Friday, July 27, 2007

The End of the Semester Looms Large...

and, as usually happens about this time, I got a phone call from the bookstore asking me when and how many days I could work next week (which is finals' week, of course!). Since I'm not giving a "final," in the true sense, and since I have until August 6th to turn in grades, I think I can spare a few afternoons to pack books in boxes. Besides, the extra money is good.

So, I'll go in Monday and work for about four or five hours, then maybe I'll go in Wednesday; maybe, if I don't feel like sleeping for two days, I'll go in Thursday or Friday--but I think I'll try to get my grades posted by Thursday. Then, I can run by the school and turn in a printed copy of my grades on Friday and work at the bookstore after that. Sounds like a plan.

My children sent me flowers for my birthday, which was a wonderful surprise, since they've never sent me flowers before. AND they had them delivered to the school (the day after my birthday)! More than made my day special (and the day after, too). I usually celebrate my BD all week, so I don't mind getting a "late" present.

Today I stopped by Mr. Lester's and bought two boxes of peaches. I've made two batches of peach honey--when I use pint jars, one batch only fills up two-and-a-half pint jars. So, I have about five pints. I cut up about four pounds of peaches, though, covered them with sugar, and will use those for peach preserves tomorrow. But I still have one whole box of peaches and about 1/4 of another box. These had just been picked; they are crunchy, almost like apples, so I'm not getting many soft peaches out of these boxes; I think I need to let the rest of them sit for a day or two.

I had pancakes for dinner; I haven't cooked pancakes in years, but, tonight, I just decided I wanted some. That's the best part of living alone--you don't have to worry about cooking for anyone but yourself!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"You Say It's Your Birthday..."

...well, it's my birthday too, yeah!"

So, to celebrate, I took myself to see the latest Harry Potter movie. I met a former student there, and we spent the preview time catching up on what's been happening since we last saw each other. I'm envious; she's spent the summer vacationing--not that I'd want to go to Disneyworld--I actually have no desire to go there. But a vacation would be nice.

Before I say anything about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, let me preface my remarks with what most of my friends know about me and how I feel about movies made from books. I generally don't like them as representations of the novelists' works. More often than not, a picture is NOT worth a thousand words.

In defense of film, movies do clarify description. Films can dispense with the overwhelming narration needed to describe a location or a person, for example. But the screenwriter has an obligation to treat the writer's plot carefully. If I've learned anything about fiction, I've learned that writers hardly ever tell us something if we don't need to know it. When a screenwriter, alone or in collaboration with a director, leaves out what appear to be tiny, insignificant details, the screewriter changes the context and intention of the writer. And I don't like that.

Having read all of the HP books, my conclusion is that the last three books--Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, and The Deathly Hallows--are a set-piece; they must be read in sequence (and together) because each book builds on the previous one. The small details in book 5, Order, become essential to books 6 & 7: the locket, for example, and Kreacher, the Black Family's house elf. The first four books work well as individual pieces; while they explore and amplify the world of Hogwarts and establish the personalities of the major and minor characters, each of the first four books can be read as complete stories. The last three books, however, form the same sort of trilogy as The Lord of the Rings. Skip from book four to book seven and you miss essential information and important plot points.

In fairness to the director and screenwriter of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, it is extremely difficult to shoot a work in progress; at least, when Peter Jackson directed the Rings trilogy, he knew how the story ended. For the Potter series, J. K. Rowling should have had something to say (or should have said more) about what should have been included in the fifth movie. But I don't know that she did; she might not have wanted to leak information about the sixth and seventh books.

The movie is visually stunning. The special effects--the dementors, the interior of the Ministry of Magic, the Room of Requirement--are awe-inspiring and dazzling. But so much of the essential plot is missing from the story that it almost doesn't make sense unless you've read the book. I just found myself becoming more and more agitated that so much had been lost. I filled in the gaps, but the absence of those key points will create problems in the next two films, and I don't know how the directors will overcome them.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is J. K. Rowling's longest book in the series, yet this movie is the shortest so far. It just doesn't do justice to the epic struggle of the young wizard or his friends. I liked the battle scene at the end, but I just wish it had been longer, as it was in the book; it just didn't seem as important as Rowling meant it to be.

I agree, in part, with my daughter, that, at one point, the movie almost seemed to turn into Star Wars--we all have the dark and the light in us, says Sirius. But I just think that Harry deserves better.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Another "Harry" Weekend

Well, I've finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but no spoilers here! All I'll say is that J. K. Rowling made this book as compelling a read as the others. Readers who love Harry's world will not be disappointed in this "final" installment.

I started reading the book at the bookstore Saturday, almost as soon as I got there at 8am. I didn't have much time to read it during my shift, though. People started lining up around 8:30am (we opened at 9am), and we had steady lines throughout the day. Nearly every purchase included at least one copy of the Potter book, but I did get a few Potter-free sales. By the time I left the store, I had read the first four chapters. I had to make a stop at my mom's to drop off two copies of the book for my sister (I bought 5 copies). A trip to my mom's has to include food, so I ate dinner and started for home around 6pm.

I finished reading the book around 3:15am this morning (Sunday), and my reading was not without problems. One of my cats, Boudreaux, startled from his sleep, leapt across the sofa and me in a panic. In his flight, he managed to scratch my arm and the page I was reading. He left a nice little gash in the page and several in me. And, of course, all of the cats seemed to have issues, so they constantly interrupted me--one wanted to drink water from the kitchen tap, one wanted to eat food out of the food container instead of the food bowls (and ended up getting shut up inside the pantry! I thought I had a boggart!), another wanted to go out the front door. Cats have their peculiarites, too.

I have to say I was correct on several hunches that I formed from re-reading the 5th and 6th books, but I'm not going to tell you what they are. If you're not a fan of Harry Potter, you probably don't care, and, if you are a fan, you need to read the last book without knowing what happens.

I told my students that I'd be glad to discuss the book/series in my office with anyone who's interested--and that stands. I hate spoilers, so I'm not going to be one. All I can say is that J. K. Rowling tells a great story and she has managed to create one of the most appealing and enduring worlds in modern literary history--maybe not as complicated as Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but I think her story will stand the test of time. We'll still be talking about this series long past the last movie's release.

Read it!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More Car Stuff

The new tires are great. The ride has been smoother, but the noise level has not.

Around Monday of this week, I started hearing a knocking noise. Of course, since I know nothing about cars, I begin to think "brake shoes," "struts," "ball joints," "rod." This only started after the guys installed the new tires, so another logical jump was, "Something's loose around one of the wheels." If I went less than 20 mph, I didn't hear a noise, but, the minute I accelerated, there it was. The noise was incredibly deafening and nerve-wracking.

So, today after class, I took the car back over to Gateway. Turns out, one of the brake shields was loose and knocking about. They fixed it for free (thank you!), and the ride home was so much quieter!

I love technology--cars, lawn mowers, iPods, computers--but I just wish it was easier to deal with. When desktop computers first came out, the user had to do everything. I sometimes wish I still had that level of control. Same with my car. Now that everything runs via computer, one glitch and I'm stuck. I hate being that dependent on strangers; forget Blanche DuBois in "Streetcar Named Desire" ("I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."). It's a nice sentiment, but I'm too suspicious and/or cynical. Most people are not going to help you because they want to. They'll help you if they get something for it. That's not everyone, of course; I know enough to not generalize. But the altruistic person (not to mention, business) is hard to find.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Again with the Mower!

One tends to forget that, with specialized equipment, one must have specialized tools. I set out this morning to change the oil in the infamous riding mower, but, without a wrench, it's a no-go.

I mowed part of the backyard, but stopped when I thought the rain was about to come. I drove the mower under the carport (I moved the car--I'm trying to keep from breaking any more windows!), and let it cool down for a bit. I tried to get the oil drain plug loose, really I did. But, without a wrench, it just ain't gonna happen. So, this means another trip to the hardware store or garden center in search of a set of wrenches that will help me loosen this plug. But, you know, even with the right tools, I may not be able to open the plug. The guys at the factory put these things on with hydraulic tools (same goes for the tires on the car) that make loosening them nearly impossible unless you've got the muscles of the Incredible Hulk. I may have to put in a call to one of my large brothers before I can change the oil. I finished mowing the backyard, anyway, and it looks decent. But no more complete yard mowing until I get the oil changed.

You'd be proud of me, though; I didn't think twice about firing that baby up! And I'm trying to be more creative when I'm doing yard work. While I was mowing today, I drove in figure eights. Who says you have to mow in a straight line?

Right now, I'm a bit ticked off at Symantec. Their Norton Internet Security download program has my computer tied up. I've tried four times to get to Internet Explorer and I can't. I can't stop the program except by shutting down the computer. I'm using Firefox to navigate around the Net while I'm waiting to see what Norton's going to do. Man, I need a Mac!

Yesterday, I baked two loaves of bread and some rolls (same recipe--just divided the dough). It's called "Farm Bread," and the recipe calls for honey instead of sugar. I keep forgetting, though, that homemade bread is much denser than the kind I buy at the store, but the result is well worth the effort!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sourdough Starter and a Simple Bread Recipe

In a comment for my last post, a student mentioned her dad's sourdough starter. I thought I'd pass along some web sites that have instructions on how to create and care for a starter.

Try I found some good instructions there, as well as at Follow the links on this one. Or, just do a search on "sourdough starter" in any search engine. You should be able to find an easy recipe for that.

What you need to remember about starters is that (1) you need to feed it regularly and (2) you need to use it once in a while. If you don't do either, it turns into a sour-smelling lump of squishy dough and becomes useless! Trust me on this. And any site that provides the starter recipe will also provide directions on how to use it!

And, since I love to bake bread, let me pass on a really simple bread recipe:

2 2/3 cups Self-rising flour (this is important--it has to be self-rising, because that has the salt, soda, etc. in it)
Stir in any brand 12 oz. beer (doesn't matter if it's cheap or expensive)

Stir in half of the beer (no sipping!), mix well, then stir in the rest. The dough will be wet. Divide into two margarine-greased 9x5 loaf pans; bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, remove from oven and turn onto wire rack to cool.

Tender on the inside, slightly crusty on the outside. It's almost as easy as using Bisquick! This is good bread, fit for company, even!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Instant Karma...and the recipe for Peach Honey

I stopped by the bookstore where I work part time to pick up a couple of monster zucchini from one of my coworkers. I really only needed one, but Neil brought me three--other than make zucchini-chocolate muffins, I'm stymied about what to do with them--they are good in lasagne, though. I'll check on the Internet. I can always find anwers to my questions on the Net. "Zucchini Recipes"--should be a sinch!

I pulled out of the parking lot and started towards home, when I began to hear some kind of "thwack, thwack, thwack" every time the car moved. I pulled over three times to check for what I thought might be a broken belt, though the car was driving just fine. I finally pulled into the Eastgate Shopping Center and checked again. Two strips of rubber/radial had come loose from the right front passenger tire. Those strips were making the "thwacking" sound as they hit the wheel well.

I called Gateway. I could have called my insurance company, for the third time since December, and gotten a tow, or Mazda, which would have cost me too much money, but I called Gateway Tire. The guys who own the company have always done a decent job on my car, be it tires or oil changes. They sent a guy to put the spare on. I drove over, and they installed four tires in about an hour. The price was decent, too, but, of course, I wasn't expecting to have to do this today. Silly me; "new tires" has been on my "To-Do" list since the summer began, which proves that, if you ignore something long enough, it's going to get your attention in an unpleasant and scary way.

I recommend these guys to everyone I know. My friend, David, told me that, when he had a flat tire, they sent a truck to his house to fix it. I don't know too many companies that will do that for their customers, new or long-term.

So, I can cross "tires" off my list along with "riding lawn mower." The last "big" thing to work on is the tiller. Neil gave me a line on a Black and Decker, so I know what I'm looking for.

I finally arrived home aroud 2:15pm and immediately set out to bake the muffins. I also made a "New Orleans Apple Cake"--I found the recipe in the newspaper while I waited for the new tires. And, of course, I had to sample both--not bad!

I just finished cleaning up the kitchen and coming down from my sugar high. Now for some real work!

As per Susan's request, the recipe for "Peach Honey" (which is absolutely delicious on bagels with cream cheese or butter, so I'm sure it will be great on biscuits or toast):

4 cups peeled, sliced peaches
4 cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon (or 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice)

Combine sugar and peaches in a large saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat (really, the sugar liquifies because of the juice in the peaches) until mixture comes to a boil. When mixture boils, add lemon juice; continue to stir; bring mixture back to a boil and cook until thick (varies from about 15 to 30 minutes). Stir it constantly, though, so it doesn't burn.

Ladle mixture into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Voila! Peach Honey. It's a bit "runny," but it tastes wonderful. After you open a jar, store it in the fridge and it will thicken a bit. The book this comes from, The Southern Country Cookbook, is vague on cooking times, etc. I wasn't sure if I should process the jars in a hot water bath after sealing them, because that wasn't in the directions, but I noticed that the cookbook tells the cook to do that with some recipes when it's warranted. I didn't process my jars after I sealed them, and they look fine--the jar lids sealed.

As for quantity, I used smallish Ball jars, and I ended up with about five half-pint containers the first and second time I made the honey, with a couple of very small jelly jars extra; the third batch, I ended up with one pint jar, two half-pints, and about a half of another jar. I refrigerated the partial jar. Oh, and, on the third batch, I added some fresh, sliced ginger to the sugar/peach mixture at the start. I tasted the syrup and it's good!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Peachy Day

When I woke this morning, the sun was shining--finally--and a cool breeze blew through the backyard. I drank my coffee and made my list.

Mr. Lester's Farm was my first stop. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for him), every other person in the area had the same idea that I had. His produce stand was packed and a photographer from Southern Living was on hand, snapping pics. I bought a cabbage for my mom, a jar of local honey, and a box of peaches ($14.50 a box--cheap and delicious!).

The grocery store was my next stop for some needed supplies, including some canning jars. Then I went to the Ace Hardware store to get lawnmower oil (I have to go back; I needed 48oz of oil and the two bottles I bought only add up to 40oz. I should wear my glasses! I'll go back tomorrow--then I'll change the oil in the lawnmower).

The entire trip took less than an hour. When I got back home, I opened up my copy of The Southern Country Cookbook, which I've owned since 1973. The last chapter of the book has recipes for jams, jellys, preserves, etc. I made something called "Peach Honey." It looks similar to preserves and it just consists of sugar, peaches and lemon juice. Cook until thick, ladle into sterilized jars, and voila! Great Christmas gift with a jar of muffin or biscuit mix.

And, since I'm overrun with tomatoes at the moment, I made a lasagne with tomatoes, yellow squash and zuchinni. Yum-my.

What I must do tomorrow: (1) change the lawnmower's oil; (2) mow the grass (if the rain stays away); (3) general housekeeping; (4) catch up on schoolwork.

Now, I'm off to read and grade papers and assignments. And, later, I'm going to try out my new blender and make a fruit smoothie!

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Very "Harry" Holiday...and More Rain Than I Can Stand!

Well, I had a six-day break from school (and I AM counting the weekend!), and, instead of doing much work, I re-read the last two Harry Potter books and watched the third and fourth movies. The Order of the Phoenix movie premiers on July 11th and the last book comes out on July 21. I'll be working that day (NOT for the midnight party--I've only worked one of those and that's all I needed to work), so I'll pick up the five copies I've pre-ordered. My sister in Houston gets one copy, my sister in Bossier gets two, I get one copy and I'll send one copy to my son in Austin. I plan to spend most of that weekend reading the new book; I read The Half-Blood Prince in two days, so I should be able to finish this one (which is considerably shorter, I've heard) during that weekend. The Potter books are great birthday presents for me--they usually come out a few days before my birthday, so I celebrate by buying myself a copy.

My biggest point of contention right now is the rain. I spent nearly $1000 on a riding lawnmower, and I haven't been able to mow the grass for almost two weeks because of this rain! Today, I drove into school early for an advising appointment (which the student cancelled at 7:45am--she called my school phone. That was about the time I left my house). Driving was fine until I hit the Caddo Parish line--then, the sky fell open. I could hardly see, the road flooded, and I had to reduce my speed considerably to avoid hydroplaning (but some idiots passed me doing 80, at least!). Only five students (out of 12) showed up for class, but we had a good talk. By the time I left the college, the rain had stopped in Caddo, but had moved south to Red River Parish (of course!); I drove home in the same rainstorm. Go figure!

I'm tired of rain. My garden is saturated; the potted plants overflow; the cats are going loony, running around the house to expend their energy. But I've discovered that they calm down if they have boxes to sleep in, so I've put boxes in several rooms for them. What is with that?

If the rain ever stops, I'm going to try to mow my grass, which is knee-high right now. I guess this is better than 115 degrees (Viva Las Vegas!), but I'm not so sure!

Stay dry!