Monday, March 31, 2008

Succumbing to the dance

I have a soft spot in my movie watching genres: I love dance movies. Strictly Ballroom, Shall We Dance? (both versions), Dirty Dancing, and Dance with Me are just a few of the ones I'll sit and watch no matter the times I've seen them before. I'm also not above being lured into the dance scene (unedited DVD) of The Thomas Crown Affair, the one with Pierce and Renee. Which is what makes it so amazing that it's taken until this season for me to get serious about Dancing with the Stars.

But serious we are. Always a fan of the PBS ballroom dancing shows, and having taken all of 6 lessons ourselves (we failed waltz), we consider ourselves armchair experts. We critique and praise and guess the numbers that'll be hoisted. We've actually become pretty good at it and in an obviously short time. So the big question last week was: could we correctly call the two couples who would scoot off the floor first?

Well, I did. Penn and Monica, for all their good thoughts and earnest endeavors (especially on her part. After all, what woman doesn't have a trapped teenager inside her who wants to dress like a princess and glide around the dance floor?) had to go.

But having never seriously played this game before, I'm just now realizing how hard it is going to be to call the next one who should go off. My short list, before I see the contest tonight, is Adam, Steve, and Marissa. I'll update tomorrow and see if my powers of picking hold.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ground beef with tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms

Sounds a bit like spaghetti sauce, doesn't it?

I belong to a luncheon group named Ptomaine. Technically, it's Ptomaine 2, since the originator of our group brought the idea with her from the original Ptomaine over 20 years ago. The basic idea: once a month you make a recipe you've never made before. It's legal to have tasted it elsewhere, but not cooked it. Categories are assigned: appetizer, bread, salad, vegetable, meat, dessert. The latter is coveted while vegetable is usually a downer. Still, you'll have two of each per year. Three times annually, we bring the spouse or a friend to a night meeting and the rules are relaxed. No one wants to present a "true ptomaine" when there are serious eaters in the crowd. We tend to stick to riffs on the familiar. Sometimes, we have the men cook. Your results may vary.

Therefore, at least once a month, I'm in serious contemplation of new recipes. Sometimes I scour my files, sometimes it's the newspaper. More often than not, it's Bon Appetit, a magazine I've actually had the good fortune to have my recipes featured in not once, but twice. I can't even remember when, but late '80s, early '90s, sounds about right.

So there I am with the current issue and I've noticed a trend, not only here but elsewhere. No longer is a recipe simply labeled "spaghetti" or "company chicken". There was a hint of mystery to those, a read-on-to-see-what-I-really-contain allure. No, now it's spelled out in the name and well, really, why go further.

As an example, I was saddled with, uh, had the opportunity to make, a vegetable dish this month. If there exists a version of green beans, corn, or potatoes we haven't made, I'd like to see it. I was determined to find something new. The best place to start would be with a vegetable we rarely, if ever, serve: Brussels sprouts. How perfect would that be? And how did I know this recipe was right there at my fingertips? The title: "sauteed brussels sprouts with lemon and pistachios". No second-guessing here. With a glance, I knew all the major ingredients (the others were grapeseed oil and shallot).

Just what I needed, a challenge. I'd never served brussels sprouts by first separating them into leaves. It would have to be sauteed just before serving, so I'd be cooking while we munched the appetizer course. Again, a bit different. And, best of all, while I wasn't sure this would fly in my own kitchen, I was granted an appreciative (for the effort if nothing else) and open-minded audience.

Part of me, of course, would have liked to have had it called something like "spring vegetable delight", but as I cleaned out an empty pan--and decided that yes indeed, it would fly at home--I realized it just didn't matter.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New post at

Just a quick note to say I've just posted a new opening to my website entitled Numbering My Words, a brief defense of my love of crosswords and why Sudoku and I don't get along.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring, Easter, and me

I'm not quite sure what's thrown everything off-kilter, but my best guess is the movable feast that is Easter. Determining its date takes an astronomy degree and a great deal of patience. Or a handy-dandy chart.

Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25. A late Easter is almost as dreaded as an early one. In that instance, it's as if Easter will never come. April, therefore, feels free to frost, ice, and snow, preferably Easter week. And this is in North Texas. Heaven knows the latitude she takes elsewhere.

Easter this year was yesterday, March 23, almost as early as it can be. Of course, we had snow 2 weeks ago and a torrential downpour last week. So what's a stiff north breeze during sunrise services? Bundle up, March said. It's still March!

But our collective minds are on spring and warmth and flowers. After all, Easter has come and gone. But nurseries have stuck to their time-honored ways and beautiful, already blooming plants are in short supply, if available at all. My inner gardener is frustrated, even if I know in my never-green thumb that April can have a trick or two up her sleeve and make all my hard work frizzle away.

So I've gathered my patience and poked around the flower beds and cleaned them out a bit. I've taken delight in the daffodils and tulips. I've scratched down deep enough to see the Mexican petunias are returning and the dwarf crape myrtles are greening. I can wait to buy and plant. I just know I can.

After all, next year Easter is April 12. Not too early, not too late. Just right.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

My mother and the clerk

I tend to shop at the same time of day (late morning, early afternoon) and so usually see the same check-out clerks at my favorite grocery and big box stores. I normally pick the shortest line, but after consideration, I'm no longer going to do so. I'm going to pick a favorite clerk.

This trait always bugged me about my mother. She had favorites and would wait in long lines just to have them check her week's shopping. So we'd stand and stand and stand and my sister and I would fidget and once we got there, Mother and the clerk would enjoin in a gabfest of monumental proportions and we'd have even more time in line. While Mother always said it was because certain clerks were more competent than others (this was way before computers put the little white price tags out of business) and made fewer mistakes, I maintained--to myself--that it was merely a case of gossip overload.

However--and I'm way past the age to be imitating my mother on this--I'm beginning to see what she was talking about. I had a handful of coupons the other day, many of which were for free items. I'd had one such the previous week, it had been for nearly $6 (a ladies' razor system) and the inexperienced clerk had had a time making the computer cash register take it. I wasn't about to play that game again, so I sought out a line belonging to a clerk I knew had experience. Sure enough, the free item coupons breezed right through.

It was then I realized I was playing Mother's game. Shock and horror: it was a late in life realization that she was onto something.

And if that wasn't bad enough, I did it again today.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Business Card 101

We had luggage clean-out last week. It wasn't pretty. When we were packing for Australia and pulling pieces from our version of Fibber McGee's closet, totes, carry-ons, straps, freebies, and old travel items piled up on the floor. I couldn't believe we had accumulated so much--and managed to get it into one closet--until we returned and I stuffed it all back in. Except now, the door wouldn't close.

Guilt took over and I spent one afternoon rummaging through a 25 year collection of travel gear. Large, small, under the seat, in the overhead, wheels, no wheels... whew! It was practically a museum collection. All this activity then culminated with going through the other luggage stash also. (Yes, we have two places to hide oversized and little-used items and I'm not proud of the fact.) This ended with a carload of merchandise going to the secondhand store. That I'm proud of.

But in opening all these pieces, I found a few surprises, some of which I could have done without. Travel size toiletries (really old toothpaste, anyone?), flaking soap, so many hotel shower caps I started throwing them away, multiple packages of travel Kleenex and crumbling breath mints. I also found my old business cards.

I can't say they've evolved into high art (quite the contrary), but my first ones are decidedly different from what I have now. Why I never thought to save examples, I don't know. I have to consider these a gift and a trip into the past.

The first is purple and green and professionally made for the 1997 RWA conference in Orlando. I was a Golden Heart Finalist and I proudly state so on the card. I gave my home address and phone number, something I no longer do, and while it was pretty, it was bit difficult to read.

Number two to surface was plainer and easier on the eyes. I had a publisher (now defunct) by then and their name and logo is on the front as well as the title of my first book. Address and phone number are still there.

By the third example, the address and phone are gone. I have three books published, my publisher has changed names (still became defunct), and I have a website. Plus, these I did myself. With information changing so rapidly, it no longer made sense to invest in a large number.

I think there's another one running around between example three and the current day. I don't know where it is, but I think I spied another pile of tote bags under the guest bed. Maybe I've found my cache.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Tweeze turn to the light"

Traveling elsewhere, such as our two weeks in Australia, we love to read the papers and magazines, especially those that come folded inside the Sunday papers. To that end, we came home with several articles and advertisements sandwiched into pages of books I hoped I wouldn't forget to go through.

One ad which I cut out was for a tweezer with a built-in flashlight. I'd never seen such and thought it a great idea. I'd have to look for it when I got home. (Never thought to look for it while there.) The usefulness of such an cosmetic appliance became all the more relevant to me when, no matter the price of the hotel room we stayed in, there was NEVER a lighted mirror or adequate light over the mirror so that I could see my brows! At the last hotel, I pulled out a tiny flashlight I'd brought with me, held it with one hand and precariously tweezed with the other.

I definitely needed to get home and find the tweezer with the built-in light. First of all I searched on Amazon just to see if such existed in the States. It did. Price was a bit cheaper than AUD rates, but still I didn't order. If it was available online, perhaps I could stumble onto it at a drugstore.

I'm happy to say I did. At a CVS, I found the Sally Hansen LaCross Diamond Tip Lighted Tweezers. Half the price noted from Australia, I snapped them up and carted them home. They work beautifully, will travel with me--and even be used at home. It's not just hotels which don't have lighted mirrors.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Omigosh--it's really DARK!

I love Daylight Saving Time, I really do. The opportunity to eat dinner outside on the patio, to pull weeds after supper, to go to the early evening movie and come out and it still be light--love it! But there's always an adjustment to be made before the real lovin' it part begins and that adjustment just arrived.

DST isn't usually tied to March, but to April. By April, Nature has full light in the morning by 6:30 or so with more daylight rapidly approaching, so the backward adjustment to getting up in the dark is only going to last a couple of weeks. But this... switching in early March has me turning on lights and peering for the newspaper. I can only hope it's thrown under the yard light. Otherwise, I may need a flashlight.

I didn't realize how dark it was going to be. How naive is that?

But stumbling around in the dark will pass, and the sun will catch up with the morning hours. In November, when we go back to what a non-DST-loving friend calls "God's time," I'll be reluctant to give up my evening light (although there'll be considerably less of it then), but secretly glad to get the morning back.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Texas snowfall

We rarely get the lovely, fluffy, big-flake kind of snowfalls seen in other parts of the country. We certainly don't get them in March! What we get when we get anything at all is ice. Sheets of ice. So, it was sorta' nice to have an all-night 6-inch snowfall which disappeared the next day when temps rose into the 50s.

Photographers abound in such circumstances and I'm no exception.

My neighbor's yard became a winter wonderland:

My sideyard looked like a white blanket:

There was no wind, so snow piled up on the chainlink fence:

But winter wonderland, white blanket, no wind or not, the temps hovered around 30 and soon the streets were slush:


Monday, March 03, 2008

Lubbock from the airplane window

We spent the weekend in west Texas, in Lubbock to be precise. We were with friends visiting their daughter, who's enjoying her first year at Texas Tech. We had passed through the town about 5 years ago on our way home from New Mexico, but had never stopped. My impressions:

From the air the surrounding farmland was really fascinating. It was marked in circles for crops and irrigation, and although most of it was a shade of brown, there were green spots. I kept expecting to see huge primitive figures a la South America for the landing of space ships.

If the farmland was brown, so was the city. But, it's the end of winter, everywhere in north Texas is brown, and we were just fortunate that it wasn't white, since snow is predicted across much of our area today. Instead, it was in the 70s with bright sun shine. That, of course, makes today's terrible cold (both at home and in Lubbock) much harder to bear. It's March! Come on, weather, lighten up!

South of the city, we visited two wineries. I think the tasting room for Caprock has to be about the prettiest I have ever seen. Inside wasn't bad either. The Llano Estacado facility was smaller, but just as friendly and interested in our business. Thumbs up to both of them, and I have a list to be looking for at the area stores.

The Tech campus is impressive, with its library looking like on-end books and the engineering building appearing like a (now very old) calculator. Clever.

I wouldn't mind visiting again because 1) it was just a good weekend and left a smile of an impression and 2) I didn't get to all the used bookstores and antique malls while everyone else was at the basketball game. I told them not to waste the money on a ticket for me, I'd rather explore the city. Yeah, right.

Just sign me 'special interest shopper.'

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