October 14

Old-School Scares

I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a kid. Growing up in South Florida, every Saturday morning one of the local television channels showed Creature Features starting at 10:30. And every weekend I’d tune in to watch the old black and white Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy movies. They’d also show the Godzilla flicks, along with some of the other giant monster movies that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Oh, and the occasional Hitchcock film.

I’d lay on the living room floor, wrapped in a blanket and holding one of my stuffed animals, and would peek through my fingers as whenever the creature of the week appeared on screen. Despite my fear, I always came back for more.

Later, in my teen years, the movies evolved. The slow-burning horror and scares became more graphic. There was Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and one of my favorites, Dawn of the Dead. The blood and guts didn’t really bother me, it just added a gross-out factor the the films. Besides, they were sort of fun, mostly because many of them were predictable. Couple having sex? Dead. Young woman in the shower? Dead. Wandering in the woods after dark? Dead. I probably should have watched them with a horror movie bingo card in hand.

At some point another evolution occurred and the genre moved into territory that I just can’t get into: the torture movies. Also often referred to as torture porn. Instead of the victims being killed off quickly – albeit sometimes messily – it was over and done with and the film moved on. Now, however, the victims are slowly tortured, and some of the scenes go on for what seems like forever. To me, that’s not scary, it’s just perverse.

I’m not saying the movies shouldn’t be made. There’s obviously a market for them and it’s still giving these movie-makers the opportunity to be creative. I’m all for that. I mean, I can appreciate the artistry that goes into creating a graphic, bloody death scene. I’m a fan of practical special effects and – when I was a kid – dreamed of working as a special effects artist.

It’s really personal taste. The torture movies just aren’t my thing. I’d rather watch an old Hitchcock movie than Human Centipede. I feel like the best scares are the ones that are partially left to my imagination. Hearing the screams coming from off-camera, the vague sound effects, shadows on the wall hinting at something sinister, is all fuel for my mind. To me, that’s the best kind of scare. What I can come up with in my head is going to be much darker than what I see on screen.

So this October I’ll be doing what I usually do, and that’s revisiting some of those classic horror films from past decades, enjoying the building tension, the ambiance, the mystery. And then I’ll use all that to feed my imagination when I sit down to write.

Boo!

RB

 

October 5

Where is my Muse?

There are times when I stare at a blank screen and wonder when the words will come. It doesn’t happen often. I’m lucky in that I can always find something to write about. But on occasion, well, my Muse seems to be on vacation.

Personally, I think she just needs to recharge every so often. The way I look at it, our brains run on electricity. All those synapses firing off billions of times every minute, all those thoughts processing, ideas forming, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams. It’s like a mini-universe unfolding.

And all that processing eats up resources. Not necessarily memory. I’m sure I have a few petabytes still available. No, I’m referring to the the actual effort spent thinking about everything. Day to day thinking coupled with creative endeavors can push the brain to the limit. And then what?

Exhaustion.

I think mental exhaustion is more crippling than physical exhaustion. And that’s what it comes down to, the brain is just out of energy. I’ve found the only real cure is a good nap. Or a good night’s sleep. Rest, recuperation, and magically my Muse saunters back into the room, adult beverage in hand, ready to get back to work. Ta-da!

I often wonder if one of the main causes of Writer’s Block is simply due to being mentally tired. I know that when I am, I have a hard time concentrating, keeping the words flowing, even getting the words to make sense. And yes, it can cause frustration and anxiety. The Muse, much like a child, gets cranky and stubborn, refuses to do anything, and pouts.

When I feel she’s getting to that point I know it’s time to take a mental break and rest. Not surprisingly, it’s resulted in my productivity going up. When I take the time to recharge I end up writing more. I used to try and push myself, thinking that any time spent away from the keyboard was just wasted time. But now I know that isn’t true. Taking a little time to recharge the batteries actually makes me a better writer, a more productive writer, and a happier writer.

With that said…time for a nap!

RB

 

October 2

Carnivorous Cultivars

If you follow me on social media you may have seen a few posts about my carnivorous plants. I’ve been fascinated with them since I was a wee lad and my father bought me a Venus fly trap from an ad I saw in the back of a comic book. The poor thing didn’t last long. It didn’t come with instructions so I was giving it tap water and trying to feed it bits of raw ground beef. Both are big mistakes when it comes to these types of plants.

About fifteen years ago my interest in them was renewed when I attended a lecture at a local plant nursery. I then picked up a couple of books on the topic and discovered that there are carnivorous plants growing in my area. Of course, carnivorous plants are protected, so digging them up in the wild is a big no-no and can result in fines and jail time. Luckily, there are licensed nurseries all over the U.S. that cultivate and sell them.

I’ve picked up most of my plants from California Carnivores. They offer an amazing variety that caters to both amateurs and professionals. I’ve also picked up a couple of plants locally. There’s a guy here who cultivates them in his backyard bog garden, then sells them through a locally-owned nursery.

Right now my pitcher plants are doing well. I have them planted in five gallon pots in a mixture of sphagnum moss, perlite, and pine bark. Odd, right? The thing about carnivorous plants is that they don’t get much, if any, nutrition from the ground they grow in. Regular potting soil will kill them. Even tap water can be deadly, so I have a free-standing rain barrel that I use to water them. Despite their meat-eating habits, they’re actually quite delicate. To try to and keep them as comfortable as possible, I mostly leave them alone and let them do their thing, only pruning in the winter and leaving some of the dying pitchers until they completely dry out.

I don’t want to bore you with all the cool biology and tongue-twisting scientific names, but I think you might enjoy seeing a few of my pets.

This is a white pitcher plant that’s indigenous to my area here in North Florida. They grow wild in the national forest just south of town. The pitchers, at least in the pots on my patio, grow to a height of three to four foot. The lip of the pitcher excretes a sweet substance that attracts bugs. Then they slip and fall into the pitcher where they drown, and are digested, by enzymes in the water that gets trapped in there. The plants also have fine hairs pointing downwards that line the interior of the pitchers. In this photo, one pitcher is open for business while the other one is just about ready to open. If you click and zoom in, you can seem some of those fine hairs on the lid of the open one.

White Pitcher Plants

And here are some of my red, hooded pitchers. They tend to stay low to the ground. The interesting thing about this type of pitcher is the hood. When bugs fall in they obviously try to get back out. The white spots on the hood allow light in, which tricks the bugs into thinking that’s the way out. What they do is bounce off the inside of the hood over and over until they’re exhausted, then down into the enzyme soup they go!

This photo is of some regular hooded pitchers. The same thing applies here with the white ‘bubbles’ on the hood helping to render the victims immobile. If you look close, you can also see an Australian sundew that’s moved into the neighborhood.

Fun fact: When I bought the Australian sundew I was told it was sterile and wouldn’t propagate. Over the course of three or four years it would flower like crazy and seed up, but that’s it. Then, earlier this year, I found that some seeds fell into this pitcher pot and sprouted. I must be doing something right.

Green Pitchers and Australian Sundew

I’ll share more of my deadly little garden in the future. I also have Venus fly-traps, sundews, and a variety of other pitchers.

Hope you enjoyed this foray into my weird world.

Me and my pitchers

RB

October 1

October is Here!

October is one of my favorite months. Not only is the weather cooling down a bit (not too much), but it also contains my favorite holiday.

I’ve been a fan of Halloween since I was a kid. My best friend at the time, Jay, lived across the street from me and we’d go to great lengths to dress up for the big night. One year I wrapped myself from head to toe in Ace bandages in order to play a scary mummy. Unfortunately, most of the treat givers thought I was an accident victim. Oh well.

Another year Jay dressed as Dracula (I think his mom made the cape, complete with starched collar) and I went as faithful Renfield. We made quite a pair. And keep in mind that we didn’t use store-bought costumes. No, we created our own and spent a good amount of time planning what we’d do each year.

Not long before I moved out of the neighborhood, I got together with a kid that lived on the next street over and we built a “haunted house” in his garage. We hung sheets to make the hallway, then set up folding tables to hold things like a bowl of eyeballs (peeled grapes), fresh brains (pink jello), and then put on masks so we could jump out and scare the other kids. It was a blast.

Maybe that’s where I got my initial love of horror and weirdness. Creating my own costumes, learning how to make fake blood and scars, reading Famous Monsters Magazine (RIP) to get ideas for the future…it all ended up being the breeding ground for my current imagination.

But Halloween is still a few weeks away and I have to be patient. I don’t dress up like I used to and, obviously, this year isn’t going to be quite the same, but I still love the day, the magic, and the monsters. Plus, this year the full moon will make an appearance. That’s awesome.

Oh, and if you’re ready to start getting in the mood, check out my short story collection, Dark Journeys. It’s a mix of dark sci-fi, horror, and speculative fiction. Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight. You still do that, right?

Dark Journeys Cover

September 23

Baking Frustration

If you haven’t noticed, I enjoy cooking. I write about cooking here on my blog and I post cooking videos on my YouTube channel. To me, cooking is just another way to be creative. My favorite recipes are the ones that allow me to experiment with seasoning and switching out ingredients. It allows me to make it my own way. Usually, that’s a good thing. Usually.

Baking, on the other hand, is my Achilles Heel. The thorn in my side. My kitchen nemesis. Yes, it’s still cooking, mixing ingredients together, using heat or cold to meld them all together into something interesting. And believe me, I try to bake. Working from a box of mix is a no-brainer. Anyone can make brownies from a mix.

My trouble begins when I try to bake from scratch. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to get the recipes to come out right. There’s always something off about them. Too gummy, underdone, or maybe too dry, a little overdone on one end. Drives me up the wall.

However, this past week I tried to bake bread using the instructions in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Basically, I make a large batch of bread dough to keep in the fridge and pull a handful out every couple of days to bake a small loaf. It’s simple and specific, and while I don’t deviate from the recipe, it’s been fun.

But the loafs…well, I may not be as precise as I need to be when mixing the dough. I’m switching between measuring by volume and measuring by weight. Using weight is supposed to be better, but for me using volume has worked better. I have no idea why.

So I made enough dough for three loafs. The first one turned out okay, but I needed to let it brown more. The second loaf browned nicely on top, but I forgot to pull the parchment paper out from underneath it midway through, so the bottom didn’t cook as well as it should.

But the third loaf…ah, that was were things came together. In fact, I was so pleased with it I took a few pics to share. Unfortunately, my partner got ahold of it before I could grab my phone, so a piece is missing. Not to worry, it was still warm and covered in fig jelly. And no, she didn’t share.

Loaf of bread loaf of bread

The only thing I forgot (because I ALWAYS forget something when baking) is to score the top. Other than that, it turned out almost perfect. Nice thin, crispy crust and a decent crumb.

Once I get this recipe under control, I’m going to try my hand at baguettes. And pretzels. And seeded bread…

I may have an addiction.

RB

September 21

My First Book

Do you remember the first book you read that really spoke to you, got into your head, made you want to be a writer? Or at the very least, made you a lifelong reader? I do. It was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I read it when I was nine years old. I know, sort of a heavier read for someone that age, but I made it through (using a dictionary when needed) and it lit a spark that forever changed my life.

Obviously, this isn’t a book a nine year old would pick up off the shelf at the local bookstore. No, I had an older family member who was in college and would bring me the books they were reading in class. Some were way beyond my ability to comprehend at that age, but others, like Siddhartha, resonated with me on levels I didn’t quite understand.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it was written in the early 1920s by German author Herman Hesse, who also wrote several other fantastic novels. It tells the story of the title character, a young man who comes from a wealthy family in India. He feels empty, restless, like there is something missing inside, so he goes on a spiritual journey. He fasts, renounces all possessions, and eventually meets Gautama, the Buddha.

His path is not an easy one. There is love, loss, and reawakening. As a young man, Siddhartha’s restlessness and longing were something that appealed to me. I was getting to that age when the body and mind begin to morph into something new, so this story was relatable. And from a spiritual standpoint, I could appreciate the philosophy of Buddhism. It was distinctly different from the Catholicism I grew up in.

It’s interesting to note that while this novel is considered an “adult” book, it’s written in a very simple narrative voice, and it’s only 152 pages. Hesse did an amazing job of telling this deep, thoughtful story in a simple, unassuming manner. He didn’t need a thousand pages to get to the heart of the story. From a writer’s perspective, that’s impressive.

And this book has stuck with me over the years. The original copy went with me through middle school and high school, and I think I eventually lost it in one of my moves. I picked up another copy in my mid-twenties and it’s on the bookshelf next to my bed. I still go back and read it every few years. Partly because I love the story so much, but also as a reminder of the philosophy behind it and how it affected me all those years ago.

Is Siddhartha the best book I’ve read? No, but it is one of the most meaningful. I hope you have a book in your past that still resonates with you and I hope you still pick it up and re-read it every so often. There are millions of books out there for us to read, but only a few are special. Those are the ones we cherish.

Do you have a book that had this affect on you? If so, let me know about it.

RB

September 16

Quick and Easy Shrimp

This isn’t a fancy recipe by any means, but it’s a quick and easy way to prepare shrimp. Plus, only a handful of ingredients!

All you need is:

  • 1 lb of shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 TB of butter
  • 1 TB of Worcestershire Sauce
  • black pepper
  • Juice from half a lemon

Cleaned Shrimp

cut lemon

First, melt the butter in a 10 inch pan over medium heat until it’s nice and foamy.

Butter melting  butter foaming in pan

Next, season the shrimp with the black pepper and add them, along with the Worcestershire Sauce and lemon juice.

shrimp sautéing in pan

This only takes a couple of minutes, so watch them so they don’t overcook.

And voila’!

shrimp cooked in butter

A couple of thoughts on this recipe: First, I thought using salted butter would be enough. I was wrong. I suggest you season the shrimp with a pinch of salt.

Also, while the flavor was nice – how could it not be since it was cooked in butter? – it could have used a little more…something. Next time I’m going to add maybe a bit of garlic powder (or cook the shrimp with some minced fresh garlic!), maybe a little cayenne pepper, or a bit of curry powder. It just needed a little extra something to make it kick.

Give it a shot. It’s quick and easy and you can customize the flavors. I think this goes well with some thick, crusty bread or over some rice or pasta. Let me know if you make this. I’m interested in what flavor combinations you tried.

RB

 

September 14

A Fork in the Road

I think that one of the causes of ‘creative block’ can be attributed to decision making. What I mean is, when working on a project we have to make choices. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. Some are minor, like the color of a character’s hair. Others are major and can change the course of the story. And it doesn’t necessarily matter which it is, sometimes even the seemingly harmless decisions can be hard to make.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I always have a couple of stories on my hard drive that I’ve set aside because of being ‘blocked’…or more specifically, I have to make a decision and I’m not sure what to do. I tend to fret about it for a while, write a few thoughts and ideas on the page, then hit ‘save’ and close it out until some point in the future.

But why do I do this? That’s what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. Is it a deep-seated need to procrastinate? Fear of failure? Inability to commit? All of the above?

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this. What I mean is that, regardless of the choice made, I can always go back and try something different. It’s not like what I write has to be permanent. I’m not etching my words in stone or using a permanent marker on a whiteboard. I’m typing in a word processing program. If I decide I made a wrong turn, all I need to do is highlight, delete, and go down another path.

So maybe part of it is fear. Not the scary, shivering type of fear, but more of a fear of doing it wrong. I think it’s normal to feel that way, except for when it prevents me from completing a story. It’s a mind game. I have to remind myself that they are just words, virtual words, and I can change them, delete them, rearrange them, over and over again until I get them right.

This may not necessarily be true for everyone. We all have our own reasons for getting stuck on our creative projects. But the next time you get stuck, think about this. Maybe you’re simply afraid of making a mistake or a wrong decision, and that’s what is keeping you from moving forward.

Just remember, we’re writers and creators. We can build things and we can destroy them. The power is ours, so don’t be afraid to try something different. You can always go back and redo it.

RB

September 11

Singing in the Shower

Why are the acoustics in a shower so damn good? It’s not like I’m a professional singer – far from it – but I can hold a tune in an amateurish sort of way. But get me in the shower and I turn into a combination of Freddy Mercury, Pavarotti, and Brad Delp (Boston). I turn the volume up on the little shower radio hanging in the corner and howl.

Maybe it’s the way the tiles are arranged, or maybe the way the water coats them that makes me sound like I should be on stage. Someone should do a study on this. I can see the results now: “A combination of bar soap, shampoo, hot water, and ceramic tile can make even the most tone-deaf individual sound like an opera star.” You’d think the shower industry would be backing this.

And it’s not just me, even my partner sounds good when she’s belting it out while bathing. I can hear her from across the house and wonder, “who is that velvet-voiced vixen?”

I’ve considered whether or not we should try a duet, but then I remember she tends to hog the hot water.

For what it’s worth, singing in the shower is a great self-esteem booster. You’ve got the hot water splashing over you, you’re all soaped up and getting clean, there’s great music playing, and you’re all alone, no judgement, just you and whatever you use as a faux microphone. I tend to roll up the washcloth and use that as my mic. I tried using the bar of soap but it kept popping out of my hand and I ended up chasing it around the bottom of the tub.

And I have to assume I’m not the only one who does this. I figured this was a universal experience, that everyone sings in the shower. You may not do it as often as I do, or maybe you only do it when no one else is at home, but still, you let it all out when the opportunity arises, right? Right?

If not, then you’re missing out on an amazing acoustic experience. And spirit-lifting. I think singing in the shower is one of life’s special moments. The only downside is that my water bill is sort of high. But that’s the price one pays for the ability to sing like a superstar.

And I’m willing to pay it.

RB

 

September 9

Real Men Eat Quiche

Before anyone is offended by the post title, it’s a joke. Back in 1982, Pocket Books published a satirical book titled, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” Basically, it made fun of male stereotypes and was popular enough to be on the New York Times Best Seller list for fifty-five weeks. The best part was that a segment of the U.S. population thought the book was serious (because they didn’t actually read it). There were actually marches by men who didn’t want to eat quiche because they considered it too feminine. Good thing we don’t have to deal with that kind of craziness any more.

Personally, I love quiche. I like to make a couple of them on a sleepy Sunday morning, then have a piece for breakfast every morning over the course of the week. Just toss it in the microwave for a minute and it’s a quick, warm, and mostly healthy breakfast.

One of the best things about it is that it’s versatile. As long as you have your base ingredients – eggs and milk – you’re good to go. Everything else depends on you and what appeals to your tastes. In fact, even the base is adjustable. So if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, you can switch out the eggs and milk for alternatives.

Me, being me, forgot to pick up pie crusts when I was grocery shopping this past weekend, so I ended up making crustless quiche. Which I guess you could simply call an egg casserole. But I made it in a pie pan, so I’m going to call a technicality and claim it’s still a quiche.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Quiche

Here’s the recipe I used. It’s enough for two quiche, with or without crust. If you do go with a pre-made pie crust, I recommend you use a deep dish one. Less chance for spillage.

10 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of Almond milk
12 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 bag frozen spinach, heated and drained
Salt
Pepper
1 pound bacon, cooked, degreased with paper towels, chopped

Start off by sautéing the peppers and onions. Microwave the spinach while you’re sautéing, then put it in a colander to drain (you can also use some paper towels to get out the excess water). I’ll also cook the bacon at the same time (in the oven).

Once all that is done, let it cool off for a few minutes. Tossing the hot veggies and bacon into the raw egg will start to cook it, and you don’t want that. Also, set the oven for 350f (176c) and put the rack in the middle.

Crack your eggs into a good-sized bowl and whisk until well-blended. Add the milk and blend. I then add some salt and pepper and the cheese, blending it all together. Once the veggies and bacon are cooled off, toss them in, as well, and blend it well with a whisk or spoon.

Grease or oil your baking dish with some olive oil, butter, or if you’re feeling frisky, bacon grease. I used a couple of glass pie pans, but you can use a casserole dish. If you have pie crusts, you obviously don’t need to do this.

Pour the mixture into the pans/casserole/pie crusts, then put in the oven and set the timer for about 45 minutes. When the alarm goes off you can check to see if they’re cooked in the center. You can do this with a toothpick or a knife. Just stick it in the center of each quiche and see if it comes out clean. If not, give it another ten minutes and check again. Once it comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool for about ten minutes before digging in.

Like I mentioned above, you can do so much to personalize quiche. Try adding a tiny pinch of cinnamon or some fresh herbs. Switch out kale for the spinach, or use fresh greens instead of frozen. Use different veggies, like tomato or thinly sliced carrots or parsnips. You can omit the meat if you’d like, or switch it up by cooking some ground sausage, shredded cooked chicken, or maybe some cooked crab meat. The options are limitless so let your imagination run wild.

If you try the recipe, or a variation of it, let me know how it turns out.

RB