Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zinnia - One Last Flower on My Summer Wish List

The majority of my gardening revolves around perennials. However, I think it’s time for me to make room for zinnias. The Farmer’s Almanac had this to say:

Zinnias are one of the easiest annuals to grow, grow quickly, and bloom heavily. They make a massive burst of color in your garden.

How can I turn that down? You can read more and find pictures of them on the website here:

Farmer's Almanac - Zinnias

So, it looks like I’ll be shopping for them in May, when annuals can be safely planted in my part of the world. I’d better start a shopping list to make sure to look for all the vegetables and flowers I want to squeeze into my garden plots. Flowers are such a blessing, especially as a food for the incredibly important bee population.

Thank you to all who joined me on this alphabetical journey with the A to Z blog post. As you have read, I have big plans for May. What about you? Anything interesting in the works?


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yarrow - a Perennial Delight

It’s been many years since I first started perennial gardens. My main and consistent goal to attract insects and birds, I never realized that yarrow provides medicinal properties. For now, I will focus solely on what I know most about.

Yarrow is very draught tolerant and could have been mentioned in my post for the letter X (xeriscaping). The flowers are sturdy, meaning they don’t require a lot of effort and last quite a long time. And they sure attract butterflies. My original plants are long gone, I’m sorry to say. Strangely, I rather forgot about them until thinking of a topic for the letter Y.

So, thank you A to Z blog organizers! I’m off to the garden store to see what might be in stock. The color range of this hardy plant has probably expanded since my initial foray into gardening. Should be interesting.

What new and exciting thing are you looking forward to?


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xeriscaping - Responsible Gardening in Dry Climates

As the reduced water conditions in California loom more and more ominous, xeriscaping is becoming increasingly popular. This type of gardening utilizes plants (usually native) with lower moisture requirements than water guzzling lawn grasses. I’ve been happily applying xeriscaping techniques even in my rainier region because I tired of high water bills. The fact I have less grass to mow doesn’t hurt, either, so I keep carving chunks out of my traditional lawn for more interesting perennials.

A great example is the ornamental grass garden planted near the sidewalk. These perennials grow even in drought conditions. In addition, their rustling height hides the ugly power transformer nine months out of the year. I cut them back in March to allow new growth, meaning they also provide visual interest all winter. Near my garage, Eastern prickly pear cactus and dragon’s blood sedum thrive in some really crummy soil. Both provide lovely blooms, and are of course extremely drought tolerant.

My cottage style garden features purple coneflowers, lots of fun amorphophallus konjac, bee balm, one long-lived centranthus, a few dwarf evergreen shrubs, and a weeping crabapple. Oh, and I like flowering spring bulbs, too. Just plant them in mid to late fall and they need little effort to provide years of beauty. On the shady north side, English ivy surrounds hellebores and hardy ferns.

What most of these plants have in common is a root system that delves much deeper than boring old grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and fine fescue. And they don’t need cut two or three times a week, which causes lawn grass blades to lose what little moisture they can store.

Gardening isn’t for everyone, but it provides me both joy and exercise. What hobbies do you enjoy?


Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for What Dreams May Come - A Book Review

I’ve just finished reading a YA book by author Beth M. Honeycutt. I’m so glad my friend Rochelle Bradley introduced me because the story What Dreams May Come is very, very sweet. And Ms. Honeycutt is a professional editor, which makes this a very polished read.

Ellie Cross, our young protagonist, has a frequent dream companion named Gabe. He visits her regularly, appearing as if on cue to commiserate over deep sorrows or share surprising joys. And she can spill her heart to him utterly since there’s no reason for regret or hesitation simply because Gabe isn’t real.

After all, her mother even paid a therapist to help convince Ellie. So the shy, overlooked girl makes the best of the situation, enjoying this long-lasting companionship as a private sanctuary. If she must keep Gabe’s continued appearance secret from her mother, then so be it. At least someone accepts her without judgment or disappointment.

I feel that Ellie, however bullied at school, could have easily come across as terribly unappreciative of the good in her life. I mean, things could be so much worse as the young lady herself comes to learn. However, Ms. Honeycutt does a lovely job of balancing over-reactive teenage angst with deep human pain.

As for escapism, who wouldn’t want their own private guardian angel? And maybe, just maybe, they can take real human form. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

You can find various retailers with some very reasonable prices here:


Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Voltaire aka Aurelio Voltaire Hernández, Gothic Rocker

I would not have known how to classify the music of Aurelio Voltaire Hernández before reading about the man online. While several categories are listed on his Wikipedia article, my favorite is something called dark cabaret. Incidentally, that puts his art in the same genre as two other favorites of mine, IAMX and Tom Waits.

One of his popular hits featured in an episode of the 2000’s era cartoon “Billy and Mandy”.  Called “BRAINS!”, it’s terrifically dark and funny, plus downright catchy with some wonderfully fat horns. The man’s voice is fabulous, too.

If you want to find any of his songs, you will want to search using the name Aurelio Voltaire. Apparently, there are other bands going by Voltaire these days. But to me, he’s the real deal.


Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Up Arrow - My New Keyboard Trick

People who know me understand that technology is not my strong suit. Sometimes a pig finds an acorn, as they say. Or, as in my case, the pig is lucky to find a savvier fellow. The power of the keyboard’s up arrow is an example of the latter.

I recently griped to my partner about a feature on the Mazilla Firefox web browser. Every time you add to the favorites list, that item is added to the bottom. Come on. It’s something new so of course I want ready access. But no…

You have to find the name in your list and manually drag it to the top. Scrolling down seems so tedious in this fast paced world, which prompted my complaint. Fortunately, I need suffer that no longer.

My partner looked at me and said, “That’s why I hit the up arrow to go directly to the bottom of the favorites list.”

Good grief. What have you learned today?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Trending - How to Use it in a Short Story

I recently heard a humorous dramatization on the radio program This American Life that makes fun, in part, of trending. BJ Novak wrote the tale called “Julie and the Warlord” about a couple who met on an online dating service.

From the WBEZ archives of “This American Life”, I learned that Alison Brie plays Julie and Tunde Adebimpe plays the Warlord. Their talented interaction really sells the tale. It’s absurd and hilarious.

I mean, he’s a Warlord. And this ruthless, murdering man obsesses to Julie about how his name is trending on Twitter.

The short story is part of a compilation. If interested, you can read about the book and play the audio here:

Excerpt From B.J. Novak's One More Thing


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Stuff You Should Know

I promise this is not a pompous portrayal of life lessons I’ve learned. Today’s topic is a podcast carried by two charismatic and convivial hosts.

Alliteration aside, Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant never fail to educate and amuse me. Even the occasional boring subject leaves me laughing and learning due to their unique banter. I sometimes feel like we’re all sitting around a kitchen table drinking beer or something. They really bring that much of a conversational approach.

Not long ago, a friend of mine suffered a flea infestation. So I sent her the link to the podcast that discussed how to eradicate them. Some episodes are available on iTunes but the full catalog can be found here:

Stuff You Should Know


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Robot Chicken

“Robot Chicken” has to be one of the funniest shows on the planet. Of course, I have a twisted sense of humor. Thank heaven, so does Seth Green.

Remember Thunder Cats and Masters of the Universe? These folks animate the toys for hilariously irreverent sketches. Sometimes, the writers pull something out of where the sun don’t shine. One can’t help wondering if controlled substances are a creative tool. One of my favorite skits features a clown funeral.

Yes, you read that right. Don’t think that sounds like an amusing scenario? Try adding a jack-in-the-box coffin.

Yes. They went there.

In that same episode they really upped the tempo, cranking out countless vignettes in a very short amount of time. Thank heaven for the DVR, because we routinely rewind a segment in order to catch all the gags.

The writers are not afraid of offending anybody and they rip on every trope imaginable. If you like to laugh, set your DVR for “Robot Chicken” featured during Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming and prepare to be amused, or maybe appalled.

Honestly, I feel humor is very important to human health. What’s your favorite source of laughter?


Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Zachary Quinto

Zachary Quinto first came to my notice when he portrayed Spock in the 2009 movie “Star Trek”. I’m sure many fellow science fiction geeks are well aware of this. He really does a fantastic job, in my humble opinion. But I’m more of a horror fan than admirer of this rebooted cinematic series.

And Mr. Quinto was amazing as Dr. Oliver Thredson on television’s “American Horror Story: Asylum”. He looked the period part, too, with that black hair all slicked down and the sixties era conservative dark suit and tie. This is shallow, but he made that look sexy.

“AHS: Asylum” is definitely not for the faint of heart. Its introduction showed so many warning letters (TV-MA, L, S, V for the various parental guidelines) that my partner called it alphabet soup. And yet we could hardly wait for each week’s new episode.

Scary themes and dark storylines are somewhat of an addiction, I must admit. Is there a guilty pleasure on your DVR?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for Elizabeth Peña - May You Rest in Peace

Last October, talented actress Elizabeth Peña passed away at age 55. Without going into sad details, I will tell you that this Cuban born actress graced the US entertainment industry for 35 years. She even took a few forays into television directing.

One can only wonder what else she might have accomplished had she lived another twenty years, or even just one more decade.

I first noted this cinematic treasure in the movie “Jacob’s Ladder”. Ms. Peña’s performance inspired me to name a pet cat after her character. The woman’s smoky voice and petite yet mighty presence come to mind clearly as if I watched the film right this minute. Meanwhile, my feline Jezebel’s large attitude emitted from her small, smoke-gray form seems to pay that performance unique homage.

Somehow I never discovered Ms. Peña’s many other large and small screen appearances beyond that 1990 theater release. Clearly some research needs done, whether I seek older releases or those most recent. The majority should be available in some form or another. I’m sure seeing her would be delightful.

If you are a long-time cinefile like me, what favorite character sticks with you?


Friday, April 17, 2015

O is for The Office of Letters and Light - Hosts of National Novel Writing Month

The Office of Letters and Light is the official group that organizes November’s National Novel Writing Month. Having enjoyed it the last few years, I recently learned that freelance writer Chris Baty started the project back in 1999. In that inaugural year, 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area dove into the challenge.

The next year 140 folks joined in and Mr. Baty personally verified that 29 of them successfully managed to write 50,000 words toward a novel. His dedication impressed me. Then word spread and the movement exploded. About five thousand people registered in 2001.

Now hundreds of thousands of novelists comprise the group. I attended some local write-ins last November and gained a friendly year-round writing group. The charity event called ‘The Night of Writing Dangerously’ in San Franciso seems like a blast.

But if gatherings aren’t your thing (and they usually aren’t mine!), you can find encouragement via forums and Facebook and emails from the NaNoWriMo folks. The pep talks can be really amusing as well as inspiring. As for the event rules, they are simple.

I won’t go into them but will add one more thing. There are no limitations on genre or fictional theme. I met one fellow writing a series of short stories. While that may not be valid to the rules, I hope it will inspire you to join in the fun.

Happy writing!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Nasturtium - Edible Beauty

I have enjoyed many gardening successes and plenty of failures. One that comes to mind from the first category is nasturtium. The large seeds are easy to handle (unlike snapdragon seeds, for example) and sprout quite well sown directly into garden soil.

As my blog title suggests, the flowers are edible. Just be sure not to use pesticides on them, but they are hardy enough plants that I never needed any. Silky on the tongue, their petals deliver a delicately peppered little snap to salads. Ingesting the flowers is even said to provide some dietary vitamin C and lutein. While some folks eat the leaves, I have not yet tried them.

Unfortunately, the space I used to grow nasturtiums has been rendered too shady. I really ought to try fitting these annuals in with my perennials out front. Surely I can squeeze in a few. Recalling this interesting plant makes me want to try.

I learned that a perennial type exists, as well. A little more research is required before I seek it out. Meanwhile, I want to go annual flower seed shopping. ~rubs hands together~ Is it May yet? Now that things are warming up I’m ready to garden.

What hobbies do you enjoy?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Marilyn Manson - Music to My Ears

In the mid 2000’s I got hooked on reading autobiographies of rockstars. Then I found the biography of Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) from 1999. “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell” hooked me completely with Mr. Warner’s irreverent humor and obvious intelligence.

Not even finished with the book, I went out and bought his most recent album of the time, “Eat Me, Drink Me.” Then I sought the band’s first album, “Portrait of an American Family”. That led to an obsessive desire to own everything I could get my hands on, music or otherwise.

My partner refers to that time in our lives as somewhat frightening and also really, really fun. Interesting eBay purchases arrived in the mail on an almost daily basis. My MM music collection is so extensive that I had to create subcategories on iTunes such as for live performances, interviews, and rarities. Meanwhile, I recently purchased “The Pale Emperor” and have to say the band is in fine form.

Marilyn Manson is far from my only music, but certainly takes up the most space. What are you listening to these days?


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for Luna, My Beloved Pet

October 5, 2014 went down in my personal history as a very sad day. The stray cat who forever changed my life finally left it after a brief and heroic battle against cancer. I enjoy much better quality of life thanks to that gray and white moggy. Her intrepid demand to enter my heart and home literally improved my health, as lifelong asthmatic symptoms responded well to the new medications her presence demanded I try.

Luna ultimately opened the door to two other rescue cats. I sadly never saw them act terribly close with Luna but honestly believe that my “first born” wanted nothing else in this world but to be with me. Her life certainly never revolved around food like another cat I know (you know who you are, my sweet and goofy Tilly). She slept on my pillow each night, bounded downstairs to the laundry room every washday, and snuggled on my lap at just about every single opportunity including her very last morning on this earthly plane.

For a few glorious years I joked about being a living futon. If there is such a thing as an afterlife, I hope to somehow resume that duty. Either way it was an honor knowing her.


Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Knowledge - A Safe Driving Tip

I saw a safety tip the other day that just begged to be shared. It seems like common sense yet never occurred to me.

You know the blind spot that plagues drivers everywhere? The problem would not be so bad if people knew how their side view mirrors were meant to be set.

In short, you should not be able to see any part of your car in those mirrors. When you see your vehicle there is an overlapping reflection provided between them and the rear view mirror over your head. Once you angle those door mounted mirrors out far enough, you realize how they pick up much more to the side and behind where you really need the assist., the comedy website, first introduced me to the concept. And I’m grateful because there is a noticeable difference when I’m driving. I simply adjusted mine based on the Cracked article but here is a link with details in case you are interested:

How to Set Rear‐View Mirrors to Eliminate Blind Spots


Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Judge Dredd - I Am the Law

I do not know how many of you are familiar with the British comic book “2000 AD”. In it, the future United States has become a nuclear ravaged dystopia where an unemployed and bored populace crowds in huge megacity apartment blocks. Some residents never leave them.

If they do, Judges are ready to serve up instantaneous street justice. Judge Joe Dredd is toughest of them all.

Delightful Kiwi actor Karl Urban blessed us in 2012 with a portrayal of the lawman that helped remove the bad taste leftover from the 1995 travesty. Sylvester Stallone might have done okay except for one glaring mistake. Ask any Judge Dredd geek and they’ll tell you that he never takes off his helmet in the story panels.

Never, ever. Dredd is the antithesis of that character Wilson Wilson Junior in the nineties era TV series “Home Improvement” who never showed his chin. Judge Dredd is all about the chin.

That wonderful, stern, craggy chin - almost a character in and of itself.

Unfortunately, the expense of having that weekly comic shipped became too costly. I have not tried to find any domestic periodical to replace it. Are there any comic book fans out there with a suggestion? I’d be interested to know.


Friday, April 10, 2015

I is for Insomnia - A Scourge of the Modern Age

Sleeplessness is the state in which many of these A-Z topics were conceived. For some reason I woke at 3am and could not shut down my brain. Fortunately, this is rare for me.

My partner, however, rations out a prescription drug that does not always do a darn thing. As a result, this household has no typical set schedule. Sometimes, I feel exasperated. I’m half tempted to slip some valerian root into my partner’s evening cup of tea or something.

Circadian rhythm is quite important to health and even sanity. Unfortunately, classic suggestions like daily exercise and set nighttime rituals fall on deaf ears.

I hope that you enjoy healthy, natural sleep like me. And if not, maybe one of us can find something workable and share it.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

H is for Hedonism - Pursuing Pleasure

I like food. Unfortunately, I like it way more than is healthy.

My travel itineraries always include good restaurants. When I visit a friend and learn there are no plans for dinner, anxiety hovers until the situation is rectified. Fortunately (or maybe not), my partner responds to food the same way. We have enjoyed many a fine meal together.

 Although hedonism does not rule my life, the other day I heard something that defies imagination. On a recent “Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda” episode Lietenant Kenda admitted that he would rather not eat at all if he could avoid taking the time. Now I may have felt that way on numerous occasions; this guy takes it to the extreme.

When he absolutely must satisfy his hunger, he will go to the nearest fast food restaurant and order the number one combo meal. He said they all have one, which is a fact I blissfully did not know. This man, who has not even looked at the menu, will then proceed to devour whatever he pulls out of the paper bag.

That made me somehow sad. Meanwhile, Andrew Zimmern’s program “Bizarre Foods” makes me hungry.

What are you having for dinner?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G is for Good Grammar - A Dying Art?

There is, without a doubt, a persnickety English teacher in me. These days I find mistakes everywhere yet cannot complain because some are just personal opinion.

What I despise most is the dangling participle. This is so prominent that I hear or read it on a weekly basis. Respected authors are even guilty. Read this and tell me what you think: Basted during the cooking process, you should find your chicken breasts juicy and delicious.

Exactly who got basted? That sentence reads like the cook did. Maybe it’s suggesting that the chef drink so much wine during the cooking process that dried out chicken merely tasted juicy and delicious. The English language certainly contains enough euphemisms for drunkenness.

Anyway, I know that texting and Twitter have made my battle virtually unwinnable. This is just another example of how I am basically a walking, talking relic. But who knows? Maybe if I live long enough I will see a turnaround.

May I should start a crusade. What do you think?


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for Flowers - Hurray for Spring!

On Thursday, March 12 of 2015 I started taking regular, compulsive walks around my gardens. Quite frankly, it amazes me every spring how quickly my flowering bulbs emerge and flourish. I can check every few hours to note further progress.

After the extreme cold of our 2013-14 winter, I didn’t see quite as many return from the prior fall’s planting. So far I’m seeing better growth this spring. And that’s after another extreme in temperatures. Maybe my bulbs came from a better grower. I don’t know.

Then again, this area also had more consistent snow cover than in 2014. Surprisingly, snow actually helps insulate overwintering plants. It’s another astonishing fact about nature. Personally, I learn something new every growing season. Now I am looking forward to mid May when I should be able to plant vegetables and annual flowers.

Until then I hope you are enjoying new growth, whatever form it takes. Is there something new and exciting in your part of the world?


Monday, April 6, 2015

E is for Energy Boosters

Now that I am exercising regularly, my appetite has understandably increased. It’s a struggle not to overeat without feeling miserably famished.

For you woman out there, here’s a rotten fact. Because of that b!7@% we call biology, our brain chemistry triggers hunger proportionate to the calories just burned in case we become pregnant. Can you believe that? I am sure just about everyone living with modern luxury knows how much faster you can ingest 500 calories than you can burn them off.

And that burns me up! But I digress…

I admit that I’m no vegetarian. So the easiest, cheap protein snacks are boiled eggs. I cannot believe that never occurred to me. Another option I have been enjoying is, actually, baked tofu sticks. They are easy to make, and I found them quite tasty spread with a little mix of peanut butter and jelly since the tofu took on almost the texture of bread.

Here’s a recipe I’m thinking of trying, in case you’re interested:

Baked Sesame Tofu Sticks

Happy snacking! And please let me know if you have any tasty suggestions.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Drabbles - Exercises in Writing

A few years ago I discovered fanfiction and eventually became addicted to writing it. That increased tenfold upon my involvement in a writing style known as drabbles.

These are not long involved tales. Drabbles are actually one hundred word vignettes. This particular fanfiction website (Pomme de Sang) offers monthly challenges for which writers must submit themed drabbles. The theme might be anything. Trying to infuse the topic into the mini ficlets, whether vaguely or verbatim, only fueled my fervor.

I have gotten away from them yet still recall how much I enjoyed their writing. Some of my drabble threads ran to dozens of chapters. One series contained nothing but dialog without tags. They all taught me precision and made writing fun.

Drabbles aren’t for everyone. Some readers cannot engage in these super short stories while not every author cares to practice the peculiar discipline. I found the precise exercise quite empowering.

Perhaps I should try my hand at drabbles in May. The rambling rush of writing fifty thousand words in November’s National Novel Writing Month resulted in excessive verbosity and I’m finding much the same with the current Camp NaNo.

Whether I drabble now or work on my NaNo WIP, it’s time I get to it. What will you write today?


Friday, April 3, 2015

C is for Casanova - My Romantic Lead

Simply hearing the name Casanova evokes romance for me, despite the man’s association with womanizing. Perhaps I like to think the women enjoyed themselves more than were hurt by his promiscuity.

Whatever my reasoning, an OC of mine shares that moniker, at least on official documents. In daily life, James Casanova Smith goes simply by Jimmy. There are exceptions, however.

This romance first took shape in November of 2013 while I took the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Then the story fell apart before I wrote an ending. Somehow, life intervened and I never really got back to these guys.

With plans to rectify that, I must say that some story ideas came to mind in the process of typing this. That strikes me as a good sign.

Meanwhile, April in the northern hemisphere means we are gearing up for summer while countless friends south of the equator are battening down their hatches for winter. Which is it for you? And what is your favorite season? For me, it’s autumn all the way.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Bald Eagles – An American Treasure

This past winter has been brutal for many parts of the northern hemisphere. Somehow, great numbers of local wildlife managed to survive by the look of things. And two mated bald eagles in Pennsylvania are no exception. A live webcam in Codorus State Park near the town of Hanover showed an amazing sight on March fifth.

The pair of eagles, named Liberty and Freedom, found themselves buried in snow as they tried to keep their two eggs warm. Their dedication and astute action astonished me. Besides being the national bird of the United States, they are also one of the first raptors to breed each year. Hence their difficulties when a late winter storm blew in.

I find myself checking daily to see this family and have been privy to some really stunning natural moments. Watching the pair trade off on egg sitting duty when the male brought her a fresh meal must be a favorite. Well, that is until the first egg hatched around March 24th.

Many news websites covered the story; below you can find one article including screen shots:

WTOP - Washington's Top News - Watercooler

You can also take a peak to see what they are up to today (WARNING: some graphic views of caught prey, most often fish, may be in the shot):

Bald Eagle Live Cam


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for ActivTrax – Motivation to Move

Kicking off our A to Z April blog challenge, ActivTrax fitness software seemed ideal. The service, available at my local YMCA, is almost like having a personal trainer. Though you do have to provide your own motivation. (Thankfully, I have that. At least for the time being. ~crosses fingers~) An initial strength evaluation with a health club staff member got me started. She took my information and set up an online account.

Using the software is easy as pie. Of course, the exercise itself is a challenge. That’s the whole point. Sometimes, however, the challenge extends beyond healthy.

For example, I once tried inadvertently to enact a scene from the movie “Dodgeball”. Like pulleys mangled poor Justin Long, the elastic Resist-a-Band basically mauled me. After two embarrassingly awkward attempts, I listed that little piece of malevolent equipment as a restricted exercise. The same goes for stability balls. I’m sorry, but breaking my neck is not on my agenda.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a while I feel pretty fantastic, mentally and physically. Both swimming and the weekly outdoor walks Julia Cameron prescribes in her “Artist’s Way” workshops fit nicely into days I don’t visit the YMCA.

I’m thankful for the ability and energy to do this. It is certainly good for a writer to get out of her head now and then. Don’t you agree?