Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

bold bunny
more cat pictures

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Food poisoning

Food poisoning, the illness that, like seasickness, frightens you at first because you think you're going to die, then again later because you're afraid you won't. My latest bout with this problem was over the weekend. During that time I had occasion to recall the first two lines of "Fat Man's Prayer," by that wonderfully talented character actor and entertaining poet, the late Victor Buono. He published a volume of poetry in 1972, "It Could Be Verse," which is available on and a few other sites. Mr. Buono recorded an album, "Heavy!" on which he read a selection of his own poetry. I used to own them both, and I endorse them still for fun purchases.

"Fat Man's Prayer"

Lord, My soul is ripped with riot
incited by my wicked diet.
"We Are What We Eat," said a wise old man!
and, Lord, if that's true, I'm a garbage can.
I want to rise on Judgment Day, that's plain!
But at my present weight, I'll need a crane.
So grant me strength, that I may not fall
into the clutches of cholesterol.

May my flesh with carrot-curls be sated,
that my soul may be polyunsaturated
And show me the light, that I may bear witness
to the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

And at oleomargarine I'll never mutter,
for the road to Hell is spread with butter.
And cream is cursed; and cake is awful;
and Satan is hiding in every waffle.

Mephistopheles lurks in provolone;
the Devil is in each slice of baloney,
Beelzebub is a chocolate drop,
and Lucifer is a lollipop.

Give me this day my daily slice
but, cut it thin and toast it twice.
I beg upon my dimpled knees,
deliver me from jujubees.

And when my days of trial are done,
and my war with malted milk is won,
Let me stand with the Saints in Heaven
In a shining robe--size 37.

I can do it Lord, If You'll show to me,
the virtues of lettuce and celery.
If You'll teach me the evil of mayonnaise,
of pasta a la Milannaise
potatoes a la Lyonnaise
and crisp-fried chicken from the South.

Lord, if you love me, shut my mouth.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

(nearly) Wordless Wednesday

see more dog pictures

In honor of National Hot Dog Day

Some of my best friends are animals

funny pictures
more cat pictures

It's true; many of those I love best are animals. Tucket, my wobbler kitten who is now ten months old, is recovering from tearing her tail ligaments. I never thought about tail ligaments until she tore hers. As far as I can tell, she injured them when she fell backward off a bed and landed on her tail. Most cats use their tails for balance, but hers is merely ornamental.

I came across a wonderful, little book a couple of years ago, a book which I would enjoy rereading and which I recommend to other animal-lovers. "Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds," by Chris Chester, is a funnny, heartwarming, true story of a man and the birds that came to share his home. Sparrows may be considered pernicious by many, but B, the sparrow in the book, turns out to have personality plus. B was a featherless nestling when found by the author, and he came to dominate Mr. Chester's home as he grew. Eventually, two male finches joined the household. Mr. and Mrs. Chester learn to play "sparrow games," among other things as their lives become evermore entwined with their avian friends'.

I loved the book's wit, its literary references and its warm humor. I also enjoy discovering people's unusual ways of living. This would make a dandy beach or vacation book, but it would also brighten one's winter reading.

Now here is a prayer, by an anonymous writer, followed by a quotation on Christian treatment of animals.

"Maker of earth and sea and sky,
Creation's sovereign Lord and King,
Who hung the starry worlds on high,
And formed alike the sparrow's wing;
Bless the dumb creatures of Thy care,
And listen to their voiceless prayer."

"I believe where the love of God is verily perfected, and the true spirit of government watchfully attended to, a tenderness toward all creatures made subect to us will be experienced; and a care felt in us, that we do not lessen that sweetness of life in the animal creation, which the great Creator intends for them under our government...To say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by His life, or by life derived from Him, was a contradiction in itself." (John Woolman)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reader's (in)Digest(ion)

What would you make if I gave you a pound of Velveeta, a pound of butter, a cup of cocoa, four pounds of powdered sugar and a tablespoon of vanilla? Why,chocolate cheese fudge, of course.

Hungry? How about if I tell you that the best way to serve cocktail weiners or rumaki (bacon-wrapped chicken livers and water chestnuts) is swimming in a brew of Coca-Cola and grape jelly and/or barbecue sauce?

Here is a famous recipe for potato salad: boiled potatoes, milk, Miracle Whip and salt. The creator of the recipe says "it offends no one," but I beg to disagree.

Do salmon fillets coated with mayonnaise and cornflakes and cooked in margarine, sour cream, cheese and canned tomatoes with chilis sound good? If so, perhaps you are the one who wants my recently acquired selection of community cookbooks.

I found these recipes and scads more when I browsed cookbooks I found while helping clear someone's house. They are from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, and most of them are from the MidWest. The cookbooks show a rather touching dependence on canned soup, "oleo," Wesson oil, Velveeta, canned milk, bacon, salt and sugar. The canned soups go toward making gravies and sauces; most of the soups are creamed chicken, mushroom, and so on, though tomato soup pops up frequently.

I used to attend many church lunches and dinners during the years that these cookbooks were published, and I saw many familiar recipes. I recalled the year that chicken salad with grapes swept the nation, then it was chicken salad with canned mandarin oranges and Chinese noodles. Those recipes are here. Also here is the grandaddy of recipes that took the nation by storm, pot roast made with (dried) Lipton Onion Soup mix. Then there is the "ideal side dish," Stove-Top Stuffing mixed with canned soup and broccoli. Its contributor says it's perfect with anything.

These cookbooks were compiled from recipes submitted by members of churches, women's clubs, charitable organzations, hospitals and others. The most popular recipes appear time and again in almost identical words, often within the same cookbook.

The cookbooks give me a view of what was popular in a particular time and place. It's interesting to see what was considered healthful or exotic. I always get a kick out of recipes that claim to be old, old family traditions, then end up calling for Cool Whip, Reddi Whip, packaged cookies, chili sauce, etc.

I thought I would find new and tempting food ideas, but I ended finding a good many things I would never eat because they are mostly fat, salt, sugar and other things I avoid. But it's been fun. I know there are more community cookbooks waiting to be found as I clear houses, and I look forward to more amusement and fun.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Reading in the early twenty-first century

I find a great many things irritable. I am putting effort into reading again, which is, after all, what this blog is supposed to address. But folks, it isn't easy.

I am very old-fashioned in many ways. I like sentences to have beginnings, middles and ends. I despise fragments passed off as sentences. I loathe it when people use "which" when they mean "this" as in, "Which means I am a curmudgeon," standing alone as if it were a sentence instead of the fragment it is. I had a blog a few years ago in which I wrote on the subject of professional writers who make many errors. Some people chose to comment, and they all agreed that I was harsh, that I ought to consider what the writers mean instead of how they say it, that I should make allowances for poor spelling, egregious grammar errors and pathetic sentence structure.

I don't.

This brings me to reading contemporary writing. Currently I am reading a book which I shall review here. I have to keep reminding myself of the book's topic because I am continually distracted by things such as noun and verb disagreement (e.g., "Everyone has *their* favorites."), fragments and hyphens, hyphens everywhere - - everywhere they don't belong, that is. All this makes concentration difficult.

Decades ago, I studied technical theatre arts. I was taught that good lighting is that which enhances the play but which does not call attention to itself. This became a yardstick for other things in life, including writing. If the writing style interferes with my reading, that is bad writing. If I keep noticing "facts" that are incorrect, spelling that is wrong, references that are in error and bizarre neologisms, that is bad writing. I cannot tell you how many times I run smack up against these problems.

Maybe the books have much to say, but I find it challenging to get to what they say because of how they say them. Once in a while I take time out to read something from periods when people prized good communication. It is a tonic to my curmudgeonly soul.

My feline family

My first love was a Chihuahua. I was a baby, and utterly devoted to the Chihuahua we had. Since then, many dogs and cats have come and gone in my life. I confess I am a lifelong animal-lover.

My current animal family is feline: a venerable cat of sixteen (or more) years, and a pair of nine-month old kittens. Pippy, the oldest, lost much of her vision last year to illness. She is small, feisty and not shy about punching anyone who pushes her too far. Pippy has become a little tentative since developing limited vision, as happens to many animals that lose their sight in adulthood.

The kittens are "wobblers." Their mother had distemper during their gestation, and they in turn, have cerebellar hypoplasia, a lack of development in the part of the brain that controls balance. When they first arrived, it was like having furry tumbleweeds in the house because they fell and rolled across the floor all the time. They made great strides since then, but they will tumble and fall the rest of their lives. It seldom bothers them, though sometimes they get tired and discouraged. I apply a little extra TLC at those times, and they keep going.

Pippy is not fond of the kittens, as I expected. She tolerates them, though only just. Tucket, the spritely kitten, loves to pet Pippy's back and to sniff her. She also admires Pippy's tail and finds it irresistable when it waves. Her struggle to stop herself from grabbing that tail and biting it is evident; she quivers and strains, she leans forward and back and generally tries very hard not to attack the tantilizing tail.

Lindy, the affectionate purr-cat, is shaped like a bowling pin. Her large, round rump has a mind of its own and makes it tough for her to get where she wants to go. I altered a pop song to suit Lindy's rear end,
"Oh, the wayward end,
is a restless end,
a restless end
that yearns to wander..."
I'm sure Gogi Grant wouldn't mind. Lindy wants to cuddle with Pippy, wants to be her best friend, her playmate. Pippy believes that's beneath her dignity. She can freeze Lindy's overtures with a single look, and what a frosty look it is!

Pippy had an impregnable fortress on Housemate's bed until Lindy and Tucket learned to get there this summer. They can't jump up there, but they can pull themselves onto the bed. Now Pippy's dignity is assaulted when she tries to sleep and they lie nearby, gazing at her and inching closer.

I would love to publish photos of my feline family, but there are complications. So far all I have gotten are extreme closeups, some of paws batting at the camera lens, and some of eyeballs peering into the lens. I hope you like this word picture of my feline family instead of a photo essay.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday, 17.July

"Another question inspired by the Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard having burned down on the Fourth of July.

"Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?

"Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?

"What/Where are they?

"I’m still devastated about the Bunch of Grapes, even though I usually only got to visit it once or twice a year–it was such a vital part of my trips to Martha’s Vineyard. Its (hopefully temporary) loss won’t affect my day-to-day book habits, but it was such a wonderful store on one of my favorite places. Stopping there was such a strong tradition, and I’m going to miss it as part of my vacations. But it made me think–I always buy books when I’m away from home. They’re as much of a trip-souvenir as any t-shirt or trinket. Better, even! And it occurs to me that I can’t be the only one of us who does that, huh?"

It is, to me, a singular pleasure to have the time and leisure to shop for books while vacationing. It is treasured time to be anticipated as much as any other component of getting away from it all. I also enjoy the serendipitous times that permit spontaneous book shopping such as happened when I was near bookstalls at train stations.
Three of my best-loved vacation bookshops closed their doors several years ago. Imagine a rabbit warren furnished with close-packed, overflowing bookshelves, and you have the Brynn Mawr-Vassar Book Store in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pa. A friend introduced me to it in the 1970s. The other bookshops were in downtown Pittsburgh, and they are closed now, too. I no longer remember their names. One of those downtown places was also a stationer's shop, a delight for me. A beautiful cat, named Smoky, was in residence and presided over the shop. The other store specialized in old, rare, out-of-print and unusual books. There was always something to see there. It was somewhat seedy, and the proprietors were peculiar, just the sort of place one reads about or sees in movies. It was the perfect setting for a murder mystery or ,perhaps, a magical fantasy.

My favorite bookshop is still a going concern, but I've been unable to visit it in a couple of years. It offers a dozen rooms of books in a graceful, old house that sat on a picturesque, green and tree-shaded city square. The shop was well-stocked and neat as a pin. It offered knowledgeable, personable clerks plus - - of all things - - a sweet dachshund that trotted freely among the rooms.

Booking Through Thursday, 10.July

"One of my favorite bookstores burned down last weekend, and while I only got to visit there while I was on vacation, it made me stop and think.

"What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

"Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?"

A fire destroyed a bookshop in the city where I lived in the early 1990s. Newspaper coverage documented the grief and mourning of the shop's regular customers.

But that was in the days when newspapers were a societal stronghold, and before the advent of bookshops-cum-public livingrooms. Nowadays, I think most people suddenly bereft of their favorite spots would, by and large, have no trouble switching to any of the online booksellers. The Internet has supplanted Place with twenty-four hour availability and ease, among other things.

I lost my favorite bookshops over the years when I moved to other parts of the country. My last such place provided an experience, not just a place to buy then dash. It had all the things one thinks of when shopping in a small place: personal attention, atmosphere, character and moment. I miss it.

Local options here are the chain bookstores - - offering the chance to sit on chairs only 5,000 other people sat in before you! - - where I would pay full retail prices, and a secondhand-book store that will order new books on request. On a friend's recommendation I visited the latter...once. The dust was thick and the books greasy and grimy. I changed my reading habits to include the occasional visit to the (noisy!) local library for books I request ahead of time by phone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(nearly) Wordless Wednesday

see more dog pictures

For the dog days of summer...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

(nearly) Wordless Wednesday

"Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776," by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris