Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cream of Portobello

When it's time for a chilling frost to ice the grass in your yard like a sugar-coated garden, then it's time to make this dish.

When it's time to stock up on your favorite blend of coffee, your most treasured tins of tea, and canisters of cocoa, it's time to make this dish.

It is Cream of Portobello Soup.

This is not something to slather out on mess trays to hungry hordes of teenagers: keep your far-reaching starches for that - pasta, rice, potatoes.

This? This is something to savor in a cup, or ladled over a tender slice of beef. This rich. Savory. Elegant. Sublime.

I have to credit Some Website for this recipe. I found it a few years ago. Often I double it. And I should use an immersion blender, as it requests. I have been splattered several times with scalding soup when the lid of the blender ricochets off due to the steam and temperamental nature of the concoction.

But, you ask, is it worth the possibility of splattering myself in soup?

Yes. You can score an immersion blender from eBay for under $10, though, so I suggest that. Not because I've done it: because I need to.

Now, boys and girls, get out your number two pencils and college ruled paper. We're about to go live.

Cream of Portobello Soup

1 lb. of mushrooms: half button, half portobello
1/2 c. of butter
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 small onion, diced
1/3 c. flour
3 1/2 c. water
1 cube of chicken bouillon
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 c. whipping cream

(now you see why I double it)

*Rinse mushrooms gently, do not scrub
*Remove stems from mushrooms, set aside
*Slice caps thinly (if using full size portobellos, also slice cap again in half)
*Melt butter in skillet, add sliced caps and lemon juice
*Cook til tender (they will shrink)
*Reduce to low heat, remove mushrooms and set aside
*Add onion and stems (add a bit of butter if needed); cook until tender
*Stir in flour, cook one minute
*Add hot water, bouillon; stir until thickened (be patient)
*Puree onion/stem/bouillon combination, either in skillet with immersion blender, or carefully in a blender (if in regular blender, let sit for several minutes to allow steam to escape)
*After pureed, add salt and pepper, cream, and mushrooms, keep warm

If you dislike chunks of anything in your soup, you could ostensibly puree the mushroom caps as well.

This dish has caused this exclamation: "I don't even like mushrooms, and I love this!"

It is extremely rich, hot, and savory. It is wonderful for cold, rainy days.

Be blessed.

More Than Diet Coke and McDonald's

At a time when money is hanging over everyones' minds, the fiscal sword of Damocles, I'd like you to ponder on something.

Barack Obama is spending more on the half-hour ads he's running tonight than Diet Coke and McDonald's spend on advertising: two of the largest consumer companies worldwide.

This is my simple question: is it inconsistent, or even unethical, to spend that much record-breaking money on political infomercials when it could be spent on child health clinics, or nets to protect people from malaria, or for senior citizen health care, or for better compensation for our troops and their families, or on cancer research?

Just wondering.


Did you read that?


A gallon of gas is finally cheaper than a gallon of milk again in central Kentucky. If it goes to $1.99, I'm taking pictures and will lovingly place them in an album somewhere alongside my husband and dogs.

Since we have no stocks, bonds, real estates, or assets, the fact that the dollar is strengthening (sending oil prices down, and world markets shaky) is a good thing for us middle Americans.

I heard a great commentary on the radio the other night: a guy named Harry Dent (not Harvey Dent, of "Dark Knight" fame) matter of factly stated that some economists have known this would happen. Why? Peak spending happens in the forties and fifties - the age the Baby Boomers just passed. They're, by the way, a huge portion of the population. Their huge amounts of spending created a bubble. The bubble burst. And, as Mr. Dent pointed out, that actually is a good thing. Why? Deflation eventually helps the middle class. When things are booming, the rich get richer. When prices are falling, it's the middle classes that benefit. So, painful for some? Yes, but better it happens now, rather than the bubble continue to grow.

He also estimated it'll take several years to even out: he guessed til 2012. Meanwhile, keep renting, wait a couple years to buy a house, and don't liquidate your stock until the Dow is back up around 11-12,000.

It was so great to hear an apolitical analysis.

Meanwhile, yes, you well to do folk have lost some money, so maybe you see the tank as half empty.

But me? I see the tank as half full.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Whatever Side of the Couch You're On

Whatever side of the couch you're on, THIS HEADLINE SHOULD INTEREST YOU. Yes, visually, I just grabbed you by the collar and shook you.

But that's because whatever side of the tug of war you're on, you better tug a little harder:

AP Poll Shows Much Closer Race Than Most Other Surveys: Obama leads by just 1 point

Start planning your Election Night parties - grab the foam fingers, popcorn, and shirts for your team: it's going to be close.

Check Out These Check Out Items

Well, here once again are some favorites and flops.

Recently, I purchased a new shampoo that cost a whopping six dollars. Now, many of you out there spend twelve, fifteen, twenty on salon items: Paul Mitchell, etc. I keep it at about $3.84. But this shampoo came in a cool green bottle and smelled like the most heavenly mint ever, like the mint from an Andes mint. Organix Teatree Mint: how could I not try?

The thing is, it smells great. And that's about all for anyone who doesn't have hair as dry as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. It kept my hair clean for about four seconds. But oh, heavenly scent - I would pour it liberally into a nice soaking bath. Of course, if I just want the scent, I could spend six dollars on, well, mint bath soak.

Take It Or Leave It? Leave it. If Organix has this scent in bubble bath, it'd be a different story. Or, just sniff the bottle, relax, and then place it back on the shelf.

Today, for the first time, I wore my winter coat. Over, for the first time, a fall sweater. Yes, the season of flip-flops has passed. Which means the season for stocking up on Hershey's Baking Cocoa is here.

You see, our deprived senses have become accustomed to the convenience of tearing open a packet of anemic hot chocolate mix and calling it "cocoa." Cocoa! Ha! I spit on your grave.

And yesterday, I discovered the only chocolate in the house was Hershey's baking cocoa. Which turned out fine, because in addition to baking with it, you can, I don't know, MAKE COCOA. For realsies. There's a fine, easy recipe on the side of the box.

It involves dumping cocoa, sugar, and a pinch of salt in with some warm water in a pan, heating it to boiling, adding milk (or...erm...half and half, I swear it was only half half and half...), warming it thoroughly, then adding, heart of my heart, vanilla.

It'll make you want to push Swiss Miss down an Alpine peak. It's so luxuriously rich, it kicks any chocolate craving in a way that instant cocoa couldn't dream of in its wildest reality tv show dreams.

If you want to put something special in your family's tummies for Christmas, that's low maintenance, yummy, and perfect for Christmas Eve, or Christmas get-something-in-their-bellies-while-wrapping-paper-is-flying-morning, I recommend this.

Of course, you Episcopalians out there may knock a little Bailey's in the side, and nobody would blame you. But Hershey's baking cocoa stands magnificently on its own.

Take It Or Leave It? Take it. Take several. Impress your friends. Ooooh, and whip up a little homemade whipping cream for the top. It's a dessert in itself.
Now, even though gas is down to the bargain-basement price of $2.59 a gallon down the street, I'm still shopping sales at ye olde grocer's. And if you catch this on sale, you'll count yourself lucky: Macaroni Grill has introduced their own version of Hamburger

It's awesome.

I had something dreamy like "Chicken Fettucine Alfredo," and it was sublime: a grown-up's version of Hamburger Helper. There was even a packet of parmesan to sprinkle on the top, so help me, parmesan. And an herb packet, dog gone it. It made my husband look at me wit
h new appreciation, even though I stubbornly persisted in my declaration that the whole thing came from a box and took next to no time.

Part of its...wonderfulness...came from the fact that I was actually intending to get Hamburger Helper, until my eyes caught the unfamiliar, new boxes. Macaroni Grill at the supermarket? That's change I can believe in.

Take It Or Leave It? If it's on sale, take several. If it's not, take it and save it for a rainy day when you
need something a little special. The cheapest place I've seen it is Wal-Mart.

Ladies, sometimes we need Little Luxuries. Especially when times are hard and The Onion creates hilarious headlines like today's "Dollar Bill On Floor Sends Wall Street Into Frenzy." So when I run out of laundry detergent, sometimes - not always - I get My Favorite Kind.

It's Tide
Simple Pleasures: Vanilla & Lavender. Now, it's true, the marketing appealed to me, as did the elegant lavender bottle. But then I smelled it, and it was delightful - and that's significant because I Am An Allergic Person, so sometimes things like that make me cough and hack my way out of the detergent aisle. Not only was it soothing, it's a rare example of a scented laundry detergent that doesn't irritate my skin (see "I Am An Allergic Person). (The Febreze vanilla and lavender air freshener is also lovely.)

The first time I attempted to purchase this detergent, I determined to get a small bottle and use it only on personal garments, which ended up funny, because I soaked them in liquid fabric softener. This came to light when I actually read the label on the bottle. You know, after I'd soaked them overnight.

I know manufacturers say that it's concentrated, so you can use less; but manufacturers know me, and know that I'm not used to using a half a teaspoon, I'm used to pouring in a bountiful capful. So I do have to be careful to use less of this, or it runs out quickly.

But my, oh, my, does it make my clothes, sheets, and towels smell like what I picture southern France smelling like. Or actually, what I imagine southern France smelling like. But if I imagine a scent, I imagine a know what I mean.

Take It Or Leave It? Take it. You can use it sparingly, only on your own clothes, or if you feel the need for a Little Luxury. If you need several pinches of luxury all together, you could curl up with a book, enjoy a Macaroni Grill boxed dinner, a steaming mug of cocoa, and the comforting scents of vanilla and lavender infusing a favorite blanket.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simple Smiling Smoothie

Well, I'm listening to a streaming soundtrack of "Call + Response," something you should check out: one of the guys in the project, Gary Haugen, of International Justice Mission, spoke at seminary - one of the most haunting presentations I've ever seen.

But this isn't about human trafficking and slavery around the world - though you should know that women and girls especially are bought and sold internationally - and in your state.

No, this is actually about what I had for lunch. I know, profound after those two paragraphs.

I realized recently I rarely use my blender, out of dread of cleaning it - or, as Mindy Kaling put it, "if I had to clean out a blender every morning, I'd kill myself." But then my brain said, "wake up, dummy, you don't have to use it every day; just put it in the dishwasher." I said, "sorry, brain, sometimes I don't do you justice." And then I made a smoothie.

A smooth, simple, smoothie, that sent smiles. Mmmmmm.

Okay, so this magazine suggested using milk, peanut butter, and frozen banana. AND LO AND BEHOLD, I had all of those. (If your bananas are ripening too fast for you, unpeel them, stick them in Zippy bags, and toss them in the freezer. I meant to make banana bread and never did.)

But then, after dumping 1% milk, peanut butter, and a frozen banana in the blender, I stood and thought. Then smiled more. Because I'd just added like a whole teaspoon of vanilla to one smoothie. Then I thought again, and smiled, because I'd just sprinkled in a little nutmeg. Then I woke up on the kitchen floor where I'd passed out in sheer bliss. Okay, fine, not that last part.

But it was wonderful. Now, you pesky ones ask, how much of everything did I use? But I say, how the heck am I supposed to know? I didn't measure. But it made a whole travel mug full. If I was going to be honest, it was probably at least a quarter cup of peanut butter. But I just look, add, blend, examine, add some milk if I need. You know how it goes.

Now, today, I nixed the nutmeg and added about a Tablespoon of Hershey's cocoa. That treated me well, too.

I heartily recommend it. I poured it in a travel mug, brought it to work, and put it in the mini-fridge until my growling stomach tore into it. And just LOOK at all those FOOD GROUPS: fruit, dairy, protein. Wow. Well done, me. I just beat up the food pyramid.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Was There. I Heard It.

Last night, after splattering myself, my cabinets, and my electric tea kettle in scalding homemade cream of portobello soup, I finally made my way to a tea party. I helped decorate, I helped bake (and cook scalding soup), I helped make six pots of different kinds of tea at once. I rather suspect they weren't up to their usual precision.

Anyway, two guests who were there - one of whom literally wore a hat and gloves - were part of an exchange. I was there. I heard it. It was punny.

Since there were mounds of scones at this tea party, Angie and I realized that not only could we build our lifelong dream of Sconehenge, but that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw scones; that someday she wants to hear the Rolling Scones in concert; that if you eat too many, you might get gall scones; that he who is without sin, let him cast the first scone; and we wondered if anybody has ever killed two birds with one scone.

I'll give you the recipe for cream of portobello mushroom soup soon, but today is about puns, and the people who make them.

Which is why I want to point you to this loving tribute to Angie.

I think she could slay a giant with five smooth scones.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama Puts the Red in Red, White, and Blue

On November 4th, when the curtains are pulled aside, I will have friends who enter the voting booth: some will defiantly push the button for Obama, others will fiercely register their vote for McCain. I have friends on both sides of the aisle - good people who disagree about politics. And I think that's good: two of our nation's founders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, had bitter disagreements about how best to govern the people of the United States of America. Both men died on the same day, as dear, tender friends.

A lot of you may have heard this past week about Joe the Plumber. Maybe you've seen him on the news, or heard casual references to him in the last Presidential debate. Joe Wurzelbacher is a plumber in Ohio; recently, on one of Barack Obama's campaign stops, Joe confronted him about what Obama's tax plan is going to do his hopes for a small business. Not starstruck at all, Joe stood there, practically mano a mano, as if he was speaking to a town councilman on Main Street. Obama's now infamous response was that he isn't trying to punish Joe's success; he just thinks it's good to spread wealth around.

But when John McCain brought up Joe the Plumber in the final Presidential debate, Barack Obama's response was different; now, he shrugged Joe off: "I think he's been watching too many McCain ads," he said, before continuing to explain what he's "really" going to do.

Joe the Plumber has now been making the interview circuit on national television, expressing the fact that not only did the Obama response not satisfy him, it left him more worried, because it was, in fact, socialist. Yard signs and bumper stickers are being produced: "I Am Joe the Plumber!"

Here's the wall I keep hitting in dialogues and discussions: are Communist or socialist values counter to American values? And, for my community of believers, are Communist or socialist values, in fact, Christian?

This is what I mean: link any major political candidate to terrorist sympathies, and his or her campaign is - or should be - over. But in today's global climate, Communism isn't taken seriously anymore as a system of thought directly counter to democratic values. There was a brief moment of worry when Russia aggressively punished Georgia; when human rights were put in the spotlight at the Beijing Olympics; but that was all. It's been years since major Communist systems were a direct threat against the safety of the U.S., with the exception of cultish North Korea.

And except, perhaps, in certain African nations, like Kenya. Barack Obama flew - on taxpayer money - to Kenya to campaign for a man who was trained in Eastern Germany - a man who incited his followers to machete-wielding violence when he lost the election for president in Kenya.

But enough about that. Certain pockets of the modern day Christian community see little difference between the Acts 2 community, in which believers shared everything they had, and the socialist value of the redistribution of wealth.

Here's the problem with that: Communism is inherently linked with atheism. The values of Communism are anti-religion, not friendly towards communities of faith.

There's another, much more pressing difference, though. Because one could argue that socialist values need not be atheistic in nature. All right, then. But are you saying that the best way to care for the poor is to force the populace to donate a significant portion of their income (in taxes) so that the government can determine how best to distribute it?

Even ads on television requesting donations for starving children in Africa assure viewers that a large percentage of every dollar will actually go to the hungry mouth of a child. Is it reasonable, however, to expect a bureaucracy to be as careful with your pennies? How much, I wonder, of every dollar would actually end up in the hands of the poor? Granted, this is simply a pragmatic argument.

I want to ramp it up a bit more.

Who should have the choice of how to help the poor? The citizens of a country, or the institution of a country? Should you be able to choose how to better our country - give to God's Pantry food banks, or Moveable Feast, the Red Cross, or a battered women's shelter? Or should the bureaucratic machinations of the government determine how best to distribute your wealth - and determine, actually, who needs it most?

This is important: not only is choice important - that you choose how to help others, the best way to discern that locally and nationally, globally, and so on - not only do you know the particular needs of your own community, names and faces, not just social security numbers and dates of birth - but it is the making of the choice that counts.

Why? Because free choice is, in and of itself, a valuable good? Well, most Americans would say yes, free choice is valuable - the choice, in fact, of whether even to give to the poor, or not. (Isn't socialism simply legislating morality at this point? People are free to be greedy: just to their own detriment.)

But I argue that it is the making of the choice that counts, because choosing to give forms your very character in a way that someone else forcing you to give does not. Take this example: in the last couple of years, I heard arguments within the church about automatic withdrawals of tithes and offerings made available to church members. The problem, many countered, is that the actual act of writing a check, opening a wallet, and tangibly giving, is in itself an act of worship - one that is neutered of significance if your tithe automatically disappears between "Wal-Mart" and "gas bill" on your online bank account.

Does giving to the poor reflect our character - as a nation - or does it build our character? Both. But providing for others in our society through taxes enforced by a bureaucracy doesn't make us better people. It leaves us the same.

Giving to people in our local communities, to organizations for which we are impassioned - that is what stretches and molds our character, teaching us to care for others as we, ourselves, would wish to be cared for. You, and only you, can navigate the waters of deciding how much to sacrifice from your monthly income. And you should do the hard work of examining how much of your money, and time, is spent on yourself, and how much of your money, and time, is spent on others. Giving teaches us. It teaches us about what is really necessary; about how others feel when we give; about how we feel when we have to receive. Giving teaches us we are not islands; that our community matters - town, faith tradition, world. It models a sense of humility and gratitude.

In 2008, we still have the poor with us. Some of us count ourselves among that number. We still need to challenge ourselves to extend hospitality more, to think of ourselves, less.

Joe the Plumber is still out sharing his story. I hope he's able to take his business as far as he wants to. Joe Six-Pack has come alive. He wants to provide a good life for his son. None of us wants to see a neighbor's dreams depressed into a dingy reality. We still want to hope for ours.

"Say it ain't so, Joe."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cash 4 Books

I know, I know, the economy resembles a beached whale, everyone in the nation who just gave up an addiction got it back, 401k's are sinking, we're all going to die.

At least that's what's going through stock brokers' minds.

Now, my newly minted sister-in-law Becky (what's UP!?!) had several interesting money-saving, or money-getting, ideas recently, and I'm here to tell you about the best one, so that when Tom Brokaw's all like "we're doomed," you can smile, knowing you just put same change in your pocket.

Now, if I had my camera gadgety thing with me, I'd upload photos of the corn maze we got lost in in northern Ohio when we visited Becky and her family. Who knew corn was so tall? Seriously, it's like fifteen feet. But this is not about the corn maze, or the ice cream we had afterwards, or the corn slide that I slid down, or the fact that we hung out at her house and she cooked and it was great, look at me, not cooking. College students: not cooking is something to never take for granted, even if you like cooking in general. The power of a prepared meal is enough to make the real world weep.

Anyway, so here it is....drumroll....

Cash 4 Books

Say you have an old textbook from college, but the bookstore wouldn't buy it back because the prof switched editions she was can enter the ISBN on Cash 4 Books' website, they'll tell you how much they'll pay you for it, you create an account, print out a shipping label they provide, and stick it in the mail. Voila! Money shows up in your PayPal account when they receive the books.

What's that, Elizabeth? They take your old books, pay you for them, and they even pay for shipping? All you need is the books, access to the internet, and a cardboard box to stick the dumb things in?

That's right, Mr. Anonymous Speaker Laden with Disbelief.

But I don't have old textbooks. I have fiction, and religious books, and Chicken Soup for the Confederate Army's Soul!

It's okay, Mr. Anonymous. They take a lot of that, too!

Where can I find this miracle drug, again?

Well, I don't know about miracle drugs, but you can go to to clear the way for the books you really want.

Are we talking like four dollars, or a thousand?

I'll give you an average example: we just sent in about five books - text books and nonfiction - and will receive about $50.00 for them.

Wow, thanks, Big Red Couch!

Don't thank me, thank Becky and her money savin', corn mazin' ways.

Nursing Home Brawl

My mom alerted me to this hilariously quirky story...

Browse the Aisles

Here are some headlines that I think you'll enjoy, sputter at, love, or raise an eyebrow to. If I didn't like them, though, well...they wouldn't be here...

Click these links for the articles...

Army Blocks Soldier From Bringing Puppy Back (had a good long discussion over this one)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Warning: Do Not Feed The Bears

Emily's been griping. Waaah, waaah, why aren't you posting, waaaaah...

Well, I'll tell you, World Wide Web.

It's because I've been sick. Sick and stressed. Sick and stressed and sucked dry of any shred of creative impulse.

But I'm back.

Here's today's thought: What Not To Say To Children You Meet Who Are Homeschooled

How do I know? Well, my childhood ran the gamut of educational opportunities in midwest America towards the end of the twentieth century. I went to public school for kindergarten, was homeschooled for several years, and went to high school in a small Christian school.

I'd like to focus on the homeschooling years. Now, this was a couple decades ago, before A) parents blogged about homeschooling quicker than you can blink, and B) before everybody knew that lots of normal people did it. That sounds a bit perverse, but I don't mean it that way. By "it," I mean homeschooling. Not...

Anyway, so here I am, my cute little Kool-Aid moustached self, skipping along the sidewalks of my small hometown. These were the days when The Smurfs were on TV, when Reagan was the nation's Grandpa, and when large plastic jewelry was stylish.

But grown-up's I'd been taught to respect, and I did, at least outwardly. But over the years I developed some disdain for grown-up's who asked stupid questions. It ended up feeling like Other People's Parents were viewing you like an animal in the zoo, with a large sign proclaiming "Warning: Do Not Feed The Bears" hung on the bars of the cage.

They peered down at you with poorly disguised curiosity, smiled too widely, and said things like the following.

"How do you like being homeschooled?"

My inner self raised eyebrows at this. What grown up would ask this? Let me tell you something. I liked being homeschooled. It's possible I would've liked public school, I don't know. But I knew, even then, that this was a Foolish Adult I Would Disdain. Why? Because first, they're assuming you have something with which to compare it. Second, they often asked this in the presence of other adults, sometimes my parents. Even if I hadn't liked it - and I did - what did they expect me to say? And third, it made me feel different from other kids, like I had the chicken pox when everyone else didn't, or something, instead of what I was: the same as most kids. Overall, I was a bright kid who didn't miss the motive behind the question when it was asked. Why didn't they ask what my favorite subject was, like they would've asked other kids? Lack of imagination, I suppose.

"Do you have friends you play with?"

Now...I'm speechless. If I'd been more bold, less respectful, and more comfortable with my burgeoning sense of sarcasm, I would've pulled a sad face and said, "no...there's no one to play with. And you know what else? I'm socially awkward and stunted, too, just like homeschooling critics worry. In fact, I haven't played with another child since I was four. Not even my little brother, who's homeschooled too. We have imaginary friends, and some day we'll turn into serial killers."

Once again, the thinly veiled motives behind the question were all too apparent on the faces of the adults who thought they were being subtle. But, being the respectful bugger I was, instead, I had to answer with longsuffering. "Yes, I have friends. And there are kids at church." Or, "Yes, I have friends. I'm also in softball and the community youth choir."

But even when the adults were impressed with how well educated I was, sometimes that led to awkward conversations in which they complimented me. At least they were complimenting me, but what does a ten year old say when someone says, "wow, you're really articulate." "Uh...thanks?"

So next time you meet a homeschooled kid, do the world a favor: remember that all kids are kids, except maybe those weird rocket science ones who win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But mostly, you won't meet Spelling Bee winners. You can bet your blue suede boots that most homeschooled kids are that: kids. They may be bright, or they may be particularly independent; they may show surprising comfort blurring generational lines, or they may be surprisingly well behaved; but kids are kids. Ask what subjects they like, what their favorite movie is, if they have a sport or hobby or pets or an activity.

You know. Normal kid stuff.

I swear we don't bite.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Harry Potter & The Election Of The Century

Upon considering the current presidential election, a surprising source of illumination comes from the world of wands and dragons, castles and pumpkin juice.

It is, of course, the world of Harry Potter.

Now, we Muggles - nonmagic folk - may find it a bit of a stretch to think that the world of J.K. Rowling has anything to do with the Republicans and Democrats of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. But then we'd be wrong.

For instance, I'd love to plop the Sorting Hat on both candidates' heads. Like or dislike John McCain, I don't think there's any arguing that he'd belong to Gryffindor House - known for its bravery. Obama's a bit trickier. His supporters might argue he belongs in Ravenclaw House - known for its intelligence - or Gryffindor - again, the bravery. I have a sneaking suspicion he's more ruthless than he lets on - and also more pointedly ambitious. Slytherin House it is, then. And that's the magic - pardon the pun - of the Sorting Hat. Plop that old hat down on one's head, and it announces your strengths and character - both what it is, and what you want it to be. If only we had a Sorting Hat instead of caucuses. It'd make it much easier to detect what kind of person a candidate is, because that, not even party alignment can tell.

The trouble-making reporter Rita Skeeter, who shows up in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," also came to mind this week. Her "Quick Quotes Quill" whips up quotes out of "er's" and "um's." Let me introduce you:

Rita Skeeter: So tell me, Harry. Here you sit, a mere boy of 12...
Harry: - I'm 14...
Rita Skeeter: - about to compete against three students who are not only vastly more emotionally mature than yourself, but who've mastered spells that you wouldn't attempt in your dizziest daydreams. Concerned?
Harry: I dunno, I haven't really thought about it...
Rita Skeeter: Because you're no ordinary boy of 12 are you?
Harry: 14.
Rita Skeeter: Your story's legend. Do you think it was the trauma of your past that made you so keen to enter such a dangerous tournament?
Harry: No, I didn't enter.
Rita Skeeter: Of course you didn't.
Rita Skeeter: Everyone loves a rebel, Harry. Speaking of your parents, were they alive, how do you think they'd feel? Proud? Or concerned that your attitude shows, at best, a pathological need for attention? The worst, psychotic death wish.
[Harry glances at Rita's notes]
Harry: Hey, my eyes aren't glistening with the ghosts of my past!

Something clicked this week as I watched, with raised eyebrow, the press pull some very familiar Rita Skeeter moves. Although it's true this came to mind while listening to a transcript of Katie Couric trying to win back her career, I mean interview John McCain and Sarah Palin, I'm sure it's not limited to the beleaguered CBS correspondent.

(Here I have to add a long parenthesis: I've heard a lot of complaining about Gwen Ifill this past week, particularly from conservatives. But she handled herself with fairness and dignity during last night's Vice Presidential debate. Despite the fact that she has a forthcoming book on race and politics, with Obama's name in the title, she was an extremely fair moderator with both candidates. Well done, Gwen Ifill. She handled Joe Biden with a certain acute laser mode that perhaps reminded him he had two women to contend with on camera, leading to his ill-timed emotional response during a discussion on the economy, that it was hard being a single dad, and that men know what it's like, too. He also made the dubious move of talking about how well off he is now, but how he used to know what it was like to be you and me. I felt a wall of separation go up between the audience and him at that moment. )

In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," Harry faces a disciplinary hearing for performing a Patronus charm to protect his cousin - a Muggle. He is underage, and the Ministry of Magic has been undergoing a political face-lift, denying, as Harry knows for certain, that evil Lord Voldemort has returned. (It wouldn't be good for re-election.) So when Harry shows up, nervous and fearful, for his hearing, he finds that it has been conveniently moved at the last minute, and that the time has been changed - to five minutes ago. Professor Dumbledore, his advocate, outmaneuvers the Prime Minister's tactic by saying calmly that it was lucky he arrived at the Ministry three hours early.

And swiftly, the Ohio situation comes to mind. Republicans had to sue to get the highly partisan Secretary of State to accept applications for early or absentee voting. All Ohio requires on these is a signature, and some verifying information like the last four digits of one's Social Security number. But the Secretary of State decided also that if a tiny box at the top wasn't checked, all those forms should be returned as invalid. Ohio's Supreme Court has ruled against the Secretary of State, but what this has cost in the mean time is hard to tell.

Human nature, politics, questionable motives - some things, whether in the wizarding world or out of it, stay the same. J.K. Rowling shows an enormous depth of keen insight into why we act the way we do. Hopefully, in the upcoming election of the century - for we will have either an African-American president, or a female vice-president - as little corruption as possible will take place, on the part of the candidates, the press, and the voters. Luckily, imagination runs free, and whether flourishes in the world of Harry Potter, or envisions a country bettered by government rather than hindered, we all have the freedom to picture a better place.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Autumn In The Air

Opening the door to let the dogs out, a crisp breeze of autumnal air freshened my face today. Which was delightful. It carried on it the scent of orchards miles away, crisping leaves on proud branches, and the suggestion of maple syrup, pumpkin bread and pie, apple crisp, and savory stews.

Notice the word "crisp" keeps popping up.

Autumn is my favored season, next to spring. My inner gardening gnome is satisfied in the spring, with the smell of new, wet mud and budding life. But'll find me writing odes to fall, next.

A few novel things I've noticed this fall, while down with my seasonal bout of illness:

Pumpkin ice cream. Now, I've had pumpkin ice cream, and it is really good, but for me, it also leaves me wanting what I really want if I have pumpkin ice cream: some really good pumpkin pie. When I saw a fall dessert on Martha Stewart's website suggested as accompanied with caramel ice cream, I thought, " THAT's the ticket." Things that are maple or caramel flavored are probably the best culinary accessory to your homespun desserts. Unless your miles away from pumpkin pie, and then I suppose it will do.

Martha Stewart's website. Boy oh boy, is that woman, and her huge conglomeration, worth it. No-sew costumes? Check. Cute Halloween crafts and decoration ideas? Check. The world's best recipes for autumn desserts? Check check check. My cooking horizons really opened up when I decided to brave Martha Stewart recipes. They've changed my recipe box for good, and for better. This year's screaming siren? The chocolate pumpkin swirl brownies. I haven't tried them yet, but they're one of those paradigm up-ending recipes that I will never escape until I give in to the call of the siren and plunge myself headlong into clouds of flour, baking chocolate, and mirth.

And lest we forget: it's time to bring out the sweaters, mittens, and scarves. I love sweaters, mittens, and scarves. Gloves are okay. Mittens are the...mittens are to gloves as mocha is to coffee. Mittens are to half and half is to powdered creamer. You get the idea. Now, I've accumulated a lot of hats, because usually every fall I get into a crocheting phase. But now's a good time to browse stores' offerings of tights, thick socks, and every branch of woolenwear. New textures or colors of yarn, too. Getting a new scarf or hat for fall is as invigorating as a suit of armor to a knight. I don't know where these ridiculous comparisons keep emerging from. Probably the Augmentin.

Now is the time to reflect on novels you've been meaning to read, too. There are inevitably the rainy, cold Saturdays ahead when raking or frolicking in the seasonal crispness is out of the question. Having lots of brown sugar, soup stock, and that sort of thing on hand doesn't hurt this time of year. But unless you're an absolute sports nutter, most people can't watch football all day all weekend. Well okay thousands of people manage it, but the point is, find a good long novel to curl up with under an afghan.

As soon as the bronchial pestilence subsides, I'm also heading straight for Boyd's Orchard, which yields a - wait for it - here it comes, seasonal pun - cornucopia of pumpkins, cider, homemade doughnuts, and apples.

Start thinking about Halloween, too. I've been threatening to take the dogs trick or dog treating, dressed as Darth Vader and Princess Leia. All I've gotten so far is laughs - well, snorts. But I would love dogs showing up on my porch in costume.

Then again, I'm not usual. Or in my right mind.