Browsing Archives for November 2010

A Creepy Christmas Contest

November 28th, 2010

I took a few photos last year of some Christmas decor that struck me as downright creepy.  I never managed to write a story about it, but I thought it would be fun to see if anyone else out there has a radar for creepy Christmas decor. During your Holiday shopping spasms, if you see a decoration that seems a little off, and happen to have a camera on you – snap a photo and send it to I’ll post the pictures as they arrive. On December 22nd, I will choose a few winning photos based on over-all creeptastic creepiness or just plain outrageous absurdity.

You must be vigilant!

You never know when a Christmas decoration. is going to totally CREEP YOU OUT!

The grand prize will be a 25.00 gift card to the online store of your choice.

I will also have some fabulous runner-up prizes. and when I say ‘fabulous runner-up prizes, I actually mean ‘used books’.

So get your creep on!

Because sick, pasty, bedridden Santa might not make it if you don’t.

Ho, Ho, Ho

Dear Charles Headed To Kansas!

November 27th, 2010

Washington D.C. correspondent and advice columnist to this blog, ‘Dear Charles’  is coming to my house for a visit and I am so excited!  I haven’t seen Dear Charles in fifteen years and back then he wasn’t even ‘Dear Charles’! He was just plain old regular ’Charles’ except he didn’t even have quotation marks!.  Several months ago I asked ‘Charles’ if he ever got back to Kansas anymore and ‘Charles’ replied that he came home every Thanksgiving.   As a result, ‘Charles’ and I have been entertaining each other with a bunch of e-mails to plan our chance Thanksgiving encounter which is not a chance Thanksgiving encounter at all because we both know it is going to happen! (Are all of these exclamation points making you excited too?!?!?!?!?!) And since ‘Dear Charles’ has not managed to post something to his section for quite some time, I thought I would post some of our e-mails regarding his impending visit. Because dang it! Charles and I both seem to love to wriggle about like pan fried amoebas in the fecundity of our own scribblings. And no, I have no idea what fecundity means – it just sounds good to me right now. Here are the letters…


Dear Rechelle,

I have only one confirmed visit so far over my Thanksgiving stay in Kansas, and a couple of people are dragging their feet in choosing chunks of time for visits, and I know you’re probably wanting me to come up with a time and day for our visit as the window of opportunity draws ominously closer. Therefore, I write to you today prepared to offer you the Saturday after Thanksgiving (the whole day or any part thereof), and I will not schedule anything else with anybody else for that day until I have heard back from you about whether you will accept this offer. If you would like to do something involving me that day, just let me know what and when. I’ll be holed up at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence. If Saturday is a horrible day for a visit, let me know and I’ll work with you to make it a better day for a visit or to find a chunk of visiting time on another day. There’s no direction in which I will not bend to make this happen.

Looking forward to the happening of this,


Dear Charles,

Saturday is fabulous as I may have to work on Sunday and will be in Western Kansas for the remainder of the holiday.  I will plan on this.  I am assuming that you will be car-less and therefore I will fetch you in Lawrence and deposit you back there after I have forced you to bend in every direction possible?  So we are going to need the whole of the day.

Still preferring shedule to the more common skedule,



Dear Rechelle,

That does indeed sound fabulous! My Saturday after Thanksgiving is now officially off limits to all others. You’re correct that I will be car-less and, as usual, completely dependent on you, this time to get from one place to another. To ensure that my mental preparation for the day is optimal, could you let me know which directions I will likely be bending in? Do you have a shedule in mind? Will I be called upon to prepare peanut butter balls? (I’m afraid the original recipe is lost to the ages, but I could get a recipe off the Internet and hope for the best.)

Already officially looking forward to the last Saturday in November,


Dear Charles,

I think it would be fun to prepare a nice vegetarian meal that focuses on root crops and highly processed soy bean curd.  Not only will we be inspiring people to turn from their hedonistic Thanksgiving splurges, we will fly in the face of what most Americans want to eat during the holidays.  So come up with a menu Charles and I will attempt to assemble the ingredients and have them at the ready.  You will be lead chef and I will be lead photographer.  We can drag out the barbies if we get bored.  Peanut butter balls would be an excellent dessert if you can find it.

I have fresh spinach in my garden. Do you have a good vegetarian spinach recipe? Do I really need to use the word ‘vegetarian’ as a descriptor when I am taking to you? Can’t we just agree that any food you make for me will be vegetarian?




Dear Rechelle,

You can assume that any food I make for you will be vegetarian. That way it will be all the more surprising when I whip up my famous spinach-stuffed pig esophagus. If we’re going to keep it to vegetarian cuisine, though, I”m not sure what I can do with your spinach that will be spectacular. I could try spinach lasagna, which I’ve made a few times with various degrees of success, but I’d rather make something that’s sure to be good. Actually, that probably has as good a chance of turning out well as anything else. I was just on the phone with Susie, and I was trying to get her shepherd’s pie recipe out of her, but she didn’t want to dictate it to me over the phone and said she’d e-mail it to me, but I don’t know if she’ll remember to. She says you can put anything into the shepherd’s pie, so maybe we could put your spinach into it. Or we could just cook the spinach and throw some butter and vinegar on it. I’m not sure what quality of food you’re expecting out of me, but I should let you know that I’m not a particularly great chef. I’ll try to come up with something, though.

What do Mike and your sons think about this idea? From what you’ve said, I gather that they’re very fond of meat, and I can’t help thinking they won’t exactly be jumping for joy when my meatless meal is presented and that they may even be axiously waiting for me to leave so that they can raid the fridge for meaty leftovers. How do you think I’ll be received? Does Mike remember me?

Anyway, I know I’ll be popular with the barbies, who do not know of or crave the pleasures of meat and who will doubtless be delighted to have an excuse to come out of their storage space and visit with someone.



Dear Charles,

When you say ‘shepherds pie’ do you mean that you cook an actual shepherd? Because the last time I checked, shepherds would qualify as meat.

Yes I expect the food to be fabulous. Yes, my kids will eat it. They are pretty adventurous eaters. Except my oldest and my youngest which I am willing to dress up as shepherds so you can use them in your pie if you want to.

We can just make a spinach salad – with shepherds or without.

Don’t stress Charles. Cooking is not the same as editing. You just throw it all together and put some cheese on top.



Dear Rechelle,

I find it a little strange that someone who is so enamored of the British pronunciation of “schedule” and who lists anglophilia as one of the five named topics her blog covers is unfamiliar with shepherd’s pie, a British/Irish dish. Although it traditionally includes meat, the recipe I’ll be using (if I can get it) won’t. Shepherds are ingredients in shepherd’s pie only in Sweeney Todd (,

My menu is still in development, and you can help speed the development process up by answering the following questions:

Does anyone who will be expected to eat whatever I come up with have an aversion to potatoes, mushrooms, green beans, or pasta? Are any of these ingredients universally loved in your household? Did those peanut butter ball have Rice Krispies in them? If not, do you remember anything that was in them other than peanut butter?

Try a little priest,


Dear Charles,

The peanut butter balls had something resembling Rice Crispies though it is hard for me to imagine Susie purchasing a box of Rice Crispies and adding them to her peanut butter balls.

My kids can pick the mushrooms out because that is what they do when their mother serves them.  Everything else on your list is fine.

Hey Charles!  Remember the last time I said ‘Hey Charles!’ to you?  and then I asked you to contribute to my blog?  I am thinking about doing a ‘christmas gift idea book blitz for the blog – quickly writing up little reviews of books I have read this past year or some of my all time favorite books.  These will be short and appear one book at a time hopefully several times a week.  I was wondering if you want to contribute any short, quickie book reviews to the list.  I know the words ‘quickie’ and ‘review’ probably don’t go together in your mind.  But imagine the freedom Charles!  Imagine just hastily scrawling something across your laptop and then without even giving it a second glance allowing it to post on the blog.  Imagine the instant relief you would feel Charles!  (Followed immediately by crushing regret)  STILL!  I think it is worth your consideration!  I am sure you read far more interesting books than I do Charles.  You are after all an editor at a science place and toy with the God particle on a daily basis.




Dear Rechelle,

I was afraid you were going to say something like that. Not the thing about the book reviews, which I wasn’t expecting at all, but the thing about the mushrooms, which play a prominent part in my two candidates for main course. I don’t want to make anything that anyone is going to have to pick anything out of, so I’m going back to the drawing board for the main course and am combing the two cookbooks I own for spinach-based dishes. I’ve found something called “Chickpea and Spinach Stew” that might be acceptable. How does everyone feel about chickpeas?

On a more victorious note, I’m pleased to announce that I think I may have found the very peanut butter balls recipe that almost resulted in our trying to get a restraining order to keep you from entering our kitchen all those years ago. Since there were Rice Krispie-like thingos in the balls and since we both know that Susie and I didn’t own a box of Rice Krispies at the time (we have one now that we share joint custody of; we send it back and forth every couple of weeks), I thought that we might have used the “healthy” alternative version of Rice Krispies (Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal). I checked the Erewhon site for a recipe for peanut butter balls and found that they had one involving their rice cereal, and I think Susie probably got that recipe off the Erewhon box and used it to produce the culinary triumph you remember so well. I think they have the cereal at the Whole Foods here, so I’ll go get a box and bring it to Kansas. And I’ll let you know what other ingredients are necessary when we’ve resolved the thing about the chickpeas and I can give list of ingredients to you all at once.


About the quickie reviews, I can’t think of anything I’ve read this year that would really be at home on a “Christmas gift idea” list. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that 9/11 conspiracy theory book to anyone. And then there was a depressing biography of Dorothy Parker that was kind of a slog. And a book that consisted mainly of the transcript of the trial where Oscar Wilde accused the Marquess of Queensbury of libel, which would be good for people who enjoy feeling uneasy while they read. And there was something called something like “The Harlot at the Side of the Road” (written by the author of something called something like “The History of the End of the World”), about some of the more mystifying stories in the Old Testament, and that was kind of interesting, but now I can’t even remember what all the stories were and the book’s packed away somewhere while I wait for shelving to be installed in my apartment. And now I’m reading a book called “Before the Deluge,” which is about Berlin in the period between the two World Wars, and it’s pretty interesting, but it’s not the kind of thing that most people would be delighted to rip wrapping paper off of if they hadn’t specifically requested it beforehand. Come to think of it, this is the type of response I usually give you when you tell me an idea for a contribution from me to your blog, isn’t it? And I usually end up doing what you suggested anyway, don’t I? I’m not saying that will happen this time, just making an observation. Thanks for sticking with me despite the extra work required to get anything out of me.

Fingers crossed about chickpeas,


Dear Charles

I think you have become fixated on spinach and I take full responsibility for this.  Please forget that I ever uttered the word ‘spinach’. Pretend that I am from a different planet and if my species comes into contact with any amount of spinach we will suffocate and die.  Just take spinach out of the equation.  Remove spinach as if it were a cancerous nubbin at the back of your throat.  We live in a spinach-less world Charles.  Spinach was created on the eighth day Charles – which clearly means it never happened.

Because this spinach stew with chickpeas sounds really horrible.  I mean you can cover a lot of bad soup up with a vast amount of chicken broth, but since you can’t use chicken broth – I don’t know how to fix this soup.  On the other hand – a really horrible soup is much more fun to blog about than a really fine soup.  So if you have your heart stuck on spinach and chickpeas – by all means – let’s make it!

I am so glad to hear that you and Susie never sullied yourselves with real live Rice Crispies.  It would have been very hard for me to rearrange my life long image of the two of you if there had been a box of name brand cereal lurking on your former shelves.

Finally – I think your books sound great and properly dreary and depressing.  Great books to clutch throughout the holidays.  But only write if the passion to write about it is gurgling out of you like a muddy plague infested tidal wave storming up the Mississippi.  Or just write because your blog boss is telling you to.  Whichever one gets more posts out of Dear Charles.

Cat, bunny, wolf on couch,



Dear Rechelle,

Okay, I think I’ve found something that might be good. It’s called “Black Bean Chilaquile.” Although it contains spinach, it doesn’t have chickpeas and is not a stew. It’s a Mexican style casserole. Does that sound any good? The person who wrote the description in the cookbook says it’s colorful and jumping with flavor. Have you ever wanted to see a colorful thing jump with flavor? Here’s your chance. How does everybody feel about Mexican style food? If it’s not a family favorite, let me know what is and I’ll return to the drawing board. If it is, let me know and I’ll send you a list of ingredients.

About the quickie book reviews, do you envision me just adding a couple of nuggets to your list? When do you plan to post the list?
You can use anything of mine you want in your “Thanksgiving exchanges” compendium.
Con queso,




Dear Charles,

We love all things Mexican around here.

As to the book reviews.  My vision was to post a new short book review several times a week.  I started it this week and so far have only gotten one up. I will be posting them to ‘books and letter’.  If you decide to contribute any reviews, you certainly do not need to limit yourself to books you read this year.  Favorite books?  Books that you would read again?  Books that would make a sound gift?  Anything along that line.

Hey Charles!  It’s almost Thanksgiving!  You are coming to my house!

Home with exploding child,



Hey, Rechelle!

I know! I can scarcely believe it! Since you love all things Mexican around there, prepare to love a colorful, jumping-with-flavor little thing called Black Bean Chilaquile. The book says the recipe serves 4 to 6. Since there will be 7 of us, should we double it up? All right, then, let’s do. Here’s what I calculate we’ll need:

Onions (enough for 3 1/3 cups chopped)
Olive oil
Chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned; enough for 6 cups if they’re canned and enough for 7 cups if they’re fresh)

Fresh or frozen corn kernels (3 cups)
Cooked black beans (3 cups, or two 15-ounce cans, drained)
Fresh lime juice (4 tablespoons)
Ground black pepper
Rinsed, stemmed, chopped Swiss chard or SPINACH (4 cups)
Crushed baked tortilla chips (4 cups)
Grated fat-free sharp Cheddar cheese (16 ounces; although the book says it should be fat-free, fat-laden cheese would probably work too)
Bell peppers (enough for 1 1/3 cups chopped)
Fresh green chiles (2)
Garlic (6 or 7 cloves)
Fresh cilantro (4 tablespoons chopped; it’s okay with me if we leave this out if anyone doesn’t like it; I’m not too fond of it myself)
Fresh truffles imported from the Bourgelaise region of France (8 pounds)
All-natural chunky peanut butter (not Skippy or Jiff or anything like that; 1/2 cup)
Honey (1/2 cup)
Nuts (enough for 1/2 cup finely chopped; it doesn’t say what kind of nuts; pecans?)
Vanilla extract

Let me know if there’s anything on the list that you can’t get. I was only kidding about the truffles. Don’t get any. I wasn’t kidding about anything else. I usually like to poke a little fun at crushed baked tortilla chips, but I decided to keep the tone professional for this list, even for the part about the truffles, which I was kidding about.

Hoping your child has stopped exploding,



Dear Rechelle,

My Internet access while I’m away (from early tomorrow morning until Monday evening) may be best described as “intermittent.” Or it might be best described as “constant.” But I’m betting on “intermittent,” as I will not be taking my laptop with me and I’ll be dependent on the kindness of strangers for glances at my e-mail. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you need to communicate something to me and you need to do it urgently, particularly if it concerns our arrangements for Saturday, the best way to do so would probably be through my cell phone, whose number is ____________. I can’t help wondering, though, if you presently have an idea of when you’re going to be pulling into the Hotel parking lot on Saturday and if you remember where the Hotel is. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, do you presently have an idea of when you’re going to be pulling into the Hotel parking lot on Saturday and do you remember where the Hotel is?

Guessing that what I’m trying to do now is put the finishing touches on this e-mail so I can send it,


Dear Charles,

Did you seriously just give me your phone number?  Do you understand Charles, that with this information I can now completely control your life?  You will rue the day.

My best ETA for pulling up in front of your hotel would probaby be noonish which may force us to have to get lunch somewhere in Lawrence.  Ugh!  Lunch in Lawrence!  No options at all!  Oh!  Let’s go somewhere good and grainy!  Then we’ll go to the co-op and get whatever foodstuffs we need for to make our foodstuffs and then and then and THEN we will go to my house AND  MAKE OUR FOOD STUFFS!  And then somewhat absurdly – I will have to drive you back to Lawrence unless you want to stay in my guest bedroom which you are welcome to do and then I will have to drive you back to Lawrence in the AM in order to get to work by noon which means no second chance for lunch in Lawrence – but that is okay.  I can also drive you back to Lawrence on Saturday, but I will have to sober back up first.

In western Kansas surrounded by relatives (some possibly hostile),



Dear Rechelle,

Welcome to complete control of my life. I know you’ll do a better job than I’ve done with it, and I look forward to the improvement.Maybe we could go to La Tropicana for lunch on Saturday, since you love the beans there so much. But maybe not, since we’ll be having something Mexican for dinner. Thanks for offering me the guest bedroom. I think I will take you up on that offer, as that course of action would have several benefits: (1) You can stay as drunk as you like on Saturday night. (2) I will have the opportunity to breakfast on leftover peanut butter balls. (3) You will have to take me only as far as Topeka when you drive me back, as I was going to go back there on Sunday anyway.Give me a sign by texting me while you’re whizzing along on the highway about when you’ll be appearing at the Hotel. I can either be waiting in the lobby or jumping up and down excitedly on the curb, whatever’s your pleasure.

In northwest DC surrounded by boxes and newly installed shelving,


Westboro Baptist Coming To Town

November 23rd, 2010

The Westboro Baptist Church is coming to my town for a protest this coming Monday morning and I am attempting to organize a counter protest.  The response has been a bit discouraging so far with only one person saying that he will be there, but a few hours ago I got a phone call from another man in my town who also wanted to organize a counter protest.  The local chief of police had given him my number because I had already registered my protest and he thought that maybe the two of us could work together and that is exactly what we decided to do!  So now we have two counter protests rolled into one counter protest and that amounts to three whole people protesting Fred!  But I think we will get a few more before I have to turn in my final number on Sunday.  I also hope that some highschool students will be able to join us.

Some of you might remember when I went to hear Nate Phelps speak in Topeka about his brutal childhood growing up in the home of Fred Phelps.  I know that what the Phelps family believes is heinous and deluded, but ever since I learned about the lives of the children of Fred Phelps, I can’t help but regard them as victims.  A few of his children have managed to break away from the family.  The above video is a phone conversation with Nate (who is now an outspoken atheist) and Dortha the youngest daughter of Fred and Margie Phelps.  They explain in the video a little bit about the process they went through to break free of their family.  Leaving this family isn’t easy as the abuse was coupled with the added fear of an all seeing/all knowing tyrannical deity who would punish them eternally if they didn’t follow him according to the interpretation of their vicious, violent father, making the kids feel that if they left, they were condemning themselves to hell.

A few of those kids decided to take that chance and eventually realized how wrong their father was about everything.  So far one granddaughter that I know about who was actually kicked out of the church and cut off from the family for asking one too many questions about the beliefs of her family has also managed to discover life outside the compound.  So when I see the Phelps family again on Monday – I will be thinking not only about the hideous message they preach, but also the hideous childhoods that they endured and I will wish I had a magic wand…