Posts Tagged ‘anecdote’

The small force that it takes to launch a boat into the stream should not be confused with the force of the stream that carries it along.
-  Friedrich Nietzsche

The day has at last arrived!  Tonight at 6:30 I’ll be appearing at the Healthy Rhythm Community Art Gallery in Fairfield, Texas (a bit southeast of Dallas) to read selections from my book, sell copies, sign autographs and answer questions.  I met the gallery’s owner, Ken Vail, at the Southern Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans last December, and when I told him I would be publishing a book soon the first question out of his mouth was, “Have you chosen a place to do your first book signing?”  When I told him I hadn’t he volunteered his gallery, and here we are!  I hope some of my readers from the Dallas area (and Austin & Houston, if you don’t mind a two-hour drive) can make it out to show your support; if you’ve already got a copy I’ll sign it for you, and if not I’ll have a whole box of ‘em with me.  If you live farther away, check my tour page to see when I’ll be close to you, and if you have any advice or input about events I should attend, places that would like to host a book signing or have me speak, etc, please let me know.  If you own or manage a business or organization and would like to hold an event for me, please contact me ASAP so we can work out the details; if you aren’t the boss but still think you could put in a good word, let me know that too!  And even if you live outside the US, or in a part of the country I won’t be visiting, please take a moment this evening to beam me a few prayers, positive vibes, good thoughts, best wishes or whatever the equivalent in your philosophy; as I embark on this new adventure outside my comfort zone, I’ll take all the help I can get. Beach Scene by Konstantin Razumov

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Fucking magnets, how do they work?  -  Insane Clown Posse, “Miracles

vampire's kissIt’s not always easy being the Honest Courtesan; sometimes in the process of talking about human sexuality, I run into some aspect of my own sexuality which is somewhat embarrassing to admit to.  At that point I have to decide whether to walk around the subject, or say “I’d really rather not discuss that”, or just throw caution to the wind and forge ahead out of my comfort zone, trusting that Aphrodite will bless my courage.  Often it’s because a reader asks a question which can be answered in part by discussing my own feelings, but in this particular occasion it’s because a reader wrote an article in Psychology Today.  The reader is Dr. Robert King, and the article is subtitled “What Monster Porn Might Tell Us About Human Nature”.  It’s a critique of John Horgan’s “What ‘Monster Porn’ Says About Science and Sexuality” in Scientific American…an odd venue for it because, as King explains, Horgan “used a blatantly creationist strategy to attack an entire field of science of which he disapproves”, evolutionary psychology.  Horgan absurdly claims that because he personally can’t think of a reason for women to be turned on by the idea of sex with monsters, there must not be a scientific explanation, and that this is wonderful because Freud.  Or something.

Dr. King, on the other hand, displaying the superior insight one would expect from one who appreciates this blog, has a very good sense of what the biological connection is:

…monster porn is by no means novel…Ancient dildoes going back 20000 years are adorned with pictures of various potent animals.  And…just take a look at what the Centaurs are trying to do to the Lapith women on the metopes of the…Parthenon…raucous festivities involving symbolic sex with humans dressed as animals…go back as far as records begin.  Not far from where I work there is an annual festival at which the Queen of the May symbolically marries King Puck…an icon of animal potency and fertility.  In the UK symbolic animals grab innocent maidens off the streets with impunity during May festivities.  What do things like Bigfoot, Cthulhic monsters, magical beings, werewolves, vampires and centaurs have in common?  Well, to someone not wedded to a creationist psychology might I venture one or two themes of adaptationist relevance?  Power.  Potency.  Transgressiveness.  Loss of control.  Outbreeding.  The evocation of uncontrollable desire.  Dominance.  Submission.  Rescue.  Heroes.  Villains.  Large penises.  Do these sound like themes irrelevant to biology or reproduction?  If so, then it’s time to go back to school…it might easily turn out that the prevalence of these fantasies has no adaptive function—they might be by-products of other adaptations.  Not everything is an adaptation.  Every first year biologist knows this…

The Moon Maid by Frank Frazetta (1974)Horgan is apparently so content to view sexuality as an unfathomable chthonic mystery that he doesn’t even bother to ask a reasonably-intelligent woman who’s turned on by this sort of thing what she thinks about it.  And though I’ll never read Taken by the T-Rex or Moan for Bigfoot, that’s not because I’m disgusted by the subject matter; as it turns out, I myself am a reasonably-intelligent woman who’s turned on by this sort of thing.  See these illustrations?  I’ve got a bunch of ‘em in my art folders.  People who played Dungeons & Dragons with me could tell you about some memorable episodes.  And remember my mentioning how the movie Gargoyles inspired one of my favorite make-believe scenarios as a kid?  Yeah, that.  The thing is, anybody who’s read some of my other columns on my own kinks and paid attention to some of the fantasy iconography I’ve featured (dig the cover of my book at upper right) could’ve guessed as much; it’s no surprise when a woman who is turned on by rape, abduction and bondage scenarios is similarly affected when the abductor is some sort of non-human entity.  For the record, dinosaurs and the like do nothing for me; it has to be an intelligent monster, like a demon, an astropelagic alien (again, see my book) or a werewolf.  In a spoken sequence on Bat Out of Hell, a male character asks a female, “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”  My friend Philippa used to say that her answer to that was, “Every fucking time.”

When Horgan declares that evolutionary psychology can’t explain monster porn, he indulges in the same narcissism as prohibitionists do when they declare that no woman could choose sex work:  “I cannot understand this, therefore it is inexplicable.”  But actually, women being turned on by monsters is no odder (vampires, anyone?) than women indulging in transactional sex; however much either or both of them might upset and horrify prudes, they both have their origins in female behavioral scripts going back to the time when the behavior of human men wasn’t much different from that of the monsters in the fantasies.

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Line in nature is not found;
Unit and universe are round;
In vain produced, all rays return;
Evil will bless, and ice will burn.
  -  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uriel”

the brideI’ve been giving quite a few interviews lately, and I’ve noticed that one particular question comes up quite often (either on mike or off), especially from female interviewers:  “Would you ever do it again?”  I don’t think most of them intend it as a “gotcha” because I have been very fortunate so far in avoiding interviews with the sort of people who ask such questions (the most popular of which is “Would you want your daughter to do it?”)  Rather, I think it’s symptomatic of the underlying assumption, even among many people who firmly believe in self-ownership and sex worker rights, that there is something intrinsically “wrong” or distasteful about sex work.  I’m not blaming them, mind; that attitude is so deeply and firmly embedded in our culture that it’s a rare person indeed who is completely free of it, and that includes whores.  Most people, including many sex worker allies and staunch advocates, tend to think of retired sex workers as people who have “exited”, or “gotten out”, or even “escaped”, and are therefore understandably curious about someone like me who views our profession as not merely something to be tolerated, but a positive good.

When people ask why I retired, I often reply “Did I?”  As I’ve often stated, I don’t view marriage as all that different from prostitution; the affection my husband and I share does not lessen the economic basis of our formal relationship.  But that’s not really what my questioners mean; what they want to know is, “If you were faced with economic need, would you go back to professional whoring?”  And the answer is, “Of course I would.”  I already came out of retirement once due to a major financial setback, and life is full of such passages; if a similar situation arose, I would do it again.  There’s nothing strange about this; many women drift in and out of sex work at different times in our lives, or change between different types of sex work as conditions change, and I’m no different from anyone else.  Perhaps the question also reflects a kind of intellectual snobbery; maybe there’s an assumption that because I’m now a writer who is noted for her mind and words, that returning to sex work would be a kind of regression or even debasement.  But that’s elitist garbage; unless I suddenly evolve into an incorporeal being who can live on air and sunlight, I will always have physical and economic needs which must be addressed pragmatically.

The fact that this isn’t completely obvious to everyone says a lot about our society’s weird hang-ups.  Nobody would even think of asking a retired nurse, teacher, cook or real-estate agent if she’d go back to it should the need arise; for any profession other than whore, it would be a given.  Only when we reach the point where that query seems just as inane when directed toward a sex worker, will we know that at long last humanity has given up its childish and destructive superstitions about sex.

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If a patron buys from an artist who needs money (needs money to buy tools, time, food), the patron then makes himself equal to the artist; he is building art into the world; he creates.  -  Ezra Pound

Lorenzo di Medici by Raphael (c 1518)In days of yore, artists tried to attract patrons; that is, noblemen or other wealthy individuals who would give them money to live on.  The artist was expected to produce poems or paintings or concerti or whatever for the patron, and the rest of the time (barring the occasional cathedral ceiling or requiem mass) was left to putter on his own to produce Great Things; the best patrons required little in return for their generosity, while others were more demanding.  Modern governments and corporations still give out grants, but since these are determined by bureaucratic politics or commercial considerations it isn’t really the same; these entities tend to expect certain results, and on a timetable at that, so there’s little room for the recipient to follow his own path while somebody else pays the bills.  So I’m really very lucky in having a husband who believes in my work and trusts me enough that he’s willing to pay the bills while I do my thing.  Still, he’s not a prince or a cardinal, so it would be nice to have some extra funds coming in to finish building our house and the like; I’ve therefore come up with a few ways that those of you who would like to indulge your inner Medici can do so, on a small scale.

First of all, there’s my book; if you haven’t bought a copy yet here’s your chance!  Its list price on Amazon is $15.95 US, but there’s a slight discount so it actually won’t cost you quite that much.  It’s also available for £9.95 in the UK and €11.95 in FranceGermany and Italy.  Readers in other countries will need to order it from the Amazon branch which gives them the best price and service, or directly from CreateSpace (international shipping applies); it’s also available on Kindle for $8 US.  Starting today, you’ve got another option:  you can buy an autographed copy directly from me for $25 if you live in the US, $30 if you live in Canada and $35 if you live anywhere else; the price includes shipping, which is why it’s more outside the US.  If you want an autographed copy but don’t want to pay that much (and as a thrifty soul myself I totally understand that), you can get one from me for $16 at one of the many book signings I plan to do this summer as I tour across the US.  The launch will be held at the Healthy Rhythm Community Art Gallery in Fairfield, Texas on April 17th, from 6:30-8:30 PM, but the main tour will start six weeks later at the end of May. Here’s a VERY TENTATIVE schedule; I’ll replicate this on a tour calendar page which will be updated as things change or become confirmed:

City Tentative dates
San Francisco, CA May 31st – June 4th
Los Angeles, CA June 5th–9th
Las Vegas, NV June 10th-14th
Phoenix, AZ June 15th-17th
Albuquerque, NM June 18th-20th
Denver, CO June 21st-25th
Oklahoma City, OK June 26th-28th
Dallas, TX June 29th-July 3rd
Kansas City July 5th-7th
St. Louis, MO July 8th-10th
Memphis, TN July 11th-13th
Nashville, TN July 14th-16th
Cincinnati, OH July 17th-19th
Chicago, IL July 20th-24th
Pittsburgh, PA July 25th-29th
Albany, NY July 30th-August 1st
Boston, MA August 2nd-5th
New York, NY August 6th-10th
Philadelphia, PA August 11th-13th
Washington, DC August 14th-17th
Raleigh, NC August 18th-20th
Charleston, SC August 21st-23rd
Atlanta, GA August 24th-26th
Tampa, FL August 27th-31st
New Orleans, LA September 2nd-6th

And that brings us to another way you can help me.  Since my book was self-published, I don’t have the resources of a publishing company to organize events; if you live in any of these cities or even within a couple of hours’ drive of them, I would love your advice and input about events I should attend, places that would like to host a book signing or have me speak, etc.  If you own or manage a business or organization and would like to hold an event for me, please contact me ASAP so we can work out the details; if you aren’t the boss but still think you could arrange it, let me know that too!  I want to meet as many of my readers as possible and attend as many events as possible so this tour will be a success.

money in garterFinally, there’s one more new avenue of patronage:  in the right-hand column under the calendar and subscription button, you’ll see a new box labeled “Become a Blog Patron”.  I’ve created four different subscription levels: 10¢ per day ($36.50 annually), 25¢ per day ($7.75 monthly), 50¢ per day ($15.50 monthly), and $1 per day ($31.00 monthly).  If you want to make a one-time donation, just click on the button of the amount you want to give, wait for it to clear your bank or credit card and then click on “unsubscribe” so it won’t draft again.  If you prefer to give me a gift instead of cash, you can get something from my Amazon wish list.  And pretty soon I’ll be opening up an auxiliary web page with other merchandise like T-shirts and coffee mugs, so keep your eyes out for that.

As I’ve said before with regard to my wish list, I do not ever expect my readers to give me anything or pay for me to write; this blog was not intended as a commercial venture, and it never will be.  I will never carry any advertising, and soon I’ll be upgrading my WordPress package so you won’t see any ads from them, either.  There is nothing I hate more than seeing winking, flashing, jumping bullshit slathered all over a web page, and I will never subject my readers to that.  But many readers have asked how they can help, and many have been generous with gifts; many have urged me to write books and install a donate button.  So if you can afford to show your appreciation in a concrete way and would like to do so, now you can; if you can’t or prefer not to, that’s fine too.  This blog is my art and my calling, not a business, and I think of anything y’all choose to send as gifts, not fees or earnings.  All I ask is that you spread the word if you like my work; anything more is strictly optional, and totally at your discretion.  I appreciate all my faithful readers, because every day y’all reward my work with the gift of your time and attention.

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Cake is happiness!  If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness!  If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!  ―  C. JoyBell C.

Since it’s been far too long since I published a recipe, I decided to make up for it with seven new ones: all different types of cake, arranged one per demi-season.  Yesterday we covered winter and spring, and today cakes for the summer and autumn.  I would only consider one of these (Moss Rose Cake) difficult, and even it isn’t all that tough.  But if you aren’t an experienced baker, make sure you read my general tips in yesterday’s column before proceeding.

Summertide (late May – early July)

Texas BrowniesI first discovered this recipe in the early ‘90s, and I don’t know why they’re so named; maybe because they’re big, or maybe it’s the buttermilk, but they’re delicious in any case.  If you don’t have buttermilk handy, put 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of lemon juice or vinegar into a glass measuring cup, pour milk in until it’s just below the ¾ cup (180 ml) line, stir, and let it sit for 5 minutes before using (the usage is divided between cake & frosting, so be sure to measure).  Note that the coffee need not be freshly brewed; I always use whatever’s left from breakfast.

Texas Brownies

2 cups (480 ml) flour
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking soda
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/3 cup (80 ml) cocoa powder
1 cup (240 ml) coffee (the stronger the better)
2 eggs
½ cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) vanilla extract
1 recipe frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift together flour, sugar, soda and salt.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine butter, cocoa and coffee, stirring constantly until it boils.  Add the chocolate mixture to the dry mixture and beat with an electric mixer at medium to high speed until well-combined.  Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and beat for 1 minute more, then pour into the pan (batter will be thin).  Bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean, then remove from oven and immediately prepare frosting.

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cocoa powder
3 tablespoons (45 ml) buttermilk
2¼ cups (540 ml) sifted powdered sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine butter, cocoa and buttermilk, stirring constantly until mixture boils.  Pour over powdered sugar in mixing bowl, add vanilla and beat until smooth, then pour over hot cake.  Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.

Lammastide  (July and the Dog Days)

refrigerator cakeIt’s true that sheet cakes aren’t as fancy as layer cakes, but unless you’re trying to impress company they taste the same.  Here’s another cake Maman used to make; it’s wonderfully refreshing in an oppressively-hot Louisiana summer.  Just bake a white cake in a 13” x 9” pan, and when it’s cool use a wooden skewer to poke holes at about 1-cm intervals over the whole top of the cake.  Pour the proper amount of boiling water over two regular-size packets of any flavor of dessert gelatin (in the US this would be two cups [480 ml] of water ) and stir until dissolved, about 2 minutes.  But do not then add cold water as one normally would when preparing the gelatin; instead pour it evenly over the top of the cake and set it in the refrigerator for at least four hours before cutting.

Mabontide  (September and late August)

To make up for all those homely cakes, here’s a very fancy one that’s my husband’s all-time favorite.  It isn’t just two layers, but three!  Usually I add green and red food coloring to the frosting to get a sort of mossy color in keeping with the name.  The fresher the eggs, the lighter and fluffier the result with this cake; farm-fresh eggs give the best result.  It’s also much easier if you have a stand mixer.

Moss Rose Cake

2 cups (480 ml) sifted flour
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) baking powder
4 eggs
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) almond extract
1 cup (240 ml) hot milk

beaten whole eggsLet eggs sit at room temperature for half an hour while you grease and lightly flour three 8” or 9” round cake pans, then sift flour, salt and baking powder together three times.  Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Beat eggs and almond extract on high speed for about five minutes, gradually adding sugar, until very thick; the mixture will cascade from the beater in a thick ribbon and mound up on the batter’s surface, then slowly vanish into it.  Gently fold flour mixture into egg mixture, then gradually add hot milk and stir quickly until the batter is smooth.  Divide evenly between the three pans and bake for 30 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched.  Cool layers in pans for 20 minutes while preparing frosting.

7-minute Frosting 

1½ cups (360 ml) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) cold water
2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) cream of tartar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) almond extract
Food coloring

In the top of a double boiler combine sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar and mix with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Place over boiling water and cook for seven minutes, mixing on high speed the whole time, until frosting forms stiff peaks.  Remove from heat, add extract and color, and beat for 2 or 3 minutes more until frosting reaches spreading consistency.  Carefully remove layer from pan, frost and stack layers, frost the whole cake and then sprinkle the top with ground pistachios (about ¼ or ½ cup of nuts ground up in a food processor should do it).

Autumntide  (October and November)

This is a simple but delicious seasonal cake; I used to make it often at UNO when friends came over to play Dungeons & Dragons.  As with Texas Brownies, you can use sour milk in place of buttermilk; put one tablespoon (15 ml) vinegar or lemon juice in a glass measuring cup, then add milk to the one-cup (240 ml) line and stir.  Allow to sit five minutes before using.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

2 cups (480 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 ml) cinnamon
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each nutmeg, cloves and ginger
¼ cup butter (½ stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) vegetable shortening
1½ cups (360 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
½ cup (120 ml) cooked pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, then grease and lightly flour two 9” round cake pans and stir together all dry ingredients except sugar.  Beat butter and shortening together with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds, then add vanilla and sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Add pumpkin, then dry mixture and buttermilk alternately in thirds, beating at low speed after each just until combined.  Pour into pans and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 20 minutes while preparing frosting.  Variations: Replace pumpkin with 1 cup (240 ml) applesauce and reduce buttermilk to ¼ cup (60 ml); or, omit fruit altogether and increase buttermilk to 1¼ cups (300 ml).

Browned Butter Frosting

In a small saucepan melt ½ cup (1 stick) butter over low heat, then continue heating until it turns a delicate brown.  Pour it into a mixing bowl with 4 cups (960 ml) powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla, beat on low speed until combined and then on medium to high speed until it reaches spreading consistency.

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Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.  –  “a great princess” (according to Rousseau)

I like cake, and I’m sure you do as well unless you’re some sort of disguised alien (just kidding)(not really).  But I wonder if you’ve considered the amazing variety of cakes that there are?  They come in many shapes, textures, flavors and presentations, and the familiar chocolate cake, wedding cake and the like represent a very small region of the cake world.  Recently, I realized I hadn’t done any recipes lately, and since a couple of sex workers I follow on Twitter often mention how much they love cake I was inspired to share some favorites you might not find in the typical cookbook.  I’ve assigned each of these recipes to one of the demi-seasons as I count them (each anchored by one of the sabbats), but you can really make most of them any time you like.  Some of these recipes are easy, and some a bit trickier; the first two are actually brioches, and two others (one today and one tomorrow) could even be made with a box cake (just don’t tell me if you do that).

There are a few general things I should note before we start; if you’re an experienced baker you can skip this paragraph.  First of all, DO NOT be tempted to replace butter with margarine; butter is pure fat, while margarine is an emulsion of fat and water which does not behave the same way in cake recipes and may ruin the results.  If you want low-fat, I’ll be happy to share my recipe for angel food cake if you haven’t got one (it has no fat whatsoever).  DO NOT omit salt if a recipe calls for it; it’s there for a reason, especially in the brioches (yeast needs a slightly saline environment in which to grow).  Use large eggs, and unless a recipe says otherwise add them one at a time, beating for about a minute after each.  You don’t need to use cake flour for any of these recipes, though you might get a slightly finer result from Moss Ross Cake (tomorrow) if you do.  Though I’ve provided metric equivalents for most ingredients, I don’t know whether sticks of butter are the same size in other countries as in the US, where a standard stick is 4 ounces (113 grams).  The same goes for pans; a 13” x 9” rectangular pan would be 33 x 23 cm, so use the closest equivalent.  Test most cakes for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick or skewer near the center; if it comes out clean, it’s done.  Test sponge cakes (like Moss Rose) by lightly touching the top; if done, it will spring back.  And since brioche is really a sweet bread, panettone and king cake are tested as bread is: by tapping on the top, which sounds hollow when done.

Yuletide  (late November – January 5th)

Panettone is an Italian brioche traditionally eaten during Yuletide; you can buy it imported from Italy in a box, but making it fresh is so much better.  You’ll need a peculiar baking tin for this one: a large, clean coffee can with a volume of about 3 liters, or something similar to that.

4½ to 5½ cups (1 to 1.3 liters) flour
1 package fast-rising yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) nutmeg
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ground orange peel (orange zest)
1¼ cups (300 ml) milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) raisins
½ cup (120 ml) candied orange peels

panettoneCombine 2 cups (480 ml) flour, yeast, nutmeg and zest in a large mixing bowl.  Heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter almost completely melts, then pour the mixture over the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix on high speed for 3 more minutes.  Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can, plus raisins and peels.  Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough; this will take about 3 to 5 minutes and will still be slightly sticky when you’re done kneading.  Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a lightly greased bowl (cooking spray is perfect for this) and turn the ball to grease the surface of the dough.  Then cover it with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour the coffee can, then cut a circle of waxed paper to fit in the bottom of the can and sprinkle a little more flour on it.  At the end of the rising time, make a fist and punch down into the uncovered dough (it will deflate as gas escapes), then gather it up and put it into the prepared can.  Let it rise until double again (another hour), and near the end of the time preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, then drape a piece of aluminum foil on top to prevent overbrowning and bake 15 minutes more (50 minutes in all); the top should sound somewhat hollow when you tap on it.  Immediately remove the panettone from the tin to a cooling rack and dust the top with powdered sugar; when ready to serve, cut it with a bread knife.

Carnival  (January 6th – Mardi Gras)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In New Orleans, the traditional dessert of this season is king cake, the very first recipe I ever shared on this blog (on Twelfth Night, 2011).  Of all these it is the one most firmly attached to the season I’ve assigned it, though panettone is a close second and pumpkin cake third.

Lent  (Ash Wednesday – Easter Eve)

When I was a lass, Easter baskets in the Deep South could be counted on to prominently feature products from the Elmer’s candy company of New Orleans, and among the most prized of these was a chocolate, marshmallow and almond confection called Heavenly Hash.  Here’s a cake based on it, though it uses pecans rather than almonds; if you can’t get pecans I’m sure almonds would be just as nice.

Heavenly Hash Cake

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
4 eggs
1½ cups (360 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
2 cups (480 ml) chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
3 cups (720 ml) miniature marshmallows
1 recipe icing (see below)

Heavenly Hash cakePreheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift dry ingredients together.  Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or so, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, then add flour mixture and mix well.  Add vanilla and pecans, mix just until combined and pour into pan.  Bake for 40 minutes or until done; remove from oven, immediately cover cake with marshmallows and prepare icing.

3½ cups (840 ml) sifted powdered sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
½ cup (120 ml) cream or evaporated milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

Beat together all ingredients until smooth; pour over hot marshmallow-covered cake.  Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.

Springtide  (Easter – late May)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe arrival of spring meant Maman “would pay me far too much money to cut her lawn every week, and usually made a cake for me; my favorite one was a simple yellow cake made in a ring pan and drizzled with powdered-sugar icing flavored with a powdered drink mix.”  I now call it Love Cake in memory of my beloved Maman.  Just bake a regular yellow cake in a tube pan (an angel food cake pan); you’ll probably need to add 5 minutes to the baking time.  Cool it for 20 minutes in the pan before removing it, then combine 2 cups (480 ml) sifted powdered sugar with ½ a packet (just under a teaspoon, about 4 ml) unsweetened powdered drink mix and 2 or 3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk and mix well; drizzle it evenly over the top of the cake, letting it pour down the sides.  You can use any flavor, but I like orange best.

Tomorrow:  Four more recipes for the other half of the year!

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Memory works a little bit…like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.  -  Elizabeth Loftus

One of the forms of magic characters might encounter in a Dungeons and Dragons game is illusion.  Some kinds of wizards or magic-using beings can create realistic illusions that fool the victims into believing something awful is happening, and unless they realize these phenomena are unreal and actively refuse to believe in them, they will suffer harm just as though they were real.  My friend Walter (whom I’ve mentioned before) had a running joke; whenever his character was in some sort of a dire predicament that he couldn’t think of a way out of, he would announce “I disbelieve it!” in the forlorn hope that whatever-it-was would vanish away like an illusion dispelled.

The ArrivalOf course, since the situations in which Walter announced this were never illusionary ones, his goal was just to make everyone laugh and/or break the tension of a harrowing episode.  But many people in real life think that disbelieving things, no matter what the proof of their existence, should have the legal or actual power to make them vanish; those same people also imagine the reverse, that strongly declared belief in something will make it so no matter what the evidence to the contrary.  Fortunately for those of us who prefer to live in the real world, neither of these is true:  bad things, or those which are inconvenient to one’s political agenda, cannot be dispersed by denying their existence; neither can nonexistent things, or those convenient to one’s agenda, be materialized by repeating a Shahada often enough.  But unfortunately, those who imagine otherwise are in the majority, and the law is often on their side.  The declared “beliefs” of cops (whether sincere or otherwise), and the first-person testimony of victims (or those who believe themselves to be victims, or who have been convinced by others that they’re victims) regularly trumps physical evidence in court, even when that evidence is solid and the human statements are incredible, absurd or even impossible.  And legislatures are even more disconnected from reality than courtrooms:  in statehouses, senates and parliaments the world over, sound evidence and credible, well-supported testimony is routinely disbelieved in favor of political or religious dogma, and the laws enacted from such beliefs are then enforced by vast armies of thugs prepared to inflict violence upon anyone who refuses to let the faith of irrational busybodies define his reality.

If human memory were like a videotape, and people were basically honest, the credibility gap between physical or documentary evidence and human testimony would at least be narrower than it is, and that might justify some degree of prejudice in the minds of the irrational and overly-emotional.  But it isn’t, and they aren’t; memory is both fallible and flexible, and people will lie to advance their own interests even when they know it will harm others (and even more so when they can convince themselves that the falsehood advances some “greater good”).  These two uncomfortable truths converge in special interest groups; as I explain in my forthcoming research paper “Mind-witness Testimony”,

…after-the-fact input from other people, either peers or authority figures, can distort memories so powerfully that after many repetitions the false memory will actually be much more powerful than real ones from the same time frame.  When confronted with proof of the falsity of their memories, some people have even insisted that such proof is either mistaken or manufactured…But even if there has been no external interference at all, the mere repetition of a distorted memory has the effect of strengthening it…The retelling of stories within a group biased toward a particular view produces an even more pronounced distortion, thanks to a psychological mechanism called group polarization…Obviously this dynamic tends to intensify moral panics, but because it alters the mental schemata of those involved it also affects the process of stereotypic conformation…[which means that] memories which fit the individual’s preconceptions are reinforced and those memories which do not are discarded, regardless of whether those memories are true or false

believe in fairiesIn other words, even if nobody is actively trying to manufacture false memories, then tend to occur anyway due to the powerful psychological need for group cohesion; when the leaders are actively working to create such confabulations via “reframing experiences”, they can will new memories into existence as easily as audience members heal Tinker Bell by demonstrating their belief in her.  And given the willingness of juries and lawmakers to believe in these fictions, the motive to create them is very strong indeed.  It is long past time we as a culture grew beyond believing in fairies and imagining that if we shut our eyes and cover our ears, unpleasant things will go away and trouble us no more.  Judicial proceedings and public policy must be based on evidence, not on belief, and such evidence cannot be disbelieved away even when we don’t like what it says.

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the magic puddingThere was considerable controversy in the comment thread of “Something in the Milk”  about whether emails could be tracked as my correspondent described, and how such a thing would work.  So on the evening of Valentine’s Day, she and I decided to test it out:  she sent me an email, I forwarded it to others and she told me what we had done.  The results convinced me, and I think they’ll convince you as well.  The tracking utility is called Readnotify, and though it isn’t free the cost is small.  Normally there is a notification in the email that shows it’s being tracked, but in “silent” mode this information is hidden from recipients.  Note that all ISPs and the names of local towns have been disguised to protect privacy. 

This email was initially opened on IP; the device it was opened on has specific software specifications, listed under “Browser”.  This shows the brand and version of the browser agent that was used when opening my email; these specifications are unique to each machine as updates are not always installed.  I can see that this user is showing MSOffice in the browser info, so this user receives email via Outlook more than likely.

Opened 3-Feb-14 at 23:58:55pm (UTC -5:00)   –   59mins46secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Browser used by recipient: Moz/4.0 (MSIE 7.0; WinNT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MSOffice 12)

This information by itself is meaningless; you can’t determine a user, a physical location, or anything else other than the IP information and the browser info.  But what this information can provide is a “dog tag” for a device; as you compare it to other email tracking data that you receive, you can begin to notice whether any single “dog tag” appears in the circulation of any other emails that you are tracking.  Now Reader 1 reopens the mail; only the end of the IP is different, you will see that change with reopens.

Opened 4-Feb-14 at 00:20:32am (UTC -5:00)   –   1hour21mins23secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Browser used by recipient: Moz/4.0 (MSIE 7.0; WinNT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MSOffice 12)
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 00:21:12am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 40secs (approx.)

Now for Reader 2:

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 00:21:24am (UTC -5:00)   –   1hour22mins15secs after sending
Location Redmond, Washington, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-ca (English/Canada), en (English), en (English)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (WinNT 6.1; WOW64; rv:26.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/26.0
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 00:22:52am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 1min28secs (approx.)

This recipient is using a Canadian English setting and running Firefox version 26.  I am doubtful as to location as Redmond comes up often and seems to be the location of an ISP.  Mountain View, California, where Google proxy servers are located, also comes up often.  Though I am not mentioning all of them, each individual identifier in the report will match when a “dog tag” reappears.

Moving on to Reader 3:

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 00:24:40am (UTC -5:00)   –   1hour25mins31secs after sending
Location Bacontown, Nova Scotia, Canada (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (407.81.23.715:56789)
Language of recipient’s PC: en-US (English/United States), en;q=0.5 (English)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (WinNT 6.1; WOW64; rv:26.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/26.0
Accepts Files browser can open: i/png,i/*;q=0.8,*/*;q=0.5

This one appears to be in Bacontown, Nova Scotia, and the ISP is Eastlink Ca, running Firefox version 26.  Wait, it appears that Reader 2 has opened my email again from the same device.

Re-opened (by earlier reader #2)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 00:24:49am (UTC -5:00)   –   1hour25mins40secs after sending
Location Redmond, Washington, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-ca (English/Canada), en (English), en (English)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (WinNT 6.1; WOW64; rv:26.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/26.0

Now the original reader is taking a third look:

Re-opened (by earlier reader #1)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 00:59:25am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours16secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Browser used by recipient: Moz/4.0 (MSIE 7.0; WinNT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MSOffice 12)
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 01:00:09am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 44secs (approx.)

Now we arrive at a 4th device that appears to be a mobile phone.  I say that because it is showing a Google proxy; this is a new way Google is protecting phones from malware by opening images on a proxy for view.  That proxy shows up as Mountain View, California.  In this case we are viewing Google proxy info, and that “dog tag” will match any other proxy lookup so it is pretty useless for significant matching.

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:00:36am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours1min27secs after sending
Location Mountain View, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  google-proxy-11-234-56-78.google.com (
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (Win; U; Windows NT 5.1; de; rv: Gecko/2009021910 Firefox/3.0.7 (via ggpht.com GoogleImageProxy)
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 01:01:49am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 1min13secs (approx.)

Reader 5:

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:11:13am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours12mins4secs after sending
Location Beachville, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-us (English/United States)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 7_0_4 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/11B554a

Looks like an iPad running a mobile version of something opened it.

Reader 6

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:11:23am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours12mins14secs after sending
Location Beachville, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-us (English/United States)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 7_0_4 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko)
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 01:11:39am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 16secs (approx.)


Interesting.  Only the last digit of the IP is different.  It is also an iPad running the same versions except for the mobile part.  I am guessing it is either a second device on a home network, or a non-mobile email agent causing a difference in the reverse name resolution.  Now Device 5 appears again showing the mobile version and another slight difference in the reverse name resolution.

Re-opened (by earlier reader #5)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:12:53am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours13mins44secs after sending
Location Beachville, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-us (English/United States)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 7_0_4 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/11B554

Now Reader 7:

Forwarded/opened on different computer
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:14:26am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours15mins17secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-US (English/United States), en;q=0.5 (English)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:24.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/24.3.0
Accepts Files browser can open: i/png,i/*;q=0.8,*/*;q=0.5
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 01:16:47am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was read for at least 2mins21secs (approx.)

Reader 7 is on the same network as reader 1.  It is a different device though, operating Linux i686 Thunderbird/24.3.0  I would guess this is a second device on either a home or office networked computer.  Next Reader 5 opens it on the iPad again using the mobile version.

Re-opened (by earlier reader #5)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 01:17:44am (UTC -5:00)   –   2hours18mins35secs after sending
Location Beachville, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-us (English/United States)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 7_0_4 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/11B554a

Now Reader 7 opens it again on the same device:

Re-opened (by earlier reader #7)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 10:39:06am (UTC -5:00)   –   11hours39mins57secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-US (English/United States), en;q=0.5 (English)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:24.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/24.3.0
Accepts Files browser can open: i/png,i/*;q=0.8,*/*;q=0.5
Last log No more activity after 4-Feb-14 at 10:57:31am (UTC -5:00)   –   Log data indicates email was open for at least 18mins25secs (approx.)

Then Reader 7 decided to get a little tricky, and though they used the same device, they opened it on a different browser.  Not Linux, they went with  Moz4.0 with an MS Office tag indicating it was opened thru Outlook perhaps.

Opened 4-Feb-14 at 11:49:57am (UTC -5:00)   –   12hours50mins48secs after sending
Location Middle, Nowhere, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Browser used by recipient: Moz/4.0 (MSIE 7.0; WinNT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MSOffice 12)

Finally, the activity with this email concludes with one final open on the iPad in Beachville, California, mobile version:

Re-opened (by earlier reader #5)
Opened 4-Feb-14 at 21:07:02pm (UTC -5:00)   –   22hours7mins53secs after sending
Location Beachville, California, United States (86% likelihood)
Opened on  (
Language of recipient’s PC: en-us (English/United States)
Browser used by recipient: Moz/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 7_0_4 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/11B554a

Ending Summary

Summary   –   as at 5-Feb-14 at 16:29:00pm (UTC -5:00)   –   1day17hours29mins51secs after sending
Total  Opened 15 times by 7 readers
Reader #1  Opened 4 times for 1min24secs total
Reader #2  Opened 2 times for 1min28secs total
Reader #3  Opened 1 time
Reader #4  Opened 1 time for 1min13secs total
Reader #5  Opened 4 times
Reader #6  Opened 1 time for 16secs total
Reader #7  Opened 2 times for 20mins46secs total

Now, if this were a client interaction I would have concerns. Why would our interactions be shared so many times? And with whom were they shared?  I would then begin to scan other email reports to see if any dog tags from this individual match any dog tags from any unrelated (or supposedly unrelated) emails match these. By comparing dog tags, you can identify when a network of devices are constantly sending you emails then circulating your replies through the network.  In comparison, most email tracking reports say opened 1 time by 1 reader, or 2 times by 2 readers (two devices).  Even 15 times is ridiculously high, as we see in this test but take a look at a recent summary of the activity on the email that I wrote about in “Something in the Milk”:

Summary   –   as at 5-Feb-14 at 16:36:41pm (UTC -5:00)   –   22days19hours12mins46secs after sending
Total  Opened 134 times by 4 readers
Reader #1  Opened 124 times for 28mins8secs total
Reader #2  Opened 7 times for 22mins23secs total
Reader #3  Opened 2 times for 15mins3secs total
Reader #4  Opened 1 time

The last entry on the log shows my email still being opened more than 20 days later; the dog tags on his report match dog tags on four other contacts all claiming to be in different parts of Florida and one in New Orleans.  Why would this P411 member be forwarding my emails to a network of individuals centered in Orlando who are all responding to my Eros ad?

Her tracking and conclusions were spot on.  I opened the email, then asked Aspasia and Kevin Wilson if they’d help; when they agreed I re-opened it and forwarded it to them (Middle, Nowhere is where my DSL service originates from).  Soon afterward my husband returned my call and agreed to participate; he’s working in California right now and did open the mail on two devices in three ways, then forwarded it to a different email address of his and opened that one.  Meanwhile, Grace was opening it as well, and when I read this report to her she laughed and said that she had indeed tried to trick the software as described. rice pudding

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I’m a 24-year old woman who considers herself rather “sexually stunted”; though I’ve had a few partners, masturbating makes me more uncomfortable than turned on and when I actually do have sex I find myself constantly second-guessing how much I’m actually enjoying it, or whether I’m “doing it right” (even with masturbation!).  I honestly doubt that I’ve ever had a orgasm.  Though it sounds like your mindset was very different, any advice on how to start exploring my sexuality?

Cosmopolitan March 1987My mindset is not as different as you think; the main difference is that I’m almost a quarter-century older than you are.  When I was your age (in 1990) there was no internet to tell me what my sexuality “should” be like; of course we had women’s magazines, but I decided that those were dumb while I was still in high school, so I was blissfully unaware of people who would almost certainly have told me that I was doing it wrong.  Almost from the beginning of my sexual experience, I thought of sex more as something I did for other people than something I did for myself, a way to have adventures, to manipulate men, and to trade for favors or presents or money; I reckon you could say I was a born whore, however much prohibitionists may deny that’s possible.  As a teenager I masturbated about twice a week, and even that seemed like too much to me; in my twenties it decreased to about once a month (and then only during celibate periods), and the last time I did it spontaneously (i.e. not as a show for a client) was just before I became a stripper in the late ‘90s.  As I’ve explained before, I rarely feel what most people think of as “lust”, so though I’m quite responsive I just don’t feel the need to masturbate, and even by my late teens I was dreadfully bored with it.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I didn’t always orgasm from it, and like you I often wondered if what I felt was “really” an orgasm at all because it was usually nothing like what my sex partners (male or female) seemed to be experiencing.  That’s why I learned to fake well at a relatively tender age; for me, the chief enjoyment of sex has always been about pleasing my partner (whether for love or money) than pleasing myself, and had I believed in Robin Morgan’s asinine statement that “rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire,” I’d have probably given up on sex at 17.

Fortunately for my relationships, for my bank account and for many men, I think Morgan and those like her are idiots, and kept at it in spite of not really getting much physical pleasure out of it.  And soon after my 17th birthday I discovered that my chief erogenous zone was between the ears rather than between the legs, and that the right situation – in my case, being held down or tied up – did a helluva lot more for me than any combination of kissing, licking, rubbing, twiddling or other purely physical techniques (I later discovered that getting paid had a similar, though less pronounced, effect).  Nor am I alone; the majority of women are far more aroused by mental and emotional factors than by physical ones, and the right situation has a far greater effect on sex drive, satisfaction and even orgasmicity than any mechanical or biochemical stimulus.

What this is all leading up to is, you probably just haven’t found your “trigger” yet.  Ignore those who tell you that there’s something “wrong” with you for being functionally anorgasmic, semi-anorgasmic or quasi-anorgasmic; I’ve been that way for long stretches of time, and it only ever bothered me was when I listened to people telling me what I was supposedly missing.  Orgasm isn’t only about “doing it right”, sexual satisfaction isn’t only about orgasm, and nobody has the right to define the parameters of “good sex” for you, or to tell you why you “should” or “shouldn’t” have sex.  My advice to you is, first, to stop doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; if masturbation is in that category, don’t do it (trust me, you won’t shrivel up into a prune without it).  Next, try to stop analyzing your sexual experiences; as long as they’re pleasant or otherwise rewarding (emotionally, socially, etc) it doesn’t matter “how much” you enjoy them in comparison with other women or some imaginary gold standard.  Once you’ve done those things, a lot of the pressure will evaporate from your mind and you can start paying attention to things like, “What turns me on the most?” or “What situations or activities make sex better for me?”Gamesters of Triskelion  Don’t limit this to personal activities; a lot of my early sexual feelings came from watching TV shows like Star Trek which contained situations that most others wouldn’t view as sexual, but which made me feel “funny”.  Even today I sometimes have idiosyncratic sexual reactions to things I see or read, so this isn’t something limited to childhood or relative sexual inexperience.  Whenever you run into something that makes you feel sexy, or a sexual activity that turns you on more than others, follow up on it; don’t be afraid to ask a boyfriend or girlfriend for help, either.  And don’t be in a rush about it; though most people understand that (in general) women need to take their time to warm up during a sexual encounter, few recognize that this is usually true of a woman’s entire sex life.  I’m sure you’ve heard the claim that a woman’s sex drive peaks at 35; that isn’t because of any physiological factors, but rather because it just takes the better part of two decades for most women to get really comfortable with their sexuality and to learn what works best for them as sexual individuals.  So you shouldn’t consider yourself “stunted”; a lot of women don’t even start thinking about this stuff until their late twenties, so in comparison with them you’re actually ahead of the curve.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Candlemas 2014

Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter’s pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year’s ill,
And prayer to purify the new year’s will. 
-  Helen Hunt Jackson, “February”

Imbolc by Wendy AndrewThough in some climes spring may indeed start to appear soon after this day, it is almost never true in the center of North America; here February is often the coldest part of the winter, and where I live it’s often our snowiest month.  So it matters little what any groundhog or other sacred animal supposedly predicts; here, there are still six weeks left of winter, even if it’s a mild one.  I’m a little shy of predicting one way or the other this year; though I have a much better record than the famous Pennsylvania rodent (about 70% accuracy to his 39%), I was wrong last year and this winter’s weather has been so weird I’m not sure what to think.  Ah, well, que sera, sera; it’s not like we make long-term plans based on such predictions anyhow.  Since I’m not a farmer, early spring has no particular charm for me; though it is my second-favorite season after autumn, I’m content to let it come when it comes (unlike autumn, which I’m always happy to see arrive early).  In these parts, winter is trickier than summer; though summer rarely makes a surprise reappearance after autumn has arrived, winter barges back in during early spring so often that I have come to expect it.  And though I like winter better than summer, there is nothing I dislike more than a rude and unwelcome cold snap in April, just in time to kill the new flowers.  Better for the spring to gather her strength and wait to make her debut when she’s good and ready, than to rush things and leave herself vulnerable to winter’s inability to make a punctual exit.

A happy Candlemas to you, dear readers, and Blessed Be!

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