Month: May 2009 Page 1 of 2

Book Reviews.

A Betrayal in Winter, by Daniel Abraham.
The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson, edited by Richard Dalby.
So far on the Gene Wolfe Solar Cycle

My only complaint with A Betrayal in Winter was the fact that most of the action (all but the epilogue) occurred in SUMMER. SUMMER. I think this is a valid complaint.

The second book in the high fantasy The Long Price Quartet, I find the book not quite as striking as the first – the first book introduces the idea that a poet might physically lock an idea into place, after all. And the characters’ choices weren’t as wrenching as in the first book – I’m sure other readers would argue with me, but I just couldn’t empathize with the choice in this book. I kept thinking, “What you call for will come,” and sure enough, it did.

But. I enjoyed reading this book more. The storylines were stronger, less disorienting. I actually liked some of the characters, instead of standing back and admiring them from a distance. The book may be a little further away from brilliance, but closer to clarity.

I recommend the series for anybody who remembers liking high fantasy but can’t pick up the typical, mass-market high fantasy books (e.g., Robert Jordan) anymore. Mature, sophisticated – the kind of books that only in retrospect you recognize as being a retelling of the “chosen one saves the world” story.

E.F. Benson is one of my favorite old-school horror writers. “The Room in the Tower,” “Mrs. Amsworth,” and “Caterpillars” will stick with me until I die.

This collection of his short stories, however, shows his weaknesses rather than his strengths. By collecting pretty much every ghost story Benson ever wrote, I saw the repetitive nature of a lot of his stories – themes that never evolved, characters that never changed, horrors that lost their insidiousness due to their humdrum recurrence.

I really didn’t read anything that met the level of the stories I’d read already, sad to say.

My project in reading the 12-book Gene Wolfe Solar Cycle (which starts with The Shadow of the Torturer) continues. May was The Urth of the New Sun.

TUotNS was a coda to the first four books, The Book of the New Sun, apparently written to clear up the mysteries of the first four books, at least to the extent that Wolfe was willing to clear them up. Ahhhh, says I. TUotNS made for easier reading than the first four books (I only have about 50 vocabulary words to look up for TUotNS, instead of 250 or so for each of the others), but it was less satisfying. Too clear? Too many mysteries revealed? Too easy, the way breaking into the local bank is too easy after you’ve successfully ripped off Fort Knox?

Nightside of the Long Sun is next.

Restaurant Review: Curry Leaf

The Curry Leaf restaurant in Colorado Springs is tiny, but it’s good. Sri Lankan comfort food turns out to be a cross between Indian and some colonial European influences, and it was comfort-food yummy. A lot of curries with rice – and pastries and flan for desert. The coconut sambol (a salad) was too spicy to gulp down, but I wanted to. Otherwise, the dishes weren’t terribly spicy.

It’s hard to imagine the tens of thousands of people supposedly killed in the class between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers – in a country a quarter the size of Colorado, but there you go.

Pueblo trip – weekend of May 23

I can’t recommend going to Pueblo, although I had a good time, which says more about me and my capability for amusement than it does about Pueblo. And more about how much more easily Ray and Lee get along, how they cope with changes in the routine. The trip was a belated birthday present: there’s a limit to how much I can cope with being spoiled, okay?

The Sangre de Cristo Art Museum is an odd construct – an arts complex in which more enjoyment and attention is devoted to the kids’ museum than the one for adults. The kids’ museum wasn’t as fun as the one in Santa Fe, but the one in Pueblo was still very nice.

The Pueblo kids’ museum focuses on art, naturally enough; the focus both defines and limits the place. For example, there was a free kids’ pottery class over in the adults’ building, an area filled with blocks to make mazes out of, little tables with exercises in color, shading, etc. – but no ‘what ifs.’ What if you take a square frame and try to blow a giant bubble with it? Will it be round or square? What if you have a pendulum with a marker on it, and you shake the paper underneath it? Art without some science always comes across as a little dry. Frivolous. (The reverse seems tragic.)

My favorite part of the museums was a kinetic sculpture with heavy balls (like pool balls), a heavy-gauge wire track, a motor to pull the balls back to the top, and various doodads to spin and dance when the balls hit them.

The museum for adults was well-built but small, and the art inside not really compelling. (Something I’ve had to learn lately in writing is the difference between “interesting” and “compelling.” The art in the adult side was “interesting.”) The art tended to modern art of the stuff-hanging-on-a-wall or sitting-on-a-pedestal type. Being modern art, this was no excuse – the best modern art pieces are stuff-you-might-play-with, not overbred dalmatians waiting to have their pictures taken. Modern (and following) art should have a quality of eliciting, much the way fluffy clouds on a sunny day do, but with more emotional and intellectual impact.

All of which is to say, I found some things I liked, but nothing I loved.

Afterward, we drove around, looking for the Pueblo Riverwalk (we must have passed it four times before we found it). The river itself sits past the railroad tracks and is quite restrained and unlovely, although I squealed with delight when I first saw it, because the cement embankment that separates the railyards from the river was painted with gigantic murals, graffiti higher than a house, and all of it a bit mad. Pictures of saints, pictures of weird cosmologies. Across the river was some kind of historical district filled with the most depressingly derelict houses – good houses gone multi-unit, unmown, unloved.

We recrossed the river after being harassed by a number of one-way streets and stopped at a reassuring shop filled with Southwestern-style furniture, tin-framed mirrors, ceramic crosses and lizards, and wall tiles with the motto “Mi casa es su casa.” The owner revealed the riverwalk was only a block away – and that, due to the thickness, in the fifteen years he’d owned the store, there had never been a problems with any of the sandstone tables.

The riverwalk is a tame section of stream (a rivulet of the river) along which one may promenade. Part of the walk was blocked off for a wedding, but otherwise we walked the whole damned thing. I was hoping for rain – it was perfect weather for it, warm and still.

The riverwalk was almost, but not quite: not enough people for a gorgeous Saturday night, not enough boutiques (i.e., none), not enough goofy art, not enough vendors with irresistibly greasy street food, not enough length: tame.

Downtown was odd. For one, it’s a huge area, all filled with brick buildings. And no section has been “fixed” or set up as a place for people to wander about and spend money and see things that are nice to look at while one eats snacks and drinks coffee. I don’t remember seeing a single Starbucks downtown – and a downtown without a Starbucks, nowadays, is a remarkable thing. The only coffee shop we passed was closed, on a Saturday afternoon.

We ate at Fifteen twenty-one, a small restaurant built into what looked like the only consecutive row of open shops in the entire downtown area. The ambiance was simple and unobtrusive. The food was superb. How to crust a leg of lamb in herbs and salt without the salt becoming overwhelming – the crust wasn’t removed – I will have to consider. Lee had escargot. “Gorgonzola was the right way to go,” he said. But the place was almost abandoned – us and one other couple. The owners should have picked a different location – or else they should be getting free rent.

Afterward, we went to Tinseltown and saw Star Trek. I cheered at the end.

The next morning I sat in the breakfast area of a chain motel, watching people in t-shirts request omelets from the complementary chef. A chef. In a motel. But only for breakfast.

From a steel town of no attraction for years and years (or so I’ve heard) to some half-assed effort to acquire a predictable type of appeal, failing in its lack of (like wine) terroir. If only I could pick up that restaurant and bring it back to the Springs with me.

More Alien Blue photo refs.

Dr. Heckenleibel.

Janey, years later. During.

Smart Bart.

Hooray!

Hooray! It is raining and too wet to do anything with the front yard!
Hooray! I’m eating the last of the cereal!
Hooray! I’m going to Pueblo today with Lee and Ray and there will be pretty food and tasty pictures!
Hooray! Yoga will be over soon!
Hooray! I have an extra day to get caught up on edits this weekend, especially if it keeps raining!
Hooray! No rejections in my inbox this morning!
Hooray! I put down a book yesterday that I don’t want to finish, because life is too short to read books that are no fun! Even when I paid for them!
Hooray! I didn’t pick up Ray’s clothes and stuff all over the house! So she’s going to have to!
Hooray! I have an artichoke in the fridge the size of my daughter’s head! It’s going down, baby!
Hooray! I’m almost done with my book! In the larger scope of things anyway!
Hooray! What a good song!
Hooray! I had a great time with my family back in South Dakota! Thank you for letting me screw up on Rock Band! I sing in the car more now!
Hooray! Doyce told me I had to watch My First Mister, and it was good! The girl reminds me of me (chewing the fingernails) and my sister Betsy (who is even more sarcastic than I). Hey stupid girl! Carol Kane is your mother! Get over it!
Hooray! I’m going to stop avoiding my edits now! Later!

Recipe: Aji Verde

Behold! The wonderful power of something good to do with the leftover bunch of cilantro before it goes bad! This is a South American-type condiment.

Aji Verde (Green Garlic Sauce)

1 c chopped washed cilantro, with stems
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 c sour cream
2 T lime juice
1/2 anaheim pepper
1 T chimayo chili powder or similar (not a spice mix so much as a ground-up, dried chili)
Salt to taste

Smoosh the whole bit in the blender and whirl everything into the consistency of a dip (i.e., more or less smooth). However, this is more of a condiment than a dip, unless you really like cilantro.

If you find the flavor is just not quiiiiite lovely, add more sour cream before you add more salt or lime juice. If using jalapenos, skip the chili powder. If using chili powder, allow the sauce to sit for a few hours before adding a significant amount of additional powder, as it takes a while to come to full potency.

Poem: Spring Blossoms

Experimente…

Crabapple trees go pink in spring
and you forget how annoying they
get in the fall, with the fruit.

This year the buds died on the branch
after a dry, warm winter and a suddenly
icy spring. Dry on the branch

I crush them between my fingers.
The tree keeps growing. New leaves
set in. And I say look,

If you had just kept going, there
would have been water in time,
warmth in time. I see other trees,

down the street, in bloom. You
kept going, sure. But you could have done
what you were planted to do.

But maybe, this year, it didn’t want fruit.

Science Fair.

First, line up with the parents and the strollers outside the doors, wondering what’s going on. A mass of parents is milling because none of them know what to do about the sign in sheets. Sign in to show your support as well as your perspicacity. Then sign up for the Star Lab, because your daughter is bouncing off the walls to go (she went once already during the school day).

Then walk around the exhibits for a while. Your daughter will show you her class’s exhibit, which is about water: animals need it. Small fish swim in tiny plastic containers, and millipedes and pillbugs rest on dirt and moss.

Start to count volcano exhibits, and naked egg exhibits, and crystal formation exhibits, and give up.

Stop at the Oreo exhibit, about how Oreos love milk. The girl contacted Nabisco to find out whether a special ingredient was added; there wasn’t. The girl tested four types of milk (whole, 2-percent, soy, and almond) to determine best absorption. More fat meant more absorption (although the whole milk, she decided, was a bit much). Tell the girl how much you liked her exhibit when she walks by, bragging about her awesome exhibit.

Your daughter is engrossed in the salamander and frog exhibit run by two dissimilar-looking brothers. But it’s time to go, so start walking while you look for your tickets. You hate tickets; you always lose them.

Stand in line for the Star Lab. You have to put booties on over your shoes so you don’t scratch the canvas over the floor. Get down on your knees and crawl into the womb of the sky, a canvas hemisphere tent onto which a volunteer projects the stars with a twenty-five-dollar lightbulb the size of a grain of millet. Your eyes take a long time to adjust, and you begrudge every second of it while the stars spread over you in a way you haven’t been able to feel for years. You cannot see the Milky Way, and you miss it.

The top of the tent is flat, because the ceiling isn’t high enough, but you don’t mind as the ex-teacher volunteer talks about how much everything costs. You see stars and Greek myths marching across the bubble of the sky and a projection of the world, with the Arctic Circle cut off at almost exactly the right latitude.

You crawl out again, in order, despite the protests of little boys who want to Go First, and edge your way out of groups and groups and groups of people standing in line, hoping to get to see the stars, even without a ticket.

You go upstairs to the older kids’ exhibits. One of the exhibits is a fake; it’s a bogus experiment off the Internet copied right down to screen shots from YouTube videos. You were disappointed the experiment was a fake when you found out; it seemed perfect for your daughter’s birthday party.

More volcanoes, more eggs, more salt.

Most of the exhibits are hand-lettered, showing either understanding or a lack of understanding of what a hypothesis is, but not professional or parental. You are proud of that, even the girls who have written their hypotheses with circles and hearts and stars for the dots of their is.

You hang around the salamander/frog boys with your daughter, who is hoping to touch the animals again. Another little girl, apparently a teacher’s daughter, tries to scare the frogs out of their cage, and you have to tell her to knock it off several times before her mother shows up, oblivious to how much of a jerk her daughter is being to the boys and the animals. You want to tell the mother to spank her daughter, but you know she will say, “For what?” even as she watches it. But the girl leaves with her mother, both whining, and you chase your daughter off so the boys and their mother can go home.

People are sweeping the floor fifteen minutes before closing time and your stomach is rumbling. You go home and think about what you would like to do for a science project, if you were in school again. Something, you think, having to do with cooking. Your daughter tells you she wants to do a science experiment about animals. She just doesn’t know what yet.

Mother’s Day.

6:45 a.m. Made cup of tea, grabbed two muffins and a slather of butter. Disappeared into office (!!!) to write.

7:30 a.m. Made second cup of tea. Snagged some Sun Chips that Lee had purchased yesterday to go with the raspberry-chipotle ribs, because I mentioned that I really like them a few weeks ago. Checked on daughter, who had stayed up late playing Plants versus Zombies game (very cute). She was curled up on the couch with the cat sitting on her hip. Kissed daughter on cheek, which was cold, so I brought her another blanket. She complained about cat, which I removed. And removed again.

7:45 a.m. Ray got up. Had to quiet her several times so she didn’t wake Lee up as she played in her room. I kept catching brief bits of the story she’s telling as she plays with her toys. 1) Princess. 2) Some guy. 3) In danger. 4) Kissing. Briefly think about how mothers are supposed to get breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Laugh out loud.

9:00 a.m. Done editing for the morning. Rewrites going well. Lee’s up. Take shower. Ray interrupts shower to announce that she’s much taller today; she’s standing on a kitchen chair and waving her hand over the top of the shower curtain. Lee interrupts shower to ask what I want to do today. I tell him I already told him what I wanted to do today so don’t even pretend to forget. He says gaming won’t take all day. I acknowledge this and say I need to get some shopping done before the trip to South Dakota for my youngest sister’s graduation. He needs to pick up some things, too. He wants to go clothes shopping. Ross’s is the approved clothing-shopping place, which is good, because I need to replace the mattress pad. I mindlessly stuffed it in the dryer on full heat and the cheapass piece of crap melted. We leave the house, agreeing that eating out is not in the plan today, because Mother’s Day is the worst of all possible easting-out days per Waiter Rant, etc.

10:00 a.m. or so. Actually leave house. Head to World Market to look for part of youngest sister’s graduation gift. End up with 1) smartass graduation card, 2) chipotle chocolate bar for Lee, and 3) required gift component.

11:00 or so. SuperTarget. Pick up groceries unable (or impractical) to obtain at Whole Foods yesterday after brutal, “strength-building” yoga class. Lee is in charge of redecorating the bathroom, because he has a wild hair to do so. The shower curtain currently en route to El Casa KK is blood red with clear silhouettes (if you can imagine such a thing) depicting a man with a knife aimed towards to disembodied hands that appear to be sliding down the curtain. Our current towels, mainly light purple, obviously aren’t going to match. We consider mattress pads, sheets, and dark gray towels, as well as an ice cream maker, but do not purchase any of these items. Ray picks out a movie, because I owe her allowance money. It’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which she’s seen before.

12:00 p.m. or so. Decide we’ll risk a restaurant: whiny and irritable and annoying, all around. Strangely, Lee, who becomes green (HULK SMASH) when afflicted with low blood sugar, is the most stable of us all. Unfortunately, even the late churches have let out by now. Drive by Mimi’s, our usual choice on the Powers strip. Mimi’s is packed. Switch to backup plan, Rock Bottom Brewery. We’ve never been there before, but people at Lee’s work keep recommending it. Rock Bottom is not packed. Aha! I knew living in a religious-image town would have its benefits: you can’t take your mother to a brewery for Mother’s Day, it’s sacrilegious! Lee’s driving, so I have a cherry wheat (okay, but filtered and smooth, and I like the chewy wheats) and we both have this gorgonzola-bourbon sauce burger concoction, which is excellent. The beef isn’t as good as King’s Chef Diner, but is still okay.

1 p.m. Remember the whole point of the shopping expedition was to go to Ross’s. Find mattress pad (better quality this time) and some excellent sheets. No towels selected. Lee buys a dress shirt and two pairs of pants, neither of which is black. I try on three bras and two swimsuits while Ray ogles herself in the mirror and manages to try on 1 dress and 1 pair of capris in a different changing room; for Ray, remarkable efficiency. None of the bras fit: big surprise there. The suits fit, but I’d be happier with something with back support to help with the boobs, so I decide to order the same brand online. Ray eventually picks out a dress.

2:30 p.m. Home. Nap. My feet still hurt from yoga class.

4:30 p.m. Wake up. Ray tells me my naps take too long. Eat some chocolate and drink a cup of tea. I’ve been drinking “Get a Grip” PMS tea from the Republic of Tea. I don’t know if it’s actually helping, but I feel like I’m enjoying my bitchiness more.

5:00 p.m. Awake and ready to game!

5:30 p.m. We finally get our butts in gear and roll dice on another episode of Faery’s Tale from Firefly Games. I cannot recommend this RPG enough. Our characters ally with two goblins to save the forest from crystal spiders…or to doom it to a goblin spell. Well, that’s a problem for another week. Pooh gets cow milk squirted in her eye and Homa does this:

Homa: I grab the web.
GM: It’s stretchy. [Makes boinging noises.] But you can’t pull your hand off.
Pooh: I grab around her tummy and pull.
GM: It takes both of you, but you manage to get Homa unstuck.
Pooh: Homa, don’t grab that stuff with your hands again!
Homa: Okay, I use my foot.
[Laughter ensues.]

Guess who’s who.

6:30 p.m. Break for leftover mini-pizza (Ray), ribs (Lee), and cheesecake (De). I never do eat any “real food” for supper.

7:45 p.m. Done gaming. Ray scrambles to get a few more levels of Plants versus Zombies in, so she can stay ahead of her dad. I get to see the almost-final version of the playhouse Lee’s going to work on this summer. It’s very cool. You will like it.

8:00 p.m. Bedtime. I get a footrub from Lee while Ray reads us stories out of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

8:30 p.m. I announce that I’m going to take a bath. I proceed to accidentally fill the bath with bubbles and cold water, then attempt to make the water warm without letting out some of the cold water first. The water heater laughs at me, and I am floating in tepid water when Lee comes in with more tea. I drink a lot of @#$%^&* tea. Lee and I talk. Soon, the tub becomes too cold to be even remotely enjoyable. I get out, shivering, and Lee makes fun of me because I’m too cold to put my robe on, because to do so requires drying off, which requires unwrapping the towel, i.e., the only thing that’s keeping me warm. I realize later I could have just put the robe over the towel and then dropped the towel: it’s a terrycloth robe. You know what towels are made of? Terrycloth.

9:30 p.m. This has been my best Mother’s Day ever, so I blogged about it. I think we’re finally starting to get the hang of this, but I’m probably wrong. Time for bed in bed with new sheets and the usual husband. Hugs and kisses to all the mothers out there. Keep this in mind for the bad days: if Dads get kudos just for showing up, you do too. Good night.

More editing…

Working on:

  • Integrating Richard’s comments (writer group).
  • Not giving away suspense for free.
  • Removing wordy “intros” to sections (Eric’s comments, writer group).
  • Rewriting Dr. Heck.

I just finished clarifying some motives, both Bill’s and Jack’s.

Favorite line so far: “Julian came back with another pitcher. Dinah looked up at him. I looked up at him, too. It was like looking up at a fur coat wearing a Phantom Tollbooth t-shirt.”

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