Jan 31, 2008

The Shell Seekers - Introduction

The Shell Seekers was originally written in 1984, published around 1987, and Ms. Pilcher was 64 years old at the time of writing. I have the 10-year anniversary edition, and she has made a few comments about the book. She alludes to the fact that it could have its roots buried somewhere in her own family and past. Lawrence Stern is a name that comes from a contemporary of her husband's stepfather...a real person quite removed, but in this story, a person of great importance.

Her publisher, she tells us, asked her to write a big, fat women's book; something that would be "a really good read, something people could really get their teeth into." So, Ms. Pilcher wrote about the times that she grew up in, she wrote about Britain and the social culture of the time. She wrote about families and the things that can tear them apart - greed, jealousy, self-victimization, and the need to acquire both social standing and material things. And along with all that, she wrote about love, men and women, and their human failings - all the things that make the world go round.

She also wrote in her introduction that she hoped some teenager might have had his or her fill of teen magazines and be ready for an adult book, something they could really dig into...and perhaps they would dig into her book and find it to be so much more than one of those glittery teen magazines full of heart throbs and kiddy fashion.

I have a twenty-one-year-old whom I think would love this story.

Jan 28, 2008

The Shell Seekers

Today "The Shell Seekers" arrived at my door. It's been a long time since I read it - almost 14 years. When I opened the small box from Amazon.com, I know I squealed a bit; O looked sideways at me and asked, "What is it? What happened?" I replied to him that one of my favorite books of all time had arrived and he looked at it - then simply said "Oh."

Today, I can step into another time zone, with Penelope Keeling there at Podmore's Thatch. I hope it's a long, long read this time. The last time I read this book, I INHALED it, and then the sequel, September, too. This time, I intend to savor both of them. I'm hoping that my sister will join me in the reading, and I invite anyone else who has the notion to join here, too, and to post your thoughts about The Shell Seekers.

Jan 25, 2008


These are photos of my beautiful girl and her loves: Raven (her black lab) and Chris, in that order I think...

Invasion of the body snatchers?

Well. It is here, just as I have known it was. It never really left, and I've felt the effects of it since it first arrived just after I returned to Peru from the US at the end of November. At first I thought it was something small and manageable, but then it morphed into more, although I didn't notice it before. I thought it was still small, but then it began to spread. Streptococcus is, luckily, a bacterium that can usually be taken care of by penicillin and its derivatives, provided treatment is early enough and long enough. Mine was neither early enough nor long enough. The doctors here only prescribe 5 days worth of antibiotics, which is not nearly long enough to do away with bacteria. That's only enough for the patient to begin to feel better. Then, usually the ill person runs out of money and can't afford to purchase more doses, so the weakened strain either runs its course or becomes resistent to antibiotics.

So my own little culture of strep migrated through the throat to the left side of my body, and established colonies just above the joints of the elbow, the hip, and the ankle, with the intent of taking over. The 5 day course of antibiotics was enough to get rid of the invaders in all but the ankle...and then 4 days ago, the throat started up again, the ankle flared up and turned a scary color, and I find myself insisting upon 10 full days of antibiotics. Don't hand me something to shut me up and get me out, unless it's a full 10 days worth of antibiotics that can do away with these damned bacterial squatters. After taking the antibiotics for 3 days now, the ankle is reduced in size, with the regular color returning to it, and the nose and throat, although the pain is gone, are producing massive coughing and other nasties that I envision as dead strep bodies being expelled after battle.

I've been tired, cranky, and miserable for the past 2 months, and finally, although I've been coughing my head off for the last couple of days, I can stand being on my feet for extended periods and ride home in the bus without feeling totally crappy. I have 7 days more of antibiotics to take, and by then, I hope that enough strep bacteria will have been thrown into barrels of boiling amoxicillin that the rest will either consent to leave or commit suicide by throwing themselves into the rush of oncoming white blood cells.

Jan 20, 2008

The Creation Of A Recipe

I've made a new recipe of garbanzo bean soup. Inspired by Capriel Pence's book, Bistro Soups and Sandwiches, I set out to replicate "Yellow Tomato and Garbanzo Bean Soup"...

Start with half a bag of dried garbanzo beans, soaked the morning in water. Capriel calls for a can of cooked garbanzo beans, but all there is in the kitchen is the dried ones, so after soaking for about 4 hours, pop them into a pot of water and set them on the stove to cook. Bring them to a boil, then go read your current novel till you smell burning beans in the kitchen. Cut off the fire and rinse the burnt beans under cool water. Transfer to a medium bowl and scrub out your cooking pot. Put a lot of water in the pot, and return the beans to the pot, too. Turn the fire on again under the beans, at a medium heat and take the dog out to pee.

When you return, cut up two over ripe roma tomatoes and toss them into the pot. Cut up some mushrooms that are beginning to smell and cook them in olive oil, then add to the cook pot with the beans and tomatoes. Cut up that extra chorizo sausage that you couldn't eat for lunch and toss it into the pot, too. Add a handful of rubbed dried oregano. Think about all those tomatoes you bought that are bound to go bad before you make a salad, and chop up three of them and throw them in with the beans mixture (that's 5 tomatoes total). Get a headache and pour yourself a glassful of white wine that's sweeter than you remembered. There's only about 1/2 cup left in the bottle, so dump that in with the beans, stir well, add a cube of chicken bouillon into the mix and stir well. Put on a cd of Fleetwood Mac. Simmer your beans until the Fleetwood Mac cd is finished. Start the cd again, sit down, and try a cup of your soup.

I just finished a cup of this, and Fleetwood Mac is singing "The Chain", Lindsey Buckingham is a little over the top, and I've also finished my glass of wine...it was too sweet, but the bean soup was good...though probably not what Capriel had in mind.

Jan 19, 2008

Saturday ramblings

I had a pretty good class today. It was only the conversation, and one would think that would be the easy one. It should be a place where people can just chat, without worrying about homework or grammar all the time, where they can choose the topic and yammer to their heart's content. It should be a class where we have some fun and challenge ourselves or just take it easy and laugh. It IS all that, but wow...trying to get it started is a nightmare.

I try to make the class interesting and fun. Some days I have to all but turn handsprings to get people to participate. They seem to be content with letting me talk and talk and talk. If I did not insist that they participate, they would come every Saturday to listen to that nut-ball teacher from the U.S. talk her head off. They come with empty heads and just wait for me to fill them up with something. I bring "Omar" the boy puppet. I bring word games. I bring books on tape and cd, tv and radio shows on tape and cd. I bring conversation topics. The problem seems to be that they do not understand that there are two parts of a conversation. People also do not seem to remember how LISTENING is as much a part of communication as speaking is. The bottom line seems to be that if they are not the topic of the conversation, most people aren't interested. Hmmm.

But today, after only 45 minutes of coaxing, we got a spontaneous conversation going. Three of them, in fact! All about different topics, all mostly in English, and late comers happily joined in! What a relief! I turned my last handspring at 11:15 this morning and then the conversations began to flow! It was wonderful!

What really sucks is that next week, there will probably be a whole new group that comes and I'll have to start over again, talking till I'm blue in the face...with a side of handsprings.

Apparently the decision to have Celeste spayed is not a popular one amongst the friends and relatives. Each one bemoans the surgery. I found out last evening that nearly all of them were counting on a free blue-eyed puppy when Celeste inevitably got pregnant. They knew we wouldn't have space to raise a litter and would probably be desperate to place the pups as soon as possible, thereby practically guaranteeing a free dog for the kids. Maybe even more than one - one for the family and one to sell on the street somewhere. Hmmmm.

I have my own ideas about what a dog owner should do and what the owner's responsibility to the dog is. Celeste will never be a street dog. She will never live in a home where it is overly populated with dogs. People who do not have expertise in canine genetics and who do not have sufficient room to let them run and exercise freely should not engage in indiscriminant breeding (that would be me). And certainly there are enough unwanted dogs out there already! And here, there are enough dogs put out on the street during the day that there certainly will be indiscriminant breedings. What are people thinking when they kick the dog out on the sidewalk for the day? Hmmmm...

As I look at the jagged, 6-inch incision on Celeste's belly, I know she hurt for a while, and may still have some pain. I know it looks like I tried to gut my dog. I know it was an insult to her body and that I forced her into something I wouldn't want inflicted on me. But I still have this overwhelming feeling that I have to do the responsible thing. It will always be this way. I will never have an un-neutered dog, male or female.

My only regret is that Celeste has been dubbed "Lamperina", because of the lampshade collar she's wearing.

I've been on a time out from fiber for a little while, since I got strep. I still have pain in my left leg and some swelling, but it's better than it was. Maybe it will just take time to get over. But now, I'm ready to continue. I have almost finished Greenlee's skirt. I have a brown fleece dog in the works. I have probably enough white Celeste hair to make a life-sized fleece dog. The best thing is that I'm motivated again!

Jan 15, 2008

Forever innocent

Today's probably not Celeste's best day. She woke us up at 5 am this morning. Grrrr...I didn't want to play. So we went back to bed for an hour. Then she realized that she wasn't offered any food - at all. Hmmm...something's weird...she's usually offered food and she always exercises her pleasure at turning her nose up at it, until it becomes obvious that our breakfast is not going to be hers, and only then will she eat her dog food. But this morning I didn't offer her anything. I just let her play and then when it was time to go to work, she went back into her crate. She looked at me quizzically, and I went on to work.

When I returned from my morning class, at 9:30, I changed my clothes and we both bounced out the door. Off we went...to the veterinarian's office. She usually bounds into the office and leaps on whoever's closest, but today, she knew something was up. The office smelled different, looked different, the people were masked and gloved and gowned. Here came a technician she didn't know. He had a syringe in his hand and he gave her the shot like he was shooting a dart gun - from a distance and with a lot of force. Obviously, he was scared of her. She freaked out, but the woman who is a technician there took charge of Celeste and let me know I could pick her up at 6 pm this evening. That was the first time that Celeste wasn't just having a heyday with the people in the office, and basking in their adoration and attention. She actually wanted to go home with me. I was amazed. Don't worry Celeste. I'll be back this evening to take you home.

Señorita Celeste will always and forever be a señorita after today. No children, no lovers, no more hoards of street dogs peeing on the front door, no more security guys washing the door with vinegar to get rid of the urine odor of prospective male suitors who come to call. She will be forever sweet and innocent.

O nearly cried when I told him that today was Celeste's little surgery. We'll never have Siberian grandchildren...

Jan 14, 2008

We got hair

Yes we do. Celeste has begun to blow her coat, and I exactly WHY they call it "blowing the coat". It's because the hair blows all over the house! We have Celeste hair on the floor, on the sofa (hey, wait a minute - she's not allowed on the sofa, so what the...?), on the bed (not allowed on the bed, either), in the cupboards, in the fridge (what the...?), on the dining room table, and in the bathroom.

I've been combing and combing. She hates me for it. The metal comb tickles, I think, because I don't apply pressure. The bristled brush is completely ineffective, except around her face and ears. I've been collecting the hair and saving it for making a fleece dog. It's not long enough to spin, only about 1/2 inch long, but I think it could be needle felted into a nice tiny, flexible toy dog.

The rest of the hair, goes into the vacuum cleaner or the dust pan. Big fluffy wads of dirt and hair fill my trash can. When the recyclers (trash pickers) come to sift through the trash bags at night, they'll probably walk away with moustaches of Celeste hair.

Jan 12, 2008

Mrs. Pollifax

I love Mrs. Pollifax. I discovered her by accident several years ago, when I was stalking a different book at the public library. She turned out to be such a refreshing change of pace for me that I was immediately drawn into her adventures. Who would have imagined that an elderly lady from New jersey, living in a tiny apartment with a couple of geraniums would turn international, globe-trotting spy and be such a fantastically fun read?

Mrs. Pollifax has 14 adventures...and I have read 3 of them. The Whirling Dervish in one of my favorites, so far. I may well have to invite Mrs. Pollifax to visit Peru this year.

Maybe the grass isn't greener on the other side

Today we talked about CHANGE in my conversation class. It was a hit. We went from discussing what we would change of our physical appearance in a free makeover to social and political change to what is so hard about changing. Why people do a lot of TALKING about change, but very little actual DOING. All the participants in the conversation talked about how terrible things are in Peru in general. The plight of the oppressed poor, the over-taxed middle class middle class, the greedy upper class, the uneducated, and the revolutionary students. We covered it all, I guess. Now it was time to go out and change the world from the safety of our classroom.

They were all for change, they said. Change was what Peru and the whole world needed. My question to them was, "Are YOU willing to sacrifice in order to bring about change?" Absolutely, they affirmed. Okay. I said, "In order to effect a change for the better, you must board an airplane bound for parts unknown. You must leave behind your life as you now know it. We don't know where we are going and we don't know what we'll do when we get there. All we know is that the world will be changed. Let's go right now."

Only two were willing to make that kind of change. Only two were willing to exchange the comfort of the known and familiar (no matter how miserable they thought it was) for a better, but uncertain future. Aha. Now we understood, hypothetically speaking, why those poor people in the Andes don't do something different than what they always do in the winter: witness their children and elders freezing to death for lack of a heat source in the house. Change is so scary that most people here would rather die in their beds than take the plunge and buy a stove to put in the house. The two who were willing to give up everything to effect a change called the others cowards.

To those two, I said "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." They paused to ponder that. They hadn't thought of it before. They asked for clarification. Okay, I said.

"Imagine that I am in my modest home. My husband is a mechanic. I have a dog that barks all night. We live modestly, always on a budget. My husband walks to work to save a little bit more money through the month. I take care of my own house and yard.

The house next door is larger. The husband wears a suit to work. He takes a bus to work. The wife sits by the window until just before her husband comes home, but she never goes outside during the day. What a life of leisure she has, I think. How much more does he earn when he works at his job that requires a suit? I wonder. How nice to be able to ride the bus in comfort, instead of walking to scrape up that last dime. It must be great to be able to afford to hire someone to do the yard work.

I dream about what it must be like to live in that house next door, even though I've never been inside. I WISH, I WISH I could have a life like that. The more I wish, the less shiny my own little home seems. It looks almost shabby to me.

One day, I get my nerve up to knock on the door of the house next door. I've made a pie and I take it over to offer to the neighbor lady who lives in that big house that I dream about living in. The door opens. The husband pushes past me with a hurried and tense look on his face. I hear him shout to the driver that he has to get all the way across town by 8 am...could he step on it please? Wow - I'm glad my husband only has to walk 10 blocks to work. I see the wife coming to the door. She's got a black eye and an ugly yellow bruise on her cheek from some other day. She whispers that she never has company. She tells me that she ran into the bathroom door in the middle of the night last night. She's clumsy that way. I see a little tear travel the length of her cheek.

I find out, when I wake up at 2 am, that my dog is barking all night because he hears them fighting next door. She says too loudly that he isn't living up to his potential because he in only a receptionist at an office. The bus costs too much, but he works a long way from the house. The house is too expensive to keep. They fight about money, or the lack of it. She cries about broken promises and abandoned dreams. I hear a crash and I hear her high-pitched scream. A door slams and the lawn mower starts up. I peek out the window and see the husband pushing the mower around at 3 am.

My modest little house with my jeans-clad husband looks pretty good to me now."

My little group of conversationalists look at me. They are still willing to sacrifice to make their changes, but now they think about going into change with open eyes, at least on paper.

Jan 6, 2008

Chicken Dance

Last night, we went for dinner at the house of one of O's cousins. The cousin's name is Juan, but they call him Paco (I have no idea why). After a nice meal of pork chops, choclo, potatoes, and a side of shredded cabbage on it's salty way to becoming sauerkraut, they cranked up the music and began to dance in the living room. They are all from the Tumbes area, which is right up north, only 40 minutes from the Ecuadorian border. The music was Ecuadorian, and it all sounded pretty much the same to me even though they played several different pieces.

One thing that I always notice about ethnic Peruvian dances is that they all resemble something from the animal kingdom, in particular, birds. And most notably, chickens. I may just have an overactive imagination. This is going to sound terrible, but Paco reminded me of "Panchito", the Mexican charro rooster of Walt Disney's "Three Caballeros" cartoon. Paco dances with his chest thrown out, sway-backed with the rear-end stuck out (I could imagine long tail feathers sweeping back and forth), and employs fast, fancy footwork in a crazy-legged roosterly way. To top it all off, the women dance putteringly around the rooster with tiny mincing steps with a shimmy of the shoulders, clucking away to the strutting gallito. At the end of one particular piece, half the men in the room cheered Paco, crying "Que viva el gallo!" (long live the rooster!) Heh, I knew it all along. I'm not the only one who's been envisioning the strut around the hen house. Clara Cluck is still Panchito's girlfriend in European Disney comics where she is also called Chiquita. According to the "The Panchito Song." Panchito has relatives in Peru, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador and even in Dallas, Texas. Maybe Paco is one of them!

The men in the room, however, had imagined that Paco resembled "Claudio", whom we know as "Foghorn Leghorn". I haven't figured out what Ms. Prissy's Spanish identity is. I do know that Tweety Bird is Piolin here in Peru, but Sylvester is still Silvestre.

Jan 4, 2008

New old books and a pottery puzzle

I got a wave of nostalgia this afternoon, and ordered "September", by Rosamunde Pilcher. I remember reading it in the '90's and loved it. That one and The Shell Seekers were wonderful books. I took advantage of a gift certificate that I received for Amazon.com (thanks to Woolyworks!). Maybe next time I'll get The Shell Seekers.

I also bought "Little Heathens" because it sounded good:

From Publishers Weekly
Kalish's memoir of her Iowa childhood, set against the backdrop of the Depression, captures a vanished way of traditional living and a specific moment in American history in a story both illuminating and memorable. Kalish lived with her siblings, mother and grandparents-seven in all-both in a town home and, in warmer weather, out on a farm. The lifestyle was frugal in the extreme: "The only things my grandparents spent money on were tea, coffee, sugar, salt, white flour, cloth and kerosene." But in spite of the austere conditions, Kalish's memories are mostly happy ones: keeping the farm and home going, caring for animals, cooking elaborate multi-course meals and washing the large family's laundry once a week, by hand. Here, too, are stories of gossiping in the kitchen, digging a hole to China with the "Big Kids" and making head cheese at butchering time. Kalish skillfully rises above bitterness and sentiment, giving her memoir a clear-eyed narrative voice that puts to fine use a lifetime of careful observation: "Observing the abundance of life around us was just so naturally a part of our days on the farm that it became a habit." Simple, detailed and honest, this is a refreshing and informative read for anyone interested in the struggles of average Americans in the thick of the Great Depression.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
This unpretentious yet deeply intelligent memoir of growing up on a central Iowa farm in the throes of the Great Depression radiates the joy of a vanished way of life as Kalish recounts what appear to contemporary eyes as unendurable deprivations. Those who share Kalish's midwestern farm background will immediately identify with her recollections of winter nights spent under layers of quilts in unheated bedrooms. Others for whom agrarian life is uncharted territory will learn both the harsh rigors of days governed by unforgiving work cycles and the irreproducible sensual pleasure of savoring a just-picked, sun-drenched, ripe strawberry or tomato. In prose that never yields to mawkish sentimentality, Kalish details the roles of family, religion, thrift, and education in her upbringing. The complexities of wash-day chores will bring up short those who know only today's appliances. Kalish's disquisition on outhouse etiquette will simply amaze those accustomed to their own bathrooms. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

I ordered the paperback version, but it won't arrive until May...not released yet. Hey! What if it coud be the Purple Coo spring or summer reading selection!?

If I knew how to spell out a sigh, I'd do it. I have a new puzzle to put together - as soon as I find some good epoxy. Celeste got to playing too wild this afternoon. The coffee table flew, the flowers flew, the vase flew into several pieces...and as soon as the vase hit the floor with that "I'm Broken" sound, Celeste flew into her crate without being asked. She KNEW she'd gone too far this time. She is resting comfortably in her safe haven and I am pondering shards of pottery. The flowers are still on the floor - I'm too pissed off to pick them up right now. At least they're fake and don't wilt or mash easily.

Jan 3, 2008

Dog About Town

This was one of the cutest mysteries I've read in a long time. Randolph, Labrador Retriever and detective extraordinaire, is quite the gentleman in black with a nose for sniffing out crime and "sidewalk patè".

Humor emerges...

Celeste has finally consented to have her picture taken without crawling into her crate, without the mad face, without cringing. She took a couple of minutes out of her busy, busy day to ham it up for the camera:

And just a couple of "co-pilot" photos. Even though she's way too big, she couldn't resist hopping up in my lap to help with the computer...


This is an example of panetone. It's a fruit cake, but not the usual nasty, dry fruit cake that comes in one of those Christmas tins. This is moist and flavorful and stands between 12 and 15 inches tall. I'll try to get a picture of our last panetone before we eat all of it...

Jan 1, 2008

A toast to the New Year

Whew! The New Year celebration is done. I stayed home on New Year's Eve, and watched a movie with Celeste. O went visiting his cousins, who came here to pick him up. I bowed out, blaming my still puffy ankle. Before they all went, we had a toast to the New Year with Peruvian champagne that we got in a gift basket at work - and it was absolutely the WORST champagne I've ever tasted. Thank heavens there were seven people to share the bottle. Each of us got a little bit of champagne in a flute, raised our glasses, cried "Salud!" and tossed back the champagne. I sipped mine and nearly choked on the sickeningly sweet taste, similar to alka-selzter-plus-cold-medicine. As I looked around the room, I noticed that they all had the same look on their faces - kind of a frozen smile with bulgy eyes that relaxed once the nasty stuff was swallowed. Then everyone grinned and talked up a storm.

I've never had sweet champagne before. I've also never had expensive champagne, either, and O told me that this was cheap champagne. Vino espumado...sparkling wine. The cheap champagne that I tasted in the US had a flavor similar to beer.

Happily, we have paneton for breakfast tomorrow - YUM! O is a paneton addict, but we forgot about the one that's sitting on top of the cupboard. I like paneton, too, but I don't think I'm an addict yet. It is good, though.

Ree's new pup

Heh, check out Ree's new dog, Charlie.