The importance of being Ernest

It's hard to believe four years have passed since I drove to Ligonier, IN to decide which four week old puppy would eventually come home with me. I like confident dogs, and when Ernie fell asleep with a stranger holding him, I knew he was the one. He was unflappable at four weeks and hasn't changed a bit since.

I got a sign that evening of another aspect of Ern's personality: his single-minded devotion to his own comfort. There were four puppies in the litter, and three of them were huddled together asleep. When we put Ernie down, he walked over, looked at them, and then climbed on top and went to sleep himself. His sister's wails of protest didn't phase him one bit. He snored away while the others wiggled beneath him. He's been climbing on me, hogging the couch, and stealing my pillows ever since.

I went back to pick him up when he was 8 weeks old. He'd grown a good bit and resembled a fuzzy brick with small legs and big brown eyes. He'd gotten cold that morning, so the breeder bought him a red argyle sweater to wear on the drive to Indy. As she passed him off to me, I learned something else about Ernie: nothing interrupts his naptime. He was passed from the breeder to me, put in a car, and driven off, and he only woke up for the briefest moment to give us a hard stare for disrupting his sleep. Only 45 minutes later did he wake up, poke his brown face out of the box, and try to figure out what was going on. That's Ernie, always keeping his priorities in order.

While he can be a pampered little bull of a dog, he's also one of the happiest and most loving animals you'll ever met. He worked as a therapy dog at a nursing home and always seemed to know exactly what to do. He was exceedingly patient as he was held, petted, kissed, and passed from stranger to stranger. Nothing phased him, not a strange smell or face or a wheelchair or whirring machine. He looked at every resident with wide-eyed love and acceptance, as if they were the most wonderful person he'd ever seen. A nurse told me that Ernie's visit marked the first time they'd seen one particularly grim woman smile in the six weeks she'd been there. She became a regular on his rounds, and her face would light up every week when she saw him coming. He settled in beside her in bed and would have been happy to remain there as long as she wanted him. I've never been so proud of my little boy.

So to my headstrong, happy, silly, patient, loving, good-hearted little boy:
Happy 4th Birthday!!!


Easy dinner: Baked Ziti

Yes, I use penne instead of ziti, but "baked penne" doesn't have the same ring. Feel free to substitute ziti if you'd like.

Baked Ziti

1 lb penne
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 T fresh or 1 t dried basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1/4 t sugar
1 t salt + more for pasta cooking water
1/3 c grated Parmesan
8 oz mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375.

Boil penne in salted water.

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic until it begins to turn golden (about 2 minutes). Stir in crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with juice. Cook sauce until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar, 1 t salt, and basil.

Add drained pasta to sauce and stir thoroughly. Add half to a 13x9 in. casserole dish. Top with half of the mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Add the rest of the pasta and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden brown.


Pass the book!

Beginning October 3rd, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library will launch its "Pass the Book" experiment. Check out the video to learn more!

Pass The Book with Books by John Green from Indianapolis Marion Co. Pub. Lib on Vimeo.

Shameless plug

Giving some love to one of my favorite states that's had a little trouble lately. Michigan in the fall is truly spectacular!


My beefy little secret

I don't eat mammals. I last had a burger in '94 and can't really say I've missed them much. This makes it all the more strange that one of my favorite destinations on the web is A Hamburger Today. An offshoot of Serious Eats, AHT is a website devoted to the (obsessive) love of the burger.

Why would such a site interest a semi-vegetarian? Part of it is anthropological curiosity. A relatively temperate person myself, I've always been fascinated with subcultures passionately devoted to a subject, be it Star Trek or burgers. But main reason I make AHT a regular read is the high quality of their writing. So many restaurant reviews these days are middle of the road exercises that leave me uncertain if the writer even liked the place (Indy Star, I'm looking at you!). AHT offers well-written, well-reasoned, painstakingly demanding reviews of hamburgers. No restaurant is off limits. They'll try anything from a .79 fast food burger to a $20 upscale burger. Even though the reviews serve no practical purpose for me, I enjoy quality food writing the way they enjoy a quality burger. Until Jeffrey Steingarten comes out with a new book, I'll get my fix at AHT.

Photo by Jef Poskanzer via Wikimedia Commons


Beware the Chinese donut!

One of the highlights of our recent trip to San Francisco was sampling dim sum at the City View restaurant. Since the servers spoke little English, part of the fun was checking out the carts as they rolled by and trying mystery dishes. But when it came time for dessert, we didn't expect a mystery. The waitress clearly said "Chinese donut" and pointed to three long cylinders of dough coated with what we thought was icing. Since the answer to "Donut?" is always "Yes!", we pointed to the pastry and passed up the rice puddings, almond jellos, and sesame balls on offer.

The first sign of trouble came when the waitress snipped the rolls into three sections each and drenched them in what appeared to be soy sauce. But that couldn't be right because soy sauce on a donut = crazy talk. Kurt began to look skeptical at this point, but I naively assumed that it must be a sweet sauce of some sort.

Oh, how wrong I was. While I won't say the Chinese donut is bad, the soy drenched center and slippery, flavorless exterior were quite a shock at first bite. Apparently, the exterior is not frosting as I thought, but instead glutinous rice noodle. Whoops! There was no sweetness in the dish, only the salty bite of the soy sauce. The interior had a promising crunch at the edges but was overwhelmed by the soft, almost slimy noodle. Kurt ate one piece and generously said that I could have the rest. I managed a couple slices, but resorted to peeling the noodle off with the chopsticks to make it more palatable.

While I grew to (almost) appreciate the taste, under no circumstances would I consider it a dessert. When the next cart appeared, I took the safe route and snagged the almond jello with fruit. It was mild, refreshing, and not at all surprising. Just what I needed after the "donut" experience.


Get your fiction on

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) will begin this November 1st. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel by November 30th. Last year 119,301 people participated with 21,683 people completing the challenge (verified by a word count on the website). Several novels found publishers, and one even became a New York Times bestseller. The thinking behind the concept is that it can be healthy for a writer to focus on on quantity rather than quality for a period of time. Here's how the website puts it:

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

I'm tempted, but I worry that the wedding, mini-honeymoon, and Thanksgiving might leave me with only three weeks (or less) to write. I still might sign up. As a relentless tweaker, it would be good practice in letting go and seeing where the process takes me. Anyone want to join me?

ETA: Kurt persuaded me that trying in November is a bad idea (understatement). So, I have declared October ReNoWriMo! Wish me luck!

Photo by Lin Kristensen via Wikimedia Commons


A twist on tuna salad

Tangy tuna salad

2 cans tuna (5 oz each), drained and broken into chunks>
1 red bell pepper, diced
2/3 c mayo (low fat worked fine)
1.5 T honey mustard
2 t sweet relish
salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayo, mustard, relish, salt, and pepper. Add tuna and mix well. Fold in red bell pepper.

Other veggies, such as carrot or celery, could be added if you like.


For James

Jarbas Agnelli saw a photograph of birds on a set of five electrical wires and decided to set the pattern to music. Here is the result:

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Hurrah for the Hubble!

Check out these shots from the revamped Hubble telescope. Amazing!

Photo courtesy of NASA


Signs of San Francisco: No!

In Golden Gate Park, the answer is always "No!"


Adventures in girldom

While not a tomboy, I'm not what anyone would call a girly girl either. I tend toward clothes that are sturdy and functional and don't give the matter much thought beyond that. So this week's excursion into the "pretty dress department" was rather like venturing into a foreign land. What I didn't know is that it's not only a foreign land, it's a hostile land.

I must have resembled a deer caught in the headlights because before I knew it the clerk, a grandmotherly type, had taken over. She asked what I was looking for, and within minutes I was guided to the dressing room with a pile of brightly colored silk dresses. It was as if the dress fairy went on a bender and caught me in her path.

The first dress in the line-up was essentially a green silk potato sack with ruffles on the side. I'm guessing the ruffles are what qualifies it as "design" instead of merely a sack with armholes. Trying to get into the spirit of things, I tried it on anyway. It was bad. Very bad. You really have no idea how bad. I'm not sure what body type can pull off the potato sack look, but my tall lanky frame is definitely not it.

Figuring things couldn't get worse, I reached for the orange dress pictured above. I was hopeful about this one. It had a modern asymmetrical line, and the color was striking. It quickly became clear that the dress was not as simple as it initially appeared. The skirt was made of interlocking wrapping pieces, and the top included a second camisole layer. Even seeing this complexity, I had no idea what I was in for.

Once unwrapped, the dress fell into a barely discernible pile of orange silk. I spent 10 minutes, yes 10 full minutes, trying to put the thing on before I admitted defeat. The lowlight was when my head came out one of the armholes. At least, I think it was an armhole. Swallowing my pride, I accepted that without a blueprint and possibly an instructional video, I was not getting this dress on. I refastened the hooks into some semblance of order and balanced it on the hanger. If I didn't know better, I'd swear it sneered at me.

Suitably chastened, I moved onto dress three and can happily report that not only did it fit, but, dare I say, it looked good. I did what any battle weary girl would do, I bought it immediately and never looked back. Sure, there may have been a "better" option out there, but I'm not cut out for the dress wars, and I know it. I took my bruised ego home to the comforts of yoga pants, t-shirts, and hoodies. No blueprint required.