Friday, October 27, 2017

We are all of us in the gutter

Hello, friends. Apart from my UK travelogue we haven't really talked about life and stuff and things since July, have we? Well, plenty of life and stuff and things have been happening since then, boy howdy!

Amazon had 23andMe kits half-off on Prime Day over the summer, so P and I bought a couple and mailed our spit off to the lab, and my results came in the day before we left for the UK. I already knew about my British Isles and German and Southern European ancestry, so those were no surprise. But I did NOT know about my Japanese, Ashkenazi and Sub-Saharan African ancestry, and those were the most bizarre and delightful surprises ever. I am still processing what this all might mean, but I'm pretty sure it means I'm at least 5% cooler and more interesting than I already thought I was, har har.

I turned 51 in September and now it's October and that means that I'm exactly the same age my mother was when my daughter was born (one month past her 51st birthday) and my daughter is exactly the same age that my mother was when I was born (one month shy of her 20th birthday). That's a pretty nifty little bit of matrilineal mathematics, eh? I've been thinking a lot about that, too. I cannot imagine my H having been married for two years and giving birth to her first child right now. And I cannot imagine being the mother of a 31-year-old and a grandmother of two right now. Holy cannoli. Quit trying to freak me out, Time.

C got his driver's license in September which was a HUGE deal. As most of you know, my boy C has some challenges. He took and passed driver's ed when he was 15 like most kids in the US do, but he found driving so stressful that he opted out of getting a driver's license. For a few years he made do with a bicycle, then an electric bike, for getting around town without parental involvement. But we live way out in the 'burbs with no real public transportation, so that wasn't a great solution. Last year he had progressed to the point that he felt comfortable taking a motorcycle safety course, and he was able to get his Class M license. We bought him a scooter that looked a LOT more like a motorcycle than I was expecting, and he was able to get a bit further from home under his own power, but scooters and motorcycles definitely aren't weatherproof, you guys. Even though he was still super nervous about it, he indicated earlier this year that he might maybe perhaps someday be interested in possibly getting a license to drive a car, and P seized on that and basically did all the legwork to make it happen. He bought C a used convertible (because C was worried he'd feel claustrophobic in a car) and got a learner's permit added to his Class M license and practiced practiced practiced with C every week until C was feeling confident enough and comfortable enough to test for his Class C license. And he did and he got it! So now he can drive a car, something that I honestly never thought would happen given his anxiety around it. We are SO SO PROUD of him!

I've read some more good books since last we spoke. Really enjoyed William R. Anderson's The Ice Diaries, even though his descriptions of piloting a nuclear submarine between massive chunks of polar ice and the ocean floor freaked me RIGHT OUT. Loved Emma Donoghue's The Wonder. Had complicated feelings about Hillbilly Elegy but it's absolutely worth reading. LOVED Grady Hendrix's Horrorstör. I liked Ben Aaronovitch's first Peter Grant book, Midnight Riot, very much but I felt it wanted some editing and it took me forever to finish, by which point I was glad to be done with it. Thumbs up on Louise Penny's Glass Houses, the most recent Chief Inspector Gamache. Loved Hannah Kent's The Good People. I was delighted to discover Karen MacInerney's Dewberry Farm series of cozy mysteries earlier this fall when my brain just couldn't focus on books for whatever reason. Fluffy but well-written and with a local-to-me setting. Right now I'm re-reading the whole His Dark Materials series because I totally forgot I'd pre-ordered Philip Pullman's latest, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage until it showed up on my Kindle.

P and I have been dithering back and forth on cutting the cable TV cord this fall. We have and love Netflix and Amazon Prime Video but we need a good option for live TV. Hulu has too many commercials, YouTube TV doesn't have TBS, we're still looking at Playstation Vue and Sling TV. Oof. Anyone have a streaming service they love that isn't Apple? Requirements: commercial-free option (we're happy to pay extra for it), cloud DVR, must have TBS, must work with both Roku and Android. Go!

I've actually weaned myself off TV quite a bit, to the point that Game of Thrones really is my only must-see, and that's only because it's moved beyond the books (like WAY beyond). But I've been enjoying some other stuff on the tee-vee, y'all! If you didn't see the first season of Claws, find a way to do that. The cast is fantastic and the writing is bananas and I found it completely unpredictable and awesome. Episodes is over now and Broadchurch is over now and Orphan Black is over now and I loved all of them. There's not nearly enough Thandie Newton in my life right now so I can't wait for Westworld to come back. The new Doctor Who is a woman and I am SO EXCITED! People of Earth is so great, The Detour is so great, Wrecked is SO GREAT, and that right there is why any streaming service we use has to have TBS. (Also: The Guestbook. Because Garrett Dillahunt.) I love The Good Place and I like Ghosted and I have warm feelings toward The Orville. And that's pretty much all I'm watching these days. I gave up on American Horror Story and The Walking Dead and The Strain ages ago. I feel like life already is horrifying enough these days without watching horror on TV, but maybe that's just me. I'm pretty sure it's just me.

Other stuff going on: I've been knitting ALL THE THINGS. Well okay, socks and scarves and cowls, mostly. But I've been doing so much knitting that I invested in a cheap swift and winder and sure, they tangle the center-pull strands all to hell, but they make awfully attractive yarn cakes, and pulling from the outside works just fine. So yay for that. I've started volunteering every week at a local food pantry and I am here to tell you that the very best antidote to feeling helpless that I've found is to help someone else. And if you're looking for a great way to put your own shit into perspective, maybe try helping a resident of a domestic violence shelter sort through shelves of donated food trying to find something that she can keep down when the chemo makes her nauseated. I'm just saying. It's hard to have bad days anymore since I've been doing this, you know? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO COMPLAIN ABOUT NOW?!

Anyway. Hi. Sorry this was so long. How are you doing? I've missed you.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Quocunque jeceris stabit

Since last we spoke I have been some places and seen some shit, man, and by "shit" I mean horse plops. You are so excited to read this update now.

P and I flew out of Austin at the tail end of Harvey, leaving our adult children here with the wind and the rain and the panic-induced gas shortage (there are a few things I've done as a parent for which I may never completely forgive myself and I've tucked this trip away into a tiny little corner of that space). We were in Dublin for five days and the only touristy thing I did that I'd done before was Trinity College and the long room in the old library because come on, if I'm in Dublin I'm going there, you can bet money on that. I am going to sit in that room for an entire hour, and during that hour there may come a point at which you wonder if I am okay, and the truth is that I'm SO VERY OK that I appear not at all okay, and it's fine. Just leave me to it. I'm inhaling the aroma and soaking in the filtered light and trying to pretend I'm alone in there, just me and the books and the busts and that incredible ceiling.

Apart from also visiting the National Museum of Archaeology (which is FANTASTIC) and getting lost in Temple Bar (WHO DESIGNED THESE STREETS?) I mostly stayed south of the canal this trip, stomping around Rathmines and Ballsbridge and Ranelagh, visiting little shops and parks and gardens and admiring the gorgeous ironwork fences and the view of the Wicklow Mountains and the chimneys of Upper Leeson from our hotel room window.

Just like last year, we were in Dublin this time for an industry conference that P attends (he was presenting this year), and we learned this trip that next year the conference will move to Dusseldorf, and I am sad because that likely means this was our last trip to Dublin for a very long while, and I LIKE DUBLIN. I like all of Ireland, actually. I understand Ireland, nothing there feels strange to me. If I have a home away from the US, Ireland is it. South Dublin is it. I will miss it so much.

After Dublin we hopped a little propeller plane for the Isle of Man and OH YOU GUYS. If you ever get the chance to visit the Isle of Man. DO IT. Do not hesitate, not even for a second. It's 30 minutes by air from Dublin or Manchester. It is by far the most beautiful place I've ever been, ever ever ever, with by far the nicest people I've ever met in my entire life. We stayed right on the Central Promenade in Douglas and only saw a fraction of the island, from Port Erin up the southeast coast and then north to Laxey and Snaefell, but holy criminy was it amazing and gorgeous and just ... wow. Just wow. Go there. You will not regret it.

The weather was gorgeous our first day on the island but the second day there, which was at the halfway point of our entire trip, it turned wet and grey and chilly and windy and I kind of hit a wall that day from which I never recovered. I have about seven days in me, vacation-wise. Ten if sun and sand and slushy drinks are involved. But this was a fifteen-day trip, you guys. That is too long for me. I am a delicate fucking flower; I can't go that long without my food and my kids and my bed and my Texas weather.

After three days of Manx shenanigans we headed to England, specifically to Cheshire, more specifically to a little town called Lymm that lies on the Bridgewater Canal between Manchester and Liverpool. We were there for a week and the weather stayed awful and my mood stayed awful but holy shit was it gorgeous there. We were there specifically to do some genealogical research on P's side but I did not expect to fall in love with this little town, with its footpaths and deep dark woods and gorgeous meadows (full of horse plops, but also flowers! and berry bushes! and apple trees! and chestnuts! it was so pretty!).

We were in England for another five days and then we flew home sweet home just as Irma was roaring through Florida. Whatever else happens, I am home now. I have my kids and my dog and my bed and my house and my warm sunshine. It's so good to be home.

But you know what? The UK is fabulous. We didn't have a bad meal the whole time we were there, not one. The people we met were without exception friendly and kind and incredibly patient with us, even the old sexist, racist anti-Semites (that was all one guy; his name was George). Everywhere we went was gorgeous. EVERYWHERE. So green, so many trees and flowers, so many dog owners, such beautiful waterways. Dublin is super fucking expensive but the Isle of Man and Cheshire are dirt cheap in comparison re: meals and lodging and transportation. They have Strongbow Dark Fruit cider on tap everywhere, which we can't even GET here in the US, so unfair.

It was an amazing trip and I'm glad it's over and yeah. Let's do fall now. I'm super ready for fall.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


It tastes better than it looks, sweartoGod.

Okay so here is the thing: when bell peppers first came into season here a couple of months ago, I started craving old-school stuffed peppers like MAD. You know, the ones your mom used to make back in the '70s, with the meat and the rice and the tomato sauce? OMG SO GOOD. Pure comfort food.

So I made them and P and C loved them and then they started wanting them every week and then I realized that these things are kind of a pain in the ass, what with parboiling the peppers and then stuffing them and arranging them in the baking dish and yeah. No wonder my mom didn't make them very often.

SO! I got lazy and came up with a casserole version. Basically it involves chopping the peppers and adding them to the filling instead of stuffing them. I probably didn't invent this, but whatever, my version only has five ingredients and it's super easy and you can customize the hell out of it based on how you and your family like to eat. And it makes a ton and is great for potlucks! And it freezes really well in case you're pregnant or have surgery coming up or whatever! Yay!

The recipe below is exactly how I make it, but scroll down for some ideas re: making it vegan or paleo/low-carb or whatever, if you're into that.

5-Ingredient Stuffed Pepper Casserole

2 lbs. ground meat (we like half ground pastured pork, half bulk pastured pork sausage)
4-6 large green bell peppers, chopped into large-ish pieces
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups cooked jasmine rice (made from 1 cup uncooked rice)
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce (we like Muir Glen Organic)

Cook meat in a giant skillet over medium-high heat just until no longer pink, then add chopped green peppers and minced garlic cloves and continue cooking, stirring frequently. Once the peppers are crisp-tender and the meat has browned a bit, remove from heat and mix in cooked rice and 1.5 cans of tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large casserole dish or 9x13" pan and spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top. Bake covered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F, then uncover and continue baking for another 10 minutes or so. Remove from oven and serve.


You can use whatever ground meat you want in this. Chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, venison, elk, pork, sausage, whatever, it'll all work. You just might need to add a little extra olive oil to the pan if you're using a really lean meat.

Not into meat? I haven't tried it, but I would imagine you could substitute 3-4 cups of cooked or canned legumes (lentils, black beans, etc.). Just saute the peppers and garlic in a little olive oil, remove from heat, and add the beans at the same time as the rice and tomato sauce. I don't think tofu would work, but maybe TVP? Seitan? Those Morningstar Farms crumbles? I don't know, man. Try it and report back.

I haven't tried this either but I'm 98% sure that you could substitute riced cauliflower or riced sweet potatoes for the actual rice. If you're using raw, I'd add it to the pan with the peppers and garlic so it gets a little pre-cook in. If you're using already cooked riced veggies (like those Green Giant frozen ones), I'd drain them really well, squeeze out as much moisture as you can, and add them when you'd normally add the rice.

Feel free to throw some chopped onion in there. C is allergic to onions so I leave them out. Also, you could throw some corn in there. Or some fancier peppers. Or meat AND beans. Or some raisins and cinnamon. I mean, however you like your stuffed peppers, just make that but chop and saute the peppers instead of stuffing them. You know? IT'S EASY.

I'm thinking there's got to be a way to adapt this for the slow-cooker, too. Just haven't quite figured it out yet.

Anyway, enjoy! If you try it and like it, let me know! If you try it and hate it, keep that shit to yourself. (Kidding! I'm kidding!)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In Prague I knew I'd been a witch

Oh, hi. Remember back in May when I said I wasn't doing Facebook much anymore and I hoped it would lead to more writing over here? Those were more innocent times, weren't they?

Yeah. Hello. I have no idea what I've been doing for the past couple of months. But the photographic evidence suggests I've been hanging out in hospital emergency rooms (I wasn't the patient, and everything is fine, and that's all I'm gonna say about that), and I've been buying flowers at the farmer's market, and cooking some stuff, and buying a new chair for my office, and killing yet more plants, and knitting a whole hell of a lot.

AND ... planning another trip to Dublin, with additional stops on the Isle of Man and in Cheshire, UK. I know! Exciting! That's all happening at the end of August/beginning of September and I'm super freaking out over it.

See, my people aren't really travelers. Growing up, I think I got the idea that, much like sleep-away camp, it wasn't something on which working-class people spent their money. I didn't know a single kid growing up who went to sleep-away camp, not until we moved to Texas. The kids I knew all spent their summers the same way I did: running around our blue-collar suburban neighborhood engaging in casual misdemeanors. And I never knew anyone who traveled internationally unless it was across the border by car into Canada or Mexico, or unless it was a military thing.

It's so weird to me that this is a thing I get to do now, that my kids are adults and my parents are still in relatively good health and I can just do this, leave the country for a couple of weeks. Go to a completely other country. I know for some of you this is a typical Thursday or whatever, but for me it's just SO weird. I'm like a little kid with this. Wow! I get to go to Dublin AGAIN! And I get to go to the Isle of Man, who's done that?! (Wait, have any of you done that? Tell me everything!) I get to go to England, where I've never been, and stay in a little inn near Manchester and stomp up and down the canals and drink cider. CAN. NOT. WAIT!

So yeah. Wow. What a summer, eh? H moved into an apartment with friends and got a promotion at work and is doing so great with the adulting, I am SO SUPER PROUD of that kid. C is thisclose to getting his driver's license and did great in his summer class and has been making tons of new amazing music and has a new job, maybe? (I feel very first-trimester about the whole job thing right now, so please just keep your fingers crossed, okay?) So super proud of that kid, too. P is busy getting ready for the conference that is the whole reason we get to go to Dublin again in the first place. And I'm just obsessively googling "minimalist travel wardrobe" and drinking matcha lattes and stress-eating way too much guacamole. Oy.

Actually, that's a lie. I've been reading books! I know! I only have good books to recommend to you anymore, because if a book isn't good within the first couple of chapters I just delete it from my Kindle and move on with my life (and eat more guacamole). This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I have upwards of 500 books loaded onto my Kindle and that I'll likely only live long enough to read 426 of them. You know, if I'm lucky. And don't get ritually sacrificed to Manannan for trying to use euro in Douglas in a couple of months.

But yeah! The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: excellent. Required reading if you read and liked Harold Fry. Daniel O'Malley's Stiletto, the sequel to The Rook: excellent. Tig Notaro's I'm Just a Person: excellent. Code Name Verity: excellent! I liked Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different VERY much, apparently much more than a lot of other people did.

Right now I'm reading Captain William R. Anderson's The Ice Diaries, about the first nuclear submarine and its Cold War mission to explore the Arctic Ocean while completely submerged under polar ice (all covert-like). You wouldn't think that would be my kind of thing, but (a) I love true stories about Arctic and Antarctic exploration for some damn reason, and (b) my father-in-law was a career Navy officer and navigator and both of P's brothers served in the Navy aboard nuclear subs. Mostly this book is making me miss my father-in-law because I think he would have LOVED it and I'm sad that I can't buy him a copy.

Anyway. That's what's going on around here. We'll have to talk about TV another time (OMG GAME OF THRONES BROADCHURCH CLAWS WRECKED YAY).