Ancient Hissstory

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti K., Holidays

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This year’s pumpkin carving is no great big mystery;
You only need study your Greek ancient hissstory,
While dealing with COVID and lockdown neuroses
By flipping through Ovid in Metamorphoses.

It’s Snakes on a Mane as our Halloween feature,
Depicting a Hell-enic mythical creature
With slithering hair and a gaze that’s hypnotic,
Which causes her victims to go all sclerotic.

..

The ladys a viper — to tempt her is unwise.
She’ll turn you to stone if you stare into her eyes.
So don’t look too long, or she’s bound to seduce ya,
This profile pic of our “Gourd-gon” Medusa.

🎃 Happy Halloween, Ssswooners! 🐍

 

This pumpkin was carved using a classical-style Medusa silhouette and tools from Pumpkin Masters.

Cameo Appearance

Author: Kirsten K., Crafts, Holidays

Halloween is almost here, and with more time at home in recent months due to the pandemic, I’ve finally been able to work on some of the seasonal decorating ideas that have been floating around my head for years. To go by the number of ghoulish and ghostly displays that have suddenly materialized in my neighborhood, I’m not the only one.

In addition to exterior décor, I’ve brought the Halloween spirit(s) into my home, where a spine-tingling twist on tradition is making a cameo appearance this year. Among the carved Fun-Kins and framed Killhouettes that adorn my abode, I’ve created an arrangement of creepy cameos around a blushing bride who is head over heels (his head, her heels).

I’ve always loved classic forms of portraiture, like silhouettes and cameos, but I don’t wear much jewelry, so when I came across Cameo Jewelry Supply and swooned over their vast collection of affordable resin cameos, I had to consider alternate ways to use these wearable works of art. Naturally, their selection of Skull, Zombie, and Gothic cameos made me think of Halloween, and I knew at once that I wanted to showcase all of these spooky specimens for the season.

Using the shape of the cameos as my guide, I settled on a simple black frame with an oval opening encircling a school picture photo mat. Since a standard 40x30mm cameo would have been lost in the large oval, I chose a favorite Killhouette for dead center. It seemed appropriate for all of these disembodied heads to be looking upon Bridezilla, who has just “uncrowned” her Prince Charming. Leave it to cleaver!

This skull at bottom center glows in the dark.

As someone who lives in SoCal, I always keep plenty of QuakeHold! on hand, and I used a tiny bit to affix each cameo in its space so that I could mix, match, and remove them easily. Once I embellished Bridezilla with blood to match the red skull and crossbones, my creation was complete.

I also purchased some smaller skeleton and skull cameos, along with supplies to make eerie earrings and hair-raising hair pins for Halloween, but I don’t plan to stop there. With categories ranging from Alphabet to Zodiac, I have a feeling that these petite portraits will be making a cameo appearance in my life throughout the year.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Cameo Jewelry Supply

 

A wide variety of beautiful cameo settings—often referred to as “blanks”—for pins, pendants, bracelets, rings, and earrings is also available on Etsy.

 

Phantom Thread

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Entertainment, History, Literature, Nostalgia, Theatre

On this day in 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London’s West End, beginning its theatrical journey around the world and into the record books as the longest running show in Broadway history,* but it wasn’t until years later that I first fell under the Phantom’s spell. I heard The Music of the Night while watching Brian Boitano skate his signature routine on a frozen pond in some long-forgotten television special, but I could not forget the song.

From that moment, The Phantom of the Opera began to weave a ghostly thread through my life. I promptly purchased the Original London Cast Recording of the musical and—as Kirsti can attest—learned every word and every note. That year, I dressed as the Phantom for Halloween (when I couldn’t find his trademark half-mask, I made my own) and held out the vain hope of traveling to New York City to see the show on Broadway, but when the touring production finally came to Los Angeles, tickets were so in-demand and expensive that I couldn’t afford one!

I was in school at the time and supplemented my meager income by babysitting. When I was asked to watch the children of a couple who were going to the theater, I was both excited and envious to discover that they were seeing The Phantom of the Opera. I was also secretly resentful: as season ticket holders, they were merely going to see the latest show, whereas I—a TRUE “phan”—was stuck watching the kids. But they brought me back one of the free programs, which I read cover-to-cover and still have to this day.

I eventually saw the show for the first time with my family, and it was both phantastic and anti-climactic, as such long-awaited moments tend to be, but it rekindled my childhood love of musicals and gave me a new appreciation for live theater—another thread that continues to twine its way through my life.

During The Phantom of the Opera’s historic 4½-year run in Los Angeles, the theater began to offer upper balcony (aka “nosebleed”) seats to students for just $15, so I went there every few months to see the show, taking a different friend or co-worker with me each time and delighting in their reactions to the phanfare. Serendipitously, I happened to be there on the night of Davis Gaines’s 100th performance as the Phantom, as well as the time he surpassed Michael Crawford as the longest-running Phantom. In addition to various touring productions and Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular, I’ve seen the show almost 20 times, which is a modest number, considering the 100+ times that some phanatics have seen it.

As most people are aware, the stage production is based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, but it was largely the musical that inspired a wave of phanfic in the ensuing years, the first—and, arguably, the best—of which is Phantom by Susan Kay. This year marks both the 110th anniversary of the publication of Leroux’s classic novel and the 30th anniversary of  the release of Susan Kay’s reimagining of the tale, which follows the disfigured genius Erik from his birth all the way through the dramatic events at the Paris Opera.

There are other threads in my life that have spun off from the original—books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve played, friends I’ve made, and places I’ve traveled as a result of my introduction to the Phantom. When I started piano lessons as an adult, the first song I learned to play was The Music of the Night. I’ve studied both voice and French, the latter culminating in a trip to Paris, where I visited the Palais Garnier and stood outside Box 5, a favorite haunt of the O.G.

The Phantom of the Opera unspooled more of its own thread to produce both a film version and a sequel to the original stage production called Love Never Dies, which—despite its lush sets and some truly beautiful music—was not well received by either critics or audiences (much the way an unseen monster is more frightening when conjured in the mind’s eye, an unfulfilled love story is more intriguing when left to the imagination).

Some threads become worn with time and need to be stored away to protect them, but every once in a while I like to pull gently at the Phantom thread, revisiting the musical and hearing those haunting melodies again, allowing them to weave their spectral spell once more.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Phantom of the Opera

 

*The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show in Broadway history to date, but another blockbuster may come along someday to push the Phantom off its pedestal.

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux was serialized in the French newspaper Le Gaulois beginning in 1909, but was officially published in volume form in March of 1910.

The Phantom signs his letters O.G. for “Opera Ghost.”

 

You Must Rem’ember This

Author: Kirsten K., Inspiration

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that her daughter refers to this time of year as “the ’embers” (one ’ober notwithstanding). I was completely charmed by this, since it perfectly expresses—both literally and figuratively—the most swoon-worthy months of the year. It doesn’t matter that temperatures are expected to soar over 100° in Southern California this coming weekend or that we’re still dealing with a pandemic while heading into another contentious election—the ’embers are here!

It was noticeably cooler last night when I walked The Beast, and I slept with a light blanket for the first time in months. I have no idea what Halloween will look like this year, but I’ve already picked out my pumpkin-carving pattern and have begun working on some spooky decorating projects, BST in hand. I’ve set suitably creepy reading material on my nightstand for inspiration and am using the Tiny Habits method to prepare a Phantastic post (hint!).

Despite the current chaos of the world without, I’m looking ahead with excited anticipation to choosing my costume, sneaking a treat (or two), sipping on hot chocolate, passing the pecan pie, making mulled wine, and eventually, ringing in a new year that will—hopefully!—be less fraught than 2020.

For now, I’m enjoying the first day of meteorological fall and feeling grateful for the natural beauty and cultural traditions that make this time of year so special.

I’m hoping this catchphrase will catch on, so please remember each September to wish your friends and family members a “Happy ’Embers!”


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The ’Embers

 

The pictures accompanying this post were taken last ’embers on Eagle Island, Maine.

 

High Five

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti K.

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In Two Thousand Fifteen on O-Five/O-Five,
A giddy new blog was all set to arrive.
Its two founding members intended to strive
For swoon-worthy posts that would flourish and thrive.

To all of our Swooners, we hope you derive
The lightheaded pleasure we’ve sought to contrive.
Through pause and pandemic we’ve worked to survive;
A half-decade later and we’re still alive.

If new to our site, you can do a deep dive
By clicking the plus sign to view our archive.
And if you pass out, we hope when you revive,
You’ll show your “faint” praise with a heartfelt high five!

..

💐 Happy 5th Swooniversary! 💐

 

Fake It ‘Til You Bake It

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks

While we’re all on coronavirus lockdown, many of my friends have been spending their time at home baking and posting pictures of the sweet treats on social media (including my co-swooner, who’s been sprinkling her magic fairy dust over at Sugar Nerd). “Stress baking” is a thing, and it’s bringing comfort to people in this time of isolation and uncertainty. But while I have a major sweet tooth, I’ve been finding my own comfort in baking a simple, savory snack.

There are several vegetarians in my family, some bordering on vegan, so whenever we have a get-together, there are always meat alternatives on the table: Tofurky or Field Roast at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Smart Dogs and Boca Burgers on the 4th of July, and plant-based sausages and bacon for Easter and Mother’s Day brunch. Nobody makes a habit of eating these regularly, because they are often made with highly-processed ingredients, particularly one brand of fake bacon (aka “facon”) that has an ingredient list as long as my arm, including artificial flavors and colors—but real egg whites, making it unsuitable for vegans.

A few years ago, I saw a recipe for vegan bacon online that had only FOUR all-natural ingredients: soy sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and large flake coconut (also called coconut chips). I immediately saw the logic of this lineup—salty, sweet, smoky, crunchy, and umami—but it took me until just recently to finally try it out.

There are so many things in life that fail to meet expectations, that Kirsti’s and my highest compliment is to say something is “not disappointing.” Well, coconut bacon is NOT disappointing. To use a friend’s favorite phrase, it’s “stupid good”—as in, so good that I ate most of the first batch in a single day and made myself sick, only to do the exact same thing with the second batch! Stoopid. But GOOD. It smells and tastes the most like real bacon of any other version I’ve tried.

Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, this recipe is ridiculously easy and virtually guilt-free: no nitrites, pan full of grease, or piggies-in-peril. The soy sauce is high in sodium, but as long as you don’t eat an entire batch in one day (ahem), you should be alright. Pulse some in a food processor to make vegetarian bacon bits for sprinkling on salads, baked potatoes, and pizza. Enjoy it whole at breakfast, in a BLT (with vegan mayo), on a maple bar, or in any one of the many ways by which bacon has blown up foodies’ feeds in recent years.

If you’re stuck on store-bought “facon” and haven’t tried this incredibly realistic bake-on, you’re gonna fake it…’til you bake it.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

VEGAN COCONUT BACON*

4 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari [I used the low-sodium version]
2 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2½ cups unsweetened, large coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Whisk all wet ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut and mix well to ensure even coating.

Spread the coconut in an even layer on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then stir. Bake another 8 to10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the coconut in the last few minutes. This stuff will go from not-quite done to completely burnt very fast! Remove from oven when the coconut flakes on the outer edges of the pan are becoming a deep dark brown, but not black.

Place baking sheet on a cooling rack. The coconut will continue to crisp as it cools. Coconut bacon will keep 1 to 2 weeks in an airtight, plastic container, but will become less crisp the longer you store it.

 

*When I found this recipe online years ago, I copied and pasted it into a Word document on my computer without making note of the source. While preparing this post, I was unable to locate the exact recipe, even when doing a Boolean search for some of the specific phrases. I am presenting it here verbatim in the hope that someone will recognize the recipe and I can give the original source its due.

 

The Hot Zone

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

Here in Southern California, we, like many others in this country and around the world, are under a “Stay at Home” order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We are still allowed to go out for essentials, but panic buying has left many store shelves empty of staple items. Due to the ever-present threat of earthquakes in California, I’ve always kept plenty of emergency food and supplies on hand—and, fortunately, I’d purchased TP shortly before everyone lost their minds and launched a thousand memes—but I ran out of a few basics last week, like dental floss and honey, so I was forced to venture out from my bunker.

It was the first time I’d seen all of the empty supermarket shelves for myself and I found it alarming, but also oddly amusing. At my local Sprouts market, every last bottle of water, carton of eggs, jug of milk, tray of meat, and bag of dried beans and rice was gone, but so was every single bag of tortilla and potato chips. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Americans consider chips to be a staple food.

I headed for the honey aisle, only to be brought up short again when I saw that this section, too, had been stripped bare. All of the varieties, from acacia to wildflower, were gone—except for a few squeeze bottles of Mike’s Hot Honey. Apparently, the honey hoarders couldn’t handle the heat, but I was already a fan of sweet and spicy condiments, so, with no other options available, I bought a bottle.

If not for the locusts locals descending on the sweetener section, I might never have discovered this fiery find. Infused with chilies, it gives a zesty zing to sauces, cocktails, and foods both sweet and savory. I enjoyed it with a cheese board I’d put together in preparation for a party that was cancelled at the last minute due to the lockdown. I’ve also substituted Mike’s Hot Honey for some of the sugar in my Castillian hot chocolate and added a dash of cinnamon, transporting it instantly from España to México. ¡Arriba!

With the news looking more and more like something out of The Hot Zone every day, I questioned whether I should even write this post. Given that there are those for whom food is scarce and the future uncertain, celebrating my quarantine comestibles may seem insensitive, but it’s increasingly apparent that the little pleasures of life—quiet time spent at home, a walk alone in fresh air, the daily habit of writing, and even a sweetly (and spicily!) unexpected discovery in the midst of a pandemic—can bring the greatest comfort in times of crisis, so we should enjoy them whenever possible.

However, I do NOT recommend that you rush out to the market if you’ve been ordered to stay in, so you may need to wait for a while before you can “Netflix and chili” with your honey, but if you need to restock some essential items and happen to come across Mike’s Hot Honey, take the heat!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mike’s Hot Honey

 

Don’t want to wait? You can purchase Mike’s Hot Honey from Amazon or order online directly from the company’s website. For recipes—including a free digital recipe book—and other ideas for how to enjoy Mike’s Hot Honey, click here.

 

Creature of Habits

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Self-Improvement, Wellness

Hello, Swooners! It’s been a while. Four months, to be exact, since our last post and even longer since our last in-depth story. After a few years of writing for The Swoon Society, Kirsti and I began to experience an “enthusiasm gap” and decided to take a short break, but short-term behaviors can easily become long-term habits…

Years ago, I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and was slightly disconcerted to realize that almost everything we do—both self-serving and self-defeating—is simply a habit we got into somewhere along the way. While a new habit can overwrite an old one, the neural pattern for the old habit still exists in the brain, lying dormant until something comes along to reactivate it. This explains how, months or even years after adopting a positive habit, we can suddenly fall off the wagon and find ourselves right back in the throes of the negative habit we thought we’d kicked.

I am usually good about establishing habits when I’m highly motivated, but I can’t always figure out why some habits stick, while others fall away. I enjoy exercise and take long, nightly walks with my dog, but I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent upper body workout. I might do push-ups several times one week, then slip to once or twice the next week, and do nothing at all for a week or two after that, despite having a strong desire to be strong.

For this reason, an online article caught my eye recently. The teaser mentioned that a man had strengthened his upper body by developing the habit of doing just two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. I was intrigued enough to read the entire article, which introduced me to the Tiny Habits method from Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg.

In his book I learned that, over years of personal experimentation and research with large numbers of people, BJ discovered some key components of successful habit formation:

    1. Start TINY. When he wanted to develop the habit of flossing his teeth daily, BJ began by flossing ONE tooth, then built on that until he was eventually flossing all of them. If he was short on time or simply not feeling it one day, he’d scale back and floss just one tooth, because that was his original habit, and even this small action served to reinforce it.
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    2. Create a recipe. To remind yourself to do the desired habit without needing a Post-It note or alarm on your phone, do it immediately after some other activity in your day that’s already habitual. Using the original example above, BJ’s recipe for upper body exercise would be: “After I use the bathroom, I will do two push-ups.” Rehearsing the sequence a few times in succession is often enough to decisively link these behaviors in your mind. (My favorite trick from a Tiny Habiteer featured in the book is to use a negative event or habit as the trigger to do something positive for yourself, helping you to instantly turn that frown upside down.)
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    3. Celebrate! BJ emphasized that this easily-overlooked action is actually one of the most important for lasting habit formation. By following the activity with a moment of celebration, the behavior becomes hardwired in the brain as something associated with a reward, making it more likely to “take.” How you celebrate will be unique to you, but some ideas are to pump your fist in the air, kick up your heels, or say, “Yes!”
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    4. Begin with three habits. Conventional wisdom suggests that you develop one habit at a time—then, once it’s established, try to add another and another—but BJ advises focusing on the system of habit formation rather than on a single habit. By starting with three habits, you’ll reinforce the practice of using regular, daily activities as triggers to do the new, desired behaviors.

The steps above are an extreme simplification of what’s in the book, which contains abundant examples and in-depth explanations for how and why these steps work. And they DO work. Since discovering this method, I’ve become a creature of habits, quickly establishing several daily behaviors that I’d previously failed at doing consistently for months or even years…including writing for this blog again by taking just one minute to type out my thoughts each time I sit down in front of the computer.

BJ Fogg believes that his method is nothing less than a revolution in how to approach and achieve long-term change. Based on my experience so far, he may be right, so join the movement and find out how Tiny Habits can make a BIG impact in your life.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tiny Habits

 

I highly recommend listening to the Tiny Habits audiobook, which is read by the author. There’s an inspirational preface (not included in the print version) in which he explains how he used Tiny Habits to overcome some lifelong speech issues and earn the right to narrate his own book.

To get started right away with the Tiny Habits method, click here and follow the link to “Your next step” at the end of each page.

 

World War Zzz

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti K., Holidays

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We’ve been busy swooning instead of blogging,
but even though we’ve checked out recently,
we’re checking in on one of our favorite days
of the year to let you know that we haven’t
been turned into mindless zombies—yet.

..

🎃 Have fun “passing out”💤 candy, Swooners! 🍬

💀 Happy Halloween! 💀

 

This pumpkin was carved using a Victorian zombie silhouette and tools from Pumpkin Masters.

 

Cover Story

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Fine Art, Literature, The Arts

Neither Kirsti nor I has posted anything for The Swoon Society in more than two months due to, among other things, a number of milestone birthdays in our circle of family and friends, a graduation, out-of-town guests, an overscheduled social calendar (Kirsti), general laziness (me), and simple inertia—a blog at rest tends to stay at rest. But I am suspending this spontaneous sabbatical to celebrate the birthday of someone who literally turned swooning into an art form: romance cover illustrator Elaine Duillo.

Classic cover art collection or cry for help – my chronic case of “Elainia.”

Before retiring in 2003 from an illustrious (emphasis on lust) 44-year career, Elaine’s artwork graced more than 1,000 book covers, ranging from science fiction and mysteries to Gothics and—most notably—romance. I discovered her cover art as a teen, when I developed an interest in historical romantic fiction while babysitting, of all things. Some mothers would leave their books lying around the house and I’d read them to pass the time while the kids slept. Among titles by authors such as Shirlee Busbee, Johanna Lindsey, Christina Skye, and Bertrice Small, I noticed that certain covers were particularly eye-catching, with vibrant colors, incredible detail, beautiful period clothing, and scenes from the story playing out in the periphery around a couple in a classic “clinch” pose.

A sampling of Elaine Duillo’s hair-oines.

Whenever I came across this singular style, I’d flip to the back of the title page to see the words “Cover art by Elaine Duillo.” If there was no attribution, a quick scan for her swirling signature hidden within the painting would confirm the identity of the artist. And the original was an actual painting, despite the fact that her photoreal style could almost fool the eye into thinking it was an embellished photograph.

In the mid-1980s, Elaine hired an Italian fashion model named Fabio Lanzoni to pose for one of her illustrations and launched him into superstardom as a romance cover model. After that, her covers were in high demand, but—while their prolific partnership was a huge success—I was more likely to swoon over the flawless features, gorgeous gowns, daring décolletage, and down-to-there hair of her heroines.* Forget the hunky hero, I wanted to be one of these bombshells. While my friends were looking to the covers of Seventeen, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar for their unrealistic beauty standards, I was looking to the covers of Angel in Scarlet, Defy Not the Heart, and Hellion (one of my favorite Duillo illustrations, with no bare-chested beefcake in sight).

Shortly after college, I got a job at a romance audiobook company, which had recently moved into new, spartan offices. I’d read that Elaine Duillo was offering some of her romance covers for sale as posters, so when I saw her contact information in our Rolodex (squee!), I wrote to her. After introducing myself and fangirling a bit, I explained our situation and joked, “We’re looking at bare walls when we’d rather be looking at bare chests.” She responded with a sweet note and an order form featuring four of her illustrations. We didn’t end up buying any of her art for the office, but I later managed to score a promotional Johanna Lindsey poster featuring one of Elaine’s paintings surrounded by several of her covers.

While I viewed many of these types of illustrations (including works by Robert McGinnis and Pino Daeni) as fine art, I also enjoyed the over-the-top campiness of others, but some readers were embarrassed to be seen in public with these books, so publishers came up with the “step-back”: an innocuous front cover that could be turned back to reveal the passionate pose beneath. Eventually, changing tastes in the industry led to the evolution of cover art away from the kind of fanciful and lushly romantic images for which artists like Elaine Duillo were known.

For many years, illustrators—especially those in the field of romance cover art—did not receive the respect or recognition they were due, but in June of 2003, the prestigious Society of Illustrators in New York presented Elaine Duillo with a Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted her into its Hall of Fame, an honor worthy of “The Queen of Romance Cover Art.”

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a cache of covers, calendars, articles, advertisements, and more relating to Elaine Duillo and her art, including the premier issue of Imaginings, a short-lived newsletter celebrating “The Art of Romance,” and Book 1 of Pro-Illustration: A Guide to Professional Techniques. I used to regularly visit a secondhand bookstore in my area that sold romance paperbacks for just a dollar or two, including many of the so-called “bodice rippers” that Elaine illustrated. Like so many bookstores in recent years, it was forced to close, so I’m glad I stocked up. You know, for the pictures. That’s my cover story, and I’m sticking to it!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Elaine Duillo

 

*When I was taking a class on psychology in advertising years ago, I read of a study in which researchers tracked subjects’ eye movements as they were shown pictures of a man and woman in a suggestive pose, finding that males and females both tended to look at the woman first and longest.