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Hi everyone!  It’s J.R., high jacking Beth’s column for this month.  I’m so happy to be sending out this newsletter (even if it’s a day late because I got a virus on my computer yesterday) because it’s a “normal” thing.  I don’t know about you, but “normal” things have become very valuable to me. 
 
Like everyone else, I’m worried:  About when this will be over, whatever that looks like.  About friends and family.  About our healthcare providers and our first responders.  About our military service men and women and their families.  About the people working in groceries, pharmacies and Amazon, Sam’s Club and Costco, etc. as well as the folks who make sure the supply chains for all of them are functioning.  On my side, I’m staying at home.  Practicing social distancing if I absolutely have to go out for groceries.  Doing the mask and glove thing.  I’m also rationing the amount of press I watch because it rattles me so much.  I facetime with friends and email and text.  I keep to my schedule of writing and working out.  I stress bake (only raisin scones because that’s all I can do.) 
 
But it’s hard, even though, knock on wood, so far my family’s managed to stay healthy. 
 
Recently, my friends and I have been talking a lot about is how this crisis is making things that would normally be minor problems seem, or actually become, big issues.  For example, my mom’s sewer pipe backed up yesterday into her basement.  That is not something you can just leave be (unlike my dishwasher link up that blew out- I’m hand washing everything now, I’ll get the connection fixed when this is all over.)  Fortunately, her plumber and his sons came over and took care of it, but it involved a lot of thinking about staying safe.  They were great, by the way.
 
Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge the situation we’re all in, the pain that so many are feeling, the suffering, the sickness, the job losses.  And I thought I’d share my scones recipe, just in case anyone else wants to try it.
 
Unless next month, I’m sending hugs and love to you all.
 
~J.R.
 
Fritz’s Raisin Scones
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • Stick and a half of salted butter
  • Raisins (depends on how many you like, I’m light on the raisins)
  • 1 cup of butter milk
  • 1/4 cup of half and half
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, not convection.  Sift together the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Fork in the butter cold, until things resemble “coarse grain.”  Add your raisins, again I put only a quarter cup in, if that, but I don’t like a ton of them.  Then add the liquid ingredients, and mix until incorporated.  I split the mix into two halves and make a rectangle about an inch thick.  I cut that into four sections width-wise and make triangles.  I butter my sheet, arrange the triangles and throw it in for like 10 mins or so?  Check the bottoms.  They should be a pretty brown and the scones firm when you poke ‘em. 
 
I put the cooked scones on a plate and cover them with a clean dish towel; then throw the second set in the oven.  These have to be eaten right out of the oven.  The hotter the better.  We usually make sure the coffee’s ready and everyone assembled as we put the first batch in.  These make a lot of them, so be ready to share or cut the recipe in half.  Bonne Maman strawberry preserves and sweet (unsalted) butter are added by some in the family.  I’m a purist and just take ‘em neat with my Dunkin Donuts coffee.
 
This recipe is an adaption from a cookbook from the 1940’s that my Aunt Harriet had at our summer house.  The original uses currents, not raisins, adds salt which didn’t work for me because they were too salty, and upped the temperature of the oven, cooking them for less time. 
 
I hope you enjoy them, and let me know on FB if you make them and how they come out!
Dear Vishous,
 
First of all, I want to thank you for doing these.  Your advice is always spot on.  I’m amazed at how you can get to the heart of any matter, and provide people with the kick in the pants they need.  I truly appreciate your forthrightness.  I feel that a lot of the time these days people are super worried about offending others.  There’s a lot of coddling right now.  My father would approve of the fact that you’re bucking the trend.  Kudos!
 
I’m writing because I want your take on a problem I’m having at work.  I’m a supervisor in charge of five people.  Recently, a new VP has come in.  He’s very different from me.  It’s probably a good idea to fill you in on some details about me.  I’m a fifty-two year old man who’s been working for this company- let’s call it Acme Building Supplies or ABS- for almost fifteen years.  I know what works and what doesn’t around here.  Meanwhile this VP just ends up wasting time, and the changes he’s insisting on are making extra work.  We’re fine.  We’ve always been fine.
           
I guess what I’m wondering is what you’d suggest I do about it.  I’m hoping for all kinds of shovel references and maybe something that involves a backhoe.  Not that I’d ever hurt anybody.  The fantasy’s nice, though.  Maybe corporate will fire him?  ABS is a strong company.  We’ve been doing things a certain way for a while now and we’re successful.  All of this tracking and projections and paperwork is just a waste of time.  Then there’s the meetings.  And I’m supposed to monitor the performance of my team when they’re doing perfectly well?  Come on.  We’re here to sell lumber and nails, professional grade power tools, and bulk supplies.  All this bullcrap around a self important twelve year old VP makes me feel like I’m doing nothing but justifying his job.
 
Show me the light, Vishous.  Please.
 
Signed,

Spare Me Twelve Year Olds 
********************************************
Mary’s at Safe Place tonight so I’m fielding this on my own.  Accordingly, I’m going to change the format.  Here are my responses in blue.
 
Dear Vishous,
 

First of all, I want to thank you for doing these.  You can stop with that right now.  Your advice is always spot on.  You’re kissing my a$$.  I’m amazed at how you can get to the heart of any matter, and provide people with the kick in the pants they need.  Still sucking on my a$$.  I truly appreciate your forthrightness.  Anytime you want to cut this sh*t out is good for me.  I feel that a lot of the time these days people are super worried about offending others.  This is true, and sometimes people are a$$holes and do sh*t on others.  There’s a lot of coddling right now.  Also true, but what the hell does that have to do with you and your dumb a$$ problem.  My father would approve of the fact that you’re bucking the trend.  Who cares about your pops.  No offense. 

Kudos!  I have always hated people who use the word “Kudos.”  The origin of the word is the Greek “kudos” meaning glory or fame.  I can assure you, Spare Me, or should I call you Mr. Karen, that I have neither glory nor fame from this column or any other segment of my life- and after this first paragraph of yours, I’m wondering why this VP and you don’t get along great because you’re clearly someone who manages well up.   
 
I’m writing because I want your take on a problem I’m having at work.  Finally getting to the point.  Kudos, Karen.  I’m a supervisor in charge of five people.  Recently, a new VP has come in.  He’s very different from me.  It’s probably a good idea to fill you in on some details about me.  FYI, anyone who feels the need to “fill me in on some details” makes me suspicious that they’re trying to manipulate my answer.  I’m a fifty-two year old man who’s been working for this company- let’s call it Acme Building Supplies or ABS- for almost fifteen years.  Did you have to pick an acronym for Anti-lock Braking System.  Although while we’re on the subject of stopping sh*t how about we do that right now.  Oh... wait, more sentences.  I know what works and what doesn’t.  Well aren’t you Einstein.  Meanwhile this VP just ends up wasting my time, and the changes he’s insisting on are making extra work.  We’re fine.  We’ve always been fine.  Are you, really?  Why’d that VP get hired, then?
           
I guess what I’m wondering is what you’d suggest I do about it.  I’m hoping for all kinds of shovel references and maybe something that involves a backhoe.  You can clearly come up with these on your own.  Not that I’d ever hurt anybody.  This I believe or you wouldn’t be looking for advice.  You’d get a crow bar and a face mask and head over to Brandon’s house (Brandon sounds like a good name for a 12 year old who likes spreadsheets) and do a little cosmetic surgery on the kid.  The fantasy’s nice, though.  Maybe corporate will fire him?  I wouldn’t bet on it.  ABS is a strong company.  Kudos.  We’ve been doing things a certain way for a while now and we’re successful.  All of this tracking and projections and paperwork is just a waste of time.  According to who?  You?  Or corporate.  Then there’s the meetings.  And I’m supposed to monitor the performance of my team when they’re doing perfectly well?  Come on.  We’re here to sell lumber and nails, professional grade power tools, and bulk supplies.  All this bullcrap around a self important twelve year old VP makes me feel like I’m doing nothing but justifying his job.
 
Show me the light, Vishous.  Please.  Look, I don’t know enough about this situation to make a judgment call whether the Karen or the Brandon is in the right.  Yeah, I can imagine there are a lot of young Excel bangers out there, fresh from B school, ready to get in and quantify everything just because they get their paperclips all a-twitter over bar graphs.  Along those lines, I can also see how if you’ve been meeting your quotas or whatever and your team is chill and productive that you view any “modernization” of productivity to be a pain in the ass.  On the other hand, maybe corporate thinks there’s room for improvement.  How the f*ck do I know.  Stay if you want.  Go if you want.  But do not expect the VP to go anywhere.  They hired him.  They see something of value in him.  Try and take the I-don’t-wanna out of your attitude and see if this is really useless or whether you’ve just got a hair across your a$$ because you’ve got someone expecting you to use a different system.  And be honest.  Is part of this about him being younger than you?  If it is, get over it.  You’re not going to change that, either.
 
This letter is an effort to negotiate an outcome where Brandon gets out of your work life, but I’m not the person who should be on the other side of the table.  I don’t think there should even be a table.  You adapt or you die.  It’s one of Darwin’s primary rules, and it applies to the workforce.


Spare Me Twelve Year Olds 
 
Post Script:  Hey!  Spare Me!  This is Lassiter.  I dropped in and read this, and I feel the need to point out that Judgy McJudgerson over here would be singing another tune if someone took his Samsung away and made him use an iPhone.  He wouldn’t last ten minutes before he got the shovel and the backhoe out.  Stay strong, Spare Me! 
Hi everyone!  After years of not reading, I’ve fallen into the pages of good books again.  I’m not even sure why.  Nalla keeps me busy, and social media is still rife with good memes.  But I’ve been needing a different kind of escape lately, one that involves a nice glass of wine and a quiet corner, not a scrolling screen in a my palm or a big one on the wall of the billiards room.

Anyway, I mentioned this in an offhand way to Beth, and she suggested I do book reviews for the CCJ- so I’ve decided to give it a shot.  I’ve tried all kinds of books, but I’m in a paranormal rut, so to speak- actually, it’s more like a graveyard, a delicious one with old stones and mist and friendly ghosts?  Accordingly, for my first review, I’m doing FROM BLOOD AND ASH by Jennifer L. Armentrout.
Hi everyone!  After years of not reading, I’ve fallen into the pages of good books again.  I’m not even sure why.  Nalla keeps me busy, and social media is still rife with good memes.  But I’ve been needing a different kind of escape lately, one that involves a nice glass of wine and a quiet corner, not a scrolling screen in a my palm or a big one on the wall of the billiards room.

Anyway, I mentioned this in an offhand way to Beth, and she suggested I do book reviews for the CCJ- so I’ve decided to give it a shot.  I’ve tried all kinds of books, but I’m in a paranormal rut, so to speak- actually, it’s more like a graveyard, a delicious one with old stones and mist and friendly ghosts?  Accordingly, for my first review, I’m doing FROM BLOOD AND ASH by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

To be honest, what got me was the cover- which suggests good marketing works.  The cover attracted my attention, and then I read the blurb which I’ll share below:

 Captivating and action-packed, From Blood and Ash is a sexy, addictive, and unexpected fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Laura Thalassa.
 
A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

 A Duty…

 The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

 A Kingdom…

 Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

I liked so much about the book.  Poppy, the heroine, is a badass, but she’s also vulnerable - and the balance between the two opposites was done very well.  Also, although the book is a fantasy, Poppy’s relatable.  She has this responsibility on her shoulders.  This duty.  But she still wants to live her life, be a person, rather than an icon.

There are a lot of serious situations in this book.  Bone crunching physical conflict, and also heart-wrenching emotional drama, but it’s not all dark and heavy.  There’s playfulness and banter what with Hawke, the hero, treating Poppy like she’s not just the Maiden.  He treats her like a female of worth. 

Which brings me to the hero.  Hawke’s hot.  I’m not going to lie.  He’s also incredibly consuming as a character.  From the first moment he comes onto the page, you want to know more about him. He’s charming and yet you sense there’s an edge to him. You know that he’s dangerous and can be ruthless. 

I won’t spoil anything, but the story is an action packed fantasy that is both fresh and relatable. Filled with twists and turns, and a delicious love story, it did its job.  It transported me to another world, one that I can’t wait to get back to.

Oh, and the last thing I’ll say, is that part of what fascinated me about the world was how a human imagined a fantasy realm and reality.  She did a great job!  The author is a woman named Jennifer Armentrout, and I decided, on a what-the-hell, to ask send her some questions to go with my review.  To my shock, she answered them.  Here they are below!

1)  Where do you get your ideas from?  I found the world depicted in From Blood and Ash to be complex, yet believable.  I’m just curious where it, and the people in it, came from?

I get my ideas from some pretty random places. For From Blood and Ash, it all started with the 2016 Olympics. I don’t know why. I don’t know how, but the idea started and spun from there. The Ascended and the Descenters were with me from the beginning, along with Poppy and Hawke. They came to me immediately, and the rest pieces together, almost like a movie playing in my head, as I write. I wanted to make sure that even though this is a fantasy world, not rooted in any contemporary setting, that it would still be relatable, and even a little ‘modern’ in the way people speak or in societal rules. I think that helps keep it relatable. I could be wrong, though. I’m usually wrong. 

2) I really identified with Poppy because she was so apart from everyone else - I won’t go into my own personal circumstances, but I know what it’s like to be separated from others.  What made you go that direction with your heroine?

I think that even though most people would never (hopefully) find themselves in Poppy’s situation, there is still something so incredibly relatable to feeling separated even if you’re surrounded by people, but in her case, she truly is set aside from everyone else because of her status as the Maiden. I think it’s interesting to explore how society puts so much weight and value on something that’s not tangible (like maidenhood or purity) over how a person thinks, acts, and behaves, and I really wanted to delve into how she is pretty much held to a standard that at the end of the day doesn’t determine if someone is good or bad. One thing that I personally love about Poppy is that she is a badass despite being incredibly sheltered and caged. Hand her a dagger or a bow, and you better start running, but she is also vulnerable. There’s so much she hasn’t experienced. And the contrast between being able and willing to use a weapon and still being vulnerable with an air of innocence (that has nothing to do with naughty shenanigans) always makes for a interesting character. 

3) I read in your reader group - JLAnders - that this hero, Hawke, is a combo of your most popular heroes. That really intrigued your readers, because the guys are vastly different. What qualities of each does Hawke have?

So I said he was a mixture of Aiden, Roth, and Hunter, which really are three vastly different characters. Hawke has Aiden’s patience and kindness, he’s as charming, flirty, and snarky as Roth, and like Hunter, you do not want to be on his bad side. Hawke can be brutal in his vengeance and what he will do for those he loves.  

** Speed round (this or that):

Alpacas or llamas? Alpacas (mine would judge me even harder if I said llamas)

Sword or dagger? Both. At the same time.

Hide or seek? Seek. Hiding makes me anxious

Coke or Pepsi? Coke!

Apple pie or chocolate cake? Chocolate cake! Pie is ew.

Stranger Things or Making a Murderer? Stranger Things!

**
So this is my first book choice!  Every couple of months, I plan on doing others.  I hope you enjoyed my little contribution, and happy reading to all of you!  Oh, and if you’re interested in buying the book, here are some links:

 
Okay, so let me explain how I ended up watching Benderdach Cumperdink’s latest film.  Blenderfrump Comberbum.  Bondaletch Clamorover?  However you say that English guy with the long face’s name.
 
V says it’s Benedict Cumberbatch.  Fine.  We’ll go with that.
 
Anyway, it started with Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.  This Tiger King sh*t is what everyone’s watching right now, and I’m all about getting on popular trains, so I was like sign me up.  I was all ready.  I had my popcorn.  A Hershey bar the size of my head.  A liter of Coke. 
 
I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t watch those beautiful animals in those cages.  I had to turn it off- and I didn’t make it all that far before I couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying.  I was too worried about the big cats.
 
So yeah.  That didn’t happen.
 
I promptly fell into an indecisive hole.  You ever do that?  You’re in Netflix or Prime, and you’re scrolling, scrolling... scrolling.  There are all these choices, but nothing is appealing.  You check out countless movies and shows, you read these descriptions, you even search Rotten Tomatoes on your phone.  Nothing appeals.
           
It was at that point my Mary came in.  I was worn out so I gave her the remote.  Surrendered the damn things was more like it.
 
Annnnnnnd that is how I got embroiled in The Current War.
 
My Mary likes anything historical, so it was right up her alley.  It’s about the race to electrify the United States in the eighteen eighties.  Edison had just invented the light bulb and was all about the Direct Current to light up things.  DC was less expensive than gaslight, but it didn’t go as far.  Westinghouse, a prominent businessman, was into Alternating Current, which was cheaper than DC and capable of traveling longer distances.
 
Or something like that.
 
In addition to Edison and Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, the inventor of the electric motor, is also depicted in the movie.  I feel like it’s a pretty good representation of how things happened.  The entire time I was watching, I was back at the turn of the twentieth century, remembering what it was like to see the electrical lines appearing at the sides of roads.  The film’s mostly about the different ways the two sides competed, scientifically, in the press, with selling service to the states.  It also details some of their personal lives. 
 
Look, it’s not Deadpool, you know?  But it was pretty good and I learned some stuff.  Here are my five takeaways:
 
1)  Great cinematography.  That was something Mary and I totally agreed on.  Whoever directed this thing, as well as the person behind the camera, were geniuses.  It’s a beautiful film.  The shots, the fact that everything was in winter pretty much so it had some great opticals, the setups of the close-ups, it’s a piece of art.
 
2)  The science is well explained.  You understand the difference between AC and DC as well as how electricity was going to change things, especially if they got an electric motor going.  And you mostly don’t notice when they’re teaching you.  Mostly.   
 
3)  There are some tender moments.  Some heartbreaking ones, too.  But they’re a footnote, really, and there’s no real depth to the film.  It’s an intellectual pursuit, but it is interesting.
 
4)  It resonates today when you think about brick and mortar stores vs. online shopping.  Throughout history, there have been these huge shifts in the way things are done when new technology or science comes along, and the scramble that happens economically can be catastrophic for some, a boon for others.  As an aside, I had no idea J. P. Morgan’s nose was an issue. 
 
5).  Nikola Tesla’s wardrobe.  Look, I’m not Butch, but even I was like, okay, that’s a Classic Man, right there.  His clothes were amazing, the fit, the colors, the styling.  Full marks.
 
Overall, I can’t go marching band over this.  But it’s not a waste of time.  If you’re looking for a break from The Circle, Love is Blind, and that Back with the Ex thing (I may be getting this title wrong), you may want to give this a shot.  It’s like a proper meal, with your meat and two veg (I’m not being dirty here, I swear,) but it’s also kind of like, small, virtuous portions of steamed organic vegetables and a poach chicken breast.  You feel good about having gotten through it, but you’re not excited about doing it again.
           
And you’re really read for a big, fat slice of chocolate cake for dessert.  Because you’ve earned it.
 
I swear I’m hopping back on the popular train!  I love my shellan, but these valid movies of hers are killin’ me. 
 
Until next month, watch well, Rhage  
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