Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Won't Anybody Tell Us Anything?

First, two announcements:

1. in is the shop for some repairs. I really hope to be back there blogging by next week.

2. Recipes will no longer be a regular feature on the blog. Expect occasional appearances of great food, but mostly, we're going to talk about books.

Thanks for checking in here. I love my readers.


“How would you like to live in Chicago?” my husband said one day.

“Hmmm,” I said, as visions of adventure and skyscrapers paraded through my head.

We’ve had conversations like this throughout our corporate-gypsy marriage. Prospects of Chicago or Xenia, Ohio, or some small place in Mississippi that I can’t remember have been our mind candy for years.

photo credit 

So I could relate to the women in Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos.

“How would you like to live in the Southwest?” their husbands asked them.

“Hmmm,” the wives said. “Where in the Southwest? What would you be doing?”

Their husbands could not tell them.

Butte in New Mexico

You probably know that Los Alamos is where they built the bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. But back then, it was all top-secret stuff.

It all started with a man ringing their doorbell and asking if the professor was home. Then the husbands asked the wives, “Would you like to . . . “ Then more mysterious men turned up to interrogate them about that Communist club they had joined back in college.

Then: “We watched [our husbands] disappear into train terminals, through the doors of unmarked black sedans, down airport runways, and we were left behind, overwhelmed. We called our friends . . . And they met us . . . At our house with a . . . Chicken casserole and a flask. . . . We wanted to tell them everything we knew . . . But we could not.”

Once the wives got “there,” to the Southwest, wherever it was they were going, not that anybody would tell them where, they faced what amounted to a camp painted a uniform olive green. Maybe their house had been built for them, maybe not. The altitude, the dry climate, the hand-cranked wringer washers—all of it was new and strange.

Mind you, these women were not the sort of girls who stood in a farm yard calling “Soo—eeee, soo-eee, soo-eee!” before throwing grub to the family sow. These were women who wore high heels. They held college degrees half as brainy as their husbands. The Paris they heard about on the news was no remote and exotic idea; it was where they had studied abroad for a summer. And as for laundry, they hired people to do it.

But here they were in New Mexico, hand-cranking those wringers, the machines their mothers washed with, hanging their husbands’ boxer shorts and their babies’ diapers on the line, then bringing them in the next morning, “square little ice boards.”

They leaned on each other. They ditched the heels, taking up blue jeans and boots. They showed the newbies around, “here are the quonset huts, here are the trailers,” and smirked at them for still wearing the high heels.

And they all wondered: what could our husbands be up to in the Tech Area? There were even women scientists up there. The wives cozied up to them, hoping to pry the secret out. But all lips were sealed.

Then one day, they found out.

Norman Ramsey signs Fat Boy

Drawing on memoirs of wartime Los Alamos, Nesbit novelizes the three-year internment of women who just happened to be married to men who “wanted to know if their theoretical predictions could become a physical reality.” 

I read it eagerly, all the while imagining myself stuck in some small place in Mississippi and nobody willing to tell me what the heck we were doing there.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On a Bridge to the Past

Suppose I had not bought this house.

After all, I tried pretty hard to buy one in the town down the road. We lived there once upon a time, and I still swim in a warm bath of memories every time I slip down there. I remember how I felt sitting at this stoplight. I remember sunlight at this exact angle as I drove down Main Street before. 

We could really have done up this warm-bath-in-memories thing royally because, while we hunted for houses, what should show up in the MLS but a home we lived in before. The interior was painted all cute and somebody finally installed a dishwasher in the kitchen. Yes, it was smaller than what we’d been living in, but we were on a mission to downsize.

We didn’t take the bait.

We did, however, bid on a house two blocks away, loving its gleaming hardwood floors and granite counters. But even that proved more than I could take.

I was a different person when I last lived on those streets. I’ve figured out a few things since then and if I woke up and looked out on the same trees, I would have felt like somebody moved my Candy Land marker all the way back to Start.

In Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, 57-year-old Jack Griffin grapples with his own past as he drives over the bridge to Cape Cod, on his way to a wedding.

He rode over that bridge in the back of his parents’ car every summer.

Mom and Dad attended Ivy League schools, assuming all the while that they would teach there. And if not the Ivy League, then a smaller East Coast college would do.

But they ended up in Indiana.

Snobby and lacking any talent for happiness, Mom and Dad got their East Coast fix vacationing on the Cape. Living all year for this hiatus from life’s cruel joke, they spent their week snatching up real estate magazines and snubbing anybody who tried to befriend them.

Can’t we just imagine the parental voices that play in Jack’s head? Not to mention the words that slip out of his mouth. Yes, Jack admits he inherited the worst parts of each parent.

Jack also honeymooned on the Cape. Oh, the plans he and Joy made as they holed up at their beach-side cottage in Truro thirty years ago

Today, though, they’re a little like a bookshelf. When you first set it up, the books sit up straight. They’re organized—biographies here, novels over there. How-to books up high, children’s books down low.

After awhile, Abe Lincoln gets shoved in beside Dr. Suess. They both slouch. They wear a coat of dust. Somebody needs to tidy this place up, but nobody wants to.

Yeah, that’s where Jack and Joy’s marriage is these days.

So Cape definitely launches on a gloomy note.

But it’s not all hopeless, I promise.

And Joy’s twin baby brothers definitely liven things up. These two Marine-Corps oafs ache for somebody, anybody, to insult them, because there’s nothing they love better than to throw a punch.

Language cow patties. 

 If you need something to pull you through Jack’s midlife taking-stock, you might whip up some Simple Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wraps. With a little bit of honey hiding in both the spread and the chicken, this dish earned a lot of love from me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We've moved!

Come visit my new blog here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Romance Atheist

Amazon readers warned me about Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.  "Huge, tough book. . . . very clearly a masterpiece."     "Talking dog. . . . Mid 18-century prose style."

I mean, the size alone:

Sheesh!  Eight-hundred or so pages!

I dug in anyway. I found it delightful, got right into the pirate-era lingo, had no trouble "hearing" the two famous surveyors joking with each other.

At least until page 18 or so, when the talking dog entered at stage left.

And I couldn't do it anymore.

So, what else is out there?  

Well, since I've dipped my toe into the self-publishing ocean, maybe I should take a look at who else might be swimming around, particularly those paddling in my same little cove, the bay of LDS fiction.

I found a string of possibly delightful offerings and saved them to my wish list.

First try goes to The Husband Maker by Karey White.

Before we look closer at White's book, let me clear up a thing or two  This book is a romance. I can no more write a romance than I can sing a solo, which is to say that if I tried, people would beg me to stop, please, you're hurting us..

I couldn't come up with a Love Interest. Romance books are liberally supplied with men pretty enough to make your palms sweat and your mouth say inane things. Rich enough to buy their own islands. Interested enough to ignore entire sororities dressed in short shorts while you make up your mind whether you want them around or not.

Oh, and available.

Has anyone ever seen this creature?

Me neither.

And if I cannot see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, I cannot believe in this . . . this being who dwells somewhere out there in the ether, and makes the earth move. Which makes me, I guess, a romance atheist. 

Not that books full of impossible characters can't get themselves sold. Weren't we just discussing a talking dog?  And don't we know that books full of wizards, vampires and aliens fly off the shelves? 

But in the end, all fiction is, um, unreal, right?

So I swallowed my prejudices and opened White's book and met Charlotte, a mid-twenties graphic designer in San Francisco.  White gave her some adorable flaws.  The girl snorts when she laughs. She's 5'11".  We all know it's hard to find a good man, but Dear Charlotte's got it even tougher, because she'd like to find one that towers over her.

Back in high school, one prom date was four inches shorter. When the photographer lined up all the couples for pictures, he switched Charlotte to the back row with the boys, and the date to the front, humiliating two teenagers in one fell swoop.

Anyway, everybody she dates marries the next girl they find after they break up with Charlotte. People are starting to talk about her little jinx.

Into Charlotte's life comes Kyle--rich, handsome, attentive and available. But somebody named Angus hangs around a lot, too. He's known Charlotte since high school, never dated her but witnessed all her awkward proms.

I'm only part way through Husband Maker, but strongly suspect that Angus is meant to be more than just Charlotte's guy-confidante. I will have to let you know.

White's easy humor greases the gears of this story, even if she tosses in a few too many stories of Charlotte's long-ago dates, the ones before the jinx took hold.

Husband Maker never calls anybody LDS, but Kyle and Charlotte definitely dwell outside the hook-up culture, even though they live in the age of iPhones and Pinterest. They go on planned dates, like a cheese-making adventure, which might be even more datey than real LDS kids manage to do these days.

Hopefully Charlotte will find the right guy, settle down and fix wonderful dinners like Chicken Pineapple Stir-Fry.

This might be my favorite stir-fry. The tasty secret is--ketchup! Bye-bye Nesquik really doesn't need fancy sauces to be happy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Who Ruined Halloween?

I have awesome weather powers.

Some days I get a longing for a one of my favorite creamy soups. Nah, the weather's too warm, I think. But I defiantly write it on the menu for, say, Tuesday, and by Tuesday, a cold rain blows through town and everybody is glad to sit down to soup.

A little soup weather on Halloween this year would have been welcome. What we got instead was pure nastiness. We got the kind of wind that crawls down your neck and makes you sorry you have to walk across the Kroger parking lot. We got little trick-or-treaters, their arms shaking as they stood on the doorstep, holding out their open pillow cases. We got their little faces pinched up with misery. We got a battle with the storm door, the wind shoving it against us while we serviced the brave and determined hordes that wanted their candy. 

I might be to blame for this unwelcome blast of January-in-October. Perhaps I brought it on by reading Alice Munro's short story collection, Too Much Happiness.  She sets her tales in her native Canada. So while I innocently read about somebody named Joyce driving home from work through falling snow and lashing rain, or somebody named Roy getting stuck in the woods while the snow covers his tracks, storm clouds gathered over Bye-Bye Nesquik's neighborhood and spoiled the evening of a few hundred Power Rangers, Ellas and zombies.

I apologize.

But Munro is the Meryl Streep of short-story writing. Nearly everything she creates possesses a truffle-like perfection. She makes it look easy when it most certainly is not.

Her characters ride a bus to visit somebody in prison, or share a dorm room with someone of mysterious means, or hide from the outcast that wants to be their friend. They are quiet, often bookish people, who watch bolder types get away with things.

However in one story--I won't give away which--one of these quiet ones strikes back.

It reminds me of the instructions I once read in a tourist guide: cities have muggers, it said. The smart thing to do is carry a mugger wallet. Your real wallet holds your wad of cash, your complete deck of credit cards. The mugger wallet contains ten dollar bill, and maybe one of those fake paper cards, just as a nice touch.

The mugger approaches. You take out your mugger wallet, throw it hard and far, then run fast in the opposite direction. I have no idea if this works, but it was comforting to pack it along, even if it could cost me ten bucks.

Anyway, Munro's character, the one I won't give away, sticks up for him/herself with a mugger-wallet mentality.

Book contains one lengthy cow patty.

I'll be done with Munro's collection tomorrow and then maybe this unseasonable weather will ease up.

As a failsafe, I added Taco Crescent Bake to the menu, a yummy supper dish that goes great with a crisp fall evening, do you hear me, o weather gods?  No need to deliver us a stinging, howling, Arctic whiteout.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sneaky, Snaky Behavior

"I can see you want everything, . . . [k]ids, husband, career. The whole superwoman thing."

So says one character to another in Rachel Pastan's Lady of the Snakes.

Pastan's novel begins when Jane, the aspiring superwoman, gives birth to a daughter. She loves the little tyke, of course. But after a couple weeks of the foreignness of motherhood, Jane longs to get back to her dissertation. That is when she discovers that it isn't easy to get much done with an infant around. As for Billy, Jane's husband, his life doesn't change much.

Jane writes her dissertation on the wife of a second-string Russian novelist. While he went about philandering, his wife bore him seven or so children. The more Jane reads the woman's letters and diaries, the mores she sees how all the heroines in the husband's novels looked and sounded a lot like the wife. And on her worst days, mind you.

What a cad.

And maybe a plagiarist, too, for by the time Jane snags a prestigious professor job, her close reading of Mrs. Russian-Novelist's letters turn up passages that Jane feels she has read before. Say, in the husband's novels.

If she thinks she's going to expose all this cribbing, she will have to get past an aging colleague who built his reputation on showcasing the Russian novelist's "brilliance." The intrigue between Jane and her nemesis resembles the race between Channel 5 and Channel 8, each trying to scoop the other.  And Jane fights with a handicap: when things fall apart at home, who has to drop the meetings and the research trips?  Billy?  Or Jane?

Lady of the Snakes can be a challenging read. Pastan weaves in long quotes from the fictional novelist and his wife. Eventually, this device kills the pace of the story. Still, Pastan tackles the differences between men and women, what they can accomplish, who gets credit and who bears the burden of distraction.

The only thing getting scooped around here today was cookie dough. I worry that I should be sharing recipe adventures, some creation for which I ground the vanilla beans myself. But really, have you ever seen anybody turn down a chocolate chip cookie?


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup peanut butter 
2 eggs 
2 tsp. vanilla 
2 1/2 cups flour 
1 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1 package (11.5 oz.) milk chocolate chips 

Heat oven to 350'. 

Beat butter, sugars and peanut butter in large bowl with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in chips. 

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. 

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets onto wire racks. 

This recipe comes from a Parkay box, long long ago.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming Soon!

Dear Bye-Bye Nesquik readers,

We pause our regular programming just long enough for me to seize the spotlight for a minute. And we have some business to conduct.

Item 1: I wrote a book. Never mind how long it took me, but here we are today, just about ready to foist this thing on the public.  Here's how it will look on Amazon when it comes out on November 7th:

"Welcome to the world of the Runyons and the Feldsteds, two Mormon families in 1970s Maryland. Far from their Western American roots, they cling to each other like exiles clutching a precious box of topsoil from the old country.

"In The Boxford Stories you will meet Ada Runyon who always turns to Ruthalin Feldsted when she needs an ear—sharing her deepest confidences, her everyday musings, and her bits of horrified gossip. Yet Ada dies inside whenever Ruthalin’s country-cousin manners poke out in public.

"Latham Runyon, a history professor, and Erval Feldsted, a hospital engineer, bond every Sunday night over gooey desserts and vigorous religious discussion, a game their children call Stump the Rabbi. Underneath their balding heads and graying temples, each man desperately seeks a sign that God would choose him as a buddy.

"The Feldsted and Runyon children, running breathlessly through each other’s houses and backyards, have long considered each other substitute cousins. However, Ginni Runyon plots to change herself from the girl next door to the girl Marc Feldsted can’t live without.

"And when Boxford’s Mormons mix with the rest of the town, everybody could use a field guide to the other species.

"Laugh, cry, and shake your head with the Runyons and Feldsteds as they make their way through the decade that brought us leisure suits and urban decay."

Item 2:  I'm offering you a little freebie.  Starting October 27th, Bye-Bye Nesquik will post daily installments of "'Atta Boy," one of the stories in this book. Get your reading fix, Monday through Friday that week.

Item 3: Sometime in November, Bye-Bye Nesquik moves to the official author website,  I will let you know when we make the jump, but if you still land here after the move, we will find a way to get you there.

I may make other changes, new name maybe, but I still plan to talk about books and recipes.

Meanwhile, dine on this yummy APRICOT SALSA CHICKEN: