a Great Dane/Newfoundland cross named Samson.

Samson got a short coat and overall Dane appearance --and is drooly and black like a Newfie. Honestly, he looks like one big and shiny black lab. However, this lil' pup is a 275 pound, 4"2" head-to-paw (or 6'5" standing up on his hind legs) tall dog. A moose-dog. A dog with oodles of public appeal and a hard luck case -- his human mom is in a wheelchair, his family has limited income -- and the big guy needed an operation plus physical therapy. Save Samson came through.

Samson was an RSPCA rescue puppy, saved at 6 months of age. The adoptive family were warned he might get bigger. Oops and he sure did... There is a frequently reported shelter problem called Black Dog Syndrome, aka Big Black Dog Syndrome: large black dogs are less frequently adopted than other size and color combinations.

I checked out the Washington DC Humane Society -- good lord, all they have is pit bulls, pit bulls, pit bulls. A good pit bull is the finest kind of canine and a bad one is the worst. Maybe the Obamas should get one of the sweetiepie-variety pitbulls? They could name it Hockey Mom. Of course, the Obamas may adopt a Chicago area doggie... pretty sure, whatever dog they get, it will behave far better than W.'s little Barney!

I like dogs and can't imagine living without them. Best dog I ever lived with was a pound rescue. Purebred or mutt or designer dog -- doesn't matter at all. I had a friend with a fantastic German Shepherd Dog (GSD) -- my favorite breed. Her neighbors loved to play Frisbee with her dog. They worried she was too big and too vigorous for their own household, so they visited the Humane Society and came back with a tiny GSD/hound pup. They were thinking, Frisbee dog and smart like GSD, but little and perky like a beagle. Hah! It turned out that the "hound" part was a bloodhound. They ended up with a 120 pound mass of wrinkles that couldn't have cared less about Frisbees, unless you could eat them. Undistinguished little puppy turned into one peculiar (but charming) dog.

Husband and I adopted a lovely bulldog as our first attempt at parenting. He was wonderful. Since his demise, we have adopted two more bulldogs -- and they are night and day in character and personalities. The sum of the two new bullies is far less than the wonderful first, even though they have finer "bloodlines". One of the new bullies approximates a neurotic GSD, the other generally impersonates a rock. We still love them to pieces. Honestly, this purebred vs. shelter dog debate seems to boil down to the same as adopted vs. birth children -- to my mind anyhow, it just does NOT matter. You just love what you have. There are no bad dogs (or kids). How the caretakers handle them, that is what matters.

Well, this post is going no where and I am going off to bed. But really looking forward to hearing about Malia and Sasha's new doggie. With every rescue group and humane society in America combing their holdings for good presidential dog candidates, they ought to end up with a real winner!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Escaping twelve o'clock tales

Apologies for the lack of posts lately.

I've been on the go, on vacation.

Nah, haven't been visiting faraway places or anything exotic like that -- just taking time off paid employment to clean out some basements. Generations of free-wheeling pack rats have left their loot for me to redistribute, their weeks in Paris doing nothing to ease the bite of it. Jealous longing for lounging has left me too weary and brain-dead to post.

Wickedly hard labor but the results are sweet. Things are tidied up and organized. Shocking amounts of trash have been unpacked and sent to the landfill. Stunning quantities of perfectly useful items have been unboxed and delivered to St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill. Generations of debris and garbage have been sifted through -- and luminous pearls discovered within the rough coverings of slimy oysters.

For example:

Look over to the right! Whoa! One dusty discovery of a more recent vintage. Evidence that my dear son, H. used to be a laundry helper. Yep. Among many things much, much older (and often moldier and rather odiferous), I uncovered this sweet photo of little H. Back when I couldn't get away from him, he traveled up and down the stairs with me and the laundry baskets, helped sort and fold. Scared the pants off me when he would try to help with ironing. Everything I did was fascinating and he wanted to share. This used to frustrate me at times...

Plus, he really was cute as a button.