4-5-2018 Caramel Day

It’s cold, yesterday we had rain, the day before snow. Spring in New Hampshire doesn’t generally have what I’d call pleasant weather. But the snow is pretty much gone except for places where it was piled by plows, and on the south side of roads when the sun doesn’t hit. I miss the coziness of the warmth because we haven’t fired up the wood stove recently. It’s on the edge of needing it, and we don’t, so it’s sort of uncomfortable. I know that this is just the way spring happens in New England. Last month we got a potted hyacinth, Kat took it to her room because the floral scent is too strong for where we eat. It has passed, as they do after a few weeks, and apparently it’s now too late and there aren’t any more available. When ours bloom (later in the month?)
On the other hand we have wind, MAJOR wind! The wires outside the house are doing that weird humming thing, the trees sound like a train is passing, and we lost power last night briefly, with the result that I gave up on finishing this before going to bed and am winding it up this morning.
Food was good this week. I made pulled pork and made fresh buns for it. I made hot cross buns, which reinforced my observation that if you add cinnamon during the actual rising of the dough it slows down the yeast. Instead of a three hour cycle to get from starting the yeast to baking, it took overnight before it was ready. I was also reminded that it’s a whole lot easier to draw a pentagram where you don’t have to pick up the tip rather than a cross because picking up the tip of the pastry bag from one side of the bun to go around because the cross doesn’t touch. When you make them in a pan- touching, as grocery stores do, you can just make a long line across the whole pan, then go back (and forth), then go the other way. When you make separate round buns, I find pentagrams easier. They taste the same either way, of course, but its not just a sweet bun, but a “hot cross bun” and tradition is important. I also made a lovely roasted lamb on Sunday, which was followed up with a lovely pot of curried lamb. April 2 was El’s birthday, so I used Arwen’s “Two Knives” curry mix (designed for him) in his memory. He wasn’t supposed to have hot pepper any more, so she made a rich sweet combination just for him. It’s lovely! I also made a Black Forest Cake (nearly). Last week was Black Forest Cake Day, that preyed on my mind for a bit. Then I tripped over a can of cherries in the cupboard, and figured, what the heck, if I don’t practice when it doesn’t count, I won’t get it right when I make it for company, so I made it. Sort of.  I didn’t use the kirshe that was called for, and I didn’t split both layers (I was running low on the whipped cream)  The batter itself used 9 eggs, for an ordinary sized cake, which kept it fluffy, but the result was it was very dry. Had I used more whipped cream, and more fruit, MAYBE I could have done without the fruit brandy. Clearly I need to try again in a few months. Also, I am reenforced in my belief that I shouldn’t try to serve it for strange guests until I’ve figured it out. It was VERY rich, and possibly most people wouldn’t have anything to compare it to.
Part of this food fun was because we went out on Sunday and shopped. Having been avoiding walking for a while (plus it being the end of the month) we were out of “everything”: not just bread, milk, eggs and salad stuff, but potatoes, onions, mushrooms, garlic, peppers… how is one to cook? Steve took me out (my feet were feeling better)- that’s when I found the lovely piece of lamb, and since he’s a bachelor, that struck me as the sort of thing he wasn’t liable to make for himself. Also Passover, and lamb is really good. This was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I remember that that was something Mother said after almost every Sunday dinner, but thanks to the transient nature of the art form, it probably feels like truth every time. It’s a good way to see the world.
I’m now done with the bottles of homeopathic Rhus Tox and Sylph, and waiting to see if it’s good enough. Many mornings when I get up (that’s when it tends to be worst) I feel better. There’s still some discomfort, but I’m not entirely sure whether I’m just used to it, or it’s down to a manageable level. There are lots of little aches you just get used too and I will probably stay off my feet more- which isn’t good for exercise. Kat offered to take a walk with me one day when it was warm, but I told her I was going to wait until my feet hadn’t hurt for a week to be sure I wasn’t pushing it. I should get back to weight lifting rather than doing no exercise at all. Especially since I am not sure I haven’t eaten somethings just to have something warm in my hands and belly. I’ve also come up with the theory that my computer desk and chair are about 2 inches two low, so my feet might be more comfortable if I find a taller one. (Or prop it up?) Another theory is that the pain is there to give me permission to cry, because there’s a lot of depression going around, and clearly I need to share in it. (;
Having sent in the proposals, I have plunged into the preparation for the workshop on Vampires I’ll be doing at Pennsic and CTCW (and probably GNEW). It’s a fun subject, described by one writer as a symbolic focus for fear all over the world, and she points out, the remedy is usually cheap and easily available- garlic, salt, wood, seeds… All over the world it seems vampires have a compulsion to count small things. I am not surprised that others have come up with various theories on the social meaning of vampires-  Vampires are supposed to be aristocracy (powerful and attractive, but taking without giving back), Werewolves the repressed middle classes (who sometimes burst out in frustration), Zombies are the working classes (unthinking and disposable) . I suppose that’s why the walking dead are so popular these days. I still think it’s because they represent our fears that those we love may be (or turn) bad for us and we may have to get rid of them whether we love them or not. Fairies are sociopaths, or Nature, they don’t care about us at all.
Some cultures conflate vampires and werewolves, others don’t. I have discovered that the Chinese “Hopping Corpse” vampires are simply transients who are being carried back to their own locals for burial, not hopping because they are stiff from rigor mortis or wrapped in shrouds.  Pity, that’s such a good story! The southeast Asian vampires who leave their bodies and fly around as heads (with wings) and their intestines (or spine depending on the area) dangling from it are a thing- and pretty widespread. As so often, the hard part is going to be cutting it all down to only an hour of the most fun stories, (and useful information). One thing I noted is that vampires evolve to meet the needs of whatever culture they are in. The great white shark has not evolved over millions of years, it works as it is for what it needs to be.
This has distracted me a bit from finishing Lynn’s book cover. I’m progressing some- still working on the composition. If you look at last week’s letter you’ll see that there’s a tree that looks like it’s growing out of the back end of the bear- I had to move that over to the other side of the clearing- then move it back in a little because the girl up the tree might be lost in framing. This meant I had to move the dead black bears too.  Composition really is the hardest part; but since it’s the most important part, it really has to be done, like ripping out knitting when you discover you made a mistake many rows back!
I am working on the background, and I don’t like doing backgrounds. I like painting people. Even bears are good, vikings are good, but trees and I don’t get along. I think trees are amazing, but I’m not good at drawing them. And the lights and shadows of landscapes are complex and evocative. I have the area around the painting festooned with forest images, but they are mostly inspiration because the season is wrong, or the light’s coming from the wrong direction, or it’s the wrong kind of tree. I really do better drawing or painting what’s in front of me. I will be SO happy to get back to the foreground. In a portrait you can just put a color behind them, but no, in an illustration everything is important. Feh! (This is why I get paid I suppose.)
Thursday we had a meeting for CTCW programming and picked the first run of proposals to accept. I hate that they’ve pared down the amount of time dedicated to workshops, while I accept that they are right that people need more time to relax and digest, but there’s just so much to share. In theory we are picking the best, but I know that people don’t actually get around to submitting and we only pick from what we’re offered, and by doing it earlier, which is good in so many ways, we may be missing some great classes. I suppose it’s better than having too many classes people can’t get to because there are too many. Now I need to post them. I also need to find another podcast venue, I’ve been putting that off too.
Willow lost her wallet while she was out doing errands yesterday. She did find it eventually, but that’s got to have been a sucky hour or however long. (She took back the skates she gave Bianca for her birthday. For vacation she took them to the skating ring and they loved it, so she’s been taking them every Friday, and Bianca wanted her won skates. But she said they hurt, so Willow returned them, and then looked for different ones at Toys R Us at their going out of business sale, found them, but her wallet had apparently fallen out at 5 Below. She also found herself an exercise ball to sit on when she’s at her downstairs computer. She’s up gaming. It’s good to have social activity. Sadly, she and Avi don’t get a chance to pal around much anymore, because Avi would need to get a babysitter and no one but Willow will do it.
I am trying to cut back on looking at/ listening to politics because it’s too depressing. I did catch the tape of all the various anchormen and women giving the Sinclair editorial. This is how they do it. If you’ve worked hard to get your position, you don’t want to lose it, so you bend a little. Sinclair wants to be America’s “Pravda”. I’m sure there are people out there who still believe whatever is on the news. We’ve found that the EPA gave employees talking points to downplay climate science, the FEMA strategic plan removed mention climate change,  gerrymandering as it already exists puts midterms at risk, (did I mention Bolton last week?) that phthalates that make plastics more flexible and so are everywhere lead to diabetes, lower IQ, and cancer. I try to remind myself that when we learn something, it gives us power to stop it (like the Parkhurst kids using their transparent backpacks to spread their messages). Trumps trade war (“easy to win”) is probably costing him his base, although the ideological division of the two parties is both cause and effect of the divisiveness splitting the country today, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now twice the size of Texas. Another good news- the bionic kidney is approaching when they can use it to replace dialysis, science marches on. And the courts keep blocking the illegal stuff Trump tries. Today I read that a judge has told Orange County that they aren’t allowed to “enforce anti-camping laws” without finding alternate shelter for the homeless. That’s pretty brilliant!  One weird note- Stephen King is thinking of running for governor of Maine.
What have I watched this week? Kat introduced me to a online Vampire drama called Carmilla done as a Weblog from a dorm room, which is pretty funny. This week I watched Attack the Block, which was actually a well made SF horror movie.  Admittedly the Block to which they are referring is what we’d call “projects” in Great Britain. That sort of carried over, and I didn’t recognize a lot of the British slang that these inner city kids used, but you can get most of it through context. The monsters are nicely scary, and only a few people got killed. One of the best things was that they explained that these aliens, although dangerous, weren’t trying to take over the world, they just were dangerous- and not “Predator dangerous”, but at a level where determined people could protect themselves (mostly). I recommend it; I think I liked it better than Get Out. I also watched Waking Ned Devine, a story about a small Irish town that scams the lottery so they could split the winnings when one of their friends has a fatal heart attack when he wins. It’s a character driven movie, it’s all about people, mostly nice people, people whose problems actually could be solved with a bit more money, who understand that money isn’t the answer to life, just to specific problems, and there’s an occasional jerk. It was sweet. I rewatched Phantom of the Opera- I’d sent for the old one, and the musical came, so I watched it. It’s easier to paint to music anyway. Now the songs are going through my head.
I’ve also got old Easter carols going through my head too. Sadly, I keep getting Mother’s favorite, which starts out low and spooky “Lo, in the grave he lay…” then ends up with a sprightly “he arose, he arose”  mixed up with “Standing on the Promises”. We used to sing a lot, and learned songs (and poems) easily and often. It occurred to me that kids don’t filter religion, they just accept it. It’s coming from the people who teach you everything: “Eat this. Don’t eat that!” “Do this, this way.” “You can go this far, but don’t go there.” “Don’t touch that!” “This is how you use this thing…” So when they dress us up and take us to church, (mostly it’s “don’t wiggle, be quiet, don’t get dirty!” …along with some great stories) we just take that all in the same way. I expect it’s the same whether its Jesus and Jehovah, or the Lares and Jupiter the Best and Greatest, or the saints, or the ancestors, or Mohammed and Allah, or the Vettir and the Æsir. You take it in with your mother’s milk and first foods, and never think twice about it until you get to the rebellious stage when, having discovered that parents are actually fallible, you look for everything they got wrong. Apparently my father’s family was Unitarian and my mother’s Baptist and Congregational was a compromise. I suppose that means they were “generic” Christians, they believed in God and Christ, but weren’t much worried about bits of dogma.
When the girls went down to RegenerationWhoCon, I took out the “first season” of Dr. Who, meaning when they started again after the 14 year lapse, and have been enjoying it, probably because a good half of the stories are about time travel rather than just aliens. (I totally agree with Kat that it is really stupid to call the 27th year as season 1, because that’s just confusing!) Some of the episodes are marvelous! British seasons are short- usually 6 not 26 shows, but I think that makes them like the mini-movies they used to do with Colombo and McMillan and Wife. And Kat (who is on a lot of Dr. Who forums) overheard someone talking about a really cute girly (apparently they didn’t know about the Lolita movement) Adric at RegenerationWho- her! Neat! (Sorry about the lack of pictures this week, I haven’t really been out or taking pictures much. I could have taken pictures of the food, but didn’t think of it.)
I got a copy of The Revenant, mostly because its got a bear attack, but it’s really hard to see the title without thinking of the vampire stuff I’ve been reading lately. I suppose he did get buried and crawl out of his grave, but technically, he hadn’t died yet, so within my context he doesn’t count as Undead. The bear mauling was incredible- I’m not sure how they got the bear to do that. I expect some sort of combination of trained bear and animatronics. (I may have to look it up.)
John and I watched the movie 10 Commandments– I was more amazed now by the special effects than when I was younger. I’ve always loved the “aquarium” image of the wall of water when the sea parted, and I can’t help thinking that in those days when there were thousands in a crowd, they HAD thousands of real extras, along with the costumers and people making sure that they weren’t wearing their sunglasses and wrist watches, they didn’t just take 200 and make more and fit them in with CGI. They did it all with models, and tricks. We even watched the original silent version, which was also impressive for its time, and very similar to deMille’s later movie. I think they should take some of these old silent movies and dub them, for the “reading impaired” (me while I’m working).

As I mentioned, most of what I’ve been reading is research for the Vampire workshop: I’m still going through the

Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, also the 
Encyclopedia of the Undead,
The Vampire: His Kith and Kin,

The Vampire in Lore and Legend,

The Return of the Dead,
The Secret History of Vampires

 The Vampire Encyclopedia,  The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other MonstersIn Search of DraculaThe Complete Vampire Companion, and The Weiser Field Guide to Vampires. When I find out about a new book on whatever topic I’m exploring, I try to get a copy from the library. If it’s really good, then I’ll buy one anyway. If it’s available on Kindle, I get the “free sample” – usually the first 20 pages or so. That should be enough to show me whether it’s worth buying. I do tend to highlight paperbacks. If it’s a hard cover, I can’t bring myself to deface them; but those are full of flags. I already have two copies of The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, (actually, one’s mine, one’s Willow’s), but there’s a third edition out, rewritten for 2010, and the others were from the 80s and 90s. Sadly, the library won’t lend out the most recent one, you have to read it in their reference area, so I got a kindle copy.  Some of the books deal with the way the concept has developed and evolved over the years. Some of them are about modern blood drinkers- usually called Vampirists or Sanguinarians.  There are some anthropology textbooks for which I buy a new edition every year or two as they change the content. I do feel that this is a bit more frivolous.

I finished Lies, Damned Lies, and History, and started And the Rest is History from the Chronicles of Saint Mary’s. Also The Long and the Short of It is a compilation of the short stories from that universe. It’s humorous SF, about those who study history by looking at it firsthand. If you’re enough of an historian to still be upset about the burning of the library at Alexandria, you’ll get these characters. Sadly, given my penchant for binge- reading any new series I discover, I am almost done with this one and will have to find another (no worries I am cannon-balling into a pile of books on Vampires for my summer workshops, I’m too old and fat to just “dive in”). But I really wish I could find someone else who’d read this series so I could talk to them about it.

  I recently decided that all literature is simply “things going wrong”, and how the people deal with it. These characters simply expect that things will go wrong and deal- beautifully. 

And that will do for this week- back to the painting. I have more in my backlog!
“Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.” Stephen King
Next Week’s Holidays:
Th 5 Burrito Day, Deep Dish Pizza Day, Caramel Day, Fresh Tomato Day, Caramel Popcorn Day
Fr 6 Twinkie Day, Pie Day, Walk to Work Day, Plan your Epitaph Day, New Beer’s Eve, Tartan Day
Sa 7 Beer Day, Coffee Cake Day, Handmade Day, No Housework Day, Beaver Day, Pillow Fight Day
Su 8 Empanada Day, Draw a Picture of a Bird Day, Dog Farting Awareness Day, Feng Shui Day
Mo 9 Chinese Almond Cookie Day, Name Yourself Day, Unicorn Day, Jumbo Day
Tu 10 Cinnamon Crescent Day, Equal Pay Day, Sibling Day, Safety Pin Day, Farm Animals Day
We 11 Cheese Fondue Day, “Louie Louie Day”, Pet Day, Barbershop Quartet Day