Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ruby's ultimate comfort food

The following is a guest post by Ruby Hanson, Magnolia's mother in Always Magnolia. She'd like to share her fabulous tuna noodle casserole recipe with you. Take it away Ruby...

Thanks so much for letting me share! We had an awful summer here at Trailer Haven. Can't say too much about it without crying and that'll just set Maggie off again. As soon as the weather turned, here on the Space Coast, I got to thinking we were going to be okay. But there's always such a sad tinge of horror at the edge of even the crispest morning. Christmas was muted. We were weighed down, like with clay. The new year is almost here. I want to tell Maggie that everything's going to be all right, but she keeps saying it ain't. It's true enough, I suppose, that nothing in our lives will be the same again. But it ain't the end. And I'll just be ever ready to hand my baby girl a big bowl of steaming comfort whenever she needs it.

I imagine this time of year is hard for lots of people without them having a murderer tearing up their lives. So here's my recipe to help you out, if you need something warm and soft and dreamy to remind you that life goes on--it goes on and it gets better; I can promise you that. You'll get through it. Just one day after another and you'll see, there'll come a sunrise.

Ruby Hanson's tuna noodle casserole

You'll need:

  • 1 big can of tuna. One of them 12 ouncers. Drain that sucker really good. I like to leave a small part of the lid attached and press the lid into the can, squeezing out all of the water, over the sink or into a bowl for the trailer park cats to fight over, until the tuna is dry as can be.
  • 1 1/2 cups of dried elbow macaroni, boiled. Most would tell you to boil it to what they call all dentie. But you can go mushy if you like. The softer the elbow, the creamier the comfort, as I always say.
  • 1 regular sized can of cream of mushroom soup. You can use cream of celery if you have to.
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • Some frozen peas, as many as you want. I use about a cup full. Set 'em out in a strainer to thaw a bit while you start the mixing up.
  • Chopped up onion, if you like. When I'm in a hurry, I leave this out. Maggie never complains.
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • A good mess of shredded cheddar cheese

Put all of it, but use only about a handful of the shredded cheese, into a big bowl and stir it up good. Pour it into a glass loaf dish that you sprayed with some Pam. Bake it in a 350-degree oven for a good fifty minutes, an hour won't hurt it. It'll make the crust crunchy! Then layer the rest of that shredded cheese on top and put it back in until the cheese is all melty. That's Maggie's favorite part.

Let it cool a bit and then scoop out a big bowl of comfort. Curl up in your jammies and socks in front of the television; but don't put the news on. Celia still watches it, but she does it late at night with the sound turned low. I think she's addicted to it all. When the trial starts, I expect I'll be making a lot more tuna noodle casserole.

I thank you so much for letting me share. Have a wonderful new year, if you can manage.

Much love,
Ruby Hanson

P.S. I hear there's a lady up north there, in town, who died of the cancer or some such. They found her house filled to the brim with stuff, like those shows on t.v. One of Maggie's high school friends is involved somehow. Won't let them condemn the place. She says it's something to do with love. And I tell Maggie, it's always love that comes out on top. I think it's all that matters, really. Don't you? Anyway, as soon as we get the whole story, I'm sure you'll be hearing about it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Publix Thanksgiving Tasting: a cheapskates food festival

One of our local Publix stores

Every year, Publix supermarkets have tiny little food festivals in their stores before Thanksgiving. This year, hubs and I (as you know from my blog, devotees of the annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival) attempted to make a lunch out of it.

First, we went to our neighborhood Publix where we do our regular shopping.

We always head to the right when we go to Publix and this store is, I'm happy to say, laid out properly. First stop, the deli and a mini Thanksgiving dinner of pulled turkey in gravy, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

The turkey was delicious, even though I prefer a nice slab of dry meat. The look of this was unappealing, but probably cheaper to make and sell. The stuffing could not compare to my own homemade cornbread stuffing. Flavorless, I'm afraid. The mashed potatoes were okay. Tasted like they were made with real butter. I'm not a fan. But hubs declared them NOT Boston Market-y. (That's an inside joke that you'd have to go all the way back to our first Epcot FWF blog to understand.)

Next up was the bakery where they were handing out tiny slices of raspberry cake. Hubs abstained. I thought it was scrumptious! I would totally eat a thick slice of that. But the cake retails at $23.99! Are you kidding me? It will be on sale for Thanksgiving at $19.99. I don't think so.

That is not my shoe.

Then we got some melt-y pumpkin flavored Publix brand ice cream. It had some sweet crunchy bits in it that hubs declared to be crust. Bits o' crust. Could be...

So, a little meal and two desserts so far. Not bad. I was on a bit of a sugar high when we came up to the meat department and got some real chunks of meat. 

That's turkey on the left and ham on the right. Both smoked and very tasty. Then it was time to cleanse our palates with a hunk of pineapple in the produce section.

Yum. As we headed over to frozen foods, where I was expecting to be treated to a sampling of Baileys Irish Cream, we were disappointed to find that it was over. That was it.

So, we headed down the road to the other Publix and did it all over again. With a few differences, one of them rather strange.

Heading to the right again, this Publix offered us dessert first with an even tinier slice of that raspberry cake. I'd be stingy with it too at $23.99 each.

Then over to another counter where we got some eggnog.

And a quiche that the lady said was bread pudding with pears in it. I didn't taste any pears. It was definitely quiche. And a small slab of steak. Perhaps this is breakfast? But the eggnog...? I don't get it.

Then over to the deli and another mini Thanksgiving meal. This time we got to choose dark or white pulled turkey, mash or stuffing. And we got cranberry sauce. Very tart cranberry sauce. The stuffing here was better than at the other store. Hubs said it was because this one had salt on it.

And next, in the produce section, we were once again treated to a hunk of pineapple. I had no idea pineapple was a Thanksgiving staple, but what do I know? I'm from Florida.

We weren't given a toothpick with this one so we had to eat it with our fingers. Next we got the strangest thing. In the meat department. Sushi. Thanksgiving sushi! I chose the shrimp variety and it was very spicy. Had to eat with my fingers again, but maybe that's how you eat sushi.

Then on to frozen foods where we had a choice between pumpkin pie ice cream and some other kind that looked like chocolate but the guy said it was coffee, so we got pumpkin again. This time it wasn't melt-y and I thought it tasted much better. But we're pretty sure it was because I ate it after eating spicy sushi instead of raspberry cake.

Still no Baileys. I swear I got Baileys one year. Maybe they'll do it again at Christmas and then I can get the Baileys. I suppose I could just buy some Baileys. But the way I chug drinks, I'm thinking...I'd better not.

All in all, a pretty okay lunch, if not a bit sugar heavy.

Publix, where shopping, and tasting, is a pleasure!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards: Camelia

Today, I received the scores for Camelia from the 

2014 Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards

which I did not win.
 However, I am pleased to share the scores and commentary with you.

Spoiler Alert! The review does mention the end of the book.

My comments below...

From the email:
Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.” This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking.

Entry Title: Camelia
Author: Dianna Dann
Judge Number: [redacted]

Entry Category: Mainstream/Literary Fiction

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
Plot and Story Appeal: 5
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary*:

Beautiful cover image--conveys an innocent girl carefully walking a line. The placement of the side foot conveys an "about to fall" sense of movement and peril. Very well done. The back cover can be improved by allowing for more contrast between the background pattern and the wording. It's a little bit hard to read. A bolder font would let that description stand out.

Excellent opener with 'madness dances in the light, solace sleeps in shadow.' What a terrific glimpse into her mindset; sets the stage for an exploration in her inner word. [sic] The light and shadow contrast is fantastic, since that's the battle for addicts.

Excellent opener with her poised to plummet, a very dramatic moment, and in that moment her mind is spinning to different topics, especially on the issue of her name. Reader gets a sense of that rollercoaster of mental illness, how thoughts fly unrestrained. When she talks about the hair on her arms, we get a good sense of that self-focus/self-absorption that is a hallmark of her mental issues. Very well done.

We're seeing so many layers of her, without cliche. Very nuanced, and she's been given a terrific voice, good wit, sarcasm, and some terrific wisdom. Author has built a fabulous main character.

We enter the world of the hospital and the characters within, and unlike other successful novels that take place in a ward for the unwell, we get a sense of the cliques and how they think. It's almost a prison society, and the beliefs and actions of each group, as well as their positioning--exceptionally well done--allow the reader to be present in that space, on guard, observing. Beautiful experientials here.

Her therapy sessions are engaging, as is the introduction to Camelia, and when she moves through her world, interacting with people the reader might prefer her not to talk to, it creates an engagement for the reader, a lot of emotion.

There's a bit of a lull at the 2/3 mark, where sh's still exploring her world and resisting 12-step meetings, and the reader wonders if her character is going to evolve as we wish. While it's realistic that an addict hangs on to impulses and practices, and a dramatic change isn't likely to happen, a few glimmers of improvement are very much wished-for by the reader. But on page 307, we still see that she's self-destructive. Reader gets a touch of fatigue at this point. It's at 351 when she admits to Camelia that she tried to bury her pain but it didn't go away that we get a sense of sadness for her. 

She's expressing positive realizations, which is an improvement, but when she says she needs a buffer between herself and a book, we know she is likely to go the way of sad statistics. So, the author has painted a realistic portrait--that even if you want someone you care about to improve, it is truly a tough process and a happy ending isn't always guaranteed. Well done.

So brilliant when she opines on why people talk all the time, that it keeps them disconnected from the hole within them. This is fantastic, and shows her deep wisdom. We like this character and want her to keep using those gems to improve herself. But in the end, when she's saved from getting hit by a truck, her question of "Did you?"is once again a sad exhale for the reader.

Author has taken the reader on a ride through that inner world, a richly detailed one that stays with the reader long after the book is done.

--Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

*As they pointed out in the email, apostrophes and other marks came through as wacky symbols. I did my very best to decipher those replacements that weren't obvious.


I have to say I am very pleased by the commentary. I feel like the judge understood exactly what I was going for with the novel. And of course, anytime someone says you've done well, you like it. 

Camelia was just awarded First Place in the women's fiction category in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, so clearly I am feeling validated. I'm afraid I've been saying that Camelia is a difficult read--that it's a bit crazy, not everyone's cup of tea. I think was afraid that a novel like that, narrated by someone who is suicidal and self-destructive--a brutally honest story--might not be understood. I might not be understood.

I feel understood. I feel like I've connected with some people. This judge. The judges of the RPLA. The few readers and reviewers I've had so far, and The Literary Connoisseur. I am touched by their understanding. And I am very grateful.

The second book under the Dianna Dann pen name is Always Magnolia.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Epcot's Food & Wine Festival...stuffing my way around the world!

Another year, another pig out at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The festival runs through November 10, so you've got plenty of time to get your snails and sliders. Look, if you go to that link above, you'll see that there's plenty to do at the festival. Concerts, demonstrations, getting shitfaced on wine and beer and making an ass of yourself. But hubs and I go for the food. Just the food.

I highlighted twenty-one things to eat on the list of foods offered this year. I managed fifteen of them. Not too bad. I even remembered to take pictures of some of the stuff. I think we really impressed a couple who sat at our table at the USA Hops & Barley booth. Taking a picture of our food, discussing at length the complete lack of lobster in the lobster alfredo, mentioning that I'm a famous blogger, etc. really got them talking and acting like they, too, should be treating the day as a giant critic's paradise.

Here's the rundown (Maybe even in the right order):
1. We went counter clockwise this year, which was a bit odd. But it had the result of us being very hungry at booths we'd been stuffed like turkeys at in years past. (Which reminds me that I had a dream I was cooking a turkey and wondered why, as I carried it in a bag [it's a dream, they're weird like that] to the family dinner, it was so light. Turns out I'd forgotten to stuff it. I was devastated. I don't know why. I never stuff them in real life. Anyway, the dream makes absolutely no sense in relation to being stuffed at the festival, does it?)

I think I have to start again.

Here's the rundown:
1. Scotland.
I was starving! We had the vegetarian haggis with neeps and tatties. (We are so Scots now.) Neeps are rutabagas, mashed like potatoes; they tasted like cauliflower to me. And tatties are just what they sound like, potatoes. Also mashed. Let me tell you, if the vegetarian haggis is anything like real haggis, I'm a haggis fan! It had the texture of scrapple, something else I'm a big fan of. It was just the right amount of spicy. I'd totally eat that again. The neeps and tatties were yummy too. I ate too much, though.

We also had the potato pancake with smoked Scottish salmon and herb sour cream. Lovely. Hubs thought the salmon was too salty, but I didn't.

2. Puerto Rico
Ensalada de carrucho, or conch salad with onion, tomato, and cilantro. Our salad came in a paper cone and it was tart and sour and I guess those little white nubby granules with no taste were bits of conch. I've had conch. In chowder at least. I think I had a conch sandwich once--the conch was in a patty, like a crab cake. So, I get that it has no flavor. I wouldn't eat this again.

Tostones (fried plantains with mayo ketchup). They gave us three large yellow patties of fried deliciousness; and this mayo ketchup stuff? Yum mee! I ate too much, considering I had seventeen items left on my list.

Then, we had the FlanCocho. Oh, my, gawd! It's described as vanilla caramel custard with chocolate coffee cake. What is was, was a thin gooey brownie with ooey yummy custard on top, drowned in caramel sauce. This one even passed the Hubs test! We ate the crap out of that. List of eats be damned!

3. Canada. Oh, Canada.
Here we had the filet mignon (of beef, alas; not moose*) with truffle butter sauce. Now, I can get filet mignon any time I want, but I wanted to try the truffle butter sauce. And for $7.25, I thought I was going to get some. But if any truffles went into the making of that scant drizzle of buttery sauce on my hunk of meat, it was of the holistic variety.

There were mushrooms. Garden variety mushrooms that Hubs thought were too salty (I'm sensing a pattern). Do you suppose those were the truffles? Right. I don't think you get truffles in portions that generous. And they probably don't look like this.

Photo by mtcarlson via Flickr

So, anyway. I still haven't tasted truffle butter sauce, as far as I'm concerned.

4. Ireland.
The reason I go to the Food & Wine Festival year after year is for this! Warm chocolate pudding with Kerry gold Irish cream Liqueur Custard. Oh. My. Lord. Hubs doesn't even eat any of it. All mine! All mine! I apologize for not taking a picture. You forget about that sort of thing when you've got one of these babies on a plate.

I am tempted to hunt the Internet Tubes in search of a recipe for this, but then I will get fat again and I really don't want to get fat again. Still...

5. Brazil.
We had the tilapia with coconut lime sauce and steamed rice. We only got it for Hubs. He likes certain fish. I was right. About the coconut lime sauce. Not a fan.

6. Belgium!
You know what Belgium means. Waffles. We had the Belgian waffle with warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream. Sadly, I did not understand that the ganache would be drizzled on it like this:

I was under the impression it would be slathered...

That being said, the waffle was light and airy and sweet, like a raised doughnut. And the ganache didn't taste like Hershey's syrup. Good thing. When you pay $3.50 for a doughnut, you expect real ganache. Am I right?

7. Hops & Barley.
This is really the USA booth. At least, it's in USA land. Don't you wonder why they even have a USA land at Epcot? Like we can't walk out of the park there. Anyway, I wanted to try the lobster alfredo, because I like lobster. And I like alfredo! Here's what I got: 

That's right. Mac n Cheese. Macaroni and cheese! I dug all in there and there was no lobster. None.

But the carrot cake with Craisins and cream cheese icing was to DIE for. DIE, I tell you! DIE! I would have eaten more, but it was so sweet! And you see the thin drizzle of cream cheese icing? Tasted like it was slathered with an inch thick layer of the stuff. DIEDIEDIE!

8. Poland.
Another reason I go to the festival is for sausage. My family doesn't like sausage, so I never get to have it. I got the kielbasa and potato pierogi with caramelized onions and sour cream. The kielbasa was divine as always. But the pierogi was bland and pasty. It might have been because I was already full. Things just taste better when you're hungry.

9. Singapore.
Here we got the mahi mahi because, like I said, Hubs likes fish and this wasn't all about me, after all. <snicker> The mahi was served with jasmine rice and "Singa" sauce. Here's a picture taken after we'd already eaten most of it. Sorry about that.

You're wondering what "Singa" sauce is, aren't you? Well, I'm pretty sure it's soy sauce with lemon juice in it. I didn't like it. Blech. But, hey, the fish was for Hubs, anyway.

10. Africa.
We swore we'd never eat at Africa again after the first time. But this year they had beef tenderloin tips with okra, jalapenos, tomato, and pap. I had to try it! It was fabulous!

Imagine how thrilled I was to find out pap was grits! This was luscious and spicy and wonderful and I was so full it was hard to eat enough of it! But I did my best.

11. South Korea.
I wanted to try kimchi. When I was in college, one of my history profs said he was in South Korea during the war and he told us about how they made kimchi by burying cabbage in the ground in pots to let it ferment. He described the smell of the process as disgusting. I expected it to be, at least, soft. But the cabbage was raw. And spicy. And tart. Not awful.

It was on a spicy, dense hot dog.

So, basically, I got a slaw dog.

At that point, I could eat no more. We tried to go on our usual rides: Maelstrom and Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. Unfortunately, Maelstrom is closed! They're going to put in a Frozen ride instead. Now, I liked that movie as much as the next person, but do we have to have a ride? And why does it have to take the place of Maelstrom? Phhlllbt.

So, we went on Gran Fiesta Tour and then went home...stuffed and happy, with very tired feet.

Here is what I didn't get to eat:
Garlic shrimp in Austrailia. It was at the end and I just couldn't fit another thing in.
Beijing roasted duck in a steamed bun with hoisin sauce in China. I like duck. But I was stuffed.
The escargot in France. We passed it early on, but I knew I'd never fit everything in and since I have the snails every year, I passed.
Sweet corn cheesecake in Mexico. It's a shame I had to miss that!
And venison with pickled mushrooms, baby arugula, and black currant reduction in New Zealand. Just not enough room in the body...

I'll try harder next year.

*Just kidding about the moose.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Magic pills and skinny elbows...

What are those? Hips? Why are they sticking out like that?
Are you starving? Eat something!
Photo by LimeBye via Flickr
Well, I did it.

This summer, I lost thirty pounds of fat from my body. It was easy; I hardly tried at all. That's because I took a magic pill. It's kind of a funny story really so I'll tell you about it.

I had trouble with my weight for a long time and at some point within the last few years, I stopped weighing myself. I put the scale in the closet and said I wasn't going to obsess about that number anymore. The scale didn't help, anyway. If anything, it made the struggle worse.

I was teaching Zumba but having trouble with my feet. When I finally had to stop and found out I had plantar fasciitis, I didn't do anything for a year but sit around in pain eating macaroni and cheese. (I ended up having surgery and being cured! All hail Dr. Garrow!) I gained a lot of weight that year. I knew I did, not from the scale but because...okay, I'm not going there. I was just really fat, let's put it that way.

I was dreading two upcoming doctors' appointments because I knew I'd have to get on the scale and I really didn't want to know how much I'd gained. I was prepared to ask not to be weighed, but I bucked up and just did it. The first doctor's scale told me I'd gained twenty pounds. Twenty pounds in one year! The second doctor's scale, three weeks later, said I'd lost a few pounds. Three pounds down, seventeen to go...only to be the normally overweight I was before.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...
Photo by Jenn (Yana) via Flickr

Truth: I wasn't that upset about it. I'd gotten to the point where I was starting to just be okay with myself. I'd been telling myself that this was the way my body was and it wasn't so bad. It was round, that's all. And anyway, I like brownies. And chocolate candy and fudge. And cake. And cookies. And ice cream. That's what I like so I should accept the body that comes with it.

Nine months later, I'm back at doctor number two for a regular check up (When you're old they make you go in more often) and unfortunately, I'd gained three pounds back instead of losing them, despite the fact that I'd gone back to dance fitness, at least as a student.

So, the doctor said, "Would you be interested in taking something to help?"
And I chuckled and said, "Well, there's no magic pill for that."
To which he responded, "Actually, there is."

And he gave me the magic pill. [Cue Pilot, "Magic."]

After about a week and a half on the magic pill, I decide I should weigh myself and keep track, to see if it's doing anything. So, I clean off the old Weight Watchers digital scale, hold my breath, and step on it.

What the hell?

I'm only about five pounds up from where I thought I was when I put the damn scale in the closet! There is no way I gained twenty pounds that year. No frickin' way! The way I figure it, even though I'm still not completely sure what happened, is that I lost some weight after putting the scale away, then when I was injured, I gained it back and then a few extra pounds, about ten total. Not twenty.

Wen I went back to the doctor after two months on the magic pill, his scale was now fixed, and he was flabbergasted. He was like, "wait...what?"

I told him his scale was wrong. Simple as that. And the other doctor's too. Wrong. I did not lose twenty pounds in two months. But I did lose twelve.

Anyway, I have to wonder now...would he have suggested the magic pill if the scale hadn't been wrong? I didn't even know this magic pill existed. I'd never have asked about it. There are some people who would call this a supernatural intercession of a sort. I call it wacky good luck.

There are problems with taking a magic pill, of course. First problem: I didn't have to work at controlling my cravings. So...what happens when that last pill is taken? So far, nothing. I'm eating about the same as I was when I was on it. But in the long term, I don't know. I'm worried about it. But one thing I do know is that the old saying, the one I've hated (partly because I've never been fond of sayings) is true.

It's true goddammit!

This isn't the first time I've realized that a saying I hate is true. Remember the Nike motto: Just do it! That always pissed me off. "Some people can't just do it," I'd say. And that's true enough. We poor, damaged, frail creatures can get bogged down with a lot of baggage in our lives. Some of us can't "just" overcome addictions, depression, weight gains, or loss. Life sometimes beats us up and we stay down. (Up, down, up down.) The last thing you should be saying to someone in the midst of any of that is "just" this or "just" that.

But in the end, I had to admit that "Just do it!" is, actually, the only way to get it done. You have to just do it, or stay down. If you have to stay down, okay. But if you can manage to get back up, just do it. Sure, you have to just do it over and over again until it actually works, but often enough, it does end up working.

The new no-longer-hated saying is: "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."

I used to think that saying was smug and snide. I'd be eating chocolate-iced brownies with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream, all topped with some hot fudge and thinking, yeah...right. I don't think there is anything better than this. Not a thing. Not a trip to Europe. Not sex. Not a really good book. There is NOTHING better than brownie a la mode.

But, as it turns out, there is something better and the smug, self-righteous thin people were right all along. Except I don't think people who have always been thin say that because when I grew up--thin--I don't recall ever noticing how good it felt to be thin. Being thin wasn't good or bad, it just was.

I started gaining weight right out of high school. I still remember the day I sat on the edge of my bed naked, just out of the shower, and I turned my head toward my mirrored closet doors. I caught a glimpse of myself and startled. For a split second I thought someone else was in my room. (There was a fat naked girl in my room!) I didn't recognize myself. As it turned out, I'd gained thirty-five pounds. I was horrified.

Mind you, at a weight gain of thirty-five pounds back then, I was only five pounds heavier than I am now. I am now just barely below the tipping point for being considered overweight for my height. So when I say I grew up thin, I'm mean I was a tiny little thing. I don't plan to even attempt to get down to my high-school weight (when the Bloodmobile came to our school, I was turned away. You have to be at least 110 pounds to give blood. Who knew?). But I do plan to lose a few more pounds and work to maintain my weight below that tipping point.

So, why am I talking about this? Because I was surprised. Really surprised to find that I'd forgotten how good it feels to be in my body without so much fat on it. Only, like I said before, I guess I didn't forget--I never knew. I took it for granted.

I look back now and I remember liking my body well enough. I wore my jeans so tight I had to lie down on the bed to zip them up. And I don't remember being uncomfortable in them. I liked fitted and tight. (I also wore my mascara a la Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, so I'm not applauding this choice...just sayin'.)

So here I am, fat by my just-out-of-high-school self's standards, amazed. I feel better in my clothes. I feel better walking and dancing. I feel better sitting. Everything feels better and I like it. I reached for my own elbow the other day and was amazed at how tiny it felt. It was like I had missed my elbow--I hadn't seen that elbow in so long! I know it sounds silly, but it's true.

I missed myself.

I understand that people who did not grow up thin have trouble seeing themselves in a new thin body when they lose a lot of weight. I get that. I think I was always looking in the mirror and seeing myself as hidden in there somewhere and now I feel like I'm back. I can see how it could be the opposite for someone whose image of himself is not particularly (relatively?) thin. Still, I was overweight for more years than I was ever thin. But maybe that self-image is struck when we're young.

So, I'm really happy to have found that magic pill, but now the real work starts. I read recently that they did a long term study that basically found that the best way to keep the weight off is to never gain it in the first place.

Evolutionarily, or biologically, speaking, we're made to keep that weight on. We're not made to gain it, though (although studies seem to show that some people gain more easily than others). If you've gained weight from a thin starting point, you've probably realized that gaining the weight took a long time. You have to train your body to keep eating more than it needs. Some of us get that training very early, unfortunately. Some of us train ourselves later.

But once we get the pounds packed on, our biology tells our bodies to keep it on. You never know when the regular famines our ancestors endured will return, after all. Losing weight is, for your body, suffering through a really long famine. And once the famine is over, it freaks out with joy and wants nothing more than to fill the fat cells again, in preparation for the next famine. And if you tortured it enough, it will want to put on even more weight--you know, to try to ward off what happened last time.

This study found that after people lost significant amounts of weight (thirty or more pounds, I think), for years after, their bodies released less of the hormone that tells you you're full and more of the hormone that asks for food. To put it simply, putting on weight and losing it changes you--it makes you tend to stay fat, whether you like it or not.

Losing weight isn't the hard part, as it turns out. Keeping it off is where the work is at. I've never been all that fond of work. I've always thought of myself as something of a misplaced princess. (Did you ever wonder why Disney princesses are always so thin? I can see Cinderella, sure; she was basically a servant. But you know what I mean. They're princesses, what do they do all day?)

If you put that biological love of fat with a negative body image (seeing your thin self as alien), the American tendency to eat meat at every meal, our tendency to eat fat and sugar every day, our ridiculous portion sizes, our hectic lives and stress, the constant bombardment of food advertising, and the fact that we really just like food, the fight is sometimes just not worth it.

But for me, at least, my new mantra is, "It's true: nothing tastes as good as this body feels right now!"

I guess I have that one thing going for me--that I grew up thin and see myself now as normal, not alien. That in itself doesn't mean I'll be successful, but what have I got to lose? (Aw, I made a pun.)

I'll just grab those elbows and hang on...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cover Reveal for Always Magnolia!

Here it is! The final* version of the cover for Always Magnolia...

A haunting tale of love, abuse, and murder...

*Well, you know...maybe.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Phlogging Boston: The week we got all patriotic and sh*t...

Next time you ask if I want to hear about your vacation, I'm going to show you the butt.
Photo by Aaron Hall via Flickr

This is actually a photo blog. A phlog, if you will. Trust me. Lots of pictures. Lots. I'm just a little long-winded up front. Then I got tired, see, and let the pictures do more of the talking. Vacations make me tired.

My Summer Vacation

Hubs and I took a vacation a few weeks ago to Boston, home of Dunkin' Donuts. Not really, but there's a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner; they're often across the street from each other. There must be a Dunkin' Donuts for every thousand people in the Boston area.

That's probably the coolest thing you'll learn in this post, so if you like, you can stop reading now. But I do have a picture of Plymouth Rock and of a boat that is a cow--or a cow that is a boat?--so if you want to see that sort of thing, keep reading.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn Boston-Peabody, which I pronounced Peabody until we got directions to Peabuddy from the guy at the rental car place at the airport. It's a good thing we were using hubs' phone as a GPS. Just sayin'. The hotel was great. Comfortable bed, a little sofa to sit on, free breakfast that included oatmeal every day and these paper thin pieces of bacon that you had to pretty much wad up to eat.


Since we were up there at Peabuddy, we spent our first day in Salem. Salem is not at all what I expected it to be. Have you ever been to Cherokee, North Carolina? I'm sure that there is a lot more to Cherokee than we see as tourists, but the big attraction is a main street with shops, shops, and more shops. It's a tourist mecca. Yes, you can also find the Oconaluftee Indian Village (a must-see experience), a Museum of the Cherokee Indian, that ought to be seen at least once, and at least one gallery where they sell authentic Cherokee and Native American made goods.

But the point is that when you go to Cherokee, you know you're in Cherokee.

Salem, not so much. Not at all. It's a town like any other town. You'll need a map to find the things you're looking for. There is one thing that will help you, though. They've painted a tacky red line on the sidewalk and when you find it, just follow it. It will take you to all the spots you should see.

We visited a couple of museums and decided that Salem's idea of a museum is much different from ours and passed on the rest.

The Witch Dungeon Museum started us off with an uncomfortable skit in which two women acted out a scene from one of the witch trials. In the background were several mannequins playing the non-speaking, non-moving, perhaps bewitched roles of judges or some such. Then we were led down into the "dungeon" where we got to see more mannequins set up as if they were prisoners in little rooms and big rooms and even the coffin room, which is the one where there is no room for the prisoner to sit. You know mannequins, I'm sure. They are not known for their acting abilities. They all just sat there, in chains, in the stocks, with these looks on their faces that said, "Oh, look at me, I'm a model."

There was also a scene that showed the pressing of Giles Corey, the guy who refused to enter a plea (if you entered a plea, even if it was "not guilty," you lost all of your estate, or some such). But, of course, Corey wasn't pressed in the dungeon; he was pressed in a field next to the jail house. And of course, the "dungeon" you tour is just a recreation. But they do boast an actual wood beam from the original dungeon found when they dug up the earth in 1957 to put in the New England Telephone Company building. I think it's an AT&T building now.

Then we tried the Witch History Museum and were again regaled, or not, with a little skit. This time it was one young woman acting out a long monologue, some moments more dramatic than others, moving from inside a fake building looking out a window, to outside it, and back in it again. It was say the least. A ha. A ha ha. We were once again entertained by scenes with mannequins, decked out in period clothing, I don't think so. Our guide did a little dramatic introduction to each scene, ooooh, and then pressed a button which activated a recording. So we got to hear the action while watching the non-speaking, non-moving, possibly bewitched mannequins.

It was all very interesting, if you like that sort of thing. We were so glad we didn't go for the three-in-one ticket and have to endure the Pirate Museum as well. You've seen one pirate mannequin, you've seen them all.

So, what was good about Salem? I'll tell you.

The Witch House was much more of a museum. The only remaining structure in Salem with direct ties to the trials of 1692.

The House of the Seven Gables inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne, who stayed there for a period of time when his cousin owned it, to write a book by the same name. Caroline Emmerton, who purchased the house in 1908, had it restored, but made some changes to make the house more like the one in the book. Still, most of it is the same and it was very cool. I guess I didn't take a picture of it.

The Old Burying Point cemetery was creepy cool, if terribly situated right there in the middle of everything. But there are old dead people there so it's worth seeing.

We also visited the Howard Street Cemetery, because dead people. (below)

We ate lunch at the Village Tavern. My hamburger was a big ball of meat. But there was bacon, so...

Chandelier at the Village Tavern in Salem, MA

And then, from what somebody wrote on the Internet Tubes, we figured out that the site of the actual for real gallows hill and the ditch where they dumped the bodies of the unfortunate people they hanged was at this Walgreens.

Here you see, in the woody area at the back of the drugstore, where the evil deed most likely transpired. what you call historical research.


We spent the next two days in Boston. We drove to Salem and parked in the same lot we had the day before and then walked to the train station. (It really wasn't as easy as I make it sound, but I didn't think you'd want to hear all about how we drove to Swampscott--pronounced Swampscutt--first and found no free parking space, only to find later as we passed by on the train that there was a whole other lot available, and then followed the GPS instructions to the back of an apartment complex from which we could see the Salem Station platform but couldn't get to it, after which we drove back and forth along Bridge Street trying to figure out how to get into the station before realizing all the people were walking in. Just too much info, I figured.) They're putting in a new parking garage, so we had to walk a long way around to get to the platform where we asked a lady where to buy tickets. She had a French accent--there were a lot of French accents around. Hmm. Anyway, she said you had to get the ticket on the train. Sure enough, we got on and took a seat and once the train got going, the conductor, in a little conductor's hat, came around and asked us where we were going. He took out a piece of paper and punched a bunch of holes in it (not unlike all the keys they have to press just to rent you a car) and gave it to us.

We got up at the next stop and moved to a better seat and as the train started moving again, the conductor came around again and asked us where we were going. We showed him our receipt and told him we'd moved and he said, "Oh, we're not going to follow the rules; I see how it is."

Apparently, when you pay for the seat, or show your pass, the conductor puts a little slip of paper under these flaps on the back of the seat behind your head so that he knows he's already dealt with you. We were not traveling with tourists here. We were on an old dirty train, traveling through some pretty downtrodden areas. It was way cool. We got off at North Station, went out the door and into another building where we got on the subway. It was much more what we were used to, where there are little machines from which you get your tickets. Then we got off at State Street and were smack dab in the middle of Boston.

We ate lunch at the Beantown Pub and we got to see a parade go by on the main road. The waitress said it was something about June Day. A bunch of military reenactors and maybe veterans of actual wars marched somewhere and elected a new king, or leader, or something.

Here are some of the things we saw in Boston.

Mother Goose is buried at the Granary Burying Ground. Hers was the easiest of the famous graves to find. Funny that. She got a flag on June Day, just like the patriot types.

Paul Revere is buried there, too.

This is the exact spot of the Boston Massacre. It's in front of the Old State House, where you can get to the room and look out on the balcony on which somebody historical stood and read the Declaration of Independence (which I kept referring to as the Constitution while in the State House Museum just to throw the stupid people off, no really). But they won't let you go out on the balcony for some odd reason. I suppose I should be glad, or I'd have started shouting out, "We the people..."

Anyway, it was hard to get a picture of the spot of the massacre what with all the people walking all over it. It's hallowed ground, you know. Which means "ground to walk on."

That's the Old North Church where some guy lit a lantern, or two lanterns, or something like that. But, of course, they won't let you go up into the tower to see where the lanterns were lit, or held out the window, or, I don't know...swung.

This is what the Old North Church looks like inside. I think. There were a few churches that looked like this. But I'm pretty sure this is the Old North Church. (vacation starts getting blurry by the second day) Anyway, boxes. You probably had to pay the church for your family box. And there was a gold label there, with your name on it, which you probably paid for, too. You could be doing pretty much whatever you wanted in that box while the preacher was droning on. I like it.

And here is the Old Corner Bookstore. Formerly the home of Anne Hutchinson who was banished from Massachusetts colony for heresy in 1638. When the building was a publishing company, it was a gathering place for the likes of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Thoreau, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. It's an American historical treasure.

Yes. I know it's a Chipotle. You don't have to tell me it's a Chipotle. I was there and I saw it was a Chipotle. One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing IS NOW A CHIPOTLE. I GET IT. CAN WE JUST STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW?

Another place we visited was Quincy Market. It's like a food court mall. I mean, it's a national historic landmark.

Our goal was to get clam "chowda" at the Boston Chowda Co. Their chowda is award-winning. And you have to eat it when you go to Boston. When we stepped up to order, I did my best to say "chowda," but it came out really stupid. The Indian guy working there at the Boston Chowda Co. understood me just fine. (No, not a Native American. No, no. Not a guy dressed up for a Boston Tea Party reenactment. A guy from India. They were all from India at the Boston Chowda Co.)

The food court national historic landmark was very crowded, so we went up a winding staircase to the upper level and sat on a bench to eat our chowda. It was hot. So, very, hot. There were a lot of windows up there, but they weren't open. They were just for the sunshine. And the heat. So I ate my steaming-styrofoam-cup-fulla award-winning chowda, tiny rivers of sweat rolling down my back and the sides of my face. It was pretty good, for clam chowder.

Here's Trinity Church. I'm not sure why we went inside it. It was in the book as a place you were supposed to see. And the tour bus driver told us we had to see it. But it was also in National Treasure, so we'll say that's why. Notice the tall modern glass building towering over the church. This is classic Boston. It's a city that spans time. Super old, very old, old, new, newer, and newest all chumming together like it's the most natural thing in the world. Which it ought to be. Maybe.

Across the street is the Boston Public Library. We toured that too.

I took this picture (above) inside the library and then walked upstairs to find a security guard giving my phone the evil eye. I put it away and behaved after that.

I took this picture of a manhole cover because I thought it looked cool. Hubs was embarrassed. But I had the camera.

Here is a typical Boston street scene on our way to the Bunker Hill Monument. May I take this opportunity to say that the roads in Boston shall I put this?...Stupid. Stupid. Just. Stupid. There are one-way streets, roundabouts, exits and turnarounds--that are only supposed to exist on interstates, if you ask me--just crazy stuff. And traffic is awful. We crawled along I95 for three hours trying to get back from Plymouth. Look, I took a picture.

Who were all these people and where were they going at three-thirty in the afternoon on a Thursday? And why did they get on the highway when they could see we weren't moving? It was almost as if they had no choice. The only way to get from point A to point B was on this one road and everybody just had to get on it and make the best of it. Boston--a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Here is the Bunker Hill Monument, erected--ahem--on Breed's Hill, where the Battle of Bunker Hill took place (what is history's problem?). It's one of those phallic symbols our ancestors adore. You can walk up inside it--did I just gross you out there?--it's ninety something steps. I looked at sweaty hubs and he looked at me. This was our second day in Boston, the walking city!* I said, "Do you want to climb up to the top?" And he said, "No." And I thought maybe he said no because of the way I'd asked it. You know, tired, sweaty, whiny. So, I said. "Seriously? Because I'll walk up it if you want to." I can't tell you how relieved I was when he said he really did not want to walk up the ninety-some steps to the top.

*Boston also has a red line on the sidewalk. I'm not sure at what point I discovered it, but it was too late to do me any good, that much is certain.

We took one of those hop on and off tours and the bus driver asked if anyone had any questions and that's when I asked about all the Dunkin' Donuts. He said the man who started the shop, Mr. Dunkin, decided he wanted to be the only donut shop in town, so he went around for years buying up all the mom and pop donut shops and this is what they ended up with. Every donut shop is a Dunkin' Donuts. Don't tell, but I saw an independent donut shop somewhere in Peabuddy.

Lexington & Concord

Lexington & Concord is a little confusing. I will sum up for you. It started in Lexington where they had a skirmish and some people got killed. Then it went to Concord where there was an official fight at a bridge. The official fight is where the shot heard round the world was shot, because it was the first time a colonial officer ordered troops to fire on the British. So, see? Colonials firing on the British = typical American hooliganism. Some colonial dude with a title ordering colonials to fire on the British = I dare say you've started a war. Trust me. I have a degree in history.

Let's Phlog It!

There it is. That's the bridge! Old North Bridge in Concord, MA. You can walk right on it and step back into history! Okay, it's not the bridge. The bridge was made of wood, you know. Wood isn't going to last that long. This is a reproduction bridge. But at least it's at the exact spot of the old bridge. I think.

This is the Minute Man monument sculpted by Daniel Chester French. (Maybe that explains the French accents, huh. I bet it does.) The inscriptions says

By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world

Makes you get all teary-eyed, doesn't it? Freedom! Oh, freedom! Independence! Let's govern ourselves! We can do it! We're mature individualists! Let's protect the rights of the minority! Let's not force religion on people! Let's let people voice their opinions without fear!

Makes you stand there in wonder and awe and think to yourself, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

I thought it was really nice of us to erect a monument of sorts to the British soldiers, too.

I took this picture of a very still pond somewhere, but hubs and I can't remember where it was. It could have been located on the path after we crossed Old North Bridge. That's where it is in my pictures. Anyway, Hubs said it was Walden Pond, because he likes to see if I'm stupid enough to believe stuff he says. 

This is Louisa May Alcott's house in which she wrote Little Women. It was a really great tour but we weren't allowed to take any pictures. Or touch anything. I think more of the tour was dedicated to her sister May. You know how history people are, always trying to tell you about people they think are important.

Above is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. Every path was uphill.

These are the Alcotts--what's left of them, I mean. Louisa is the first there, on the left. People have left rocks and pencils and pine cones and well, a lot of junk at it. So disrespectful.

Below is Nathaniel Hawthorne's grave. People left pens and pencils and stuff on it, too.

And this is Ralph Waldo Emerson's plot. Impressive. What a show off.

We found Walden Pond. It wasn't easy. You park in the parking lot and then walk around looking for the path into the woods, because you've heard about this Henry David Thoreau guy so you assume it's hidden in the woods, and maybe you end up down the way at a little bookshop/museum and then walk back and finally figure out that you have to walk across the street and up another hill, because there are a lot of hills in the Boston area.

I have to say, it's more of a lake.

Here is where Henry David Thoreau's house was. Now there's a minimalist who practiced what he preached.

I don't know if somebody left that hat there on purpose or not. I wouldn't put it past these people. See what else they did...

They've created some kind of rock tower shrine next to the site of the house. It's only a little bit creepy.


We decided that Thursday was the day for Plymouth, because it was raining and we knew that Plymouth was on the water and it would make for a cold, wet day and we had no umbrellas.

The first thing we did when we got to Plymouth was purchase umbrellas.

Here is the rock that the pilgrims stepped onto from the boat. What a coincidence that it has the number 1620 cut into it. Just kidding. Plymouth Rock is totally fake. Oh, it's a rock. And it was probably there on the beach. But, come on.

The rock is still sitting on the little beach but its been enclosed in a special viewing pit. Somebody gets to go down in there and rake the sand, though.

Here is its house. Pretty regal for a rock, but at least America has a Parthenon of its own.

And below is the replica of the Mayflower, aka Mayflower 2. We were on it. Very small.

I took this picture (below) because my mother's name is Cole. The pilgrims built their first houses on Leydon Street which starts at Cole's Hill and goes up to Burial Hill, where some of the pilgrims are buried. You can walk up the street and look at some really old houses with historical plaques. They're not the pilgrim's houses, of course. But they're pretty old.

According to Wikipedia, Cole's Hill was named for either the tavern owner, James Cole who came to Plymouth in 1633, or John Cole, who purchased the hill around 1697. I have John Coles in my family. So, I vote John Cole.

I've been trying to figure this one out. (above) I must have taken a picture when putting my phone away. That rock on the left with the purple flower on it is actually my baggy purse. I thought it was cuter than that.

This is Burial Hill. Spooky, isn't it?

We toured the Jenney Grist Mill and this is Town Brook across the street. Back home there's a retention pond by the Home Depot and they put fake geese in it for a reason I've yet to figure out. But these in the picture are real. I know because they were moving.

Yeah. Okay. I thought this was Squanto. But it's Massasoit. Yeah. I didn't know who he was either.

And here is Plymouth Plantation (I think they spell it with an i instead of a y, to make it all historical and such) in the rain. I imagine on sunny days there are pilgrims walking around, doing stuff. But on this day, there were just a few of them hiding in their houses. You could go in and talk to them, but it was just a bit too creepy for me. Down below the plantation is Wampanoag Homesite because it's not nice to have a village celebrating the pilgrims without acknowledging the Native Americans and what they lost.

There were some Wampanoag there, too. But like the pilgrims, they stayed inside, in these long houses with fires burning and they were very smoky so we didn't stay and chat.

When you come back to the main building from the village, this is what you see:

Yes. It's the Mooflower. Why? 

Do we really want to know?

We went home the next day because we knew we would never top the Mooflower.

And thus endeth our historical tour of our nation's humble violent phallic glorious beginnings...and beholdeth our souvenir ornaments.