Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tasty Thursday: The Best Cake Ever

This cake takes a long time to make, but it is SO worth it. I have made it a few times for special occasions. The first time I made it was for my mom's birthday several years delicious! A word of advice: some people don't like the dual frosting thing (whipped cream in layers and cream cheese on top). Personally, I like the whipped cream as my entire frosting, but that is just me! Also, give yourself plenty of time to make this one!


Try it. You won't be sorry. :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sort of Wordless Wednesday:

We didn't take any photos of Casey when he was really small, because we didn't think we would be able to keep him. I found this photo of a shepherd/chow mix on a web site this morning, and, if you just reversed the dark hair on the puppy's face to be around the mouth and the light hair to be on his head, this looks JUST LIKE Casey as a puppy!! I love it! Same look in the eyes (though Casey's were lighter) and everything! Adorable!!

What is so amazing to me: the ears. Casey had fur on his ears that was soooo soft. I mean, I have never felt anything like it. And his ears were floppy, just like this dogs. The hair on the ears here is exactly the same as Casey's.

There are several more photos of the same dog here: Daily Puppy.

Seeing these photos did not make me sad at all. In fact, it was the most healing moment in this entire grieving process. Just to know that there are such close look-a-likes out there makes me happy. And, to see that they are loved just as much as my Casey...well, that means the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I am coming back...

...I just need a small break right now, especially after this weekend. I hope everyone is doing well.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Casey Alexander (Dec. 25, 1995-July 23, 2011)

Dear sweet Casey,

You were the best friend and dog I ever had. Thank you for letting me share 15 wonderful years with you. You were that "special dog" that came along in my life. You were a warrior--stoic, loyal, and loving to a fault.

I named you Casey--just because it fit. I named you Alexander, after Alexander the Great, because I wanted you to be noble and brave. And you were. You survived the elements of a storm at three months old, yelping until someone found you. And I was the person lucky enough to be the one who did find you. I picked you up out of a thorn bush in the woods, at night in the pouring rain, and carried your fluffy little body across a creek and into my house. I washed you. The next day, I walked you all over the neighborhood, made signs to try to find your owners--but no one came. You were mine and I loved you.

You loved to run like a deer and sit as regal as a Sphinx, even though you were not a cat (I can see your look now, even at the mention of a cat...they were not your friends!). You loved peanut butter--especially when I put it between two bones. You loved cheese and it made you happy. I will not know what to do the next time I grill out. I will keep looking to the edge of the deck for you sniffing the air. I will also constantly be on the lookout for you, making sure that you aren't getting too close to the grill...even though you aren't there now.

You were smart, but you hated most toys, almost as if you considered them beneath you and for puppies. You always had a maturity about you. You always seemed to know exactly what we were saying. You also could work out solutions for things you considered problems. If there was a barrier in your way, you knew how to move it. You could open doors (though the glass door perplexed only took once running into it--in spite of the stick-on things placed there to prevent you from hitting it).

And you earned yet another name: little Houdini. For years, we would put your rabies tag on your collar, and, inevitably, after a week or so, it would disappear. For years, we couldn't figure this out. So, we would have to go to the vet and get another tag. Finally, dad decided that you must be getting it off of your collar somehow, so we bought a strong, industrial type key chain ring, and slipped the tag on there and on your collar. A few weeks went by, and the tag was still we thought we had solved the problem; but one day it was gone. So, we got another tag and another industrial ring (this time twisted with pliers in an odd shape to keep it on your collar). This lasted about a month, until one day it wasn't there anymore. AGAIN. We gave up and let you have your way. About six months later, I was outside, talking to you as you were resting under the deck in the shade. Suddenly, I noticed something gleaming under the sand. And there they were: all of your tags in one neat little pile, and all of your key chains in another. Each were buried under a little pile of sand. But the weird part? The part that made you a genius? That each of the key chains--even the heavy, industrial strength ones--had been flattened out in a straight line.

I still don't know how you did that! But it was genius, as dad said.

Still, you embodied Mozart's definition of genius. He said, "Love, love, love: that is the soul of genius." And you were all love. So you were the "soul of genius."

You were careful and gentle. You never bit anyone, and you only growled at someone one time (and, damn it, he deserved it). Even as a puppy, you never jumped on people, though you weren't above jumping up into your favorite chair to sleep (and that was just fine). You liked to stand up to look over counters. You also liked to open my bedroom door during storms. When you were little, you would jump up on my bed and stay curled up next to me the minute the rain started to fall, and I always felt so sad, because I wondered if you were remembering those terrifying, long hours you spent in the storm when you were a puppy. If there was a storm when I wasn't home, I would come into the house, have a moment of panic at not being able to find you, and then realize that you were just upstairs on my bed. Some of the best times were those times, and I would just hold you. And, when you could no longer jump on the bed, you would sit next to the side where I slept, and I would pet you in the middle of the night.

We loved you so much. And we know you loved us.

You loved mom. You and she bonded over the last three years, and you loved to watch her cook. She was devoted to you, and took you on walks, which you loved more than anything. She sang to you and loved you--and you loved her back.

You also loved your walking buddy, dad. When he was in the hospital for cardiac arrest, you slept with me every night, and would walk each morning and night into dad's room, just to see why he wasn't there. You were so happy when he came home.

I know you loved me, just as I loved you. When I had to move to Tampa for a year, I always wondered if you would miss me. Then, I got a phone call down there, and dad said you were acting a little strange, not wanting to interact with anyone. I had been home for the weekend a few times by then, but I got in my car and drove home. When I got there and you saw me, you jumped up off of your bed and wagged your tail. You were so happy and came back to your normal self.

You also loved nature--especially flowers. Mom was right (in so many ways) to call you our little reincarnated flower child. You loved smelling them and you truly embodied what it means to "stop and smell the roses." I learned from you.

And I will be especially sad when it snows, because you loved it so much.

In the middle of the night, I will be waiting for your bark. That one sound used to mean that you wanted to sleep in the wild outdoors for the night, but lately it meant something else. And that was so hard to hear. And mom would sleep with you, trying to comfort you each night. It helped so much.

Yet, you were stoic. You never complained or cried out. You endured any type of pain without showing it--all the way to the end. And, at the end, you let me help you, carry you, hold your head while you slipped into that gentle night.

And, if a dog could have one, you had a sense of humor, my love! You were so funny! You knew it, too, I think, because you enjoyed making us laugh. That is how you earned your most used name: Bean. Yes, you were "Casey Bean" or "The Bean" or just "Bean." You earned that name because of your unusual, quirky ways. So, we nicknamed you "Bean" after "Mr. Bean," the British comedian.

Forever I will keep those funny and wonderful memories...of you always trying to run out of the door or getting off of your leash, scaring me to death (and me pretending to be dead in the road didn't even thought it was a game, crazy dog, and would run past me grinning). I also remember you, at age three, taking off after a squirrel and being strong enough to drag me across a yard--on my stomach, because I couldn't run fast enough to keep up with you and I fell. You kept going until you heard me cry out, but you had a mission.

When it came to wildlife you always had a mission! You made sure our backyard was possum and raccoon free, for sure! And I remember the night we bonded forever: you, young and strong, fighting off a huge raccoon, who latched on to your ear and punctured it. That was one time you cried out, but only long enough to sling it off for good, daring it to move. I came from the other side and we finished him off together--me with a huge stick and you with a bite. It was the first time I had killed anything--but not yours. You stood there in fighter mode, not moving, tense and breathing hard. I threw the stick to the side, making sure the raccoon was dead, and picked you up. You were rigid as I carried you--all 80 pounds of you--into the house...I still don't know how I did that...or how I even took you up the stairs. I put you on the floor and did a quick check: yes, you were okay. Until I looked at my shirt. It was covered in blood--your blood. Just from your ear and you were okay, but I still called the emergency vet (who was actually more concerned about me than you). After things calmed, I cried. Killing something, even in defense, was hard.

Today was hard, too. But we were a team, you and I. I wasn't about to let you go out alone. I meant that it was going to be easy for you. We are like two things glued together--even now. (Just like the time we had workers at the house and a tornado came, so I let everyone into the garage, and you stood guard next to me. Pressed against my leg harder than ever before, you meant that no strange person was coming near me.) I knew what you were doing--and you were always right.

It has been hard this last month. There have been good days, but you needed to go.

But at least you had one last good ride in the car. And two days ago you had a great walk, too. You were a great walker. I am sure you would have rivaled Wordsworth and Dickens for the walking. And dad was the one who made sure of fact, that is why you lived for fifteen and a half years. Your best buddy kept you in such wonderful shape that you never had any health problems--just an occasional bee sting or hot spot. You were so lucky.

You were also so beautiful. You became more gorgeous as you aged. You were lovelier the older you got, and we enjoyed every minute of having you with us. I count my years spent with you as one of the most wonderful privileges of my life.

We loved you so very much--and always will, my heart.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Post

Sorry, everyone. It has been a rough day with the dog. Not a lot of time to post today. Will try to update this weekend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tasty Thursday: Ina Garten's Lemon Fusilli with Arugula

Oh, yeah...this is so good...

You may just want to skip the post and go straight to the recipe...
Lemon Fusilli with Arugula

Anyway, not only is this recipe really good, but I also have really fond memories of eating the end product at my friend Carol's house. It was the last time we were able to get together, just the two of us, before she moved to Nashville with her soon-to-be husband.

Carol, as most of my friends are, is older than me. We met in a Modern British poetry class, back in the fall of 2003. We were the only students who would talk, and soon we started forming a study group together. She had come back to school to get an MA in English (she already had a PhD in Psychology and had taught and practiced for years). She was experiencing some life-changing events around the time I met her, and she fed her soul through diving into what she called "the life of the mind."

We became great friends, and now I find it hard to believe that our friendship has spanned nearly a decade! Wow...we have been through so much together. Once we became really close friends, she started inviting me over for dinner. Carol is a wonderful cook, so dinner with her is always an event. Of course, we ate out a lot, too, but dinner at Carol's is always a wonderful experience. I miss her a lot! We just really understand one another, and I find it so sad that she isn't here in town anymore. Of course, though, I wish her happiness!

Meanwhile, do try this recipe. IT IS FANTASTIC. The ultimate in comfort food. I posted the recipe a while back, but I really wanted to post it for "Tasty Thursday" because it is so amazing. Carol altered it a little bit, changing the pasta type and exchanging the arugula for something else...can't remember what...but either way it is fantastic!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday: The Shelley Memorial

Everything in today's post stems from my encounter, at age 20, with the movie The Saint. In this movie, in case you have never seen it, Val Kilmer plays "The Saint," or Simon Templar, a rogue extortionist and black market trader in information who goes by many names. He has found out that Emma, played by Elizabeth Shue, has developed a priceless formula for cold fusion, and he has set out to find and seduce her, so that he can have an opportunity to steal the information and sell it. He discovers that she studies and works at Oxford University, and then breaks into her apartment and discovers things about her. One important detail is that she loves the Shelley memorial that is at University College in Oxford. (She loves poetry and beautiful quotations, I immediately latched on to her character when I saw the movie. She was everything I wanted to be.)

Anyway, in the video below, Simon is on a mission to seduce Emma and has altered his appearance, playing a role of Romantic adventurer based on photos of her father and her love of the Romantic poets. She falls for it, of course; but even though this scene is perhaps a bit cheesy, I still count it as one of my all-time movie favorites.

In any case, as you can imagine, I made it my mission to relive this experience the best way I could when I went to Oxford for the first time back in 2009.

Now, of course I love the movie The Saint, and it provided the main reason that I had to see the sculpture; but I also love the if you didn't know. (See last post.) Even though I am a Victorianist, I am a hobby Romanticist, and I LOVE researching them for fun. Many of you might know that Percy Shelley's wife (well, eventually....they weren't married at the time) Mary wrote Frankenstein. (For more information about this, the Shelley's connections to Lord Byron, and a WONDERFUL travel article about their time at Lake Geneva, read "Lake Geneva as Byron and Shelley Knew It". This article briefly alludes to Shelley drowning at age 29--a tragedy, for he was an amazing poet.

But, back to my story...

I took a guidebook with me on my trip that I planned to read on the plane, and I still remember my gasp of horror (and probably those around me remember it, too) when I discovered that there was a possibility that I wouldn't be able to see the Shelley memorial.

The reason?

The memorial is housed in a college that is not open to the public.

Many of the colleges at Oxford open for short periods in the afternoon, and for a few pounds visitors can wander in designated areas. University College, however, is an exception.

There was a small note, however, that explained that you could petition the porter at the college gates, though it might take a couple of times to gain entrance...or not at all, depending on the porter's mood and events at the college.

Well, my hotel was right down the street from University College. I passed those imposing wooden gates that blocked me out every single day. The first day after my conference (this was the 2009 trip for the Harry Potter conference), as I said, I visited Christ Church and a few other places. But I remember passing the University College gates that day. I passed them the next, too. I stalled for a few minutes, but I am painfully shy sometimes and I really dreaded being turned away. I decided to turn around and go to the Botanical Gardens instead (where the photo at the top of this blog was taken).

Well, by the third day, I had gained some confidence, and, to help matters, I noticed that the door to the college was ajar, for someone had just gone in. I decided it was now or never, so I walked up the stone steps, through the heavy wooden doors, and into the porter's lodge.

There was an older man behind a desk and I profusely apologized for taking up his time and proceeded to beg (literally) for access to the Shelley monument.

Well, he must have taken pity on me, because he gave me the biggest smile and said, "Of course you may see it, love," and took me straight back. He also patted me on the shoulder and said that he would leave me alone there, though he wasn't supposed to do so, and I could take as much time as I liked. Again, I have to reiterate that I have met some of the kindest people in Oxford. I really think the world of so many of them.

So, I stood there in awe, but realized that I hadn't asked if I could take pictures. I ran after him and asked for permission, and of course he said yes.

And, here is the best part: I got an incredibly beautiful photo of it (at least in my opinion). This is what it looks like behind the gate:

(Source: my photo)

But here is the shot I love...and I love the story behind getting it, because it was a great moment:

(Source: my photo.)

The thing is that "Emma" in The Saint had it right: "The light [does] hold him in silence." That is "what I like about it," too. I also like that it is such a gorgeous sculpture.

The sculpture does have a history of abuse, for the space designated for it is not that attractive and immature undergrads have taken to defacing it parts. All kidding aside, though, I do love it. It was everything I had hoped it would be. It was one of the few moments when I almost cried in England (another, when I did cry, was when I viewed Princess Diana's dresses in London during my last trip...but that is another post for another time!).

Another interesting resource that supplies info about the movie and Shelley: Shelley/The Saint.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mystery Monday...not much murder and mayhem to report...

The subject for today's post is Huguette Clark. A reclusive heiress who recently died at the age of 104, her life is as big of a mystery today as it was while she was living it. The mystery: was she mentally ill? I do not make light of this at all, as I have seen some journalists do over the last few months. If she was indeed mentally ill or unfit to make decisions, as I suspect she was, then this is one more case of gross abuse of someone vulnerable to everyone around her.

I really don't know what to make of this woman. For a great overview (what we know if it, anyway) of her life, see this New York Times article. She grew up in a wealthy home and, though devastated by the loss of her older sister, she seemed to be fairly socially active. After her brief marriage during her twenties, however, she lived in seclusion, rarely being seen by anyone.
Here are the basics of what happened from her marriage and after (from NYT article):

In 1928, at 22, she married William MacDonald Gower, the son of a business associate of her father’s. The union lasted nine months: she charged desertion; he maintained the marriage was unconsummated, according to a 1941 biography of the family, “The Clarks, an American Phenomenon,” by William D. Mangam.

The couple were formally divorced in 1930; she chose to be known afterward as Mrs. Huguette Clark.

By the late 1930s, Mrs. Clark had disappeared from the society pages. Most if not all of her siblings had died; she lived with her mother at 907 Fifth Avenue, painting and playing the harp. Her mother died there in 1963.

For the quarter-century that followed, Mrs. Clark lived in the apartment in near solitude, amid a profusion of dollhouses and their occupants. She ate austere lunches of crackers and sardines and watched television, most avidly “The Flintstones.” A housekeeper kept the dolls’ dresses impeccably ironed.

Once her mother died, Clark became sole owner of estates across the country, maintained staff in each, but never lived in them. She also became the only inheritor of the incredible fortune her father gained in copper. She said that her "fondest wish [was] simply to vanish." I find that incredibly sad.

In the end, she left millions to her nurse and to charities. She also donated priceless works of art to museums.

I am sure that someone really wants to write her biography, it would be difficult to do so. Probably the best way to write a biography of her would be to contact her nurse--if the woman would talk. But the real mystery her is just what to make of her.

One journalist, who claims to have tracked her down to the hospital room she lived in for years, said that she wasn't mad. But, obviously, there has to be more to this story.

The thing is: her lawyers are under investigation for mishandling her money. There are many people invested in stating that she wasn't mentally ill, because if that was proven then financial decisions made "on her behalf" would be cleared.

In any case, it is all very sad to me. I hope that those around her were kind to her. I am not sure that we will ever find out the true story of her life.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Irene M. Rector, my 2nd great grandmother

This is Irene M. Rector, at age 16, and she is the mother of my great grandmother who is pictured in the wedding dress (post a couple below this one). In this photo, she is wearing the tiara I am wearing (in that same post below).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fandom Friday: HARRY POTTER!! :)

Well, yeah...

No, I haven't seen the movie yet. I absolutely hate crowds, so I will be waiting a few days...but that is okay. I know what happens. :)

In any case, I had to dedicate this "Fandom Friday" to Harry Potter, because it is the right thing to do. :)

It is only because of the series that I even know what the word "fandom" means. I had no idea about the crazy fan universe in place around this series. Then, about five years ago I was typing in all kinds of searches for HP related things, and soon I am jumping into the universe of fanfiction, HP conferences, podcasts, web sites--you name it.

Once I discovered Snapecast, I was in love. If you love Snape, and if you have never heard of Snapecast, then you absolutely must check it out! Granted, it is for the "mature" audience, for Snape fans can become a bit overzealous at times. However, that is also the reason Snapecast is so funny! The hosts are hilarious and the content is really good--but, again, don't go there for innocent fangirling experiences. :)

It was on Snapecast that I first heard about the Accio conference in Oxford, England, back in 2008. I immediately registered and sent a proposal in for the call for papers. They accepted, and I made the trip. (You can read about it in my blog post here: Susie's trip to Oxford/Accio Conference.)

(The conference site is still up: Accio 2008.)

The great thing about Accio is that it isn't held very often. The conference is a non-profit, and all of the money goes towards charity. It is also a serious academic conference. While it is commonplace to see scholarly articles on the HP series today, at that time it was still sort of taboo. We all took it very seriously (even though we also kept things very relaxed...such as most of us wore comfortable clothing instead of suits/skirts/dresses to present...thank goodness!), though. The conference was three days, and all of us presented well-researched papers and had lively debates within the halls of Magdalen College.

(Me, presenting at Accio. This is in the Daubeny Laboratory at Magdalen.)

You can see more photos HERE.

The conference was put on by professors from Canada, but people from all over the world came. We had people from America, Britain, Israel, Mexico--you name it. I met some really incredible people. We published a collection of essays based on expanded versions of our conference papers:


For the most part, like I said, we were serious (so many great presentations and such smart people). But, we did all have fun (some wore costume, but not many) at the Great Feast...and it was amazing! The food was fantastic and the company even better. J.K. Rowling, because the event was non-profit and charity driven, donated all seven books, signed. We auctioned them off for the charity...and I think some lady from Nevada bought them all.

Anyway, it was a great event. It hasn't happened again, but we really need for someone to take up the cause again! I am so ready for another ACCIO CONFERENCE!!!

(Our conference leaders sitting across from me at the great feast.)

So, I have officially participated in a fandom event, but it isn't the norm. Most Harry Potter conferences are not academic, but they look like a lot of fun.

As far as other fandom participation: I love fanfiction. There are some incredible writers out there and I love to come across someone who is particularly good. Of course, a good place to start is always But, there are specialized sites that are even better. Depending on your fan interest, just spend some time looking for fanfiction Harry Potter sites.

But what ties all of this together: the shared reading experience. If anyone had told me I would have been part of all of this, well...I would have laughed. I would have said that it is insane and ridiculous. In fact, even when I went to the Accio conference, I was a bit unsure of why I was going and what I would find...I just knew I had to do it.

But the fan community around HP is amazing. There is something really powerful about being able to share your passion for reading and a great story. Seeing all of these people come together for a book--well, that is really powerful. At Accio, I found a community of people that simply are amazing. I loved every minute of it.

So, final thoughts: if you are really passionate about a book or anything, find someone with whom you can share your passion. It is important--not freakish. In fact, fandom allows us to express ourselves in ways we might never have the courage to do so otherwise. Of course, you can come across crazy people; but, for the most part, it is a fun sphere in which you can just be yourself and indulge in whatever interests you.

Seek out the fandom, people!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Playing Dress Up:, I did something tonight that I have ALWAYS wanted to do, but I just never have. So, my grandmother is in the hospital and my dad's oldest sister came up to help. She knows that I am really into studying our family's history and trying to figure out where we came from originally.

Well, two weeks ago, I found out that my fifth great grandfather was Eugenio Antonio Sierra, a Spanish doctor in Pensacola. Anyway, it solved a lot of mysteries, including: 1) where so many people in my dad's family get those gorgeous dark looks; and, 2) where the name Irene originated in our family. Well, it turns out that Eugenio had a daughter named Irene (my fourth great grandmother) and the name has been passed down since then.

So, back to my aunt:

Well, when I went out to the hospital this afternoon, she presented me with a small box of jewelry and other items that belonged to the Neville/Morrison/Sierra women. I brought them home to photograph and catalog, before giving them back to her.

The box contains some amazing items:
1. The cut steel comb and wedding veil lace that belonged to Maria Sierra, daughter of Eugenio Antonio Sierra (who moved from Spain to New Orleans).

2. A Pearl card case that belonged to Irene Sierra Morrison, wife of General Pitcairn Morrison. (Picture in the case is Irene Morrison Rector, my great great grandmother, when she was 16.) There is a button picture of my great grandmother Irene Thecla Neville, and a calling card of my great grandmother's that reads "Mrs. Charles Reynolds.")

3. Jet jewelry that belonged to my great great grandmother, Irene Morrison Rector, wife of Major Thomas Rector. Also a key and tag that belonged to him.

4. A black cross, black bead pin, and broken jet jewelry set that probably belonged to Irene Morrison or her mother (or possibly her grandmother, Irene "Marie or Maria" Sierra).

5. Other items sold in Chicago during the depression.

So...these things were so exciting to see, especially the steel comb that looks like a tiara and the wedding lace. So, when I got home, I decided to do something crazy...

Here is my great grandmother, Irene Neville Reynolds, on her wedding day:

Now, as best I can tell, she isn't wearing any of the items in the box that I have right now. But...Guess what?

I own her wedding dress.

Oh, yeah.

Victorian crazy fantasy come to life.

And, I have never ever put it on. It is in really bad shape and I always thought it would totally fall apart if I tried to do anything with it. But, I was inspired tonight. So, I found the dress in the bag, and started looking at it. It is in really bad shape in some respects. The underskirt is falling apart, but all of the hooks are still in place and the outer shell of the dress is silk, and it is in remarkably good condition. The sleeves and border of the neckline are lace and some other gauze-like material, and they are not looking great.

But, I wanted to put it on. I unhooked everything and looked at it carefully, vowing that if I heard a single rip that I would immediately take it off. Amazingly, I was able to slip into it feet first...a very good thing, as I didn't want to chance ruining it over my head.

So, I got the dress on...and, even more amazing: it fits! A little big in some areas, but

The silk is really wrinkled, but who cares?? Then, I put on the tiara comb that belonged to my fourth great grandmother, along with her wedding lace...and...and this is the cheesy part...I made my mom take a photo. Because why not?

The photo sucks and it isn't as if I put a lot of effort into my appearance, but I needed to record the moment because I won't be wearing any of this ever again!

So, here it is:

(Sorry...the lighting is bad and my mom was totally confused as to how to focus my I am half speaking and trying not to move out of fear that I would ruin the dress!)

(A similar problem to the one above--plus I am exhausted! But, I wanted a close up of the tiara and the wedding lace. It was so fantastic to wear that stuff!! I am not really smiling here! Not my usual self, I assure you!)

Alas, I had to carefully repack everything...but it was TOTALLY worth it, my friends. I felt tied to my ancestors in a powerful way. I can't believe that I was wearing a dress over a hundred years old, and jewelry nearly 150 years old (or more). EXCITING!!

Thank you to LMGM for letting me know!

LMGM's blog post about people ripping off our stuff.

He notified me that my material is on that site, too.

You rock, LMGM. I am adding you to my link list! And, thanks, again.

PS: Love the title of that post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tasty Thursday: Seven Layers of Sin Bars

Seriously, this is the best dessert. I love it! My mom found the recipe and made it for us a couple of years ago. So, I made it for our office Christmas food sharing, and it is now a demanded request! You won't regret it...(so easy, too)

Seven Layers of Sin Bars

1 stick butter, melted

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup flaked coconut

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Baker’s Joy/Cooking spray

First, spray the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan with Baker’s Joy (or other cooking spray to prevent sticking). Pour melted butter in the bottom of the pan. Then, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over the butter. The third layer will be chocolate chips, followed by butterscotch chips. The fifth layer will be the chopped pecans, the sixth will be flaked coconut. For the seventh layer, pour the milk over the top. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Who knew Library of Congress would have photos of my family members??

This is my great grandfather, Herman J. Galloway. I love this photo because you can see a picture on his desk in the background...that photo is the same one we have of my grandmother and her twin sister.

(Source: Library of Congress)

This next photo shows my uncle Ugo Carusi. The photo of the two of us is HERE (you will have to scroll down). In this photo, he is the one standing (seated is Atty. Gen. Sargent)...

(Source: Library of Congress)

Monday, July 11, 2011


I am soooooo happy right now!! They did it! We got Snape as Headmaster of Hogwarts!!!

Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem Monday

Not that this is news, but today's post will probably be a bit eclectic...mainly because I am still exhausted and also because Blogger is acting up a bit for some reason! Anyway, today's topic of discussion: vampire fiction.

1. Novels about vampires and paranormal creatures usually address a combination of (or all three) today's key words.
2. I am taking on the role of contributing reviewer to SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS!! I have admired their site for some time, so I was so happy when they offered me the chance to join their staff as a book review contributor. What better excuse to read?

In any case, I tried to think about the vampire books I have read over the years (and there have been many)...wondering what it is about vampires that draws so many people. There are plenty of critical discussions about all of this, but I don't feel like going into them. :)

My first exposure to vampires came through my mom. She loves scary movies and especially Christopher Lee's old films...and Dark Shadows...and all of that other stuff! So, I remember watching those as a kid. But the first time I really became interested in vampires as subjects for reading material was when I came across Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

I had never heard of Rice until I was in the eleventh grade and this fabulous earthy girl next to me in computer class (who also ran an underground magazine at our school and almost got expelled) introduced me to the series. She was super smart and told me all about it and what I could expect, etc. I didn't actually read the books that year, but I carried that conversation with me and remained intrigued.

Some time later, the movie version came out and I was completely spellbound. The film is lush and gorgeous...and, yes, violent and disturbing. But that is what I liked about it. The vampires were so complicated and brought up so many questions about life and religion and relationships. And, to this day, watching Dunst play Claudia just breaks my heart. I don't know if she really knew what she was doing, but every meaningful aspect of Claudia's existence came out in her portrayal of that character. Her's is still one of the most tragic characters in fiction, in my opinion.

Well, after seeing that movie, I became interested in Rice on a whole new level. I started reading her books and listening to her interviews. (And she is still one of the most amazing people to listen one inspires me to write and create like she does). Even though I haven't read all of the vampire books in that series yet, I have to say that so far Pandora is my favorite.


In any case, from that point onward, I picked up books about vampires and worlds of the paranormal. I never got into Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any of the slayer-type novels. Instead, I was really looking for studies of vampire characters, I guess.

And, of course, you would have to be dead, basically, if you didn't notice that vampires have kind of taken over the popular fiction and movie market. Yes. I am referring to Twilight. I have written about Meyer's series on here before...and, like I say, great literature it isn't. I have read all four books. And, though the relationship between Bella and Edward, in my opinion, is very creepy and unbalanced and unhealthy (for a great analysis of why, see: this site), I can see where people really got into the first book. But by the time I got to the fourth book, I couldn't take it. I really hated Breaking Dawn--for many reasons. So, I am not a huge fan, but I appreciate anything that gets kids reading.

Meyer's books have had a huge impact, like it or not, but the good news is that out of her novels have come some amazing books about vampires--and not just for the teen reader. (And, if you read this blog enough, you know that I love teen fiction.) Vampires have taken over the romance, sci-fi, and fantasy genres as well. Pretty much the entire romance section of a bookstore is now related to paranormal fiction. The sci-fi and fantasy section is the same. It is amazing how authors have manipulated such an old character to fit contemporary tastes.

I wrote about Bram Stoker's Dracula for an entire semester when I started the Master's program. In a class that taught research and writing methods, our teacher required that we choose a novel to work with over the course of the, I chose Dracula. Why? I had never read it, and I thought that it should provide me with more than enough material to write about...and it did. But the vampirism in that novel is both similar to and different from the vampires in today's works. Take the women, for example. They are sexually transgressive in a way that usually leads to their death. If you compare Mina or Lucy to contemporary figures...well, some things have changed and others haven't.

The women, in particular, in today's vampire and paranormal-centered fiction, are categorized in strange ways. Usually, what I have found is that it is very hard for an author to break free of extremes when they write about females associated with either being a vampire or being a slayer of vampires. In other words, they are over-the-top strong or they are complete victims. It is so weird to me. There hasn't been much of a balance in the past.

But I am starting to see that change. I like Nalini Singh's Archangel series because the heroine, at least in the first novel, was more believable. I am also currently reading (not to review on MyVampFiction, but just for fun) Jeannie Holmes's Blood Law.

(Source: Amazon)

So far, I really like this series...but I will give you my final verdict later. :)

Until then, if you like vampire or paranormal fiction, check out (My first review will be up in August, I think, and there are some great ones up there all the time.)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Fandom Friday: Steampunk

So, Fridays I am planning to look at some fun web sites/stories/etc. dedicated to "fan culture." Today, we are venturing into the world of steampunk.

For a quick overview, check out: "What is Steampunk?. Another fun resource: The Steampunk Tribune.

I have to say that I don't know a ton about the steampunk movement myself, but I find it fascinating...mainly because it combines a strange mixture of the Victorian era and today. I read "Reclaiming the Machine," an article by Rebecca Onion in the first issue of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies (this article is free online and of excellent quality). In any case, the article is fascinating and gave me a whole new appreciation for a cultural/literary movement. Up until this point, I really was only drawn in by the pretty brass and clockwork gears.

Chances are, you have encountered aspects of steampunk at certain points. (And the soon-to-be-released movie Cowboys and Aliens can be categorized as steampunk in some ways.) But steampunk has seeped into our culture in big ways over the last several years.

But we have seen aspects of steampunk show up in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (airships and brass abound).

Or even in the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (still one of my favorites). We see a lot of brass and clockwork in this film: Lupin's office is full of brass scientific instruments; there are all kinds of screen shots of clocks and gears; and, even the time turner is a steampunk element. I love it--the perfect theme for a movie dealing with time and the past.

So, like I said, it has been showing up...and now there are entire book, manga, anime, and other types of media series totally devoted to steampunk. One of my favorites is the paranormal romance series by Gail Carriger: The Parasol Protectorate. Carriger does a lot of things with her series (and she has one of the coolest author web sites out there), including using each book to parody various genres of Victorian literature. The first book in the series, Soulless, is AMAZING. Loved it.


I have enjoyed the others as well, but the first one was wonderful simply because it was so different from anything else I had ever read. She also had the best author bio I have ever read on the back cover of her book:

Ms. Carriger began writing in order to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by a harem of Armenian lovers, where she insists on tea imported directly from London and cats that pee into toilets. She is fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit. Soulless is her first book.

She maintains a wonderful internet presence through her blog (that is written in the same quirky voice), Twitter, and Facebook. I was so excited the couple of times she tweeted me back! She also has some great info on steampunk.

Another great series that incorporates steampunk is the teen series The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. The first book, Clockwork Angel, is amazing:


It is one of the few books that made me step back and feel horrified at times. The cover of the next book has been revealed (LOVE IT)! These books are very dark, however, so consider yourselves warned...

In any case, steampunk, of course, will not appeal to everyone. But, there are some amazing aspects to it and it has become an area of study for scholars. There is a world of steampunk literature, some of it more hardcore than others. I like steampunk light, myself, so Carriger is perfect for me. But, if you are really into the idea, check out this list of reading material: Reading List.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wish I could see this...

Glamour of the Gods Exhibit.

The story behind all of this is amazing.

Taste Test Thursday


So, on Thursdays I am going to share a favorite recipe or food related information. Today, I thought I would just post a link to one of my absolute favorite dishes EVER:

Jamie Oliver's Perfect Roast Chicken.

Trust me: if you like chicken, you will love this recipe. And it is really easy to make.

I had an opportunity to eat at his restaurant in Oxford, while I was there with the UA at Oxford program a couple of years ago. It was amazing.

The faculty and I went out one evening during the last week of our trip, and we ended up at Jamie's Italian. From the outside, it doesn't look particularly lovely, but the food was fantastic that one of the first things I did when I returned to the states was to buy one of his cookbooks.

I also appreciate that he is trying to do something good for US children and families, teaching so many people about fresh food and good eating habits. A good meal, with really fresh ingredients, is a healing thing. It nourishes and it makes you feel connected to the earth when you prepare it and eat it, and the experience of putting effort into a meal connects you with those around you. We don't think about that as much as we should in this country. Here, everything is so timed and busy. A meal should be an event, at least most of the time. We should take time for it and enjoy the food and the people.

So, make this incredibly easy roast chicken, break out some wine (or, just water, if you aren't into the alcohol), and enjoy the time it takes to eat a meal.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hello to those of you in Morocco!!

I see some of the blog viewers today are from Morocco! So happy to have you here! I have always wanted to visit your country, and maybe one day I will have the opportunity. Peace and love to you. :)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Travel Tuesdays

Welcome to "Travel Tuesdays"...ah, yes. Alliteration is so unique. As I said, however, I need something to keep me posting on the blog, so this is day two of choosing topics that I don't mind writing about each week.

Now...about travel:

Compared to some people I have traveled quite a bit. Compared to others, not at all. During my life, I have been up and down the East coast, visiting New York City, Washington, D. C., and several other places. I have spent considerable time in the Midwest and attended events and interviews in Chicago and Indianapolis. I have been in Florida and around the Southeast countless times, and tracked down Anne Rice's home in New Orleans (I didn't get to see her, but I did see her dog). I have flown in and out of Texas several times. But, as far as my experiences in the United States...well, that is it. I have never been out West (but I want to go), Canada, Alaska, or Hawaii.

As far as going outside of the United States, I have spent considerable amounts of time in Mexico (Mexico City, Toluca, Guadalajara, Cancun, etc). One year, I flew in and out of the Mexico City airport eight times. And: I love Mexico. (Well, I love the Mexico without the cartel wars. They really need to get that under control, because their country is too wonderful to sacrifice to thugs.) In any case, Mexico has always felt like home to me. I love the cities and the countryside; the street food (yes, you can eat some of it) and the fantastic family dinners; and, most of all, the people, young and old. I have had some of the best experiences in my life while visiting that country...and the men aren't bad looking either. :)

I have also visited Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John islands, and spent time in England and Scotland.

But that is it.

Like I said, however, compared to some people, that is a lot. And I am not a rich woman, so I have to plan my travel carefully!

Still, I love to travel, and Travel Tuesdays, sometimes, will be used to talk about where I have been and what I have seen. Other times, I might just talk about where I want to go or an interesting travel article that I have read. Who knows? As I have said many times before: that is the charm of me. (Right.)

So, to get things rolling, I am going to talk about how I have changed as a traveler...

My parents took me everywhere when I was a kid. They never left me behind to travel on their own and my mother, even when we were in town, always took me to every international/cultural event that she could find. (I have spoken about this before, but it is significant.) We ate in ethnic restaurants, made friends with shop owners from Pakistan and Surinam, hired a young lady from Mexico to teach me Spanish (and she became a close family friend), and went to festivals and shows put on by the international groups at the university here in town. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

When it came time for me to graduate from high school, I had no interest in going on a senior trip with a bunch of crazy people from my school (loved them in school...but didn't want to spend time making hazy memories of throwing up over a cruise ship balcony). So, my parents and I decided that we would take our first trip outside of the country. We decided to visit Cancun, Mexico. The all-inclusive trip was affordable and we weren't just going to the beach. Included in our price was a trip to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and that was what I was most excited about seeing.

I will write more about this trip at another time, perhaps, but the point is that it started something in me: something for Mexico and something for international travel. I fell into my experience while on that trip. I loved every minute of it, and the second I got home I started planning another trip to Cancun. I saved all of my babysitting money for a year and paid for my mom and I to spend seven days down there the next summer. (I told you it was affordable...and the price included airfare, all meals, and two excursions. A side note: mom and I traveled a lot together by ourselves. Dad isn't into the flying thing! If we were staying close to home, he would go with us.)

We did this several times and Mexico helped me discover things about myself. I met incredible people each time and made friends that I would hang out with when I went down there. We would visit Cancun in the summer, spring, and winter...whenever we saved enough money for a short or a long trip. It was great. My mom would meet new people each time and we would have a blast during the early evening before I went out with old friends or a new, beautiful young man. (This was pre-Natalee Holloway...and no one ever tried to hurt me.) Yes. I loved it. I could be myself down there in a way that I could not at home. I felt comfortable and at peace.

But, I wasn't really traveling the right way.

As much fun as I had, I was completely involved in the sensual side of Mexico. (No...not that...get your minds out of the gutter.) Though that was important for me and age appropriate at the time, I am not the same kind of traveler today. My experiences completely changed because of one thing: I started traveling alone.

I cannot tell you how important it is for you to travel alone--especially if you are a woman. You can ease into it, if you are uncomfortable. I did. My first experience was going to Mexico on a study abroad trip. I wasn't technically alone, of course. There was supervision and one friend (we went with a different university), but I didn't have the comfort of my parents. I had to be careful. Even though I was in semi-familiar territory (I studied in Guadalajara), it was still a valuable learning experience for a homebody like me.

As time went on, I have traveled more and more by myself--and, now, I really do travel by myself. My first solo trip was to Chicago (huge deal for me, because I hate big cities...wrote about it on this blog...back in April of 2005, maybe??). Then, in 2008, I got on a plane and flew to England for a week by myself. I knew no one. Add to that the pressure of presenting a paper at Magdalen College in Oxford (yes, it was a paper on Harry Potter, but was OXFORD!!!) and being one of the most shy people on earth when it comes to introducing myself to new people...and, well, you get the point.

But that trip to England did wonders for me. It was a baby step. Going to a country with the same language cut down on one stress factor. I had to fly into one city and make my way to another. Once there, I had to drag my suitcase around until I found Magdalen. The conference provided some stability and scheduling for a while, but that was actually bad for me, because for two days I really didn't see anything. Once the conference was over, I walked across the street to the hotel, wondering what I should do next.

It was a big moment for someone like me. What would I do next??

My decision: I would go out without a map. Here is the blog for that time: Susie's First Trip to Oxford.

Again: I highly recommend this. Go out without a map, people!!

It almost killed me to do that, but I ended up having the best day! I found all kinds of places and wandered around Oxford, visiting things I stumbled upon and had read about. It was such fun. I was on my own schedule, could stay at a place or bookstore as long as I liked. Again: complete self-indulgence...but of a different kind than that I had in Mexico. Mexico was about feeling and feeding the body. Oxford was about feeling and feeding the mind. (Again, I have written about this on the blog, too.) And the important part of all of this is that I was alone. I could experience things in solitude and quietness. I could really observe the people and places, and then I could talk to them or visit them without interruption or influence from another group or family member. I learn so much about myself and about the world when I travel alone, and that is the way I prefer to travel these days. (I am already planning a new trip...more to come.)

These solitary experiences are necessary for us, because they both allow us to experience ourselves but also to notice things around us. If you are alone, sooner or later you wonder what in the world you are doing alone. You pay attention to the oddest things: like how a restaurant prepares for a day of tourists; how the elevator repairman in a country divided by class boundaries shrinks back from you and acts surprised when you say hello to him; how people who aren't tourists go about their daily business each day. You notice the differences between your home and theirs (but don't react badly to are in their country, not yours).

And, most of the time, the allure of travel takes us to places frequently visited, maybe because we have dreamed of going there after seeing a picture in a book or a movie. And that is why I wanted to go to Oxford.

It happens to all of us: You arrive at your destination, and sometimes it is just like you imagined it and sometimes it isn't. Usually, it is still a place that is worth visiting, because if the tourist draw is enough to bring people there day in and day out, then the location is probably taken care of in some way. But, if you stay there long enough, you start to see the tremendous homeless population that is hidden from the city centre. The place you visit seems clean and surrounded by wealth and opportunity and imagination...but then you pass over a bridge and see someone curled up underneath. But your very presence there changes things in the smallest way. Just noticing can change things...things like the elevator repair man in my Oxford hotel, who, by the fifth day, says hello back to me with the biggest grin, and talks a mile a minute now that he knows I am not going to think less of him. Those conversations that took my entire trip to build up to (literally, they happened on my last day in Oxford) didn't change the world. They probably didn't change him. But they changed me. Every encounter I had with him made me learn something new, about myself and about the world. He was one of the biggest mysteries to me during my stay.

I am using Oxford as an example of all of this because on the outside it is a place of such beauty and opportunity, wealth and privilege. The collections, museums, manicured grounds, architecture, students, and history are so amazing and beautiful. But there is a dark side that isn't too far below the surface of the city of dreaming spires. I am not trying to pick on Oxford. This is a feature of all places. It happens in every city, town, whatever. No matter where you travel or where you live, if you pay attention and stay there long enough, you will see all of this. I only point to Oxford because it is the perfect visual and imaginative example. Travel makes us part of the world...the good and the bad...and it makes us responsible to the world.


Last night, I was reading Anthony Bourdain's introduction to the 2008 Best American Travel Writing collection. In his short survey of the articles, he first spoke of his own perspective as a traveler, saying that the more we travel we must realize that we become "complicit by seeing, or more uncomfortably, recognizing one's complicity in something very, very bad [sometimes] some way, [we must recognize that we] contribute to a system that crushes its subjects...In every small daily task one must ask oneself: 'Which of these people can I or should I help? Which of them will I ignore? Who will get to take me on his motorbike to my comfortable meal? To whom, if anyone, shall I give a dollar? Or an artificial limb?'"

It is true. We associate this kind of thinking with experiences of traveling in poor countries, but we are "complicit by seeing" in every place we go. Travel is meant to make us not only experience new things but also to make us recognize our place and purpose in the world. When you travel, you will come across situations that are very uncomfortable and that put you to the test when it comes to your beliefs and values (well, you will if you aren't sitting by a pool all day and getting drunk, wasting your time). The good travel experience, I think, is like Atreyu's journey in The Neverending Story--especially when he comes across the sphinxes...

Before traveling to the sphinxes, Engywook tells Atreyu:

“That gate is always open. Obviously. There’s nothing to close. But even so, no one can get through…unless the sphinxes close their eyes. And do you know why? The gaze of a sphinx is different from the gaze of any other creature. You and I and everyone else—our eyes take something in. We see the world. A sphinx sees nothing. In a sense she is blind. But her eyes send something out. And what do her eyes send out? All the riddles of the universe. That’s why these sphinxes are always looking at each other. Because only another sphinx can stand a sphinx’s gaze. So try to imagine what happens to one who ventures into the area where those two gazes meet. He freezes to the spot, unable to move until he has solved all the riddles of the world. If you go there, you’ll find the remains of those poor devils…You really are an innocent…The sphinxes shut their eyes for some travelers and let them through. The question that no one has answered up until now is this: Why one traveler and not another? Because you mustn’t suppose they let wise, brave, or good people through, and keep the stupid, cowardly, and wicked out. Not a bit of it! With my own eyes I’ve see them admit stupid fools and treacherous knaves, while decent, sensible people have given up after being kept waiting for months…”

Atreyu, boy warrior and traveler, makes his way towards the sphinxes. When he comes upon them, he is overwhelmed and realizes he knew nothing of anything. Every journey and travel experience up until this point had not been significant. Atreyu sees that he “had been through a good deal in the course of the Great Quest—he had seen beautiful things and horrible things—but up until now he had not known that one and the same creature can be both, that beauty can be terrifying.”

This is the point I am trying to make about travel. All travel, like life, is a quest. The quest is beautiful, terrifying, and strange--just like us. The quest differs for all of us, I guess, but at its core it is something we must go through if we hope to live as fully as possible. As Atreyu says, after he successfully passes through the sphinx gate (an experience that terrified him, by the way), “When I passed through the sphinxes gate, I lost all my fear.” (All quotes from pages 85-114 of Ende's The Neverending Story) And, that is what travel does for us.

Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem Monday

I am going to forgo the obvious and NOT talk about the Casey Anthony trial...because everyone else is talking about it and I really just don't see the point of adding my voice to the circus. So, I thought that I would talk about one of my favorite mystery series today.

In general, I don't read a lot of mysteries. When I do, I need a series and I need an author capable of creating really appealing characters (well, appealing to me, anyway). There are a few series like this that I have come across, but my favorite happens to be Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this series! I can't recommend it enough! Emily is smart and complex...just believable in general. Her love interest, Colin, is amazing as but not stifling. He is alpha without being demeaning. I love him. Even more than Nathaniel Bonner from Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness...and that is saying something. :)

Anyway, the series takes place in Victorian England (well, for the most part) and Emily, when everything begins, is a widow trying to solve the mystery of her husband's death...even though she wasn't fond of him to begin with. The first book, And Only to Deceive, is amazingly well written and has enough depth to make you want to read all of the others. The relationship between Colin and Emily, though it has its problems, doesn't feel forced or convenient, as so many mystery romantic pairings often do...and there is nothing boring about them.

Also, when I moved into the second book, A Poisoned Season, I didn't feel that some random mystery had been concocted just to keep the series going. That is a big problem for me when I pick up a mystery series. I don't really like that crazy things have to keep happening for a mystery to be written.

In any case, at this point, there are five (soon to be six) mysteries in the series that follows Emily and Colin throughout their relationship. Again, I highly recommend them! I will be first in line to buy A Crimson Warning (comes out in October)!!

For more information, visit Tasha Alexander's web site.

PS: Happy 4th of July!

Changing things up a bit!

So, I have decided that I need to keep myself posting every is like therapy for me! So, because I love to read and write and talk about popular culture/movies/songs etc, I am designating different days to discuss different topics. I will still post my rants and thoughts and things in separate posts...but, just so that I know for sure that I will post regularly, I am deciding to take different days to discuss different things! :)

Sooo...Mondays will be "Murder, Mystery, Mayhem" centric. :)

Hopefully, this will keep me inspired until I feel the need to change things up again!