Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

“I Could Pee on This”  is a book of poems ostensibly written by cats.    The author, Francesco Marciuliano, is also known for being the author of the cartoon “Sally Forth”.

All I can say is, Marciuliano successfully channels cat-think in this charming little book.


It is sized appropriately for a bedside table.   It would also reside neatly on the top of a toilet tank, where one could amuse oneself mightily by dipping into the offerings within the book.    Such as “Nectar of the Gods”, an ode to the superiority of faucet water to the water in a bowl on the floor.

Jim’s favorite is “The World Outside my House”

In the world outside my house

The mice jump in your mouth

And birds serve themselves in butter

Rather than fly south………

In the world outside my house

The sun is a laser light

Each cloud a snuggly blanket

And the doors are not shut tight

In the world outside my house

All the trees they dangle string

The flowers brush from head to tail

And the neutered cat is king

In the world outside my house

I can never go

But as an indoor cat I know these things

Because the dog does tell me so.

Impy knows this poem well.   He spends an inordinate amount of time staring out the window.   Surprisingly, I do not have a single image of him doing this.  But I now know that this poem trails through his little feline brain while he is engaged in that activity.

Just one more, this one is my favorite (today)


This is my chair

This is my couch

That is my bed

That is my bench

There is my chaise

There is my settee

Those are my footstools

Those are my rugs

Everywhere is my place to sleep

Perhaps you should just get a hotel room

I do have an appropriate image for this poem.   Ruby is not a young dog any longer, and is starting to get arthritic.   In order for her to be more comfortable, I went out and purchased a dog bed for her.   Hah.   She doesn’t really like it, and only lies on it when bidden to, just in order to make me happy, it appears.



“Maybe you should just go outside and sleep in your doghouse.”

It really is a very fun little book.   Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat will recognize every single attitude expressed within.

Thank you Peggy, for this positively entertaining little volume.

Read Full Post »

I have gotten out of the habit of writing book reviews, so bear with me in my rustiness.

I just read Scott Turow’s book “Ordinary Heroes.”   This book was written in 2005, loosely based on the events of World War II.  In Turow’s own words,  “This book is a work of imagination, inspired by the historical record, but seldom fully faithful to it.”

I found it, among other things, to be a gripping account of a man’s struggle to understand his father.   In this book, the events, battles, exploits set in the closing months of World War II in Europe  merely serve to illuminate the father’s character.   The way the son goes about his search illuminates his own.

The trite cliche “War is hell” could be used to sum up the book, but it is far too simplistic a method of describing this story.   It is more than just a war story, it is a heroic romance; detailing the love of comrades in arms for each other, the love of the ordinary man for the larger than life hero, the love of men for women (and women for men) in all their complexities.  The book is worth reading for this if for nothing else.

The language and descriptions are beautiful.   You feel yourself waiting for the sniper’s bullet, hear the shells tearing through the forests where you hide, experience the exhiliration and joy of surviving, of victory; and the numbness and despair of survivor guilt.

The problems that all the characters face are complex.   One man is a Sergeant fighting at the front.  His story seems plain:  a slightly racist Southern boy learning to respect people for who they are rather than judging them on their appearance.   Later it is revealed that the man is a light skinned black man passing for white:  the only way he would be allowed to serve in combat against what he saw as a great evil.

There are many other similarly deep characters.   In this book, as in war, not all the people we wish to live make it through the horrors of battle.

Turow also manages to tuck some political commentary on the present state of the world into the book, using a main character’s philosophical musings to lay it out for us.   It was this passage (p. 177-178) that made me wish to do more than just the little capsule reviews that you find in my “what I have read” pages.

“I asked what he would do then.

“Wait for the next war, I suppose,” he answered.  I don’t think I’m good for much else, that’s what I’m saying, unless I spare the world the trouble and put an end to myself.   I really can’t envision life in peacetime anymore.   I talk about a good hotel room and a good woman, but what is this?  And I am not so different, Dubin.  Soon everyone will be driven into this lockstep.   War and making more war.”

“So you think we will fight the Russians, Major?”

“I think we will fight.   Don’t you see what’s happening, Dubin? No one has choices any longer.   Not here and not at home.   I always thought that the march of history was forward, less suffering and greater freedom for mankind, the chains of need and tyranny breaking apart.   But it’s not what meets my eye when I look to the future.  It’s just one group of the damned making war on the other.  And liberty suffering.”

“You’re in the Army, Major.   This has never been freedom’s Valhalla.”

“Yes, that’s the argument.  But look at what’s happened on the home front.  I get letters.  I read the papers.  War has consumed every liberty.   There’s propaganda in the magazines and on the movie screens.  Ration books and save your tin cans.   Sing the songs and spout the line.   There’s no freedom left anywhere.   With one more war, Dubin, civil society will never recover.   The war profiteers, the militarists, the fearmongers — they’ll be running things permanently.  Mark my words.   Mankind is falling into a long dark tunnel.  It’s the new Middle Ages, Dubin.  That’s the bit that breaks my heart.   I thought fascism was the plague.  But war is.   War is.”

The final pages of this book make clear why this book is entitled as it is.  This statement, made my Dubin’s mother, is a powerful argument as to what a heroic life consists of.

“We all have much more courage than is commonly imagined.  Every day, Stewart, as I get older, I marvel at how much bravery it takes to go on, to bear the blows existence so often delivers.  I bore mine and was lucky enough to survive to have the ordinary life I desired with your father and Sarah and you, a life that means far more to me than anything that went before.   Does that,” she asked, in a way that made me think she actually expected an answer, “does that make me a hero?”  (emphasis added by reviewer)

A good book.

Read Full Post »


The Havens does not usually make New Year’s Resolutions.   It is an artificial beginning, the start of the Gregorian Calendar.  When I was a girl, my Baha’i family celebrated Naw Ruz, which was the Baha’i New Year and occurred on the Vernal Equinox.

To my naive child eyes, it made a lot more sense to celebrate the new year when the rest of nature was celebrating it, as the deep snows of winter began to melt and buds began to swell.   Well, at least that was happening down in Boulder.   Up in the mountains at 8411 feet elevation, spring was  distant glimmer of hope.   We were still skiing and sledding and ice skating.   But  no matter.

I was over at Charlotte’s Web, and she had a list of resolutions that made a lot of sense to me.   Actually, they seemed more like stated goals than resolutions, but, as someone famous once said, “What’s in a name?”

Anyway, she inspired me to renew my “Books I Have Read” report.   I did this in 2007 (was it really four whole years ago???), and started to do it in 2008 but quit when I got so far behind that I gave up and deleted the whole page.

So, check it out.  Up in the right corner under “Pages”.

Read Full Post »

It seems like this time of year it is obligatory to make some sort of summary that involves a top ten list.   I’ve been noticing this year that ten is not enough to list all the quaint happenings in the celebrisphere, or to enumerate the disasters and falls from grace in the sporting world.

Honestly, I have been going nuts all month trying to keep up with my commitment to post every day.   I don’t have time to make a top ten list, and besides my commentary on each listing would be way too extensive.  We’re talking book length here.

I have to talk about clothing, which I wear of necessity not because I like it.  The items I received this Christmas from various sources  are the perfect example of why it is dicey to give people clothes.   Sometimes you hit it exactly right, and sometimes you don’t.

Unequivocally, every garment I received is gorgeous.   One is a hand knitted scarf from outrageously beautiful multicolored yarn that is mostly purple.  I love it.  I now have about sixty-leven different ways to keep my neck warm, since I own so many methods (some of which date back to my days in Fairbanks, Alaska) none of them is in any danger of being worn out.  Another gift source arrayed me with a sweater and a wind/rain jacket with zip out lining and a matching purple sweater. I have almost lived in the sweater since, although I don’t have it on today  because the weather is quite windy, warm and humid and the garment is too warm for this weather.

I begin to think that people are afraid I might get cold and want to prevent that.

Serendipitously, the new scarf and the jacket are exactly right together, both in style and color.   You’d almost think those people conferred with each other when choosing for me, but I bet they just noticed what colors I like to wear.

The fabulous jacket, which is perfect in design and color and exactly what I wanted, is too small.   So I will have to exchange it.   The wise soul who purchased it for me kept the receipt, and that is now in the pocket of the jacket.    Too bad, Jim and I are going to have to go to Springfield to perform this transaction and might be forced to go out to lunch there.

I also received a skirt.   Oy.   It is beautiful in its own way, but I have to admit that it gave me “Present Face.”

I wish someone would invent a garment that automatically senses when a hot flash is starting and will disappear into another dimension momentarily while it is going on, to be retrieved gracefully once the event horizon has passed.   I didn’t get any of those, and I need them on a regular basis.

I also received books, surprise surprise.   One of them is a little too inspirational:   “Edible Landscaping” by Rosalind Creasy.   I am seeing it as the companion book to the other radical literature that is resting on my coffee table, which I succumbed to earlier in the year:  “The American Meadow Garden” by John Greenlee with photography by Saxon Holt.  (Mr. Holt has photos in Ms. Creasy’s opus, too.)  These books have been preying on my mind lately, calling into question the whole “being a gardener” thing.

I am preparing to rant about this rabble rousing literature, so I want to say before I go off on the rant that I absolutely love both of these books, they are well written, beautifully illustrated and full of excellent information about the way to make change in your landscape happen, and cultivation instructions for literally hundreds of plants.   I recommend them both highly.   But. . .

I alternate between having huge visions of what I want on the property and questioning my own sanity for entertaining such vast projects.  Earlier this year I had a brainstorm caused by the Greenlee book:  “Just rip out the whole front lawn and replace it with a meadow garden!”   That is a grand idea.   Since I had it I have learned that if I had someone do it for me it would cost around $7,000 just for the hardscape, no plants included.   Doing it ourselves will keep us busy for a couple of years, I figure.  This project seems to involve completely revamping the labyrinth at the same time.  At present, I have started a nursery project to grow plants for the space when it is ready.

I had just about decided that I knew exactly what I wanted out front when Santa Claus  dropped the fat, slick, gorgeously illustrated book on edible landscaping I referred to above in my lap.   My world is in a whirl, now.  This book can move me from sublime admiration to complete annoyance in the turn of a phrase.   Just as I did when I was reading and re-reading the Greenlee book, I wonder how much money the people this woman works for have.    I wonder how much money she thinks we have.    From every page, beautiful rock walls and pillars made of native stone by local artisans sport garlands of semi hardy vines.  Okay, I’m exaggerating here, not every page.  And sometimes there are no pillars.

We are told that it is easy to prepare a 5×20 foot garden bed, “It’s an easy weekend project that anyone can do.” (p.168)   I’d love to see her single-handedly work 100 square feet of my clay rock limestone bermuda grass lawn into a planting bed in a weekend.  She forgot the digging bar in her list of required materials, I’m afraid.   I’ll supply the beer and we can all have a party while we watch the drama unfold.

We are informed blithely that when choosing fruit trees to grow,  “Zone envy need not come into play.   You can always grow a less hardy plant, such as a pineapple guava or citrus, in a large container and move it outdoors for summer and indoors for winter.”  (p. 138)  I envision my 83 year old mother  dragging a large container with a lemon tree in it up the stairs of her 20’x24′  house and setting it by her arm chair as a coffee table for the winter.

Right.   Just move it in.   In a large container.    I guess everybody has a sun room with no threshhold and no steps up to it.    Or we should.   I’ll just run add one of those on to the house.  Actually, that is on my list of long term goals, under “Greenhouse.”

Creasy suggests that when we are assessing our yards preparatory to making a landscape plan, we should think about what would happen if we just put a door into the master bedroom or replaced the window in the family room with a door.   What would that do to the use of the outside space?   I’m thinking, “What would that do to my budget?   How much would that cost, anyway?   Last time I had a contractor change something we were getting new double paned windows that actually open and shut and keep the cold air at bay and that cost us several thousand dollars.   Punching a hole through the wall????”

I want an edible landscape all right, I’ve started incorporating that idea into the stroll garden, and now I have a lot more ideas.   I especially want that ironwork cage that was built around the small orchard in that English garden to keep the birds off the fruit planted within it.    The concept is innocently presented in the text under Critter Control:   “Generally, fences, traps, or bird netting could be in order, especially for nuts and berries.   Or screen in the fruit to create a cage.”  (p.140)

The illustration at the top of that page appears innocent enough at first blush.    It is when you go in for a closer look that you see that the “cage” she is using as an example is about 15 feet tall at the peak, roughly 30 feet in diameter, and made of beautifully styled iron work.   The caption:   “Don’t forget critter control.   The focal point of this English garden is a formal fruit cage filled with blueberries, gooseberries, and currants underplanted with strawberries.   Black wire mesh on the sides and top keeps out critters such as deer, rodents, and birds, yet the mesh is large enough to let bees in to pollinate the flowers.” (p. 140)

Now I know what I have been doing wrong.   I haven’t been born into an English aristocratic house, or chosen a multimillionaire for my mate, or figured out how to build that better mousetrap so the world would beat a path to my door.

We just watched the animated film “Despicable Me” earlier this week, and it has provided us with another catch phrase.   “We need minions!”  This may replace “We need 1,000 coolies!” which was brought into our vernacular by Grace Boynton’s book, “The River Garden of Pure Repose.”

I guess I’m going to have to learn how to do ironwork.  And find some minions.

Finding a bunch of money would be good too.

Read Full Post »


I have been neglecting my blog in favor of the oven lately.  I have been delving into the delights contained within my own personal recipe file and a book of old style German/Swiss/Austrian recipes entitled “Festive Baking” by  Sarah Kelly Iaia.  I’m going out on a limb here and saying that anyone who is interested in the old Germanic style of baking seasonal treats will find this book well worth the investment.   Ms. Iaia did extensive research (including begging almost on bended knee) to get these amazing cookie recipes.   There are fried bread, meringue, marzipan and yeast bread recipes also, which I have not really investigated.  But judging by the quality of the cookie section, I’m sure those recipes are dynamite too.

I was given this book by my sister-in-law over twenty years ago.   I found it an invaluable source for cookies to send to Jim, who was in the Navy and frequently overseas.   Mail to the ships was sporadic at best, and I just loved finding recipes that said things like “I once forgot a tin which I had purposely put out of my own reach high on a cupboard shelf.  When I discovered it eight months later, the little cakes were better than ever — proof that they can be made long in advance and will keep well.”  This statement was not an exaggeration, I discovered to my glee.  Although you DO have to hide these particular cookies rather well to test the premise, since they are extremely tasty and if they are in reach DO NOT LAST worth beans.

But the result of my investigations into the book this year has yielded a table that looks like this:

So far, I have made a dozen different kinds of cookies.   A few days ago, I made up a pretty plate with representative samples:

Clockwise from top dead center:   Earthquake Cookies, Lemon Sponge Cookies (Zitronenplätzchen), Orange Nuts (Pomeranzennüsse), Pecan Rounds, Honey Cake Squares (Honigkuchenwürfel), Spice Nuts (Pfeffernüsse), Christmas Chocolate Bars “Cockaigne”, and Macaroons (in the center).   All cookies with German name translations came from the book by Ms. Iaia.

Since then I have also made Anise Pfefferneüsse from a recipe I received from Jim’s mother.   These cookies get very hard and crunchy when stored in a cookie jar, and so all the kids in the family referred to them as “Rocks”.   In addition, I made a batch of Printed Red Christmas Cookies (Wygützli) and am in the process of making Vanilla Crescents (Vanillekipferl), which are mixed but not formed yet.

I am not going to put any of the recipes from the book on the internet, having just had a lovely experience with copyright infringement matters.   I’d just as soon not create any more extra paperwork for WordPress, since their service is still free.  Anyone who is interested in a recipe should tell me in the comments section and make sure I have a good email address for you, I will send you recipes that way.

I want to tell you that I have made other Pfefferneüse recipes, and the one in Iaia’s book is far superior to any other I have tried.   There are various recipes for this sort of cookie available in the public domain on sites like RecipeSource, but none of them call for the exact combination of spices Iaia’s does.   The same goes for the different Lebkuchen doughs, and I have not found any other recipe for the Honey Cake Squares, which have Lebkuchen dough as the basis.

Additionally, this is the only recipe book I have ever come across that calls for powdered red sandalwood as an ingredient.   The Red Christmas Cookies call for it, and I went to quite a lot of trouble to acquire this spice.   I can tell you that the delicate flavor and scent the sandalwood imparts to these cookies is well worth the effort.  I also make my own candied lemon and orange peel for use in these recipes.   I have found that the home made version is far superior to any store bought version, since the commercial preparers are not very careful in removing the inner white portion of the peel before the candying process.   At any rate, living around here where such outrè ingredients are impossible to find anyway, I have to make this ingredient.

As I go through the process, I think about the thrifty German hausfrau of yesteryear, not allowing anything to go to waste.  “We have those oranges!   We are not wasting that precious peel, don’t you dare throw that to the pigs!”  I also noticed quite some time ago that the cookies in this tradition use either butter or eggs in them, almost NEVER both at once.   After all, at the winter holiday time, in the depth of the cold and dark, the hens get sulky and the cows start to dry up, and you would not waste the precious butter and eggs by putting both in the same recipe.   Also, the use of sugar is minimalized, making them perfect cookies for people on diets or who do not like lots of sugar.  The methods use to mix the dough impart lots of air into the mixture, and the liberal use of spices makes these cookies tasty to the max.

Just in case you have some oranges or lemons sitting around that could yield the candied peel which is necessary for these cookies, this is how you do it.


Peel the citrus carefully.  I score the peels with a paring knife and remove them in four quarters.   Cover the peels with water and bring to a boil.   Simmer until the white part of the peel is soft.   Be careful not to cook too long, but also don’t undercook, or the next step will be difficult to accomplish.   Drain the water, and cool the peels.   Using the edge of a spoon, scrape off all the white membrane on the inside of the peel.   After the membrane has been scraped off, cut the pieces of peel into 1/4″ strips.

Make a sugar syrup using the ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.   Make enough to cover the peels.  Bring the syrup to a boil, add the peels, and boil until the citrus peels have started becoming transparent and the syrup reaches 230° F (110° C) on a candy thermometer.   While the concoction is boiling, prepare a pan by lining it with waxed paper or parchment, and putting a liberal amount of sugar on the paper.   When the peels have cooked sufficiently, remove them from the boiling syrup with a slotted spoon.   Let as much syrup drain off them as possible before placing them in the granulated sugar.   When all the peels have been removed from the syrup, toss them in the sugar until they are well coated and separated.   USE THE SPOON for this when you start the process, the peels are very hot and the sugar will burn you if you start out with fingers (Guess how I know this?).  When the candied peels are cool, store in an airtight container in the freezer until you need them.   They will keep indefinitely.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Syncopated Eyeball

Creepy Spooky Lovely Nice

Trailer Park Refugee

just three shots of tequila away from a bar fight....

Ærchies Archive - Digital Detritus

The Curmudgeon's Magazine


WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.