Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Appreciate the Process

Just this today.

I'm writing short stories this summer, which is a difficult genre for me. I tend to ramble. I believe story telling should involve a little rambling detail. I come from a long line of skilled rambling story tellers. My Papa used to say, "Now I told you all of that so I could tell you this."

When he told a story, he included people's names and their relations. He included dialogue. He added colorful descriptions. He used onomatopoeia. He told the truth, with some embellishments on the side.

I keep thinking about my Papa's story telling ways while I write. The Internal Editor (a. k. a. Harpy) keeps saying, "That's too wordy" or "You're already at forty pages. How long is this going to take?" (Internal Editor just wants to get back onto tumblr and look at Jeremy Renner. Can't blame her.) I'm not just writing a story here. I'm experiencing something. I'd like to savor it as I go. Even if I have to cut it later, right now, I'm just enjoying the process of telling a story.

So I'm going to appreciate the process of writing. Every aspect of it, too: the rough draft, the dialogue, the revision, the proofreading. All of it. I change with every story I write. That's a process to appreciate all by itself.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

X Marks My Brain

Today, I should be blogging about travel tips in London. And yet, all I've been able to do today is stare at photos of Jeremy Renner.

For instance:

I mean, who has arms like this? Those are very good arms.

So. There's that, and the school year is winding to a close, which always equals a scattered state of brain for me. We have last minute Pre-AP testing, final projects for presentations, and a comprehensive vocabulary final. All this with seven class days remaining on the calendar.

Fortunately, Mr. Renner (shown above) has given me stolen minutes of mental vacation, and that's what has kept me sane this last couple of weeks. When summer hits, I have a whole list of writing, reading, blogging, arts-and-crafting, cooking, and general hiatus-ing projects to complete. In the meantime, have another one of these on me.

You're welcome!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Most Versatile Spice Cake Recipe Ever

It may look plain, but this tasty recipe is my go-to dessert for parties, family gatherings, and cold Sunday mornings. It has the texture of bread, the sweetness of spice cake, and can be made with apples, bananas, or even raisins and figs. On top of that, it's super easy to make. You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry.

Fresh Pear Cake


4 cups fresh pears, peeled, cored and diced (or apples or bananas)
3 eggs beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup broken pecans (optional)
1 cup oil (or apple sauce; I always use this substitution)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour (I use spelt flour, which has a denser texture)
1/2 tsp. clove
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda


Combine fruit (and pecans, if desired) in large bowl. Mix sugar, spices and salt; pour over fruit mixture. Set aside for one hour, stirring several times. Sift together the dry ingredients, and then sift them again over fruit mixture and mix thoroughly. Combine eggs, vanilla, and oil or apple sauce in a separate bowl and pour over fruit mixture and stir.

Pour batter into greased and sugared 13 x 9-inch or bundt pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until inserted knife comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert into cookie sheet, turn top up, and dust with cinnamon.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

London: Day Two - March 15, 2012

It's always strange, revisiting the hurriedly scrawled notes I make in my travel journal. Usually, they are written in the hasty fifteen minutes before dropping into bed from sheer exhaustion or scribbled during quick train or bus jaunts across town, so the writing is always skittery and disjointed, and it rarely makes sense. For example, the March 15 entry:
Katya still wasn’t feeling well and our search for dinner was fruitless. Arabic man asked us to figure out camera. Thought we were locals. Big Ben at night = <3. Crazy trains. Katya cried.
We've traveled a lot, Katya and I, and we have a tendency to add a bit of hindsight gloss to our stories over time. It's been a month since we've returned home, though, and while I can still recall the details of this day clearly, I cannot remember Katya crying at all in London.

The thing is, my daughter doesn't cry. In the last year, she's wept maybe twice, both times out of anger, not sadness. Sadness,profound beauty, and ASPCA commercials are things that cause me to weep like a lovestruck fangirl at a Panic! at the Disco concert, but not her. So what made her cry?

So I dug a little deeper through my notes. Katya wasn't feeling well from the outset, partly because I broke the coffee maker in our flat that morning and dragged her out of the flat and into the street in less than an hour. (Actually, I didn't know I broke it until later; I just thought I was doing it wrong, that it was some old-fangled British coffee maker that my simple American mind couldn't figure out.)

On the way to Notting Hill Gate tube station, we did find something that made Katya deliriously happy:

This message on the wall of a Notting Hill department store evoked a fangirly squee, but was not tear-worthy.

Because of our early departure, we beat the crowds for the Westminster Abbey for the tour we'd missed the day before. While I was impressed by the vastness of the 900-year old church, Katya thought it was "creepy" because of the crypts in the walls and floors. I love it. I think it's a brilliant use of otherwise wasted space. What she really enjoyed of Westminster was the college gardens. Because Westminster Abbey is still a functioning cathedral, the clergy live and learn on site, and their apartments open onto beautiful gardens. They were closed to the public, according to some signage, but we managed to find a secret way in, and found ourselves transported to a tranquil walled garden of calm.

We spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds of Westminster before we headed back out into the bright spring afternoon. Next on our list was the Tower Bridge, which we quite enjoyed until Katya began to get hungry. She's one of those kids, though; she will neglect her physical needs when she's interested in something. By the time we completed the Tower Bridge tour, she was pale and shaky. We headed down to Katharine Dock and found a little Italian cafe called Strada. Open air and full of light, the restaurant was filled with local business folk, and the savory scent of the food nearly knocked us over. I had Coniglio and farfalle -- rabbit pasta! -- and Katya had porcini pasta with tomato and basil. The Spanish waiter was very kind to us, too. He gave us a basket filled with a dozen different types of bread, which reminded us Peeta in The Hunger Games.

Katya seemed restored by the meal, which was good, since we were prepared to head back to the flat for a while if she didn't feel better. Also, the weather was perfect -- neither too warm nor too cool -- and we didn't want to waste the day. We found a tiny park across from the Tower, right in the shadow of a hunk of the original London Wall. We just had to touch it, of course, and then we played on the swings and the merry-go-round. There were two little boys watching us from the benches, and after a bit, their father brought them over so they could play, too. I'll never forget that: my 13-year-old and those two blond toddlers running around in the shadow of a wall that is two thousand years old.

After playing in the park, Katya began to feel ill again. We decided to head on to the flat to do a little shopping on Portobello Road. We picked up some pain reliever (not Tylenol; the man at the chemist looked as though he'd never heard of it before. We got Paracetamol instead) and returned to the flat for a few hours.

After resting and watching American TV (Seriously, Britain, why do you love our trashy reality shows? We had a choice of How I Met Your Mother, 16 And Pregnant, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Man vs. Food. Where's our Doctor Who and Torchwood? We chose How I Met Your Mother.), we got dressed all fancy and went back out for our trip to Queen's Theatre to see Les Miserables. Seriously, I cannot rate London2Go highly enough. We navigated our way to Piccadilly Circus with zero difficulty. Of course, the lights of Piccadilly are like a beacon anyway. It's British Times Square! And we love it, despite what some American students said at the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant.

We reserved our tickets for Les Miserables in early February through Viator, a travel and entertainment site, and they were waiting for us at Will Call, so everything went smoothly there. This is my fourth time seeing Les Miserables, but the first with Katya. I was worried about how she would receive it. As I mentioned earlier, she's not overly sentimental (like me), and though she's familiar with the story and the history, I still wondered if she would somehow think it was silly or dated.

But it wasn't. It was beautiful. The London cast was the best I've seen, and our seats were close enough that we could appreciate the expressions on the faces of the actors as well as their voices. I cried. More than once. She didn't, though.

And now I remember why she did. After the show, we went back out into the cool London street. There was a bite to the air now; a storm was coming in. The street bustled with theatre-goers, just like in Times Square, and we jostled with them, feeling light and ethereal, the way you do after a really good show. We were both hungry again, so we decided to head back to Westminster to see if we could find dinner before returning to Notting Hill.

It was nearly midnight, now, and a Thursday. The trains were crowded with young people in clubbing clothes. When we arrived at Westminster, we found a passel of teenagers getting makey-outy along the banks of the Thames, and the odd Arabic man who couldn't work his camera. He asked us how to get to Soho, then seemed surprised that we weren't locals. But all the restaurants were closed, and Katya began to get cranky. Even though Big Ben is beautiful by night, the time had taken its toll, and she'd been feeling unwell all day.

Finally, we decided to abandon the search for food out, since even the McDonald's was closed. We boarded the train again, bound for Notting Hill, and there, on the train, out of tiredness and frustration, she cried.

We got home and ate our microwave meals. Katya asked if we could sleep in the next morning, and since I'd bought instant coffee at the Marks & Spencer, I told her we could.

Then I scribbled my notes and crashed. Not the best ending for an otherwise decent day, though I wish Katya had felt better.

But I'll leave you with this image. Big Ben at night really does = <3

I pretend that David Tennant is standing behind me, admiring Big Ben... It could be true!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter, everyone!

As usual, we had a busy family day together with a picnic that spanned both Aunt Ava's and Grannye's yards, as well as our own. Ava's yard looked outstanding with her deck and patio festooned with paper lanterns, eggs, flowers, and bunnies. Mine looked pretty good, too, since we strung the hummingbird feeder and have been watching the showdown from the porch ever since. Adorable little birds, hummers, but vicious as TIE fighters.

One guarantee about any holiday in the Die family, we always have outstanding food. Mom supplied some amazing sandwiches a bit like Monte Cristos. I'll have to get the recipe for that one. Aunt Amy brought her to-die-for banana pudding. Katya and I devoured an entire heaping plateful between us. For my contribution, since I'm the one with eclectic tastes, I brought something a little unusual.
Last week, my co-workers held an Iron Chef competition. In observance of the upcoming holiday, the secret ingredient was eggs. I tried a recipe from the April 2009 issue of Better Homes & Gardens: Bread Pudding Quiche with Berries and Bacon, and it won!

Therefore, I decided to try a variation of that recipe for today's Easter picnic, and it turned out even better. So, here's my latest take on an award-winning quiche recipe.

French toast quiche with blackberries and bacon lattice

4 slices cinnamon raisin bread, cut into 1/2-in. squares
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups chopped Gouda
2 tsp. all-purpose or spelt flour
3/4 cup chicken sausage, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups blackberries
4-6 slices crisp-cooked, drained bacon
1 10-in graham cracker crust

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. In a small bowl, mix cheese, flour, salt, and pepper. Add to egg mixture. Fold in bread squares, sausage, and green onions. Pour into crust.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. If necessary, after 30 minutes, tent with foil to prevent over-browning. Cool on wire rack 15 minutes.

To serve, arrange bacon in a lattice and top with blackberries. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

London: Day One - March 14, 2012

When we travel, my daughter and I divide sharply over the subject of itineraries. She doesn't like them. She prefers to catapult herself into a town and wander until something catches her eye. I like to have a bulleted list of things to see and do. Preferably, that bullet list contains a loose framework of times to keep us on track for seeing all of the things on our list. This was my itinerary for our first full day in London:

Tower of London (crown jewels first to beat the crowds, then Beefeater tour, then White Tower)
  Munch a sandwich on the Thames while cruising from Tower to Westminster Bridge
Tour Westminster Abbey (consider Evensong service at )
Follow the self-guided Westminster Walk. When finished, return to the Houses of Parliament and pop in to see the House of Commons in action.

I borrowed this itinerary from a writer on Anglotopia, and felt that it was a reasonable way to spend our time.

However, probably due to nine hours on a plane followed by the super-soft bed in our flat, I woke up with a painful twinge in my back. Just a note: always pack your prefered form of pain relievers. I got up, grumbled a bit about my back, fixed coffee, and popped a couple of ibuprofen. When Katya woke, she decided to be the first in our rather deep shower/tub combo. It was then we discovered that we neglected to pack her jeans. This wouldn't have been a problem in Texas, but in March in the UK, it's still quite cold. She had two skirts, a pair of leggings, and brown dress slacks.

After some more grumbling (the caffeine hadn't quite hit my system yet), I declared that we'd just have to go out and buy some jeans. She dressed in a lovely leggings-skirt-black shirt ensemble with her Sherlock Holmes wool coat to keep her warm, and we were out of the flat by 8 a.m.

We went into the Tube to buy our Oyster Cards, which is handy to have if you intend to travel the Underground extensively. I'm a goob for trains, subway or otherwise, so the Oyster Cards were essential. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that we informed our bank of the trip abroad, the credit card would not go through on the automated system. Fortunately, people in London are kind and helpful. An employee at the ticket booth ran our card manually, and before long, we were subway-trippin'.

That was all well and good, except we got turned around on the Tube a little bit and wound up northwest of the City of London. We exited the subway and wandered around to get our bearings. Quite by accident we found BBC Studios. Odd as it sounds, I think that's what snapped us to reality. We were in Britain. Land of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Home of Harry Potter, Monty Python and Neil Gaiman. Really, really there.

We wandered back up the street again, found the Great Portland Station, and took the opportunity to try out the new app on Ziggy, my iPod. It's called London2Go, and if you're traveling to a big city anytime soon, I recommend it. One of the best things about it: no Wi-Fi needed. We were able to find ourselves on the London Map without an internet connection. We nommed pastries and navigated a route from Regent's Park to Baker Street, home of Sherlock and Watson. 

Another great thing about the London2Go app: it contains a Tube map. From Baker Street, we took the Circle Line train to Westminster station.

Here's what I wanted from the moment we emerged from Westminster Tube Station: I wanted Big Ben and Parliament to appear as if dropped from heaven directly across from the stairway leading up to street level. I wanted spangles of sunlight to reflect from our sunglasses (well, my sunglasses; Katya's glasses), and I wanted to be struck wordless by the epic beauty of this ancient city sprawled before us.

That's exactly what it was like. And maybe I did weep upon seeing Big Ben. Maybe I wept again as we crossed Westminster Bridge and heard the melancholy moan of a bagpiper's song. And probably, I wept again at hearing the tolling of the tower clock in Big Ben.

While listening to the city hum around us, Katya and I ate ice cream in a waffle cone on Westminster Bridge. At this point, I'd completely forgotten this itinerary business. We wanted to ride the London Eye, doggone it, so that's what we did. Katya found an interesting way to pass our time whilst in line. She became a "creeper." By that, I mean she took surreptitious photos of unique outfits worn by fellow tourists. Even at midday, the wind off the Thames chilled us, so a lot of the people gathered in line wore sweaters-jackets-and-scarves combos in a variety of colors and styles. Later, when we were back at the flat, Katya used the pictures as references for character studies, so it wasn't all about the creeping.

Riding the London Eye might have been the most touristy thing we did the whole time we were in London, but it was worth it. Getting to see everything from the Eye gave us a sense of perspective about the layout of the city, which helped us get around better than we anticipated.

Also, at this time, we caught a glimpse of the first of many rather suggestive statues in London. This one was part of a building's upper level rooftop structure, best scene from above. So, in addition to being a creeper of people, Katya began to actively seek out England's naughtiest statuary.

After the Eye, we headed back to the House of Commons, where I had an idea of salvaging some of my itinerary. This would not be happening, though, as we tumbled headlong into a crowd of students marching on Parliament to protest an increase in fees British Universities. We had an enlightening talk with a tangent group of protesters who were against US/UK involvement with Iran, all because of their
TARDIS-shaped Peace Box. They were really neat people who proposed a peaceful three-day of non-emergency UK workers if the British government decided to take forceful action against Iran.

By the time the protest finished, Westminster Abbey had closed for the evening. We walked down to Victoria Tower and sat to watch the seagulls along the Thames. Then we rode the tube to Trafalgar Square and made our wishes in the fountain. Katya scaled to the back of one of the enormous lions ringing Nelson's Column. And then, using our serendipitous mishap from the previous day, we walked down Northumberland Avenue to find the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, where we ate one of the best meals while we were in London. Katya had traditional fish & chips -- not as good as the Blue Lagoon in Glasgow, but close -- and I had cottage pie.

The sun was setting by the time we were done, and the temperature turned knife-blade cold. So we headed back to the flat, and were so exhausted that after watched a couple of episodes of Big Bang Theory (seriously, what was with the American TV over there? More on that later) we went to bed before 10.