Hungry. Now. Must eat.


I’m hungry just looking at it.

I love chili. LOVE. It’s easy to make a huge pot of it, easy to put it in individual portions in the freezer, easy to heat them up into a good, hearty meal. Plus, it just tastes so good.

I got a good recipe a few years ago from This Charming Candy. In fact, the paper I still use as my starting point is in her handwriting.

1-2 lbs ground beef (Her instructions just say “ground meat”, so if you prefer something else, go for it. I bet you could even use tofu cut into chunks if you wanted)
1 large chopped onion

Saute together over medium heat. Then add:

2T chili powder
1t cumin
1-2t salt
0.5t black pepper
1-2 diced jalapeños
1t hot pepper flakes

Saute about a minute, until fragrant, then add

0.5t tobasco
2T worchestershire sauce
2-28oz cans diced tomates (I prefer petit diced, myself)
1 can tomato soup (I’ll substitute tomato sauce sometimes)
45oz kidney beans

Simmer for ~30 minutes.

Like any soup, it’s always better the next day, after the flavors have had more time to meld together.


Time travel as a hook

river of no return


What’s it about?
The River of No Return is a novel about a lovesick time-traveler. Nick was a minor English lord who went off to fight against the Spanish. Just as he was about to be killed, he leapt forward in time to the present day. He encounters a group of people called The Guild who help people like Nick. He establishes himself as a landlord in Vermont, when the Guild asks him to go back in time to England. He re-falls in love with his neighbor Julia, who, it turns out, may be able to help forestall the end of the world.

Why should you read it?
If it hadn’t been my book for book club this month, I’m not sure I would have. It was a fine book, but nothing to write home about.  It does set up a sequel, so I have my usual issues with it not being a complete story. Otherwise, eh?

Cleopatra goes to Rome

I am far behind where I wanted to be by now in my series of posts on Cleopatra. The first post was about context. The second post was about Alexandria and her childhood. In the third post, Julius Caesar shows up and then there’s an Egyptian Civil War. Today we’ll be covering Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar.

Where were we? Oh yes, Caesar and Cleopatra were taking a vacation down the Nile. It was ostensibly to show off her power to Egypt, but she also reportedly wanted to show Caesar the Pyramids. Whatever the trip’s motive, she was pregnant by their return, and Caesar needed to get back to Rome in order to consolidate his power. (Also, Antony wasn’t doing a very good job ruling in Caesar’s place, and Caesar needed to do some clean-up work.) Caesar leaves 14,000 troops in Egypt to protect it and Cleopatra, and he took Arsinoe, one of Cleopatra’s traitorous sisters with him to parade in his eventual triumph.

Cleopatra ruled capably. She ran both the secular and religious bureaucracies, answering correspondence, being briefed by advisers, made decisions, received calls from people on various forms of business, supervised the distribution of grain and seed, and was generally in charge of almost everything in Egypt. She also was the judge over petty complaints between her citizens, and the head of the very complicated tax bureau.

Remember that Egypt was in a bad way, economically, when Auletes died. Cleopatra took the economy firmly into her control. She devalued the currency, and introduced coins worth different amounts (rather than only a single-value coin). She also was personally wealthy, and Alexandria’s arts scene flourished.

Caesar had been in Rome for about a year and in July 46BCE, Cleopatra travelled to Rome (at his request). She brought along many advisors, her son, and lots of gifts designed to show how wealthy Egypt was. Caesar installed her and their son in one of his country estates just outside the city proper. It was lavish by Roman standards, but probably only seemed acceptable to Egyptian ones – Rome was still made of wood, while Alexandria was a city of marble. Cicero didn’t like her very much, but others flocked to see her. It was very different than when her father was in Rome. She very generous to singers and musicians in Rome, trying to create a more cultured city.

Cleopatra also helped Caesar on a number of his projects: creating a library of Rome, improving the canals and draining the marshes around Rome, and advising him on updating the calendar.

She stayed in Rome for a couple of years. It was not a good place for her. Latin was not one of the nine languages she spoke fluently, and women in Rome had no legal standing. Not to mention that Caesar was married to someone else.

There’s an assumption that Cleopatra goes back to Alexandria in 45BCE for a visit. However, she’s back in Rome when Caesar is assassinated in 44BCE.

By early 44BCE, the Romans were looking askance at Caesar. He’d taken on some of the Egyptian practices that the Romans don’t like very much: in particular, in Egypt the pharaohs are part deity, but in Rome they’re just plain old men. So when Caesar puts up a statue of Cleopatra in the temple of Venus, it’s a scandal. Then he put up statues of himself in the temples. He also may have someone up to trying to crown him King (another thing the Romans really, really hated). Plus, they started to see her as a general bad influence from the East. (I’m glossing over a lot of complicated politics which only tangentially have to do with Cleopatra. If you want to learn more, may I suggest the Life of Caesar podcast?)

So a group of Senators decided to assassinate Caesar, and they succeeded on the ides of March in 44BCE. Cleopatra was still in the city; she was blamed for his Easternisation. Caesar made no move to recognize his son with Cleopatra in his will. She left Rome about a week after his death.

Next time: Cleopatra returns to Alexandria and continues to restore the city to its former glory. She’s going to get pulled back into Roman politics before too long, though.


just one year


What’s it about?
Just One Year is the sequel to Just One Day. It picks up the story after the boy leaves the girl in Paris (with a good explanation – he’s gone out to get breakfast and is severely beaten by skinheads on the way) from the boy’s point of view. He figures out who he is over the year, looking for her and becoming more responsible and less spoiled.

Why should you read it?
Completion or closure or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know that it’s necessary, and I have issues with the whole we-grow-closer-even-though-we’re-apart theme. But it’s a nice balance to the first book, and the abrupt ending to Just One Day is a bit more satisfying with this half of the story added in.

Real-world adventure

just one day


What’s it about?
Just One Day is a young adult novel about – what else – figuring out who you are. Plot-wise, it’s about a sheltered 18-year-old girl who travels to Europe with a tour group, meets a boy, runs off to Paris, and then he disappears on her. But it’s love, true love, and so she pines for him for awhile before getting off her butt and looking for him. It’s about how she grows as a person, figuring out who she wants to be, not just who her parents think she is.

Why should you read it?
It’s cute. I picked it up because I saw a recommendation online talking about what a brave person the main character is. And to a degree that’s true. She’s not running around in a war situation (the go-to male bravery experience), but she is getting out into the world, making decisions for herself, and that can be terrifying at 18/19. Just One Day provides a good template for how to do it responsibly.

A supernatural adventure

the ocean at the end of the lane


What’s it about?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a series of unfortunate events wherein a bookish boy ends up having a supernatural adventure. Someone dies, a monster from somewhere that isn’t here comes here and terrorizes our bookish boy. He eventually bests the monster with the help of his friends who have been around since the beginning of the universe. Or so it is implied. It’s also kind of about a sporty father who doesn’t understand his bookish son terribly well and the son’s coming to terms with that.

Why should you read it?
Gaiman writes beautifully and the story is well-told and shorter than I’d expected, honestly. It’s not super-deep or revelatory but it is a lovely little story that makes you care about the characters, with Gaiman’s characteristic oddnesses. It checks all the boxes.

A Modern Superhero



What’s it about?
Tigerman is about war and superheroes and what if the Iraq and Afghanistan wars bred a superhero from the British troops? What on earth would he be like? Why would he be created? What does that say about Western society? Plot-wise, there’s a soldier, suffering from PTSD-lite, who’s been stationed on a make-believe island near Yemen that is about to environmentally self-destruct. There’s an attack on a local cafe, and a boy asks the soldier to avenge the cafe owner. How does he do that under the nose of a local UN force, and what are the ramifications?

Why should you read it?
Because Nick Harkaway is a pretty awesome author. He’s got the right amount of swagger and touch for narrating international politics. (John le Carre is, literally, his father. It runs in the family.) His stories are funny and touching and in this book he has a sentence where he uses the f-word as every major part of speech. I laughed out loud a number of times. Recommended.


I can’t let today be the first weekday in more than a month without a post. I even got all my vacation posts scheduled ahead of time! Alas, I have post-vacation ickiness. There were uncountable mugs of tea today. Tomorrow, I will be prepared for more. For the rest of today though, there will be tea and rest.


Visiting the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring. The canyon itself is mind-bogglingly big. And attempting to capture that through photos of the thing is impossible. It’s an in-person thing.

Not to mention that trying to illustrate how awesome it is in one of those overview shots is a little bit like taking a photo of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower and expecting it to show how great the city is. It doesn’t work that way.

So here are a handful of photos. Know that none of them truly show how impressive the place is. You really need to go yourself.


bright angel trailhead
The kid and me after hiking 1.5 miles down and back up. The Bright Angel Trail is the one the mules go down. We did not see any mules – they leave at 7am. We didn’t get started until about 10am. We also didn’t get anywhere near the Colorado River. It’s much further down.


canyon view
See? It’s HUGE! And this photo doesn’t really show you how f’ing impressive it is. Seriously.


desert watchtower
This is the Desert Watchtower. It was designed and built in 1932 by Mary Colter, looking to imitate the style of the local Native American tribes. It’s got a steel frame and is way more solid than you might think.


el tovar cropped
The sign for El Tovar, the fancy hotel on the South Rim of the canyon. It was undergoing some roof repairs while we were there, hence no photos of the building itself. We didn’t stay there because roof repairs are loud. The food in the restaurant was divine, however.


hopi indian figure
The interior of the Desert Watchtower is decorated with art in the style of the local Native American tribes. This one is, I believe, designed to look like Hopi art. The Hopi like stripes, and I can get behind that.


ooh ahh point
Ooh Ahh Point was one of our hiking destinations. This one was about a mile down the South Kaibab trail, and the views were lovely. But you can see that we’re barely inside the canyon.


This was the sunset on the first night there. It was almost as gorgeous as the canyon.


wagon wheel
This was the outside of Hopi House, a gift shop full of local art. Some of it was impressive.


yucca plant
A banana yucca, a former staple of the locals’ diet. Not anymore, obviously.


Unreliable narrator

We Were Liars


What’s it about?
We Were Liars is a young adult book in the tradition of I Am the Cheese, where the narrator is as unsure of what’s going on as you are. Cadence comes from an upperclass New England family; they own their own island off Martha’s Vineyard. The family’s grandfather enjoys playing his three daughters off each other, making each of them compete for their slice of the family fortune. Something happens during Cadence’s 15th summer on the island. You’re never sure what exactly because Cadence has no memory of most of the summer. The book stays with Cadence as she recovers from whatever it was that happened.

Why should you read it?
I liked the feeling of suspense that We Were Liars used to show how uneasy everyone was and how truly messed up Cadence is. Cadence and the mystery are appropriately enigmatic. And you end up both sympathizing with the family and appalled by them. It was a quick read (which was good, given how quickly I needed to return the book to the library). Overall, I recommend it.