everything austen challenge

Monday, June 29, 2009 | | 8 comments

Yeah, so…don’t tell anyone, but I’m a closet Jane Austen junkie. I try not to give off the whole I believe in happily-ever-after with Colin Firth…erm, I mean Mr. Darcy vibe, but I love those books and movies as much as the next person. Note that I wrote “person” in place of “girl” (which was my first inclination) in the last sentence. Jane Austen might be beloved by more women than men as a rule, but my dad liked Pride and Prejudice (the novel), and my brothers will watch the movie adaptations with nary a complaint. That’s evidence enough for me that her writing is universally admired.

But yeah, back to being an Austenite. I own a couple of the original books, several of the film adaptations, and a number of spin-offs or modern works inspired by the world of Austen. I most recently read (and loved!) Shannon Hale’s Austenland. One of my all-time favorite novels is Persuasion. If you haven’t read it yet (and surprisingly few people have: it’s one of her lesser-known books), let me persuade you to pick it up. Or just read it online here.

The fact that Stephanie at The Written Word blog is hosting an Everything Austen Challenge is almost too perfect. The idea is to read or watch six Jane Austen authored or inspired works over six months (July 1, 2009-January 1, 2010). Obviously this challenge is perfect for me. I’m going to resist the urge to list things I’ve already read/seen/own, and branch out into the weird and fun. Additions and reports on my progress through the list to follow.

Books:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith [contest to win a gift bag when you post your review of PPZ HERE]

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange [contest to win a signed copy HERE]

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

Films:

Emma (1996)

Becoming Jane (2007)

Lost in Austen (2008), television mini-series


sweet onion + watermelon = salsa?

Sunday, June 28, 2009 | | 7 comments

When I used to gag over the sautéed onions at dinner as a child, my mother would cheerfully say, “Your taste buds will change someday, and you’ll like onions too!” I was never quite so angry with my mom as in those moments. How could I EVER like onions? They made me nauseous! I went so far as to bury them in the front yard rather than finish my dinner, for heaven’s sake! As I’ve discovered in so many different instances, however, mom is always right. Though the change might not be due so much to a shift in tastes as my coffee habit burning and destroying all real taste cells in my tongue.

I’m still not much for cooked or fried onions, but I love them raw and in sauces or savory dishes. The following salsa recipe looks absolutely delicious and summer-friendly. I plan to make it for the 4th of July picnic that is…happening? Being planned? Will occur without any previous forethought or preparation? I’d better get on that…

In the meantime, courtesy of www.sweetonions.org and Amazon’s al dente blog:

Walla Walla Sweet Onion and Watermelon Salsa

INGREDIENTS

2 cups chopped watermelon (seeds removed)


3/4 cup chopped Walla Walla Sweet Onion


3/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained


1/4 cup chopped seeded jalapeno chilies


1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1 tablespoon brown sugar


1 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

Stir together all the ingredients in bowl. Refrigerate, covered, at least one hour to blend flavors. Stir before serving.

[Recipe Courtesy of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee and The National Watermelon Promotion Board]

Best thing about this salsa? It utilizes Walla Walla onions, from my marvelous home state.

victoria, bc and the bike ride from hell (illustrated)

Elizabeth (of Occidental Idiot fame) requested a blog about an experience with either an umbrella or a bicycle. Alas, I have no stories that incorporate both. But this shall be the bicycle story (you may have gleaned that from the title already, who knows?).


Back when I was a naïve, happy and freshly-minted college graduate (this would be the summer before I started grad school), my college roommate and lovely friend Liz came to visit me in Seattle. Well, she came west for a wedding, and I happened to be on the way, so we made a vacation out of it. I planned for the mini-trip for a month or two in between working 60+ hour weeks as a swim coach, lifeguard and jack-of-all-trades at the local pool, and I decided that we'd see more than just mundane Seattle…we were going to Canada [insert joke about Canada or Canadians here].


What can I say? We were feeling adventurous, and these things are interesting in the Pacific Northwest. Canada is a novelty. They speak differently, they have socialized healthcare and Mounties…and they’re always coming down to Washington State for concerts and Mariners games. It can’t be too bad, right? Heh. I’d been to Victoria, British Columbia as a kid, and I recalled that it was a pretty sweet place. Plus, it’s on an island. In the Pacific Ocean. And it’s got a very British vibe. Whether that’s an act put on for the silly American and Japanese tourists or genuinely how things are, we will never know. But what’s not to love about a place known for its tearooms, bookstores and massive gardens?


Anyway, we decided to go to there, and I had planned it out down to the places we’d stop for lunch and dinner…we were not going to ‘wander’ aimlessly on this vacation!


We also decided not to take the car to the island. To accomplish that, you have to pay a ridiculous fee for the ferry and drive a lot farther to get to a different port. So we decided to park the car and walk onto the ferry. Just ourselves and our backpacks on our way to Canada. The trip was fun (lovely weather for the crossing, which took about 2 hours), and before we knew it we were scoping out Victoria’s harbor, the regional seat of government, and making our way to the hostel. Hostel was hilarious, as many of them are: brightly painted, minimal services, loud, and a closet-sized room for all your needs. The mattress was encased in vinyl. YESSSSSSSSS. We had an itinerary, though, and no time to waste!


Did I mention the biggest attraction in Victoria? Aside from high tea at the Empress Hotel? It’s the Butchart Gardens. National Historic Site for Canada, and 55 acres of natural blooming beauty. Victoria’s got a very mild climate, so things will grow year-round (I know, sweet, huh?). They do multiple re-plantings every season and it’s an absolute smorgasbord for the flower-lover. Thing is, it’s located 17 miles from Victoria proper, on an old family estate. And how were we to get there, you ask? That’s right…bicycle. I’d originally thought to catch a bus, but my mom, who used to be an avid cyclist, convinced me (and by association Liz) that it would be much more fun and scenic to rent bikes for the day and ride there.


I think you can see where this is going. We neither of us are/were avid cyclists. The way to the gardens is uphill. We hadn’t planned a definite route, and were directed to ride along the side of an 8-lane highway (with barriers in the middle). We were wearing our touristing clothes and sandals, and had been up since 6am. Cue that melancholy music they always play in sappy movies when nothing is going the hero/heroine’s way. Pardon me, but seventeen miles is a FREAKING long trek! I don’t think I can properly describe the agony that was that ride. I mean, up hills, cars whizzing past at dangerous speeds, rented mountain bikes which may or may not have had broken shifting mechanisms, Liz's asthma…the sheer torture of it all! I’m not exaggerating, folks. We were drenched in sweat, legs burning, Liz I’m sure was inwardly cursing the fact that we (okay, I) listened to my mother, and we didn’t know how much farther it was or if the hills would ever for the love of God and all that is holy STOP!!


In the end it took us over two hours to arrive. We sat comatose, chugging water for a half hour just trying to get our wits back. And then we saw the lovely garden (more photos found here)…





Check out that hedge, why don't you? Me in the arch.

Liz and bike #1. ARGHHH!!!

Me. Disgusted with bike #2 while waiting for the bus.


The only thing was, we still had to RIDE the bicycles from hell back to Victoria.


Or something. Something turned out to be that the local bus cost $2 (or the Canadian equivalent), and they had (glory of all glories!) bike racks on the front of them. We were saved! But we had to catch a very specific bus to be back in Victoria in time to go to our hostel and change and make our dinner reservation. So of course that exact bus shows up with a bike already in the bike rack! The nerve! We begged and pleaded and wheedled the bus driver until he took pity on us poor, silly American girls, and we stowed one bike in the handicapped section inside. With stern instructions that should someone need that seating, we were on our own! We got back to Victoria safely, however, locked rented bicycles in the hostel basement (sketchy!), and made our way to a lovely, lovely dinner. Where we consumed a bottle of wine between us before weaving our way back to the hostel and much needed sleep. I don’t think it would have been possible to sleep otherwise (it was so loud), except there was no way we weren’t going to crash after that ordeal.


Liz and I returned to US soil the next day, and still reminisce about our biking ordeal whenever we see each other. We also vow never to take my mother’s transportation advice again (because you never know, next time she could have us riding ostriches. Or alpacas!).

young adult book carnival giveaway

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | | 32 comments

You may (or may not) have noticed the growing list of contests on my blog sidebar. This is mostly due to the fact that Shooting Stars Mag is hosting an amazing YA Book Carnival from June 21-27. To check out the giveaways and contests, follow this link and browse the list (66 at last count!).

I’m going to take part and give away one (1) copy of Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves’ InterWorld.

...

An astounding tale of adventure, danger, magic, science, friendship, spaceships, and, oh yeah, the battle to save all the people in all the worlds in all possible dimensions.

Joey Harker isn't a hero.

In fact, he's the kind of guy who gets lost in his own house.

But one day, Joey gets really lost. He walks straight out of his world and into another dimension.

Joey's walk between worlds makes him prey to armies of magic and science, both determined to harness Joey's power to travel between the dimensions. The only thing standing in their way is Joey—or, more precisely, an army of Joeys, all from different dimensions and all determined to save the worlds.

Now Joey must make a choice: return to the life he knows or join the battle to the end.

...

To Enter:

Leave a comment on this post and include your email address.

Giveaway is open to everyone. Comments will close on June 30 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.

Good luck!

coffee obsession: the beginnings

Monday, June 22, 2009 | | 1 comments

I am a coffee addict. Not recovering, not proud, just…addicted. I established that fact in my very first blog post, actually. What I haven’t shared so far is the story of how I arrived at this state of affairs. It all began in my twelfth summer…

Actually, back that up. I’m fairly sure (although NO, I don’t have any DNA or genetic marker evidence in front of me at the moment) that my coffee obsession is inherited. I say this because every one of my mother’s siblings is a little obsessive about hot drinks. I know, it sounds bonkers. It probably is. But my theory is that there is a hot beverage addiction that runs on my mother’s side of the family. Coffee and tea, mostly, but after years of observing my own relations, I know that hot chocolate and hot water will do just as well in a pinch. I have an uncle who does NOT leave the house without at least one thermos of hot tea, and who orders it either hot or iced at every meal. My mother will not leave the house without a hot beverage, regardless of lateness or number of people waiting. And then there’s my own unhealthy obsession. So it all started with genetic predisposition, and watching my mother drink prurient amounts of coffee throughout my childhood. My dad, on the other hand, gave up coffee sometime before I can remember it clearly. And I remember my mother admonishing us kids several times when we were younger and telling us that we should never drink coffee, or we’d end up like her (and for a while, that was a very successful threat, let me tell you!).

But to get back to my twelfth summer: the long and the short of it is that I went to summer camp. Summer camp was glorious (just thought I’d put that in there as I’ve recently met people who had dismal experiences). I adored the early morning Reveille wake-up calls, the activities, crafts, Frisbee, water slide, inner-tubing on the lake, water balloon wars, evening speakers, singing by the campfire and enormous late-night games of kick-the-can, flashlight tag or pony express. It was FUN. It was also incredibly tiring. Even kids who normally careen off the walls can be over-scheduled at camp. So by the fifth night or so, I needed an infusion of something to keep up my energy levels. Wonder of wonders, the camp cafeteria had coffee. Coffee had mystical powers back then. Sure, it tasted gross (I’d sipped some from my mothers’ cup on previous occasions), but it smelled delicious, I knew that it helped keep you awake, and all of the counselors guzzled it as if it were ambrosia. Its merits were therefore several: it had a strange usefulness, popularity, and the allure of (possibly) conferring ‘maturity’ upon its drinker.

I downed a couple of cups at every breakfast thereafter, and went home to tell my astonished (and unhappy, I’m afraid) mother, fait accompli, that “I drink coffee now.” It was relatively easy to so pronounce it as an established fact. I knew my mind and what I wanted and thought I deserved, but looking back I might have also been in a ‘forceful’ stage (nicer than saying ‘bratty’ straight out). Of course that experience didn’t immediately morph into my present addiction, but it was the start. At the end of the same summer we went on a family vacation to a beach in Maine, and there were plans to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. One morning at 6am, shivering in the cold and a little damp from sea spray, I was included in the 'adults-only' coffee-drinking group for the first time.

And I have been a coffee imbiber ever since. My mother is very thankful to report that none of her other children have taken up the habit (although Lincoln will drink a cup to be sociable).

To end with, the YouTube clip that inspired this post:

inspired baking gone wrong

Thursday, June 18, 2009 | | 1 comments

My latest culinary experiment was inspired by an innocuous sentence on page 15 of my copy of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust: “Then he walked into the farm kitchen, and kissed his mother on the cheek, and helped himself to a cottage loaf and a large pat of fresh-churned butter.” No, I didn’t churn butter. I live in the midst of a city (Atlanta) and have no access to a cow, even if I did want to churn butter. Which I don’t. I tried it once (churning) at a pioneer reenactment farm, and it was both hard work and unsatisfying. But I digress. What inspired me in that very ordinary phrase above was the ‘cottage loaf’ part. I drink tea when literary characters drink tea…I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised that it seems to work along the same lines for food. Because all of a sudden, at 1:30am, I thought, “I would LOVE some fresh-baked bread. I wonder how long that takes to make?” And promptly got online and looked up this recipe. So I set all the ingredients out, mixed and kneaded as directed, and left the dough to rise for a bit while I surfed online.

My dough didn’t rise. It didn’t even TRY. Well, I don’t know that really, but the YEAST in the dough certainly didn’t try. I had two loaves worth of dud French bread dough. I’ve had faulty yeast before, so it’s not like this was a completely new situation, but when you invest 5+ cups of flour in a recipe, it’s nice if it turns out. I didn’t want to throw out all of that work, so I got online again and Google searched “What do I do if the dough doesn’t rise?” Not kidding. And the pages that answered the question had all sorts of helpful suggestions along the lines of ‘add more yeast’ (which I didn’t have handy and it was the middle of the night for heavens’ sake!) and ‘make focaccia!’ (which requires herbs, ditto on earlier problem of the not having them on hand and middle of the night scenario). BUT! Someone had also posted photos of using the dough for pizza. With suggestions for oven heat and time. I was saved!

Then I looked in my fridge.

It didn’t seem at all promising after that. I pottered around a bit, thinking, looking in the fridge again (for inspiration?), and checked my pantry. Well, I had spaghetti sauce in a jar, so that would work. And I had some grated Monterey Jack cheese, which while not mozzarella, would substitute in a pinch. So it was just down to toppings. No olives. No cooked meats. No peppers randomly sitting around. Really, my fridge runs to yogurt, applesauce, ginger ale, cheese, and lemons these days. None of which exactly scream, “Put me on a pizza, you fool!” But wait, what is this? Eureka (if you don’t know what that means, get snapping on your gold rush history)! I discovered half of a red onion and one of those little garlic condiment things they put in delivery pizza boxes. Pure gold, that stuff. So I spread some dud dough out flat (maybe ¼ inch thick), mixed the spaghetti sauce with garlic stuff and applied it over dough, and then added chopped red onion and cheese. Put in 400˚F oven for 15-20 minutes, and voilà! Pizza. Not what I intended when I embarked on this baking adventure, but tasty nonetheless. And I estimate that the bread/pizza dough will make at least three, if not four, personal sized pizzas. Now I just have to think of other imaginative/unusual topping ideas!

Lesson learned: don't start reading a Neil Gaiman book in the middle of the night. Or any book that mentions food at all. Ha!

tuesday bests

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | | 1 comments

Dad

My father turns 64 today. Not only is he a really cool (and OLD) dude, but 64 is also my favorite number (eight squared, baby!). And he is the best dad ever. Want to contest that? I’ll fight you. He does look kind of goofy in this photo, though. It's the beard-hat combo. Trust me, he doesn't go around looking like this all the time. Or if he does, at least I live on the other side of the country...

Blog

My last post broke all of the INTERN’s rules. It was long, it was boring, and it was all about me and my woes (hmm...maybe not boring, per se...). According to the hilarious and slightly witchy (trying to keep it PG here, but you get the idea) commentary on my new favorite blog, my entry would not cut it in the publishing world. The INTERN is the un-paid help at a publishing house/firm, and she blogs about the vagaries of life in the big city as the proverbial lowest person on the totem pole, as well as offering advice on how NOT to get published. By association (law of opposites), there are also hints on how to make it and organize a book contract. But if you browse a bit, you will learn that this is not all it’s cracked up to be, and keeping your sanity is more important than being published. In sum, the INTERN is hilarious, sardonic and gosh darn interesting. I recommend her blog for laughs, as a tongue in cheek cautionary tale, and as a source for ‘insider knowledge’ on the publishing world.

Film

I watched the movie Nim’s Island last night. It was an infamous Netflix pick, and had (predictably) been sitting by the TV for almost two weeks before I got around to watching it. Overall it offered cute, adventurous, harebrained fun. Though marketed for children, parts of the film will resonate with adult audiences. In my case, I definitely connected with Jodie Foster’s character: an agoraphobic writer who has definite OCD tendencies. Her fear of adventure and life spent in front of a computer screen clash with her written words, which conjure up a daring hero who always saves the day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the audacious explorer is played by Gerard Butler, an extremely talented, good-looking, Irish-accent-wielding actor. Nim, the titular character, is played by Abigail Breslin, who always seems to manage genuine and adorable portrayals of ‘real’ kids. So it was good, clean fun, though a little heavy on the cute, and light on real drama. I give it a B.

how i did grievous harm (to myself)

Monday, June 15, 2009 | | 2 comments

I’m a Gator. Err…was one. You know the Gators? The ones who won national championships in both basketball and football in 2006-07 and repeated in football last year? No? I wouldn’t have known or cared myself, except I went to UF for a couple years. After small, private high school and college experiences, going to a big, consistently-voted-one-of-the-best-party-schools-in-the-nation type place was a change. No really, it was. People start tailgating for games at 11am, and there are so many rabid fans that a game experience can be a little frightening (and hazardous to your health…in so many ways!). But it is an enormously good time, as well. On game day is the only day that I can truly say Gainesville is a wonderful place to live. The community of fans and alumni and students are equal parts crazy and fun, and when they converge for a sporting event, it’s out of hand and off the wall.

So on the night of the Final Four game, March 2007, I was driving my scooter to campus. Plan: sit in a bar on University Avenue with friends and watch the Gators play victorious basketball. But as I turned the corner into the campus parking lot, my scooter malfunctioned. More specifically, it felt as though the throttle got caught in the “on” or “faster!” position, and I couldn’t brake enough to slow down. I know they always say that in the seconds before an accident (if you’re aware it’s happening), time seems to slow down. You know: everything in slow motion, and the reactions going across your face switching at light speed from blissful ignorance to alarm, to horror, to pain… At least, that’s how they portray it in the movies. For me in those moments it was like everything sped up. I had maybe a quarter of a second to log the fact that the brakes weren’t working, and then a half second after that to make a decision to either steer toward a line of cars or take the curb. I chose curb. I’d do it again if I had to make the decision over. Me + scooter + curb/pavement sounds a lot better than me + scooter + a huge hunk of metal and possible crushed-in-between-ness.

The scooter hit the curb with a great jarring lurch, and then miraculously (or not so miraculously, however you want to look at it…) kept gunning. Into a small tree. I was thrown sideways at that impact, and the scooter came to a crashing rest on top of my left leg. I don’t remember the seconds just after impact. I think the common term is that “I had the breath knocked out of me.” The next thing I remember is pain, and the wrenching need to take my helmet off. (Yes, I was wearing a helmet. And I would suggest you do, too. I’d gotten it at Valentine’s Day thanks to my mother’s persistent nagging, and ever grateful am I for that nagging, can I just tell you!)

The whole street was full of pedestrians, and someone came over as I was dazedly jerking off said helmet. I heard several gasps, “It’s a girl! A GIRL just crashed! Someone call 9-1-1! Oh my God! ‘9-1-1? Hi! I’m on University Avenue, and a girl just crashed her scooter. Yes, she’s moving. Oh my GOD, are you okay???’” And on. And on. Being as they were expecting lots of drunks all over the place, police and firefighters were ready and waiting to respond. I think both were at the scene in less than five minutes. I just struggled to wrap my head around what had happened. A bystander helped get the scooter off me. I scrabbled a bit in my jeans pocket for my phone, and sub-consciously assessed my injuries. Head: alright. Arms, shoulders: check. Legs: left a bit dodgy, right seems okay. Hands and feet: bleeding.

When I had my wits a bit more together, and right before Emergency Services arrived, I called my friend R.I. on the phone. She answered, “(bar noise in background) Hey Ceecee, we’re at the bar!” Me: “I got in an accident.” R.I. : “Are you okay? Where are you? How bad was the accident? On your scooter?” I’m told I answered back very calmly and told her exactly where I was, and asked if she could please come get me? Apparently my composure on the phone convinced her that it mustn’t have been a very bad accident, because when she and another friend got to the scene, they were pretty shocked. I mean, who wasn’t shocked? I was DEFINITELY in shock, random pedestrians were shocked, and the responders were maybe not shocked, but not exactly pleased and happy, either.

I pretty much knew by this point that there was something seriously wrong with my left leg. I’ve been able to tell since age 12 whenever I had a broken bone. There’s a certain level of pain that only ever comes when you’ve really messed up your body. I was experiencing that hurt. Firefighters? Not convinced. Said that it was probably just a knee sprain, but as I couldn’t walk on it, I’d better go to the hospital. There was a policeman mentioning something about reckless driving...I don’t remember that much after that. I believe I signed some forms, while R.I. rounded up friends to put the scooter in someone’s truck bed, and then I called roommates to come deliver my insurance card at the emergency room.

Off we went to the hospital. The hospital where on the night of the Final Four game, EVERYONE was seen before me. People with breathing problems. Crying babies. Old folks having panic attacks. Drunks arrested after bar fights. Everyone. Status: in fairly excruciating pain, hadn’t been seen and had no pain relievers. I got to the ER at 9:30pm, and I was eventually seen at 4:30am. At which hour they took an X-ray, told me it was a sprain, and gave me a prescription for painkillers, crutches, and a knee brace and sent me off into the Florida night.

UF won the game. I think that was the only upside to the whole experience. I crutched around campus for a couple of weeks (which was NOT FUN), and eventually was able to walk and resume normal activities. I tried playing water polo a couple of times, but felt that the knee was pretty weak, so I was careful and eventually gave up the idea, at least for the rest of the school year. After the end of classes that May I went to Chile for two months, and when I got back I went home to Seattle before returning to Florida. During the visit I went to the pool with my mother for an afternoon swim, and dove from the pool deck into the deep end. My knee gave way. I had to tread water one-legged and wait for the pain to subside before I could even speak and let my mother know what was wrong. She promptly insisted that I see a doctor for a second opinion. So I went. You do not turn your mom down when she’s worried about your health! Or at least I don’t.

Turns out that when the scooter crashed, I tore both the ACL and meniscus in my left knee. SHREDS of the ligament were holding my knee together. The doctor told me later that had I fallen again, or played water polo a little too aggressively, I would have likely snapped the ACL all together, my leg would have seized, and that would have meant immediate surgery. As it was, the only open slot I had for surgery and recovery was the upcoming Christmas vacation. Later in the year I had the surgery (the doctor said some squeamish things I shall not repeat here about how little of the ligament was left) and an appropriately painful and groggy Christmas recovery at home. I've since been physical therapy’d into almost complete recovery. I think I have about 90% of the function back. I play water polo and can run a bit (like, to catch a late bus. Not anything like REAL running.) at any rate, which is all I need it for. The knee does ache when the weather changes, though, and I’m bound to get early arthritis, so it’s not all roses. Mostly, it's a crazy story and some weird scars. And that’s the tale of my most serious injury, folks!

let's play favorites, take 2

Thursday, June 11, 2009 | | 3 comments

I’ve done a ‘favorite things’ post before, which you can check out here. Today’s rematch utilizes the same idea with different topics. My sister requested a ‘silly things’ post, and I’m obliging her with this, but I think what she really meant was, “Make me laugh! That’s the point of this blog, isn’t it? Start entertaining me or I’ll un-follow you!” Maybe she wouldn’t resort to using so many exclamation points, but the same overall message, for sure. Bet you $10 I’m right.

Category Uma (that’s “one” in Portuguese): Actors. And by actors, I mean television and film actors. Not that I watch much television, really, so it’s mostly just movie stars we’re talking about. And to be fair, a friend asked me a couple of weeks ago to name my favorite actors. I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot, so the answer has now been percolating and coalescing in the back of my head for a while. Another thing: if the category were entitled “hot actors,” or “celebrities I wouldn’t mind going on a blind date with,” my answers would be quite different. This is instead a list of people I like to see on the screen because of how they inhabit a character, and the kinds of roles they choose. And because I’m not quite to the point where I think of ‘actor’ as a gender-neutral noun, the list will be all male. But that’s enough explaining and proviso-ing for now.

1. Clive Owen

2. Alan Rickman

3. Morgan Freeman (The only American in the bunch. See ‘accents’ section below for clarification.)

Honorable Mentions: Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Hugh Laurie, Eric Bana and (dare I mention him?) Keanu Reeves. I’m probably forgetting someone key as I type this, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was a British actor, over the age of 30. Geez, what was the first clue?

Category Dois: Accents. Do you ever turn your head in a crowd or perk up your ears when you hear a different language or a specific accent? I do it all the time. Airports are the best, because there are people from all over the world, traveling to…well, all over the world! I’m definitely attuned to the languages I speak: English, Spanish and Portuguese. And I could pick German, French and Italian out of a crowd for you, too. But this category is going to be about English language accents. And I’ll be honest, they’re best when voiced by a man. Preferably a young man with a deepish speaking voice. Ah, my European travels were lovely…

1. Scottish. I don’t know how I can say this without sounding really creepy…but I fell in love with the Scottish accent because of a 60 year-old man at a hostel in Gibraltar. No kidding. The man snored to wake the dead (I slept maybe 2 hours the whole night), but his accent and voice could charm you out of sleep deprivation. I’m a serious sleep addict, so that’s saying something. Even hearing him ask you to pass the bread and butter was charming. Sigh. Scots everywhere, I heart you.

2. Australian. All of the really good-looking and crazy English-speaking folk at hostels are Australian. Bar none. In every country, every hostel, there’s at least one, and they want to par-TAY. It doesn’t hurt that they sound delicious while they ask you to join, either.

3. Irish. A very melodic, hard to understand accent, but with lots of history, music, culture and centuries of allure (or would you call that magic?) to back it up. I met this guy in Brazil who said he was from Ireland, and I could have sworn that he said “Arlington.” Kind of ridiculous.

Honorable Mention: British public presenter voice. It’s the radio correspondent for the BBC or the commentators discussing the Wimbledon matches. Upper-crusty, well-enunciated words, sprinkled with just a hint of proper butler.

Category Três: Candies. I don’t have a traditional sweet tooth, but I do like candy every now and then. Like at a specific time of the month. Every month. Or with something bitter (like coffee) to tone it down. But candy isn’t something I think about. I remember being like every other kid in the world and wanting that candy bar in the grocery store checkout, but somewhere along the line I just stopped being tempted. So these are the candies that CAN tempt me, and are thus super special. Or maybe it’s just me that’s special. But still.

1. Lemonheads. Very retro, and the perfect movie-theater treat.

2. Swedish Fish. I think I fell in love with Swedish Fish at swim meets in middle school. They’re chewy, but also great to suck on and savor.

3. Ring Pops. Now these treats are really a throwback to swim meet awesomeness. Who doesn’t want to wear a huge ring around on their finger AND dye their tongue various colors? Only complication: what happens when you have to swim a heat, and you still have half a ring left?

Honorable Mentions: Pop Rocks, Warheads, Sour Patch Kids and Snickers (frozen, dude…only way to go).

Category Quatro: (Harmless) White Lies I Told My Parents. This is a dangerous category right from the start, because I know at least one of my parents reads this blog. I think I was basically a good kid. At least, the lies I could think of were tame, so I must have been. Didn’t have much to lie about, at least that I can remember. Well, except for the examples below. Maybe I WILL get in trouble. Scary!

1. I ate my dinner. On various occasions (when I was fairly young) I buried my dinner in the front yard instead of eating mushrooms or onions. It was either gag or go dig a hole while you were gone picking up the other kids from swim practice.

2. The movie at the neighbor’s sleepover party was PG. Bump that up to PG-13 (or even R?). But don’t worry, I was old enough.

3. I never did anything crazy with the high school swim team. Hah. I’m not ready to spill, but let’s just say that I did take part in team activities that were not, umm…sanctioned.

Eek!

late night stress baking triple chocolate style

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | | 2 comments

I spent a lot of my first year in Atlanta feeling extremely stressed. I didn’t deal with it particularly well, but a couple of management mechanisms did kick in during the second semester, one of which was baking. Specifically, late night baking. Whenever procrastination aligned with “my brains are scrambled, oh my goodness I have a paper due in four hours” and both of those were in the latitude of I-might-just-fall-asleep-on-my-keyboard (not AT my keyboard, but literally ON my keyboard…poor Macbook), I would leaf through the few cookbooks I have, and experiment with a new recipe.

Most-referenced cookbook award goes to The Joy of Cooking, which I picked up a reverence to very early in life from my mother. I only have a second-hand paperback copy that I purchased at a library book sale, but I aspire to one day own the hard cover version in my mother’s cabinet (or at least one just like it). Second in line was The Latin American Cookbook, which had a couple of interesting sweet potato recipes. Recipes baked (or experienced, if you will) at 11pm or later: scones, biscuits (butter and butter-less), lemon sugar cookies, pumpkin bread, banana quick bread, mini-cupcakes, sweet potato crisps (the English translation more or less), and as of last night, triple chocolate cake mix cookies. There’s something soothing about putting out the ingredients, measuring and mixing, setting the timer, and getting a set result. I’m not saying that all of the baked goods have been perfect, but it’s a formulaic process, and you can reasonably depend on a certain product if you follow the directions to the T. Life and schoolwork often don’t work that way. So as a coping mechanism, as a procrastination method, and as a proven way to produce sweets and dirty dishes, late night baking takes the cake (pun intended).

Without further ado, last night’s cookie recipe (as scavenged from an anonymous recipe website which I’ve forgotten the URL of):

Triple Chocolate Cake Cookies

INGREDIENTS

1 box Triple Chocolate Fudge cake mix (other flavors would do just as well)

½ cup softened butter or margarine

¼ cup brown sugar (I used white, however)

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips in largish bowl. After batter is well stirred, add in chocolate chips. Roll dough into ¾ inch balls and place on cookie sheet. You may dip balls in confectioner’s sugar before placing on cookie sheet if preferred. Place cookie sheet in oven for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and cool before serving. Voila! Chocolaty-cookie goodness. Makes approximately 30-36 cookies. Yum!

pike place market

I’ve never seen a Seattle tourist guidebook, so I can’t accurately claim to know the most popular destinations.  But as a former denizen of the area, I can tell you which places I’ve always taken out-of-town friends when they visit: the Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.  The Space Needle is an obvious choice: an emblem of the city as well as a pretty sweet watchtower.  There’s a rotating restaurant at the top and a huge science center at the base.  They shoot fireworks off the top of it on the 4th of July and at the New Year.  How much cooler can you get?  It adds a lot of character to the city skyline, too.  The next best place, though (and the feature of today’s blog), is the Pike Place Market.

A little Seattle city history will set up the context.  You see, back in the olden days (alright, not THAT long ago, but early in the history of the American Pacific Northwest), Seattle was a lumber town.  Wood made its way from all over Western Washington State to the port of Seattle.  And Seattle was a city built on a couple of hills and a landfill.  You read that right.  Basically, it was super hilly, and to get some flat land to make the harbor accessible, they filled in the bay with the leftovers.  Of things.  I can’t give you particulars, but I like to think that it was mostly woodchips.  Anyway, at the bottom of the hill below downtown Seattle, right in front of the wharfs on Elliot Bay, someone put up a warehouse.  From the bayside, it has 4 stories.  From the street side (Pike Street, in case you were wondering) it looks like it’s only one story tall.  That will give you an idea of the grade that the city is on.  Like, if you made me drive a manual car up those hills, I would die of fright.  No, seriously.  The hills are suicidal.  I mean it. 

The Pike Place Market opened in said building in 1907, and is one of the oldest continuously operating farmer’s markets in the US.  The top floor, the one on Pike, is full of stalls which sell fresh fish, fruit, veggies, meat, flowers and other Farmer’s Market type things.  The floors below house eclectic shops selling things like marijuana paraphernalia, comics, used books, crystals, and of course the necessary Seattle tourist merchandise.  Across the street there are tiny restaurants, the original Starbucks store, and other curiosities.  The whole area is very eclectic, and you will find street buskers and entertainers on every corner.  So the atmosphere is often celebratory and the market full of tourists, city residents, music, clowns, street statues, homeless, and flying fish.  Yes, you heard that last part right.  There’s a fresh fish vendor smack in the center of the market that is famous for tossing the merchandise from person to person before they wrap it in newspaper and ice.  A crowd always gathers, and when a purchase is made, the vendors yell to each other, a huge whole fish (or lobster) go flying over the heads of marketers, and the tourists get their photos.  Here’s a typical tourists’ video.

There are a couple of things about the market that I really love: Left Bank Books, an employee-owned and not-for-profit used bookstore, the fresh fruit stands (in season white peaches = so amazing it’s ridiculous), the huge bronze piggy bank (named Rachel, after a prize-winning, real live pig), and the original Starbucks store.  Pike Place Market is noisy, colorful, a little chaotic, and a great taste of how the Seattle spirit works: mostly in the rain, and always with enthusiasm. 

what lengths would you go to to get ___________.

Thursday, June 4, 2009 | | 1 comments

I follow a couple YA literature review blogs, and I’ve entered contests to win books.  I’ve even won a couple (although one is still missing in transit or someone is playing an evil joke on me)!  It’s a real rush to win a free book.  I’m a huge bookworm, and I spend entirely too much money at bookstores and time at the public library.  So it follows that I’d be willing to do quite a lot to win another book.  Today I found out just how much, because Lenore put out a challenge on her blog: say to what lengths you’d be willing to go to get a book, and you could win 3.  Book in question is Catching Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games, which I’ve blogged about here.  I want this book.  I need this book.  And unless I miraculously win a contest, I will not get this book until it’s released in September.  BUT!  Back to the important stuff: things I would be willing to do to get novel I covet.

My automatic answers: I’d go wilderness camping - sans tent and camp stove - for a week.  Or pass out fliers in a public place for an hour.  I’ve done this before: it’s extremely hard and thankless.  I’d sing karaoke or do a stand-up routine; under normal circumstances I’d be averse to any suggestion of public speaking/singing/performing.  I might give up recreational reading for a week or two.  And lastly, if I could read a sequel early, (insert your own anticipated event here) I would volunteer as the cleaning lady of whoever gave it to me.  For a week.  But that could be negotiable. 

I was amazed to discover what I would (and what wouldn’t I do, really?) do to get something relatively small and unimportant to my survival.  So I thought I’d ask a couple of my siblings what they would be willing to do if they could get their hands on an advance copy of a sequel of another favorite book of ours, Graceling.

Joey’s answer (submitted via text message):  Find a semitruck carrying the books, shoot out the tires, and tase the driver before breaking into the truck with boltcutter and portable grinder while wearing safety glasses and gloves.

When I pointed out that above plan was criminal, the next response was as follows:  Okay, so…find a copy you can download online…Or if that isn’t possible, revert to plan A, or just wait.

Ginny’s answer (also texted):  Make a YouTube video or go on a food/hunger strike, or something like they used to do for 106.1 (local Top 40 music station in Seattle area) – stay in a Porta-Potty for days.  This is hypothetical, right???

What would you be willing to do for a book/other-thing-you-crave?

rats can train humans to do simple tricks

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | | 2 comments

While my brother was visiting he met Mellicent. He wasn’t quite sure about her to begin with, but he admitted that he was going to miss her by the time he left. I pointed out to him that it was funny that he of all people should have reservations about a pet rat, seeing as he owned one when we were younger, but then he responded by saying that Melli was definitely more curious and adventurous than pet rat Whiskers of our childhood. I put that down to fond remembrances and didn’t think anything of it until I ran into a fact sheet on a website the other day. Turns out that female rats ARE more prone to scramble around and investigate, while male rats are often content to have their ears scratched and enjoy your company.

Part of Melli’s charm is that she climbs up the side of the cage and stares pointedly at you whenever you so much as move. She anticipates you. She waits with bright, dewy eyes for you to come over and play and let her out of the cage. And she will scrabble along the side of the cage like a little monkey if you walk by, keeping pace with your movements and gnawing the cage bars. Once she’s free though, she’s not about to snuggle up. She wants to investigate! Adventure! Explore! It’s cute, frantic, and a little dizzying for the observer. So to end with, a couple of facts culled from the online FAQ:

Rats can eat chocolate. They can also eat smaller pets. They are omnivores and have been known to eat birds, fish and even smaller rodents.

While it’s great to have both male and female rats, they should not be allowed to play together. Rats can complete the courting ritual and the whole romantic relationship in about 2 seconds.

Rats usually bathe themselves six times a day or more.

Rats have bellybuttons, but no tonsils or gallbladders.

Rats can be trained to do simple tricks.

Rats can train humans to do simple tricks.

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