Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beautiful Maria of My Soul

New books are generally released on Tuesdays. I know this because I've worked in a bookstore for four years. So, every Tuesday, I go to my store and check out the new releases.

A few Tuesdays ago, I saw this book:


Oh my God, what a gorgeous title! Beautifulbeautifulbeautiful!!! It took my breath away. I carried that book around with me for a while, sharing the title with anyone who stood still in front of me for any length of time. In all my life, I could not remember a title of a book ever having that sort of affect on me. Plus, it was written by a Latino, and I love Latino writers. I love their prose and the loveliness of their words.

I had to read this book. I glanced at the blurb on the back of the jacket and found out that it was based on another novel by Oscar Hijuelos called "Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love."

Ah yes! I've heard of this book before but where?? Then it came to me; this book had won the Pulitzer years ago. Must be good then! So I bought a copy and took it home.

I went to my online book club and did a search for reviews. This is what I found. Mostly bad reviews. Bad. My heart felt heavy because I was so excited about finding these books. I almost threw it away but my sense of tossing out something I've paid cold cash for went against my grain. I figured I would give it a try. 15 pages. 25 pages. Big yawn. 30 pages..hmmm. 35 pages, wow. 40? And I am hooked, hooked into one of the best books I have read in a long long time! Wonderful! I am so wrapped up in the lives of Nestor and Cesar Castillo and Delores and yes, Maria! that I can hardly bear to put the book down and turn off the light at night. I can't wait to add MY review to those at my book club. I can't wait to rave and rant and go on like a maniac. Yes, a raving maniac!

What I learned? Do not put much faith into reviews. Try a book, taste it feel it breathe it live it and then, decide for yourself,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chicken and Stuffing Bake

My friend Brittney bought the Taste of Home Cookbook that I've been using once a week and sharing with y'all. She made this simple dish and said it was really good. Brit is 6 months pregnant and works full time so simple dishes are her preference right now.

This Sunday, I decided simple was my preference too.

Here is the recipe:

1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 cup milk
1 package (6 ounces) stuffing mix
2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
2 cups fresh broccoli florets, cooked
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese, divided
In a large bowl, combine soup and milk until blended. Add the stuffing mix with contents of seasoning packet, chicken, broccoli, celery and 1 cup cheese. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.
Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 20 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Yield: 8 servings.

These are the simple ingredients and even just-blended, it looks good:

I made a mistake and didn't get shredded Swiss cheese but remedying that was no problem:

Here is the finished product and believe it or not, the broccoli 'made' the dish:

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Fish Who Screamed

When I was a little girl, I was the love of all the little boys in my neighborhood. Was it because of my hair? Noo. My smile? Nooo. Was it because I was a charming, feminine little sweet heart. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! It was because I loved to clean fish.

One of the fathers in my neighborhood built crafted cabin cruisers for a living. He did this in his garage and they were gorgeous. So they always had a boat, of course, and would take all the boys fishing. They always caught quite few fish. When they got home with their catch, one of the first things they would do is come and get me.

"Hey Beej! We got fish!"

That's all I would need to hear and I would race through whatever was doing so I could go clean fish.

Those boys did not hang around to help. They'd take off to play ball or watch tv. I preferred it this way, too. I'd sit there with newspapers and a knife and a big bucket or two of fish and I was in my glory.

I think I can still remember the process; scrape the scales off. Cut off the head. Cut off the tail. Split the belly and clean out the innards. Cut the fish into two sides. Fun fun fun!!!!

This went on for several years of fishing season. Leave me alone with that bucket of dead fish and a knife and I was in hog heaven! Then one day, something really disturbing happened...

Scrape the scales, cut off the tail..cut off the head...and the damned fish squeaked long and loud at me. It was alive! I was sure it was alive! I threw that thing in the air and took off running and screaming, tossing the knife behind me. Oh. My. God. Little me had cut off the head of a LIVING FISH!! Murderer! I was a fish murderer!

Well, the boys finished playing whatever they were playing and went to get the fish which they were certain had been cleaned and filleted. Instead, they saw a couple of finished fish, a bucket full of a lot more unfinished fish, and a partially cleaned fish down by the curb next to the sidewalk. They came to my door.

I tried to hide but my mom ratted on me and told them I was home. They marched into my bedroom and found me (rather quickly) in the closet where I was hiding.

"Why didn't you finish the fish?" Gary asked.

"Yeah, why?" asked Tommy. "My dad is going to be mad when he sees I didn't clean them."

"hey, I'm sorry guys. One was alive and when I tried to cut the head off it shrieked at me! I'm not cleaning your old stinky fish ever again!"

With that and a toss of my hair over my shoulder, I firmly plopped myself on my bed and crossed my arms. I mean business. I didn't care how mad they got.

To my surprise, they started to laugh.

"Leave it to a girl!" Gary said.

"Beej, the fish was dead. You hit the lungs and air squeaked out is all!"

I hated them right then. Not only was my fish cleaning, which I had loved to do, a thing of the past, they were making fun of me.

I looked at them and they looked at me.

"What you boys waiting for?" I asked.

"Don't you have a bunch of fish to clean?"

Paolo Santos

I was browsing over at youtube and came across this guy. I don't know if he's famous but I've never heard of him before. I immediately fell in love with his voice and ooohhh, it goes so well with that acoustic guitar.

A Lizardly Lesson

Tweetey has shown some curiosity about my lizards even tho she says she is not fond of them. A little background on our Beardies; we got these two about eight years ago when they were very very young, probably no more than a month or two old.

These were not our first lizards. We had a Giant Bearded Dragon, which is what we have now (except these are not Giants), and had taken a week's vacation to Virginia Beach. We boarded that lizard, which we also raised from a juvenile, at a respected place that specialized in reptiles and had a reptile room that they opened up to visitors. When we got back home, there was a frantic message on our answering machine from the owner of the place, (who was known as Noah, tho I don't think that was his real name.)

I returned Noah's call to find out someone had grabbed our lizard from his cage and had run out of the door with him. The police had been called. There had been a rash of robberies of exotic animals from pet stores, and our lizard was one of many pets that had been stolen around southern Virginia, where we lived.

Who could be so heartless as to steal this little boy's pet???

My son tried to be very brave but a few tears ran down his little cheeks so Noah gave him a baby lizard and we bought another. And that's how we ended up with these two love bugs.

Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are from the desert of Southeastern Australia and first appeared in the USA in the early 1990's. They quickly became a favorite among reptile lovers because they are so calm and because of their dinosaur like appearance. They are incredibly docile, enjoy being held and hand fed and are often seen waving their arms at their owners.

Bearded Dragons are called such because they display a black beard as a defense mechanism (called 'headbanging.') It's usually a male thing but I have seen my female do it too.

When Beardies lay eggs, that group of eggs is called a 'Clutch.' Our female has laid about 4 or 5 clutches, none of them hatched, but I don't know why..maybe the humidity was wrong and that's a vital thing..or maybe they were infertile eggs since I did not candle them. Each time she laid over a dozen eggs, and not that small in size, either.

These Beardies are less than a year old but the video will give you some idea of how big these eggs are:

There is another neat thing about Bearded Dragons; they can be forced into a deep sleep, called brumation, which is sort like a two or three month hibernation. I have never done this but often breeders will force brumation in order to bring on ovulation. During brumation Beardies can be placed in a shoebox and set on a closet shelf for the duration. They are not dead! Their body functions have simply slowed down to almost nothing.

I love my lizards, and recommend Beardies to everyone. The are affectionately referred to as the kittens of the lizard world and they really deserve that title.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blessed Fathers


The Story Behind The Picture

"Maneesha is the smallest baby I have every photographed. She was born prematurely at twenty-eight weeks gestation, weighing 608 grams (a little under 1.5 pounds), and was just about to leave the hospital after her long stay. I am sure I'm not the only person fascinated by the continual progressive medical advances to save babies who are born too early and would not otherwise survive.

At around this time, I was beginning to photograph more and more newborn babies as opposed to older children. I thought it would be wonderful to show how tiny these premature babies are — but also how perfect. I felt the best way to do this would be to contrast the baby in some very large hands — but where to find them?

I telephoned the local police station and fire brigade — after all, aren't policemen traditionally supposed to have big feet and hands? Of course they all thought it was hilarious, but were most helpful because the fax machine ran hot with outlines of hands coming through. I also placed an advertisement in the local paper for 'a man with very large hands for a photo shoot'. As you can imagine we had some interesting replies. Eventually, I auditioned about ten (mostly embarrassed) men, some of whom were brought in by their wives, not necessarily willingly! Jack's hands happened to be the second largest, but he had a warm, gentle personality, which was essential for the shoot. I just felt he was perfect for the job.

In the meantime, I started making enquires to the neonatal ward at our local hospital. I had a meeting with one of their specialist pediatricians and outlined my idea for the image. Naturally I was concerned that there be absolutely no risk involved; in fact, I was so concerned that without realizing it I must have kept repeating this point to the doctor. He finally said that I should stop worrying so much, he understood what I was trying to achieve, and he would help to put me in touch with the parents of a baby at the hospital who he thought would be perfect.

I was introduced to baby Maneesha's parents, a lovely couple, who agreed to be a part of the shoot. Maneesha would soon be ready to go home for the first time, and her parents were understandably very excited. When I first saw Maneesha in her incubator, she looked so incredibly small and fragile. She was attached to all manner of wires and tubes which, to a layperson like myself, can be quite intimidating. On the side of her incubator was a label saying 'I'm in the Kilo Club' and I learned that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) is a significant weight milestone for premature babies. Maneesha weighed just 1 kilogram at the time of the shoot. Even her pacifier was minute; they make a special size for premature babies.

Maneesha's shoot took place at the hospital, in an anteroom directly outside the neonatal ward. I set up a small background in this very limited space, some simple lighting and a chair for Jack. One of the reasons for using this small room was because it could be effectively heated — most important, as Maneesha would be naked and the temperature needed to be similar to her incubator.

I can imagine how emotional it must have been for Jack to hold such a tiny and precious human being. It certainly was for me. That day Maneesha had been completely disconnected from all her machinery, and I remember when I settled her into Jack's huge hands and was photographing her, the look of amazement and wonder on her mother's face.

I next photographed Maneesha when she was a very healthy four-year-old and I have a funny story to tell about her at that time. I wanted an updated photo for my book, Until Now, to show what wonderful progress she had made since she left the hospital. By then she had a new baby brother and they both came to the studio. They were sitting side-by-side on a chair in readiness for a portrait together and, in true sibling-rivalry form, Maneesha obviously decided that she was not prepared to share the limelight. Without taking her eyes off the camera and with a huge smile on her face, she promptly pushed her little brother Aakash, sideways off the chair! No harm was done, apart from some slightly wounded pride, but I suppose that's what all the little brothers of the world have to suffer from time to time."

A Labor of Love
by Anne Geddes


Maneesha, 12 years old.


And now from the sublime to the bitter truth ridiculous on this Father's Day:


Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Little of This and A Little of That.

I feel dissatisfied today. I think I know why; I spent some time with Cynthia because she wanted me to help her set up a blog but she became super frustrated with the slowness of it all so we didn't get very far. Plus, we did it at my bookstore and every five minutes someone came up to talk to me so I could not focus. Eventually we will get it done.

It has been horribly hot here the last week or so and I didn't want to turn on the oven so for dinner I steamed some scallops, made a fresh cole slaw, pasta salad and garlic bread. it was tasty, light and cool. Good job, Beej!

Y'all have heard about my lizards. I wanted to share this with you. It's a video of a bearded dragon, which is what I have, (this is a juvenile; both of mine are much much bigger.) but I wanted to convey how absolutely adorable they are:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chef Beej

I bought a new cookbook a couple of weeks ago. This is not a strange thing, I work in a book store and we sell rows and rows of cookbooks. What's new is that I actually bought one. I browse through them all the time but either the recipes don't appeal to me or the ingredients would take a month of Sundays to track down. But not this one:

Now don't let the word 'diet' turn you off. The recipes in this book are just normal recipes except they include carb count, calories etc. As far as I can tell, that's all that means.

ANYWAY, I decided to try a recipe a week out of this book. Last week I made this New England Seafood Chowder:

New England Seafood Chowder

4 pounds haddock fillets, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 pound bay scallops
4 bacon strips, diced
3 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups diced peeled potatoes
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Place haddock in a Dutch oven; cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add the shrimp and scallops; simmer 10 minutes longer. Drain, reserving 2 cups cooking liquid; set liquid and seafood aside.
In a soup kettle, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp; drain on paper towels. In the drippings, saute onions until tender. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually stir in reserved cooking liquid. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat. Add potatoes; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Add the milk, seafood, butter, parsley, salt, lemon-pepper and pepper; heat through. Sprinkle with bacon. Yield: 15 servings (3-3/4 quarts).

Now, I changed it a bit, used flounder and only 2 lbs of it and added a lb of scallops and a lb of shrimp and then I cut everything else in half. It was incredibly good. (Just don't do what I did; I inadvertently flavored the bacon with finger..ouch.)

Tonight I made this, a pepper crusted beef roast accompanied by a horseradish sauce:


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon seasoned pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 boneless beef eye round roast (4 to 5 pounds)

1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
In a small bowl, combine the oil, seasoned pepper, garlic, thyme and salt; rub over roast. Place fat side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
Bake, uncovered, at 325° for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a meat thermometer should read 145°; medium, 160°; well-done, 170°). Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients. Serve with roast. Yield: 10-12 servings.

This is what the pepper coating looks like prior to being put on the roast:

I used several different kinds of seasoned pepper and it was WONDERFUL!

Here it is on the roast prior to cooking:

Now, the horseradish sauce is great, too, but let me warn you, it packs a wallop.(but I like that.)

Touch of Home has a good site which not only has all the recipes from the book but also you can push a button and they will put together the grocery list for you. I like that.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Lion King; from Rags to Riches

Bolivian courts recently ruled it illegal for circuses in that country to hold hostage any performing animals. As a result, four lions were releaeed into a natural setting refuge center run by PAWS (Performing Animals Welfare Society.)

These lions had been living in rusted cages hauled about in the back of a truck. They had never in their lives felt grass under their feet.

Each time I watch these videos, I cry. I cry from the joy of seeing this happen and from the sadness of knowing there are so many other performing animals who are yet to be rescued.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Am Gayle

I spent a vast part of yesterday with my best friend, DOCTOR Cynthia Mathews.

Yup, I've written about her before and yup, she has finally been awarded her doctorate; she is a Doctor of Educational Motivation.

I am so proud of her. I cannot even begin to express how proud I am. Cynthia came from such humble beginnings, in the deep South, from a poor family who did not understand why a black female would even bother with all that education...two bachelor degrees, two masters degrees and now a doctorate. To be honest, I think it was her background that motivated her.

Anyway, we were in her car and had pulled up to a restaurant parking lot (Usually when Cynthia and I go anywhere, food is involved..) I began to get out of the car.

"Beej, wait a minute. I want to show you something."

She reached into the back seat and grabbed a large tome. It was her dissertation. She thumbed through the pages, stopped and handed it to me. There was the list of acknowledgements. First off, right at the top, heading the list, I saw my name. There it was. Anal me, who drove her just short of nuts going through mounds of papers up at Troy University library, counting and recording dozens and dozens of kids' responses to a questionnaire she had compiled. I'm telling you, she laughed at how I nitpicked each kids answers to make certain I added it to the correct list of responses. Nonetheless, she must have felt I helped despite how much I irritated her because there I was, heading the list.

"Well? What do you think?" she asked me.

"Cynthia, I think I am the Gayle to your Oprah."

"For sure, Beej."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Lesson in Persistence (Or Never Doubt Your Hunches.)

My dad used to tell this story and swore it was true.

There once was a man whom we will call 'Pete.' I don't really know his name but we need to call him something and 'Pete' works as well as anything.

He worked hard in a factory where one of the perks was that he could borrow tools as long as he signed them out with the security guard who was stationed at the factory entry gate.

Almost every Friday, Pete would push a wheelbarrow loaded with tools up to the guard, sign the sheet which listed each tool and leave. Every Monday he would bring the tools back, go over the borrowed inventory list with the guard and return the tools.

"What are you building, Pete?" the guard would periodically ask.

"Oh nuthin' much." Pete would always answer.

This went on for months and months and the plant supervisor would watch Pete wheel out the tools each Friday.

"I have a hunch he's stealing tools." the supervisor thought to himself.

So each Monday afternoon, he would stroll down to the security guard's station and go over the list of Pete's borrowed tools. And every Tuesday he would find Pete and ask him what he was building that he needed so many tools. And each time, Pete would answer,

"Nuthin' much."

"I just have a hunch.." the supervisor thought to himself.

This supervisor was a quick thinking man and he decided he would do a bit of investigating but no matter how many times he checked that growing list of borrowed tools, he would always find each and every one had been returned on Monday morning.

After almost a year of this, Pete was handed a pink slip.

"I don't understand why I'm being fired!" he roared.

"Well, Pete," the supervisor calmly said, "You know all those times you borrowed a wheelbarrow full of tools?"

"Well, yeah, but you know I returned each and every one of them!"

"Maybe so, Pete. But you stole 50 wheelbarrows."

The moral? Follow your hunches.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Casting directors are sending actresses into a panic; no more parts to those who have had plastic surgery. They are unable to show emotional expressions on their faces. The average film goer cannot relate to a 60 year old woman who looks 19.

Well, golly gee. When did your bright light go off? Did it happen when Jessica Simpson posed with no makeup and allowed no air brushing for her cover shoot for Marie Claire magazine?

Or did you decide natural was better after Brazilian catwalk model, Ana Carolina Reston starved herself to death for her career?



Recently, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb surprised the audience by showing up to host the Today show without a drop of makeup on. Madonna also released a photo of herself prior to airbrushing, even tho she has had a face lift and botox treatment. They all looked their ages. And they are were gorgeous.

And what about Heidi Montag? This lovely young lady had 10 surgical procedures at one fell swoop.


At 23, what reason would she have to do this?

I don't really care who has what treatment or how much money anyone pays to look (sometimes ridiculously) young. What I do care about is that our daughters..and lets face it, we moms...look at these perfect featured, prefect figured celebrities and we sort of become brainwashed into believing that we do not measure up if we aren't as perfect as they are. You can't tell me this isn't what Montag was thinking!

But hopefully, Hollywood..London..Paris.. is waking up and realizing that we are all beautiful in our own way. We don't benefit by having artificially sculpted faces and figures to whom we must compare ourselves. And maybe the next generation of young females can proceed through life without starving themselves or feeling less than adequate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


"Come here."

"Let me pour us some more wine first."

Pour the wine, Toast one another and take a long sip. Turn off the lights and light the candles. Slip off the shoes. Turn on the music. Hold each other. Slow dance.

Blow out the candles...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Reuben Sandwich

For some reason, lately I've been extraordinarily preoccupied with thoughts of food. I had a doctor's appointment last week and I was really worried that I might have gained a slew of pounds. But, alas and to my delight, I had gained not a single pound! Okay. That's a lie; I gained four pounds in the last year. Four little itty bitty pounds. (But, come to think of it, if you try to picture four pounds of pure fat..well, a-hem..it's not a pretty thought. But oh well..)

ANYWAY, I've been craving various certain delectables; one day buffalo wings smothered in Louisiana hot sauce, another day, a big box of Captain D's fish. Today I'm craving a Reuben Sandwich.

After I post this, I'm going to the store and get some rye bread, corned beef, (or pastrami. it's basically the same thing.) thousand island dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. To my benefit, I don't care for dressing on my Reuben. so that's a bit of calorie intake chopped off right there. (Maybe I'll double the Swiss cheese to make up for it, tho.)

Most people take slices of corned beef and top a pile of it with sauerkraut or cole slaw and then melt Swiss cheese on top of that. I don't do it that way; I chop up the corned beef and cook it right in with the sauerkraut. Yum yum YUMMMMMMYY!

I did one of my obsessive searches on youtube.com to see if there was a video about Reuben sandwiches, Sure enough, I found this..and who woulda known Charlie Chaplin was inadvertently responsible for the invention of the Reuben! (and who is 'Reuben,' anyway? Watch this and you'll soon discover..):

Oh yes, I almost forgot to add; A Reuben just is not a Reuben without the pickle on the side.


Breathtakingly beautiful. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

China; The 'No Fly' Zone

John:"There are no flies in China."

This is a comment John made to me at 5:30 this morning. At that time of the day it's not rare that I hear things incorrectly. This had to be one of those times.

Me:"Um, could you repeat that, please."

John:"I said, there are no flies in China."

Me:"What happened to them?"

John:"Haven't you heard of communism?"

Me:"Well, of course, but what does communism have to do with flies?"

John:"There was a time when the Republic of China required everyone to turn in a certain number of flies."

Me:'Oh...what happened if someone couldn't find a fly to turn in?"

John:"Then they didn't turn in a fly."

Me: "Would they get executed if they didn't? I mean that would really suck to lose your life over a dead fly.."

John:"I dunno."

Me:"Oh..where did you hear this?"

John:"Everybody knows that."

Everybody does NOT know that. I did not know that. But then again, I did not know what 'I feel like a mushroom' meant either and it turned out I was about the only person alive who didn't know what that meant.

I drank my coffee and went to the computer and did a search on 'flies in China.' No crap..it was true! Apparently, everyone was required to turn in ten flies at a time.

I love this idea. Because I hate flies. Flies are the most despicable creatures alive. Well, the second...grasshoppers are worse. (I still hate you, Eddie Margarvo.) But flies run a close second. they poo and tee and barf wherever they land. Even their young are horrible maggotty little pieces of filth.

Yesterday I took a long nap and when I awoke, I poured myself a cup of coffee left over from the morning's brew. I took it outside to our patio, set it on the green wicker table anad turned around to let the dog outside. I sat down, reached for my coffee and there, swimming around in my cuppa joe is a fly. And I mean swimming. The thing was doing the breast stroke. I was frozen with disgust as I watched it streatch its black ugly front legs up and down and in and out of my coffee. It was obviously enjoying itself. Swimming. In my coffee. I half expected it to flip over and fancy itself with the back stroke. Needless to say, the coffee was thrown in the grass.

I love youtube. There is absolutely nothing you can't find there. So I figured folks would not believe me that this once-maggot piece of flith was swimming unless I had proof. Sure enough, I found this:

Gotta love that youtube.com.
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