Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fennec fox kits playing at home!

Over the years, Ana's fear of dogs, second nature to everyone on her home planet, Thomo, has relaxed considerably. It began with the judicious introduction of a pair of Rhodesian ridgeback puppies in Distant Cousin: Reincarnation. Who could NOT love pups like these?

Ana has seen fennec foxes in zoos, but never as house pets, yet it isn't difficult to see her taken with these active, affectionate, tiny canids. If any convincing were necessary that they can make entertaining, fascinating companions, these two video clips will provide it. The first is from Julie of It seems that the fennec fox is being introduced to Julie's household menagerie, and vice versa, as part of a careful socialization process. Just try to count all the animals who appear! (Ana might have a problem with that enormous dog.)

The second clip shows a fennec fox kit playing with a house cat. They are clearly playmates. The cat seems to want to help the kit stay clean!

And cats, house cats, caracals, lyxes, servals, and a tiger cub, in the column to the right under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty, at the bottom of that list

Friday, December 9, 2011

So you don't like science fiction?

Lots of people love science fiction, but not everybody. Science fiction, basically, deals with "imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a 'literature of ideas.' It is largely based on "writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures" (Wikipedia).

Some people are just not that interested in speculations about aliens, futuristic science, and suchlike ideas. It does, perhaps, take a little extra willingness to suspend belief to accept, for example, two characters in different galaxies talking to each other as if they were telephoning between Houston and Kansas City, or dissolving their molecules to be reassembled in another place. That might be called "hard" science fiction. However, there are degrees of science fiction....

Many, but not all, readers call the Distant Cousin stories science fiction. This is partly because of the book covers and partly because the heroine happens to come from another planet. She reached Earth, where her story begins, on a vessel that was propelled by the controlled force of gravity (though to be sure, she never exceeded the speed of light). Furthermore, that heroine, Ana Darcy, is an alien only by virtue of coming from a planet other than Earth. Except for that, she is as human as any of us...and there, of course, lies our tale.

Here is what readers have said about the science fiction aspect of the Distant Cousin series:

"This sequel to Distant Cousin [DC: Repatriation] is, like its predecessor, more mainstream literature than science fiction. Readers will find the science fiction elements kept to the background in a storyline that is more about character and society than about the arrival of extra-terrestrials on Earth."

"I have read a lot of science fiction in the past, and this had a completely different (and believable) spin. It lacked the 'techno babble' that I often enjoy, but, if we can’t understand gravity propulsion anyway I suppose it is not necessary to explain it. The series was a compelling, heartwarming and sometimes scary page turner."

"I loved this book from the minute I picked it up. I usually don't go for Science Fiction books...they seem to be too outlandish or the authors try to make them too "alien" making up so many words and phrases that you lose your spot in the story. This book was nothing like that. It was a wonderfully written story with engaging characters

"As far as sci-fi's go, it's very light on the sci part. I mean, you really don't get bogged down in techy stuff at all & there's a great story in there."

"I would recommend the book to any of you who like science fiction with some romance and adventure thrown in. No little green men/women will be involved, but there will be characters about whom you will care a great deal."

And finally, this, from "Crusty Old Guy:"

"I cut my teeth on old school science fiction with bug-eyed monsters, ray guns, and inhospitable planets. This isn't about those. Well maybe it is, with Earth and some of it's inhabitants being the antagonists. This is well written, as one page induces you to read the next. Characters have life. The plot is plausible (we are talking SF here). It also gives some insight into the people, places, and culture of Nueva Espana. I read this out of curiosity and to add another dimension to my reading of late. My curiosity was pleasantly slaked but I wouldn't recommend this to other crusty old guys. We just aren't the target audience. I highly recommended this to my grand daughter. My wife should even enjoy it. Oh yeah, I'll probably read the next in the series."

We know of only one reader who adamantly refuses anything to do with science fiction, no matter how "lite." To those more venturesome souls, we think you will enjoy meeting your distant cousin, Ana Darcy. We predict you will not hold it against her that she happened to be born on a planet 25 light years away. In fact, we predict you'll be glad she came here.

More readers opine:

Sample excerpts!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ana improvises frantically in the kitchen

If you have enjoyed looking over Ana's many recipes and cooking inspirations, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ana only meets with success in the kitchen. Like any creative cook, however, she does not always succeed. Being from another planet and another cooking culture, and having an original, quick mind, it is undeniably true she has done some wonderful things with the foods and flavors offered by the cuisines of Earth. Below, however, is an account of one of her experiments that got out of hand, and which she had to scramble to save. You should NOT try this at home!

Ana loves sweets and she loves pies and the opportunities they offer for creativity. She had finished a session of making pumpkin pies and found she had some filling left over. What to do with it?

She looked online, and decided to make cookies. She added a few ingredients and baked them into cake-like pumpkin cookies. They were tasty, but not attractive. What to do then?

She turned them into sandwich cookies using cream cheese frosting. These were delicious, but they looked like little hamburgers filled with mayonnaise. That was not what she wanted. What to do?

She decided to make them into cake bon-bons, as when one mixes up cake batter with frosting and shapes them into balls which are coated with chocolate. Although she was careful not to add too much frosting, she added too much frosting, resulting in a texture that, she said, had "the consistency of dog food that had been sitting in water for a day." Not good, even if it tasted good. In fact, it looked disgusting. There was no way to serve it to anyone. What to do?

She dumped it into a torte pan, baked it, let it cool, and flipped it out of the pan. It was not a handsome dish. NOW what to do??

She toasted coconut and pecan pieces, mixed them with brown sugar and cinnamon, topped it onto the torte, and drizzled white chocolate over it.

It was a "long journey," she said, but "worth the effort." We repeat: do NOT try this at home! See the photo above.

There are more of Ana's cooking ideas in the column to the right, under the photo of craberry/apple pie, including:

...and dozens of ideas for frijoles, salsa, & pizza variations!

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Tis the season: a great inexpensive gift idea!

Can there be a better gift than something that gives pleasure reliably, for hours and that will appeal to nearly everybody? That can be enjoyed over and over and lasts forever? That can be shared with others? And can be found easily, and delivered free, right from your computer? And for which the recipient will admire your thoughtfulness and perspicacity?

There IS such a gift, and at less than $3, it's easy to give one to yourself, and to friend after friend!

From now through the Christmas season, the story of Ana Darcy, the extraterrestrial everyone would love to meet and take to lunch, is on sale!

For the people on your gift list who have one of the many Kindle models, or the free Kindle for PC, send them this Distant Cousin!

If they have Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, or other e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, etc., or Palm reading devices, send them this Distant Cousin!

Readers comment:

"I loved this book...I loved some of your ideas. Thank you for writing. It is such a pleasure to read a book that provides entertainment and a sense of wonder. This is time well spent!"

"I am up to Book 3 of the Distant Cousin series and I really recommend these books for anyone wanting something fun and engaging. I have been reading them each night for almost a week and am becoming distressed the Book 3 is almost over. I have many books waiting on my Kindle to read, but I hate to leave Ana Darcy and her story."

"I just finished book 3 and can hardly wait for the next to see what happens next. I have thoroughly enjoyed [them]....I loved Ana Darcy. She is a very believable heroine."

"I just finished Distant Cousin and loved it! I can't wait to read the rest of the series. Great storyline, loveable characters, I really liked seeing how the characters developed and their interactions with eachother. I was pulled into the story and wanted to stay there."


Friday, November 18, 2011

Spanish food? A tortilla??

The Méndez family, before Ana Darcy became a part of it, being good New Mexicans, had never heard of a "Spanish tortilla." It wasn't long after that Ana (from another planet, after all) joined them, exercising her powerful curiosity about the cuisines of the world. She discovered this simple, savory dish--thanks to her Spanish professor friend, Charo Silva (in Distant Cousin).

The photo above shows most of what one needs to know about it: it's a sort of omelet, with potato cubes and onions sauteed in a pan, and an egg slurry poured over them. There's no need for a recipe here--they are easy to find with any search engine. The picture is worth many words.

The Méndez clan like theirs with their favorite salsa on top, but we have it on good authority that many Spaniards slather theirs with homemade mayonnaise or aioli!

There are many more recipe ideas in the right column under the photo of cranberry-apple pie, including:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

El Paso from Scenic Drive

Mount Franklin (above) is the southernmost of the Rocky Mountains, and divides the city of El Paso in half. The view above looks south, as the tip of the mountain drops down to the pass ("el paso") to the right. Scenic Drive, the 1930-era CCC-built road across the mountain, is visible as the lighter line across the side. The photos below show the view from the observation point, approximately at the leftmost point where the road heads down the far side of the mountain. (For more detail, right click any photo to open in another tab.)

Below is the view from the observation point to the south, along the border. Fort Bliss, the Army base where Ana spent some unhappy time in Distant Cousin, is just out of the picture to the left. Right center, the dark, wide highway is Interstate Highway 10, heading east to San Antonio and Dallas. That too is important in Distant Cousin. The tower in the distance, far right, is at the Chamizal Monument, commemorating a treaty agreement between the United States and Mexico. To the right of that is Mexico.

Turning to the right from the above photo and zooming a bit, we see downtown El Paso with Ciudad Juarez behind it. Left center is one of the international bridges between Mexico and the United States. Somewhere in that maze in the distance is one of the venues in Distant Cousin: Regeneration.

Naturally, if you are at the tip of a mountain range you can see to both sides and straight ahead, but not very far back on either side. Below is about as far to the west as can be seen. The University of Texas at El Paso is barely visible on the right. The mountains opposite are on the other side of the pass, in Mexico. The city of Juarez spreads left to right, on the other side of El Paso. Its population is estimated at three to four times the size of El Paso's, which is 750,000.

See more pictures of West Texas, southern New Mexico, and other venues from the Distant Cousin stories in the column to the right, under the picture of the blue-eyed kitty--->

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The View from El Paso's Trans-Mountain Road

The Rio Grande flows south the length of New Mexico, along the Rocky Mountains to the east, finally passing through the Mesilla Valley before it reaches El Paso, Texas, where it becomes the border between the United States and Mexico as it flows on to the Gulf of Mexico, over 1,000 miles south. The nearest airport to Las Cruces is in El Paso, on the other side of those mountains. To get there, one can either drive through the pass ("El Paso") or take a more recent, spectacular shortcut through the mountains on the Woodrow Bean Trans-Mountain Road.

Ana and Matt have taken the Trans-Mountain Road many times. Ana particularly likes to stop at the observation point to admire the scenic vista. She is from the planet Thomo, after all, and this vantage point, over a mile in elevation and with the horizon over 100 miles away, gives her the unmistakeable impression that she is on a planet, something that does not seem quite as obvious in a forest, for example, or a city. The family enjoyed a fun bicycle ride down this road in Distant Cousin: Reincarnation.

The photo above shows the Rocky Mountains spreading south from Las Cruces (out of the photo to the top left perhaps 40 miles) towards El Paso, which leads south from the bottom of the picture. The Trans-Mountain road can be seen crossing the mountains. The red dot shows the approximate location of the observation point. (Right click any photo to another tab for more detail.) Several mountain-top vistas of El Paso to the south are visible elsewhere--see below.

The next three photos show the view from the observation point, left to right. The green band is the river valley; closer to the camera are small towns, farms, businesses, and roads, including IH 10. Compare to the photo above. Those green fields, only a few miles further north, include the extensive irrigated pecan groves the area is famous for. The Mendez family lives there, just south of Las Cruces. The two peaks on the horizon in the second photo below are Cox Peak and Mount Riley, hills, really, rather than mountains. They are roughly 35 miles distant. On the other side of the river is the Chihuahuan Desert.

See also many ground-level photos in the column on the right, under the picture of the blue-eyed kitty

Monday, October 31, 2011

MORE Mexican Dia de Muertos figurines!

We've pointed out elsewhere how it took Ana a while to appreciate the Mexicans' acceptance of death as a part of life, a view that on her planet might be considered inappropriate. Not everyone on Earth would agree, either. Yet the tiny figurines below clearly reveal that such an attitude is more affectionate than mocking. Thousands of these are made in Mexico. Many are for sale, and Ana loves them now. The examples below will give some indication.

First a professor, perhaps (note the owl, a symbol of wisdom on his desk):

Next, a nurse giving an injection to a patient (note the salt and bread on the table, to nourish the spirits):

A woman selling chickens:

A bride and groom:

A grand señora:

And let's not forget the family dog! (He has stolen a loaf of pan de muertos, the traditional bread made for this day.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bhutanese architecture, similar to Thoman architecture, found by Ana in El Paso

As we know from Distant Cousin, Ana spent many years studying Earth from the moon. The quality of that study improved by several orders of magnitude following the advent of the internet, when it became possible for her to receive images, video clips, and movies from Earth. She was particularly astonished to discover the architecture of the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, half the size of Massachusetts, tucked away high in the Himalayas between India and China.
The larger Bhutanese buildings (see the photos above)--monasteries, temples, and official structures--were not that different from the buildings her ancestors erected long ago on the planet Thomo. After further study she was able to hypothesize why this should be, despite the unlikelihood of there having been any direct influence on her Earthly Proto-Indo European ancestors. Both Bhutanese and Thoman buildings are found in mountainous, lonely, hostile areas. In Bhutan, other people were the danger; on Thomo, the native wildlife was the threat. Both areas are seismically active. Thus in both cases, the walls of buildings were tall and immensely thick at the bottom and tapered toward the top. Arches and doorways were not curved, but squared off. And Ana instantly recognized the purpose of rooftop structures of Bhutanese buildings: they are watch towers, just as on Thomo.

So imagine Ana's surprise to discover, not long after she settled down in southern New Mexico, Bhutanese-style buildings not fifty miles from her, lots of them! The buildings of the University of Texas at El Paso have been built in that style for nearly a century! The reason is well known to people who live there. When the University was just beginning and the buildings being planned, the wife of a university (then a college) official noticed an article on Bhutan in National Geographic. The Bhutanese buildings perfectly suited the harsh, rocky mountains they were in, and the mountains in El Paso looked much the same. She suggested that style to the architects. The rest is history.

The photos below show some of the original buildings at UTEP and then a number of modern interpretations. The style has become famous. Some off-campus buildings now use the style, including a mall. The campus was even visited by a Bhutanese prince!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Mexican food!

After having just shown some photos of Mesilla's most famous restaurant, La Posta, it seems the perfect time to show some photos of New Mexican-style food! No one could be surprised that someone from another planet, like Ana, would love it. Everyone loves it.

Here's a shrimp salad with strips (rajas) of fresh green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. These chiles are NOT picante. They are barely sauteed, fresh, crunchy, and delicately tangy, and probably cannot be duplicated anywhere outside of the region.

Here's a thin steak, Tampequeño style, laid on a red tomato sauce and white cheese, with sauteed tomatoes, onions, and chile rajas on top. Awesome!

Next, we have caldo de pollo (chicken soup). This was a small bowl!

In a bit of cross-cultural pollenization, here's a pizza with fresh chile rajas. ¡Sí, señor!

And finally, we have fresh chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, purchased at a farmer's market. The ones on the right are fresh, of course. The ones on the left have been roasted and peeled and then frozen, saving one the work of doing it at home. If you have a choice, this is the way to buy them. For the gardeners, we are told that the chiles most prized are Anaheim and Big Jim varieties.

See more food ideas in the column to the right under the photo of cranberry-apple pie a la mode-->

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ana's Favorite Restaurant: La Posta, in Mesilla, New Mexico

Even an extraterrestrial had no trouble realizing the unique qualities of La Posta restaurant in Mesilla, New Mexico. It's said that it is some 150 years old, when it began as a stagecoach stop.

Here are more photos. (RIght click into a new tab for details.)

When they were younger, the Méndez children loved the piranhas and the parrots (and the toucan, not pictured).

Next post: let's sample the food!

More pictures of Mesilla, the plaza, church, and agriculture:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A look at some Mesilla Valley neighborhoods

Neighborhoods in the Mesilla Valley, however humble or upscale, tend to be homey, comfortable, and welcoming. Outsiders may not realize that it is against the law to build a home of any material which might burn--like wood. Wood has always been expensive in this area of few forests, and homes made of stone, adobe, brick, or concrete block tend to last...which means that when window frames or roofs become rickety, they are generally repaired rather than having the building demolished. (They also have the lowest fire insurance rates in the United States.)

Above and below are some random neighborhoods in Mesilla, near where the family of extraterrestrial distant cousin Ana Darcy lives, and several small villages to the south along Highway 28, all usually within several blocks of the Rio Grande river. Chope's is a locally popular eatery but the best known restaurant in the area is La Posta, in Mesilla. There are several photos elsewhere on this blog (see below), and we will soon have many more.

Perhaps you can tell: time has not exactly passed this area by, but it does move at a walking pace!

(Right click any photo to open in another tab for more detail.)