Artichokes the Italian Way

OK, so OCD and eating artichokes is a definite conundrum.  But I have been happily dealing with the mess since I was a little girl.  Here in California, they are easy and cheap to get- and this little beauty was locally grown, to boot!  Thus, I indulge in the messy temptation now and again and then head straight to the soap and water.


All you need is however many artichokes you want to make, olive oil, and Italian seasoned bread crumbs.  Of course, you can make your own crumbs seasoned with oregano, basil, and parsley to taste (I like lots of all), a dash of salt, and white or black pepper.  The mini artichokes work nicely, too.

Cut the sharp tips off the leaves with a knife or kitchen scissors, as well as the stem so it is as flush to the bottom as possible- it will still wobble, but that’s part of the artichoke’s charm.  Wash the choke well.  If you have a pull out sprayer on your faucet, hold the choke upside down, spreading the leaves gently, and rinse so the water flows back out.  If not, no biggie… just wash, flooding between the leaves and tipping the water out a few times.

Using a shallow bowl or plate to catch the mess, drizzle olive oil between the leaves, then stuff your bread crumbs in as much or little as you want.


Stand the artichoke on its bottom in a pot, and cover and steam on low-simmer on the stove for about 40 minutes, or until the leaves pull off easily.  Best to use a steamer basket with the water just touching the bottom of the artichoke, but if you don’t have a basket, use about an inch of water, checking every 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t all boil off.

When it’s cool enough to handle but still warm, pull the leaves off one at a time and scrape between your teeth.  Once you get to the inner soft leaves, you can eat them whole.  They will be very light in colour and thin.  The thick ones will choke you.  There’s a joke in there, but I shall refrain.  Cut the remaining fuzzy stuff off to find the heart inside.  The heart can be eaten then and there, or used elsewhere (in a salad or on pizza) within 3 or 4 days.

Mangiare e divertirsi!


Dunottar Castle, Scotland

Clearing out my “saved mail” folder this morning, I came across an email from my daughter in 2008.

I should preface by saying that I am of (among other things) Scottish descent from my father’s father.  I have loved all that is Scottish since I was a small child, and realised my dream of stepping foot on the land of my ancestors in the summer of 2000 when we spent 2 1/2 weeks in Perthshire visiting friends who started off as pen-pals; we are friends to this day.

Anyway, I wanted to preserve these photos of Dunnottar Castle and the explanation that accompanies them, and share them with whoever may read my silly blog simply because Scotland is so wonderful.  Below is exactly what Shooshie sent me in the email with the photos linked to each piece.  All photos and the explanations are by someone called Geejwoob who posted them to their Photobucket.  I don’t know him/her, and couldn’t find a way to contact, so Geej, if you see this, THANK YOU for sharing this in the first place, and I hope you don’t mind me posting it here.



Mum, Someone posted this on one of the forums I read… copying and pasting the whole thing here:

These pictures were taken by me about a month ago when I visited Dunnottar Castle, about 70 miles north of where I live. Dunnottar is described as Scotland’s “most impregnable” medieval fortress: while that doesn’t really work as a construction, I think anybody has to agree that this is one amazing castle, especially when you consider that it is believed that the the first thing to be built on this site was a chapel constructed by St Ninian in the late 400s.

Here it is from the road:











This picture doesn’t quite show how Dunnottar gained its “most impregnable” moniker. This one maybe does:









This is the gorge which divides the mainland from the plateau where the castle is built, pictured alongside a foxglove for an attempted artistic effect…









…and here are the sea cliffs off to the right, mainly populated these days by seabirds:














There’s a passage which leads underneath the base of the rock plateau, though I’ve no idea of this was an attempted mine, or just put in to give access to the beach on the other side.





Once inside the castle grounds, the most impressive thing is the keep. It’s where you first emerge as you take the stone staircase up into the fortress, just past the tunnel. This was the main point of defense, and the highest point in the whole construction. Proper construction of the stone fortifications began in the early 14th century (after William Wallace had captured it from Edward I of England; there are also records of battles fought by Donald II of Scotland against the Vikings in 900 and an attack by King Aethelstan of Wessex in the 930s.):






Here are some other buildings upon the plateau.



First is the chapel, of which I photographed one of the ruined ends:







These buildings were used as store houses and quarters for troops, though the one on the right (with the windows) is now a tourist information building. In the foreground is the castle well.








Here’s a more complete shot of some of the castle buildings. Back in its more active days, these areas would have been used to grow food and to graze a small number of livestock. The meadow shown in the foreground actually extends back quite a way:






This is all that really grows there now:




This is a picture of the information board, showing an aerial view of the castle grounds which will hopefully make the layout more clear. The chapel is number 10 in the picture, you can see the well just above number 3, and the keep is between 13 and 14. The lupins are growing just above the little copse to the right of number 10.

Dunnottar has seen some highly significant events in history. In 1652 it was the last place in Scotland holding out against the army of Oliver Cromwell, who was particularly eager to capture the Honours of Scotland (Scotland’s crown jewels), which were being held by the defenders. When the castle surrendered after a siege of 8 months, they were nowhere to be found. In the meantime they had been lowered down the cliffs to a woman pretending to collect seaweed who later buried them beneath the floor of the parish church at nearby Kinneff, where they were unearthed years later.




This guy is the only relic left of those times:


Aliso and Wood Canyon Park

A few shots from our 4.5 mile easy-trail hike at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

This bunny was still in the same spot, only a few yards from the main trail, 20 minutes later when we came back that way.



This fella puffed himself up as we came upon him around a bend in the trail.  After a few moments of being still, he chilled out and allowed me to get this nice shot of him.  He was probably around 10 inches long.



I envy the people who live in the houses on top of the hills overlooking this park.  It’s really lovely.



It was my idea to take an alternate path on the way back to try and find the “Dripping Cave” that we missed on the way in.  The Brit remarked that he thought we were at the end of the trail and would have to double back.  I insisted that all the trails surely would intersect the main.  A short while later we found the crossing to get back.  Four sets of extremely uneven, steep “stairs” cut into the clay led us down the bank about 80 feet to this little crossing, which was followed by 1 more set of stairs back up.  We laughed and “oh- no’d” our way along.  The Brit was afraid I would get dizzy and fall (I was pretty worn out by the time we made it this far).  The water wasn’t deep, but neither of us wanted to slip and end up with wet shorts.


Going Viral

I don’t think I’ve spoken on the subject before.  I think I am doing so now out of frustration, and perhaps to explain why I have been inconsistent in my blogging.  I don’t want people to think I am flaky for coming and going, or that I don’t take this seriously, because, while it’s obviously not “serious”, it is.  Does that make sense?  I think maybe as bloggers yourselves, you’ll understand what I mean.  My mind is a little foggy at the moment, so maybe I am not making as much sense as I think I am or need to.

Cutting to the chase…

Nineteen months ago, 1 week before driving from Dallas, Texas to Southern California so the Brit could start his new and amazing job, I got a flu.  I was sick enough to miss work, which hardly ever happened, ever.  The last time I had been that sick was several years earlier with a flu.  That time lasted a week and then I was back to normal.

I was feeling “just well enough” on the day we had to leave Texas.  Since we HAD to be in Cali by a certain date, it didn’t matter, really.  I was taught in Catholic school that you push yourself.  “Suck it up cupcake” is my mantra.  My mother is Italian, my father is Scottish-descended from Viking.  I am from tough stock!

It took 2 long days (18 hour days) to make the drive, and by the time we arrived, I wasn’t feeling too good.

I remember getting into our corporate temp housing on Sunday afternoon and getting groceries from the market down the street.  On Monday we met the movers at the storage unit and I was standing in the So-cal August sun sweating and holding on to the car for the spinning in my head, a fake smile plastered on my face, hoping no one would notice I looked totally stoned out of my mind.  At least, I was afraid I looked stoned.  That’s the last thing I recall with any certainty for several days.  I vaguely remember throwing up a lot.

By the end of the week, The Brit was sufficiently scared for my feverish self and got a friend to help take me to the urgent clinic.  Since we were in a 3rd floor apartment with no elevator, he couldn’t have gotten me anywhere any sooner.  I think that was a Friday.  I was well enough to lift my head from the pillow long enough to wish I hadn’t.  Diagnosis:  virus.  Possibly Echovirus or Coxsackievirus.

Considering that my OCD compels me to wash my hands upwards of 30 times a day (friends will say more than 50 times), both of these diagnoses were shocking.  However, working as a retail merchandiser I was exposed to a lot of germs in the general public.  I wore gloves a lot of the time, but not always when I did books (I merch’ed music CDs and books).  ALWAYS when I did music.  A young clerk once asked me why I wore gloves, so I showed her my latex-covered hands.  After that, I noticed she, along with with several clerks wore gloves doing the music.  By the time I orgainsed A through C the gloves would be filthy.  I took hand-wash breaks like most people take smoke breaks and changed the gloves at least once in a work day.  Think on that next time you go to a store to buy a CD!  I saw people sneeze or cough into their hands and then go back to pawing through the music.  *cringe*  You have no idea how many times I had to restrain myself from smacking a customer.  I always wore gloves to do children’s books, too, because I had seen too many mothers hand their little darlings a book from the shelf only to have said tot chew on the book, or pick their noses as they looked at the book… and gods know what grubbiness was already on the hands of a child whose parent would let that happen.  Don’t get me started on the evil thoughts that went out to those women!

But for regular books, I trusted that people would be more careful.

Yes, I am convinced I got the virus from work.  I had a particularly unclean store that I serviced, and I am sure it came from there.  There were several occasions I had to claim out books for things being spilled on them.  It sure as heck didn’t come from my own house, so that leaves anything from the public.  Shopping?  Maybe.  Weekly, sometimes twice weekly direct contact with merchandise in a store known to be less than clean?  My doughnut is on that one.  I can’t prove it, of course.  Just be warned about shopping.

I was extremely sick for 4 months, very sick for 2 more, and still suffering from all kinds of issues now.  I have been to doctors more in these past months than I have in the past 20 years altogether.  My condition was initially ignored except to diagnose me with labrynthitis because blood tests showed I was dangerously anemic.  I always have been, so move along doc.  The first 2 docs fixated on the blood counts, blaming anemia for everything.  I decided I wasn’t going to see any more doctors because they were useless.  Medicine has been on my crap list for many years.  That’s a subject for another article.  The Brit made me find another doctor and try one more time, being more forceful with this one.  Fine.  When this one turns out to be a twit, too, I can be more justified in saying I TOLD YOU SO!

Of course, she freaked out when she saw my blood lab results.  *sigh*  I go every month for blood work, and every month I get the doctor’s freak out.  I can’t take iron, though we’re trying something else, now.

A conversation with my genius cousin led me to ask for a neurology referral.  I’d been dizzy and having vertigo constantly for over a year and no one bothered to send me for neuro-consult.  Yeh.  I know.  I DID have an MRI, but the doc who ordered it only ordered a partial and was only looking for tumor or aneurysm.  I insisted on the consult with the GP and got an ENT and an audiology appointment thrown in for good measure.  Oh, yeh.  I have had hearing loss since the virus, too.

Skip ahead….

Neurologist diagnosis:  labrynthitis with resultant vertigo, and hearing loss due to brain damage.

This doctor really listened to me- a first, and pleasant surprise.  She had looked over my records before I went to see her, did an eval, and talked to me at length before making her decision.

The virus led to a bacteria in the deepest part of my inner ear which ate away at a little bit of my brain, disrupting the neuro-pathways that lead from my ear to the part of my brain that interprets what the mechanics of the ear have picked up.  My ears work properly.  My brain doesn’t always.  My balance is disrupted.  I have vertigo when I change the position of my head in any direction, and a sense of vague constant motion all the time.  I fall down and bump into things more than usual now and again from the vertigo.  Sometimes I hear fine.  Other times, I don’t hear sounds, or what people say to me sounds like they are speaking a foreign language.  I have to stare at people when they talk to me to try and focus.  Sometimes it helps, but not always.  It’s frustrating to ask people to repeat themselves so much, and there are times I just don’t even want to speak to anyone.  Telephone is really hard.  The hearing won’t get better.  Like diamonds, the dizzy is forever.  (Can I blame that terrible joke on the brain damage, please?)


She’s shaken, not stirred.

My non-sound comprehension and concentration have been affected, too.  Words don’t always come to me as readily as they used to.  Even my spelling has gone awry.  Friends used to call me the human dictionary because my spelling was impeccable.  Now I have to stop and think, or even look up words like impeccable.  Thank goodness for the spellchecker!  When reading, something I have done every day for the whole of my life, I find myself turning pages with no clue of what I’ve just read.

I have good days and not so good.  I push myself.  The damage is permanent.  All of it.  They are doing therapy, consisting of exercises that make me dizzy, to help my brain accommodate for the imbalance it is interpreting.  It makes sense if you really think about.  It kind of goes back to the pushing oneself thing.  The hope is that it will help me recover faster from an episode, and perhaps other parts of my brain can take over to pick up some of the slack.  I will always have vertigo, always be perpetually dizzy.  My concentration might improve.

Last night, The Brit dragged me off to the urgent clinic because I’ve had a flu for 2 days with symptoms very like that one I had 19 months ago.  They are treating me for virus on the “better safe than sorry” theory.  You only have 72 hours to treat a virus.  The brain damage from “That Damnable Virus” was done in the first couple of weeks.  Even if I hadn’t been treated for virus in the first 72 hours, antibiotics within those first weeks could have stopped the damage.  My body has to fight the virus I have, but the medicine they gave me last night will stop it from reproducing so I don’t get overwhelmed by it.  Again.

I am the last person to run to the doctor for anything, but I have learned the hard way to take flu more seriously.  You never know what germies are lurking.

It has taken me 2 hours to write this, 4 days to publish it because I couldn’t remember how to get a picture into a post, and I wonder how many mistakes I will see after I hit publish.  *LOL*  I was having a not so good day.  But today is better!


A few recent photos of my girls…


I was playing with Tinkerbell and Sadie, and while my attention was on Sadie, Tink found some new friends.  I looked up and my brain took a few clicks to realise not all of the mice on Abby-Bunny’s lap weren’t stuffed.  At one point, Tink was cuddling with Gosig Mus.  Gosig is from Ikea (gosig is Swedish for cuddly, mus means mouse and is also the species name).







Tink took Sadie to meet Abby and Gosig and Sadie decided she liked them, too.









Ruby likes the hammock Shooshie crocheted for the girlies.





Ruby stopped by to visit Pippa.  Pippa received her in the parlour.




Ruby stopped by to visit Pippa. Pippa received her in the parlour.








Finnian likes watching the mice.








I don’t have any new pictures of Lucy.  She is waiting until she loses another gram or 2 before allowing me to take her picture.  The diet is working, though.

Lucy’s Diet

Our poor not so little Lucy mouse went to the vet, today.  For the past few weeks, she’s had some patchiness on her face from excessive scratching, and… excuse my graphic-ness… mushy, smelly poo.  She has been acting fine, eating and drinking as she should, and runs the wheel and saucer surprisingly fast for a large mouse.

Lucy at 10 weeks

Lucy at 10 weeks

Key word:  LARGE.

An average mouse weighs around 25 grams.  Lucy is 73 grams.

6 month old Lucy

6 month old Lucy

As soon as the vet saw her, she thought Lucy was pregnant.  She is big, but she is also fat.  Apparently, whatever breeding stock she comes from has a propensity for extra size.  We got Amelia from the same shop as Lucy, while all our normal-to-small size girls have come from a different shop.  Because of this genetic issue, Lucy’s eating habits need to be stricter.  Also, she probably has food allergy causing the digestive and itching issues.

We need to put our mouse on a diet.  Lucy will not be happy.

No more seeds, bits of bread or cracker, peanut butter, or any of the goodies that she enjoys.  We already limit her treats because we realise she is a big girl, but for the next couple of weeks it is ZERO goodies and a strict “essential block” eating plan.

Amelia Pond Mouse at 6 months old

Amelia Pond Mouse at 6 months old

Rule #1 of dieting:  NEVER, ever call it a diet.

It’ll be extra work to accomplish Lucy’s new eating plan.  Isolating her from the colony would not be emotionally healthy for her, so the only option to control her eating is providing only the essential blocks in the house, and taking Lucy out a couple of times a day to play while we put a dish of the mixed food in for the other girls.  (The girls come out for play almost every day, anyway, and on days I cannot bring them out of the house, we interact with them in the house.  She’ll just get a little extra play time.)  The goodies have to be removed before returning Lucy.  It is possible that the girls will hide seeds for later nibbling, and we’ll have to keep close watch for that.

Once the patchiness clears up we will know the allergy issue has subsided, and we can begin introducing fun foods back into Lucy’s diet, one a week, like you’d do with an infant.  If the issues start again, we’ll know which food is causing the problems.  We will still need to limit her treats.  The vet said that if she doesn’t lose weight in the next several weeks, that “their lives are so short, just let her enjoy herself”- as long as she is not in discomfort, of course.

Ruby accompanied Lucy to the vet for moral support and as a size comparison, Ruby being a normal size mouse.  They both did very well.  Our vet had mice when she was a kid, and enjoys small pets.  She’s been great with Amelia and Lucy, as well as our cats.  It was because of how good she was with Amelia that we chose her for the cats, too.  Not all vets know how to handle the “exotics”, especially mice, so we feel fortunate to have found Dr. Kelly.  She appreciates the personalities that even these tiny creatures, who most people think of as pests as opposed to pets, can have.  And our girls definitely have personality!

Dr. Kelly recommends Oxbow and Kaytee foods for mice and rats.  I had figured Kaytee out myself a few months ago.  I am a label reader, whether it be MY food or my pets’.  Kaytee’s Gourmet Fiesta Mix (there are a few different Fiesta mixes, but this link shows the one I use) had the better nutrition, and the mice like the ingredients- even the essential blocks.  However, I do not agree with Kaytee’s assessment of what is best for a pet mouse.

This article has a few flaws.  It may be what is generally thought a pet mouse requires, and the minimum of required care, but it is the BARE minimum and not truly conducive to a healthy, happy, sociable mouse.

"Normal" mouse cage

“Normal” mouse cage

A cage 12″x12″x6″?  What???  No way.  That’s too small even for 1 mouse!  Shocking to myself is the fact that I did not know this for my first 2 mice many years ago.  No, they aren’t picky about their habitat, but they do need more than the plastic igloo and wire mesh wheel that they get in a pet shop.  They need stimulation.  They need room to run.  Mice are intelligent creatures, and like any intelligent being, they need to keep their minds busy.

Normal cage above left; our habitat below right.  Now, which would YOU rather live in?

Ikea Hacked Mouse House #2

Ikea Hacked Mouse House #2

That is why our Ruby had such OCD when we got her.  She’d spent her first 4 months in a pet shop with bright lights, people’s hands grabbing and moving things about without so much care, and a parade of other mice coming and going as each new batch was brought in and subsequently adopted out.  No toys other than the aforementioned igloo and wheel.  Only essential block food.  No treats, no play time, no petting, no talking.  There is no such thing as “just mice”.  They are living creatures!  And smart ones, at that.  We didn’t think we’d ever be able to handle Ruby.  We bought her because I could not fathom the idea of this poor wee creature spending her entire life in a shop.  If nothing else, she would have a warm home with treats and lots of love.  It took a few months, but she has become a wonderful, sweet, funny, personable, well-adjusted mouse who no longer engages in obsessively repetitive behaviours and now enjoys coming out to play.  Even though Ruby is never completely still, she will now linger to be pet around the shoulders and ears.  She is busy keeping track of 4 little girls, cleaning everyone’s ears before bedtime, and building warm cozy nests to house them all.  At 14 months old, she acts and looks like a mouse half her age.  Why?  She has purpose.  Ruby needs purpose.  Being a person with OCD, I understand Ruby.  I can relate.

** NOTE:  In my post introducing Ruby, I promised The Brit she would be our last one.  Oops!  It’s his fault, though.  He keeps taking me to the pet store!  Also, we later found out that she was a lavender, not a silver.

Contrary to Kaytee’s claims, pet mice do need human interaction.  They love it.  And it is most rewarding for the humans.  Why have a pet if you’re not going to interact with it?