Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Happy Halloween!
Hello my lovely ghosties and hob-goblins!

Today, as you all are certainly aware, is Halloween. I was struck this morning by the perfectness of the setting for such an occasion.

The air was crisp and cool, but not overly so, and smelled faintly of the decay of leaves and the subtle whiff of a fire wafted on the breeze. Errant leaves, their patina not evident in the dark of the near morning, skittered along over the grass, sidewalk, and pavement with a pleasing sound, as though thousands of man-eating spiders were quietly invading in the hours before light. The beams of the headlights of vehicles headed my way made perfectly vertical reflections in my own windshield, pointing to both heaven and hell.

Tonight, the beasties walk, my friends. Guard your loved ones well.
posted by Phoenix | 10:27 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Don't worry
Several people have contacted me regarding yesterday's post, urging me to prioritize or take it easy. That's great advice and that's what I am doing. I'm just a bit tired, that's all, and I don't feel like I'm making any headway.

Bunny is always my first priority. I'm not grumpy or short-tempered or even angry, I'm just tired. It may seem like I'm on the edge, but what you can't see is the rope around my waist that is tied to a rock at the other end. My husband is my rock and he is amazing. Things are improved today.

Improved insofar as my daily obligations go anyway. The robotic vacuum ran last night, so that is done. It even managed to avoid eating anything important, so that's fantastic. I got 6 hours of sleep, but still feel like overcooked spaghetti. Tonight I must pay bills and finish the Halloween costume. Then I may do some yoga or pilates and clean the bathrooms.
posted by Phoenix | 8:46 AM | 1 comments

Monday, October 29, 2007
Calgon, Take Me Away
Do you remember those old Calgon commercials? You know, the ones where the poor mother slips into her tub and the sound of fighting children and all the world's cares just slip away, the bubbles creating some sort of protective cocoon? I found myself starring in those commercials in my head over the weekend.

I honestly don't know how my mother or stepmother did it. Because I am about 8 seconds away from going bat-shit crazy, and that's no lie. I feel like my temper is perpetually locked in an action-adventure movie with my temper being the bomb that gets shut down at 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock. I nearly came unglued last night at JoAnn Fabrics, for example.

How does the modern wife/mother/business woman do it? I call upon the powers that be to make a change and give me another 24 hours in a week! Just another 3.5 hours each day, or one additional day each week would do the trick. Can we go to a 27.5 hour day? Seems a bit random, doesn't it?

Well, here's the thing: I'm not getting everything done. And that, my friends, is not something that is acceptable long-term.

My house needs to be cleaned in the worst way. I can't even stand it. I need to work out, but instead of my goal of 3 treadmill sessions and 2 pilates, I'm barely getting in 2 treadmills and 1 pilates. Unacceptable. The Halloween costume that I started over 6 weeks ago is still not finished. The dress is mostly done, but I still have to sew in all the metal loops so that it will lace up the back. And the crown - not even started. I haven't started the veil yet either. My house looks like a Toys 'R Us exploded, either that or the toys became self-aware and decided to get even with Geoffrey (that big giraffe) in a melee that ended with toys all over the battlefield.

And I'm short-tempered too. My volunteer project - let's just say I'm beginning to identify that decision as a serious mistake. It was supposed to be fun and make me feel good about helping some young women. Instead, I am reminded of how bitchy, insulting, and just downright nasty some young women can be. It takes me away from my husband and child and I have yet to see the payback for that. Last night, for example, I got all dolled up in my black velvet, pearls, and my favorite Italian pumps and headed down to Madison.

On the way, I stopped at JoAnn Fabrics to pick up the last little loops for the Halloween costume. I had literally hoped to just run in and out. I knew the exact location of the item I needed. I rapidly walked to the back of the store, located the item, and returned to the cashier at the front of the store. Only, when I got there there were 8 people in line ahead of me. Good grief! Did they add another cashier? No. Hell no! I had to stand in line for 15 minutes to check out $2.27 worth of product. Ridiculous! And, I might add, really shitty customer service at a place where you can pretty well know that your peak season is going to be Halloween. No amount of apologizing on the cashier's part made me feel any better, though I did not take my ire out on her.

I got to the house and encountered one drama after another. Despite assuring my husband that I'd be home before 9 pm, I only managed to pull into the driveway at 8:58 p.m. Husband and child were abed, but I was too keyed up from all of the drama to fall asleep, so I watched some Law & Order and finally fell asleep somewhere around 10 pm. And slept, until 2:30 am when the child woke screaming. I got up with her and she finally fell back asleep at 4:20 - forty short minutes before my alarm was re-set to ring (originally it was set for 4 am so that I could get on the treadmill, but when she was still up at 3:30 I re-set it).

At 5 am, I jumped in and out of the shower and performed my hair and makeup routine on autopilot. Then I woke the baby and got her in and out of the bath, blew her hair dry, and still made it downstairs by 6:05. Who's a rockstar?

Bunny Boop sat there at the table yawning and eating her Life cereal (cinnamon) while I ran around the house gathering diaper bag, my stuff for work, the Halloween costume, thread, and scissors in a third bag. Then, as I'm making my own breakfast - oatmeal - I'm also loading the car and gathering coats and shoes like an olympic medalist in the 5-mile mother's medley. Bunny Boop is happy and watching Franklin (hey it's Franklin, ....) and I'm gobbling up the oatmeal like it is my first meal in ages (it's not) and then we are loading up and pulling out of the driveway.

I head over to the sitter's, deploying my happy but tired child, then plug in my ipod for some much needed brain time. Or should I say, brain-dead time? My back aches in this odd place that only bothers me when I'm stressed. I'm hungry, but I think it is the stress and fatigue talking through my stomach.

My weekend? What weekend? I don't even remember Friday, but on Saturday we went to Prince Charming's nephew's sectional football game (they won and he had a HUGE game), whereupon I claimed the windshield time to hem the Halloween costume. Then yesterday I fought the masses at the grocery store and made it out in 30 minutes flat!

There's more, but really, I don't have the energy to type it all out. Suffice it to say that I'm drowning in clutter and a to-do list that won't quit.

And I could really use a personal assistant or a house-boy or maybe a Mary Poppins of my own.


posted by Phoenix | 10:12 AM | 1 comments

Friday, October 26, 2007
Happy Birthday!
I would like to take this moment to wish SpySistah a very happy birthday.

I hope she doesn't have to wack any terrorists today....

Take a break and go to the beach or sumpin'...


posted by Phoenix | 11:40 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen
Fans of Friday Fiction, your wait is over! Chapters 3 and 4 of our latest project are now complete. I'm going to be swamped tomorrow, so I am posting them now.

Once again, El Capitan wrote chapter 3 and I wrote chapter 4. The first two chapters can be found here.

Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen

Chapter 3 (by El Capitan)

Major Allardyce Creighton of the Royal Constabulary paused briefly at the Dunwoody airlock. A quick check of uniform and kit ensured nothing was out of place. Personally, Creighton would have just as soon come straight from the patrol boat in slicksuit and helmet, but the gentry did so love the trappings of Empire.

An affair of this type could easily have been handled by a couple of Subalterns, but any crime involving Society had to be handled with kid gloves. Even with his rank and experience, a bruised ego whilst investigating this murder could still land Creighton out in the Belt for a decade, checking spacesick immigrants for proof of inoculations.

Creighton's omnicard could have bypassed the airlock's keycode, but deferring to propriety he tapped the annunciator, and leaned into the viewfinder. One of Dunwoody's lackies must have seen him coming on the vidscreen, as the lock hissed open instantly. A liveried footman was already in a deep bow, motioning him inside.

"Lord Dunwoody"? inquired Creighton, handing the footman his kitbag. The servant motioned towards the main hall, while backing into the cloakroom.

The first thing Creighton noticed upon entering the ballroom was the relative quiet. Odd, that, he thought. With a gathering this size it should be hard to dampen everyone's spirits and silence the chatter. Murders were certainly unusual, and worthy of much idle speculation. Most of the ladies present had found a place to sit, while the gentlemen stood in small groups, observing each other and quietly pontificating amongst themselves. Here and there a blue column of smoke rose above the assemblage, and Creighton noticed more than one cigar being discreetly tucked out of sight at his approach. Certainly even these upper-class twits knew he wasn't there looking for contraband tobacco?

A shock of silver hair seen pushing through the crowd served as a herald for Lord Dunwoody. The man was taller than most by at least a handspan, and the relief on his face when he saw Creighton was apparent.

"Ah, Major! Thank you for coming so quickly!" said Lord Dunwoody. "I'm almost out of Bollinger, and if we can't get the guests on their way, I'm afraid I might be found dead in my wine cellar!"

Creighton winced at the crassness of the statement. Nothing surprising there, long before Sir Spencer Marston assumed the mantle from his father and became Earl of Dunwoody, he was known system-wide for his uncouth asides.

Lord Dunwoody gripped Creighton's hand and with a casual arm about his shoulders, deftly turned him about so their conversation wouldn't be observed. "I'm afraid we have a spot of bother in the library, Dice. Someone's gone and ventilated Thom Brandon's daughter, and I'm afraid it might have been Jane Steele."

"Why Lady Jane?" asked Creighton, waving aside a footman offering a champagne flute. "Surely it's not over that Percy Fitzhugh matter?"

"Who can say?" replied the earl, leading the way to the library. "She and Wrenroth were found alone with the body, and he claims to have walked in on Jane sleeping."

"Sir Spencer, you haven't put anyone to the question, have you?" Creighton shuddered at the thought of Dunwoody's aristocratic hands muddying up the investigation.

"Heaven forbid, Dice, old boy," replied Lord Dunwoody. "You know very well I had to withdraw from the Law Court Academy on account of terminal boredom. Don't really know how you manage it after all these years."

"It's a character flaw, I suppose," said Creighton, turning to face Lord Dunwoody as they reached the library. "My crew should be docking with the V-K readers by now. We should be able to get statements from everyone and have your guests on their way in a few hours. Your staff might have to wait a bit longer. I'm afraid I can't have them wandering about the estate until we speak to them, Sir Spencer."

"'They also serve who only stand and wait'," quoted Lord Dunwoody as he turned to break the news to the crowd. "I'll leave my majordomo at your disposal."

Creighton opened the door to the library, instantly noting the rich coppery aroma of blood that the aircyclers had failed to disperse. Jane Steele and Drake Bayning sat on a divan, another couple unknown to him sat opposite on an overstuffed ottoman, clearly unnerved at being closed up in a room with a corpse.

"Good evening..." he began, only to be interrupted by Bayning catapulting himself up off the divan.

"There's nothing good so far, Constable. I insist you let these ladies depart at once from this... this... abbatoir!" exclaimed Bayning. The other gentleman nodded his assent enthusiastically. His partner seemed to be able to do nothing but grip her elaborately embroidered handkerchief tightly and stare with morbid fascination at the lower legs visible from behind the divan. Jane Steele sat silently, one hand grasping her temples as if trying to massage away a headache.

"All in good time, Lord Wrenroth. Does Miss Steele require a physician?" asked Creighton. As he had hoped, his inquiry instantly defused Bayning's ire, and the Marquess quickly turned to Jane Steele to see to her condition.

While Bayning was busy with Steele, Creighton took the opportunity to step over behind the divan. Perhaps he shouldn't judge Lord Dunwoody's phrasing too harshly, he mused. 'Ventilated' was the indeed the proper phrase for Charlotte Brandon's current condition. Not only did the slim blade appear to bisect her liver neatly, there were numerous bloody slits in her dress front, each one marking a thrust by a knife.

Creighton pulled his bioscanner from a belt pouch and extended a probe into one of the wounds. He keyed the scanner's touchscreen, and the unit beeped twice as thousands of microscopic nanoprobes were set loose inside the corpse, gathering temperature and tissue samples from vital organs, establishing time of death and toxicology data.

"A nasty business, this." he muttered. Someone really had it in for the girl.

Turning to the unknown pair huddled on the ottoman, Creighton inquired "And who might you be, sir?"

The young man stuttered a couple of times, swallowed, then managed to choke out a reply. "Sir... Sir Alfred Peters-Howe, Constable. My father is Sir William Peters, Count of Nuovo Corsica. This is Miss Pamela Fortson, from the Enceladus Colony. We... we spotted the... the ...body." he finished in a hesitant manner.

The lad had a slightly dodgy look about him, but the ashen pallor on his swain couldn't easily be faked. No doubt the girl's family had spent a great deal of money and whatever influence they had to get their daughter ensconced in Society's fickle bosom for the Season, and this is her reward. She would now be an object of pursuit, but not for reasons she had hoped...

"Why don't you take Miss Fortson out for some fresh air, Sir Alfred." said Creighton. "Please don't leave the premises, however."

The pair quickly made their exit, and Creighton turned back to Lady Steele and Lord Wrenroth, both eyeing him with some trepidation but still secure in their position. "Now then," he began. "As much as it pains me to say this, my lord, you and Miss Steele here are what some might refer to as the prime suspects. I'm afraid this might take some time. I'll need to speak to you each alone. Do you have a preference for who goes first?"

As one of the pair left the room, Creighton keyed his recorder and leaned toward the remaining person. Odd how such a simple choice as who went first could sometimes pry a case wide open, he thought...

Chapter 4 (by Phoenix)

Jane’s head was splitting with worry, dread, guilt, and from too much breathing of recycled air. She had opted for the first interview feeling that the thing was done better sooner. She was worried about Lucy and Sophia and what they must fear and had so sent the Marquess on an errand to calm them.

The dread, too, was overwhelming. She had felt her stomach drop when the Major had called her a suspect. Now the dread was spreading and she felt as though she might convulse. The guilt had been everpresent since her first obscene thoughts about Charlotte’s lips. There was no denying it: she had hated Charlotte Brandon. But there was also the guilt over the quite visceral feelings that had overtaken her as she had sat for so long in close proximity to Lord Wrenroth. She was damp in places ladies didn’t talk about, and it had nothing to do with the heat!

The Major cleared his throat, effectively interrupting Jane’s reverie over her turmoil. “Lady Steele, my name is Major Allardyce Creighton of the Royal Constabulary and I’ll be leading the investigation into this evening’s unfortunate events. May I begin by getting some background?”

“Yes, Major Creighton, of course. Whatever you need.” Jane looked the Major in the eyes, finding them to be an almost electric blue. They were hypnotic and she felt an unnatural urge to be completely forthright.

The Major broke eye contact, checked the status of his bioscanner which was still running tests from the samples it had taken, and then returned Lady Jane’s gaze. “How did you know Charlotte Brandon, my Lady?”

Jane pondered briefly the best way to answer the question, then plunged ahead, Major Creighton’s eyes offering support. “I’ve known Charlotte Brandon since we were eight-year-olds at Dame Puffin’s Primary School. We attended Mrs. Pickett’s Finishing School together after that. Her father’s estate is near ours, so I’ve also known her in Society, of course.”

“And your relationship? Is it…friendly?” Creighton knew some of the facts, but he needed to test the Lady’s honesty.

“You ask a difficult question, Major Creighton. In all honesty, no, I can’t say we were friendly.” Jane weighed her words with great care before pressing on. “I disliked her in school. She was a bully who preyed upon others. I’m not sure you’ll be able to completely understand, and I know that I may imperil myself by telling you, but I feel like you need to know.” Jane was speaking rapidly, the words skipping off her tongue before she had time to consider them fully.

“Charlotte Brandon was mean, spiteful, vindictive, manipulative, and sadistic. She delighted in causing pain in others for no reason whatsoever. When we were in school, Charlotte purposely cut off Monica Rathmore’s hair above the ear because Monica identified it as her greatest asset. There is also reason to believe she killed a kitten and a horse that belonged to Evangeline Penney.”

Major Creighton wasn’t sure if the lady was attempting to deflect suspicion or something else altogether. “And you? What are her crimes against you?”

Jane leveled her gaze at Creighton, now in better control. “I was one of her favorite targets in school, but none of those things really matters anymore. You know, I’m sure, that she is the reason that my engagement to Sir Percy Fitzhugh was broken. I can’t pretend that it didn’t enrage me: it did. It was some comfort to know that Sir Percy was getting the worse of the deal, but her real crime has to do with my brother.”

“Your brother? I didn’t realize you had a brother…” Major Creighton’s forehead furrowed with this unexpected new information. More deflection?

“He’s dead now. Samuel…” Jane’s eyes glimmered with the memory of her sweet little brother and his passion for life. “Samuel fell in love with Charlotte and she played him like a dreidel. He would have done anything for her and she manipulated him. She may not have pulled the trigger of that laser herself, but she was the instigator of that duel and I lay the blame for his death at her silk slippers.”

“I…see. It seems you have even more motive than I had originally thought.” Creighton wrote himself a note to look into the circumstances surrounding Samuel Steele’s death. “Can you tell me, Lady Steele,” he said lifting his gaze back to the lady’s fine features, “What you were doing here in the library? Were you confronting Charlotte or were you seeking revenge with Lord Wrenroth?”

“Dear Io, no! I became melancholy and weary of the press of bodies in the ballroom. I tried to catch some air on the terrace, but all of the couples only sharpened my feelings so I sought out this corner for peace. I came inside, sat down on the divan, and tried to clear my mind. That’s all. It can be emotionally distressing to see the man you thought you would marry parading your replacement so soon with another.”

“You did not see or speak to Miss Brandon?”

“I had no idea. She was still holding court with Sir Percy and her other admirers in the ballroom the last time I saw her.”

A sharp alarm sounded from Major Creighton’s bioscanner, interrupting the interview. He looked down at the screen, pressed a few buttons, and then looked up at her, judging her story in his own mind. He had two more questions to ask.

“Were you perhaps concluding your plans for revenge with Lord Wrenroth, then?”

“I apologize, Major Creighton, but I don’t know what you are talking about. I only met Drake – Lord Wrenroth – this evening. What is he to do with Charlotte?”

“Come, Lady Steele! Surely you are aware that Charlotte Brandon and Drake Bayning were affianced prior to her jilting of him. Shortly thereafter he inherited the Wrenroth title and estates. It seems to me that you have a mutual axe to grind….”

Lady Steele’s face was painted in shock. She was either an actress of the first water, or this was all news to her. Creighton was leaning toward believing the woman’s story, but he didn’t want her to know it.

“Major, I…I…I had no idea. I’m honestly astounded! He is what…her fourth fiancé? She really had a duck in every pond, didn’t she? Oh, that poor man! Another man used and abused by Charlotte Brandon! And, he seemed so nice, definitely more intelligent that Sir Percy – but then – perhaps he caught onto her games. Yes, that is more likely. He was too smart for her.”

“I am surprised at your reaction, Lady Steele.”

“Why is that?”

“Simply because you assert your innocence and then are not at all concerned that you may have been holding hands with a murderer.”

“Oh! I…”

“Did you kill Charlotte Brandon, Lady Steele? Did you kill her to exact revenge for childhood pranks, the seduction of your intended, and the death of your brother? Did you kill Charlotte Brandon?” Creighton badgered her, hoping for a reaction.

“Of course not! Major Creighton, of course I did not kill Charlotte! Did I not just say so? I never came off better for any meeting with Charlotte! I don’t trust her enough to get close enough to stab her!” Jane’s voice had risen to near-shriek, but she remained seated, gloved hands calmly laying in her lap.

“Nevermind, Lady Steele. Just one more question: What do you know of iocane powder and its use as a poison?”

Jane shook her head as if to clear out the sudden confusion. “Poison? But I thought Charlotte was stabbed?”

“Oh, make no doubt of it: Miss Brandon was stabbed, viciously and repeatedly. Shortly before that, however, she was given a large dose of iocane powder. Perhaps you poisoned her punch so as to make it easier for Wrenroth to kill her…?”

“That is ridiculous!” Jane rose quickly from her seat in indignation. “Ridiculous!” she shouted in fury.

Major Creighton, still calmly seated with his digital notepad in hand, raised an eyebrow at the lady’s outburst. “Is it now?” He looked back at his notes, jotting a notation in dismissal. “You may return to the ballroom, Lady Steele, but do not leave the premises until you are cleared to do so. And, if you please, inform Lord Wrenroth that I am ready for him.”

Jane, now in better control of her fury, smoothed the satin brocade of her gown and turned on her silk-slippered heel. “Good evening, Major Creighton,” she said and exited with all of the well-mannered dignity and grace she could muster.


posted by Phoenix | 10:15 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
9/11 Truthers Conspiracy Conspiracy
The Crack Young Staff of The Hatemonger's Quarterly have a theory.

In short, they posit that the whole 9/11 Truthers movement which alleges that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the vast right wing conspiracy of neocons led by the Karl Roves, Dick Cheneys, Don Rumsfelds, Paul Wolfowitzes, and John Boltons of the world is actually a double-fake-out to make the far left side of the spectrum look like such blithering idiots that another Republican is elected President.


Crazy like a fox!

I think the idea has merit.

And, it is just too too funny.
posted by Phoenix | 10:03 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 22, 2007
Anti-Military Junta Panty Power
Finally, we have identified the reason for such active advocates for Democracy as Paris, Britney, and Lindsay to go panty-less.

These ladies must be skipping their skivvies in a show of support for the pro-democracies forces in Myanmar! How noble and self-sacrificing of them!

I, for one, had absolutely no idea that this protest was gaining the kind of momentum that Darfur needs. Maybe George Clooney should give up his tidy white-ys and send them to Darfur! Brad Pitt and Matt Damon could pile on! Imagine how fruitful (tee hee) those looms could be!

Here's the deal, since you are probably too lazy to click the link:

The Burmese military is facing an unexpected threat from female opponents to its regime - a deluge of panties dispatched to the country's embassies in a "culturally insulting gesture of protest" against its recent crackdown on protestors.

According to AP the Panties for Peace initiative is not merely symbolic, since the the group behind the campaign - Lanna Action for Burma - claims "superstitious generals, especially junta leader General Than Shwe... believe that contact with women's underwear saps them of power".


Hilton added that "women in Thailand, Australia, Singapore, England and other European countries have started sending or delivering their underwear to Myanmar missions following informal coordination among activist organisations and individuals".


I'm sorry, but I'm just so tickled at the idea of some fierce General being afraid of some lacy panties. Throw a thong at 'em! See if that doesn't fix their wagon!

Send in the Victoria's Secret Catalogs! And, go nuclear on their asses with some edible crotchless varieties - that'll really take 'em down a peg!

Can't you just see it? Big ol' blustering General goes scarlet and limp in the presence of Hanes Her Way or God Forbid La Perla!

Sounds like something I'd write into a SpySistah story!


posted by Phoenix | 11:28 AM | 1 comments

Friday, October 19, 2007
Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen
Ladies, Gentlemen, Fans of Blog Fiction:

El Capitan and I are ready to publish the first two chapters of our co-written novella. First, you need to know that the rules have changed a bit.

We are taking turns writing the chapters under a Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie premise. In El Capitan's very charming description: "Imagine the Bennet sisters crossed with Lucretia Borgia on a bad hair day."

We are still aiming at 1,000 word chapters, though we aren't being terribly rigid with the numbers. We are attempting to write a chapter each week. And, we are not holding ourselves to a merely five or six chapter story (which has been the norm). Instead, we are opting to keep writing so long as it is fun and the story is still being told. As such, posting will be sporadic but it will also be a regular feature for a while.

Without further ado...

Trust & Treachery

*NOT* a story by Jane Austen

Chapter 1

(by El Capitan)

Jane Steele pushed the bench back from the pianoforte, smoothing her full skirt over the layered petticoats as she stood and stretched her cramped muscles. Two hours practicing Haydn and Chopin was almost enough to take her mind off the hateful piece of correspondence that still lay crumpled in front of the door.

Almost, but not quite.

Jane could hear her sisters whispering in the adjoining parlor. Doubtless they were still discussing her unfortunate overreaction to the courier's message. She would never admit it publicly, and of course would never debase herself by apologizing to the courier in person, but she did regret hitting the man with the vase. Some might take the lapse in manners as as sign of poor breeding. Jane was more concerned at the moment with how long it might take to ship quality porcelain out to the estate, not to mention the extravagant cost involved.

Her satin slippers glided over the silken rug as she contemplated the crumpled linen card and envelope by the entryway. The crimson ribbon and extravagant wax seal on the envelope somehow in her mind's eye resembled Charlotte Brandon's lips and outstretched tongue, pulling a face at her from afar, still mocking her long after they had departed Mrs. Pickett's Finishing School.

It wasn't just that Charlotte had stolen Sir Percy's attention and devotion. Men were easily led astray by harlots, Jane thought, and Charlotte was known for putting her tongue to other uses besides facial insults. Even the thought of missing out on 20,000 crowns per annum didn't bother her as much as she thought it would. Rich men would always desire an attractive wife, and Jane knew her own worth. Another offer would be forthcoming once word spread that she & Percy were no longer an item.

No, it was the loss of access to Percy's family that irked Jane the most. His mother's kin were chockablock with wealthy merchants and shipping magnates. Parvenus, to be sure, but these days titles were just as easily purchased as inherited. Once, there might have been a stigma to having achieved wealth through one's own labor, but the Old Guard of Society who achieved position and power through inheritance were growing scarce. Nowadays, income and estates measured a man's worth much more than a title granted a century or two prior.

With her mother dead this past decade, and Father an invalid having no more than a handful of years remaining, it fell upon Jane to ensure the future security of her sisters. She had all but handpicked husbands for Lucy, Sophia and Julia from amongst Percy's uncles and cousins. Lucy was not a problem. Bright, witty and vivacious, it would be no trouble finding a suitable match. She only had to keep Lucy from doing something foolish, such as accepting an offer from a penniless Ensign from the Royal Guards.

Sophia would be a harder match. Against all Jane's pleadings and remonstrations, she insisted on constantly burying her nose in books instead of learning the social graces. She was an accomplished singer, though you had to twist her ear to get her to perform most times. Her saving grace was a figure any man would desire and most women would envy. That alone might guarantee her a husband with at least 5000 crowns income and a small freeholding.

Julia? Julia might be a problem. Jane had hoped once the ravaging forces of adolescence had passed, Julia might blossom into a lovely flower. So far, she mostly resembled a disheveled turnip. Still, with an extended network of marriages and influence ready at hand via the sprawling family of Sir Percy Fitzhugh, Count of Nuovo Cumbria, even a dumpy girl could land a husband with an acceptable income.

But she no longer had that extended network to count on, did she? Jane bit her lip in consternation as she stalked to the entryway.

Jane started to stoop to retrieve the paper, then thought better of it and ground them under her heel. The absolute cheek of sending her an invitation to the wedding! As if she'd attend the nuptials of a faithless lover and a childhood enemy. It was only Percy's perfectly ridiculous behavior that kept him the focus of derision, and ensured that Jane's reputation did not suffer from the rejection of one so much higher in the Social Lists.

The slow burn of anger overtook her, and she strode to the window. Pulling back the velvet & lace draperies, she looked out the plasteel window towards the Brandon habitat. She could just see the blinking navlights of their landing beacon several kilometers distant, even as the harlequin brilliance of Jupiter loomed in the background.

Scattered across the vista were the dull red motes of dozens of shuttle drives flitting hither and yon, punctuated by the actinic glare of the pulsedrives used by the tugs pulling ore barges out of Io's orbit. The stationkeeping thrusters of the hundreds of gas mining platforms were constantly firing in automatic adjustment, and seemed to ring the giant planet above in enormous strands of cool blue pearls.

So much activity out here, Jane mused. Thousands of busy little drones, rushing to & fro. It was no wonder there were so many mishaps. One such accident was why her father lay confined in his bed, connected to wires and breathing through tubes. The vacuum of space was quite unforgiving, to villein and Viscount alike.

Jane glanced back at the invitation, the ribbon now ripped and the wax seal ground into the rug. The intended couple would have to make the rounds of Society prior to the wedding. Dozens of social calls to the doyennes, dowagers and dowdies scattered amongst the colonies. The Forms must be observed, lest you find yourself receiving the "cut direct" along the promenade during the annual Emperor's Summoning.

Jane idly tapped her fingernails on the window frame as she contemplated the scene. So many visits. So many opportunities for a tragic mishap. What a shame it would be if anything should happen to the blessed pair before they were legally wed.

What a shame indeed...

Chapter 2

(by Phoenix)

Jane stood near the wall watching the great panther of a man who had just entered Lord Dunwoody’s ballroom. He moved with grace, but there was an undisguised danger to him as well. There was power, held in check expertly - whether by the superior cut of his coat or pure will, Jane knew not. He was fascinating and Jane felt herself staring. She forced herself to look away and casually looked back again to continue her examination. His eyes were obsidian, his mouth a soft curve, and his hair was jet and shone in the light. But still, the power and the danger were palpable and marked this man as predator.

Jane shook herself out of these fanciful notions and again scanned the room. Lucy was holding court in a corner of Viscounts and Barons while Sophia seemed to be speaking softly with a like-minded bluestocking. Julia had stayed home with Father, still too young to be “out” and still a bit rough around the edges. Further examination of the room brought her eyes to Lady Sefton herself, the prime reason Jane and her sisters were in attendance this evening.

Lady Sefton had descended upon Jane shortly after she had rued the grinding of the wax seal of the offensive invitation into the rug. Jane hadn’t been particularly pleased to see one of Almack’s Lady Patronesses on her doorstep unannounced when she was so out of sorts, but the visit had proved fruitful. Lady Sefton had refused to share her reasons, but she had been quite emphatic that Jane and the other Misses Steele “To Town” and partake of The Season. Lady Sefton came with billets in hand and promises of entre into the best society. She had explained that hiding out in the country would only serve the purposes of certain cads and harlots whom Lady Sefton had had the good grace not to name. Indeed, Lady Sefton had seemed to want to make Sir Percy and Lady Charlotte squirm and, as it played to Jane’s goals as well, it was done.

The jaguar, as Jane now thought of the dangerous dark haired man, had disappeared, so Jane returned her attention to the spectacle. Charlotte Brandon, with her too-red mouth and her too-low bodice was up to her old tricks, holding court with a covey of the worst rakes of society. One reached out to Charlotte and she slapped his hand playfully, her eyes belying the actions of her gloved hand. Sir Percy, his misery apparent, seemed to watch all of this as though calculating the time to his cuckolding. By Jane’s calculations he wouldn’t have long to wait.

Checking once more to see that Lucy and Sophia were engaged for the time being on the dance floor, she departed for a quieter corner. She took some fresh air and pondered the night sky for a time but too many amorous couples sought a stolen moment on the terrace and she became uncomfortable. Her heart ached for comfort, so she sought out the solace of her own mind. In time she found her way to a library, Dunwoody’s private sanctum no doubt, and slipped behind the heavy walnut door. She removed her gloves and sat on the comfortably worn divan, trying to locate peace.

Her eyes closed, she soon had the unmistakable feeling that she was being watched. Her eyes flew open and she found herself the object of her jaguar’s amusement. His dark eyes glinted with unleashed laughter and his smile winked at her.

“I beg your apologies, my lady, for intruding upon your nap.” This was said with a broadening of his smirk.

Jane’s manners, once on tour, came back in a hurry. She gracefully rose from the divan and began replacing her gloves. “Sir, it is no intrusion. I merely needed some peace and sought out this quiet cove. I shall leave you to it.”

“No, please, Lady…” The unasked question dangled.

“Steele.” Jane answered.

“Lady Steele, since we lack an attendant to do the deed, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Drake Bayning, lately of Ceylon.”

Jane curtsied, dropping her eyes elegantly. “Sir.”

“Lady Steele, having found you so, I wonder, do you find these balls as inane as I do?” He was teasing her now, his eyes told her so.

“Mr. Bayning, to be honest,” it was her eyes glinting now, “it is not so much the music or the dancing that fatigues me as the incessant prattle and preening.”

Drake affected an air of mock dandy’s horror. “Mademoiselle, you have cut me to the quick! Is my society so objectionable?”

They both laughed, but were interrupted by a couple entering through the door opposite them. The young man looked to Drake and said, “Wrenroth,” then nodded, ready to find another cozy alcove. Before he could lead his lady away however, she screamed.

And kept screaming. It was shrill and cut the air sharply, splintering the idyll of moments before.

After what seemed like an eternity to the ears of all in the room, the woman finally stopped long enough to draw breath. As she did so, she raised her arm and pointed to the area behind the divan. Neither Drake nor Jane could see what transfixed the lady, so they moved to afford themselves a view.

Drake watched the blood drain from Lady Jane’s face and moved to catch her should she swoon at the sight of the dead body. This lady, it seemed, was made of steel indeed, for she seemed to reinforce her defenses rapidly.

Drake, of course, knew the dead woman. It was Charlotte Brandon, his one-time fiancée, and the reason he had returned to England. Damn her, he thought again as he had done a great many times before. Damn her beautiful face and her sinful body. Damn her for not being half the woman or half the angel her outward appearance implied.

Jane knew nothing of Drake’s reaction to Charlotte’s untimely demise. Shock was tumbling over her senses and her mind was whirling. She had been shocked at the initial sight of the usually over-animated Charlotte so quieted, but she had since grown used to that. What she couldn’t get used to or look past was the knife sticking out of Charlotte’s chest or the way her bodice had slipped to expose a glimpse of nipple on blood stained breast. It was unseemly, Jane knew, but all she could think of was how the color matched Charlotte’s lips.

And then, there was the shock of learning that the jaguar was the Marquess of Wrenroth. She averted her eyes from Charlotte’s prone and bleeding body and found her slightly shaking gloved hand held firmly in Wrenroth’s firm grip. How did that happen, she wondered.


posted by Phoenix | 12:11 AM | 2 comments

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Greatest Invention in the World
Or, at least in recent modern times.

No, I'm not talking about the much-hyped iPhone, I'm talking about this.

A good friend of mine has a model that has dual screens and affixes to the back of the headrests, allowing little Jill and Johnny in the backseat to watch Sponge Bob or Jimmy Neutron while on the road. Her model allows for two different videos to be watched or both to watch the same video. Her model, however, is no longer for sale anywhere that I've looked and I've had trouble finding a model with similar capabilities.

We borrowed another portable DVD player from someone else, but this one was more of a table top version not specifically intended for the headrest installation. It was nice, but not ideal.

We wanted one for Bunny and the long trips we take, so I went out and bought the model linked above at Target. It is designed for headrest installation, has dual screens (though they must play the same show), and can operate from the car battery, the battery pack, or by plugging it into the wall. This should make the scheduled trip to Kansas much more enjoyable for all of us.

God bless the guy who invented this. Genius!
posted by Phoenix | 9:56 AM | 0 comments

Question for Readers
Suppose you were going to visit the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Where would you go? What would you recommend?

Please leave a comment if you have some input.
posted by Phoenix | 9:55 AM | 2 comments

Bunny Boop Update
So, it has been a while since I've baby blogged, but I'm in the mood to brag a bit. Skip on by if it bores you to tears.

Bunny Boop is growing up so fast! The high chair is a thing of the past. We have rolled it into storage and our little girl now sits at the table - in her spot - in a booster seat. She mostly insists on feeding herself and gets seriously peeved if you interfere (no matter the reason). She is also learning to drink from a real cup. She's still on plastic and isn't allowed more than 1.5 inches of liquid in the cup at a time, but this is real progress.

Her vocabulary continues to expand. Why, just yesterday she said "thank you" clear as a bell, though she hasn't repeated it since. She say's "night-night" at bedtime. She say's "car." She understands about alot more words that she hasn't deigned to speak herself, however. She has a favorite toy (one of those new-fangled etch-a-sketch that you draw on instead of using the dials) and a favorite thing: her afghan blanket which she calls "be-be." Her bedtime routine is set and she now pulls the covers up over herself. She will soon be moving to a big-girl bed (with safety rails) and the crib will be rolled into the guest room.

My little one acts like a grown up more and more everyday. I bought her a new coat on Monday night. She saw it for the first time on Tuesday morning and wouldn't leave the house unless she was wearing it. I think Prince Charming's hopes for a tomboy have been dashed on the rocks. And this isn't just because she loves her purple coat - she also enjoys playing with mommy's makeup brushes, nail polish, chapstick...I think I have a girly-girl on my hands.

An obstinate and independent girly-girl. I can't imagine where that came from...


posted by Phoenix | 9:43 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
On being one of 'the regulars'
It is official.

I am now a "regular" at two local establishments and it is paying off.

This morning, for example, I made my regular trek across the street for my caffeine fix and some breakfast. I usually eat breakfast at home, but I ran out of time this morning, hence the need for sustenance. Unfortunately, all of the baked goods (donuts, bagels, etc.) were already gone by 7:59 a.m. when I walked in the door. Alas! And, woe was my tummy!

So, after some internal gnashing of teeth, I expressed my dismay at how early one had to be to beat the masses to the trough. Carol, the the sweet little lady there who makes a point to talk to me every morning, said she had a solution. She went back to the oven and got me one of the fresh-from-the-oven muffins. Cranberry or cinnamon she asked. Cinnamon! So, I took my still very warm cinnamon bran muffin and it gave me a warm belly. Very satisfying. This is what comes of being predictable...or a mouthy bitch, but I prefer to err on the nice side of the equation.

And then, I went to Subway to get lunch and the girl at the counter made my sandwich without having to ask me what I wanted. Then, I handed her the exact change without her having to tell me the total. I suppose this is a big flashing neon sign that I am a creature of habit.

Still, I feel like Norm, sitting in my spot at the bar, waiting for Sam to say something sarcastic to Diane.


posted by Phoenix | 2:55 PM | 0 comments

On other projects in the works...
I don't want to tip my hand too much, but a certain pirate and I are collaborating on a project that will eventually find its way to these sunny pastures. I've already done my first bit of homework and eagerly await his judgement of the thing.

You'll just have to wait a bit...


posted by Phoenix | 2:48 PM | 0 comments

More on all that butter
Down below you will see a picture of a 55-pound block of butter.

No, this isn't how we purchase butter at my house. Rather, it is a gift from the happy recipient of a tin of my increasingly famous cookies.

You see, I bake a lot of cookies at Christmas and send them out to friends and family and business associates. The thing about my Christmas cookie tins that makes them different is the selection and what isn't there. Namely: those sugar cookies that are so cute but taste like chalk.

Not in there!

Instead, you get a carefully selected assortment of flavors: chocolate, coconut, lemon, ginger, peanut butter, pumpkin...and that's just a few of them.

Anyway, one of last year's first-time recipients wanted to make abso-doubly certain that he was on the list again, so he arranged for me to get as much butter as any home baker could reasonably need. I picked it up on Friday and took it home. Then, Prince Charming and I spent an hour chopping the big block into smaller 1-pound packages. It was a ton of work (or 55-pounds, I suppose) and a tremendous mess. Now, for perhaps the first time ever, our chest freezer is completely full...of butter.

It must be time to start baking!


posted by Phoenix | 9:53 AM | 1 comments

Monday, October 15, 2007
Since you were wondering...

This is what 55 pounds of butter looks like.

Loooooong story.


posted by Phoenix | 10:12 PM | 1 comments

The Wedding Cake Project
So, as I have mentioned, I have been working on a big project. Namely, my first wedding cake. No, it was not perfect. Thankfully, there was no stress on this one and it was a learning project. Below you can see the cake mid-construction.

Here is a picture of the cake mostly finished. You can see there were a few problems, but I think on the whole it is a decent job. The poker theme definitely comes through, I think, and the cards definitely look like cards (on the bottom layer). I had some trouble with my fondant on the top layer and just couldn't get it to lay right. And, I learned a few things about structural support too. Nevertheless, I'm calling this one a success.


posted by Phoenix | 10:00 PM | 0 comments

Friday, October 12, 2007
Nobel "Peace" Prize Goes to The Goracle
Un-frickin' - believable.

Price of a Prius: $22,175
Price of a Nobel "Peace" Prize: $3.6 million
CalTechGirl Skewering Al Gore like a hunk of meat on a shish kebab: Priceless


posted by Phoenix | 12:27 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Violation: Rat Tail
I'm not usually a member of the fashion police, but I saw something today that was just awful. Horrible. Shiver-inducing, even.

I encountered a man in my morning amble for a caffeinated beverage who needs to let go. I only saw him from the back, but that was enough.

The man had a rat tail. And, not just any rat tail - but an incredibly looooooong rat tail. This tail reached past the man's belt. And, it was braided. And before you ask, no, it wasn't just a case of a man with long hair that was braided. The man's hair was very short everywhere else, but at the nape of his neck a lock had been allowed to grow and grow and grow and grow. His braid, at the base of his neck, was easily an inch in diameter. And there's more! The braid had been dyed an orangey-red color on one side, so the different dark-brown/orangey-red wove in and out, bringing all the more attention to the thing. Picturing it? At the tail end, the thing was sort of ratty and clearly had split ends. And, I imagine that unbraided, the length would easily reach to the middle of his posterior.

Maybe it was a religious thing from a religion that I'm unfamiliar with. Maybe he's trying to make a fashion statement. Maybe he's trying to revive the rat tail. Heaven knows. All I know is that it was...icky. Just icky. It wasn't scary, it wasn't obscene, it was just icky. Maybe the mullet will come back next!

And that is the end of my screed, of this rat tale.


posted by Phoenix | 3:38 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Can't Stop Laughing...Too funny...


posted by Phoenix | 1:11 PM | 4 comments

Monday, October 08, 2007
My Fault
Early in the college football season I thought there might be a chance that I had escaped culpability. Now? Now I know better.

Regular readers will perhaps remember that we are big Badger fans at Chez Villains Vanquished. Some would even say that Prince Charming is a rabid Badger fan. In the time that I have lived in Wisconsin, I too have become a fan. I love Barry Alvarez and am warming up to Bielema. I just love watching the team play.

Anyway, a few weeks prior to the start of the season something horrible happened in my house that seems to have been the unheeded harbinger of doom as concerns this season. Prince Charming allowed Bunny Boop to play with the Bucky Badger bobblehead doll that I had purchased for him a few years prior. Bunny Boop left it on the floor, under something innocuous, and then I came along and stepped on it. And, I'm sad to say, Bucky was decapitated. He bobbles no more.

So, you see, it is my fault that the Badgers have no fight in them in the first half of every game and have been scraping by with small wins until this past weekend. This past weekend proved the theory, if proof is to be found.

This weekend, we lost to the Illini. So what? So, this is my alma mater, that's what! A team that we almost always beat. A team that habitually has a chip on its shoulder. This is how I know it is all my fault. Had I not decapitated Bucky it might have been different. But, alas!

And we learn that Luke Swan the receiver from Prince Charming's hometown was not just injured in last weekend's game, but is now out for the season.

Seriously? That's some really bad luck. What can I do to clear the bad mojo? Must I glue Bucky's head back on? Must I sacrifice something with the Ohio State Logo on it?

I'll do whatever it takes!


posted by Phoenix | 2:32 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Tuesday Ramble
It is Tuesday again, so I must be exhausted. Yesterday was something of a marathon for me. I was up before the sun, showering at 5 am, and out the door, baby in tow, by 6:45. From there, I manuevered my way through the traffic and arrived at work. I put in my time and then some, not departing the office until 5:45 pm. I drove straight to campus, parked, and carried all of my sundry crap inside the house (including 3 dozen fresh-baked oatmeal cookies). I then went on a scavenger hunt, attempting to locate something that had gone missing. Did I mention that I've not had so much as a tour of the house? It was a lot like being in the wild, unsure just what was going to pop out at me and snarl. Anyway, I located some of the missing items and then discovered that the rest of them had finally arrived in the mail that afternoon. I attended the meeting and put out two minor figurative fires. I finally arrived home for the day at 9 pm. After thumbing through the mail, I went to bed. No passing go, no supper, no gnashing of teeth.

I was out, as they say, like a light. Until my alarm clock rang at 4 am, that is. It is so hard to get out of bed at that hour, but I am trying to stay motivated, so I did it anyway. I made my way downstairs to the treadmill, put in my time, and then hit the showers. I'll do it all again tomorrow too.

Bunny Boop's Halloween costume is in production. All of the pieces are cut out and the iron-on facing has been applied. The majority of the costume is together, but all of the detail work remains. We'll see how it goes. If it isn't too humiliating I will post pictures of my finished product. I am mildly concerned that it will be too big. I know that it is going to be too long, but I figure a healthy hem will allow me to reuse the costume next year. Still, the bodice may swim on her. I suppose I can put a t-shirt on underneath, but I still worry that this will not be enough. Ah, well, there's always the safety pins...

The funeral was ok. I spent most of my time occupying the child, so I missed practically all of it as she was decidedly not happy sitting still and being quiet. Not surprisingly, she fell asleep in the 5 minutes between the grave side service and the meal afterwards and woke just as we were leaving the meal.

The one highlight of the weekend was getting to watch the nephew play football. He has the potential to be amazing, but we'll see. Sitting there in the stands watching the game, cheering, took me back to my own high school days. Bizarre. It seems like it was both just yesterday and also a lifetime ago. I can't explain the dichotomy of that statement, but it is true nonetheless.

We came home on Saturday and I did laundry and the grocery shopping. Not much to report there.

Work has been busy-ish. Lots going on here below the surface and I'm not sure just what is going to happen. Mylanta-necessitating stuff.

I need a nap.
posted by Phoenix | 9:45 AM | 1 comments

Citizenship Quiz
Take this MSNBC quiz to see if you could pass the citizenship examination that prospective new citizens must take.

I think it is pretty easy. I only missed one question.


posted by Phoenix | 9:37 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 01, 2007
Cox & Forkum Say Goodbye
This saddens me. Cox & Forkum have been linked often in this space. I love their cartoons and the way they cut straight to the bone.

I will miss them.


posted by Phoenix | 1:06 PM | 0 comments


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