Wednesday, June 30

A quote about big books

"Is there any rationale for building entire mansions of words? I think there is, and that the readers of Margeret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Charles Dickens's Bleak House understand it: sometimes even a monster is no monster. Sometimes it's beautiful and we fall in love with all that story, more than any film or TV program could ever hope to provide.

Even after a thousand pages we don't want to leave the world the writer has made for us, or the make-believe people who live there. You wouldn't leave after two thousand pages, if there were two thousand. The Rings trilogy of J. R. R. Tolkien is a perfect example of this. A thousand pages of hobbits hasn't been enough for three generations of post-World War II fantasy fans; even when you add that clumsy, galumphing dirigible of an epilogue, The Silmarillion, it hasn't been enough. Hence Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Robert Jordan, the questing rabbits of Watership Down, and half a hundred others. The writers of these books are creating the hobbits they still love and pine for; they are trying to bring Frodo and Sam back from the Grey Havens because Tolkien is no longer around to do it for them." -- Stephen King

Monday, June 28

Hot weather

And how we handle it.

First, we do a lot of chillaxing.

Then we sit in buckets of water.

And splash in them, and pour water all over the sidewalk and ourselves.

Even the toys get to kick back and go for a swim.

Saturday, June 26

Summer reading

I haven't had much to say about the munchkins for a few days, because same old same old gets kind of ...samey.

But I have been reading a lot, and recently my to-read stack has expanded. So I thought I'd write about one of my favorite topics: books!

Bleak House (Signet Classics)

First off, I've been reading Bleak House for about three weeks now. My mom gave it to me and told me that it was her favorite Dickens ever. My only contact with Charles Dickens has been A Christmas Carol, which I read once in my youth and then watched the various movie incarnations (Muppets being a particular favorite).

Bleak House is wonderful. It's such a neat story about main characters who are quirky and oddball and yet so sweet. And the villains are despicable and strange and sometimes unnerving (Smallweed, I mean you).

But what really made me read it was Dickens's introduction. First, he talked about how the lawsuit in this book was based on an actual one that had gone on for years and years and cost the public thousands of pounds.

Second, he talked about how human Spontaneous Combustion was not a myth, and here were all his sources to prove it.

I snickered. Spontaneous Combustion? Now I had to read this book. And so far, it has not disappointed. I'm about 3/4ths of the way done at the moment.

Because I took time out to read Dragon Avenger.

Dragon Avenger (Age of Fire, Book 2)

Dragon Avenger is the second book in an oddball series with dragons as the protagonists. A friend loaned me the first book, and eh, it was okay. Three dragon siblings go off and lead different lives, and each book is about the adventures of one of them. The first book was Dragon Champion, and the dragon was interesting, but kind of, you know, brutal.

When you read wolf books (anything by Walt Morey or Jack London and others of that ilk), the wolves don't talk, and you learn about how they live and stuff. Well, these dragon books are trying to be wolf books, except that the dragons are sentient. So we learn a lot about their made-up physiognomy and the made-up reason they breathe fire and the made-up ways they live. Which is interesting, but ... you keep realizing that it's made up.

Then this sentient dragon-person you're reading about goes and butchers people and other dragons, and you're left wondering if you should be rooting for the animal or be repulsed by the person.

So much for the first book. The second book is about a girl dragon, and so far she's much nicer. She solves problems and helps people. I haven't got very far in it yet (Bleak House keeps interrupting me), but so far I like it much better than the first book. Even though it's made up.

Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody Mysteries)The same friends have also got me reading the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Romance/action/adventure set in the early 1900s as Egypt is being excavated. So it's kind of like Indiana Jones, except the protagonist is a spunky lady, Amelia, who doesn't care much for men and fears nothing (except her eight year old son).

She's married to a romance-novel archeologist, with sun-bronzed skin and rippling muscles. Except he bellows and gets mad, and they have fights and compete about figuring out the various murders and thefts. So that's all good and fun.

The Last Camel Died at Noon

Lion in the Valley just about finished me off, though. The ending was so over-the-top crazy, with topless men dueling with sword, shield and broken bottle, it was like one of the recent Mummy movies. You just totally don't take it seriously. But my friends have assured me that The Last Camel Died At Noon isn't quite as nuts.

It's just about the main characters finding a lost civilization in the desert somewhere.

Because, like, that's not sensational or over-the-top.

Now I want to go re-read King Solomon's Mines again.

King Solomon's Mines (Penguin Classics)

You know, the story about the guys following the old tattered map across Africa and finding a civilization that still guards the diamonds.

And they shoot elephants and giraffes.

It's so delightfully politically-incorrect. I love old books.

Anyway, that's my summer reading at the moment. Maybe I should work Harry Potter in there, too.

Friday, June 25

Fried potatoes

I was hungry yesterday at lunch, and I kept having mental flashes of my sister in law's potato tacos.

So I went in the kitchen and whipped up something similar to her recipe, but I had the idea that I could cook potatoes faster if I stir-fried them. I've never stir-fried potatoes before.

I diced up 3 potatoes and a handful of onion, dumped them into a skillet with 2 tablespoons of butter and some water. And a diced garlic clove. Because everything is better with garlic.

Then I sprinkled on liberal amounts of powdered chicken bouillon, chili powder, black pepper and two or three generous pinches of kosher salt.

A generous pinch is one that involves more than two fingers.

I stirred it up, tasted it, and added more chili powder. I wanted it to have a nice red coating.

Then I put the lid on and let it steam for about 20 minutes. It sucks up the water pretty fast, though, so keep an eye on it. Just add water by the tablespoon to keep the potatoes from sticking.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the potatoes start smelling really good. That's how you can tell they're almost done. When you can smash a potato with your wooden spoon, and it gooshes, rather than just unwillingly breaking apart, then it's done.

My husband has announced that he likes these potatoes better than cheese tots as an afternoon snack. And hey, they're pretty easy to make! I'm trying to keep some on hand to put in omelets, but alas, the potatoes never last more than one meal.

Also, since I haven't posted pictures of them in a few posts, here's the munchkins.

Here's the proper potato recipe:

Fried potatoes and onions

3 medium russet potatoes, diced
1 quarter of an onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, diced
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4th teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in skillet, and stir-fry over medium-high heat until butter is melted and spices are distributed. Adjust spices to taste. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water as needed. Potatoes are done when easily pierced with fork.

Wednesday, June 23

Plum jam

My parents planted an orchard around their house. For some reason, this year the plums are what bore fruit.

Loads and loads of fruit.

I brought home about ten pounds of plums and stared at them in consternation, wondering what in the world I was going to do with them all.

So I figured that I would make some into jelly and the rest into fruit leather.

The jelly turned out pretty good.

It's a wonderful red color, and tastes pretty good, if a bit tangy.

My fruit leather also turned nicely into leather after about 30 hours dehydrating on plastic-wrapped cookie sheets in the oven. (Set to Warm and left on overnight, too!)

The trouble was, I ran out of sugar, and believed all the websites that said, "Oh, as it dries, the sugar content of the fruit concentrates and you don't need to add much sugar!"

Bull. This leather is like eating Warheads.

I did add a bit of sugar, though, so in spots it's nice and sweet. The kids aren't too fond of it. I think I'll probably eat this whole batch myself. The texture is exactly like a fruit roll-up, though, and upon looking at it, I recalled how fruit roll-ups have a sort of grainy texture when held up to the light.

Know what that grainy texture is?


So yes, I think my next attempt at fruit leather is going to be strawberry. With sugar. About 3 pounds of it.

Monday, June 21

Baby birds

The sun was going down, and the kids were driving me up the wall with that post-dinner high-blood-sugar bouncing-off-the-walls. So I tossed Holly in the stroller, handed Alex a stick, and we went for a long walk around the apartment complex. Alex gets to run along and hit bushes with a stick. It's a game I made up and he enjoys it a lot.

Anyway, we were on the far side of the complex, walking under one of the carports, when I noticed a bird flying out of the tops of one of the posts. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the post was covered in bird droppings.

Upon still closer inspection, I saw three tiny bird heads looking over the edge.

They're house finches, because they were still chirping, and it was the house finch chirp, not the sparrow chirp.

(Not my photo)

Here's what they'll grow into, and they sing so pretty.

Even in an apartment complex, nature creeps in!

Sunday, June 20

Father's Day

I took Alex out to swim in the pool, and left Holly home with her Daddy.

We came home an hour or so later, and found this:

Ryan's such a good daddy. :-)

Friday, June 18

Tree hugger

You know, I don't think I'm a tree hugger. I don't think I'm all nuts about nature and the environment and stuff. I mean, I live in an apartment. There's, what, maybe six trees in the entire complex? We just saw Avatar on video, and all the tree-worshipping kind of gave me the creeps.

Then this happens, and it just tears me up.

We now have about five trees in our apartment complex. In the next block over from us was this giant pine tree with very spread-out branches. It had been trimmed and sculpted into an umbrella-shape, and shaded that whole corner, six or seven apartments all together. We always walked under it when we took the kids out in their stroller.

Ryan had noticed that the tree had started splitting from the bottom up over the last few days. Either it fell down or they took it down, we're not sure. Anyway, this is where it used to be.

Look how it tore up the sidewalk.

Now look again at the size of those logs.

They were almost as tall as I am, and I'm five foot one. These limbs were massive! I wish I had a use for pine, or I'd grab some of it. Like if I carved wood or something. It has very nice color and all.

But yes. I expected one of the giant eucalyptus trees to fall down before the pine did. If I'm sad about this happening to one of our trees, does that make me a tree hugger?

Thursday, June 17

Fourth anniversary

Four years ago today, I married a wonderful man.

He has been my best friend since high school. We met on the internet, which carries a terrible connotation these days.

Back in '98, I started a little website about a videogame that I liked, mostly to teach myself HTML and to participate in the videogame's fandom. After a while, I started writing fanfiction with the characters from the game. I read other people's writing, and thought that it might be fun to host other people's writing and artwork on my site.

Along came this really nice guy who wanted to post his stories on my site. His writing was pleasant and cheerful. I had quickly learned that on the internet, you judge people by their work, and can generally get a good index of their personality. And I liked this guy. His screenname was CJ.

We chatted on AIM quite a bit. We were both in high school, and his dad was in the Air Force, so they moved around a lot. His parents disapproved of videogames, so his visiting my site and writing stories was an act of rebellion.

I operated my website about nine or ten years, along the way opening a forum for people to post about videogame related things. I knew a good number of people online, and remained friends with CJ. I secretly developed many crushes on him over the years, but reminded myself that internet relationships were stupid, and would snap myself out of it by re-reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Josh Harris.

CJ joined the Army and went away to Kuwait, then came back months later, and was stationed in Arizona.

I started an ambitious new project on my site: a radio drama, scripted by myself and voice-acted by the people who visited my forum. During auditions, CJ proved himself a perfect voice for one of my favorite characters. (The drama wound up being voiced by people all over the world, including a genuine Aussie, whose accent I simply adored.)

CJ took leave from the Army and asked if he could swing by our house on his way up to a convention in northern California. I said yes, and we had an interesting meeting of him and two of his Army buddies who were on a road trip together. We didn't have much time to talk together, but we exchanged phone numbers.

Once in a while after that, he would call me just to chat. I loved talking to him and hearing his voice. After he got out of the Army a while later, he began calling me every night.

We talked on the phone every night for a year before we both realized that maybe this relationship was something other than friendship.

Long story short, he moved down here and we got married, and it's been extra-wonderful being married to someone with whom I have such a long history. We're such good friends, and we love all the same things. I love him with all of my heart. :-)

Wednesday, June 16

Further battling against snails

I haven't done a gardening post in a while. I thought I'd post about how my hollyhocks are doing.

This is the one pot that still has hollyhocks. The others were picked back to nubs by Alex, who mistook them for the mint beside them. And then the snails devoured the remains.

I fought to save my other pot, keeping the edges encrusted with salt and killing all the snails that tried to camp out under the rim of the pot. And all the little slugs underneath it, too.

They did do some damage.

But my hollyhocks are thriving anyway! I think it's the hot weather. It's making them grow like crazy.

Here's one of my little enemies. Notice the hieroglyphics on his shell.

I didn't even notice the detail until I was reviewing my photo later. I love photos that turn out better than you had expected.

Anyway, yes, my tiny garden is moving forward!

Tuesday, June 15

What a pool should not look like

First off, some happy munchkins pictures!

I told Alex to smile, and he gave me this.

Holly had climbed up and was scoring the grapes. She's turning into a camera hound, too.

I've been taking Alex to the apartment pool for the last few days, mostly to get him out of the house and burn some energy. We're doing pre-swimming lessons, so I mostly sail him around the shallow end and tell him to kick his feet.

Anyway, I checked the pool today and had severe misgivings about swimming in it.

See, a swimming pool should be this color:

And yet our swimming pool is an increasing shade of emerald.

Yes. So. We didn't go swimming today. I'm waiting in vain for the pool guy to come and put in some shock or something. But the pool guy never does anything. He's only here about five minutes. Then the inevitable sign will go up on the gate, "Pool closed because of bacteria."

I was taking my picture of the green water, thinking about bacteria, and of course, this song had to pop into my head. Warning: extremely catchy.

Monday, June 14

A Christian's opinion of Dekker's Circle trilogy

Complete Circle Series: Hardcover Box Set

I finally finished reading Green, the last book in the four book trilogy (quartet?) by Ted Dekker. And wow, I did not like it at all. Spoilers abound in the following review.

Ted Dekker is a Christian author. The Circle trilogy is about a guy named Thomas Hunter who falls asleep in our world and wakes up in another world, a paradise where God ("Elyon") plays with sinless human beings as a little kid. Thomas gets to be the Adam who brings about the downfall of this paradise, by releasing the black bats, which are the epitome of evil.

At the same time, on our world, Thomas is the vessel for perfecting and releasing a killer virus that will wipe out everyone living. So Thomas jumps back and forth between worlds, trying to save them both. In the end he sort of does. At least, he stops the killer virus and goes to the other world to stay.

The story seemed finished, but Dekker apparently couldn't leave it alone, because along came Showdown.
Showdown (Paradise Series, Book 1) (The Books of History Chronicles)

The Circle trilogy introduced these things called the Books of the Histories, where if you write in them, whatever you write actually happens. Showdown, while gripping, disgusted me to the extreme, and I wouldn't recommend anybody reading it, unless they don't mind seeing children horrible mangled, abused, and killed.

Saint: A Paradise Novel (The Books of History Chronicles)

After that was Saint, an actual good book about an assassin guy with telekinetic powers. It, too, tied back into Showdown and the Circle.

Sinner: A Paradise Novel (The Books of History Chronicles)

The sequel to Saint was Sinner, an alarming book in which Christianity is outlawed in the United States, and the heroes of Showdown and Saint come together to do battle. It has a downer of an ending.

So, after slogging through all of this, along comes Green, the fourth book of the Circle "trilogy", attempting to wrap up the entire series. The series is riddled with plotholes and inconsistencies, and in my opinion it's because Dekker wrote them way too quickly, taking three or four months per book. That's definitely not enough for a second or third draft, and it shows.

Green opens up with Thomas again, who, since we last saw him, has become a spineless whiny wimp who doesn't have any more faith. The bad guys, who doubt Elyon and want to kill each other, are much more interesting than Thomas. Even Elyon isn't as interesting as the evil bats.

The villain from Showdown and Sinner reappears, and connects everything back to the beginning of Showdown. And he is much more interesting to read about than the good guys. A vampire chick shows up (she's somehow half bat), and she's also more interesting than the good guys. In the meantime, the good guys are weak, wavering, whiny and weepy, to the point that every time we jumped back to them, I groaned inwardly. "Not more of these saps! I wish the bad guys would just kill them off or something!"

The good guys never do grow spines. Elyon has to deus ex machina them to safety. The world ends with sort of a whimper, and even Armageddon just becomes tedious. I found myself skipping the slaughter scenes with characters I didn't care about.

Dekker keeps going back to the same cliches and retelling of Bible stories, so reading Green was akin to watching a Disney cartoon in which you know all the Disney cliches and can predict what is coming. "Oh boy, he's gonna kill the son like he did in the last two books ... LOOK! THE SON DIED!"

It doesn't help that Green opens with a retelling of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Which is automatically boring, because we know the story and we know what's going to happen. The main difference is that he also worked in Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, while removing the punch from both original stories and coating them in Boring. And we sit and watch Thomas cry about it all. Seriously. All the dude does is cry.

At the end of the long, tedious journey, we discover that Thomas is actually locked in a time loop, and gets to start all over again at the beginning of Black.

So you've actually read this entire series for nothing. Because nothing is resolved. And nothing will be resolved. Ever.

As a Christian, I see what Dekker is doing. He's trying to shock Christians by retelling familiar Bible stories in an unfamiliar way. He's trying to shock Christians by portraying evil as ugly and disgusting and in your face. And he does succeed at those.

What he fails at is making Good seem desirable. Sure, Elyon is all about love. But that doesn't mean much when the good guys are getting mindlessly slaughtered by the bad guys. There's no comfort, and redemption is something shoved down your throat instead of something coaxing and comforting.

I know that it's hard to tie up so many loose ends and write the end of the world. But if you're gonna end the world, man, END IT. Have the Earth explode and the stars fall and the sun go black. None of that happens. Know what happens at the end of the world in Green?

They all go swimming.

I'm not kidding.

Dekker's most effective stories in this series, so far, have been about a bad character who gets redeemed. Saint and White are about redemption of bad characters. But what Dekker seems to want to spend his time writing is about good characters who turn bad. And reading about these disgusting traitor characters for pages and pages and books and books is not entertaining. It's not even instructive. It's just loathsome. Kind of like trying to wash your hands in a sewer.

So yes, if you want entertainment, read the whole shebang. But stop at Sinner. Don't read Green. It doesn't solve anything at all.

Friday, June 11

Minimalist Cooking: How to cook beans

My husband is between jobs right now, so my cooking situation is rather ... interesting, to say the least. I try to cook meals with almost no ingredients. I think of this as minimalist cooking.

I have a pantry full of beans, given to me by a generous neighbor. When she first gave them to me, I had no idea how to cook beans. I vaguely knew that you soaked them, then boiled them for a while, then added seasonings and things, and you had beans. Right?

Turns out it's not that easy. I ruined many pots of beans, and we had several meals of boring, bland, crunchy beans. I learned to make toast or rice as a side to my beans, since they usually turned out better than the beans did.

I scoured the internet for tips on making beans, recipes, pictures, anything. And I finally found a fool-proof method of making beans.

The slow-cooker.

Dump in your dry beans and enough water to cover them, then set it on high and cook the heck out of them for about eight hours. Keep checking them as they cook, because some kinds of beans cook faster than others. Pink and pintos are very nice, and get done in four to six hours. Red and black beans have to go for eight or ten.

There's a commonly-held misconception that adding salt to dry beans will make them take longer to cook. This is not true. I read an article (somewhere) about how salt does nothing to toughen the fibers of beans, and actually if you put salt in them while they're soaking/cooking, they absorb it and have better flavor. I've been putting salt in mine ever since, and some kinds of beans cook slower and some cook faster. It depends on the bean, not the salt content.

Also, cooking them with some chopped onions and garlic gives them a wonderful flavor base. Cooking them with other seasonings afterward doesn't always instill bland beans with flavor, so you want to put in the flavor early on.

So, to cook beans:

1 slow cooker
2 cups dry beans
4 cups water (adding more as needed)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 small chopped onion
1-3 cloves chopped garlic

Put the cooker on High and check it periodically to make sure the beans don't run out of water.

Thursday, June 10

Pool days

Took the kids to grandma's yesterday, where they played in the wading pool with their cousins.

The pool had a little fountain attached to the hose, which they found more entertaining than the pool itself.

Meanwhile, Holly stayed far, far away from the water. She mainly enjoyed chewing on plums, sitting in various laps, and grinning at her youngest cousin, who is her age.

It was a good day. Summer is here at last!

Monday, June 7

Sunday barbecue

I went outside Sunday afternoon to take out the trash, and discovered a table with a bunch of barbecue fixings laid out. I asked if they were having a party, and discovered that my next-door neighbor was technically giving a party for my across-the-way neighbor's son's graduation, but she was inviting the whole apartment block.

Off the hook for DIN-NAH BABY!

I wanted to contribute, though, so I went in and whipped up an apricot cobbler from a bunch my grandma had given my mom, who gave them to me.

Alex thought the barbecue was awesome.

He badgered me for an hour about "go outside barbecue?" Finally people arrived, so I let him out.

I let Holly out, too, but she wasn't as big on it.

For one thing, it was about 4 PM and it was full sun and very hot.

About fiveish, the Lakers game came on, and the group split to swim and watch the game.

About six, the cable went down. Through the whole block. People were coming out of their apartments and calling, "Hey, is your cable out? Not the power, just the cable!" We lost our cable internet, too. It didn't come on again until after eight. This made for some pretty irritated game-watchers, so they went and turned on their radios.

The folks who had been swimming returned from the pool about 7:30, and with no TV, socializing ensued. It was actually really nice! Hurrah for the cable going out!

I brought the kids in at 8, bathed them, and popped them into bed, where they were out like lights. Talk about a great evening!

Also, The World's Easiest Cobbler recipe:

4 cups chopped fruit (peaches, apricots, berries, anything)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4th cup butter

Preheat over to 375. Butter a 9x9 baking dish and put the chopped fruit in the bottom. In a small bowl, mix flour, sugar, and baking powder. Beat egg and mix into dry mixture until crumbly. Scatter over fruit. Melt butter and drizzle over top, coating thoroughly. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Sunday, June 6

Internet fail

Haven't had a lot of interesting pics to post lately. But I was looking at various stupid things I've taken screenshots of on the internet, and thought they might give you a chuckle.

Some are misspellings ...

Some are things that wound up on the page together purely by coincidence ...

And some are from the ads on Facebook, which make you scratch your head.

"Get in shape the hooker way!"


Related Posts with Thumbnails