Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Betty's Reading Log 2009

I think all know what makes Betty so pretty and smart--it's reading.

I keep track of all the books I read throughout the year and so I thought I'd present to you Betty's Reading Log 2009. I rate the books 1-4 stars and will withhold other comments unless I just can't stand it and I have to say something. Those with "BC" beside them are ones chosen by my book club and which I read to be a part of that groovy bunch of gals.

Confessions of a Shopaholic. Sophie Kinsella NO STARS! HATED IT! ONE OF THE WORST BOOKS I HAVE EVER READ! (BC)
Twilight (BC)
New Moon (BC)
Breaking Dawn Stephanie Myers. ** (Yes, I read the entire series. Sue me. Go Team Jacob!)
When You Are Engulfed in Flames. David Sedaris ***
Big Cherry Gap. Adriana Trigiani **
Cat Stories. James Herriot ***
Candy Freak. Steve Almond ****
The Fred Factor. Mark Sanborn **
The Rest of Her Life. Laura Moriarty ****
Stargirl. Jerry Spinelli. ***
Made in the USA. Billie Letts ****
Teacher Man. Frank McCourt **
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. Maureen Corrigan ***
Rise and Shine. Anna Quindlin *
Happiness Sold Separately. Lolly Winston ****
Guernsey Potato Peel and Literary Society. Annie Barrows ***
Atonement. Ian McEwan * (BC)
The Chosen One. Carol Lynch Williams. ***
The Weight of Silence. Heather Guenkauf **** (BC)
Shanghai Girls. Lisa See ****
The Sunflower. Simon Weisenthal ***
The Thousand Splendid Suns. Khaled Hosseini *****
Mudbound. Hillary Jordan ***** (BC)
The Shack. Williams P. Young. NO STARS! HATED IT! (BC)
Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout. **

May 2010 be filled with more Four Star Books for us all!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog" by Alice Suskin Ostriker

The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God's love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow

To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended

To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other dogs
can smell it

---Alice Suskin Ostriker

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Out and About With Betty.

When Sonny Boy comes home from college, one of our Mom and Lad activities is to go out and shoot things up--with our cameras of course.

The day before Christmas we went out to the local university that was at one time a mental institution that held up to 7000 patients. The grounds are lovely, nestled away in the green hills and the architecture is Mission Style. The college has done a good job of incorporating the old with the new though upon second look you can definitely tell what buildings were part of the state hospital.

The college is still a work in progress, with the buildings in transition from mental wards to classrooms. The day we went out there, the campus was fairly deserted except for a police officer who drove past us a couple of times. While we were walking Sonny Boy said, "Wouldn't it be cool to get into one of the old buildings?" We meandered some and came across what appeared to be the main gate. Beside it was this door:

We stepped inside and saw this one one side:

And this on the other side:

We surmised this was a way for the laundry service to receive and deliver the laundry from the wards without actually entering the grounds of the hospital itself.

We kept walking and followed a curved path to a courtyard and there, across the way, we saw this open door:

Sonny Boy's wish had come true. We looked at each other, then listened for the police car. It was deadly silent as we entered and walked down the old, deserted halls.

We walked through heavy, scarred doors...

Past the nurses' station...

Into some of the rooms...

Into the bathrooms...

I went into one of the rooms and looked out the windows.

After taking our pictures, we stepped out into the courtyard again.

Did I mention my heart was pounding the entire time I was in that building? The ghosts of the past swirled all around us.

The hospital was open from 1936-1997 and during the 40's and 50's developed drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia that helped those patents actually get back into society instead of being warehoused. Unfortunately, there were many for whom it was too late. I recently had dinner with a psychiatrist who had worked at the hospital during its operation and he said, "So many of those people were beautiful souls, tormented by this terrible disease."

Walking down those halls I was filled with a sense that I was being watched, that some of those souls were still there, wandering those halls, their beauty and torment trapped there forever.

It was an experience indeed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Wrap-Up

I write this on the eve of a great Christmas Day. The past three years we have traveled for Christmas, but this year we stayed home and it was glorious.

Of course, we had good weather, a beautiful sky (see picture above) and Evan returned to us from a four-day snowboarding trip on Christmas Eve. (Yeah!)

Betty sits at her computer tonight, so happy and grateful for all the good in my life. I have two healthy, happy, loving sons and a patient and husband who loves me and keeps life interesting.

Merry Christmas to all of you who read this blog. I am grateful for you too. For years, writing, or my lack of, was a source of frustration and confusion. Now, I feel like I have a place to let that part of my creative soul run wild, run free--or at least put on good sneakers and walk really, really fast.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve!

Think about my last post people.... This is getting weird.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ribbet Around the Christmas Tree

It's been hard to get into the spirit of the Christmas season this year and I'm not exactly sure why that it is. It could have something to do with the freakishly warm temperatures, or the fact that I could not process the concept of Christmas until I had all my finals done and grades in. Or maybe because I can't find my jingle bells I normally lace in my shoestrings.

The nearby shopping center hangs these flags every year and every year I marvel at how much they remind me of dissected frogs. Oh sure, if you study them, straight on, you see them as candy canes with yellow bows on them. But if you're in an office chair right now, spin around, thereby simulating driving by at 50 miles an hour and you'll see that the two pictures following bear a striking resemblance to each other.

Keep spinning--you'll see it soon.

Off to do some last minute shopping and trying very hard not to think about the implications of dissected frogs as a symbol of Christmas....


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Poetry/Song Tuesday: "Angels From the Realms of Glory"

This is one of my favorite Christmas carols of all time and under-performed by the masses if you ask me. I belt it out whenever I can. Wish I could give you the tune, but if you go to Wikipedia and look under the song title they have a little sample of the tune. You'll be singing away in no time.

What appeals to me, besides the catchy tune, are the words of the song--they are big, cool, English-major words. Imagery? Figurative Language? Setting? Characters? Point of View? Allusions? Symbolism? It's all in there.

The song was written in 1816 by James Montgomery, but didn't become popular until 1925. Some namby-pambys wanted to replace the fifth stanza with the one I've included at the end. Where's the drama in that? Give me the wretched sinners in their chains--now that's imagery/Christmas fun we can all enjoy.

As I said, I believe it is and under-rated and under-performed song, so no matter what one the church chooses on Christmas Eve, I'll be singing this one at the top of my lungs while people sing the appointed song. Take that "Angels We Have Heard on High." Sorry "Little Town of Bethlehem." The Angels from the Realms of Glory are takin' over.

Angels From the Realms of Glory

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.


Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light:


Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.


Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.


Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.


Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:


All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.


Lord of Heaven, we adore Thee,
God the Father, God the Son,
God the Spirit, One in glory,
On the same eternal throne.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Lord of Heaven, Three in One.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pencil Saturday

Betty is a pencil/pen snob. Oh, it's no secret around here. Don't bring that Bic in the house unless you're planning to take it with you when you go. If that pencil isn't a Ticonderoga, then it really isn't a pencil, is it?

As a result of my snobbery, I have an entire bag of rejects that I plan to take to the Boys and Girls Club soon. (Evan used to go there and to borrow a pencil from the club, the kid actually had to turn in one of his shoes.)

However, before I cart them in, I took some pictures to thrill my readers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raspberry Jam Bars!

If it's Wednesday, it's time to make Raspberry Bars!
I whipped a pan of these the other night and had some very happy vegans and non-vegans alike.
These suckers are seriously good.

Begin baking now for a brighter tomorrow!

Raspberry Jam Bars

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I used Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups quick oats, such as Quaker
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 cups raspberry jam

1. Heat oven to 350° F. Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are combined and a crumbly dough is formed. Add the oats and lemon zest. Pulse quickly twice to combine.

2. Press 2/3 of the dough firmly into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Spread the jam evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the remaining dough over the jam, gently pressing down.

3. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut into 24 bars. Store in airtight containers or just consume all of them immediately.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "Starlings in Winter" by Mary Oliver

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can't imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

--Mary Oliver

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snow People! Your Therapy Flowers Have Arrived! Happy Monday!

These flowers are for all my readers who are surrounded by snow at this time.
(OK, OK, the rest of you can look at them too.)

If all that white stuff is starting to get to you, just enlarge this photo and stick your face really, really close to the screen.




There. That's better, isn't it?*

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”

--Flora Whittemore

*Repeat as Necessary

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Parade!

Betty LOVES our annual Christmas parade. It is one L-O-N-G succession of scouts, horses, bands, floats and general, random people dressing up and walking down the street. I get a big kick out of watching it and cheering for the poop patrols and band parents. Here are a few pictures to give you a little flavor o' the day.

Get ready!

Oh yeah! Nothing says Christmas like a four wheeler. We sit close so we can smell the exhaust.

The theme of this year's parade was "Healthy Holiday" hence, the flu bugs in jail here.

Band members dressed as fruits and vegetables.

We love it when the Tae Kwon Do school stops and breaks boards in front of us. It's one of the highlights of the parade every year.

Did I mention random people just sort of joining the parade? This was one of my favorites. I think he liked me!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Friday!

Ah, Friday!

I do a dance of joy when it arrives.

Today is especially good since Sonny Boy and Girlfriend of Sonny Boy come home today from college for the winter break. Yeah! I love having them back.

Hope your Friday is a good one!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Brownie Time!

Brownies--those yummy, chewy cobblestones on the road to happiness. Betty luvs brownies and believes we should all make them an integral part of our mental health regime.

I have been looking for a good recipe for a long time now and I have HOB and his penchant for the exotic to thank for this one.

You see, I sent the man to the store for flour. Being the down-to-earth girl I am, I normally get the store brand. Oh, if I'm feeling frisky and a maybe a little risque, I'll spring for Gold Medal but HOB just went right into that store and grabbed that fancy King Arthur flour like he was a Lancelot and Arthur himself had requested baking supplies--you know, so he would whip up a batch of cherry-almond cupcakes for the next meeting of the Round Table guys.

HOB came in, placed the bag on the table and there it was, written on the side of the bag, like an ancient text come to light at long last: a recipe for brownies that pushes the boundaries of all things chocolate. It uses Dutch-processed chocolate which we have discussed in detail in this blog before. You must go to Williams-Sonoma, throw all caution to the wind and buy a can.

Yes, it is hideously expensive.

Yes, this recipe uses about half a can.

The good news is that the overly-solicitious lady at Williams-Sonoma lady will put your can in a lovely little bag with a rope-like handle that you can use as an attractive purse.

(Another idea: have the nice lady gift wrap the can for you. Go home, place it on the table, leave the room, wait around the corner for two minutes, come back in, throw up your hands in delight and squeal with happiness at the gift someone has left on the table for you.)

Then you can make THESE:


1 1/4 c Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 c King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (1 tsp if using unsalted butter)
1 c butter
1/2-3/4 c sliced pecans (or favorite) (optional)
2 c chocolate chips
4 large eggs
2 1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.

In a medium sized microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan, melt the butter on low heat, then add the sugar & stir this to mix.

Return the mixture to the heat or microwave briefly, just until it's hot but not bubbling. It will become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating the butter & sugar a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

Transfer the mix to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, & vanilla.

Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour & chips & nuts if using. Beat until well mixed.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the brownies for 28-30 mins, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

Remove from the oven, & after 5 mins loosen the edges with a table knife, this will help prevent the brownies from sinking in the center as they cool.

Cool completely before cutting & serving, or, if having a bad day, wait until brownies have cooled only slightly, then insert face in pan and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "Diagnosis" by Sharon Olds


By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face—
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

--Sharon Olds

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Night Conversation

Husband Of Betty (HOB): You know we didn't have much trash this week. I don't think I'm going to put the garbage can out on the curb.

Betty: Oh yes. You have to.

HOB: Why?

Betty: Because it's the international symbol that you are not dead inside your house.

HOB: Is that true?

Betty: Everybody knows that. You don't put out your garbage can on the appointed day and the next day the neighbors are walking by your house wondering if your pets are circling your rotting corpse.

HOB: Well, I guess I'd better put it out then.

Betty: Oh I think so.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Santa Cruz Trees

Thanks for the show!
Loved it!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Get Out the Superglue and Pig Bristles! It's Science Day!

I heard this the other morning and thought it was really interesting!

From NPR's Morning Edition
by Robert Krulwich

(You can see a cool animated video too at this link.)

Can ants count? Not out loud they can't. Not the way you and I count. But an ingenious experiment conducted in the Sahara suggests maybe ants do count.

Harald Wolf of the University of Ulm and his assistant Matthias Whittlinger proposed that ants have "pedometer-like" cells in their brains that count the steps they take.

How Do Ants Get Home?

Most ants get around by leaving smell trails on the forest floor that show other ants how to get home or to food. They squeeze the glands that cover their bodies; those glands release a scent, and the scents in combination create trails the other ants can follow.

That works in the forest, but it doesn't work in a desert. Deserts are sandy and when the wind blows, smells scatter.

So how do desert ants find their way home?

It's already known that ants use celestial clues to establish the general direction home, but how do they know exactly the number of steps to take that will lead them right to the entrance of their nest?

Wolf and Whittlinger trained a bunch of ants to walk across a patch of desert to some food. When the ants began eating, the scientists trapped them and divided them into three groups. They left the first group alone. With the second group, they used superglue to attach pre-cut pig bristles to each of their six legs, essentially putting them on stilts.

The third group had their legs cut off just below the "knees," making each of their six legs shorter.

After the meal and the makeover, the ants were released and all of them headed home to the nest while the scientists watched to see what would happen.

The "Pedometer Effect"

The regular ants walked right to the nest and went inside.

The ants on stilts walked right past the nest, stopped and looked around for their home.

The ants on stumps fell short of the nest, stopped and seemed to be searching for their home.

It turns out that all the ants had walked the same number of steps, but because their gaits had been changed (the stilty ants, like Monty Python creatures, walked with giant steps; the stumpy ants walked in baby steps) they went exactly the distances you'd predict if their brains counted the number of steps out to the food and then reversed direction and counted the same number of steps back. In other words, all the ants counted the same number of steps back!

Does that mean ants have something like pedometers that do something like counting?

Says professor James Gould of Princeton, commenting on the experiment: "These animals are fooled exactly the way you'd expect if they were counting steps."

Gould says it's pretty clear ants don't have maps in their heads and don't recognize markers along the route. This experiment strongly suggests that ants do have internal pedometers that allow them to "count" their way home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "i carry your heart with me" by E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

--E. E. Cummings