Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Vampire Story told by a Fairly Victorian Auntie

One of my young nephews consistently asks for at least one of (and often all of) three kinds of stories: princess stories, vampire stories, and witch stories. He also prefers made up stories, which are the kind that stretch my brain very far, especially when its elasticity has been worn out by a long hard day at work. But for what it's worth, here is the vampire story I told the other night.

Rupert the Vampire and the Three Kittens

Once upon a time, there was a vampire who lived in a little house in the woods, far away from other vampires and witches and goblins and stuff. He had one cat and three kittens, and he would watch the kittens doing the silly things that kittens do and he would laugh and laugh until he fell off his chair and tears ran down his face.

There was another vampire in the woods who thought that it was very improper for the kitten-loving vampire to have these kittens (the kitten-lover's name was Rupert); in fact, he thought that it was so improper that he decided to kidnap Rupert's kittens. He put them in a high tower, in a castle that was outside of the woods, and he put a forgetting spell around the tower, and he put a forgetting spell on Rupert which was so strong that Rupert even forgot his own name.

Rupert did remember, however, that he had a friend who was a witch who knew how to break forgetting spells, and he could remember how to get to her house, so he went. She could see right away what the trouble was. She told him that the best way to break a forgetting spell was to start remembering things. She asked if he could remember any pieces of poetry. He couldn't. She asked if he could remember his times tables. He couldn't. She asked if he could
remember his alphabet. He thought he might.

"Let's see. A, B, D-- no, no, that's not it. A, B, ummmm... C, uh, F, G,H, no, no. A, B, C, D, E! Yes! F, G, H!" And then he was able to remember the rest of his alphabet, in order.

Next, he tried his times tables. "One times one is two. One times two is two..." and a little later he said, "Six times seven is forty-two. Six times eight is forty-eight..." and so on until he had said all of his times tables.

He wanted to go on to poetry next, but his friend, Griselda the Witch, thought that all he needed now would be to remember his name (she didn't know about the other forgetting spell).


And with that he set off to find his kittens.

He didn't have to look very hard, because the other vampire hadn't thought that he would break the forgetting spell, and he had left a very clear path in the woods of scratched tree bark and blood, because the kittens had been biting and scratching the whole way as he kidnapped them.

When he got to the top of the tower where they were, he ran in to the second forgetting spell, but this time he knew how to break it.

"A, Z, B... nope. A, B. Yes. A, B, C, D, Z. No. A, B, C, D, E, F..." and he remembered the rest of the alphabet, and he remembered the times tables through twelve, and he thought about reciting Beowulf, but instead he just remembered that his name was Rupert and that he had come for his kittens, and he stepped inside the door of the tower (it wasn't even locked) and gathered up his kittens in his arms and carried them home.

After he got home, he put a forgetting spell around his own house so strong that if someone walked through it, they would forget that they even had a name, let alone what the name was, but he was careful to leave a hole so that he and his friends could go in and out with their memories intact, as long as they remembered the password.

And that is the end of that story.

Cinnamon Chili

I made this soup a week ago Saturday, I think it was, and it just felt so glorious to be cooking again-- chopping onions, frying them to perfection, considering other ingredients and adding them at whim-- that the very process of making this chili fed my soul.

Actually, the process ended up feeding me a lot more than the soup did. There I was, throwing in ingredients left and right, not quite knowing how it was going to turn out, and I thought to myself: hey, I could put in some chili powder. So I did. I put in a lot, because I am used to my roommate's old chili powder, which isn't very potent at all. A little later, I checked the saltiness and discovered that the powder had apparently concentrated on the spoon I was using to stir-- it was pretty hot. Then I discovered that there wasn't a concentration, anywhere; it had been mixed in just fine. I had just made my first accidentally-four-alarm skillet of chili.

It turns out that my dad left some chili powder in the house a few years ago, except that it isn't just chili powder; it's cayenne pepper. My sister said that she keeps waiting for it to get less potent as it gets older, but that hasn't really happened yet. I really, really like the taste of this chili for the first three seconds after I take a bite, but after that the taste is overwhelmed by the burning all over my throat. I have fed the leftovers to my brother-in-law.

Cinnamon Chili
  • 3 onions: chop and fry in olive oil until brown
  • 3 cloves garlic: chop/press; fry in a separate pan of olive oil than the onions are in
  • 1 large can tomatoes (15 oz.?): drain in a colander while you are frying the onions and garlic, then add the drained tomatoes to the garlic and fry them for a bit

combine the onions and the tomato/garlic mixture then add:

  • 1 can (8 oz.?) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • a little bit of chili powder
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 2 T sugar (I actually used cinnamon sugar, but I would use brown sugar if I were adding them separately)
  • 1 c. raisins
  • the liquid from the tomatoes
  • mushrooms (I used the stems of portabellas, the caps of which my sister had used the night before, and I cut them in to about 1/2" pieces); fry them in your separate skillet, first, until they are brown
  • nutmeg
  • allspice
  • 2 cloves of cloves
  • juice from 1/2 lime
Cook it long enough for the raisins to get fat, and then it's done.

Just for the record, I think that the mushrooms, raisins, sweet spices, and beans-- OK, and the tomatoes-- really are great together. I think that allspice and nutmeg are probably not necessary for the success of the recipe, but I wrote them down so that you (and I) would know exactly what I used. I would skip the cloves if I had to (but if I could, I would put them in).

Also: did I remember to mention in my food snob blog that Thompson Seedless Organic raisins are not only ten times as delicious as regular raisins, but at our local "natural" food store (The Good Earth), they are also cheaper than regular? This is definitely a case where organic is waaay better.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Quotable Neighborhood Logician

There is a person in my life who is almost six, who is very bright, and who is extremely logical. Some people think that children are not logical, but when one examines their supposed illogicalities, it often turns out that it is the grownup world which is illogical.

I will tell these three stories/quotes in reverse chronological order, simply so that I can put the funniest one last. They happened last night.

I was talking to said logician about when Jesus visited the Nephites, and the Nephites brought their children forward, and the children were surrounded by fire. He looked alarmed. I explained that it looked like fire, but it didn't burn them, so it wasn't really fire. He said, "Oh, so it was like wooden fire?" (His dad pointed out that a wooden sword is a sword that isn't really a sword and doesn't really hurt people, so maybe a wooden fire is analogous.)

Earlier than that, I explained that Jesus had to leave the Nephites to go visit other people. I was asked how he traveled. I said that he went up in to heaven, just like he came down, and that when he went to see the other people, he probably came down out of heaven again the same way. My logician looked confused. Then he said, "Oh, sort of like the cow jumping over the moon."

Still earlier, I was trying to explain the difference between the law of Moses and the law that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. I was explaining that the way Moses taught, if someone poked out your eye, you were not allowed to poke out both of their eyes and break their arms and their legs. You can JUST poke out one eye. The logician's reply was: "Or, if someone pokes out your eye, you can run the other way."

And the only answer to that is: yes. Logic wins the day again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Waiting to Become a Grownup

I made a comment in RS a couple of months back that I meant to blog, but never got around to it; but then today my friend, Ms. Winterberry, got me thinking about it with one of her most recent blog postings (, so instead of hearing about my accidentally-four-alarm cinnamon chili, you get to hear about this.

When I was nine, my family moved from Blackfoot, Idaho, to Provo, Utah, where my mom had been hired to teach part-time at BYU. One of many joys of being a faculty dependent was that we could go swimming in the BYU pool (to this day I adore swimming), and one of the most anticipated events in my life became the advent of my twelfth birthday, when I would not only enter Young Women's, but I would get my own Faculty Dependent Card with a photo ID, which would allow me to go swimming at said pool without a grownup to take me.

The funny thing is, once I got the card, I didn't really go that much. I wasn't used to going. My older sister kept going with her friend who was used to going, but I never even went once, all summer long (the following year, we moved to Alabama, so my plans for swimming more were nixed).

Does this sound like a familiar story? Waiting for permission from a not only invisible but even nonexistent party, to do something that we have permission to do and want to do, but we never get around to doing?

That same older sister has a favorite story about this principle from one of our old Young Women's leaders. This woman, Sister G, kept her wedding china in very good condition. In fact, she almost never used it. She would probably have kept on never using it if not for a comment that her mother-in-law made to her one day: "Oh, so you're saving them for Roger's second wife?"

Becoming a grownup became something like that for me. I kept waiting for the birthday to happen, the degree to be achieved, the permission to be granted-- I still don't know from whom, God maybe-- for me to do the fun things that I always saw that it was possible for grownups to do.

My definition of grownuphood has changed a little over time, but in some ways it hasn't: to me, there is still magic in the fact that, as a person over the age of 18 who is not incarcerated, I get to choose what I do with a significant (enough) amount of my time. The same goes for money.

That said, I find that I am not actually happy about this freedom unless I have goals that I am working towards with both my time and my money. When 1) I have to spend all of my time or money on a given obligation that I don't particularly like, I am unhappy, or when 2) I carelessly squander my extra, and THEN have to pay the bills with what is left over, then I am very unhappy.

I recently reorganized my time so that I get to spend an hour a day on stuff that I have decided to spend it on, stuff that I think will get me closer to my goals. This is, indeed, making me happy, but I am also becoming progressively more sleep deprived, so we'll see how long it lasts...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Princess Anabel and the Self-Cleaning Castle

Once upon a time, there lived a princess named Princess Anabel who was so helpful and kind that one day, when one of the third-floor maids was sick and couldn't come to work, Princess Anabel offered to help the other maid clean that floor. She worked very hard all day long, and at the end of the day, as she was beating out a rug, she happened to come across a rug fairy.

This rug fairy's rug had not been properly cleaned in some time, and she was so pleased that Princess Anabel was doing it that she offered the Princess a wish. Princess Anabel, being helpful and kind as she was, asked for a self-cleaning castle.

The fairy granted her wish, and this is how it worked: whenever Princess Anabel wanted the castle to be cleaned, she would step out of the kitchen door, and there she should press a button which looked a little bit like a doorbell, but which was really a self-cleaning button. She should stay outside for at least one hour, and then she was free to come back in the castle again. However, there was one rule: she could never be in the castle when that button was pushed. The fairy didn't say exactly what would happen if this rule was broken, but she warned Princess Anabel very sternly about it, and so Princess Anabel promised her that she would never be inside when the button was pushed.

All went swimmingly for the next few months, but then Princess Anabel's pen pal (really a pen suitor; they were becoming interested in marrying each other) decided to come for a visit. His name was Prince Rupert. He knew from her letters that Princess Anabel enjoyed helping in the kitchen, so he decided to surprise her by coming around to the kitchen door. Sure enough, he pressed what he thought was the doorbell, never knowing that it was the castle-cleaning button, which no one but Princess Anabel was supposed to touch.

Inside the kitchen, Princess Anabel was just reaching for a carton of eggs when all of a sudden she turned into a pile of glittery dust. When Prince Rupert heard the screaming of the other people in the kitchen, he rushed inside, and when they explained to him what he had (accidentally) done, he was very sorry indeed. They swept the Anabel-dust into a pile and then used a funnel to put it into a canning jar so that Prince Rupert could take it with him on his quest to find a cure for dustification.

I will not trouble you with the details of Prince Rupert's long and arduous journey to the island of the dragons (perhaps I will tell you another time). I hope you remember that dragons are very wise and often know the solutions to magical problems. Suffice it to say, once he got there, he was told that he should add five drops of blue food coloring, four drops of red food coloring, three tears from a boy who was crying for his mother, and two drops of almond extract, and his princess would be restored.

He followed the instructions exactly, and Anabel did come back-- but the trouble was, she was only about as tall as a pencil.

That's when they thought of going to the rug fairy again. Prince Rupert worked all day long, scrubbing floors, dusting knicknacks, and (of course) beating out rugs, and finally at the end of the day, another rug fairy appeared to him. (You must know that rug fairys are seldom found at the beginning of a work day; usually, if they appear, it will be at the end of a long day of cleaning.)

The rug fairy was perfectly happy to grant his wish, and in an instant, Anabel was back as good as new (or, to be precise, as good as she had been about three weeks earlier). Princess Anabel and Prince Rupert courted for another month, but they had already been writing letters to each other for three years, so it did not take them long to see that they really did like each other well enough to marry each other, and so another month after that, the marriage took place.

In preparation for the marriage, Princess Anabel instituted a very generous hiring policy for castle-cleaners, because it was now well-known in her land that her castle was full of rug-fairies. Her rule was that whoever wanted to work for one day cleaning the castle would be hired to do so, and they would be allowed to keep whatever wishes they were offered in the line of duty. About twenty people got wishes in this way, and several of them chose to have self-cleaning houses, themselves. They were very careful, however, to put very large signs next to the self cleaning buttons, which read: "ABSOLUTELY NO ONE EXCEPT [here they would put the name of the person] IS ALLOWED TO PUSH THIS BUTTON, ON PAIN OF DEATH." They didn't really mean the "on pain of death" part, but they wanted people to know they were serious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Interesting Stuff in Alma

I'm on my second time through the Book of Mormon this year. I'm not keeping up with Sunday School, which I feel guilty about, so here's for repenting soon. In the mean time, I noticed a couple of interesting things from Alma's experience in Ammonihah.

One is the fact that Alma and Amulek were "convicted"-- or, at least condemned-- for testifying of Christ, which I find to be really interesting. Abinadi, Jesus Himself, Lehi, Joseph Smith, and some other people I thought of before but have forgotten now, were also condemned for this exact thing. My question is: why care at all, let alone that much? If you don't believe in God, what's the point in condemning someone else who is just talking about Him coming? I know that this isn't a new idea, but it really struck me this time: Weird. Interesting.

The other thing that I noticed is that these people (back to Ammonihah) took the "perpetrators," and then murdered those who believed them, in front of them. This also defies any logic except for the most hellish kind. When you get to the point of a) killing people just because they believe something, and b) killing not even your main targets, because you are trying to get to your main targets psychologically by killing others, then you are literally evil beyond description.

One last, somewhat more cheerful thought, brought up by Elder William Oswald's conference talk on teaching, in which he referred to Moroni as a teacher: how much leeway do angels get? I mean, you have this assignment: go tell Alma to repent; go tell Alma that he's doing well, but he needs to go back to Ammonihah; go tell Joseph Smith that he needs to go find some gold plates that you buried nearly two thousand years ago, and give him extra instructions besides about how to get the kingdom off the ground (er, you know); and so on. You have thus-and-such audio-visual equipment available. Remember the cultural context of the person you are talking to. You must cover these points.

When I was younger, I used to assume that God always told angels what to say, word-for-word, and I have very little doubt that this is sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, the case. But if He would trust Nephi (Helaman's son, in Helaman 10) to not do anything He wouldn't do, isn't there a possibility that Moroni got a less than word-for-word assignment on what to say to Joseph Smith? An on the other hand, Joseph said that he DID repeat his message word-for-word, which would tend to lend weight to the idea that each word was deliberately chosen for itself. And on the other hand, if you have a thousand years to prepare for an assignment (including time and resources to watch a language develop), you might just whittle it down to the exact words you want, no more and no less. It gets you wondering (or daydreaming) about ideal teaching situations, you know?

Yes, I have enough hands to do that many "other hand"s. Go watch Fiddler on the Roof.

I just noticed that I said "When I was younger" rather than "before I heard this talk," which tells me that at some level, I think I have been moving away from the rote-talking idea for a while. Maybe Touched by an Angel had some unrecognized effect on me. Maybe my lifelong longing to be an angel has had an effect on me (I always wanted to be an angel when my primary class acted out scripture stories, and to this day remember the Sunday when said longing was fulfilled). Surely it has, but this is leaking into being another topic for another posting, so I will promise (as I notice I often do, falseley) that I will write more later.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Small Conversation

My sister, as she examines her second-youngest's head: "Darling, did you cut your hair?"

Child (aged three): "No. Not today."

The Glories of Oatmeal: First Installment

Finally, the post I know you've all been waiting for: the best way to fix regular oatmeal.

First off, the best way is to eat it the way you feel like eating it, which may be not at all. Which is fine. But do give my methods a try, if you haven't already.

OK. I never cook my oatmeal in a pot. I always cook it in a bowl. When I am at home, I flavor it with salt and brown sugar; when I am at school, I use the over-flavored instant oatmeal to do the job, and fill in the rest with the good stuff. Of course you remember from my Food Snob blog that "the good stuff" is organic, non-instant rolled oats.

The best way to fix oatmeal as oatmeal is to boil water, then pour it over the oatmeal and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I wish that I could give you exact measurements, but I have been doing this by eye for so long that I'm afraid that if I guessed, I would lead all of you astray. I will say that I put in a "handful" of oatmeal (sometimes literally), then pour in enough water that the water line falls between half and a whole centimeter (between a quarter and a half inch, for imperial-ites) above the oatmeal line. As it were.

If I cook it in the microwave, I do add the water before boiling it, and then cook it for one or two minutes (depending on the microwave-- the one I usually use at school is pretty efficient, so one minute works just fine these days).

If I really want to get fancy, I can add cream and/or fruit. My prepackaged flavoring mixes at school add just that, but at home, I'm usually too lazy.

That's it for now. You are just going to have to sit on your hands until I can get around to telling you about dry-fried and wet-fried oatmeal (plus, in the latter case, a side note about fried mush); granola; and oatmeal pancakes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Brothers Grimm Come in Handy

The other night, when her mother asked her to put some dishes away, my niece wailed, "Why?!" in such a distressed tone that I answered,

"Because you are now Cinderella, and you will have to act as a maid and do all of the housework from now until you are eighteen. Luckily, you will then get to marry a handsome prince, and live happily ever after. I, on the other hand, will get to marry a duke whom you are gracious enough to offer me."

She started working.

"I won't even miss the toe that I cut off so that my foot would fit in to the slipper that the prince had brought in hopes of finding you."

Then her mother chimed in, "I, on the other hand, will have my eyes pecked out by the birds, because of their sympathy to you."

By now she was smiling. Sometimes it comes in handy to know the corpus of a couple of old German Linguists.