Stuff and Nonsense: August 2014


Around Connecticut: Hartford Sängerbund Bierfest

Last Sunday, The Husband and I attend the Hartford Sängerbund Bierfest in Newington. While this was the first we'd heard of the event, it's been going on since 1984 ... which meant it must be good. And it was!

Admission was $10 per adult and food tickets were $1 each. We bought $30 worth of tickets, which allowed us to buy various Würste and Leberkäse, water, and ice cream (we were one ticket short for the ice cream, but that was the one stand that actually accepted tickets and dollars). Each food group was sold from its own tent, so there was a wurst line (heh), potato pancake line, and beer line ... but the lines quickly moved along as the Sängerbund folk clearly know what they're about.

Leberkäse with sauerkraut, tangy potato salad, sliced tomatoes, and spicy mustard.

Currywurst. A little disappointing as it was only steamed (should be steamed, then fried for extra awesome).

The Kaffeestube, tucked away in a corner on the way to the toilets, sold cakes and coffee (obviously), but none were to The Husband's liking as they all contained "horrible" ingredients like apples or coconut or poppy seeds. He did enjoy the ice cream, however, and even admitted my lager-flavored selection was "pretty good, if you like beer." Made with Sam Adams Boston Lager, it was well worth four tickets.

O, delicious lager ice cream!

There was plenty of seating, both inside and outside the music tent, which was a very good thing as the music was too loud for my delicate ears and we ended up enjoying our ice cream outside in the shade were there was a gentle breeze to cool us and the music was at the "correct" volume. Music was provided by the Hornberg Musikanten, a Bavarian brass band from the German Federal State of Baden-Württemberg. They certainly played with gusto and the couples on the dance floor seemed quite enthusiastic, too. My dad's mom loved to dance and I think she would have loved the band. Definitely her scene!

Flags of some of the sixteen German Länder.

The Hartford Sängerbund Bierfest is a biennial event so, unfortunately, we won't see it's like again until 2016. However, the Hartford Sängerbund offers regularly scheduled events throughout the year, including a Schlachtfest on 1 November. There will be a variety of wurst, including Blutwurst (blood sausage). I really enjoy black pudding and thus am quite excited to try Blutwurst. The Schlachtfest is a mere four days before my birthday, so it seems a perfect early birthday present!

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

Baffled, I stretched out my hand and touched something smooth and cool: a smooth, cool resistance where there could be nothing but air. I tentatively tried again, and once more my hand rested on something like a window-pane. The I heard a loud knocking sound and glanced around before realizing that it was my own heartbeat thundering in my ears. My heart had been frightened before I knew anything about it.
While staying with friends at their hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps, an unnamed forty-something woman awakens to find that her valley is encircled by a vast, invisible wall. She and the animals within it may be the only living beings left on earth.

Stunning. The Wall is once both a quietly beautiful domestic novel and a dark, wrenching novel about loneliness and solitude. When I began reading the novel, I immediately accepted the unnamed narrator's assumption that she was alone and would remain without human companionship for some time, if not forever. I became thoroughly wrapped up her domestic dramas -- making a habitable home for herself and the animals, securing enough food for them, and staving off depression as lack of skill and mental fatigue chipped away at her physical and mental strength.

But, despite all her domestic success and (grudging) survival, a terrible tension began to grow in me. There was an edge of darkness to every success, a faint whisper of some as-yet-undescribed awfulness. I didn't want to put down The Wall, yet I also wanted desperately to close my eyes to what felt like an inevitable horror. The line "Someone might come up to the window, looking like a man and hiding an ax behind his back" gave me nightmares for days and that's only 42 pages into The Wall! I ended up reading the novel in seasonal chunks, always during the daylight hours, when my imagination couldn't run too far ahead of me.

And, of course, when the disaster occurs, it occurs in the blink of an eye. There is no lead-up, no foreknowledge. Just that terrible thing. And that's life, after all. Terrible things happen and we do our best to survive them for the little time we have.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Wall and look forward to watching the 2012 German film adaptation. I simply wish Haushofer had written more. I've read a lot of human-at-the-end-of-the-world/trapped-in-bubbles type stories, but this was the first that felt thoroughly real.

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer w/ trans. by Shaun Whiteside (Cleis Press, 1990)


Wordless Wednesday: Greedy Squirrel, Redux

A cheeky little bugger is our friend the squirrel. Interestingly, it is
much more interested in the seed bell than the peanuts.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Really Want To Read But Don't Own Yet

Top ten books I really want to read but don't own yet (because I'm trying to limit my buys to books I either can't get through my library system or are so veryvery awesome that I know I will adore them forever).

Death of a Nightingale (Nina Borg #3) by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis
Nina. Natasha. Olga. Three women united by one terrifying secret. But only one of them has killed to keep it. Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian woman who has been convicted of the attempted murder of her Danish fiancé, escapes police custody on her way to an interrogation in Copenhagen's police headquarters.

I have held off reading this last novel in the Nina Borg series until the trade paperback is released in the US in 2015 as I own the rest of the series in trade and am a little obsessive about the matchy-matchiness of series books. I can't wait to read this, though.

The House of the Four Winds: Book One of One Dozen Daughters by Mercedes Lackey
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
First book in a new series and, while it sounds delightful, I'm concerned there are eleven more volumes to follow! Just the thoughts of all that story makes me feel tired. So, yeah, get it through the library.

Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte
The first truly comprehensive bible of authentic Mexican home cooking, written by a living culinary legend, Mexico: The Cookbook features an unprecedented 700 recipes from across the entire country, showcasing the rich diversity and flavors of Mexican cuisine.
Looks gorgeous. Not out until October. Current Rule of Buying Cookbooks: Don't buy a book you haven't examined at a library or bookstore and aren't absolutely positive you need so badly that you won't later ignore it for recipes on Pinterest.

The Peripheral by William Gibson
Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He's supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That's all there is to it. He's offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn't what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.
Also not out until October. Considering I haven't read anything by Gibson's since Pattern Recognition, I really don't think I'll be buying this – although The Peripheral sounds pretty fantastic.

Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic by Kate Colquhoun
'The Maybrick Mystery' had all the makings of a sensation: a pretty, flirtatious young girl; resentful, gossiping servants; rumours of gambling and debt; and torrid mutual infidelity. The case cracked the varnish of Victorian respectability, shocking and exciting the public in equal measure as they clambered to read the latest revelations of Florence's past and glimpse her likeness in Madame Tussaud's.
Who doesn't want to read about the trial of a pretty young wife brought up on charges of poisoning her much older industrialist husband with arsenic? No library in my state owns this book – no surprise, as it is a very British history – so I'll probably end up buying it.

In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno
Noko appears to be living a great life, she's got a good job and a loving boyfriend, but beneath a thin veneer is a young woman who is struggling with her self-image and self-confidence as she fights to keep her weight down. To Noko, being 5 pounds overweight means being miles away from happiness in her lovelife and in her work-place.
I've heard some really good things about the author and am eager to read this ... but I'm going to have to buy it because no library in my state owns it yet and, with manga, there's no guarantee any library will ever pick it up.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga
Shiro Kakei, lawyer by day and gourmand by night, lives with his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki, an out-going salon stylist. While the pair navigate the personal and professional minefields of modern gay life, Kenji serves as enthusiastic taste-tester for Shiro's wide and varied made-from-scratch meals.
Also very eager to read this but no copies in my state library system, &etc.


Mewingham Manor: Observations on a Curious New Species by Edwina Von Stetina

Do you like butterflies? Do you like kittens? Do Victorian country ladies' diaries give you a thrill? Then Mewingham Manor: Observations on a Curious New Species is just the thing for you!

A twenty-seven-year-old unmarried lady inherits her uncle's rambling country estate, Mewingham Manor, and hastens to set up housekeeping. She keeps a diary of her days, as good gentlewomen do, and in it she begins to note strange flying creatures in the garden:
It was tiny, with fluffy, black and white fur, and, although by all other evidence a mammal, it wore a pair of dazzling jewel-toned wings!

Yes, Mewingham Manor is infested with Flittens -- tiny butterfly-winged cats collected from all over the globe by her roving uncle (just as other Victorian gentlemen might collect rare species of orchid, etc)! What follows is page after page of illustrations of Flittens and Minis (tiny winged mice). It's an adorable natural history of nonsense:
Hatchlings congregate for safety and comfort. When they mature, they become very independent and only associate with their own species (although on especially chilly days, I have observed adult Flittens of every type napping in a mound by the hearth).
Many thanks to my coworker for pressing this book on me! Four out of five Flittenus arboreus.

Mewingham Manor: Observations on a Curious New Species by Edwina Von Stetina (Greenwich Workshop Press, 2002).


Improv Challenge: Beans & Bacon

I'm a sucker for Campbell's "Bean With Bacon" soup, but I don't eat it as often as I crave it as it's full of salt. And, yes, I know the Healthy Request version has half as much sodium, but that's still too much considering I'm likely to eat the entire can in one sitting. Also, quite frankly, the stuff I buy now seems neither as beany nor as delicious as the Campbell's "Bean with Bacon" of my childhood memories!

So I decided to just go ahead and make my own version of the soup for August's Improv Challenge. Sure, it's hot and humid out. Sure, the air conditioner is constantly cycling on. It's the best time ever to make soup! Or not. But I wanted soup and soup I would have.

I started by looking at the ingredients on the back of the soup can:
And then converted them into something I could handle:
Canned small white beans, lower-sodium bacon, tomato paste, carrot, celery, onion, bay, thyme, low-sodium fat-free chicken broth, salt, pepper, liquid smoke.
The soup I ended up with was surprisingly tasty for a first attempt ... although, admittedly, not exactly like the canned version! It's smoky, bean-y, and bacon-y and that's good enough for me. (I do find myself thinking I might get better results using finely shredded bits of smoked ham instead of bacon? My mom makes her split pea soup using the meaty bone from her Easter ham and that might work here, too).
White Bean & Bacon Soup

1 1lb 13oz can small white beans, drained and well rinsed
6 strips lower-sodium bacon, chopped fine
3 Tbsp tomato paste [Amore]
1 carrot, chopped small
1 small onion, chopped small
2 ribs of celery, chopped small
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 bay leaf
½ Tbsp dried thyme, crushed
3 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth [Pacific Foods]
Salt and pepper, to taste
Liquid smoke, to taste [Lazy Kettle]
Crispy bacon, for garnish

Pretend it is late October. Cook bacon in large heavy pot on medium-low for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly, or until bacon is crispy and as much fat as possible has rendered out. Remove bacon.

Drain all but 1 Tbsp bacon fat from pot, reserving fat for another use. Add celery, carrots, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and covered in bacon-y goodness.

Add the beans, broth, bay, thyme, and tomato paste. Cover and allow to gently simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Remove bay leaf. Puree a little of the bean mixture with your immersion blender (or puree a few cups in a "proper" blender) so your soup is half puree and half chunk (or however you like it best). Stir in bacon. Let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes (this will help the soup thicken).

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and liquid smoke. Garnish with additional crispy bacon bits, if desired.
(I apologize for my photos! I had to take them with my phone as my camera has gone missing. We had people over last weekend and I did a quick tidy hide-all-the-things before they arrived ... and I hid my camera so well I still don't know where it is!)


Wordless Wednesday: River Birch

The curling, cinnamon-colored bark of the river birch.


Top 10 Tuesday: Everyone Keeps Telling Me to Read ...

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday we're talking about all the books people have been telling us we simply must read. While some of these books are titles I want to read (but never at the moment they're being recommended because So Many Books To Read Already), others are works I definitely have no interest in at all. And yet people keep recommending them.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Huge fan of the Green Bros' vlogbrothers and CrashCourse Youtube channels --- so much so that I really do want to read TFIOS. Someday. I tend to avoid reading breathtakingly popular books at the time of their popularity, because I find it difficult to just relax and enjoy the book as I find it impossible with everyone else's opinions crowding my brain.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
A coworker thinks I'll love this, but it sounds a bit dark.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord ... 1743.
I'm sure it's excellent -- friends certainly think so -- but time-travel romance? Meh.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.
Recommended to me because I enjoyed The Different Girl and All Our Yesterdays. I do want to read it, but the little bit I've heard about it makes it sound more like straight-up horror.

The Bees by Laline Paull
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
My friend really wants me to read this book and then tell her if it's worth her reading! Unfortunately, as much as I find real bees fascinating, anthropomorphic bees don't sound that compelling. A Handmaid's Tale with bees? Eh. I'll just reread Atwood.

Shadows by Robin McKinley
Maggie knows something's off about Val, her mom's new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won't have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie's great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.
The Husband reallyreally wants me to read this so we can discuss it, but I’m in no hurry since, while reading it, he complained (quite strenuously) about the protagonist's "voice." Also, I'm getting a little tired of our-world-but-with-magic stories.


The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Belonging to a place isn't nearly as necessary as belonging to people you love and who love you and need you.

The Velvet Room follows the story of Robin, a bookish young girl whose family is one of the many migrant families found in California during the Great Depression. They are constantly on the move, trying to make ends meet, and there is little room in such a life for the beauty or solitude Robin craves. But then a stroke of luck -- her father finds work at the McCurdy ranch and Robin makes an important friend in a little old woman named Bridget.

Despite the mystery behind the old Palmeras House and Robin's insistence on befriending the bruja, there's nothing particularly frightening or ominous about the story. I say this because the title of the book itself sounds mysterious and the current edition looks (imho) pretty darn ominous!

Instead of being about scary things, The Velvet Room much more about the (gently told) hard truths of a childhood lived during the Depression and also about finding a place to be yourself without losing the ones you love. Truth be told, The Velvet Room reminded me quite a lot of of Doris Gates' Blue Willow, in that they share similar settings and both deal with longing and belonging. I'm pretty sure if you enjoyed the one, you will enjoy the other. I certainly enjoyed this book and wish it had a sequel. 4 out of 5 secret diaries.

The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder w/ illus. by Alton Raible (Atheneum, 1965)


Boston Comic Con, We Loved You

We went to Boston Comic Con, because that's what nerds do when they're at a loss as to how to best celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. An impersonal convention center packed to the rafters with artists and sweaty fans is clearly the most romantic option.

Well, maybe not romantic, but AWESOME.

Dementedly happy people are determined to have fun.

I'm calling Boston Comic Con our first proper con. We'd done the inaugural New England Webcomics Weekend in 2009, but that was a tiny thing, and ConnectiCon in 2011, but that wasn't nearly as big or as much fun as we hoped. So, yeah, based on bigness and levels of fun, Boston is our first con.

We drove up Friday, with plenty of stops along the way as we weren't hitting the Con until Saturday and wanted to be both well-rested and totally chillaxed before arriving. So we stopped for photo ops with a giant missile mock-up at Goddard Park in Auburn, continued on to Helen's Bakery Shop in Worcester for Bismark pastries (as close to cream cakes as a British person can get here), then ate those pastries at Bancroft Tower before walking amongst the wildflowers at Garden in the Woods.

So we were totally mellow when we drove into Boston ... and then WHY DID NO-ONE WARN US ABOUT THE TRAFFIC TUNNELS OF TERROR? But, hey, we eventually escaped the tunnels, found our hotel, and ambled along the Boston Harborwalk before dining on beautiful steaks and then heading on to the convention center to swap our tickets for wristbands.

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. When we scooted, a little behind schedule, over to the convention center we saw alarmingly large masses of costumed people waiting to buy tickets. Happily, as we had our wristbands on, we were able to swan right in. And the Con was fabulous at 10:30 in the morning! I ran around like a crazed fangirl, getting signatures from all my favorite artists and writers, and generally gushed at them about how awesome they are.

Hopefully, I didn't freak anyone out. In my head, I'm always "Be cool, be cool. Say something smart about their work" and then I say something ridiculous or can't remember the name of the character I would like drawn in my book. Danielle Corsetto was really nice about it, saying a lot of people can't remember Clarice's name, but if I could have slunk away somewhere to die then I would have.

Unfortunately, the convention center was getting pretty packed and there were limited spaces to slink to. We tried standing in line for the Image Comics Panel, but after twenty minutes decided I needed fresh air more than panels and skived off outside with a bunch of sweaty cosplayers. Then we came back inside, joined the massive queue for Queer Comics Panel ... and was turned away just as we reached the door. There was no room left, unfortunately. As a general thing, that's awesome -- That many people interested in queer comics? Fab! -- but it sucked on a deeply personal level.

So I comforted myself by hunting down Gail Simone's table and getting her to sign my copy of Killer Princesses, because Gail Simone is the bomb and I have the BIGGEST bookish crush on her (I know we both have other people in our lives, but surely we could run away for a weekend and talk about her writing?)

Unsurprisingly, I returned from Boston Comic Con with quite pile of loot, but that's a post in its own right and will have to wait for another day.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books I'm Not Sure I Want To Read

This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the books we own but just aren't sure about reading -- those books on our shelves that we reach for, hesitate over, and then eschew for their neighbors. Poor books. We bought them. We must have wanted them once.

I've actually weeded my unreads fairly ruthlessly over the last few years so I don't have that many left that I'm not sure of! That I bought for myself, anyway. There are a fair number of unread gift books I can't in good conscience part with until I at least attempt to read them. Octavia, Daughter of God, I'm looking at you.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I really liked Divergent -- so much so that I immediately went to the Amazons and bought Insurgent, but then life happened and I didn't read it right away and the series went nova and everyone kept telling me about how awesome the books were and ... there were SPOILERS, you monsters.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Too many people told me this last book in The Hunger Games trilogy was Seriously Not Good with A Really Crap Ending ... and that turned me off, too. I do really want to know what happens (especially before the films are out) but I keep getting hung up on all my friends' bad opinions.

The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian by Brian Thompson
"Like the best Victorian novels, The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon marries the adventures of an intrepid protagonist with delightfully revealing glimpses of Victorian society. A tale of sex and scandal, bravado and bravery, Mrs. Weldon’s life is wild, wicked, and totally irresistible."
I have owned this book for a decade (a decade!) and still not read it! On the surface, it appears to have (nearly) everything I could possible want from Victorian history and yet there is something about it that just makes me go meh every time.

The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert L. Leahy
I am a natural born worrier. As far back in my childhood as I can remember, I have worried. I bought this because I thought maybe I could fix myself, but I haven't read it because ... I worry it's actually a giant waste of time. Also, who would I be if I didn't worry? (She says, not quite jokingly).

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
As much as I love the Discworld books, I've been feeling decidedly underwhelmed since Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight. Indeed, so much so that I shy away from reading more for fear they will also disappoint. I've crushed hard on Terry Pratchett and the Discworld books for decades now and I don't want to give that up ... so I've just started avoiding reading the new books. But I keep buying them. Hurrah.

A Nameless Witch and Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
I picked these two up a few years ago when I was looking for a screwball comedy-type fantasy in the style of Robert Asprin, Douglas Adams, and Christopher Moore ... and then I find I'm never in the mood for either of them. On the surface, there's nothing immediately off-putting about them. I'm just worried they are going to be more dumb than funny.

Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West
You'd think a Southern memoir rich in food should be right up my alley, but I've spent five years not reading this book. I think a lot has to do with the cover. It just doesn't "say" the right things to me.


The Slippage by Ben Greenman

I always felt as if I were standing on the outside of the story, never quite in it, and it didn't help that I found William Day to be utterly unlikable and, therefore, could not trust him as a narrator -- especially concerning his wife, Louisa. Her early odd behavior (hiding the mail, etc) made me expect there to be something "real" wrong with her -- some tragedy in their marriage or other insurmountable issue rendering her emotionally weird -- that would be revealed further on, but no. We never get more than the surface of Louisa.

Maybe not the best read for a childless mid-thirties suburbanite three days before her 15th wedding anniversary! It's probable I just wanted to get in Louisa's head because of the niggling little voice in mine whispering Louisa could be me.

The Slippage by Ben Greenman (Harper Perennial, 2013)


Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: The Great Years of James Tiptree, Jr.

A collection of eighteen stories by James Tiptree, Jr. (a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon). There isn't a story in this collection I didn't like. Even when I was full of horror and/or apprehension, I found the stories darkly beautiful and intensely fascinating. "With Delicate Mad Hands" is probably the closest any of the stories come to having a happy ending -- and the principal character dies horribly so, obviously, it's a nontraditional happy ending -- but I didn't come away from the collection depressed or despairing over humanity. Thoughtful, yes. Disoriented by the abrupt shift back to this current reality, certainly. In these stories, Tiptree/Sheldon crafted a future that I yearn grab to with both hands while also running away from, screaming as I go.

I feel I should warn you that this short story collection is a kind of literary trap -- pick it up with the intention of skimming a story or two and you'll find yourself surfacing, disoriented and aghast, three hours later. And don't think you can "just" read one before bed! I went to bed early one night with "With Delicate Mad Hands" and it was well past midnight before I gave in and accepted I would have to finish the story in the morning as it is deceptively lengthy. And then I had the most fucked up, creepy dreams. Read these stories in the daytime, under the strong, hot light of the summer sun.

And I can't wait to read more! I don't know why it took me so long start reading Tiptree/Sheldon, but now that’s I've started, I don't intend to stop. Five out of five ghostly white milch deers.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: The Great Years of James Tiptree, Jr. w/ an intro by John Clute & illus by Andrew Smith (Arkham House, 1990)


Wordless Wednesday: Greedy Squirrel

Mostly, I am surprised it took the squirrels this long to find the new feeders.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books For Pratchett Noobs

This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the books we'd recommend to readers who have never read X where X is, in my case, Terry Pratchett. I picked Pratchett because I actually had a conversation with a friend a few weeks about how he wanted to read the Long Earth books because he'd never read any Pratchett before, but was afraid to as there was just so much Pratchett in the universe.

While the list is not in any particular order, I do recommend starting with Good Omens or Small Gods. Good Omens has the added cachet of having been co-written by Neil Gaiman and some new Pratchett readers seem to find that ... comforting? "Even if this Pratchett fellow is terrible, Gaiman never disappoints," etc. Small Gods is (imho) an excellent place to start with The Discworld as it is a standalone and amusingly (and bitingly) skeptical of organized religion.

I tried not to put too many Discworld books on the list as it's meant to be an introduction to Pratchett and not necessarily the Discworld, but it's difficult because there are so many great books in the series. In the end, I included only a few standalone that require no prior knowledge of the Discworld to appreciate.
  1. Good Omens
  2. Small Gods
  3. Only You Can Save Mankind
  4. The Carpet People
  5. Strata
  6. The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents 
  7. The Wee Free Men
  8. Going Postal
  9. Nation
  10. The Long Earth
The nonfiction work, The Unadulterated Cat, is also very good -- providing you like Real Cats and don't mind a heavy dose of Britishisms!


TARDIS-Blue Punch & Ice Rings

A good cuppa may be very Whovian, but it can be a bit fiddly if you're dealing with dozens of people at a stand-up do. Also the library owns something like four punch bowls and only one hot water urn that doesn't leave your tea tasting like coffee. No surprise then that we had pitchers of ice water and a big bowl of punch at our Whovian social.

TARDIS-blue punch with ice ring. It's lemons all the way down.

The punch was simply one gallon of Berry Blue Typhoon Hawaiian Punch to one gallon lemonade, plus a generous squeeze of blue food coloring to deepen the overall color. We had seventy(ish) people and I refilled the punch bowl three times, but didn't add the food coloring when I did the refills so the colored steadily lightened over the course of the evening. I could just as easily have skipped the food coloring altogether, obviously, but it seemed important that the punch should be as TARDIS-blue as possible. (I get very detail-driven when I'm worried about a project and the Whovian social made me just a wee bit obsessive).

I am ridiculously proud of that ice ring. I constructed by layering and freezing. A layer of thinly sliced lemons, with blueberries scattered over to fill the gaps, covered with just enough lemonade (spiked with blue food coloring until it was almost navy) to make sure the fruit was wet, but nothing was floating. Froze it. Repeated the layer. Froze it. And so on until my small bundt pan was full.

To thaw the ice ring enough so that it would slide out from the pan, I set the bottom of the pan in a dish of hot water for a few seconds. It slide right out.

How did the punch taste? Sweet, obviously, but the lemon slices helped cut that as the ice ring melted.


Edible Ball-Bearings. Genius!

We threw a Whovian social at work recently and, since it was my baby, I brought the cupcakes. And the Jammie Dodgers. And the bananas. And the satsumas (actually clementines, because SEASONALITY).

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and silver Wilton sugar pearls.

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and Bananarama candies.

Being pressed for time, I bought these cupcakes from our Price Chopper and decorated them at home. I loved the Bananarama candies (found them at Sweet Factory, one of those pick-and-mix candy stores) as they actually tasted like proper bananas and not the hideous approximation of banana-ness I expected. The Wilton pearls were, however, slightly disappointing as I thought they looked more steel grey than silver. But, you know, supposedly you can't buy the real silver ones here anymore because of some (perhaps overly cautious) food regulations.