Tag Archives: blogging

The ultimate brownie

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When I got back into blogging just a couple and a half weeks ago, I promised myself I would post something every week … but friends, the post that was supposed to go up on Tuesday is just so hard to write – yet impossible to ignore.

So you’ll get it next Tuesday. In the meantime, here is my recipe for brownies. I have had some need of comfort food lately, and I have to tell you, these are the best.

Note #1: For those poor souls who don’t have access to cranberries, these brownies are still outstanding without them. I just like the way the tart cranberry flavor cuts the sweetness of all the chocolate. Maybe you can think of an alternative … candied orange might work, provided it’s the good stuff, not the nasty plastic pebbles that renders American Christmas cakes good for nothing but holding doors open.

Note #2: I’m serious about the quality of the chocolate chips. If you’re not going to use good ones, don’t bother … just buy a box mix of brownie batter and call it good.

Note #3: The baking time is an approximation. They’re done when a knife comes out with no actual raw brownie mix on it. They’re overdone if the knife comes out dry – those chocolate chips are supposed to be soft!

Note #4: I usually double the quantity … but you do you.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town

My brownies never seem to last long enough for anyone to remember to photograph them. Instead, here is a view of Cape Town from the Kirstenbosch Garden, on the flanks of Table Mountain. (If you think it’s peculiar to illustrate a recipe post with a random picture of scenery, take it up with Ellen. Irrelevant photos are her idea – I deny all responsibility.)

CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BROWNIES

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons soft butter (5 oz / 140 g)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa (90 ml)
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
½ cup chocolate chips (use Ghirardelli or equivalent, not Hershey. I like semi-sweet.)
½ cup chopped nuts (I like either almonds or pecans.)
¼-½ cup dried cranberries (depending on personal preference.)

  1. Set oven to 320F (160C)
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat in eggs, then sift in cocoa, flour and salt.
  4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cranberries.
  5. Bake in greased 8″ (20 cm) square pan, about 25 minutes

Enjoy!

Running ahead of the storm

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When I came home in mid-February, I was exhausted but optimistic. Marmeee was okay, for a couple years at least, probably. The Old Buzzard was losing his marbles but at a rate of only two or three a week, and his Alzheimer’s medication had transformed him into a happier, pleasanter person than he’d been in years. It was good to be back in Washington, and not too painful to be gone from my people in South Africa.

It didn’t matter that we were seven weeks into the year. I named 2016 My Year Of Reclamation, convinced that 10-and-a-bit months was all I needed to finally, at last, once and for all, turn my life around. This was the year I would have a productive vegetable garden, get serious about training Argos the Madcap Malinois, lose weight, start riding again, get our finances under control, and clean my house from top to bottom and end to end. I had a great idea for a series of fun, lightweight (but, of course, also thought-provoking) novels and I was going to start writing every day, and make money from it. And blogging. I promised myself I’d start blogging regularly every week about my fascinating life and amazing insights – you know.

collapsing like a house of cards

House of cards. (Source)

Yeah. That was the plan. I even signed up for Evernote and started a whole new super-efficient system of to do lists.

Plans are like card houses. You build them ever so carefully, handling each card with the most delicate touch as you add it to the structure. And then someone opens a window and a draft blows in and all your cards go flying.

So here it’s the end of July, and I’m looking back at the year to date and shaking my head and wondering what the fuck happened. I have been in such a horrible funk! I’ve been gobbling my way through books, most of them lightweight, easy reading or stuff I’ve read before – because even the most two-dimensional borrowed life has been more appealing than the one I’m living. I’ve been eating way too much crap, and suffering the usual consequences. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, and when I do I wake up tired.

Depression? Well yes, but I’ve had reasons to feel sorry for myself, even without tripping over the Trump of Doom or Shillary every damn time I log onto my computer. (Seriously, America? I cannot believe that’s the best we can do!)

First, in February I accidentally overstayed my US passport’s welcome in South Africa by a whole 22 hours, and was declared an Undesirable Person and forbidden to return in under 12 months.

So then I tried to renew my South African passport, and learned that I had accidentally forfeited my South African citizenship by becoming an American citizen. I’m still trying to figure out why this was devastating, apart from the practical difficulty it caused. As someone who fears and distrusts the patriotic impulse, I should simply shrug it off with a casual “Whateverrr” … but in fact I feel robbed, and also homeless, and I’m sorry but the Land of the Free just can’t get my heart soaring the way it does under an African sky.

Then my precious Marmeee went into a downward spiral. Just before I left South Africa the oncologist told her she probably had a couple years to live … but apparently without me there to keep reminding her of this and force-feeding her chocolate milkshakes, she just … got tired, I guess. And then she died. And because of the bloody bullshit with my passport, I couldn’t be there to hold her hand. I know this was a “God thing” – I’ll explain why in another post (probably) – but it still aches.

I did manage to get through the border in time to help with her memorial and to figure out What To Do With Increasingly Dotty Dad, but while there I got sick with a deathwish-inducing flu that I didn’t shake for nearly a month. It made the 25 hour trip back a lot of fun.

Before I left we got the Old Buzzard into a home – a pleasant, homey sort of place – but instead of continuing to dole out his marbles one or two at a time he started throwing them away by the fistful. In a matter of months he went from affectionate, forgetful and occasionally grumpy, to aggressively uncooperative, to unwilling to walk and unable to speak coherently. He died a couple weeks ago. I’m not going back for the memorial, which is this coming Saturday … there’s no point, really. Today I have to write a tribute to go into the order of service, and I have no idea what to say.

I haven’t been able to grieve either of them. And mixed up in all that unexpressed grief is another deep sadness over the loss of my brother. He’s still walking around, breathing, saying things to people … but somewhere in the middle of everything else that’s been going on I learned that he hated me, has hated me for more than 30 years, has badmouthed me to people I care about – and they believed him. His claims about the way I treated him, his perceptions of who I am, have been woven into the fabric of our family dynamic – and until a few months ago I had no idea of it because the one person he never spoke to about it was me. I learned that the man I thought he was didn’t exist, the relationship I thought we had was a figment of my imagination. He has morphed from the sibling I loved most deeply and missed most painfully (even while he made my eyes roll) into The Stranger. Even if the latest nastiness “blows over”, the kind of confidence borne within mutual affection is gone. Trust is broken, and the loss feels like a death.

Sailboat in front of a tsunami

Fleeing the tsunami. (Source)

So grieving has become complicated, and I’m trying to stay ahead of it for now. Every now and then I feel tears starting to well up, but … I’m so busy, you know? If I could run away for a few days, just me and my dog, maybe then … but right now my to do list is simply too long. I don’t have the time – I don’t have the capacity – for a tsunami.

Oh – and I nearly forgot: earlier this month the Hubbit broke his arm. He tripped over his own feet, but of course he blamed my dog. Then he insisted he didn’t need xrays, didn’t need to see a doctor – so of course he ended up needing surgery. And bad tempered? Let me tell you, my guy is a generous fellow. When he’s in pain, he shares it. We all get some. So even though I got to say “I TOLD YOU SO” on several satisfying occasions, life would have been better if he’d managed to stay vertical.

Oy … this post has turned into quite the pity party. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been gone for a while, and I thought some sort of explanation was in order.

Also, here’s the thing – and I need to write this down so that I can come back as often as necessary and read it: I know that tsunami is coming. I know I can’t escape it. But I am reclaiming my faith in God – not that I lost it, but I’ve been angry, confused and resistant. I lost myself for a while. That book series I mentioned? It still looks promising, and every day I see my heroine more clearly. I like her a lot and hope you will too, when I set her loose upon the world. And the weeds didn’t completely win in my veggie garden this year. I’ve found tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and onions lurking out there.

As for right now this minute … I’m here, right? I’m blogging, aka writing. I’m not sure why that matters, but it does. It gives me hope.

In other words, to hell with the funk – this is still My Year of Reclamation.

So … how’s your summer going?

 

British stereotypes of Americans–and my own

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So there are bloggers that everyone follows because they are brilliant. And then there are bloggers who, while they may not have many followers, are so brilliant (or something) that brilliant bloggers write about them, thereby sparing them the embarrassment of being too lazy to write their own posts!

Guess which kind I am! And then go read another great post from Ellen Hawley, featuring yours truly.

Notes from the U.K.

In the U.K., Americans have a reputation for bluntness, but do we live up to the stereotype?

In my last post, without even noticing it I went along with the stereotype, and Belladonna Took wrote, “It absolutely fascinates me that you consider Americans ‘blunt and to the point.’ Maybe that’s true over on the East Coast, but here in the Pacific Northwest? Oh dear, hmmm, I think perhaps it may be a little different. (Note: Everything in the preceding sentence after ‘Oh dear’ is Pacific Northwestese for ‘Oh hell no.’ And it’s pronounced in a lilting smiley voice, so I should probably insert lots of smiley faces. Only stuff it, I won’t, because I’m from Johannesburg.)

“…I had lived here two years before it finally dawned on me that when smiling women remarked, “You’re very direct, aren’t you?” they weren’t actually complimenting me.”

Irrelevant photo: flowers growing in a drystone wall Irrelevant photo: flowers growing in a…

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Voluptuous, vivacious and versatile – that’s me!

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My first taste of internet sex was back in the Nineties, when the World Wide Web was a flimsy new creation draped over the moldering corpses of newly extinguished dinosaurs. My business partner and I heard about it (the web, that is; we had no clue about its pornographic potential) and decided we needed to get connected. Boffins installed a modem, did mysterious things to our computers, told us many things that we wrote down and hoped one day to understand, and left us to unravel the mysteries of email and web surfing.

Those boffins were mischievous young men. In the course of getting me set up they signed me onto an online dating site, so when I finally figured out how to open my email I found it awash in penises. There were startling measurements, intriguing claims, invitations to conduct a personal inspection at a time and place of my choosing, and even photographs.

Young surprised woman sitting in front of laptop.

Surprise! (Source)

Nowadays, of course, we can find exactly the same stuff on Craigslist, but back then it made me blink a bit. There were a few penis-free emails (well, not totally penis-free, but the penis was implied rather than being central to the message) and I responded to some of those and it was all rather entertaining, except that it bothered me that all these hopeful young men clearly had expectations based on an ad that didn’t necessarily my reflect my personal inclinations. I eventually got one of my cyber-swains to send a link to the ad and, yeah, it was pretty much as expected. So I deleted it … and replaced it with my own creation, headed: “Voluptuous, Vivacious and Versatile Sweetheart”. Something along those lines, anyway.

And, well, apparently this description still applies, since I have just lately been honored with a Versatile Blogger Award AND a Liebster Award. (Liebster means “sweetheart”, according to Herr Professor Google.)

I have a rule when it comes to awards, which is that their rules don’t apply. My blog, my rules – okay? On the other hand, I do appreciate the compliment, and I welcome the excuse to introduce bloggers I enjoy to bloggers (and others) who enjoy me. (My writing, I mean. Let’s not get carried away here – the penis story is over, folks!)

So here is Jamila, whose blog Thisizapen is a fun read. She’s bright and articulate, and she has a zest for life and an eye for the absurd that bubbles out in her writing. Hop on over and enjoy. And Jamila, thanks for the Liebster. You now have five reasons why I think you’re epic, and maybe I’ll answer more of your questions … one day.

Also, I’d like to introduce My Perfect Breakdown, who writes mainly about the challenges of recurrent pregnancy loss and cross-border adoption. This is a world so far from my experience that I honestly don’t know how I stumbled upon her blog, but she writes with such honesty and so much feeling that I find myself compelled to stick around. I’d encourage you to pay her a visit. And Ms MPB, thanks for the Versatile Blogger Award! Some random facts about me coming up!

Okay, now I’m supposed to nominate a total of 26 bloggers, but that’s just silly, so I’m just going to pick three for each award.

liebster-award

First, the Liebster, which is for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Not all these bloggers reveal their numbers, but they’re all new to the blogiverse so I’m taking a crazy chance and nominating them anyway.
Living Between Breaths is by a mom who lost her teenage son last year to a brain aneurysm. Her courage takes my breath away.
Tim at Party of One, Meal for Two is a young gay man who writes with heart and humor about his search for a life partner.
Absynthe Minded’s Fairy Dust is all sorts of this and that – something very new by a talented blogger.

versatile-bloggerNext, for the Versatile Blogger Award I’d like to nominate:
Fiona’s Favourites, mainly because it’s fun but a little because she’s a fellow South African. Also, her recipes are wonderful!
The Tempest and the Teapot, which is every bit as amusingly random as the name implies.
Exile on Pain Street, who has been writing entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking vignettes about his life for the past quarter century or so – and I know this because, in addition to commenting on life today, he periodically publishes a post from one of his old journals. It’s good stuff!

Right, and now I get to talk some more about me… and … umm, no, I simply can’t bring myself to answer a list of questions-about-myself per the award rules. I don’t read lists like that posted by other people either. Sorry, not trying to be rude, and I really do appreciate the vote of confidence, but trust me on this – my list of answers would be very, very boring.

So … instead of lists, here are some odds and ends I found in my “potential blog posts” pile, for your reading entertainment.

Search terms

Sooner or later, every blogger writes a post about the search terms used to find their blog, and when I read these posts I’m consumed with envy because having bizarre and creepy search terms is second only to having a dedicated troll. They let you know you’ve arrived in the blogiverse. Well, things are going a little slowly here … Since December, the search term that most commonly brings anyone to my blog is “bookworm costume”. Really, Google? Yes, my parents did indeed perpetrate a bookworm costume upon my person – but there is so much more to me than that!

Things did look up a little last month, when someone found me by searching for “2015 hot fat sugar granny who want to…” hmm, yes, I’ll leave the rest of that one to your imaginations. Suffice to say that this site must have been quite the disappointment. But it raises a concern. If I want to be noticed (and yes, to be honest, I do, a little bit, anyway), and if I don’t want to be perceived merely as an unreliable authority on Really Terrible Fancy Dress Ideas For Dweebs, do I have to write more about bodily functions? Because I can do that – but if I do, will you still respect me in the morning?

So a parrot walks into a bar…

Not really. It was a restaurant, and I didn’t see the parrot walk in because it was already there when we arrived. I saw it sitting on a big hunk of tree branch, and I got all excited because it was an African grey, and – as everyone knows – they are really smart and interesting and, in every possible way, evidence that African is better. Since this happened during Himself’s first visit to South Africa, I was eager to embrace any opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental and broad-ranging superiority of all things African to him.

So I rushed over to the parrot to get acquainted, and he crooned in a friendly sort of way. A passing waitperson warned me, “Be careful – he bites!” … and the parrot cocked his head and did a little dance on the end of the branch closest to me. I sidled closer, and he leaned, and he crooned, and I murmured sweet nothings, and boop-de-boop he hopped onto my arm and scuttled up to my shoulder.

Awww... ain't that cute! And Not depraved at all!

Awww… ain’t that cute! (If you ignore the depraved look in his eye.) (Source)

“Oh boy … he likes you,” commented another waitperson in tones of gloom. Feeling rather smug, I pranced around the restaurant a bit, enjoying the other patrons’ looks of envy. The parrot nibbled my ear and crooned a bit more. I sat down to eat, and he shared my salad. He snuggled up really close to me, and sort of cuddled. It was so sweet!

“That bird is humping your shoulder,” commented my adoring spouse.

“Oh rubbish!” I said, and offered the parrot another nibble of something tasty. The parrot sort of shuddered, ruffled all his feathers, crooned again, and commenced to hump my ear.

I raised my hand in an attempt at gentle discouragement and – YIKES! “They told you he bites,” remarked Himself, dispassionately.

I became aware that the other patrons were not, in fact, looking envious … although they certainly were looking, and they seemed to be enjoying the show. In fact, I had the feeling that some were regulars who had seen this show before, and would continue to enjoy it for as long as there were tourists to keep it running. It was time to dislodge Humpty Parrot. My head held high, I walked the length of the restaurant and nudged my shoulder against his branch in an encouraging, get-the-hell-offa-me way.

He scuttled to my other shoulder, clamped my ear with his beak and, with a glazed expression in his beady parrot eye, commenced frottage upon my pony tail. It took the manager and two waitpersons, armed with large towels, to get the bloody bird off me.

And I have to say, I think the applause, as I walked back to my seat, was entirely unnecessary.

While on the subject of body parts…

… in the context of the fact that South Africa just is better, did you see what our boys have done now?

Seriously, I’ve always enjoyed opportunities to brag about us pioneering heart transplants. And I think it says a lot about our values as a nation that we started with the heart. But this? It just makes a girl proud!

Awww ... ain't that cute!

Awww … ain’t that cute! (Source)

So … your turn. Have you ever found true love/had sex online? And has this ever involved a parrot? Did you find this blog by googling “lonely African grey needs love”?

WordPress – You don’t decide who is Popular

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I don’t especially like Opinionated Man’s blog. I followed him way back because he was one of the first bloggers to follow American Soustannie, and he had a number of posts that I, as a baby blogger, found helpful. But after a while I unfollowed him, for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to take my time about figuring out how this whole blogging thing works (and I was more interested in creating something I liked, that expressed who I was, than in generating huge numbers of followers, which is a big part of what he’s about. If you want to be a power blogger, he will tell you how!) Also, he posted too often for my taste, and some of his posts annoyed me. (Like he says, he’s opinionated!)

But even though I’m not a fan, I’m grateful to Jason for what he does, and I see him as an important member of the WordPress community. Like when I, as a really new blogger, used his platform to introduce myself to the world. Some visitors stopped by as a result of that. I’m not sure whether any of them actually followed me, but that’s not the point. The point is, Jason the Opinionated Man gave me a chance to be seen – and if I’d wanted to continue hanging out with his crowd there would have been many more opportunities to promote this blog – because that’s one of the things he does. He has intentionally set up his blog to provide a communal platform that pretty much anyone, as far as I know, can use.

Opinionated Man has created a platform for a network that sustains the WordPress community. Even though I don't necessarily want to be locked into it all the time, I like knowing it's there.

Opinionated Man has created a platform for a network that sustains the WordPress community. Even though I don’t necessarily want to be locked into it all the time, I like knowing it’s there.

So okay, I followed for a bit, then I unfollowed. Every now and then I’d see a reference to his blog somewhere and I’d pop in, check him out, usually learn something new, and then move on. The free market in action. It WORKS, guys, really it does!

Does he read every blog he follows? Probably not. Certainly he’s never commented on mine, although he liked one or two posts back in the day when the encouragement meant a lot to me, before I got a little bit established. Do I want to blog the way he does? Nope; my priorities are different. But so what? I figure it’s not my job to judge how he manages his blog or how he uses his blogging time. What I see is a guy with an unusually community-oriented approach to the blogiverse; I see someone who appears to answer every comment anyone leaves on his blog (and there are many), and who actively tries to help other bloggers both by providing a platform and by answering requests for advice.

And now I see WordPress making his life difficult and, in the process, taking something away from the overall WordPress blogger community.

Recently I became aware of some kind of turmoil surrounding Jason’s blog. I still don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but it seems the powers that be within WordPress decided they didn’t like his Power Blogger approach and restricted some of his activity. So his supporters created a bit of an uproar, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who didn’t like what WP was doing and re-followed him in order to keep track of events, and WP reinstated whatever it was they had taken away. So far so good.

Well, apparently now WP is at it again. And once again I don’t know the details, and I don’t expect them to affect a little fish like me … but I have to take issue on the basis of principle.

To be quite clear, I think WP has the right to set whatever rules they like, and shape this platform any way they like. They own it. I can’t walk into a store and tell them how to run their business.

But in the same spirit, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, because I think they’re jerks. I hate the way they treat their staff and their suppliers, the fact that a huge amount of the stuff they sell comes direct from the sweatshop to you appalls me, and their chilling effect on the economies of small communities scares me. So I won’t go there and I preach against them at any opportunity. Equally, I choose to shop at Yokes as often as I can, even though I can’t afford to do all my shopping there, because I like the fact that they’re employee-owned and that they support small local farmers and they have a good range of organic products. That’s because I believe in putting my money where my values are.

I think the same kind of choice may be arising here. I’m probably not going to up and leave immediately if Opinionated Man does, because it’s a hassle and I’m just starting to feel comfortable in this blogging thing … but the fact that WP is restricting the way in which a respected colleague runs his blog will definitely impinge on my comfort level. It’s likely that I’ll start looking around, familiarizing myself with the alternative options. And I’ll be watching to see if there is a pattern of behavior emerging here that I don’t want to live with.

How do you make your choices?

How do you make your choices?

I was just going to “like” Jason’s post and hope that a few of my followers would read it … but then it occurred to me that this made an interesting follow-on to my last post. This whole situation, and how I feel about it, and how it influences my future choices vis-a-vis blogging – in a small way, it’s about my personal values. And the thing is, I believe in freedom – including the freedom to post things that people find obnoxious, and the freedom to follow or not follow, like or not like.

What do you think? When you choose a provider of a service or a product, do you care about whether their values match yours? And if so, does it bother you that WordPress might be bullying one of its most influential and effective bloggers?