Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baseball Field to Hockey Rink

Here is a cool time-lapse video of the transformation of Wrigley Field into a hockey rink. Game time is noon, Central Time, and they are expecting snow! And we will be pulling for the Blackhawks.

I Could Have Had a V-8

This photo from a pro-Palestinian rally cracks me up. It's making the internet rounds so you've probably seen it, but Hot Air is having a caption contest. Go for it.


This headline in the New York Times:

Roland W. Burris, A Low-Key Pioneer

suggests to me that they haven't seen Burris' monument to himself. It lists all of his accomplishments and leaves room for more. "Low-key"? Hmmm. Not so much.

(Photo: from southbound via The Weekly Standard).

Billy Mays for Senate?

Mary Katharine Ham has discovered an interview in which Billy Mays declares himself to be a Republican! Thank goodness! As she points out, "this means our 2009 prospects are stronger than Mighty Putty and brighter than an Oxi-Cleaned laundry load."

Now, if we could just ascertain the Sham-Wow! guy's political leanings...

Mary Katharine, by the way, blogs over at the Weekly Standard.

New Year's Food

The best thing about New Year's day to me is eating. As soon as I get up I get the food going. This is southern food at its best!

This year instead of ham (since we just had that at Christmas) I'm going to have a corned beef brisket. I decided against having greens and opted for cabbage (at Steve's request). And of course, black eyed peas and cornbread. I typically reject dried peas; they never taste right to me, and NEVER canned ones. Frozen are okay but fresh are best. In my case, fresh/frozen.

I'll cook both my peas and my cabbage with a big ole' ham hock in each. I'll also break out the chow chow Steve and I bought in Jefferson, which is a sweet/spicy/hot cabbage based relish. Sounds bizarre, but it's wonderful! And in the south when you serve black eyed peas, you usually have a side relish of diced tomatoes and sweet onion marinated in vinegar. Lots of hot, sweet, buttery cornbread on the side!

How I cook black eyed peas:

2 c. fresh black eyed peas
2 lbs. smoked ham hocks
onion, sliced in half
1 fresh jalapeno or cayenne pepper
Place the ham hocks in a heavy 4 to 6 quart pot and add enough water to cover the meat by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for 2 hours, or until the ham hocks are tender and show no resistance when pierced deeply with the point of a small skewer or sharp knife.

In a sieve or colander, wash the black-eyed peas under cold running water until the draining water is clear. Add the peas, onion, pepper and a few grindings of black pepper to the pot, mix well, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered until the peas are tender.

And then turn on the football game!

New Year's Eve

Happy New Year! Or New Year's Eve anyway. As the year draws to a close, many people are looking back at the "best of" or "worst of" aspects of 2008. I'm ready to put 2008 in the can so I'm not looking back.

I'm looking forward to 2009. I don't EVER make New Year resolutions for multiple reasons. I'd never stick to them and if I want to set a goal or alter behavior I can do that when the mood strikes. I am, however, taking a small moment to evaluate some small personal goals. My blog is about six months old and I'm beginning to get the feel for where I want it to go. I'm not too far off track from that. I'd like to thank the folks that stop by and read what I write and who comment. The blogging-gods say "your blog should have focus!" and mine is kind of all over the place, but I like that. I'm not making a living at it, nor do I intend to, so I don't feel the pressure to write about just politics or just books or just teaching... I will say though that the political season was crazy-fun and I made some new friends (Right in Florida and of course Sarah) and maybe lost a couple. I'm sure we can expect much more political writing in the future!

As for my New Year's Eve plans - it's going to be me, Checkers and the Teenager; Steve will be keeping the city safe from drunks and crazies. I'll open a bottle of fine beer and say hello to 2009. And I'll probably be blogging.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bobby Rush's Race Card

Verbal Irony

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has selected the Clintons to "drop the ball."

There's a certain irony in that.

Rhetorical Question

Why is it when George W. Bush reads 95 books in 2008 he's wasting time or not using his time well while when Obama reads he is considered erudite and literary?

On the NYT Paper Cuts blog, Jennifer Schuessler suggests that it is "truly alarming" that Bush read 95 books (in his competition with Rove.) In a July Salon article, Laura Miller proclaims Obama to be "one of the most literary presidents in recent memory."


Unbiased media, my foot.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caroline Kennedy and the Media

I have been trying very hard to avoid posting on the Caroline Kennedy thing, partly I suppose because it just seemed so obvious to me that she could not possibly be qualified for this job/appointment nor taken seriously as a contender. Her primary qualification seems to be that her maiden name is Kennedy.

But then I saw this CNN poll today: 52% of Americans nationwide think she is qualified to fill the New York Senate seat, 42% say she's not.

Seriously? 52% of Americans think she is qualified? Based on WHAT? She's written some fluff books. She's been around politics her entire life. So have a lot of people.

If I were truly eloquent I would have written this column which ran in today's National Review, written by Victor Davis Hanson. He compares Kennedy's experience to that of Sarah Palin and examines the media treatment of both. A sample:

"But, no, the real embarrassment proves to be the media itself that apparently can't see this weird unfolding self-incriminating morality tale: It is not just that Palin is conservative, Kennedy politically-correct (e.g., pro-abortion, gun control, gay marriage, etc), or Palin a newcomer to public attention, Kennedy a celebrity since childhood. Rather it is the aristocratic value system of most NY-DC journalists themselves who apparently still assume that old money, status, and an Ivy-League pedigree are reliable barometers of talent and sobriety, suggesting that the upper-East Side Kennedy's public ineptness is an aberration, a bad day, a minor distraction, while Palin's charisma and ease are superficial and a natural reflection of her Idaho sports journalism degree.

A few generations ago, Democrats would have opposed Palin but appreciated her blue-collar story, and applauded a working mom who out-politicked entrenched and richer male elites. But now the new aristocratic liberalism has adopted the values of the old silk-stocking Republicans of the 1950s—and so zombie-like worship rather than question entitlement."

So true, Mr. Hanson. I'm not trying to rile up my Obama supporting friends here, but it seems that the same 52% that think Kennedy is qualified is also roughly the same margin that thought Obama had the experience to be president. As we argued back and forth in the campaign - he was Senator for only a short time, he published a couple of books, he passed no major legislation, his work background was sketchy (community organizer).

Caroline's main accomplishment has been philanthropy and I'm just not sure that's a qualification for U.S. Senator. If she wants to get involved in politics maybe she should run for the local school board.

(Photo by Joseph Moran)

Deception in Publishing

You've probably heard by now of the scandal surrounding this book, Angel at the Fence, by Herman Rosenblat. The book was set to be published in February, is being made into a film, and had been touted by The Oprah. It seems that Mr. Rosenblat fabricated parts of his memoir; there was no boy at any fence and no young girl tossing him apples. As it turns out, the book will not be published.

This reminds me of the James Frey scandal a few years ago; The Oprah endorsed Mr. Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, and was then humiliated when it came out that he had embellished parts of his story.

In both cases, it seems, the essential story was true. Part of the fault lies in the books being published as "memoir" rather than fiction. I've not read Angel a the Fence, but I did read Mr. Frey's book. I read his book AFTER the deception was revealed, so I was not one of those souls that felt "lied to" or "deceived" by Mr. Frey. I just found it to be a riveting good read. He has a bizarre writing style, to be sure, but it was such a good story; so much so that I went out and bought My Friend Leonard, the sequel, and cried through that one. I think even after it was revealed that he had fabricated parts of A Million Little Pieces, lots of folks that hadn't read it (like me) went out and bought it just to see what all the fuss was about.

I suspect Angel at the Fence is also a really great read and I hope that the publisher can find a way to actually get the book out. Who is at fault here? Yes, Mr. Rosenblat was not totally forthcoming. I'm not excusing his actions of deception; but, didn't the publsihing house have an obligation to do some fact-checking? Especially after the Frey scandal? (It wasn't the same publisher.) The genre of memoir was under such scrutiny after that. Should we move Mr. Frey's book to fiction or leave it in non-fiction? Hmmmmm. It's essentially lying to call it non-fiction.

Anyway, Mr. Rosenblat's intentions were good. In a statement released by Rosenblat, he said, "I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people," he wrote in the statement. "I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world."

The Holocaust has provided fodder for many decepetive memoirs (Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years comes to mind), and that's a shame. As one who has heard true stories of survival from real Holocaust survivors (Rose and Louis Van Thyn for example) I know there are true, heart-warming stories there than can convey the same message Mr. Rosenblat was trying to say: Don't hate anyone.

I remember when Rose Van Thyn was asked if she forgave the Nazis, she said that it wasn't up to her to forgive, it was up to God.

At any rate, there is enough truth in Mr. Rosenblat's story that I hope it is still published, although probably under the fiction label!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Amen, Condi!

From an interview with the Secretary of State:

"This isn't a popularity contest. I'm sorry, it isn't. What the administration is responsible to do is to make good choices about Americans' interests and values in the long run -- not for today's headlines, but for history's judgment," she said.

"And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East; when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been; an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been; a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America, better than it's ever been ...

"When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines."

And to those Bush Bashers who say he's been the worst president ever, let's just wait and see how history judges "W" okay? That's what really matters.

Work in Progress

For Christmas this year Nikki gave me a gift certificate for a blog makeover from Penny Lane Designs. Nikki recently had her own blog redone and it so totally suits her personality and her blog that I'm hoping for similar miracles with mine!

I told Marina (the makeover maven) that I don't hate the design I have now, it's just boilerplate and lots of other people have it. I'm kind of nervous because I'm so freaking picky, but I've looked at this girl's work (check her blog link on her site linked above - she's got all of her designs there) and I have faith that we can work together and I will love the result!

So to all of my fifteen readers, one day in the next few weeks you might notice a different look! And if you want a makeover of your own, go check out Marina's site!

A Futile Trip to Barnes and Noble

I went to Barnes and Noble this morning ready to spend my Christmas gift card. I didn't do it. I brought my pretty little gift card back home. I was really looking for specific things and they didn't have them.

The first book I wanted to find was Whiskey Chitto Woman by local author Marguerite Hudson. She used to teach at the high school where I teach. When I was in Barnes and Noble before Christmas she was doing a book signing there, but it was for later in the day and I missed it. I thought, "Surely they will have copies of the book there later!" Silly me. But the title caught my eye because Whiskey Chitto Creek is in the Kisatchie Forest which I've researched extensively and written about. Fascinating stories there. Anyway, her novel is a Civil War novel and part of its setting is the Battle of Mansfield, also a topic that interested me. Steve and I visited the site last year which is only about 30 minutes from here. They have a nice little museum there. At any rate, I couldn't find the book today.

The second book I was looking for was The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King. No dice.

Finally I went for the cookbook section. I was going to pick up the second Blue Willow Inn cookbook The Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking, because I so loved the first one. Nada. No luck. The book got rotten reviews online because it uses a lot of canned or boxed ingredients, but trust me, as I've written about before, it's a great cookbook. It's not gourmet cooking by any means; it's good-ole blue-plate-special cooking. I've made almost everything in the first cookbook, including the best pineapple upside down cake ever.

So I left Barnes and Noble empty handed today. It's not like I'm at a loss for anything to read right now anway. I'm currently halfway into my Samuel Adams biography and am also reading Cornwell's Scarpetta, which I pick up when my brain is too tired to focus on Sam Adams.

Of course, the very moment I walked into my door, Nikki sends me a message to go buy The Tale of Despereaux because she's reading it and is enchanted with it! Had I only gotten that message while I was still in the store! But, I'll add it to my list.

I think to appease my disappointment of no books today I will talk Steve into taking me to Nicky's for mexican food this evening. Then we will settle in to watch the Independence Bowl between Louisiana Tech and Northern Illinois. The game is played here in town and Steve's son is in the Tech band, plus Steve is a Tech fan. Good times!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Abita Root Beer

True beer connoisseurs that we are, Steve and I branched out and tried the Abita Root Beer today. We know that it's not really beer, but Abita makes great beer and since their root beer is flavored with real Louisiana cane sugar rather than corn syrup, we figured it would be great. And it is.

One of my favorite places to eat used to be the A&W place on Barksdale AFB; sadly they closed it for some bar-b-que place. We used to love going there and getting a loaded chili dog and a draft root beer. I miss that place!

I bought my Abita root beer at the liquor store; not sure if it's in grocery stores or not, but it should be.

You know the crazy thing about Abita beer? It's brewed here in this very state, but if I go order it in a restaurant, they bill me for an import. Go figure. Anyway, in their beer line, we love their Pecan Harvest in the fall and in the spring I like the Strawberry Brew, although I'm not sure Steve loves that one.

Now all I need is some ice cream!

2009 NHL Winter Classic

I can't WAIT for the 2009 NHL Hockey Classic! I'm not as true-blue a hockey fan as Steve is; I like it, but Steve is fanatic about it. But the 2008 Classic about made a believer of me.

The game was on New Year's Day in Buffalo, NY; it set an NHL attendance record with over 71,000 in attendance. Can you imagine? 71,000 people wanting to sit outside in a snow storm to watch hockey? It was great! The commentators even quoted rhapsodic statements from Jack Falla's classic book, Home Ice about the joys of skating outdoors on frozen ponds, which I promptly ordered off Amazon.

The rink was a one-time deal in Ralph Wilson stadium and was constructed just for the game. The teams in the 2008 game were the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres and my Penguins won in overtime on a Crosby goal. What thrilled me most was seeing the unrestrained glee and total abandon that instilled Crosby as he played. Those guys were all like big kids playing on a frozen pond that day. The snow was falling freely, the fans were enthusiastic and the game was great.

This year will be the Blackhawks and the hated Red Wings (Steve hates the Red Wings) and will be at Wrigley Field. It'll be great and I can't WAIT!

Flash! Gas Prices Too Low!!!

From an editorial in today's New York Times which is advocating a gasoline tax for the purpose of raising gasoline prices:

"A bitter recession is not the most opportune time to ratchet up the price of energy. But if the Obama administration is to meet its twin objectives of reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and cutting its emissions of greenhouse gases, it needs to start thinking now about mechanisms to curb the nation’s demand for energy when the economy emerges from recession in the future."

I'm no economist by any means - I can barely balance my checkbook, but this is such an asinine position to me. We're in extremely volatile economic times right now, and the New York Times is advocating a gas tax to keep gas prices higher.

Americans love their cars; we love the 1964 Mustang and we love big luxurious Cadillacs and we love our SUVs. We love our big 8-cylinder engines! We even love to buy American (usually). Does anybody seriously think that a freaking Prius LOOKS good? Could you imagine Tony Soprano in a Prius?? Try packing the family of four into a Prius and driving to grandma's house fourteen hours away. It's not going to happen.

The problem with the American auto industry, as most real people know, is the unions. The union costs force auto costs up higher than they should be; it's perfectly possible to get a well made, good car without the exorbinate costs. As an example, Steve bought a Hyundai SUV last year and it's a great car! It's solid and better made than some of the American counterparts we looked at and test drove.

The position of the Obama team has been that we need to lower our dependence on foreign oil. That's all well and good - let's drill in ANWAR then. Let's produce our own oil. Build refineries.

I may be over thinking this, but it seems that the additional objective here, of lowering greenhouse emissions, is the real focus of the New York Times editorial. Tax gasoline to make the price higher so people who don't want to pay $4 a gallon will go buy an ugly Prius (or some other toy-car) which will supposedly lower greenhouse gas emissions and solve global warming (which many scientists don't believe exists.)

It is a proven fact that lowering taxes in a recession is the right course of action. The Obama team needs to look at lowering corporate taxes rather than raising gasoline taxes. With the New York Times own dismal financial position right now, they are in no real position to be giving economic advice to the incoming administration.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26

Finally, Christmas is over! I woke up this morning and my first thought: "Time to take the tree down!" I'm going to get stared on that today, as well as getting all the Christmas clutter boxed up for next year. Once it's over, it's over, you know? I'm ready to clear things out and get back to normal. I really enjoyed Christmas this year, and the family thing was great, but now it's time to box up and clean up.

So, to that end, I'll spend the morning boxing stuff up; this afternoon I'm going by my mom's to visit with her cousin who is coming in from out-of-town for a short visit. Steve and I are going to the grocery store; fun stuff. It seems that all my holidays are centered around food and I'm already thinking about New Year's food. Should I cook both greens AND cabbage? I love them both so why not!

I hate the New Year's Eve thing; I guess I enjoyed that more when I was younger, but now I'm just over it. I have a friend that calls that night "amateur night" because so many stupid people get out and drink and drive. Dangerous stuff. People do other stupid things on New Year's Eve, like fire guns into the air. Dumb. So, I always stay home these days on New Year's Eve. Besides, the fireworks terrify my dog.

After that, well, it's time for Mardi Gras which is one of my FAVORITE things to do! Can't wait for the big parades and the fun afternoons wandering up and down closed streets, looking at the tailgaters, smelling the great foods, and seeing people I haven't seen in ages. Love, love Mardi Gras!!

Actually, I think I'll go ahead and get out my Mardi Gras decorations while I'm boxing up Christmas....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stupid Criminal of the Day

From our local news website:

Last night, Longview, Texas, Police Officer Jason Hampton got a text message from a person named "Sam" in reference to a drug deal. It was apparent that "Sam" sent the message to the wrong phone number.

Officers met "Sam" at the agreed-upon location and immediately smelled the odor of marijuana coming from "Sam's" vehicle, police said. They also found marijuana in the vehicle.

Samuel Odom and Sarah Gillette were booked into the Gregg County jail for possession of marijuana. Odom also had three Upshur County warrants for his arrest.

And there you have our Stupid Criminal of The Day Award.

Simply Awesome

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! It does not really FEEL like Christmas to me since we've already done our Christmas family thing, but the calendar says it is, so it must be.

I do have a little gift-giving left to do, but for the most part we are going to settle in and be slugs today. Steve bought The Dark Knight for me yesterday, so we'll probably watch that. Not exactly a Christmas tale, so if we feel the need for an injection of Christmas spirit we can always turn to the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story. I'm going to make She-Crab Soup for dinner and not much else.

I wish we'd have snow for Christmas, but since it never snows here that is just silly. I know all the folks somewhere north of me are SICK of snow right about now.

I'm notorious for getting the tree down shortly after Christmas and I'm sure this year will be no exception. When you have a live tree that's been up since the day after Thanksgiving, it's time to go. Besides, once Christmas is out of the way, it's time for Mardi Gras! But, not just yet.

So here's wishing everyone has a Merry Christmas and that you get everything on your Christmas wish lists!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Film at 11: NO ICY ROADS

From our local news station's website:

"The KTBS News team has made calls all around the Ark-La-Tex to keep you updated on how the winter weather may affect you. Currently there are no icy roads to report. Stay with KTBS 3 News Now as we keep you up to date with the winter weather."

Hunh? No icy roads is a news story? WTF?

NOT On My Christmas Wish List

The popularity of the Amazon Kindle baffles me. According to this report, Amazon has run out of Kindles and has started a waiting list. I never caught on to the books-on-tape thing, much less electronic books. I know people that travel a lot, spend a lot of time in the car, and like to listen to books on CD. There could be something to be said for an author reading his own work; that might interest me, but I'd really rather have the book.

I'm a child of the purple mimeograph generation; I get high on the smell of ink. I love the crisp pages of new books. I love to look at books stacked on my bedside table waiting for me. I like seeing them on my shelves and I like picking them back up and referring to them for one reason or another. I like the physical weight of a good hardback or the sturdiness of an over sized paperback novel.

I don't really think that the Kindle, or even books you download to your iPod will replace the actual printed word; I simply would never read a book that way. One of my favorite blogs, People Reading, caught up with a Kindle reader in September; it seems that this woman is sold on the electronic word. Not me. Give me paper and ink any day.

Item NOT on my Christmas list: The Kindle.

"W" Writes Letters

Say what you will about George W. Bush, but my contention has always been that it is history that will be his judge and not us, and thankfully, not the mainstream media.

As "W" prepares to leave office, I have to imagine he is ready to retire to a quieter life. I would imagine he is ready to spend time with his family, his daughters, his new son-in-law, maybe grandchildren down the line. If I were George Bush, I'd be ready to move away from the constant criticism in the press; but I also imagine that he has tougher skin than I do.

I was not surprised to see this story today about how he has written a personal letter to each family of each fallen soldier in the war on terror. He has met and visited with many of them, often in private. I appreciate how he accepts this as not just his duty, but as something he just has to do. I believe he honestly appreciates and acknowledges the sacrifice that each and every family has made in the campaign to keep America safe. And again, say what you will about him, but his efforts have kept America safe.

I'm not going to judge Barack Obama at all until he gets in office and does something that he should be criticized for; I'll also give him a nod when he does something right. I've agreed and disagreed with some of his cabinet picks and I think this whole "Office of the President Elect" junk is just silly - the whole faux-seal and all. Silly. But it seems that as Obama has received real security briefings, he is slightly adjusting his stance on the war. I mean, I haven't heard him clamoring for an exact date for withdrawal lately. But I could have missed it. Not that he's going to pick up where Bush left off by any means, but he's not as adament on withdrawal as he once was, either.

What I've appreciated about George W. Bush is that he does love and appreciate the military, the soldiers and the families that have sacrificed. He's been far from perfect, of course, but he's done a lot that's right. There's nothing that could ease the pain of a parent who has lost a son or daughter in war, but somehow, knowing that their commander-in-chief at least noticed is something. Knowing that he didn't delegate the condolence letters to his staff or send a form letter is also something.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Survived Christmas

I think I may have survived Christmas; we had our great-family-get-together last night and all went well. There was an obscene amount of food and sweet stuff to eat and as far as I could tell, everyone ate -- including Checkers. I'm not planning on cooking anything else for months.

We did presents after we ate and that we fun; my niece's child was adorable as he passed out everyone's presents. He wanted to open all of them, which of course, he did. He didn't care what was in them, he just wanted to rip the paper. Nikki gave me a gift certificate for a blog make-over from Penny Lane Designs which I'm excited about. Nikki recently had a design done for HER blog and it's awesome. I'll have to get to work figuring out what I want for mine!

Nikki and Brett also gave us all tickets to the Dallas Mavericks/Phoenix Suns game in April; the Teenager was in heaven with that one. As soon as he opened his ticket, he put it on the carpet and took a picture of it to email to his friends.

This morning Nikki, Brett and the Teenager played Rock Band; then life went back to normal. The Teenager went to work and all the Dallas people headed westward, down the highway. And Checkers and I hit the couch.

Today I feel like a zombie. After weeks of baking, cooking and cleaning, I'm planning to spend the rest of my Christmas break on the couch, under my down blanket with a dog on my feet and a book in my hand.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Pleasure of Giving

This was soooo sweet:

One of my honors students came in before class this morning - early!

Student: Ms. A! Where does ** sit?

Me: There - second seat from the back.

He has a green gift bag in his hand which he carefully deposits on her desk with a HUGE grin on his face. Sneaking out of the room, he says,

Don't tell her!

Me: I won't!

Bell rings. She comes in, goes to her seat

****: Ms. A! Is that for me? Who's it from?!

Me: Santa?

She opens it, and it's a BEAUTIFUL snow globe. So sweet. She has a look of pure, childlike pleasure on her face. Shakes it; watches the snow fall....

****: Who brought this in here?!

Me: Santa?

In the end, she figured it out and gave the giver a huge hug, which I figure is all he wanted for Christmas. Ever.

I love Christmas.

(Image credit:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Rush

I totally have not had time to blog this week, as you may have noticed. I stopped long enough to post something about beer, but that was important -- it was BEER. At school, this is our last actual week of classes; when we return from Christmas break it's time for finals, and so we have been finishing up Julius Caesar and will wrap that up on Friday. I've finally finished grading all my research papers and all my other class papers. We got interrupted for EOC tests this week and I lost two days. But what can you do.

The family gathering is this weekend and will be the first time we've all actually been together at Christmas in - gosh, years. Maybe 8? Six at the very least. Anyway, I spent the first couple of weeks of December working on my tree and unpacking Christmas decorations, and I've been baking since Thanksgiving (I made a fruitcake which I have not yet had the nerve to test - I've never made one, preferring fruitcake cookies instead.) I've done almost all the sweet stuff; still have the rum cake to do tomorrow, and the pralines. I'll get the turkey in the brine on Friday and polish the silver.

At this point, the turkey and the ham are both in the fridge quietly thawing. The cornbread for the dressing is in the oven. The eggs for the asparagus casserole are boiling. I've already made the sand tarts, the Martha Washington candy, two batches of fudge, the proverbial fruitcake, one batch of fruitcake cookies (which I have eaten almost all of), two batches of Chex mix, one batch of sweet Chex mix, and one batch of Ranch Flavored oyster crackers.

I'll get on that housecleaning thing in a day or two. Bleh.

It's my goal to get as much as possible done before Saturday so I can spend the day with my family and not in the kitchen! All I should have to do at that point will be cook the turkey and the ham and warm up the Pere's potatoes, the asparagus, and cook the dressing.

My niece wrote and asked what she could bring to help. My answer - Alcohol. I figure I'll need it by then!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Wish List: Oktoberfest!

Ok, I know putting beer on your Christmas list is sort of....well, strange? Steve and I ate at Ruby Tuesday's the other day and they had Samuel Adams "seasonal" beer on tap and it just happened to be Oktoberfest, (and you know I love Oktoberfest) which is my all-time favorite style of beer. And darn if Sam Adams doesn't do a great one. The only problem is that after trolling all my favorite liquor stores, we can't find it anywhere. We couldn't find it in October either. I'm not a fan of all the Samuel Adams beers, and the Christmas one sounds god-awful. But if Santa can find some Oktoberfest, I'm a believer!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Road Rage

Me: Ohmigod I should know not to EVER take someone with road rage out Christmas shopping!

Steve: What? Me? I don't have road rage!

Me: [silent stare]

Steve: I don't! People with road rage yell, and they flip people off, they roll down the windows and scream curse words!

Me: [silent stare]

Steve: I don't roll down the windows!!!!!

Rosamunde Pilcher

My reading stack is growing faster than I'm able to read right now. Part of this is my mother's fault. About all she is able to do these days is read and she loves a good story. I ran her through ALL of the Dorothea Benton Frank books, which she loved. They sort of reminded her of another author she had read in the past; after much discussion and internet searching, I figured out it was Rosamunde Pilcher she was talking about. So I started gathering Pilcher books for her. The local library only had two or three and she was thrilled to read those again, especially The Shell Seekers.

She insisted that I read The Shell Seekers. INSISTED. "If you liked reading that girl from South Carolina [Dorothea Benton Frank], you'll love The Shell Seekers!" So after I finished whatever I was reading at the time, I read the book - mostly because she kept asking me about it. Well, I loved it. What a storyteller Pilcher is!

After I finished that one, mom had finished Coming Home and insisted I read THAT one. "You'll like it better than The Shell Seekers!" I didn't think I could, but by golly, I do. The book is 993 pages - one of those long, epic stories you just get lost in. Pilcher technically falls into the category of "romance fiction" or "women's fiction" and I'm the first one to jump up and say "I HATE romance novels!" These are not the old bodice-busters, by any means. They are beautifully crafted stories of folks that live in Scotland or England and most seem to be set around World War II. Pilcher is drawing on her own experience for this. She was a homefront volunteer during the War and now lives in Scotland. She writes of beautiful homes and gardens, is incredibly descriptive and detailed, and creates characters that you feel like you know or have met before. She also details what it was like to live during World War II. She's truly a gifted storyteller. You can't just sit down and write like she does unless you have a gift.

For Christmas I have obtained a hard-to-find new hardback copy of The World of Rosamunde Pilcher to give to mom. She will love it.

By now Mom has read most all of Pilcher's books, some of which I had to hunt down on Amazon as used or out of print. This means that now I have a stack of ten or so Pilcher paperbacks waitiing on me whenever I finish Coming Home. This is in addition to my newly arrived Stephen King, Ira Stoll, and Patricia Cornwell. I love having stacks of books waiting for me! That and the upcoming two week vacation makes me one happy girl.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On Celery and Shakespeare

In class this week we were discussing Act 3 of Caesar and the contents of Caesar's will as described by Antony. Antony told the crowd during his funeral speech that Caesar had left each man 75 drachmas. In explanation ("What's a drachma!?") I said that this sum was about the equivalent of three months salary for the average Roman worker.

As I graded papers today, one of which asked the question, "What did Caesar leave in his will to the people?" I was told that "Caesar left three months of celery to each man."

That's a lotta celery.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Family Recipes

This is one of my mother's great spinster aunt's cookbooks, or rather, collection of recipes. There are pages and pages of hand-written recipes and recipes cut out of old magazines and newspapers which are pasted down. My mom and I have three or four of these books; they are blank paged "year books" given out by insurance companies; this one is the 1939 volume given out by United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company.

It seems that in 1939 the big deal was apple crisp and date bars. There are at least five different recipes for apple crisp in this book and probably three for variations of date-nut bars. I have not been able to bring myself to try any date-nut bars. There are two recipes for pecan pie in the book.

In one of the books my mom has is the treasured Aunt Kate's 24-Hour Fudge recipe. The problem with these recipes in these books is that often only the ingredients were listed. I guess the great-aunts knew enough about being in a kitchen to figure out the rest. I'm not so sure I could pull that off on some of them. The fudge recipe was tricky enough but now that I've made it, it seems simple enough.

If you are brave, you can try it, courtesy of my mom's great-aunt Kate Ernest. It's fabulous.

Put into large bowl:
1 stick butter

1 small pkg. chocolate chips (semi-sweet)

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup c
hopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

In a heavy boiler:

2 cups sugar
1 small can Pet milk

Cook, stirring constantly over medium heat.
Cook EXACTLY eight minutes AFTER it starts to boil.

In a double boiler melt 10 large marshmallows with 1 Tbsp. water. (This doesn't take very long.) Add this to the sugar & milk; stir, then pour into mixing bowl with the butter & chocolate chips. The heat from this will melt the chocolate chips & butter. [It helps if the butter is room temperature when you do this.]

Stir until mixed well then pour into a buttered 8 x 8 pan; let stand for 24 hours in the refrigerator before cutting [I let mine sit outside of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before I cut it, just to soften it up a little.]

It's not as complicated as it might sound and it's wonderful. Creamy and rich! Mom says the secret is not to cook it longer than eight minutes once the boiling starts. I lowered the heat a tiny bit to low/medium once it started boiling.

Gary Sinise: Patriot!

Actor Gary Sinise, aka Lt. Dan, received the Presidential Citizens Medal today from President Bush. I was pleased to see this because everything I know about Sinise is that he is a true patriot and all 'round good-guy. He is probably most known for his role in Forest Gump but if you ask a lot of service men and women they might say he is best known for the support and love he has shown them.

Steve can probably speak to this better, but Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band appeared at Fort Polk when Steve was stationed there and Steve had nothing but good things to say about the guy. Sinise takes his Lt. Dan Band tirelessly around the globe on USO tours to entertain the troops. He has also visited soldiers in Walter Reed and also the Navy Medical Center in Maryland. He has visited with Iraqi school children and with author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit) founded the Operation Iraqi Children Program which provides school supplies to Iraqi children.

The Presidential Citizens Medal was established in 1969 to recognize U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation; it is one of the highest honors a civilian can receive from the President, second only to the Medal of Freedom.

Good call by President Bush on this one! As Bill O'Reilly would say, Mr. Sinise is a patriot!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

And The Tree is Done

Done. The angel won't fit on top but she's sitting peacefully under the tree.

I made my mother's fudge recipe this evening; don't know yet how it has turned out but it looks right, anyway. My plan is to finish the rest of the decorations this week and can concentrate on the rest of the cooking next week. One more week of school after this week is done.

Nikki tells me it is SNOWING in Dallas tonight! As always, we just have sloppy rain. Bah.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Twenty-Five Years of A Christmas Story

It's been 25 years since one of my favorite Christmas films came out. There is just something about A Christmas Story that hits home for me. I don't know if it's the old-fashioned family Christmas aspect of it, or just the cute kids and the humor. There are so many parts that I can relate to and can remember from my own childhood.

I loved getting the family Christmas tree (ALWAYS a live one) and decorating it. And trust me, I did NOT come by my obsessive-compulsive-tree-decorating syndrome all on my own. Where do you think I learned that you have to hang icicles "one at a time." At least I'm not so consumed with being frugal, as my mother was, that I save the icicles from year to year, pressed in a Frank Sinatra magazine! The tree had to stand perfectly level too; I don't think we had a single tree in all my childhood years that was not leveled with the assistance of magazines under the stand. My dad would wander in and fling a couple of handfuls of icicles on the tree before being chased out by mom for not "doing it right." I think he did it on purpose!

Our trees always looked sort of like the tree in the movie though, with the big old-fashioned lights rather than the tiny mini-lights we have now.

A Christmas Story also brings back memories of all those Christmases with footed pajamas. I never had any that looked like pink bunny rabbits, but I did love my footed pajamas.

I love the movie and I can say that a couple of years ago I actually watched almost the entire 24 hour marathon on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. I especially love the scene at the end when the parents are sitting in the chair together watching it snow out the window. We don't get snow down here very often, but maybe one day!

Christmas Snacks

I've begun my Christmas baking binge. Over the Thanksgiving holidays I made the fruitcake. I know, nobody likes fruitcake, but I do. And I like all the "doctoring" you get to do to it, like how it changes the taste if you doctor it with apple juice or bourbon, or even brandy. I've made a "light" fruitcake - that's not to say light in calories, but light in color & texture. As we speak, it's in the fridge "aging!"

Next was fruitcake cookies - LOVE these. Even people that don't like fruitcake like fruitcake cookies. They are better with age also, and they are currently wrapped in bourbon soaked cheesecloth in an airtight box.

And the Chex mix - good lord, what would Christmas be without Chex mix? I usually make multiple batches of Chex mix. For example, I made my first batch Saturday and well, between Steve, me, and my mom, we're making a pretty good dent in it so far. Not much left to give away. So, I'll make more! I always experiment with stuff to put in, like sometimes I throw pretzels in there, and sometimes I put pretzel goldfish instead. I've seen some recipes call for Funyuns or Cheetoes but I think not.

The best twist on Chex mix is this super-secret recipe I got from Lauren Harrison in Iowa. Lauren is married to Steve's nephew Kenny. We went to visit them in Villisca, IA a couple of years ago and Lauren brought out this Chex mix that was sweet and had M&Ms in it. We couldn't keep our hands out of it. At that time, Lauren wouldn't come off the recipe but she did donate the rest of the bag to us. She finally told me I could have it since I lived south of the Mason-Dixon line and she was pretty confident that I wouldn't give it out to any of her friends. I don't think she'd let me post it here either, so you'll just have to wonder how good it is. I finally got the recipe from Steve's sister Sheryl and then I lost it and nearly panicked. I had to beg for it again.

Next up on the baking list is my mother's Never Fail Fudge recipe (I've never actually tried it, but she's unable to do it this year so I'm giving it a shot.) And this weekend - Martha Washington Candy! Good stuff! I'll post that recipe after I make them, if you're interested.

Eating is one of my favorite parts of Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"...A Date Which Will Live in Infamy..."

Take a moment today to remember Pearl Harbor.

On this day in 1941, approximately 360 Japanese warplanes were launched from six aircraft carriers, reinforced by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The first dive-bomber was spotted over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time. It was followed by 200 aircraft, which decimated the American ships anchored there, most of which were only lightly manned because it was Sunday morning. Among the 18 U.S. ships destroyed, sunk, or capsized were the Arizona, Virginia, California, Nevada, and West Virginia. More than 180 planes were destroyed on the ground and another 150 were damaged (leaving but 43 operational). American casualties totaled more than 3,400, with more than 2,400 killed (1,000 on the Arizona alone). The Japanese lost fewer than 100 men.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hey Ya!

True Peanuts purists may not want to watch!

Hat Tip: Right in Florida

My Christmas Wish List: Books!

I'd like to acquire the 2007 edition of this series, the one edited by Stephen King. Reportedly, the stories in this one were pretty good.

I'm an on and off fan of short stories; I subscribe to The New Yorker and sometimes I hate the stories in there and sometimes not. As far as periodicals go, Tin House has my vote as far as getting great stories. I discovered Anthony Doerr in Tin House. Doerr wrote a fabulous short story entitled "Village 113" which might be been the best story I ever read. Oh, I know, that's superlative, but it was a great story. In it, Doerr reimagines China's Three Gorges Dam project, in which villages were flooded and millions of residents displaced, through the eyes of his narrator, known simply as "the seed keeper." Doerr writes beautifully about the natural world and the imagery in this story blew me away. I went out and bought his collection of stories called The Shell Collector and loved it. Then I got his novel About Grace which is on my reading table. I haven't gotten to it yet. He has another book out: Four Seasons in Rome, which I'm dying to pick up.

So, on my Christmas wish list, BOOKS! And gift cards for books! My greatest luxury is to take my annual stack of Barnes and Noble gift cards, after the stress of Christmas, and go browse the store for hours. After Christmas I have some time before the next semester starts and I hunker down and read. I love having a stack of crisp, unread books at hand!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Peace, ho!

In class today, reading Julius Caesar.

Class begins; lots of chatter as students settle down. Reading parts are then assigned for today's scenes. One girl volunteers for the part of Calpurnia and is still yakking to her friend when her time comes to read. Unfortunately, the line that comes shortly before her is

Casca: Peace, ho! Caesar speaks!

She turns angrily to the poor speaker of that line and says:

"I ain't no damn ho and you better shut up before I hit you!"

I swear.

We Want Beer

On this day in 1933: the end of prohibition! From

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America. At 5:32 p.m. EST, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority of states' approval. Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified it earlier in the day.

And I am doing my part to celebrate the day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Day From Hell

Yesterday was awful. It went like this:

5:15: Alarm goes off.

6:00: Get teenager up.
6:15: Still getting teenager up.

7:05: Out the door for work.

7:15-2:30: Attempted to convince students that Julius Caesar is GREAT; they are not convinced.
Fielded queries about why research papers are not yet finished.
Graded stacks of papers and attended to a million other teacher related duties.
My own teenager comes in and complains of iPhone problem; phone won't unlock.

2:45: Throw teenager out of car and rush to mom's for PT appt.

3:05: Drive across town to PT.

3:35 - 4:15: Mom's PT. Exercises.

4:45: Pick up teenager; drop mom off; drive to Best Buy.

5:50: Talk to Craig at Best Buy about iPhone issue; most unhelpful. His response - "too bad". Taked to Benee at Best Buy (guy who sold it to us) and he's like "No way! Give me that!" and he promptly switches it out for a new one. Teenager happy.

6:30: Leave Best Buy - go to Hobby Lobby for Teenager's art supplies. $50 later, leave Best Buy for home.

6:45: Get in house - router dead on computer. No wireless, No XBox Live. Crisis.

6:50 - 7:30 - attempt all possible solutions to router issue. No luck.

7:40 - 8:10: Drive to WalMart for new router. Nothing sufficient in stock. Briefly consider second trip of day to Best Buy. Abort thought. Drag self out of WalMart and back home.

8:45: Apology to Steve for acting like stressed out bitch.

9:00: Look at undecorated Christmas tree and stacks of Christmas boxes still unpacked. Sigh. To bed. Not hungry; no dinner. Stress.

Today was better, sort of. I did get another router and after some minor frustrations got all the wireless things keyed into it; network now running again. I hate computer problems, even minor ones, because as I've said before, I'm not very good with stuff like that. It just throws me off. So anyway, now it's raining and I want to read. My copy of Ira Stoll's Samuel Adams arrived today. Stephen King is still awaiting me and so is Mrs. Astor Regrets. But I'm in the middle of another book and hate to read more than one at a time (though I've been known to do it.)

So, internet, I'm going to tuck myself in bed, under my down comforter, snuggle up to my dog, and read. Recovery from yesterday.

One day soon I'll get to this Christmas tree. It'll be done by the 20th guys, I promise.

Christmas Wish List: Hot Tamales!

I love Hot Tamales! I've been eating this candy since I was a little kid and I still love it. I can't explain it. I'd rather have a box of Hot Tamales than chocolate or any other kind of candy! In fact, this is what I eat for breakfast everyday. No lie. A handful of Hot Tamales and a Diet Coke. MMMM. If it is a workday I'll probably also have a bowl of apple cinnamon Cheerios.

Hot Tamales! The Breakfast of Champions!