Monthly Archives: November 2013

Secondary Character Saturday: Lady Sybil, Downton Abbey

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

WHO: Lady Sybil Crawley

FROM: Downton Abbey

BY: Julian Fellowes

PRODUCED: September 2010

PROS: Sweet, compassionate, adventurous, brave, unconventional, risk taking, forward thinking. Oh, and a great dresser.

CONS: Headstrong, occasionally rash.

Lady Sybil turns a few head with her new -- trouser -- frock. (Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS)

Lady Sybil turns a few head with her new — trouser — frock. (Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS)

BEST SHINING MOMENT: Hmmmm. Wearing “pants” to dinner? Learning how to bake from Daisy and Mrs. Patmore? Becoming a nurse during World War 1? She’s pretty awesome, it is tough to pick just one.

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

LEAST SHINING MOMENT: Heedlessly going to the political rally when Branson tries to warn her off. It’s a rash thing to do and both Branson and Matthew risk life and limb rescuing her.

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

Image courtesy: Downton Abbey/PBS

WHY I CHOSE SYBIL: Mostly I chose Sybil because my daughter suggested her. But I quickly came around to the idea. I really liked the character. She is played by the beautiful (and breathy) Jessica Brown Findlay. If you like Downton and can’t wait for the next season to begin I strong suggest the HBO mini series Parade’s End which set in the same period, touches on many of the same themes, benefits from better writing and stars Benedict Cumberbatch.


In case you didn’t know…Winter is HERE, but Christmas is COMING!!!

Actually that “!” should be ! x 1,000,000. At least that’s the way if feels when I look at either my email inbox or my physical USPS mailbox. [That’s right, rita is about WRITE a rant.]

English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday

Is it me or has the Christmas Rush buying season really ramped up this year?

I’m on the email list for a cute little American Girl Doll accessory shop and they’ve been emailing me EVERY DAY since the beginning of November to let me know how many shopping days are left before Christmas!!!

Here in America Thanksgiving is a national holiday. People are supposed to gather with their families, eat a big meal and say thanks. Some folks go to church, some catch a football game or parade… but the big meal (usually featuring a turkey) is pretty much the mandatory event.

The next day (today) is called Black Friday and is supposed to be the beginning of the Christmas Shopping season. Stores have big sales and people line up to get to early bird specials. Some stores open at Midnight to get a jump on those early bird shoppers.

English: DC USA, Best Buy, Black Friday

English: DC USA, Best Buy, Black Friday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only now it seems that even opening at Midnight isn’t bringing in enough cash to the corporate coffers. So as soon as the pumpkin pie has been put away the Wal Marts and K Marts and Targets and Toys ‘r’ Us  and Staples opened their doors to the consumer hungry hoards. They advertise “DOOR BUSTER SALES” to hype up the buying frenzy. And sure enough people have stated to get injured (and even killed) in the crush to get inside to shop!!! But if  you didn’t get to the store last night or today, don’t worry, most of the sales last until Sunday. (So why call it a Black Friday Sale? )

Not to be outdone the online market, which is always open, started their Black Friday sales early. I’ve gotten emails starting as early as last Saturday inviting me to Pre-Black Friday sales (25 in the last two days). (I got one Black Friday Sale offer from GARMIN — I guess that might come in handy if I needed directions to the mall.) These “special sales” last at least to Cyber Monday (Dec 2nd).

It is all so consumer driven and so force-fed (and tacky).

Can we please just dial it back a bit and maybe remember what the Holiday Season is all about?

I realize I’m coming at the rant as a practicing Catholic and a Christian… but it’d be nice if people would start the “Holiday Buying Season” with at least a passing glance at an Advent Calendar.

The only thing that I think could tick me off more about this hyper-stuffed-goose-liver of all marketing schemes is if I WASN’T a Christian! I don’t know what I’d do if I had to put up with all this contrived merriment / shopping extravaganza in the name of a god I didn’t follow. (Well, I’d probably write a strongly worded BLOG about it!)

Some children looking at a selection of Christ...

Ahhh the good old days when people actually had time to window shop, and there was physical space between shoppers.

Nestled in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday where one is encouraged to patronize small locally owned shops. This is one tradition I will participate in. I have several people on my list who are wonderfully suited to LOCALLY SOURCED gifts bought at boutiques. However, since I try to buy from these shops anyway I don’t really need a special DAY to go through those doors.

OK. Rant over. I’m going to go eat some left overs.

Quick before the triptophan kicks In…

…pass me another slice of pumpkin pie, hon, its Thanksgiving here in America.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a c...

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a copy is also located in the, United States Capitol rotunda, Washington, DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are lots of myths about Thanksgiving… like…

… the first Thanksgiving in America took place at Plymouth Colony in 1621. … Actually, there were Spanish and French celebrations of Thanksgiving in the New World long before the Pilgrim’s 1621 feast.  In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles celebrated a mass of thanksgiving with native Americans near what is now St. Augustine Florida.

Turkey Dinner

Turkey Dinner (Photo credit: LonelyBob)

…the tryptophan in the turkey makes you want to curl up and take a nap after the big meal …  While turkey does contain L-tryptophan, you’d have to eat it on an empty stomach (and with out sides) before you got drowsy.

…Other foods contain as much or more tryptophan than turkey, … including chicken, … pork, and cheese. []

…The Pilgrims wore black and had buckles on their hats… If you were rich in the 17th century you could afford to wear black, but the Pilgrims? Not so much. They wore brown, green, beige, violet, gray, white, dark red and dark blue. And the buckle? That’s a 19th century artistic creation.

Thanksgiving Pilgrim Hat Polymer Clay Magnet

Thanksgiving Pilgrim Hat Polymer Clay Magnet (Photo credit: Jennie Ivins)

…Thanksgiving is an American tradition, and it has been celebrated every year since 1621… Nope. Although “National days of thanksgiving were held sporadically through the 18th century” [] the traditional date of the last Thursday in November wasn’t established until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln made it a federal holiday. Even then the date was played with to boost the Christmas shopping season between 1939 and 1940. But by 1941 it was firmly planted on the fourth Thursday of November.

[Image courtesy:]

[Image courtesy: ]

… Everyone ate turkey and pumpkin pie at the 1621 Thanksgiving … turkey, maybe. A hunting party did go out to shoot fowl and it is likely that they bagged turkey as well as duck, goose and swan. But the protein on the table probably came courtesy the Wampanoag Native Americans in the form of venison (deer).  Although the Pilgrims would have had pumpkin it would not have been in pie form. The Pilgrims were very low on both sugar and flour, and they didn’t have a way to bake a pie.

…The original Thanksgiving took place in November, that’s why we celebrate it on the 4th Thursday of November now. … Actually the 1621 feast took place sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was three days long.

Having busted your Thanksgiving bubble… I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! Now bring me some figgy pudding.


Muffin Monday: Mashed Sweet Potato Muffins

I love how certain foods cost next to nothing certain times of the year… That’s the case for Sweet Potatoes or Yams around Thanksgiving. So I picked up a few for today’s blog post.

Sweet Potato Muffin

Mashed Sweet Potato Muffin

Mashed Sweet Potato Muffins


  • 1 1/4 cups packed Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Cooking Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Eggs
  • 4 cups mashed Sweet Potato
  • 1 cup finely chopped Fennel
  • 2 1/2 cups Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare muffin cups with baking spray. (I did 18 muffins)

2. In a large bowl combine Brown Sugar, Cooking OIl, Vanilla Extract and Eggs.

3. Mix in the Sweet Potato and Fennel.

4. In a smaller bowl stir together the Flour, Baking Powder, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Salt.

5. Mix in the dry with the wet a little at a time until it completely combined.

6. Divide the batter evenly into  18 muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes or until the muffins pass the toothpick test.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

7. Remove muffins from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

These muffins are delightfully moist, almost to the point of being creamy. Taster Bill called them “delicious and addictive.”

I think they’d be the perfect solution for left over Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes.


Ready to eat

Ready to eat


Just in time for Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving leftovers)!

Secondary Character Saturday: Roger Hamley (Wives and Daughters)

Anthony Howell as Roger Hamley [Image Courtesy: BBC Video]

Anthony Howell as Roger Hamley [Image Courtesy: BBC Video]

WHO: Roger Hamley

FROM: Wives & Daughters

BY: Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by Geor...

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by George Richmond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


PROS: Earnest, hardworking, intelligent, honorable, ruggedly romantic, humble and handsome, he’s quite the Victorian hero.

CONS: Unfortunately for Roger he is the second son. His older brother Osborne outshines him in pretty much everything (especially expectations) at the beginning of the novel. Osborne  is “…full of tastes” [Chapter 4 of Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell]  has talent, and has grace and refinement in his appearance. He is sweet-tempered and affectionate and does well at school. While Roger was …

clumsy and heavily built, like his father; his face was square, and the expression grave, and rather immobile. He was good, but dull, his schoolmasters said. He won no prizes, but brought home a favourable report of his conduct. When he caressed his mother, she used laughingly to allude to the fable of the lap-dog and the donkey; so thereafter he left off all personal demonstration of affection. [Ibid]

He can’t help being a second son, but there you have it. In a society where the first son will inherit everything, there’s not much our boy Roger can do.  Another CON for Roger (this one he can do something about) is the way he swiftly falls for Cynthia. He’s gobsmacked, head-over-heals in love with this humming-bird of a woman, when we all know he should be falling for Molly!

One of the final pages from the manuscript for...

One of the final pages from the manuscript for Wives and Daughters (The Works of Mrs. Gaskell, Knutsford Edition) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BEST SHINING MOMENT: His kindness to Molly on her first visit to the Squire’s. Gaskell died before she finished the novel, so we never get to read her intended ending (having Roger return a dried flower to Molly when he proclaims his love just before leaving for a second scientific expedition to Africa.  But if one were to go by The lovely 1999 BBC miniseries of the novel (with Anthony Howell as Roger) I’d say the the best shining moment was the ending…

LEAST SHINING MOMENT: Choosing Cynthia over Molly. D’oh!

WHY I CHOSE ROGER: I’m a sucker for the underdog.

Rene Magritte 11.21.13 Thought of the Day

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” — Rene Magritte

The Magician Self Portrait With Four Arms [Image courtesy:]

The Magician Self Portrait With Four Arms [Image courtesy:]

René François-Ghislain Magritte was born on this day in Lessines, Belgium, in 1898. Today is the 115th anniversary of his birth.

He was the eldest of three boys born to  Leopold and Regine Magritte. He liked drawing from an early age and began to take lessons  at 12.  At 14 his world was turned upside down when his mother, who…

suffered from depression… fled to go to throw herself over a bridge, into the river Sambre. A few days later, her body is found floating, her face covered by her nightgown; René… was deeply scarred by the image, which was later going to reappear in some of his works (The Heart of the Matter). []

In 1914 he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels to learn traditional painting techniques.  His “plan was to master these techniques before breaking free of them.” [Ibid] While at the Academy he was influenced by the Futurist, Cubist and Surrealist movements.  Because of the later, “Magritte decided to make each of his painting a visual poem.” [Ibid]

He began to work professionally and by 1927 had joined other Surealist artists (like Salvador Dali) . His first one-man show in Brussels was not a critical success in conservative Brussels, and he moved to Paris.

What set him apart from the other surrealists was his technique of juxtaposing ordinary objects in an extraordinary way; while Dali would “melt” a watch, playing with the consistency of an object (amongst other things), Magritte would leave objects intact, but play with their placement in reality, playing with logic. This technique is sometimes called Magic Realism. []

His witty and thought-provoking images and his use of simple graphics and everyday objects”… gave  “new meanings to familiar things.” []

Magritte died in Brussels on August 15th in 1967 at the age of 69.

Gonconda, 1953 [Image courtesy:]

Gonconda, 1953 [Image courtesy:]

Son of Man [Image courtesy:]

Son of Man [Image courtesy:]

The Two Lovers [Image courtesy:]

The Two Lovers [Image courtesy:]

The Month of the Grape Harvest, 1959  [Image courtesy:]

The Month of the Grape Harvest, 1959 [Image courtesy:]

This is Not an Apple, 1964 [Image courtesy:]

This is Not an Apple, 1964 [Image courtesy:]


Thinking about Neo the 8″ tall antelope

Sometimes it seems like nothing but bad news comes across my feed. Even an optimist like myself has to sigh and shrug and give in to the realization that the best one can hope for is that tomorrow will be better.

But this morning I came across something so unimaginably adorable that I forgot all my woes and found myself smiling at the computer screen.  And so, in the name of much-needed cuteness and a gentler world I bring you… Neo the 8″ (20 centimeter)  tall Kirk’s dik-dik antelope.

Neo lives at the Chester Zoo.  [Image courtesy: The Examiner]

Neo lives at the Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester, England . [Image courtesy: The Independent]

Little Neo weighs in at about 3 pounds (1.3 kgs). He will grow to be about twice as big as he is now. But at about 16″ the Kirk’s dik-dik is the smallest antelope in the world. They are native to “Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia” [Chester] where they live “in a variety of habitats such as woodlands and grassland.” [Ibid] The Chester Zoo has had a dik-dik exhibit for six years.

Unfortunately life has not been easy for month old Neo (he was born 10.10.13). His mother rejected him as she did his eight-month-old sister Aluna. According to Zookeeper Claire McPhee:

“Dik-dik mothers do not always take to their young and unfortunately Neo and his mum didn’t quite hit it off. …But happily his not-so-big sister Aluna … is drawing on her own experiences and is being a real calming influence on him. They spend lots and lots of time in each other’s company and she’s really helping with his development in his crucial early days. …Little Neo is … a little bit shy, nervous and jumpy around other dik diks. But Aluna is dishing out lots of special care and attention and it’s helping him integrate into the wider family group. She’s helping him to settle in nicely and it’s lovely to see.” [Ibid]

Neo and Aluna. [Image courtesy: Chester Zoo.Org]

Neo and Aluna. [Image courtesy: Chester Zoo.Org]

Between socialization tips and confidence boosting lessons form Aluna and hands-on care by the the staff at the Chester Zoo Neo’s prospects look good.

Neo does a fact check [Image courtesy:]

Neo is very popular in the Zookeeper’s office.  [Image courtesy:]

Muffin Monday: Pumpkin Molasses Surprise

Pumpkin Molasses Surprise Muffins

Finished muffins

Finished muffins



  • 1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 cup White Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 cup packed Brown Sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 cup canned Pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3/4 cup Almond Milk


  • 8 oz  softened Cream Cheese (I used light Cream Cheese)
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 1 cup canned Pumpkin


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare 14 muffin cups with cooking spray and a light dusting of flour.

2. Combine the Whole Wheat Flour, the White Flour, the Baking Soda, Salt, Ginger and Nutmeg in a medium bowl.

3. In a large bowl, mix the Brown Sugar, Molasses, Oil and Eggs until smooth. Add 1 cup of of Pumpkin and Vanilla and mix well. Add the Milk and mix well.

4. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and stir until well combined.

5. To make the Filling: Combine the Cream Cheese, White Sugar and remaining Pumpkin from the can (about 1 cup) and mix until smooth.

Partially filled muffins cups on the right and top have batter and filling. The one at the bottom left is complete with a top layer of batter.

Partially filled muffins cups on the right and top have batter and filling. The one at the bottom left is complete with a top layer of batter.

6. Partially fill the 14 muffin cups about 1/2 full of the Muffin batter. Center a generous tablespoon of the Filling in each muffin, top with the second half of the batter. (Be sure to cover all the Filling.)

8. Bake for 20 minutes. Test to see if the muffins are done by employing the toothpick test. The Filling will still be soft, but the muffins should be done.  Let cool completely before eating. (That filling is really hot! Don’t burn yourself == no matter how wonderful they smell right out of the oven.)

The molasses gives these muffins a powerful punch of flavor. The pumpkin/cream cheese filling serves to sweeten and balance the muffins. These would be excellent with some hot tea.

Muffins fresh from the oven.

Muffins fresh from the oven.

Special thanks for Amy Mc for suggesting the muffin recipe I used for inspiration.

Secondary Character(s) Saturday: Ariel and Caliban (The Tempest)

English: Ariel and Caliban

I’m doubling up on Secondary Characters today because I…

  1. JUST got home from seeing the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s ensemble version of The Tempest
  2. didn’t manage to get in a post yesterday
  3. can’t decide between Ariel and Caliban
  4. am master of my own island… I mean blog… and can pretty much do as I please.

WHO: Ariel and Caliban

FROM: The Tempest



Ariel– As assistant head mischief maker on the island Ariel shows a can do attitude when it comes to pleasing her* master, Prospero. She’s persistent in asking for her freedom from the magician, and although it’s been 12 years, she’s optimistic enough to think she’ll actually achieve it. She is a creature of the air, a spirit who can disappear and do magic.

Caliban — He’s the island’s true heir apparent. He knows every animal, every cave, every stream. He’s strong.

Ariel (from The Tempest)

Ariel (from The Tempest) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ariel — She mischievous. Her drive to gain her freedom blinds her to the morality of what she’s instructed to do.

Caliban– He’s different. He’s not as “smart” as his Eurocentric counterparts in the play. He’s ugly. All that makes him a monster, right? He certainly gets called “monster” often enough in the course of the play. Oh, and the powerful white guy wants his land. That’s never good. Sorry, but its hard not to feel compassion for Caliban. 12 years prior to the start of the play Prospero landed on his island and essentially planted a flag on it and started to call himself king. Suddenly Caliban became Prospero’s servant, then slave.  Prospero and Miranda tried to educate Caliban early on, but, beyond learning to speak, it didn’t take.

Ariel — The Most Shining Moment goes to Ariel when she wakes up the Prince and Gonzolo just in time for them evade assassination.

Caliban de "La Tempête" de William S...

Caliban de “La Tempête” de William Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caliban — The Least Shining Moment goes to Caliban in an offstage moment sometime before the play begins. Back when Prospero and Miranda were still in the “lets educate the monster” stage of their relationship. Caliban misunderstanding the nature of Miranda’s kindness  — he’d only known one other woman, his witch (literally) of a mother — and unable to control his own nascent sexuality tries to rape her. Bad move.

* Although Shakespeare wrote the role of Ariel for male actors, it was played tonight by the lovely and very talented Jenna K. Rossman, a woman. And since every time I’ve seen the show — this is my third time seeing it live — the role has been done with a woman playing Ariel, I’m just going to go ahead and use the feminine pronoun.

Caliban, on the other hand,  is almost always played by a man. This time around he is played by wonderful James Miller.

Rossman and Miller were also in the company’s version of A Mid Summer Night’s Dream this summer.

Prospero is being played by Ian  Blackwell Rogers (He was this summer’s Hamlet), and Miranda is  being played by Kathryn Zoerb (who was Juliet earlier in the season.)

This ensemble production was put together with limited rehearsal time (18 hours) and no director (it is actor driven). To add the Shakespearian experience audience members have the opportunity to rent nerf tomatoes and lob them at the actors should they flub a line (or if they are just really nasty characters.) Given the intimate setting  of the Shakespeare Factory’s home stage at The Great Hall Theatre at St. Mary’s a few flying tomatoes really adds to an already enjoyable show.

The Tempest runs until Nov 24. Click HERE for details on how to get tickets. 

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