Monthly Archives: March 2013


Mushrooms on toast @ Huffkins in Burford

You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

My favorite prompt this week comes from The Daily Post. I loved it because I’ve been on a 1200-calorie-per-day diet since January and have become totally obsessed with daydreams about food. I thought it’d be easy to pick five foods that I’d want from my captors, but as usual, I’ve overthought the whole thing, and now am not sure what foods to request. Am I locked up, or free to move about the island? Are the captors providing me with five ready-to-eat foods (i.e. prepared dishes) that I just dig right into? Or are they providing me with five raw materials to cook any way I choose? If I’m my own chef, am I exiled to an island with a fully equipped kitchen, or am I cooking in a salvaged tin can over a campfire that refuses to stay lit when it rains?

If I’m free to wander but only get five ingredients that I can then cook for myself, I want:
1. Chicken
2. Potatoes
3. Apples
4. Bread
5. Butter

I’m confident I could manage all of these ingredients in a full kitchen or over a fire, and that I could keep my taste buds engaged by foraging for other fruits and maybe some herbs on the island. I’m also not a bad fisherwoman, so I could add variety to my protein intake that way. (How am I gonna catch fish, you ask? Trust me, MacGyver’s got nothing on me. I’ll scavenge the beach for washed-up bits of net, pull the hem out of my pants and tie on a repurposed bobby pin for a hook, sharpen a tree branch to use as a spear… I’m nothing if not resourceful, and doubly so if I’m hungry.)

If my captors are offering me only five ready-to-eat foods in a jail cell, then I’m ordering:
1. Mushrooms on toast
2. Pizza with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes
3. Oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins
4. Chef salad with ranch dressing, hold the hard-boiled eggs
5. Rib-eye steak, medium, smothered in sautéed mushrooms and onions

I think there’s enough variety here to maintain a healthy diet and rotate some different options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (assuming, of course, my captors believe in three square meals a day).

I notice that chocolate is not on either of my lists, and wonder about that omission. I can go for long stretches without eating chocolate, unless I know it is not available, and then I crave it to the point of madness. For the sake of my sanity and for the safety of my captors, I wonder if I should replace one item from each list with a Hershey bar? So many doubts and questions for such a simple prompt…



101_2924Dammit, Winter, you can’t stop us!!!

This British winter, which from a Virginia girl’s perspective I would argue officially began in November 2011, has tried its best to break us. The frigid temperatures, the leaden skies, the incessant precipitation in all its liquid and frozen incarnations, the howling winds–they’ve all conspired to suck every last bit of enthusiasm out of our desire to travel and explore this country. But we have stood firm in our resolution to get out there and do as much as we can before we have to leave England. This weekend is no exception. We are exploring the Lake District, moving as nimbly as we can through towns and along footpaths in our numerous layers of clothing topped by multiple layers of outerwear. In intermittent snow flurries, we conquered Keswick today, roaming the Saturday market, browsing in numerous shops, wandering through the pencil museum, and completing a Top Secret Treasure Trails Spy Mission before embarking on a four-mile circular walk along the Greta River. By day’s end, we had racked up 11 frosty miles on the old pedometer, and had defiantly thumbed our noses at Old Man Winter once more (although I must admit by the end of the afternoon, my sole mission in life had been to return to the B&B for a hot shower, my flannel pjs, and a cup of tea). Rebels that we are, tomorrow we’ll bundle up again and explore the length of Windermere, the longest lake in the District at just over 11 miles, via a four-mile trail and a series of teeth-chattering boat hops between villages.

While we’ve obviously demonstrated that we are not afraid to go and do our thing even when the weather outside is frightful, we are vehemently lobbying for some warm and/or sunny spring weather when we explore Northern Wales over the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend in May!


Posted by on March 30, 2013 in How It Is, True Life




lampsPhoto copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Svetlana had high hopes when she signed up with the agency in St. Petersburg. A rugged American farmer was intrigued by her profile, and after only a few brief meetings, her vision of a new life materialized in the form of a one-way airline ticket. However, not even eighteen years in the orphanage had prepared the new bride for the loneliness she’d found in this isolated Iowa farmhouse with the dodgy electricity. The dreams she’d thought she’d captured in the thin gold band on her left finger now dissipated as elusively as smoke from the glass chimney of the oil lamp.

As long as St. Petersburg counts as one word, this is exactly 100 words for this week’s Friday Fictioneers challenge! 🙂


Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Challenges, Fiction





Question 73
Would you be willing to go to a slaughterhouse and kill a cow? Do you eat meat?

No, and yes. There. Am I done? Can I go now?

Dr. Gregory Stock makes sure there’s no moral dilemma left untouched in The Book of Questions. I don’t like this question, because I’m not sure what it says about my character.

I knowingly and willingly kill flies, spiders (unless they are Daddy Longlegs), and mosquitoes. I have, on two different occasions, passively murdered mice. The one that died by poisoning took her last breath in the middle of my living room floor (my dad swore to me it would eat the D-Con then run outside and die while it was searching for water and I’d never see it), and I cried for an hour thinking of the babies I had orphaned. The second one got caught in a trap at work, but the trap had not humanely broken the mouse’s neck, and I had to club it to end its suffering. Cried about two hours, plus had nightmares, after that one. I used to fish with my grandfather, and finally stopped trying to revive the bass and bream by mouth-to-mouth once I realized I was going to have to fillet them whether they were still flopping about or not.

But even though I am technically a serial killer, there is no way on this earth I could kill a cow. Or a pig. Or a chicken. I don’t have any good reasons for being selectively homicidal. I don’t believe animals and insects that are small or don’t meet the classic ideal of cuteness have any less right to life than other creatures. If I had endless hours in the day, I would probably catch the flies that bang themselves senseless against the third floor windows and the spiders that drop from my ceilings like Marines rappelling from a Blackhawk, then turn them all loose outside (like I do with moths and ladybugs). I have switched to live traps on the rare occasions when I can hear a mouse scrabbling about in the walls. And my husband’s refusal to eat fish has converted me to a catch and release angler. Slowly but surely I am reforming my murderous ways, although the flies and mosquitoes will probably never be able to stop looking over their shoulders.

I have always said that if I had grown up on a farm, I would be a vegetarian. Not only would I not be able to slaughter an animal myself, I wouldn’t be able to stand knowing someone I loved was doing it either. But I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I eat meat. It doesn’t bother me in the least to let some faceless butcher in a distant city do the dirty work so I can throw a steak on the grill. Buying beef from a refrigerated case is cold (no pun intended) and impersonal. All I’m looking for is the package with the leanest cuts and the smallest bones. My brain does not wander to what this creature looked like on the hoof, with its velvety nose and long-lashed brown eyes. I don’t allow myself to think what its life might have been like, good or bad, neither lush green pastures nor dirty, crowded feedlots. My head is firmly in the sand…I see a plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray of meat, nothing more, nothing less.

I feel very conflicted about this attitude…if I am not willing to kill a cow myself for food, why am I not morally opposed to someone else killing it for me? Killing is killing. I feel that somehow I am a hypocrite, although I realize I am in the company of millions of like-minded carnivores. I guess the easiest thing to do is just carry on not thinking about where the meat I’m buying has come from and not worrying about the ethics of the whole situation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go throw a beef stir fry in the pan, because all of this deep thought is making me hungry.




I love that ideas are practically falling in my lap these days…it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve found myself in front of a blank screen, struggling for something to post. The blogosphere is a gold mine of ideas, and the only manual labor involved in the mining process is sliding the mouse over to click the “Follow” button on other bloggers’ sites! Joe Owens, over at Joe’s Musings, just wrote about his intended participation in the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, which he himself had found while scouting around on other blogs. From his page, I clicked over to the challenge link for more details, and decided to accept Joe’s dare (oops, I mean invitation) to join him in this month-long challenge.

As you can see from the calendar above (graciously provided by Jeremy, one of the A to Z Challenge hosts) each day in April is assigned a letter, “with Sundays off for good behavior.” The idea is simple…each challenge day, we bloggers will craft a post around that letter. This challenge can be adapted to suit any type of blog–writers and poets can obviously incorporate a word beginning with that letter into the theme, title, dialogue, etc. of their entry. Photographers could post a gallery of photos centered on any word beginning with that letter (Bob Mielke at Northwest Photographer has got April 13 covered…L is for lions!). Food bloggers can include recipes whose main ingredient showcases the featured letter. The possibilities are just endless.

Throughout this challenge, I intend to keep to the overall blogging routine I’ve set for myself, maintaining my own daily themes while incorporating the day’s given letter. It seems counterintuitive that setting more and more restrictions on my posts, and combining so many prompts and challenges within them, is actually boosting my creativity (you probably didn’t even notice–unless you’re following Rarasaur, which I highly recommend–but I just responded to this week’s Prompt for the Promptless). In order to publish quality posts, I’m having to think outside the box, which I admit had gotten pretty small as one by one I let most of my right-brain pursuits fall by the wayside when I entered adulthood. When I meet a creative challenge these days, I get the same high as when I have completed a strenuous workout at the gym…endorphins galore!

So, thank you, Joe for pointing me in the direction of this new challenge. I accept, and am eager to see where the 26-day exercise takes me. If you dare, you can join Joe, me, and the 1400+ other cool kids who’ve already committed to the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, but hurry, the doors to the clubhouse close April 1!





Frog sat by the road, playing his guitar. Turtle walked slowly up the road.

“Hello, Frog,” said Turtle.

“Hello, Turtle,” said Frog.

“Why are you playing such a sad song?” asked Turtle.

“It is November,” said Frog, “and my friend Toad has gone to bed for the winter.”

“That’s not so sad,” said Turtle.

“Last winter, Toad was too cold,” said Frog. “He did not sleep well. When he woke up in April, he was very grumpy.”

“Hmm, I guess that is a little sad,” said Turtle.

Frog said, “I wanted to buy Toad a big warm blanket. I saved money all year. When I went to the store, I did not have enough money to buy even a small blanket.”

“Oh,” said Turtle, “that is very sad.”

Turtle thought for a moment.

“The circus is in town today,” he said. “You should go.”

“Do they have cheaper blankets at the circus?” asked Frog.

“No, Frog,” Turtle laughed. “You can play your guitar at the circus. People will pay to watch a frog playing the guitar. In one day you will have more than enough money to buy a blanket for Toad.”

“That is a great idea!” said Frog. “Do you really think it will work?”

“Yes,” said Turtle. “Come on, I will take you. You can ride on my back and practice your songs.”

“Oh, thank you, Turtle!” cried Frog. He hopped on the turtle’s back.

Frog and Turtle set off down the road. Frog played a happy song and dreamed of a new blanket for Toad. “Toad will be warm,” he thought to himself. “He will sleep well, and he will wake up happy in April.”

I came across this lovely specimen of taxidermy at an antiques fair, and the creepy duo got me thinking about one of my favorite, not so creepy, childhood books, Frog and Toad Together. Arnold Lobel’s style is hard to replicate, but I hope the spirit of my story is in keeping with the incredible friendship he chronicles in his Frog and Toad books. 




I was reading Rarasaur’s latest post this morning, in which she mentioned having recently taken a quiz to assess her character strengths. Hmm, I thought, I am going to be looking for a new job in a few months, so maybe a little insight into my own strengths might be useful ammunition for sprucing up my resumé and answering questions during interviews. The quiz was a painless 15 minutes of clicking radio buttons, rating how accurately specific statements describe me on a scale from one to five. At the end, I got a link to an instant ranking of the character strengths (twenty-four were assessed) I exhibit. Note: I could have dropped $20 to get a 19-page in-depth analysis of each strength and how it manifests itself in my life, or for $40 I could have purchased a complete set of graphs, statistics, and psychobabble suitable for sharing with my coach, therapist, manager, or consultant, along with exercises for further developing each strength. Since I haven’t got a coach, therapist, manager, or consultant, I opted for the free list, displayed below for your entertainment.

Character Strength #1
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Character Strength #2
You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.

Character Strength #3
Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.

Character Strength #4
You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a “real” person.

Character Strength #5
Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Character Strength #6
You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Character Strength #7
Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

Character Strength #8
You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.

Character Strength #9
Social intelligence
You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Character Strength #10
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Character Strength #11
You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.

Character Strength #12
You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.

Character Strength #13
You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.

Character Strength #14
You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group.

Character Strength #15
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Character Strength #16
You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Character Strength #17
You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.

Character Strength #18
Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Character Strength #19
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.

Character Strength #20
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.

Character Strength #21
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Character Strength #22
You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.

Character Strength #23
You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.

Character Strength #24
You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you.

I was kind of surprised that Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence ranked as Strength #1–not that I don’t think it’s a major facet of my personality, I just expected it to rank below the next four traits. If anyone had asked me to rank Fairness, Honesty, and Judgement based on my own perceptions of how they apply in my life, I would have declared a three-way tie…and I wonder if my scores were actually tied in the survey, since these three strengths are listed in alphabetical order (if I’d paid $40 for the graphs, I’d know for sure!). If you’d asked me twenty years ago whether I thought Leadership would ever rank in my top 10 (or even top 50) character strengths, I’d have said no way, I am way too meek to be a leader. So I’m quite pleased that I’ve made significant progress in that aspect of my personality. I honestly expected Curiosity to rank higher, because I always have a million questions about everything, but maybe because I do try to filter them in order not to drive everyone around me crazy, that trait didn’t score so high on the questionnaire. I also expected Love of Learning to be much higher on the list, so I must not actually be doing as much as I think I am in that area. That’s definitely a strength I’d like to improve upon, but I bet I can figure out some strength-building activities on my own, without input from a coach, therapist, manager, or consultant (even though Creativity did only rank #21, so maybe not). Perseverance also needs to move up the list, although I’m not really surprised to see it in the bottom third. I have really good intentions in all situations, and my completion rate is outstanding when some other entity is holding me accountable, but my follow-through drops off if it’s a project I’ve set for myself and there are no consequences (other than a lack of personal fulfillment and feeling of accomplishment) if the task doesn’t get done. It does not shock me to see Spirituality as my weakest character strength. I do believe I am a spiritual person (though not a religious person, and in my mind there’s a big difference), but that is a very personal side of my personality, and not one that I explicitly share with others. I am content to let it lie at the bottom of the list, because I do think my beliefs guide the rest of my actions–I don’t knowingly cause harm, I help whenever I can, I stand up for what is right–and I’m happy to carry on doing so without any recognition of my spiritual motivation. So long as I never give anyone reason to claim that I did not act in a spiritually guided way, I feel fulfilled in that feature of my character.

So, having taken this Character Strength Assessment, I’m not convinced that it will be of much use in securing new employment…not sure Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence is a marketable skill in many fields. However, it provides fuel for some serious introspection and guidelines for personal growth, which are never bad things. In the meantime, if anyone knows of a similar assessment for career-related strengths that might actually be applicable when I attempt to re-enter the full-time workforce, I’d appreciate the link!


Posted by on March 25, 2013 in How It Is, Monday Mix, Observations, On Me