Zelda went to Houston!…a few weeks ago.

My main blog-goal for next year is to expand a bit. Sure, the main focus will always be books, but I don’t want every non-book post to be appended to an actual book post. And, really, this blog doesn’t get enough traffic for me to worry about Google getting mixed up. So Zelda gets her own post. I have some things to say about Traveling with Puppies and Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Houston, too.

As I’m sure you know from various social media, Palmer and I took Zelda to Houston a few weeks ago. Okay, I drove Zelda to Houston to see Palmer.

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She’d chosen the day before to puke in my car while we ran some errands, so she took some $60 anti-nausea pills from the vet. We were off to quite a start. She was a little nervous, but she did well. We stopped twice at gas stations with nice grass patches, and she did her business without a problem. By the time we got to Houston, I was exhausted.

Before I left, I did my research. Every meal was planned according to a list of dog-friendly restaurants. It didn’t always work out.

Gratifi did, which was good because all I wanted was a meal and a sleep.

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They had a nice patio and even served dog food with a treat on top. She ate the treat and didn’t touch the kibble, which quickly turned into a trend. When I selected Gratifi, I didn’t realize that it had been on Restaurant Impossible, or I might have chosen elsewhere. They were really nice to Zelda, but the food wasn’t great. I was just happy to eat at that point.

We started Saturday with a trip to Starbucks, where Zelda had her first Puppuccino.

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Of course she enjoyed it. Next, we dropped her off at a PetSmart Doggie Day Camp so we could have some non-puppy time (meaning a trip to IKEA and Trader Joe’s). According to her Pawgress Report, she had a good time.

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They put her (at 30 lbs) with the little dogs because she was afraid. That’s one reason why I wish Shreveport would make the dog park happen sooner. There aren’t enough opportunities for socialization around here. (While Zelda was at Day Camp, Palmer and I went to Goode Company Seafood, which was AMAZING.)

After we picked her up, we headed to Brick House Tavern & Tap, which turned out to be a chain bar that was way too loud. We had to move our chairs to the far end of the patio, away from the rowdy customers. We were all exhausted and miserable.

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The next day, Sunday, we went to one of my Houston favorites, Barnaby’s Cafe. The patio was full of dogs, but it wasn’t too loud or overwhelming for Zelda, and we had an excellent time. Zelda behaved well, and Palmer rewarded her with a whole plate of bacon.

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After a tasty breakfast, we headed to Millie Bush Dog Park, which is supposed to be one of the biggest, nicest dog parks in Houston. My only real complaint is that I wish there were more trees. Once Zelda settled down, she had an excellent time.

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She’d never been off a leash outside, so I was interested to see if she did. I thought she might bolt (which wouldn’t have been a problem because the park is double-fenced), but she stuck really close. Palmer made an excellent Youtube video chronicling our trip.

Exhausted again, we made an emergency plan change because my lunch choice was another loud bar. I called another of my favorites, the Hobbit Cafe, and they did, indeed, allow dogs (though only hanging off the back corner of their porch). We had another excellent meal.

After that, we rested until dinner. We’d planned on dinner at Winston’s on Washington, which is supposed to be dog-friendly, but that didn’t exactly work out. It was bad enough to merit a nasty Yelp review.

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So we ended up heading over to the nearby reliably mediocre La Madeleine, where I had overcooked rotisserie chicken (and Palmer had an amazing dessert). At least it was food.

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The next morning, Zelda and I got up early, had a quick hotel breakfast (we share a banana every morning), and headed back to Shreveport. She slept most of the way home.

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That was the first of many trips, and it was quite an experience. We definitely learned some things, like that Zelda refuses to sleep in her kennel in hotel rooms but is an excellent bed-sleeper and that she thinks she owns the hotel after a single night. We’ll defintely be adventuring again, but I think we all need a rest after that one.

2014 Books #54-58: Ridiculous. I know.

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So it’s been a while. Almost a month since I’ve updated. But I’ve been busy! I’ll get to that later. First, a super-quick rundown on what I’ve been reading.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer, is the third book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. I was hooked near the beginning of the first book, Annihilation, and I had to read them to the end. They coast slowly downhill, but they’re still pretty good. Like AuthorityAcceptance deals mostly with the agency investigating Area X and continues to explore some of the mysteries introduced in the first novel. This trilogy is best read as one medium-size book – as reflected in the combined paperback recently released. They’re all worth a read (definitely in order).

Next up was Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman. There’s a huge spoiler  (which is amusingly related to a similar one in the next novel I’ll talk about) that I won’t reveal here, so I can’t say much about it. A teenager in rural Michigan commits a terrible crime, and his super-religious community deals with it. This novel is so much better and more interesting than that sounds, but I’m not revealing that spoiler. If I’d have known what this novel was really about, I wouldn’t have read it. That said, I really enjoyed it.

Then, there’s The Wind through the Keyhole, an addition to Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series, which I adore. This one is set between the fourth and fifth books and isn’t necessary to the rest of the series, but it quickly became one of my favorites. It’s a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. Roland and his ka tet are headed toward the Calla when Oy starts acting up. They’re warned by a ferryman that a starkblast (a really bad ice storm) is headed their way, and they have to take shelter. They do, and during the storm, Roland tells them a story from his younger days, involving a skin-changer. During that story, he recounts a legend he told a boy while they were trying to figure out what was going on with the skin-changer. This middle story is the best one, but this whole book is excellent and well put-together. Mr. Stephenking claims that you don’t have to have read the series to enjoy The Wind through the Keyhole, and I think he might be right. But you should just read the whole series because it’s brilliant (and even though some parts are plain ol’ stupid).

Station Eleven started well, but the ending fell flat. It’s a postapocalyptic story about a traveling group of musicians and Shakespearean actors after a terrible illness swept through the world and killed most of humanity. Emily St. John Mandel does a really good job flashing back throughout the novel, explaining what happened and making her characters sympathetic both before and after society’s breakdown. Which would make for a fantastic novel, except it just kind of grinds to a halt at the end, and not in an interesting cliffhangery way. At the end, I thought, Really? That’s it? Lame. And that’s a pity. The best part of the novel is a fictitious comic book called Doctor Eleven that I’d love to read.

And, finally, there’s the much-hyped Maze Runner. I listened to the audiobook because it was available on OverDrive when I needed a book and because I’d heard it’s good. And it isn’t. It’s about a bunch of teenagers stuck in the middle of a maze that appears unsolvable. The first thing that annoyed me is the language. Realistically, a bunch of teenage boys, living on their own, are going to curse a lot. The problem here is that it’s a YA novel, so they can’t really curse. James Dashner solves his problem by replacing said words with “shuck” and “clunk” and the like. As in “You shucking idiot.” MEH. And that was only the beginning. I only finished the novel because I was mildly interested in the explanation and what would happen at the end, but that was stupid, too. So much stupid in this book. A total waste of time.

That’s it for books for now. After I finish the books I’m currently reading, it’s time for the Annual Dickens Novel. I think it’ll be Our Mutual Friend this time. And I should probably address my failure at the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. I have some things to say about that, too.

I’ve also considered the format of this blog. I want to update the design to the more image-heavy magazine style that’s so popular. I’m browsing themes, and I’ve found a few I like. We’ll see what happens.

And I just realized that I haven’t mentioned Zelda’s trip to Houston. It’s been quite a while, but I still want to give it its own post. So in other Puppy News, we went to the Highland Jazz Fest and had a good time. It’s my favorite local event that isn’t Mardi Gras, and I was glad that Zelda could come this year.

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She was a little scared because she’s not used to tons of people and loud noise, so we just walked the circuit around the park a few times and then went home. At least I got to hear some of the music.

My excuse for not posting, you ask? Besides the usual procrastination, I FINISHED MY THESIS! And my defense is over!

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I still have to write the abstract and finish the final formatting, which I plan to do today. Then, all I have to do is print out the fancy copies and show up at graduation! I can’t believe it’s almost over.

2014 Book #53: White Noise

whitenoisecomicI didn’t read White Noise because I wanted to. Not this time, anyway. I read it again because I wanted to give Don DeLillo a chance to redeem himself before I stashed him firmly in the Junk Pile. Okay, there’s nothing about DeLillo’s books that deserves to be there except that they’re all kind of the same book, written over and over.

The thesis ruined me.

I wrote a post a few years ago (which I haven’t reread…yet) about how White Noise changed my life when I was 14. I really liked it the first time around – as I did the second, when I read it for a class in grad school. I took a Modernism/Postmodernism class just because that book was on the syllabus.

And White Noise is a spectacular book. A Great Book, in fact. Almost everyone agrees that it’s DeLillo’s best novel (though there are some dissenters who claim that Underworld is. I can’t get through it.). White Noise is one of the few that doesn’t follow his usual plot-line involving running away from the media.

Except here, not just one character, but everyone is running away from death. This novel is about the fear of death and what people do either to overcome it or to distract themselves from it.

Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler Studies in a small college in a small town. He lives with his fifth(?) wife and a mixture of children, both his and hers. Everyone talks about death. It fits snugly into every single conversation. But I’ll get to that in a minute. When I first read this novel, I thought it was about the Airborne Toxic Event that happens around the 1/3 mark. I thought the bulk of the novel was about that. I even forgot that anything happened after they stayed in the Red Cross shelter. That’s not even halfway into the book. There’s more talk about death and some death-fear-avoidance activities, carried about by various characters in different and increasingly extreme ways. Because DeLillo likes the extreme, and any worthwhile action must be an extreme action. I won’t spoil the fun except to say that it’s probably not what you’d expect, even from DeLillo. (I shouldn’t say that. There’s the Superdrug business in Great Jones Street, to name only one random plot point.)

really didn’t want to take notes while I was reading this novel. It’s just that it reeks of DeLillo (“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it’s impossible to see the barn.”), and there’s the thesis in its final stages, and I somehow can’t disconnect the fiction I don’t have to write about from that which I do. Which is why I’m not refreshing my Goodreads rating: I can’t be objective, so I’ll let the five-star review stand because White Noise is a great novel. I’m just kind of done with DeLillo.

One thing that I don’t like about it is that it’s so minutely planned. There’s a conversation about death around the three-quarters mark that is just too long. It’s like DeLillo had a lot to say and couldn’t stop without saying every single little bit of it even though the novel would be better if half of it had been cut. Every bit of his plan had to be implemented.

That said, doesn’t it have something to do with Great Novels? The best novel I read last year was Stoner. This year, I read Butcher’s Crossing, which is quite possibly the best (though not my favorite). Both are by John Williams, though I somehow didn’t make that connection at the time. Both are intricately planned and structured. Every little bit of the novel fits in perfectly. That’s why they’re so good. Part of Greatness has to be planning and execution of said plans, and that’s a huge point in White Noise‘s favor – if this review was objective. But it’s not because I can’t separate myself from my earlier reactions to this novel and my more recent reactions to other DeLillo novels based on that stupid thesis. There’s too much of a history.

So here is one huge stylistic issue I noticed for the first time: All of the characters sound the same – even the children. Here are two examples from close to the end of the novel (as I didn’t break down and let myself take notes any earlier).

A conversation between Jack and his current wife:

“I don’t mind running clothes as such,” I said. “A sweatsuit is a practical thing to wear at times. But I wish you wouldn’t wear it when you read bedtime stories to Wilder or braid Steffie’s hair. There’s something touching about such moments that is jeopardized by running clothes.”

“Maybe I’m wearing running clothes for a reason.” “Like what?”

“I’m going running,” she said. “Is that a good idea? At night?”
“What is night? It happens seven times a week. Where is the uniqueness in this?” “It’s dark, it’s wet.”

“Do we live in a blinding desert glare? What is wet? We live with wet.”

“Babette doesn’t speak like this.”

“Does life have to stop because our half of the earth is dark? Is there something about the night that physically resists a runner? I need to pant and gasp. What is dark? It’s just another name for light.”

“No one will convince me that the person I know as Babette actually wants to run up the stadium steps at ten o’clock at night.”

“It’s not what I want, it’s what I need. My life is no longer in the realm of want. I do what I have to do. I pant, I gasp. Every runner understands the need for this.

And a conversation between Jack and Willie Mink:

“By coming in here, you agree to a certain behavior,” Mink said.

“What behavior?”

“Room behavior. The point of rooms is that they’re inside. No one should go into a room unless he understands this. People behave one way in rooms, another way in streets, parks and airports. To enter a room is to agree to a certain kind of behavior. It follows that this would be the kind of behavior that takes place in rooms. This is the standard, as opposed to parking lots and beaches. It is the point of rooms. No one should enter a room not knowing the point. There is an unwritten agreement between the person who enters a room and the person whose room had been entered, as opposed to open-air theaters, outdoor pools. The purpose of a room derives from the special nature of a room. A room is inside. This is what people in rooms have to agree on, as differentiated from lawns, meadows, fields, orchards.”

Maybe these aren’t the absolute best examples, but do you see what I mean? It’s the terse sentences, the cadences. They all sound the same. It’s especially noticeable in that too-long conversation I complained about earlier.

All of that said, no matter what unnecessary text made it into the middle, the beginning and ending of White Noise are excellent, and those parts, alone, make this novel worth reading. You reach the climax and the conversation with the nun, and you’ll see what I mean. White Noise is always worth reading, over and over again. This time, as reluctant as I was to stop my pleasure-reading cruise, I’m glad I picked it up again, and I’m sure that, five or ten years down the line, I’ll say the same thing. White Noise really is a Great Novel, and it makes me feel just a little bit better about slogging my way through DeLillo’s lesser works.

2014 Book #52: The Bone Clocks

boneclocksI’ve been putting off writing this review since I finishedThe Bone Clocks because I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Now, of course, I’m behind again, so here it goes anyway. I’ll do my best to make sense of it.

The Bone Clocks is structured somewhat similarly to Cloud Atlas, in that the book is structured in parts with multiple narrators. Here, though, the whole story revolves around Holly Sykes, who begins as a runaway teenager who unwittingly gets involved in a supernatural war. We meet Holly at the beginning and return to her in the end, but most of the rest of the novel is told by other characters – including a college student with few morals; her husband (were they married?), who needed to be in dangerous parts of the world, reporting on various wars; and a writer who won a huge award but for whom things have gone downhill since. It’s a complicated story in which all the characters have a part to play in the Script of the supernatural war going on around them. Yeah. That’s why I’ve been putting off writing this review.

Not far into this book, I decided that it’s Exactly My Kind of Book. It’s like Murakami-goes-scifi. I can definitely see Murakami’s influence on Mitchell. That said, it could have been better, though I’m not sure how. A lesser writer would have made it into a series, but it works best as one Very Big Novel, though maybe its epic-ness can be a bit overwhelming.

I know. This review isn’t very helpful at all. So I’ll just make a recommendation: Read it. It’s worth your time. It’s funny that after all of that long novel, I don’t have much to say about it. I will say, though, that it’s not as good as Cloud Atlas, but it’s not too far behind.

In Puppy News (I know it’s what you’re really here for), Zelda has lost some of her lady parts and recovered from her surgery. Her stitches were removed last Saturday, and she has returned to her usual level of ridiculousness.

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She was no fan of the Cone of Shame.

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Palmer doesn’t like the Cone of Shame, either.

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But that’s all in the past, now. Back to our regular programming.

Until next weekend, anyway, when I attempt to take Zelda to Houston. That should be interesting.

Food: Not pretty enough for Pinterest, but tasty as all hellz (a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie)

I’ve been planning on (re)introducing food posts to this blog for a while, now, so here goes. (It’s a particularly good time because I need to review The Bone Clocks but am having a hard time settling it in my mind.)

I have a ginormous stack of cookbooks at home, but I tend to get most of my recipes from Pinterest, which is a pity because so many excellent recipes are just plain ugly. Like this one! (I’ll put a lovely photo of a sunset down at the bottom so your eyes aren’t assaulted by Facebook’s choices of images.)

This is my dad’s recipe for what seems to be a non-traditional Shepherd’s Pie, which is funny because I don’t think I’ve ever had traditional Shepherd’s Pie – you know, the kind onto which you pipe out mashed potatoes and stick in the oven for however long. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie, though, is much more photogenic. This recipe involves no baking and only takes a few minutes to make, so it’s good for weeknights. It involves one specialized ingredient, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Here’s how to make it, in brief: Brown your ground beef, kind-of drain it, add vegetables, add spices, pour it over mashed potatoes. The End.

Easy, right?

Well, here’s the (very minor) catch: it involves Kitchen Bouquet. I’ve never used it for anything other than this specific dish, and every time I have to buy it, finding it is a nightmare. Sometimes it’s near the spices, and sometimes it’s near the barbecue sauce. Most grocery stores have it. Here’s a photo of it next to the organic, non-chemically cream of mushroom soup I insist on using even though I’m adding All the Chemicals with Kitchen Bouquet:

I promise it’s worth it. Here’s a lovely before-and-after shot:

Kitchen Bouquet makes a huge difference in color and taste and is one of the very few situations when I will willingly deposit chemicals into my food. Just do it.

And don’t neglect the mashed potatoes! I make these ugly, too!

I leave the skin on because Fiber Is Good for You. 2 or 3 good-size potatoes should suffice. I just boil them until they’re soft, then dump them in a bowl with a dash of salt and however much butter and milk I feel like adding. I like them plain and lumpy.

And there you have it! An excellent, but very ugly, recipe for Shepherd’s Pie that won’t set you back any oven-time. Of course I choose what is quite possibly the ugliest recipe I have for a first recipe post. Anyway, let me know if you try it.

Shepherd's Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp Kitchen Bouquet
  • Mashed potatoes (3-ish)
Instructions
  1. Brown the beef, half-ass drain. Add veggies, cook until soft. Add salt and pepper. Add cream of mushroom soup. Add Kitchen Bouquet, add more if not brown enough. Put on top of mashed potatoes.
Notes
.05 carb factor for the meatz. In case you're counting.

Aaaand here is our beautiful sunset that will end up on Facebook. Dog-walking is an excellent activity.

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2014 Book #51: Authority

authorityAuthority is the second book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, to which I am hopelessly addicted. This one begins to fill in the mysteries surrounding Area X and the biologist’s experiences there that we read about in Annihilation. Which means that if you haven’t read Annihilation, you probably shouldn’t be reading this review.

So. Authority picks up where Annihilation left off. The biologist, the anthropologist, and the surveyor all somehow survived Area X, even though they appeared to be dead (and thought they were?) at the end of the first novel. The anthropologist and the surveyor have returned blank like their predecessors from the eleventh expedition, and the biologist seems to be in a similar state, but that’s not necessarily the case. We hear this story from Control, the new director of the Southern Reach, which oversees expeditions into Area X. Control’s real name is John, but, like the characters in the first novel, he dispenses with his name. We find out early that the psychologist in the twelfth expedition had been the director, but something happened, and no one knows where she is or even if she’s alive. Control begins the long process of unraveling the various mysteries surrounding Area X and the government’s involvement with it.

I didn’t like Authority as much as I liked Annihilation, but I’m not sure why that is. In the first novel, the lush, bizarre landscape added to the mystery and the general creepiness. For the most part, Authority is set in a governmental research building with political intrigue and such. It’s just not as appealing to the senses. Also, I listened to an audiobook version of this one, read by Bronson Pinchot. Pauses at strange places in the reading disconcerted me several times, though that could have had something to do with my listening at 1.5x speed.

That said, I have the final audiobook, Acceptance, queued up in my phone, ready to play once the puppy has recovered from her spay – which means I’ll start listening to it in a week. I’d probably enjoy the book more, except that I’ve told myself that as soon as I finish The Bone Clocks, I have to begin my Forced DeLillo Binge in preparation for my thesis defense so I have some idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not looking forward to that at all.

Speaking of Zelda, she has become quite the traveler:

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She has a car harness that attaches her to the seatbelt. On Saturday, we took her on a Field Trip to get her nails trimmed and to run various puppy-errands. Her first grooming experience was not a success.

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The groomer got one back paw’s nails trimmed, then gave up because she would be still, so when I dropped her off at the vet on Monday to be spayed, I asked them to trim them when she’s out. I assume that went more smoothly.

Without a puppy in the house, Palmer and I have had more time to adventure in Minecraft. We finally made it to the jungle!

We *finally* made it to the jungle!

It’s super-far away from the spawn point, so it took us a couple play sessions to get there. Palmer built an awesome treehouse, and I’m going exploring today after the puppy gets home and settled. Then, maybe we can find a cat!

2014 Books #48, 49, and 50: People of the Book, Unholy Night, The God Delusion

I’m tired of being behind, so I’m going to catch up in one fell swoop. It almost makes sense because these books are kind of related since they all involve religion, though of very, very different sorts. So here’s my Lazy Rundown of Three Almost-But-Not-Really Related Books So They Aren’t Hanging over My Head Anymore.

peopleofthebookPeople of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, happened because it was available on OverDrive when I needed another audiobook because puppy. I read and enjoyed Year of Wonders, about the bubonic plague, several years ago, and I was expecting another reasonably good historical novel, which I got. People of the Book is about an old book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, and how it survived. Hanna Heath, a rare book expert, is asked to go to Sarajevo to preserve it, and through backstories related to her investigations, we find out, in reverse order, when and how the book was made and how it survived when it should have been destroyed by the Inquisition and the Nazis, among others. It’s a really interesting look into Jewish history of which I only had (and still have) a vague knowledge. There was too much unnecessary romance for my taste, and this is generally Not My Kind of Book, but I enjoyed it well enough. If it hadn’t been an audiobook, though, I doubt I would have finished it because parts were slow and I’m generally not good at historical novels.

unholynightNext up is Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the like. I don’t think I realized that until I was well into Unholy Night. This is another case of OverDrive Audiobook Convenience, and I enjoyed this one. It’s a (mostly) comedy about how the Three Wise Men got together and saved baby Jesus and his parents. Balthazar, the protagonist, is a well-known thief, called the Antioch Ghost, who has sparked Herod’s particular hatred. Balthazar cheats, kills, lies, and occasionally gets caught, leading to ridiculous escapes and adventures across the desert. He experiences visions that lead him to that fateful night in Bethlehem, where he saves Jesus from Herod and eventually sees him safely into Egypt despite many attempted captures. I thought I might be getting into something that’s sacrilegious, but it’s not, so don’t expect to be offended if you lean that way. It’s a fun and funny adventure novel, and it’s totally worth a read.

goddelusionFinally, we have The God Delusion. I’ve been meaning to read some Richard Dawkins for a while. It’s good that this is part of a multi-entry because I don’t have much to say about it because my beliefs are not the internet’s business, and it’s really hard to talk about this book without saying whether I agree with him or not. But I’m not going to say! What I will say is that Dawkins makes some interesting arguments. He says at the beginning of the book that this book’s purpose is to turn believers into atheists. I’d be interested to know if that’s worked even once because, even as he says, religious belief is so ingrained in personality by the time anyone gets old enough to question it logically. From the outset, Dawkins has a huge hill to climb, and he doesn’t help with his tone: he is a very arrogant man, and he comes off as bitter to the point that his non-objectivity dampens the effectiveness of his arguments. So. Do with that very vague review what you will.

red-50And with that, I’ve hit my annual fifty books! …in September. Last year, I think I made 61, and I might or might not go farther than that. I’ve considered taking the rest of the year off from blogging, but that’s not likely to happen, especially now that I’m caught up. Most of the books I’ve finished lately have been audiobooks because puppy. Right now, I’m in the middle of The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell‘s new novel, and that’ll take a while to finish. There’s also my current audiobook, Authority, the second of the Southern Reach trilogy. And there’s the thesis, which needs to take more of my time than it currently is, which means some Don DeLillo is (sadly?) in my future.

In Puppy News, Zelda is getting spayed on Tuesday. :( She’s six months old, and it’s time. Poor puppy.

Zelda and I saw white spider lilies on our walk this morning!

And, finally, it’s Fall Baking Season! I’m seriously considering adding some recipes to this blog, though that will be difficult because of my non-aesthetically pleasing kitchen. Anyway, I made some super-tasty apple-pumpkin muffins the other day.

I'm pretty sure Fall is the best food season. This morning, I celebrated with apple-pumpkin muffins. Yum!

I only took a picture of the end product, not the various steps I took in getting there, so I’ll just add a link to the recipe I used.

2014 Book #47: Annihilation

annihilationAnnihilation reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone, complete with the explanatory monologue at the end. I could hear Rod Serling’s voice in my head. I think that’s why I liked Annihilation so much.

It’s about the twelfth expedition to Area X, a mysterious plot of land that has been under investigation for thirty years because of mysterious occurrences. This expedition includes four women: an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a biologist. They are never named, and the biologist narrates in journal-form. The situation seems weird from the beginning. They discover a tunnel into the ground, which the biologist insists on calling a tower, and descend to find a scrawl of mysterious and terrifying words. The biologist gets close enough to discover that they’re some sort of fungus, and inhales, infecting herself with…something. The biologist discovers that the psychologist, who leads the group, has been giving posthypnotic commands to them all along, but this fungus has made the biologist impervious. She goes on to discover some of the mysteries of Area X and what it does to her and her fellow expeditioners.

In a way, Annihilation reminded me of Bird Box, which might be another reason I liked it. The reader sees the world through the biologist’s tunnel-vision, affected somehow by that fungus, but she doesn’t know how, and she keeps it a secret from the other women. We’re kept in the dark, waiting for her to write something down that makes sense of things, like discovering this area as she does.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer. All three books were published this year, only a couple of months apart and only in paperback. That seems like a strange move, though they were first self-published, I think, so maybe it makes sense? Anyway, I’ll be reading the second and third, Authority and Acceptance in short order because I’m entirely hooked.

Shakespeare was not nearly as enthusiastic:

In other news, I finally finished uploading photos from my one-day whirlwind tour of Washington, DC. Here’s the full set.


(Dog) Food: How to make Alligators!

alligatorsAt the beginning of this year, I made the decision to stick with book-themed posts rather than make my random deviations into food and photography, and, well, I’m breaking that rule here because I want to Share the Wealth.

Alligators are Zelda’s very favorite treat. She pricks up her ears every time she hears the word, and she’ll willingly walk into her kennel and sit down to enjoy one of these tasty treats. I make them twice a month, or so. One batch makes around 85, but they disappear very quickly. I like that I know what’s in them and that they don’t contain soylent dog or some equally unappetizing substance. Sure, lots of people disapprove of feeding dogs wheat, but Zelda enjoys it, and I don’t think it’s much worse for her than it is for humans (have you read Wheat Belly?).

So here goes: How to Make Alligators!

You’ll need all of 4 ingredients. You probably have them in your kitchen right now.

2 cups wheat flour (don’t substitute all-purpose)
1 cup oats
1-1/4 cups hot water
1/3 cup peanut butter

Preheat your oven to 350. In a medium bowl, mix up the oats and wheat flour:

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Then, get your peanut butter and dump it in the bottom of another bowl (I use a stand mixer, but a spoon will probably work).

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Pour in your hot tap water and mix it until it’s reasonably blended. It’ll look kind of gross.

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Next, pour in the dry ingredients and mix it all up. You’ll get a nice, thick dough.

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Roll it out to 1/4- or 1/8-inch thick and cut it into the shapes of your choosing. I use an alligator cookie cutter my stepmother gave me several years ago. If you absolutely hate cookie cutters, roll it out and cut it into squares with a pizza cutter. Your dog won’t mind.

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Put your squares or alligators or mustaches or whatever on a cookie sheet and bake them for about 25 minutes.

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They come out of the oven looking almost exactly like they did going in.

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Once they’re cool, store them in an airtight container or freeze them. They’ll probably last forever in either case since no perishable ingredients are involved.

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Zelda loves them – except when I try to capture said love on video. Then, she’s totally nonchalant.

Easy, eh?

2014 Book #46: Doomed

doomedI see what you’re doing, Chuck Palahniuk. You’ve written a Purgatorio to go after Damned, your Inferno. We all know what’s coming next.

I only read Doomed because I own (won) it, so I’ve been meaning to read it only for that reason, and it was immediately available on OverDrive when I needed another audiobook to read. Which means that I didn’t even read the copy I won. Anyway, I’d been putting it off because I didn’t remember liking Damned, though I apparently did. It’s funny how quickly I forget books and what I thought about them. Which is why I keep this blog – but that’s neither here nor there.

In this installment of Palahniuk’s Divine Comedy, thirteen-year-old Madison ends up stranded on Earth. She’d made a reasonably comfortable place for herself in Hell, but the Universe had other plans for her. She’s somehow supposed to reconcile God and Satan. But that doesn’t exactly happen yet. I imagine it will in the third book of the trilogy. Here, she’s a ghost, getting into trouble on Earth and finding out exactly what’s going on with her parents. She meets her dead grandparents and tells stories about their involvement in her life and death. Things Happen – this time involving a new religion and an entirely plastic continent floating on the ocean, composed of styrofoam and similar societal discards.

Like DamnedDoomed is funny, but that’s its only saving grace. It’s certainly not as good. I’ll read the third one just because I’ve read these two, and I’m vaguely interested in what happens to Madison and her family.

A bit of a warning: if you have a weak stomach, this is not the book for you. There’s a long scene (45 minutes of audio, or so) involving a glory hole in a truck stop and what Madison (at thirteen years old?) thinks is a big piece of dog poo. It’s not pretty. If you’ve read Palahniuk before, though, this is just par for the course.

In non-book news, I got mad enough at Apple because my iPhone 5 kept breaking that I went over to Verizon and bought a Samsung Galaxy S5. I was worried that I might regret it, but it appears to have been a fantastic decision. I’m considering writing an entire post about the glories of Android.

There’s also, of course, the puppy. She got first photo honors with my new phone:

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She’s starting to look more like a dog than a puppy, which is a bit disconcerting. She’s so big!