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This post is going to be a bit of a whine. We’ve been dealing with a lot of health issues this year and it seems that things get better and then they get not so very much better — meaning things slide downhill. I was just congratulating myself that I’d made it through Capclave okay with only a minor headache and a few muscle spasms. Then, I felt up for World Fantasy Convention (WFC) in Columbus, Ohio. Had a great time at both conventions.

Got a lot of exercise as well as fresh air walking about within a 1/2 to a mile of the hotel while in Columbus. However, had a couple of severe muscle spasm and a low grade migraine the last two day which got worse on the drive home to Maryland. The day before we left to come home, our cat sitter texted that the cat, Dorian, had a few accidents but was still greeting her when she came to the house and didn’t seem lethargic.

Just after Christmas last year, Dorian had a severe downturn in his health but recovered and is known in the vet’s office as the miracle cat because they didn’t think he’d make it at all. He’s got a heart problem and only 1 half of a functioning kidney and is 14 years old going on 15 (so in cat years that mid-70s). We got home to number of accidents (from both ends – use your imagination) throughout the house. We called the vet and took him right in. He was dehydrated and with really high levels in his blood work that indicate his kidney may be shutting down. They did some rehydration and gave him anti-nausea meds along with some other medications. We took him home and had to bring him in again today. He was there all day for treatment. His tests came back today much better in some way and yet still worrisome. He’ll go in again tomorrow and then we may, depending on his test results, have to start making some very hard decisions about his quality of life. He’s more active and moving about but seems not himself. I’m cautiously optimistic but still worried.

Afterall, what can you be but cautiously optimistic when the cat sits and stares at the bubbling water bowl for extended period so time. Maybe it is cat meditation. Currently, he’s crawled under the lowest level of the cat tree and is not sleeping but probably contemplating the universe and his place in it.

Meanwhile, the magazines (SFRevu.com and GumshoeReview.com) went up as planned on November 1st. However, I still have some things to do — essential the reviews I was doing still need to be finished and added to the contents as well as writing the overview editorial for each magazine. Hoping that a good nights sleep will finally vanish the migraine — it is really hard to think clearly when someone invisible is using your head for an anvil.

If the headache finally eases off with a good nights sleep, I can finish up tomorrow while Dorian, the cat, is again at the vets. But, with so much stress my allergies and asthma have kicked in. This puts a bit of perspective on the migraines — though on the whole, lots of pain vs difficulty breathing seem to be in a tie.

Life goes on so far.

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This past month has been one thing after another. It seemed like I spent half the month in doctor’s offices or waiting for someone who was in for a procedure to drive them home.

I’m now taking an extra antihistamine and, for the last few days, it’s been making me feel like a zombie. When asked a question there’s a significant pause while I have to parse the sentence and retrieve the answer. May make you drowsy. May make you sleep through your day with your eyes open and minimal functioning. On the plus side the itching is nearly bearable but the headaches are back.

The upshot is that the two magazine (SFRevu.com and GumshoeReview.com) are going to be up online on time but missing the reviews assigned to me. Those reviews will be added in over the next few days as they’ll take me longer to draft, write, and edit. It helps if you’re awake — or so I’ve been told.

I missed Balticon this year also. I got email with my program schedule and I wasn’t on anything as far as I could tell so, since I was feel crappy I decided not stay home and sleep. Hopefully, next year May won’t jump on me with both feet.

Enough whining from me. But hopefully, I can get back to updating my blog regularly.

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A Shooting Star Hydrangea with Pointsettias

I love Christmas. It’s the best time of the year as far as I’m concerned. No matter what is going on in my life, Christmas always energizes me and makes me feel alive. I fall in love with my world and the people in it again. That spirit keeps me going for the next 12 months until it is renewed the following year.

At least, that’s how it used to be. This year, well I’m just not feeling it. I’m watching my collection of Christmas movies and for a while I feel the start of that uplifting spirit and then I read the news — or go out shopping. That’s when the spirit just sort of drains away.

It’s little things. The cashiers at the stores smile but it doesn’t reach their eyes. They don’t look at you. I’m obviously female but I’m usually called ‘Sir’ — really. It you can’t be bothered to look at your customer perhaps you can come up with phrases that don’t rely on gender identification.

It’s being cut off in traffic, for a parking space, having doors let go when you’re just a few inches shy of being able to take over. I always make a habit of holding a door for the person behind me or open it for the person in front if they are having problems. It’s just manners. What’s happened to us?

People just seem so angry all the time now. I understand the feeling; I really do. It’s hard when you listen to the talk of hate and bigotry being spewed on the airwaves lately. But really. All humans share this world and we really should strive to make it a better world. We can’t do much but we can take the time to hold an elevator for someone coming toward it when we’re right there by the button. To open a door for someone — male or female. To smile and wish someone a good day.

Life is a series of moments and if each of us will make the effort to smile and do a bit of kindness every day, to think of the things we’re thankful for each night before falling asleep, maybe you’ll help someone else have a good thing happen to them they didn’t expect. They’ll pass on that good feeling and maybe inspire someone else.

Small acts of kindness can build until maybe, just maybe, the Grinch-y feeling will go away for more of us.

Now, I wish each of you a good day, and restful evening, and an even more joyous tomorrow.

Yesterday, we finally decided to do something to decorate for Christmas. The Shooting Star Hydrangea surrounded by Poinsettias has brightened up my living room. Now maybe I can begin to get in the Christmas spirit — I think I’ll put another movie in the player and believe that everyone is looking to make the world a better and kinder place for humans of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

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It seems that for the last several months every weekend was taken up with chores, meetings of one type or another, running errands, or dealing with some problem or inconvenience. Anyway, this weekend we ran all our errands yesterday. So, today I’m catching up on database entry, email checking/clearing/answering/sorting by priority, and updating my next week’s To Do list.


Four days ago, our ‘new’ rescue cat, Simba, went out to get some fresh air and didn’t come back. We’d been calling for him every few hours, and getting more and more worried for him. As of this morning, we were finally admitting to one another that we probably weren’t going to see him again. Temperatures had been pretty low during the night so we hoped he’d found an emergency back-up family (as cats often do). But it’s been fairly warm the last couple of days, so if he was snoozing on someone else’s hearthrug, we figured he’d come around to see to his food bowl. So, reluctantly, we figured he was just gone. So, not expecting to see him again after four days, this afternoon, he came back. Our older cat, Emnot, isn’t too happy with Simba’s reappearance though.


Simba has a medical condition and so he’d been four days without his meds. His left eye was dripping like a faucet (his medical problem) and he was starving or so he said/indicated (you know what I mean). He seemed healthy (except for the dripping eye) and very happy to see us. Can’t help but wonder where he was while he was missing. So, the first thing we did was put the extra collar on him (he came back without one). Before you ask — yes, he’s chipped. But we get him break-away collars and the one we put on him today is his fifth. And we put collars on the grocery list to pick up a couple more spares. I’m sure he’ll be needing them.


We’re watching a Season 3 marathon of Dr. Who. We just bought Season 4 but will finish 3 first.


Today was household chores and baking day. Wash is already done, folded, and put away. We baked Chocolate Coconut Scones, and Banana Nut Muffins. For the first time in a what seems like ages, I’m warm since the oven has been on most of today. Now that we’ve got goodies to eat, I’ll have to be careful, because hubby and I are back on calorie watch. But we will be indulging in an ignore-the-calories day for Valentines.


I’ve dug out my sock in progress and need to figure out where I am on the heel and work on it once we sit to watch another episode of Dr. Who. Also, got Divergent from Netflix so need to watch that soon too.


Except for the insomnia, or was it the headache, that woke me up at 4 this morning, and having to play catching up on work stuff it’s looking like a good restful day. The crazy starts again tomorrow.

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Of course it would happen. The minute I post that I’ll be getting this blog up and running again the world — my world — conspires to see that it doesn’t happen. I’ve been so busy lately. First, there was getting the magazines up and live on time. Then there was gearing up for Capclave, attending Capclave, and decompressing from Capclave. Then getting back in the groove to get the next issues of SFRevu and Gumshoe set to go live on November 1st. But, wait there’s more — I’m doing at-con registration for this year’s World Fantasy Convention in DC so there’s been meetings, planning, working with the pre-con reg people and programming people and others to be sure nothing gets forgotten in the registration packets and we don’t duplicate effort. Luckily, the chairs of the convention this year are great people and keeping us all on track.

Meanwhile, there’s been the headaches — they’re baaaack. Mostly they’ve been related to the weird changes in the weather. Luckily, none have yet reached migraine status — that hardly every happens now that I see an acupuncturist fairly regularly and have started to meditate (or my version of meditation anyway).

I’ve been losing weight and exercising. The weight loss has helped with the arthritis and the exercise is supposed to help with losing weight and with my fibromyalgia. Some days it’s all I can do to make my steps for the day. I swear some days there’s just not enough spoons in my world but I force myself to push on — one step at a time. Paul got me a mp3 player (Sansa) and that has really helped with the walking — I’ve been listening to NPR Ted Talks and audiobooks. Love the Ted Talk compilations and find them really entertaining as well as informative. For audiobooks — I’ve downloaded from Librivox so they’re mostly public domain. I’ve listened to “The Man Who Was Thursday”, “Emma”, and “The Letters of Jane Austen” (finishing this one tomorrow I believe). I started “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” but it kept referring to maps and while I’m pretty good at geography I was having a hard time picturing the terrain in my head so put it aside for awhile. Then I started “The Federalist Papers” and so far have listened to 1 to 6. I end up playing each paper two or three or more times to be sure I really get it all. Honestly, if I didn’t know they were written so long ago, I’d swear they were about what’s happening in politics today. So, my long walk everyday takes up a chunk of time but it does stimulate the brain and keep me going. I will have to come up with some way to stay warm once it gets colder and after walking in a misting rain the other day, I’ve got to get better walking shoes so my feet don’t get so wet. (It’s wonderful to come in to a hot cup of tea and dry thick wool socks though and a 1/2 hour of sitting with the cat and reading.)

I’ve got so many plans and so little time. I need more days in a month and more hours in a day to get everything I need to do done. To top it all off, I’m all set to do NaNoWriMo again this year. Sometimes, I just can’t square the hours in a day with the stuff I want to do. So far I have a lot of scenes and partial chapters from previous years so I’m trying to get an outline done for this year so I know where I’m going or I’ll end up with more scenes, character studies, and interesting settings again. Not that they don’t occasionally come in handy.

I’ve also finally got around to unearthing my knitting projects. Several pairs of socks on the needles in various stages of done-ness. Got one pair all done except for weaving in the ends of the cut yarn. I did pick up the stitches for the first sleeve on the top-down sweater I started in August — really need to watch a movie or two and that would be all done, but squeezing out the time is an issue at the moment.

I’ve got six books read so far this month but I need to finish the reviews for the zines and then post the ones for Amazon Vine, and for here on the blog. I should be posting the review of the Manga Classic version of Pride and Prejudice soon.

What have you been doing?

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Today my husband and I planned a date. We would go out to eat, and then to a movie (Guardians of the Galaxy). The new theater has very comfortable recliner-type seats and the trailers of the movie were outrageously funny. We even had to turn down a couple of invitations because of our plans to spend some quality time together. But like all plans, they seldom stand up to circumstances.

The circumstance this time was that … well, I have to start back a bit. We’ve been doing a lot of yard work this year to make up for the several years of neglect from various problems of health and time. Time is always a problem and we’ve (hubby and I) always had difficulty saying no when we really want to do something and so often find ourselves over committed and burning the candle at both ends to be sure to meet all our commitments. Anyway, we’ve been doing yard work — lots and lots of it. From clearing out the old garden area, refreshing the soil, planting a garden (doing well of this, by the way, this year) and reclaiming a walking path around the perimeter of the property that has become overgrown — so clearing brush.

The upshot is that I’ve had poison ivy treated three times so far this year. The doctor wants me to be very careful and stay with antihistamines and use steroid cream. That had been working, until hubby finally got a case of poison ivy that didn’t go away in a couple of days as it usually had. Instead it just hangs on, and as one area seems to heal, it breaks out in another. And, I’ve been picking it up from him — again treating an area and having it get better but popping up somewhere else. So far I’m holding my own in the fight but it’s taking its toll.

This morning he had some new patches and so did I. He finally gave in and went to the clinic — we hoped he could get in and see someone get the steroid pills and we’d go to the next showing. Well, best laid plans and all that. The place was crowded. By the time he was registered in, seen, got the Rx, filled it and we got out. It was mid-afternoon.

We still hadn’t had breakfast yet. I hadn’t had coffee yet. And, if you read this blog you know how dangerous that is. So we decided to eat first so hubby could take his first dose.

By the time we got to the restaurant, ordered, ate, and paid it was late afternoon and we needed to get the weekly shopping done and back home. The pills had Paul nearly asleep on his feet, so I had to drive, not to mention that he’d have fallen asleep in the film by then.

So, we decided to do the shopping. I’d drive. Tomorrow we’ll try for the movie — again. This time no real date plans, nothing special going on just two people going to the movies — and we’ll see how messed up things can get. (That’s rhetorical… really.)

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Well, I say not much going on because things are only now beginning to show. I’ve been working a lot — A LOT — in the garden area. For the last several years health problems have kept us from doing much in the yard area of our home ground.

I’ll post pictures later but so far we’ve weeded and cleared out all the brush from the fruit orchard. A couple of the trees have died but most survived and seemed to have flowered and are starting to grow actual fruit. We’ve never really got any but that’s mostly because with the deer, the squirrels, and the birds, there’s usually not anything for us to pick if it lasts to ripen on the tree. But the worst of the mess is cleared out. We’ve got the areas around each tree cleared of all brush and crap and most now have a mulch mat around them. We’ve ordered some for the larger trees and we’ll get them down when they arrive.

The side yard, where our square foot gardens (2 of them) and the herb garden are located, is now cleared and the gardens have been planted with broccoli, pumpkin, radishes, carrots, nasturtiums, onion, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce (3 separate planters so we could stagger the crops), potato and tomatoes. The herb garden is mostly perennials. We’ve planted the annual herbs, and the ones that are invasive, in pots.

The quarter of the herb garden we’d planted with strawberries, we are now working on clearing out, since wild fake strawberries invaded and we never got any real strawberries. We figure we’ll clear it out and retry next year with a netting over the area. By then we should have a chance to see if we got all of the invaders. Meanwhile, we put strawberries in one of those deck planter things were you put 12 plants in one big pot. We’re getting lots of flowers and even some berries, but they seem to disappear during the night before they ripen fully. We’re suspecting the squirrels because they’re sneaky and sly but it could be the birds or even the raccoons we’ve chased off the deck (if you can call waddling away when we open the door being chased).

Today, we put the ladder up to the carport and climbed up to rake and sweep a couple of years of storm accumulation off. We still need to do our shed and the higher part of the house roof. I already did the lower section of the house roof, but still need to go over all the rain gutters.

We’ve been clearing some of the brush out of the woods around the house and thinning the trees a bit. We have five acres and hope to put in some walking paths (once we settle on a way to make them look natural, and with minimal upkeep). We also want to put some nice seating areas here and there for the peace and quiet and views of nature. — We’re really dreaming but it’s nice because our property backs onto other wooded acreages so it’s nice out here in the woods but with people just a few 100 yards away (in the right direction).

A side effect of all this working in the woods in making sure we do tick checks after every session of yard work. And, yes, we usually find them on us but, now that we’ve cleared the areas we’re mostly working in, not so much.

I’ve also been having a poison ivy adventure. I’m on my third course of prednisone and I’m really hoping that this is the last time. This time it is paired with a strong antihistamine and steroid cream. The blotches from the first and second poison ivy assaults seem to be clearing up as well as this last time. I see the doc tomorrow mid-course to check that maybe we’ve beaten it back. This last time, I wasn’t even out where the poison ivy was and it was popping up in areas that didn’t even get exposure — so systemic. I’m so done now with this that I won’t even touch something with shiny leave no matter how many leave they have or anything with three leave even if they aren’t shiny. I’m from Maine and I haven’t seen anything here that even actually looks like the poison ivy plants I’m used to from my childhood. I will learn to recognize it at some point hopefully before too much longer — we’ve got it down to between 4 different plants (all of which I’m now avoiding touching or even going near).

I figured it was about time I updated this blog regularly. I’m going to try for once a week for a while to get back into the groove of posting. I’ll add pictures to this entry once I can find the cord to download the photos from my camera to the laptop.

How are your gardens growing or do you even have one?

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Cover of The Soup & Bread Cookbook

The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. Rodale Books. Photographs by Hector Sanchez. ISBN: 978-1-60961-362-4. (Retail: $23.99 / Amazon: $18.47) (October 2013)

First, I love cookbooks. I buy them for many reasons besides wanting to make the delicious sounding recipes in them. I buy them for the beautiful photos or artwork, the way they’re set-up and designed, their clarity, and especially if the writing is clear, informative, entertaining, and the recipes themselves seem to be accurate (no ingredients hidden in the instructions that aren’t in the list of ingredients — that sort of thing). I even have the two books by Laurie Colwin that aren’t so much about the recipes as they are about cooking, food, and good eating and read like you were sitting around the table with a cuppa and just talking.

Ojakangas’ The Soup and Bread Cookbooks has some of that flavor for me. The introduction to each season’s recipes is sort of a quick overview of what the season means to her. There’s also some interesting background in the short information piece on each recipe. The recipes seem set up to make them easy to follow and the instructions are clear. Some of the recipes have variations and some of the bread recipes have instruction for using a bread machine rather than doing it all by hand.

My preference is for recipes and cookbooks that use actual ingredients rather than a can of this and a can of that, plus a box mix or two of something else. All the recipes use real food — which is better for you and your family. However, I did notice that many had a note on use of a canned or frozen ingredient as well as some substitutions if something wasn’t available in your area.

The photography was beautiful and it looks like this would be a cookbook you could sit and look at over and over.

Now for the cons:
Understand that I read a digital review copy which expired just about the time I finished reading through it. Digital review copies, as well as the print review copies are unfinished — there were a few places where there was just a note on what would be added, such as a sidebar. Even so, the instructions were still clear and concise — meaning I have great hopes for the finished edition. None of the recipes, in the copy I read, had calorie, carbs, etc. listed for a serving size. Normally, that wouldn’t be of interest to me but my family is being really careful right now due to a medical need to cut cholesterol and lose weight — so I’m more aware of this information not being readily available. WARNING: Since the copy I read was unfinished some of the material may change between the copy I read and the finished one you’ll find in your favorite bookstore.

Overall Impression:
Overall, I found this cookbook to be one I’ll more than likely go out and buy when it comes out in October. You’ll notice that the recipes that most often caught my attention are those for bread — I love bread. During the winter, I make bread — from scratch — nearly every week. While I currently have a bread machine, I still like to set it on dough and knead it — there’s something so satisfying and relaxing about making bread. Anyway, that another reviewer bias for you to add into the mix.

Now for the details:
Basics: Stocks, Broths, and Basic Breads
This section contained some recipes as well as helpful information and tips.
Recipes: Basic Chicken Stock, Two-for-One Chicken Stock (for soup stock and flavoring beans and rice dishes, braising vegetables, etc.), Two-for-One Beef Stock. Soup Tips: Cooling Stock Safely, Tips for making broth or stocks in a slow cooker, How to freeze stocks and Broths, Basic Vegetable Broth.

Glossary of Bread-Baking Basics
This section had some really good advice on breadmaking and some tips on how to get it right.
Recipes included: Fresh Baguette, Basic Vegetable Soup (whatever is in the house soup), Basic Home-Baked Bread (with Variations)

The book is arranged with the recipes chosen for what fresh ingredients would be available, and to deal with the heat or cold of the time of year. For each season, I’ve listed the total number of recipes for either soup or bread and the recipes that really got me wanting to pull out the pots and pans and try out. Luckily, I just did a read through because the book expired before I finished reading it through and if I’d stopped to cook along the way, I wouldn’t have gotten through it.

Spring:
27 soup and bread recipes
Some recipes that sounded interesting: Herbed Biscuit Muffins, Wheat Germ Batter Bread, Rosemary Focaccia, Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, Asian Lemon-Ginger Soup, Cheddar Cheese Onion Scones, Walleye Chowder, and Super Simple Salmon Chowder.

Summer
24 soup and bread recipes
A sample listing of the recipes in this section I enjoyed reading: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits, Avgolemondo Soup, Pita Bread, Summer Day Herb-scented Soup, Whole-Grain Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread, Bacon Parmesan Crackers, Red Curry & Coconut Bread, Spiced Zucchini Soup10-minute Chickpea-Tomato Soup, Easy Refrigerator Rolls. Cranberry Bean & Pasta Soup. Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Cowboy Beer & Cheddar Bread.

Autumn:
26 soup and bread recipes
The first recipe in this section is for Stone Soup based on the children’s story. This is great for an autumn party potluck dinner and the author gives suggestions for what the guests should bring, as well as a bit of the story of stone soup.

Some of the recipes that caught my eye as ones I’d really like to make are: Oatmeal Batter Bread, Curried Chicken Wild Rice Soup, Dutch Raisin Bread, Green Cabbage & Hamburger Soup, Honey Whole Wheat Cranberry-Nut Bread, Brie & Apple Soup, Granola Loaf, Buttermilk Corn Muffins, and Curried Pumpkin Soup.

I was surprised by the Old-Fashioned Gridded Cheese, Apple, & Basil Sandwiches. I love grilled cheese sandwiches and often have them with swiss cheese, onion, and tomato but never thought of using apple and basil — what was I thinking, or rather not thinking to never consider this taste combination? I’ve got to try this in the fall when we usually have apples in the house.

Winter:
30 soup and bread recipes.
Some of the recipes that intrigued me in this section: Spicy Black Bean Soup (one can never have enough black bean soup recipes), Oatmeal Rusks, Brown Bread Muffins, New Year’s Good Luck Lentil Soup, Johnnycake, Herbed White Bean & Sausage Soup, Beer Biscuits, Cumin & Coriander Bean Soup, Senate Bean Soup (similar to one served in the US Senate dining room), Molasses Wheat Loaf, Rustic Rye Bread, Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pork, Overnight Mini Croissants, Russian Black Bread (there’s chocolate and coffee in this one), Cabbage & Apple Soup, Mulligan Stew, and Feijoada (a black bean soup with oranges).

All in all, a great cookbook, especially if you have a garden or a good produce section in your local stores. Not a lot of specialty items needed. Soups are always great because you can stretch them out to feed company or for several meals. Since many people are cutting their budgets and food is usually a big expense for most families — soups and homemade bread would be a great way to serve nutritious meals at a lower cost per person.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

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