SO, yeah. Wow. Man. This past month. I was knocked out for about 2.5 weeks with bronchitis, and so it’s mostly a blur of coughing and hacking and more tea drinking than I have ever done in my life. I put a serious dent in our supplies (which is good, because we had a surplus anyway, and it wasn’t moving very quickly.)
Before I took ill I did manage to finish this beauty. Behold, the Blue Dahlia from the book New Vintage Lace: Knits Inspired By The Past by Andrea Jurgrau (details on my Ravelry page). Once I got the hang of the pattern, it was actually a lot of fun to knit on, and even though at one point I ran into a snag, it seems after seven years of practicing this hobby, I finally have enough confidence in my abilities to say “hey…you know…I don’t think this is actually my fault…let’s check for errata!” And sure enough, there was an error that was fixed in an update, and it was related to the exact issue I was having! The lesson to be learned here is that sometimes other people are actually to blame. It’s not always me!
In an interesting turn of events, I was present at a Death Cafe…as an actual attendee! Up until this point I had only organized and facilitated the events (which I have written about before), and I have to say…it was much easier to be an attendee. So much less pressure! Hardly any stress at all! Although the day I go into something completely anxiety free is a day of miracles. But It helped that it was held at a lovely friend’s home, and that I had more than a passing familiarity with the charismatic facilitator. So many interesting things were discussed, and innovative ideas and concepts were bandied about–I cannot say it often and loudly enough: if you have the opportunity to attend a Death Cafe, either locally, or perhaps in a city that you are visiting, you absolutely must. Every single time, I walk away from one invigorated and enlightened, and despite what might be perceived as a morbid subject matter, it is a truly life affirming experience.
Sooooo…turns out four years of caring for close family members who keep dying one right after the other is not good for one’s well-being, neither mental nor physical. You’re shocked, right? Well, I was shocked when, a week before my grandmother passed, I stepped on the scale and discovered that not only had I gained back any weight I’d lost three years ago, there were many, many extra stowaway pounds as well. Caring for people you love, putting their needs above your own, and then watching them die one by one, tends to be a disheartening, depressing, and demoralizing process. Not cool, grief and depression (and laziness and apathy). Not cool at all.
As someone who is an emotional eater even in the best of times, well, I’m here to tell you that ever since December 2012 when I discovered my mother had cancer, and going forward from there to care for her, and then both of my elderly grandparents, it’s been taking a severe toll emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. What I’m saying is basically I ate my way through the past four years, and I’m fairly certain that with each death, my give-a-fucks for my own well-being dwindled significantly.. I stepped on the scale in early February, a week before my grandmother died, and was utterly horrified. Ten weeks later, I have lost 17 pounds, but I have got quite a while to go and a long journey full of hard work ahead of me. This “creature of the night” tee is one of my favorites. When I bought it, several years ago, it was pretty boxy and very loose. In 2016 I noticed that it had become uncomfortably tight, and I resembled a creature of the night stuffed sausage. It’s getting loose again, and I can tell it fits differently, more like it did when I first bought it. That’s where I’m at right now, friends. Hopefully there’s many more loose tee shirts where I am headed. And so, you know what that means. There’s going to be a lot more Weight Loss For Weirdos posts around here
Currently binging on: Steven Universe. These past two weeks of bronchitis have laid me pretty low, but this sweet, kind, beautiful show has cheered me immeasurably. I’ve been slowly catching up on it since December, but we took in half of season two just this past weekend! I woke up the next morning feeling better than I have in a long time, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The week before the Steven Universe marathon, I mainlined all of Taboo, and while I loved Tom Hardy’s grim, grimy, bleak British drama and was over the moon to find out it was renewed for a second season, Steven Universe was a welcome palate cleanser afterward. I’ve also been watching Supergirl. Don’t laugh! I really enjoy its dorky optimism.
And of course, my one-word movie reviews. Because brevity is the soul of…the really lazy person.
* I had really been looking forward to The Void, but somehow Amazon tricked me into watching the wrong one, and because the time between reading the synopsis six months ago and watching the film a few days ago was long enough to forget what it was supposed to be about…I didn’t even realize until the end I’d been duped. I was doing a lot of head scratching throughout, but I was determined to see it through. Even though it was a disappointment. And when I figured out my mistake and watched the one I meant to watch in the first place? That was kind of a disappointment, too. Though I think the popular opinion was that it was a really incredible film, a friend of mine summed it up best: “…it collapsed under the weight of its influences. It checked a bunch of boxes but didn’t have a voice of its own.”
This past month has been a heart breaker. We lost our dear Mawga, and just like that, our already dwindling family was that much smaller. The days since her passing have been colder than any I remember for this time of year and I’ve been busying my most of them with the work that comes after a death. Making arrangements for, in this case, cremation, retrieving said cremains, cleaning up and cleaning out the house for when we are able to sell it, meeting with the probate attorney, etc. Thank goodness my grandmother and grandfather set up many of these things in advance, otherwise it would probably be a lot tougher than it actually is. Note to self: get your will and last wishes down on paper and legalized. When I leave this world, I want to ensure that people are put to as little trouble as possible.
So the weeks have passed. And today, again, just like that, it is the first day of spring.
I’ve been incorporating my grandmother’s beloved belongings into my home and my daily routine. The top photo, an old afghan given new life, draped on the reading seat in my office. Below that, a pair of opal earrings which I haven’t seen in many years and which we unearthed from the musty depths of an old dresser. She frequently used to warn me against the wearing of opals; apparently they were said to be bad luck if they were not your birthstone. They are not mine, but I’m shrugging off superstition and wearing them anyway. Mawga is no doubt tsk-tsking me all the way from the other side.
I’m afraid the No-Buy from the beginning of the year hit a stall as of mid-February. I haven’t gone too crazy…for example, no new skin care items because my weird face seems less weird on its current regimen and I’d hate to screw that up. Only ONE new book purchase, everything else has come from the library. No new jewelry at all! I sort of goofed when it came to perfume because glob knows I don’t need any more of that, but how can I resist Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Line?
…also, okay. Another confession. Though wall real estate is becoming more and more scarce chez Ghoul, I also purchased some more Art. (You can read of my art obsession here, if you missed it). Pictured above is Briar, a sweet batling wrought by the brilliant hands of Jessica Joslin and who has just recently joined our motley menagerie.
Reading: Gosh, I have been all over the place lately. I finally got around to reading Paper Girls, described as paranormal science fiction mixed with ’80s nostalgia which is such a cool story. I can’t wait to see where it goes. House of Penance is a horrific take on the story of the Winchester House and is super intense. Glitterbomb, a dramatic horror story about fame and failure, details through the character of aging actress Farrah Durante, how the entertainment industry feeds on our insecurities, desires, and fears. I kind of wanted more from this story, but I’m at a loss for, what exactly, I thought it was missing.
Not pictured: Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula. I am somewhat conflicted about this one. As one reviewer succinctly put it: “…there’s a Bram Stoker-shaped hole at the heart of the book.” And wow, is there ever. The book’s author delves into the lives of everyone who has ever touched Bram Stoker, no matter how obscure or insignificant. And though neither obscure nor insignificant, I would venture to say that at least half this book is about Oscar Wilde! At the end of it all, though, I can say I have a pretty good picture of the time during which Stoker lived, and the history and culture of that time, and the people with whom he chose to surround himself and those by whom he was inspired. David Skal writes with a wry humor that serves as a skillful punctuation to the information and stories he shares, but never overwhelms the reader with it. He lets the facts and data tell the story. It’s a lengthy, rambling story with plenty of digressions, but if you are a fan of Bram Stoker’s stories, then I think you will very much enjoy this story of the life he lived.
And lastly, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. My sister recommended this to me ages ago, and I stubbornly chose other feminist works to read first. On one hand, I am glad; I think my dissatisfaction with those previous titles made me that much more appreciative of Bad Feminist. This series of essays, some of them intensely vulnerable, addresses race, culture, and Scrabble competitions; intertwined with her ruminations on literature and culture, it’s equal parts commentary, memoir, and critical analysis. One thing in particular I loved about the book was the tone; it was not overly academic (I’m sorry to confess I find that rather dreary) and it wasn’t some sort of manic comedy (see Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman)–while it was witty, it was also utterly genuine. But I do think even if I had not encountered those types of reads previously, I’d have loved Bad Feminist all the same, and that much more.
And of course, one-word movie reviews. This month’s viewing is comprised of a very short list. It seems I’ve been doing more reading than movie watching recently, which is fine. I go back and forth between the two, some months it’s one more than the other. Looks like the books win out, this month! I’ve also started keeping track of the dates the films were watched, but that’s probably of no interest to anyone but me.
Currently I am having a rough go of it. I find myself shuffling from one end of the house to the other, without thought or purpose or even memory of doing so. I cannot focus or concentrate, so work is all but impossible, and yet I haven’t taken any time off, either. I find it difficult to justify time off when I already work from home, you know? So I’ve just been sitting at my desk, dazed, thoughts both a million miles away and no where, and desperately hoping that the phone does not ring. Inevitably it does. And so, a week has passed since we lost our Mawga.
“A readjustment of reality, ” is how a friend summed up some of what I am feeling. I spent so many years worrying and fretting over my grandmother, paying her bills, keeping up with her house, handling all the what-ifs and emergencies as they arose, paying her a visit after work every day…now that I no longer have these things to do (these things that sometimes I was honestly quite bitter and resentful of) I am feeling unmoored, adrift, purposeless. Instead of having to sneak my knitting or reading into spare pockets of time, stolen and emptied from other portions of my life, I now am at leisure to do these things as I please. But for the moment (and I do know it is a momentary, passing thing) …I just …can’t.
But I do feel the compelling, compulsive need, as I do every month, do vaguely document the things I have been doing–and so to keep to a routine and regain a sense of normalcy, here is some photographic evidence that there was life and liveliness over the past month. And I suppose, even though it doesn’t feel like it now, there will be again.
A fantastic box of Vegan Treats morbid chocolates from my beau. This has become our Valentine’s Day tradition. Somehow we manage to make these delectable morsels last a month or more; I think three years in, we have managed to become pros at it.
Last Saturday I got my got my bangs cut. My hair has been all one-length for the past twenty years, so this is a weird adjustment. And I probably won’t keep it this way forever (sweaty humid bangs on my forehead in July? Ugh) but for now, I think I really dig it. It’s got a sort of Stevie Nicks or Ann & Nancy Wilson vibe. And it’s certainly an improvement on this, a photo which was taken a day or so before the big chop.
Currently reading Something In The Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker. I was so excited to read about the author of my very favorite novel, but I am finding that while it is not dry reading, exactly, it is certainly dense and packed with information and taking me a rather long time to muddle through. Much more than just a biography, it immerses the reader in the culture and the history of the Victorian era, encountering various celebrities and characters along the way. It’s enjoyable, it really is…but there’s just so much of it. I broke up the monotony of it with Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which is something I’d been meaning to read for awhile as I loved all of her other books, but for whatever reason, I’d never gotten to it. After reading a few chapters I was sorely lamenting watching Chan Wook Parks film adaptation of it, The Handmaiden, just last year. It was exactly the same story (but you know, London, instead of Korea) and I knew what to expect! I was disappointed that I already knew the twists and turns before they could surprise me. Ahhh, but not so. I read on and after a while I was glad of having seen the film first. And I ended up adoring the book as much as the film. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Make them both priorities on your to-watch/to-read lists.
I sincerely thought that I had prepared myself for the loss of my maternal grandmother; that I had steeled myself for the absence of her weird light, that I was ready to brave a world in which the wisest, kindest, most influential woman in my life no longer existed. The passage of recent years saw the loss of all of her children, including my mother, and then a year and a half ago, the death of her husband of 72 years, our beloved grandfather. My grandma had lost so much, and had been unwell for so long; she was ready to let go…the only problem was that, her body, though it was slowly shutting down, was certainly taking its time and wasn’t ready to let her pass to the next big thing just yet.
My sisters and I used to whisper that perhaps our grandmother was a witch, or a vampire, or maybe even a Highlander. A creature who had bargained for immortality, or perhaps she had it unwittingly bestowed upon her– but regardless, she would end up outliving us all. I think we truly believed this supernatural theory regarding her longevity after watching several years of this ninety-something-year-old woman bouncing back from various maladies and afflictions and health-related dramas–a little worse for wear each time, but she would never lose that mysterious, mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Ha!” it seemed to glint and tease, “…think again! You’re not getting rid of me that easily!”
But regardless of whether it was some vital bit of sorcery on the part of her own body or the spell cast by the fierce love of her granddaughters, death came for her in the end after all, and I suppose there is no magic that I know of, which can–or should–defy that call.
My grandmother’s death marks the passing of the last adult figure in my life, which is a pretty strange feeling, I can tell you that. Or at least, I know that to be true on an intellectual level, but to be honest, I’ve been feeling her absence long before her passing. For so long she was lucid and “with it” and even if she’d only met you once in her life and even if it was 50 years ago, she would always remember you. But on New Year’s Day in 2017, two months after she turned 95, a cerebral episode left her increasingly confused and disoriented, and this rapidly developed to a point where she didn’t know where she was, or who we were anymore. We had worked so hard to keep her at home, and she didn’t believe it was her home anymore. It was a heartbreaking decline.
I love this hazy, old photo of her. It is strange to admit, but I never actually thought of my grandmother as having legs; for as long as I can remember she suffered knee problems, and then for the last fifteen-twenty or so years she had either been using a walker, very slowly and painfully. In her last year of life, she had been confined to her armchair, and finally, a hospice bed. But I know when she was younger she would carefully crouch while tending to her vegetable garden, kneel reverently whilst cultivating her otherworldly roses, and spend time on her back porch feeding her beloved birds, spryly chasing off the chipmunks and squirrels from the seeds in winter, sitting cross-legged watching for deer and rabbits at the edge of their heavily wooded property in the spring. Seeing her pretty legs stretched out in the summer sun like this makes me so happy, especially when I reflect upon her last few months under layers of socks and blankets, her pale legs, weak, immobile, and never warm enough.
I am forever indebted to my grandmother for bestowing upon me her love of cooking. I received no formal culinary teaching at her hands, but she always allowed me to hover nearby and watch, or give me a turn to stir the gravy, or roll out some dough, or a spoon to lick, while her murmuring of the ingredients and recipe became a gentle incantation that I can still hear when attempting any sort of kitchen witchery in my own home. I remember the fearful curses that flew from her lips when a meringue would droop or a pudding would fail to set, but I also recall the peaceful magics that would beset a room when my sisters and I would tuck into a bowl of chicken and dumplings or Cincinnati chili that had earlier been bubbling merrily away on the stove. She never made me feel like I was a nuisance, or in the way, and she genuinely seemed to be pleased with my company. In later years, when standing became too difficult, she would direct the proceedings from a kitchen chair, while I carried out the steps for new recipes that she wanted to try. She had a grand appreciation for a good meal and a tremendous appetite for all kinds of junk food, too. Last May, when she recovered from an infection that left her bed-bound, the first thing she said when she was feeling herself again, was that she was hungry for fried chicken! She had her priorities straight, we always liked to say.
Also, like my grandmother, I am a bit of a magpie. I spent so much of my childhood trawling through her mother of pearl jewelry box and playing dress-up with her dangling earrings and sparkling brooches; everything carried the lingering scent of her signature scent– Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew–and for the longest time I thought that all baubles and gems emanated a musty, metallic tang, a strange witches brew of heady, formidable glamour and aggressive luxury. Even now, stealing sniffs from her almost empty perfume bottle, my memories glimmer and gleam with the treasures associated with that fragrance. Never opals, though. Opals are bad luck unless they are your birthstone, she’d caution me in a dire tone. I’m still frightened of them and to this day, I won’t even touch an opal.
An astrology enthusiast who insisted she had the second sight, my grandmother was also, as she liked to remind us, “a good, Christian woman”. This God-fearing woman believed that we absolutely should not date any Scorpios (I wish I had heeded that particular warning) and that she was a little bit psychic; unfortunately her premonitions only extended to bad news and death, and which I personally thought had more a tinge of those “see I told you that’s what would happen”, cautionary energies rather the manifestation of the metaphysical. She was a good woman, that part I know for sure. Our holidays were often crowded with friends who had no families, and to whom she had extended invitations to her home in perpetuity so that they would never have to spend a holiday alone. My own mother was a complicated woman who fought and lost to many of her demons, but my grandmother was always a steady, dependable force who was there for my sisters and me when our mom was not. No one could have taken better care of us; my grandparents ensured that we always had clothes to wear, books to read, and food to eat (we thought that everyone’s dinner table was provided for by a grandmother who drove around with meatloaf and tuna casserole in the trunk of their car).
I owe everything I am to my grandmother…even the weird, problematic bits. She had a morbid, melancholic streak, as did my mother, and I don’t believe that depression develops in a vacuum. I remember her telling me once that she used to write poetry sometimes in high school, and recalling my own flair for melodrama, I was not the least bit surprised to hear that. Depression for my grandmother took the form of long naps and early bedtimes, and when I cannot bestir myself in the morning because of a gloomy mood, I know it for the echoes of her unhappiness running through my blood.
She loved true crime novels and sat spellbound watching dramatic court cases. She enthusiastically perused celebrity gossip magazines and oddly enough, thoroughly enjoyed South Park. I think she found the nature of human drama utterly fascinating, even and especially the sensationalist kind. But as much as she enjoyed connecting with people, she hated talking on the phone, and would only use the telephone in the event of an emergency. I too am made anxious at the thought of phone conversations, and I loved her for assuring me that we weren’t the odd ones for having that aversion. We were perfectly normal–it was the rest of the world that was weird.
And no matter what we believed, or said, or did, or didn’t do–she thought her granddaughters were smart and beautiful, and perfect.
And this sage, strange, weird, wonderful woman, oh, how we thought the same of her.
We’re going to miss you so much, Mawga.
In loving memory of Valora E. Derrickson. 11/28/21 to 2/15/17
Somehow the last month, give or take a few days, feels several decades long. I suspect that has much to do with the upheaval of the holidays; we hosted my beau’s family for Christmas this year, so I believe there were at least two weeks alone which were lost to the commotion of getting our slovenly butts in gear to make the place look presentable and figure out how to cook a dang prime rib. (If you’re curious, we served prime rib with roasted asparagus, garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach, and if I don’t have to do that again for another year, that will be fine with me.)
Also, I have never had a holiday thing/event/whatever in my own home, so I was freaking out. Quite honestly, I had volunteered responsibility for the holiday dinners because I was tired of feeling awkward and out of place/in the way at someone else’s house. If I’m going to feel uncomfortable, I’d rather it be in the comfort of my own home, you know?
Houses were lit, skeletons and bats were fitted with Santa hats, and a thousand star cookies were born, only to die bravely in several gulps. I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that I made the world’s most amazing gingersnap cookies and that may never happen again because I don’t remember which recipe I used. At Jack’s suggestion, though, I under-baked them, which did away with the menace of the tooth-breaking “snap” and produced a cookie that was intensely chewy and full of delectable spices. I suspect under-baking any gingersnap recipe will yield a far superior result.
This past weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. On Friday night I ventured into Orlando for dinner at Dandelion Cafe with some like-minded lady friends (whom I both met through Death Cafe!) and a jaunt to Etoile Boutique in the Milk District for the bloodmilk trunk show. It was so nice to meet the incredibly lovely Jess, whom I’ve known online for years now, as well as her whirling dervish, effervescent right-hand gal, Jen. And of course it was pretty spectacular to see glittering stacks of bloodmilk talismans and amulets on display. I may have purchased a thing. Okay…maybe two!
The next day I tagged along with my brother-in-law on some errands, during which we took a quick drive through Greenwood Cemetery which is utterly gorgeous, and which I had somehow never visited. Afterward we visited South Seminole Farm and Nursery and I poked along, haunting the herb shelves and spying on all the blooms and blossoms, while he checked out the boring stuff, like native ground cover.
On Sunday we went to Disney World. Though I am a FL resident now and have been for the better part of 30 years, I can count on one finger the times I have been to this theme park. When I was much younger, I was obsessed with it, and of course, with the various Disney princesses, but as I grew older I came to really resent it. Full disclosure: that was because I was a scumbag who was dating an even more horrible person who was married (with kids) and I grew to detest anything that smacked of Disney or children’s fantasy.
It took me several years to get over that. I’m still not super rah-rah jazzed about all things Disney, but I genuinely did have a wonderful time staying at the Polynesian resort, drinking all of the tiki drinks, watching spectacular night time fireworks across the water, and spending the next day eating too much sugar and going on all the rides with my Viking. I guess it all depends on who you spend your time with, right? And I have been spending time with this particularly excellent human for five years now (as of this Friday the 13th!) and that’s sort of what this trip was all about. I even got the sequined Minnie ears to commemorate the occasion! Although he’ll tell you it’s because he wanted to see robot-Obama speak before the Hall of Presidents is closed down for the next six months, but I know what’s what.
Currently knitting: the German doily inspired Blue Dahlia shawl. I’ve been coasting on socks and mitts for the past six months, so I thought I would start of the year with something a little more challenging and infinitely more fiddly. So far so good!
Currently reading: all of the library books! There’s this problem with borrowing library books, though. You can’t really read them at your leisure, so you either race through them, trying to finish them before the due date that you’ve already extended two or three times already, or you just let them pile up because you get involved in other things and then you must return them unfinished. There’s always one or two from my stacks that remains sadly unread and most likely not revisited.
I just finished The Magicians, which despite wanting to punch the main character in the face, I totally adored. There’s something about the magic of ordinary folks being transplanted into unfamiliar worlds that makes for some of my favorite storytelling. Unspeakable Things, though intensely edifying, is a bit of a slog, so I’ve been breaking it up with the equally feminist How To Be A Woman(which, while hilarious, it’s the sort of humor that might grate on one’s nerves after a while.) I also checked out every Carrie Fisher book that my local branch had to offer but so far I have only finished Wishful Drinking, which was a quick and wonderfully witty read. Note to self: still need to see her stand up version of this.
And of course, some one word film reviews. I am not sure how I got in so much in the way of movie watching since the 13th of December, but somehow there are 20+ titles on this list!
“Rotten”. That pretty much sums up the past month and a half. Too little time for all that I need to do and too much stress about all of those things have left me ragged at the edges, and edgy to the extreme. (“rotten” graphic above courtesy a Stay Home Club tee shirt which I am appropriately wearing today.)
My body does weird things when I am freaked out, and these anxieties over the years have found new and exciting ways to manifest physically in my poor bod. What I’m pretty sure have been mild cases of acid reflux and rosacea that developed in my late 30s but which I have always been able to pooh-pooh because they’re not that bad…well, all of a sudden they are that bad. Massive flare ups. I’ve been walking around for the majority of November and December feeling like I’m going to barf and like my barf is burning a hole in my throat, on top of which my face is red and stingy-rashy with itchy bumps constantly appearing and disappearing in the same day.
The acid reflux, well, I can get over that, but roseacea? ON MY FACE? Ugh, no. Last straw.
I am, however, happy to report that after polling some friends on facebook I found some tips and various things to try that actually seem to be working. For those who are curious…
I cut out coffee (I didn’t drink that much anyway. Only a mug a day, which I drinkuntil it gets cold, and then I dump it out.) I replaced the coffee with a hot turmeric-ginger chai from Rishi.
I changed up my morning and evening face cleansing routine and am now using the anti-redness rosacea products from ZENMED. I am not exaggerating in the least when I tell you that I noticed an overnight difference after first trying them. On one hand that’s amazing, because my itchy lobster face was pretty awful. What stinks, though, is that now I basically have a cabinet full of expensive beauty products that are totally useless because I can’t use right now.
On to more glamorous things! I received my beautiful Pilgrims from Fluevog and they fit gorgeously. These are truly the One Pair of Shoes to Rule Them All.
They are pictured here with a dress from Noctex, which you can’t really see, and I can’t link properly link to because it is no longer sold, and Avignon from Comme des Garçons, which of course you cannot smell, but I will share with you that it smells like very fancy pencil shavings. The tote is from Haute Macabre, but no longer available.
Also good for alleviating stresses: making your own monsters! A fashionable, fantastical harpy-footed, squid-armed cyclops! A jaunty minotaur with mummy legs and bat wings! A dragon with torn dungarees! Ridiculous! I picked up up this magnet set in Austin, but you can easily find them on amazon. Also, if you have a weird friend for whom you need a last-minute Hexmas gift (or maybe one of those white-elephant/dirty santa exchanges?) I can personally attest that this is the most perfect thing ever and there will be much deranged cackling.
I am too brain dead to think of much to say about any of these books, but if you like the idea of vengeful Victorian lesbian insect women, then give InSeXts a try, and if Charlies Angels as managed by the Phantom of the Opera sounds campy and delightful to you, then I think you’ll like Angels of Music. I haven’t delved into the Valancourt anthology yet, but come on–just look at that cover! It’s got to be good.
Currently watching: a lot of Gravity Falls. My beau has been trying to get me to watch this with him forever, and I finally gave in. It’s a Disney show, (I think?) and has described as Twin Peaks meets Eerie, Indiana. Except without all the murder. Anyway, I won’t go into what it’s all about because if you already know then I’ll feel dumb for having done that. I will say that it’s a lot of fun and it’s good when you want to watch something silly but not exactly mindless, but…I don’t know. I find some bits of it a little problematic.
Currently: enjoying the brief window of opportunity we have to open the house up to cool breezes and fresh air (during which time I start burning all the incense and candles, stinking up all of our newly acquired fresh air); hand-writing letters to far flung friends, drinking up all the tea in my cupboards and queuing up all the Hildegard Von Bingen and Loreena McKennit that I can find, for I am a creature of habit, and that’s what I like to listen to when the weather frosts my fingers and numbs my lungs. It was 45 degrees this morning when I woke up! In November! In Florida! Wow.
Currently: recovering from our yearly trip. This time around, instead of visiting Portland, we visited Austin…which I guess is sort of like “the other Portland”. Well, that’s what everyone says, anyway, but I don’t quite get that. I like both places very much, but I will say that folks seem a lot chattier in Austin, more willing to engage (as someone who is not keen on chatting, I am not sure if that’s a plus, but I’d sound like such a grinch if I indicated a city of friendly people is somehow negative, right?)
In Austin I:
ate all of the tacos on Torchy’s menu (I liked the Baja shrimp taco best!)
waited in lines for three hours at Franklin’s for barbecue on our first day and walked right in to Terry Black’s barbecue on the last day (I found Terry Black’s to be superior)
saw some art at one location of the East Austin Studio Tour
finally met my darling Lau and her husband; we dined on caviar and pirozhki at The Russian House and afterwards, sipped on secret speakeasy cocktails at a clandestine location nearby
Stopped by Austin Books and Comics, which now rivals Powells (in my opinion) for best bookstore on earth. Also stepped into The Dragon’s Lair, which was pretty groovy, too, with an amazing selection of comics and graphic novels. And games, if you are into that.
Enjoyed delicious ramen at Tatsu-ya; amazing pizza at Home Slice; several breakfasts at June’s, more cocktails at Gordoughs, and marveled at the TARDIS of yarnshops–Hill Country Weavers–which is totally bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside, and is stuffed wall-to-wall with fantastically beautiful yarns.
Over the course of our week in Austin, I had a surprising amount of downtime. While the lads were adventuring (in the next room with dice and character sheets), I curled up on the sofa and read the following:
My Sweet Audrina: Prompted by last month’s Bad Books For Bad People podcast, I thought I’d re-read this gem from my childhood. At 11 years of age, I don’t think I fully appreciated the scope of how truly fucked up this book was–it is beautifully bonkers.
The Girl On The Train: For me, this is a read that falls into the “good for what it is” category… something I would probably not pick up unless I was traveling…something with a little mystery, very little depth, and a moderate to high trashy-factor. If you liked Gone Girl, you will probably also like The Girl On The Train (I actually liked it better than Gone Girl.)
The Singing Bones: The brief synopsis is, “a convicted killer’s imminent parole forces a woman to confront the nightmarish past she’s spent twenty years escaping”, but it’s a richly layered story with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and fascinating folkloric elements that elevates it to something beyond a typical thriller. Highly recommended– and thanks a million for the suggestion, Leslie.
The Ritual: This book about four friends and their nightmare hike into dark, primal Scandinavian wilderness has been on my to-read list forever, but of the books I read while away last week, it is probably my least favorite. The first half reminded me of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo”, or “The Willows”, the former which always freaks me out a little but more than the latter, but they are both hauntingly intense and give me shudders whenever I ponder them overlong. The second half of the book seems silly in comparison, but I found that after the acute anxiety caused by the first half, I was okay with some ridiculousness.
The Other Side, An Anthology Of Queer Paranormal Romance: “Featuring 19 comics by 23 different creators, THE OTHER SIDE is a celebration of queer romance and the paranormal… featuring a wide variety of queer and trans protagonists – as well as poltergeists, shadow monsters, guitar-playing hypnotists, lost angels, genderfluid vampires, trickster ghosts, and many more!” There were definitely hits and misses here; a few left me wanting much more, one or two left me scratching my head, and a handful of them were just perfect. On the whole though, I thought it was a wonderful collection and a highly satisfying reading/visual experience.
And lastly, what have I been watching? Here are some one(ish) word reviews for you…
This has been a strange month so far. After the excitement and panic of the hurricane, while things have calmed down a bit, they still don’t feel “normal”. I haven’t had the energy or motivation I need to finish (or, ahem, start) many of the things I would have hoped to have done now that the month is almost over, and as melodramatic as it sounds, I feel as if I am languishing under the threat of some unnameable doom.
In the meantime, here are some movies I have seen recently, and my one word assessments of them.
We also watched season one of Ash Vs. Evil Dead which was a lot of fun, although a great deal…saltier than I expected? Maybe I am getting old. Gosh.
*these titles can be found on netflix
I was loathe to delve into any book at all after finishing the very excellent Southern Reach Trilogy, but as it happens, everything since I’ve read since then has been wonderful. The Night of the Hunter was unexpectedly, profoundly beautiful, and come to think of it, I might use those same words to describe Michael Schmeltzer’s book of poetry, Blood Songs. Monstress boasted exquisite, intricate art, complex characters, really fantastic world building, and a thrillingly mysterious story; I cannot wait to read more. Giant Days (Volume 3), Wicked + The Divine (Volume 4), and Over the Garden Wall were all just as much fun as I would have expected, and I think I also read every gorgeous, weird thing that Tin Can Forest ever published. Oh, and also–The Girl With All The Gifts, which was an uncomplicated, but still pretty engaging read (I wasn’t even going to pick it up, but the film was receiving such great reviews, and if I am going to see the movie, my general rule is that I must read the book first!)
This past month has seen a slow shift into a less hectic pace and has presented me with more time to focus on things I have been neglecting. The past year has been so busy, especially the earlier part of the summer, and so it was easy to ignore things piling up…as in literal, actual piles and stacks of things that just kept growing and slowly taking over the entire house.
I spent the greater portion of August getting these things sorted and settled. Stacks of books were dismantled and properly shelved. Art was hung on walls, makeup and brushes were given a home, and jewelry is now untangled and on display. It’s about time.
Currently I am obsessing, just a bit, over okinomiyaki…which, if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically (as far as I can tell) just a savory Japanese pancake. I think it usually always contains cabbage, but from there you can probably add whatever you like: shrimp, pork belly, chicken, sausage, squid…whatever. Or maybe shredded carrots and lots of green onions, if you don’t want to add any meat.
I see some people refer to it as “Japanese pizza”, but maybe that’s because it seems a bit like junk food? Or maybe because it’s a flat disk-like food with lots of toppings? Who knows! Anyway, here’s a basic recipe for it, and it’s fairly easy to make. You mix a bunch of stuff together, fry it, throw some other stuff on top, and serve it. Here’s a shopping list for the items that might present more of a challenge to locate, if you wanted to make it for dinner tonight: okonomiyaki kit // dashi // bonito flakes // kewpie mayo // okonomiyaki sauce
How did this okonomiyaki obsession begin? Well, I blame it on Wakakozake, an anime I started watching last year. Shown in 2 minute episodes, it follows Murasaki Wakago, a 26 year old woman, who likes to go out to dinner or for a snack and a drink, every night after work. Somehow, they took that concept and turned it into a half an hour live action show (or maybe the animated short came second? I’m actually not sure.)
On the surface, it’s not very complex: our main character picks a restaurant or a bar, she orders something and eats it, musing on its delicious qualities all the while. Sort of like a food blog, I guess, but much less pretentious. Wakago can be silly and is a bit of a day-dreamer, and there’s such a lovely lack of artifice in her observations. Also, I loved what this reviewer had to say about it, and after reading this, I really did start to think about the many layers of Wakakgo’s reflections and interactions. And although, as the reviewer notes, the show barely scratches the surface of this way of thinking. It’s fascinating.
“I think one of the best things about this series is how it both introduces and scratches the surface of a side of Japanese thinking and approaching food that is very specific and methodical, yes, but even that touches on something that is very characteristic of traditional cultural aesthetic values in Japan – there is not only a right way to prepare food, but to eat food, and to evaluate, criticise and appreciate what is placed in front of one.”
Sometimes I will prepare dinner, and depending what sort of mood we are in, we will either have our meal at the dining room table, or sit in front of the tv and watch something. Lately, my response to the question of “what shall we watch?” is “I want to watch the lady eat!”
Nope, I’m not creepy or anything.
Some more one-word reviews for you on films I have recently watched:
I just finished Jeff Vandermeer’s extraordinary Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Acceptance, & Authority), and now I’m at a bit of a loss and I don’t know what to do with myself–the perils of reading something so wondrous that you just don’t think anything else can measure up! The books tell of the mysterious, dangerous wilderness of Area X and the humans exploring it: several decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred and a large swath of land and sea was sealed behind an invisible and largely impenetrable barrier. “Inside it, nature shifted. It grew wild and pristine, dense and fertile—improbably pure, as though nature had said “Enough!” and reclaimed itself.” It’s an uncanny, and genuinely surprising read that haunted me for days and probably will continue to do so for a long time to come. With this series The New Yorker refers to Vandermeer as The Weird Thoreau, and …yeah, I totally see that.
Also read, to some degree of enjoyment or another:
Currently smelling: the few offerings from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s The Art of the Unicorn collection. I have not yet made much headway, but I can tell you that De Vos’ Unicorn (sugared peony and rose-tinted vanilla with mallow, white musk, lavender buds, and a touch of apricot) smells like a brothel run by a flock of scrumptious marshmallow peeps. But like, peeps if…they weren’t purchased stale and on sale after Easter, but rather if some enterprising, over-achiever foodie made a bespoke, hand-crafted batch of peeps. After a few hours, the scent softens becomes very much like my beloved but sadly discontinued Antique Lace, so it is definitely going to be hoarded away.
Incidentally, did you know that the collective noun for unicorns is a “fondle” of unicorns? Well, according to Wondermark it is. I’d like to add that it’s no doubt a “glittering fondle of unicorns.”
Gosh. It’s been a while since I’ve written about what I am currently up to! I tried to put a brief missive together back in June but I was so frazzled with my grandmother’s illness, I just couldn’t think straight. Let’s try again.
I finally put to use the kitchen aid ice cream paddle attachment that I received as a gift last Christmas (or was it two Christmases ago? Jeez.) and made a beautiful batch of coffee ice cream, just in time for some seriously hot Florida weather. Nearly two months later it has only gotten hotter, but have I made any more ice cream? No. The answer is no, I have not. It will probably be another two years. Such is the life of frou-frou kitchen gadgets.
Speaking of unused Christmas gifts, I received Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful vegetarian cookbook Plenty More a year or two ago, and I will shamefacedly admit that other an initial flip through to gaze at the dazzling photos, I hadn’t opened it again since. In searching out some meals that I could ostensibly cook ahead of time and then nibble off pieces for breakfast or lunch as needed, I came across the “cauliflower cake” and thought it looked perfect. I think his recipes are a sort of…Mediterranean fusion, you could say? So, the sort of book with lots of interesting ideas requiring not readily on hand ingredients, and instances where you might look at the recipe title and think, huh, I wonder if that’s really going to work? The cauliflower cake is like a more labor intensive and fancier and perhaps heftier version of a quiche, and we ended up really enjoying it. You can find the recipe over at smitten kitchen, so if you are interested in dusting off your spring form pan and turning on your stove, give it a try.
All summer long I have been making this avocado and crab salad, I think it’s a Tyler Florence recipe, maybe? It’s basically lump crabmeat from the fish guy in your supermarket (not the canned stuff on the shelf, I don’t trust it), mixed with some mayo, sriracha, black sesame seeds, minced green onion, and a wee splash of sesame oil. If I have it on hand, I stir in some diced, seeded cucumber for texture and for, well… roughage, I guess. In the meantime, dice an avocado, sprinkle with lime juice and salt, and mold it together in a little cracked glass dish that is too cute to throw away. Voilà!
This is the perfect breakfast for me. I cannot eat cold cereal in the morning (it makes me a little nauseous; I think I associate it with the existential dread I felt at the prospect of facing a classroom of second graders when I was 7 years old), and I don’t really love oatmeal or fruit because it’s sweet and sweets in the morning make me rather ill. Wow. I never realized how picky I am.
In early June my office got a bit of a revamp, and though I was opposed to it at first (probably because I didn’t want to do any of the work), I was thrilled with how it turned out. No more stacks and piles of crap! No more hand-me-down particle board!
We have bookshelves elsewhere in the house, so these particular cubbyholes are housing reading for research and edification rather than entertainment– as well as a perfume sample station, knitting nooks and a mini mom altar. There’s some empty spaces yet to fill, though, so that either means I will be stuffing junk in them or saving them for something special. Probably the former.
My reading has been all over the place over the past few months. I just finished book one of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I will confess I know nothing of Sabrina, I never even watched the television series in the 90s. I don’t think I would have expected how…dark this story was; I thought it might be lighthearted and campy/spooky. Except I totally expected how dark it was, because the internet spoiled it for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to read more.
I was immediately sold on I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl after reading the Amazon blurb: a “… film noir set in verse, each poem a miniature crime scene with its own set of clues—frosted eye-shadow, a pistol under a horse’s eye, dripping window units, an aneurysm opening its lethal trap. ….” But in the reading of it…well, to be perfectly honest. I was left feeling pretty dumb and filled with self-loathing. Why wasn’t I getting it? What were all of these readers who have rated it 5-stars seeing that I wasn’t? There were portions in while I was almost there…I was lost in the words and the imagery for just a second, and there was nearly a glimmering of understanding, and then I lost it. As the book wore on, these instances became more frequent and so overall, I mean, yeah–I got it. I think. But it wasn’t a very enjoyable read and I think I finished it out of spite.
I have had my eyes on The Decadent Cookbook for several years now and used a recent weird and creepy cookbook purchasing binge as an excuse to finally pick it up. Described as a slightly sinister and highly literate feast of decadent writing on food, and with chapters such as “Dinner With Caligula”, “Blood, The Vital Ingredient”, and “I Can Recommend the Poodle”, I can’t tell you how excited I am to dig in. Expect a roast flamingo on my supper table very soon.
I have been meaning to watch Morgiana for years and just got around to it this weekend (it’s on YouTube, with subtitles!) It’s gorgeous and captivating and quite eccentric. And as one reviewer says:”… Edward Gorey as filmed by Ken Russell–a sardonic chunk of Victorian penny-dreadful melodrama tweaked to new levels of aesthetic and emotional hysteria.”