Friday, December 31, 2010

Retrospective

This blog was my 2010 New Year’s Resolution: To write every day. I’m proud to say that it is the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever completely followed through on.

It has been a year since I started this blog and a lot has changed. For instance, I posted my goals for this blog to help me keep focused on household projects, but that was back when I thought we had a chance of keeping the house. While yes, some of those projects did get completed, such as the Half Bath Renovation, many of them found themselves in the land of Who-Gives-a-Shit. Eventually anything that needed fixed or replaced was rigged to just get us by.

But I have to say, this year has been an amazing self-exploration journey. I’ve discovered I’m handier than I thought, having been able to diagnose and repair both a television and water heater. I also found out that when I put my mind to something I really can accomplish it. My partner has also found that it is indeed possible to do our own repairs, such as when he worked on the roof and even when the furnace decided to act up rather than spend hundreds of dollars for a professional. Okay, so first he called the professional, researched the problem, fixed it in less than ten seconds, and then cancelled the appointment. Yes, this whole year has been one of discovery.

So what is up next for 2011? I can only ponder the possibilities. I’ve found a job that I absolutely love, working with amazing people in an environment where I don’t get so anxious I throw up just thinking about going in to work. Overshare? Sorry. You try being a telemarketer when you aren’t competitive and every day you go into work someone gets fired. It, sadly, reminds me of when I first started at The-Store-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named where I had an immediate connection with my coworkers. Then again, that was a big box store and this is a small veterinary clinic, so I doubt I will run up against the same bureaucratic pressures to ensure bonuses for people who’ve never even done my job. Bitter? Slightly. Perhaps I should make forgiveness my 2011 Resolution, as I am a fierce grudge holder. Seriously, my sister tore the legs off my He-Man action figure when she was one and I still haven’t forgiven her for it. She’s twenty-seven now.

Alas, this blog has been an incredible way for me to open up, share my ideas, and get some amazing feedback from people all over the world. I’m not sure why, but I’m huge in Australia. Seriously! I check my statistics every day and consistently almost a third of my daily readers are from there, a few scattered in various other countries, and the majority here in the United States. So I must thank you all for reading what I have to say, even though sometimes I can be quite pessimistic, sometimes inspirational, sometimes cocky, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, sometimes insightful, and sometimes bat-shit crazy.

So where will this blog fit into the New Year? That I’m uncertain of. I know that at times it has been an incredible challenge to write something new every day, but at the same time, doing so has enlivened my creativity, my urge to finish working on various books I’ve started or completed and now need some painful editing, and my need to express myself since I am, undoubtedly, a horrible vocal communicator. I guess it is why I prefer texting versus talking on the phone because, well, at least then I can see what the person on the other end is saying. Well, most of the time. It still irks me to no end when people speak TXT. Seriously, my text messages look like sentences from a novel, complete and grammatically correct with properly placed capital letters and punctuation. Of course, that is probably from the fascination I have with language. Perhaps, just perhaps I will take advantage of the New Year and new possibilities and wherever our new living arrangements will be and reenroll in school. It is both terrifying and exciting all at the same time, especially since majoring in English will certainly limit potential employment opportunities. Okay, now I’m getting off-topic, something my tangent-prone mind does quite often.

I don’t know where the New Year will take us, but I know that this last year has been the most challenging I can recall, not just for me but it seems nearly every one of my family and friends. My hope is that in 2011 we will be able to take all the lessons we learned in 2010 and use them to further enhance our lives and improve ourselves. Like a Phoenix, we too can rise from the ashes reborn, yet retaining the knowledge of the past. May your New Year’s Eve celebration be joyous, and may good fortune be upon all of you in the coming year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Macho

No, this isn’t what you think it’s about. Alas, I’m blogging about Macho, a long-term boarder at the veterinary clinic I work.

Macho is a toy poodle. Actually he’s a teacup size and weighs about three pounds and shakes and whines constantly when not being held. Because he is a long-term boarder, we usually have him out in the reception area with us to keep him company and his whining to a minimum. Spoiled much? I don’t think this behavior was learned at the clinic, but at home where he was probably held and carried everywhere. Not very macho.

However, yesterday as I had him in my lap petting him constantly to keep him from whining, he decided to crawl up my shoulders and stand on my neck and head. I was afraid that he’d break himself if he fell so I had to hold onto his tiny little legs. Eventually I had to answer the phone, so I put him down, to which he immediately started to shake and shiver.

This got me thinking about dogs being pampered too much and how our dog is so incredibly low maintenance by comparison. She mostly sleeps, doesn’t pee everywhere (as Macho seems fond of climbing his kennel and peeing while at the very top), and while loves to have attention, doesn’t need it all the time. I can definitely tell that simply by working at this veterinary clinic it is going to change how I feel about my dog’s sometimes quirky attitude. Alas, now it is time to get ready for work… and give Macho a little more attention. However, I think I’m going to refrain from letting him climb onto my head today!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

Due to a multitude of requests, I’ve decided to post my recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. However, I’ve given it out to so many people who still insist that I make it instead, so I doubt anything will change.

Years ago as I was figuring out various methods of cooking comfort foods, I came across recipes for macaroni and cheese that looked appealing as far as ease was concerned, but not so appetizing as far as taste or budget. I mean, this is macaroni and cheese so it shouldn’t cost an assload of money in various cheeses, nor should it resemble the boxed variety when it’s complete. After a few experimental dinners, this is pretty much the standard recipe I now use, as well as its low-fat cousin on occasion. I usually make this as a side dish, so having the extra fat in it doesn’t bother me so much, especially when serving alongside chicken or pork and veggies. This recipe makes enough for eight to twelve side servings or four to six as a main course, to which I would add a mixed baby green salad with a simple vinaigrette.

Cory’s Macaroni & Cheese

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2½ cups half & half
1 medium onion, diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
8 oz penne rigate pasta
1 lb Tillamook Vintage White Cheddar Cheese, shredded
½ cup buttered bread crumbs (or seasoned crouton crumbs)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large stock pot filled halfway with water, cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter then incorporate the flour thoroughly and allow to cook for a minute or two. Add the half & half and stir to combine. I used to whisk this part, but found that by simply stirring it and then bringing it to a slow boil accomplishes the same results of no lumpies. If it takes more than a few minutes to boil or you are simply impatient, turn the heat up to medium high until you see the center start to bubble. Stir in the onions, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and bay leaves and lower the heat to low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the water has come to a boil in the stock pot, salt it liberally, add the pasta and cook to package directions, strain and set aside if the sauce isn’t ready yet. After about 15 minutes, the sauce should have thickened. Remove the bay leaves and set aside (I’m a dork, I’ll tell you why soon) and add about three-quarters of the cheese, slowly stirring in a circle eight motion into the white sauce. Once completely incorporated, taste and adjust seasonings as needed, add the pasta and stir to combine. Yes, this looks like a lot of sauce, but I guarantee it is the right amount. Transfer to a 2 ½ quart baking dish or, if you’re lazy like me and don’t wish to dirty another dish, simply leave it in the pan. Top with remaining cheese, bread crumbs and take the two bay leaves and artfully arrange them on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the bread crumbs have turned a nice golden brown. Allow to rest for five minutes before serving.

Low-fat Version: Replace half & half with skim milk and toss 2 tablespoons cornstarch with the cheese before mixing into the sauce. I don’t know why, but this keeps the cheese from wanting to separate due to the lack of milk-fat in skim milk for the cheese to cling to. Again, an experiment that works. I’m sure you could always stir the cornstarch into the milk too, but I haven’t tried that one yet and now that I’m thinking about it don’t know why I haven’t. Hmmm…


A note on Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese Aged Two Years: If you are unable to locate this particularly delicious (and relatively inexpensive cheese for us here in the Northwest as it is a local variety) that is sad and I mourn for your loss. But, any cheddar will work, so long as it is a sharp cheese. Personally I haven’t found a better cheese for this particular dish, even after trying some imports from Ireland, England and Canada. Alas, I do hold Tillamook Cheese in high regard, so my personal opinion may be slightly askew.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scrubs

Nothing is more unattractive on a person than ill-fitting scrubs. Scrubs aren’t known for their sexy factor, but when they don’t fit it’s just awful.

I just started a job at a veterinary clinic last week and yes, the required uniform is scrubs. I was allowed to go through the assortment they kept at the clinic and take my pick, which for me was pretty slim. First of all, I’m a guy, and most of the scrubs were quite feminine. Second of all, I’m six feet tall and trying to squeeze into a medium sized scrub top was, shall we say, difficult, but getting out of it was rather entertaining.

However, there is something to be said about scrubs as opposed to dress clothes for work. I mean, you get dog crap on a tie and it’s goodbye tie, but the same thing happens to a pair of scrubs and you just toss them into the washer… perhaps with an extra scoop of Borax, because, well, poop. Of course, I don’t know how I’d feel about this when I start making some tops out of super fun animal themed fabric I’ve seen lately in the quilt shops and fabric stores. And of course I opened up my big mouth about not finding much in there and may end up making my own to which the office girls now all want me to make them some too.

But for now I’ve got a pair of bottoms and a few tops, only one of which I picked out. As one of the other receptionists was going through the communal scrubs for Keeps and Donations, she came across a couple that would fit me. One of them was just a simple burgundy with nothing else on it and the other was Lion King. So today I’m wearing the latter, even though it is only graced with images of Simba and Nala. However, one of the receptionists said she’d wear her Timon and Pumba one today so we could coordinate.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Season

Many people take down their Christmas decorations the day after the holiday. Personally we keep ours out until Epiphany.

I was shocked at how many people had already packed away Christmas by the morning of the 26th when I logged onto my Facebook account. Yes, Christmas Day is over, but the twelve days of Christmas are still in full swing until January 6th. Alas, many people are ready for the holiday to be over with and to get back to their regular lives.

Epiphany is the day we celebrate the Magi visiting the baby Jesus, and is usually seen as the end of the Nativity story, thusly, the end of Christmas. So, for those of you who haven’t yet put away all of your decorations or taken down the tree, why not leave them up for a little while longer? If for no other reason, it’s an excuse to procrastinate putting everything away.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Day After

With boxes and ribbons and bows and papers strewn across the living room, it is quite obviously the day after Christmas. Of course, we could’ve cleaned up right after opening, but where’s the fun in that?

After opening our presents and calling the out-of-town family who sent us stuff, we immediately got cleaned up for the day to prepare for Christmas with my partner’s dad, which also doubles as his birthday. My partner packed the traditional Pumpkin Cookies he made for his dad’s birthday, from his dad’s first wife’s recipe, which got passed down to his dad’s mom after they divorced and then my partner took over making them after she passed away. Without a doubt as to what I would be asked to bring for dinner, I started making my famous Macaroni and Cheese. It was delicious as usual, and there were even leftovers to take to my stepbrother’s girlfriend whom the day before we had had a forty-five minute conversation about macaroni and cheese.

But now, as I’m blogging in my new robe my partner’s mom and stepdad got me that is so incredibly comfortable and warm and I swear I’m not writing this for their benefit because they don’t even read this blog, I’m looking over the screen on the laptop at piles of trash that need to be separated and boxes we should start using to pack stuff away for the inevitable move. I guess it’ll have to wait until after church. Good thing garbage day is tomorrow, otherwise we may not be motivated to take it all out of the living room and into the trash can!

Ah, the day after Christmas, when all the festivities have died down and the radio station has switched back to its usual mix of soft rock (right at midnight, no less) and the world gets back to business as usual… except for retail, which today is the biggest returns day of the year. Thank gawd I’m not doing that anymore! Now it’s time to plan New Year’s Eve.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Reflections

Just when it seemed that this year will end up being the worst Christmas we’ve ever had, due to multiple factors, things started looking up. In fact, this has already been one of my favorites.

With the tree decorated and presents beneath it, the North Pole Village out on display, stockings hung on the fire screen and cards galore gracing the poor excuse for a fireplace mantel while Brenda Lee sings Christmas songs, it certainly feels like Christmas Morning. As crappy as this year has been for our household, I’m glad we didn’t let it ruin Christmas. After all, there is more to life than owning a home, even if it is one that you’ve grown quite attached to over the years. Besides, it has so many problems that need to be addressed they probably won’t be able to sell it without having to put at least half of what the house is worth into fixing the issues, and that brings a smile to my face.

However, even though I tend to hold grudges for much longer than a regular person, take my unapologetic stance on The-Store-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, I have a feeling that the lessons we’ve learned this year will help us for the better. We have an incredible support system of family and friends and are so thankful for all of them.

Alas, this is Christmas Morning. And while I sit here blogging, drinking a hot cup of Starbuck’s Christmas Blend coffee from beans I found in my stocking this morning, it is Christmas and there are presents to be unwrapped. So with that, I bid you and yours a Merry Christmas with a hope that it is filled with magic. Let Peace, Love and Hope be with you all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve!

Growing up, Christmas Eve was Christmas. Well, at least half of it.

When you have a family as large as mine, it’s almost a guarantee that even if you do manage to make it to a holiday, you won’t see everyone, even if everyone is in the same house. And while many people feel obligated to attend Christmas celebrations when invited, especially couples who may have both family sides to compete, add the fact that many people are divorced and remarried and suddenly you may have upwards of eight different places to go! Now you’ve practically gotten yourself in an impossible situation. Strategically speaking, there needs to be some wiggle room. Enter Christmas Eve.

I don’t know when the tradition began, but I remember thinking that Christmas was always a two day celebration. Christmas Eve was at my mother’s parents house, Christmas Morning was at home, and Christmas Day was at my father’s parents house. After my parents divorced and remarried, Thanksgiving weekend we spent with my stepdad’s parents and we had an early Christmas there, and Christmas Morning was spent at my stepmom’s parents. For a kid, it was Christmas Overload! Double the grandparents equaled double the gifts!

By spreading out the celebrations, it allowed quality time to be spent at each locale we went. My gramma on my mom’s side used to say that they switched to Christmas Eve after the kids started getting married and wanting to spend Christmas with the in-laws. So, she changed their Christmas to Eve to allow them to do so, which meant that Christmas Day at their house was reserved for eating, drinking and gambling. Yes, I said gambling. Poker, dice, whatever it was you’d better have brought your money because NOBODY was allowed at the table unless you had money put down on it. Some people celebrate Jesus’s official (though not technical) birthday differently. We did so by playing a game simply referred to as Dice and a poker game called Shit on Your Neighbor.

Whatever your family traditions are, I hope you pass them on. But please, feel free to add in some new ones along the way. Merry Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Parties

You can stress over trying to prepare the perfect meal, but is the lack of interaction you can have with your guests worth it? I don’t think so.

When planning a Christmas meal, whether it is a small get together between friends or a full extended family type deal, keep it simple. This is a time to be walking around and catching up with people we haven’t seen in a while or general mingling. Small plates and finger foods fit the bill perfectly. To make it even easier, have everyone bring an hors d’oeuvre or drinks and set everything out on a table. If your party will be small, consider fondue with everyone gathered around the table talking and eating delicious blends of Swiss cheeses and wine with crusty bread.

Last night we had a small party which started out with just people from my partner’s teaching cohort, then we added a few more friends to the list, and ended up being two people. It was perfect for fondue as there was more for everyone to enjoy, but alas, my gastrointestinal tract is not too happy with me this morning. Of course, I’m sure the massive amount of the port cheese ball and eggnog I consumed didn’t help either!

After we had our fill of random food stuffs, we decided to watch Christmas cartoons from our childhoods, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and ended with opening presents we had gotten each other and Secret Santa gifts too. It was low key, low stress, a lot of fun and I highly recommend keeping your party spread simple so you have more time to relax and spend with your guests.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Job: Day One

Sometimes you go through life wandering from job to job never knowing what you want to do and suddenly, WHAM! you find yourself doing something you never seriously considered. That happened to me.

Okay, so I totally didn’t mean to blog about my job today as it is only a few days until Christmas and there needs to be some posts about recipes and ideas and such, but seriously, I have to. I’ve never worked somewhere that I felt immediately comfortable with my coworkers. Yeah, the quirky bunch I worked with at The-Store-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named was great, but it took a couple weeks for me to, well, be me. I actually think a lot of me came out last week during my working interview, and pretty much anything else yesterday on my first day of work.

Being a veterinary receptionist was not that high on my job search, mostly because the postings for such a job were far and few between. However, with that being said, I’m so thankful my pastor told me about the position because I can’t imagine a better work environment until I figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Of course, after doing the telemarketing thing, the retail thing, the hotel thing and the fast food thing, I definitely know what I don’t want to be!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Job

A first day at any new job is bound to be nerve racking. But today I’m actually excited.

While I must admit a bit of nervousness on my part, I’m mostly ecstatic about working in a veterinary clinic. After my full day of a working interview I got to know the people I’d be working with and it’s pretty obvious we’ll all get along great. Not only that, but I got to know a lot of the responsibilities of the position I applied for and everything is completely doable on my part, so training today should be a breeze.

Of course, there is always the unexpected. I’m awaiting the curveball today. Will it be a customer? A service? Forgetting to explain the medication administering instructions? I don’t know. Unlike with my last job, I actually want to try and prove myself. Not that I didn’t do my best at telemarketing, I just didn’t have any passion behind it because I didn’t believe in the tactics involved or the office politics.

Hopefully the nerves will subside because, funnily, I wasn’t at all nervous during the working interview. However, now that I have the job there is a higher expectation… both on my part and theirs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie Baking Day!

Today we are going over to our good friends’s house for our annual cookie baking day. I can’t hardly wait.

However, first things first, I have to go sign papers at my new employer this morning and pick up a few snacks to bring with us after that. We’ve got quite a few things ready to go, so it shouldn’t be the Bake-A-Thons we’ve had Christmases past, and we’ve narrowed down our selections. Still, that means we’ll have more time for decorating sugar cookies and eating Beer Cheese Soup and chatting.

I knew I should’ve packed everything we need to bring with us last night, but alas, I did not. Instead I’m sure we’ll be furiously putting everything into bags when I get home and probably forget something. It’s life. I just need to remember to bring my Peppermint Bark pieces that I crumbled instead of tried to melt back together for some delicious sounding Peppermint Bark Brownies.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Grampa

If my grampa were alive today it would be his 87th birthday. I often wonder how my family’s life would’ve been different had he not died the day after Easter back in 1993.

First of all, let me explain the spelling. My parents divorced when I was fairly young and both remarried rather quickly. This meant that my grandparents doubled in size in a short period of time. In order to separate them in my head, I gave them each different spellings or words. Weird? Yes. But this is me, after all. Anyway, my maternal grandparents became Gramma and Grampa; my paternal grandparents stayed Grandma and Grandpa; my step-maternal Gramma Carol and Grampa Bob; my step-paternal grandparents Papa and Grandma Lydia.

Okay, so to give you a little input about my grampa, he was a farmer, an upholsterer and a landlord and probably the hardest working man I’ve ever met in my life. He was also the sweetest and most caring man I knew growing up, and it is no wonder I found someone with many of the same qualities to be my partner in life. While my gramma was a fierce secret keeper (who at the same time hated lies, but contradictions run deep in my family) my grampa couldn’t keep a secret to save his life. His honesty would also land him in minor trouble with my gramma, like the time I made Cream of Wheat for breakfast and he proclaimed he’d never had it without lumps before.

Grampa was always curious how I was doing in school, when he was going to get my latest book and genuinely interested in just getting to know me as a person. I’m sure he was like that with all of the grandkids, but he made our relationship special by having one-on-one time together, whether it was helping him with barn and pasture chores or going to get breakfast at Freddy’s.

Looking back, I wonder if he would approve of how his family has shaped up. I wonder if either him or my gramma would approve of the actions and choices some people have made. Honestly, I don’t know if he ever would’ve let our family split the way it has, but at the same time, while second chances were always warranted, I don’t think he would have tolerated a third or stood by while some members of his family were victims to crimes while other members of his family stood by the person who committed the crimes against them.

Personally, I will always remember the grampa who never failed to have a kind word and outreached arms to welcome you in with a hug. I will always remember the grampa who let me take the first taste of a salt lick before setting it out for the cows. I will always remember the grampa who let me drive the tractor long before I ever should’ve been allowed to and later their brand new Cadillac before I had my driver’s license. Happy birthday, Grampa.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Handmade Christmas

In the past I have actually made every present I gave away for Christmas, right down to the gift tags and greeting cards. I’d love to be able to get back to that again.

Before I get any further with this, let me explain a few things. By handmade, I mean I purchased materials and created presents, whether they were painted ornaments or books or family tree quilts. I did not go all out and hand blow all the ornaments and mix the paint using pigments and eggs or whatever they use for making paint or create my own paper out of pulp (okay, except for one year) or weave my own cloth and thread and dye them for fabric. Okay, so I gather you probably could’ve gotten that on your own, but just wanted to clarify that contrary to popular belief I cannot do everything.

I don’t know exactly when it started, but Christmastime always gave me a sense that I should give back to those who’ve given to me. I remember as a kid creating activity books for families to do together, and as I got older replacing those books with hand painted ornaments. Eventually I stopped making the ornaments, which is quite sad as I’ve got a ton of blank balls waiting for paint and appropriately sized boxes to put them all in. Hmmm… perhaps I should come up with a simple design, paint and box them up for family and friends. I guess we’ll see how ambitious I get, and it’s not like I’ve got much going on today, except, of course, making Peppermint Bark and maybe another candy like my famous chocolate truffles. I think I’ve got everything to make both my original and orange-ginger versions. Who said handmade presents couldn’t also be edible?

Another option for the crafty individual is to simply get them supplies to make their own stuff. For instance, quilters always appreciate needles, thread and beautiful fabrics. And, even though the internet is quite overflowing with design ideas, sewing books still make great gifts too. Heck, you could even wrap your gifts to a sewer or quilter in fabric! Painters love brushes and canvases or papers. Though, as a painter, I’d be a little skeptical about buying them paint as most have a pretty specific preference, unless, of course, you know what their preference is. Scrapbookers never seem to have enough albums or papers. Well, they usually have way more than they will probably ever use, but always seem to want more! These all make excellent gift baskets, which are both easy to assemble and attractive. But another cute way to give these gifts is in a stacked box display with three or more boxes stacked on top of one another in gradient sizes (smallest to largest) and secured together with ribbon mimicking the shape of a Christmas tree.

While I know Christmas is only a week away, there is still time to make gifts for those on your list you haven’t gotten to yet. Or, if you’re like us, really haven’t even started thinking about shopping for. Then again, sometimes it is just easier to go online, click on a few items to add to your virtual shopping cart, checkout and send those items directly to their recipients. Just saying, if you’ve got the time and are so inclined, why not make something by hand?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tree Skirts

Okay, so here’s the situation, we have a tree skirt under our artificial Christmas Tree. I think the only reason it is there is so it doesn’t look so naked with the lack of presents we have under the tree.

I’m not certain exactly when the tree skirt became part of the Christmas décor in its current form, but according to Wikipedia its original purpose was to catch the wax drippings from the candles on the tree. The skirt, however, didn’t disappear after electric lights were strung up on the tree replacing candles, but became more ornate and elaborate rather than utilitarian. I guess it is a way to dress up ass end of the tree before presents start getting piled under it. However, for our past few Christmases, it has been a prominent feature as there haven’t been many gifts.

This isn’t to say that I’m complaining about our tree skirt being such a prominent part of our décor because I like looking at it, but at times it seems a constant reminder that we’re poor. I mean, the only two present we have under the tree we got back in August or September for my nephew’s birthday we never got to give him because his birthday party was cancelled, so instead we’re giving one to him and the other to his brother.


Anyway, so while I’d love to have a full display of gifts to give to people under the Christmas tree, it just isn’t going to happen. Especially after taking in one of our cars to the shop to make sure it would be safe to drive to Idaho and then needing to have $1100 worth of repairs (brakes, tires and a mystery repair which we had to have it towed back to the shop because it apparently whirred really loud and died on the onramp to the highway) which wiped out our account. Of course, one way of looking at it is that we wouldn’t have that money if the bank hadn’t decided to foreclose on us meaning that we don’t have to pay them anymore. I guess we’ll just have to enjoy our Christmas tree skirt instead of presents. Perhaps I need to wrap some empty boxes again this year and put those under the tree? What? You’ve never done that?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interviews

Today I have a second interview for a job I think might finally be a good fit, a veterinary receptionist with the possibility of becoming an office manager. Let’s hope I don’t screw it up.

So here’s the deal, in the past I was a hiring manager for a major retail store that sold mostly stuff made in a large country with major human rights violations and possible child labor law violations. The two are a perfect match. Anyway, let’s just say I got really good at interviewing people, but didn’t quite pick up on how to be interviewed. Let’s just say I wouldn’t try using any of the tactics employed by the people I interviewed… well, except for maybe a couple. But then again, I did hire those people.

One thing I’ve found that takes the nervousness out is to simply be myself, perhaps with a little toning down and much less profanity. For said major retail store I actually did tell the person interviewing me, after she asked me to name three qualities about myself, that I’m a kleptomaniac, a compulsive liar and have 192 personalities and I have a fourth one, I’m black. I was hired on the spot, not because of my answers but because of how I answered the question. She then told me I would be a good fit with her crew, all of whom were quirky and funny, allowing them to work well under stress and deadlines, a good thing to have in a 1-Hour Photo lab.

And today, here in just over an hour, I’m going to probably not use the same tactics, but I am going to be me. I won’t have to act or be nervous being myself. I won’t have to remember to turn on an inflection or ask one of my 192 personalities to take over. All I need to do is be me and show them I am the best fit for them. After all, if I do get hired on, I’m bound to pop out eventually.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Overwhelmed

It seems that, even though I’m unemployed again, I’ve bitten off more than I should have. It’s my own damn fault.

Christmas is ten days away and we have only got two presents under the tree; our church’s directory should have been done weeks ago but I’m barely a third of the way through entering in the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses; postcard mailings for work we’re doing with the Children’s Alliance need to be need to be, uh, designed and sent off; I’ve got to go over my lines for our choir’s Christmas cantata this Sunday as the narrator… with a puppet; second interview tomorrow for a job I’m hoping to get; and somehow find time to bake cookies this weekend too. It’ll be an exciting adventure.

Oh well, I’m sure I’ll have the time to do it all, it just seems that I take on all these projects not thinking that many of them will end up being due at the same time. Then again, keeping busy is a way to keep me focused, but alas, too much and my body shuts down and doesn’t get anything done. So I suppose I will make a list and prioritize what needs to be done first, finish it, then move on to the next. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Children's Books

When I was in the sixth grade I was introduced to the world of children’s books. That is to say, I met someone who wrote and illustrated books, Jasper Tomkins.

The day I met Jasper Tomkins was the day I knew that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books for a living. Now to an eleven year old I assumed I’d be able to be published while in middle or high school and be well on my way to a satisfying career choice. As you can guess, that never happened. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I wrote a children’s book or drew a picture of any of the many characters I’ve created over the years. I blame a couple things for this. First, I used to be pretty bad at taking criticism, which now that I’m older am way more appreciative of it. Second, I’m too much of a control freak.

While in high school I did a lot of research into the world of publishing children’s books and by that time young adult novels too. I even submitted a few of my books for review, which of course came back with rejection letters. I still have two of those letters because they are fine examples of constructive criticism, explaining their reasons why they felt it was not publishable and what I could do to bring them up to par with industry standards. And so I began working on both the young adult novel and the illustrated children’s book I’d sent in, finished my edits, rewrites and finalizations and tucked them away in a corner. By this time I’d read too many horror stories of authors losing the rights to their own characters to the publishing company. It was time to find an alternate route… self publishing.

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own publishing company since 1999. Funnily, I was unemployed then too. Okay, so not necessarily “funny-ha-ha” but interestingly connective nonetheless. However, one of my main problems is that I’m most creative when I don’t have time to be creative, like really busy with work or school or home improvement projects or sleeping, and least creative when I’ve got nothing to do. Whoever says God doesn’t have a sense of humor surely must not see the irony in the everyday. Anyway, so while self publishing is certainly more costly to the author, if you own the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) you are the publisher and therefore own the rights to your own work. Anybody who tells you different is lying. Now if only I had a way to pay for this option?

Alas, even when I was saving up to start my own publishing company while working at Crapmart, I knew that it would be a hard-fought battle. How could I justify spending money on a venture I couldn’t be certain would be at all profitable or, at the very least, be able to break even on? I guess this all breaks down to risk, and I’m not much of a risk taker. Again, it comes down to being a control freak. I like to know what the outcome is going to be when I step into a situation, I don’t like surprises and when it comes to money I’m quite frugal. Growing up poor will do that to you, but it also prepares you for how to make the most of the money you have when you’re older and find yourself in a craptastic situation.

And so with all this in mind, and my realization that perhaps I’m not the most savvy of business people, I’ve decided to turn a few of my children’s books into real books. Now, years ago I had a couple of them printed into photos and tucked the pictures into a small 4 x 6 inch 24 page photo album, which was great for what it was. But with today’s technology creating photo books with the look and feel of real books is much more cost effective than even a few years ago. I’m thinking instead of trying to find books for the kids for Christmas presents, I’m going to instead give them books I made and have them printed at Costco into soft cover photo books. Albeit, while I was in high school when I wrote and illustrated them, I feel it is some of my best work.

I don’t want to think that I peaked at seventeen, and someday soon perhaps my dream of becoming a published author will come true, so I’ll be patient. I mean, I have written a few historical biographical articles that were published, so technically I am a published author, but my passion is writing for kids and teens. Maybe I’ll find a way. Maybe I’ll save some money and buy an ISBN or ten. Or maybe I should just grow a pair, take the risk and follow through with something for once in my life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

North Pole Village

For as long as I’ve known my partner he has had pieces for Department 56’s North Pole Village. I finally convinced him we needed to put them out this year.

 

While we haven’t added to the collection in some years now as the newer pieces lack the charm and hand painted characteristics of the older ones, we do have quite an impressive village. I remember one year, because it was so large, we decided to try to display them all together on a long table. The problem with that was that they all got lost in one another and you were unable to appreciate them. The next year I made inserts for our multimedia towers’s top two cubbies out of blue and white poster board and hand stamped falling snow onto the dark blue to create a wintery background, which we used for a couple years before storing away. The last time we had any pieces displayed was in 2006, and at that was only seven buildings.




And so with all the crap coming down in our household this Christmastime, I felt, after spouting that I was cancelling Christmas because of my Scrooge-like, bah-humbug attitude, that I didn’t want our last Christmas in this house to be a bad one. So I decorated the tree and house and made the suggestion (not so subtly on this blog) that I would convince my partner we should put out the North Pole Village. After it was all set up, he’s glad I did.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shepherds and Sheepdonkeys

Today is the day of our church’s annual Children’s Christmas Pageant. Today is the day I get to turn little children into Shepherds and Sheepdonkeys.

It seems without fail that I am in charge of making sure all the little munchkins in our church are dressed to play their parts in the annual Children’s Christmas Pageant again this year, which is great, because I love costumes. Halloween is seriously my favorite time of year for that reason. However, trying to dress so many kids requires special talents, ones that I unfortunately do not behold. That is why this year I will employ the mad skills of parents to dress their own kids. Why? Because while shepherds and angels are pretty easy to manage as we give those parts to the older kids, preschoolers are animals in more sense than one. Last year, for instance, one particular little girl wanted to be a sheep, and was dressed accordingly… until she saw the donkey hat that was for the donkey costumes and she unceremoniously threw the sheep hat from her head and replaced it with the donkey. Instead of arguing my point that such creatures simply don’t exist, I christened her the special Sheepdonkey.

Children’s pageants are a time for kids to shine, and if some of them want to be kids, complete with their wild imaginations and sometimes inappropriate but innocent sense of humor, why not let them? I mean, so what if last year one of the shepherds decided to sit in the Baby Jesus’s manger after getting up on stage? Pick your battles where you can, but if a kid is just being a kid and not causing themselves or others harm or annoying me to no end or asking me silly questions just to get me to talk to them during a particular concert because they don’t want to be there anymore and I ask them if they ever stop talking and they say no, let them.

Childhood is a time for kids to learn how to be good adults, just don’t try to rush them into adulthood too soon. You’ll have plenty of time to have adult conversations and expectations after they grow up. After all, childhood is such a short stretch in a person’s life. So I say if we have another sheepdonkey this year, I’m okay with that and everyone else should be too.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ode to Lucky Bamboo

Oh, Bamboo
‘Tis my ode to thee
If only you were
Truly Lucky

Perhaps then I’d have a job
And money in the banks
And not be going through foreclosure
This Christmas time, so thanks

For nothing, that is
For the only lucky you’ve wrought
Is bad luck and for that
I thank you not

And so with your death
I bid to thee a farewell and adieu
But don’t think I will ever
Shed a tear for you


p.s. – I’m keeping your vase, for it has a frog on it and I like frogs.

p.p.s. – I suck at poetry, which is why I wrote a poem for my “lucky” bamboo’s death.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rash Decisions

I may have gone off a bit yesterday and threatened to cancel Christmas this year. Okay, so I did, but after a few hours I calmed down, plugged the tree back in and started decorating.



 Sometimes circumstances in life cause us to become quite irrational in our decision making. Albeit, these are usually during times of great distress and therefore not totally outside the realm of possibility that a rash decision will be declared. However, a little perspective on our situation and a little time to calm the frak down, I was able to see that by cancelling Christmas the last year we are in our home would just be silly. Why wouldn’t we celebrate one more time here? I mean, who knows if our next living situation will allow us the freedom to decorate as much as we like during the holidays, or if we’ll even be able to keep most of our decorations when we move.


So with the tree plugged back in and naked but lit, I pulled three of the ornament containers out of the garage and started tackling the job of decorating the tree. I figured I’d put up all of our hand painted glass ornaments up as well as our collection of character ornaments and some of my childhood ones too, while leaving the Star Trek ship ornaments for my partner to put on if he so desired. After he got home from work and saw the tree, he said he was glad I didn’t pack it away and that I’d started decorating it because after a little time to think about it he came to the same conclusion as I… we were reacting to crappy news.



I wonder if there is any hope of being able to convince my partner that we should also set up as many pieces of our Department 56 North Pole Village today after I get home from a job interview? Perhaps. I suppose I should also tackle getting some presents under the tree to keep our cat from using the tree skirt as a bed or hiding place as she did last night while howling like she was being attacked because our Shelf Elf fell from the valance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bah-Humbug

There are no Christmas decorations up. I even went so far as to unplug the tree we set up already because I’m no long in the Christmas spirit.

After coming home from dropping off my resume and filling out an application for a veterinary receptionist position I was informed about, my partner and I received not one, not two, but three certified letters from the bank to inform us of our default on the mortgage and that we are in foreclosure. My partner then spent over an hour talking to various people who all have no idea what is going on and can’t answer simple questions like where the money we were sending them and they were cashing was actually going if not towards our mortgage. One person actually transferred him to a voicemail box because she was apparently tired of “helping” him. One person was able to tell us that our loan modification was denied back in September which was news to us since we’d been in contact with the person helping us with that up until late October. And yet another person was actually able to tell us where the payments were going and explain quite a few details.

Why is it that you have to jump through so many hoops just to get a straight answer from corporations these days? Are they simply so large the right hand really has no idea what the left hand is doing? A trip to a local branch practically confirmed that. My partner asked if there was somebody who could verify we had all of our documents in order this time around and the customer service person brought out the branch manager to explain that nobody in the branch is knowledgeable in home loan modifications and that the people on the other end of the phone simply were not prepared for the current predicament. She also told us it is, plain and simple, utter chaos right now and that from what she has heard from other homeowners is that going to a Homeowner Center and talking face-to-face with somebody will get you much further than dealing with anybody over the phone, and that the closest one is in Seattle.

With the insane hurdles and the fact that yet again I’m unemployed, I don’t even know if going through the process again will be worth it. But according to the last person my partner talked to on the phone simply keeping in contact and constantly asking, “What else do you need?” will, at the very least, show that we are still interested in finding a way to keep the house… even if right now we are looking into packing up and moving into an apartment and leaving everything we’ve put into this house to make it a home behind.

So I’m seriously considering cancelling Christmas in our house. I’m not in the mood, and I can’t get over the anger, frustration and guilt I have over causing the situation we are currently in. My partner said he is tired of the stress of the uncertain outcome of our situation and simply wants to just close this chapter of our life and move on. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right about that stress, which has been eating away at me for far too long. But my problem is also the stress of having to move, relocate the chickens, go through all of our stuff to find out what we want to keep and what we have to get rid of, and how in the world am I going to keep what little sanity I have left while living in an apartment again, assuming we can find one that will allow us to have both a cat and a Great Dane. It almost seems appropriate now that our lucky bamboo is dying as our luck is running out. Bah-humbug.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Decorating

Instead of being in a humbug mood due to the crappiness of our situation, I’m planning on getting as much Christmas decorating done as I can today. We already unboxed the tree and plugged it in.

I know that many people prefer “live” trees (also known as dead trees since they’ve been cut down) but after years of being unable to find fresh cut trees to our liking we finally decided to go the fake tree route and haven’t returned since. Of course, the best time to buy a fake tree is right after Christmas, which is when I purchased our current one after it was 75% off. Yes, that meant that we wouldn’t be able to set it up until the following year, but we also saved an assload of money by going this route. More than likely it will be decorated with its customary blend of glass and Star Trek ornaments.

The stockings will be hung, the valences dressed in foliage and décor and the wreath on the front door. I’m uncertain what else we’ll do, but I’m looking forward to listening to Christmas music from our replica Crosley radio while decorating. And perhaps if I get really ambitious, I’ll start putting together my Christmas Quilt.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Default

It seems that shit can’t just hit the fan once, it must come in multiples. Yay.

After losing my job, my partner’s long-term sub job was cut short and then we received a notice from the bank on our front door saying that we’ve defaulted on our mortgage. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the modification(s) we’ve been doing, so at first it seems like another case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, but at the same time it’s still a serious matter. As much as I’d hate to lose the house and everything we’ve put into it, which yes, includes the chickens, the reality is we may not have any choice but to move.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Orange Cardamom Cake

Thanks to the enthusiasm on Facebook over my post about possibly blogging the recipe to the Orange Cardamom Cake I made for my stepdad’s wedding, I’m going to. But don’t think I always will give in to peer pressure, because I was planning on posting it anyway.

So here’s the deal, I like to experiment on recipes and have no problem doing so when it comes to someone’s wedding cake. I know this makes me a bad person in some eyes, but alas, I don’t care. I’ve never come up with an abhorrent flavor combination that caused anyone to become physically ill and start convulsing, so I’m pretty confident in my ability to go with my gut and trust my own judgment. Yeah, I’m pretty snazzy like that.

However, when experimenting on other people’s cake, I don’t usually like to start with a scratch recipe. Let me explain. Baking is pretty scientific, which really means that there are ratios involved which shouldn’t be adjusted too much otherwise the whole thing could be a disaster. I’ve found that by using a white cake mix with pudding that I can experiment to my heart’s delight and not have to worry so much if my liquid ratios are off by a little. Of course, years in the kitchen doing these experiments will eventually yield the expertise required to know when one of your creations will be a success or a dud. With that in mind, here is the recipe.

Orange Cardamom Cake
1 box white cake mix with pudding
4 eggs
¾ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon cinnamon
zest and juice of 2 oranges
water (I’ll tell you how much)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Zest oranges using a microplane or a small grater, or simply use a paring knife to peel just the orange zest and not the bitter pith and finely mince. Juice the oranges into a fine mesh sieve set over a 2 cup or larger glass measuring cup and add enough water to equal one cup, or if you happen to have orange juice, use that. In the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed, combine cake mix, cardamom and cinnamon until well blended. Add eggs, oil, vanilla, orange zest and juice and mix on low until combined, about 1 minute. Divide between two 8 or 9 inch pans or a 9x13 pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack. Or make cupcakes and bake for 17 minutes. Frost with your favorite buttercream frosting. Of course, this would make a great Bundt cake too and just drizzle a simple glaze or dust with powdered sugar.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winter Wedding

Last night’s wedding went off without a hitch. And the orange cardamom cake was absolutely delicious.

Upon arriving at our destination, we noticed that there were quite a few people, many more than I had originally planned and made cake for. However, within a half-an-hour it became quite obvious that one party was just ending and what we found ourselves in the midst of was the combination of a very large reception and a very small wedding. I didn’t know this at first, and did a little freaking out about not having enough cake when out pops a Costco cake dressed in the same colors I did the wedding cake in. The homeowner and I reorganized the table to make a pleasing arrangement with their two Old English Sheep Dogs weaving around us.

With everything set, I walked away to mingle. A few minutes later, I noticed the people in the house halved as I went to check on the cakes to make sure none of the random children in the house had decided to sample them. Fortunately they didn’t, and now were absent from the picture, but now we had way too much cake. Oh well. It happens.

The wedding was beautiful and my stepdad’s vows actually made me cry, and I don’t cry at weddings. Even the homeowner was amazed at how quickly her and her husband’s living room was transformed into a wedding chapel, complete with an unobstructed view of the Columbia River behind the wall of nearly floor to ceiling windows. I now see why the bride wanted to have the wedding here, and honestly I think a winter wedding was a wise choice. Mostly because it allowed me to pipe snowflakes all over and use Christmas picks and rainbow LEDs on the cake.


And the orange cardamom cake? Divine. I’m still debating over whether to share the recipe, but I’m sure I’ll reveal it in tomorrow’s post. After all, it was far too delicious to simply keep to myself, and far too easy to hide it away. Unlike my chocolate chip cookie recipe which requires three days to make, and nobody will ever have it. I’m taking that one to the grave.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cartoon Rewind

Okay, so I’ll admit it, I watched She-Ra: Princess of Power as a kid. Now we’re making the kiddos we’re sitting watch it too.


Saturday morning cartoons seem to be a thing of the past, with the exception of a few programs on OPB, our local Public Broadcasting Station, which are both educational and entertaining. Last night after the kids went to bed, my partner went onto Netflix’s stream menu using our Wii and saw that She-Ra was on it, immediately started the first episode, and now we are at least watching the “movie” or however many episodes it takes for Princess Adora to become She-Ra, Princess of Power, the twin sister of Prince Adam, who’s secret identity is He-Man. They seem to be hooked.

All this got me wondering why our generation had so many cartoon offerings as kids that this generation seems to be lacking, and the only thing I can come up with is that with cable TV offerings geared directly towards kids the networks just can’t compete. And besides that, there are so few cartoons currently on cable worth watching. But since we don’t have cable just rabbit ears for over-the-air broadcasting, I’m glad Netflix has a plethora of cartoons from our youth to show the next generation… and that She-Ra is among them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Surprise Wedding

You know when you are planning on attending a wedding next summer and then, SURPRISE! it’s been changed to Saturday? Maybe that only happens in my family.

Well my stepdad is remarrying his third wife this Saturday. The first time the marriage was annulled within six months, but the two have remained close since. I’m pretty sure that the main reason it didn’t work the first time was because of the kids, but now that each of their kids are grown I think they’ll fare a better chance. We’ll see. After all, they are both feisty, passionate and stubborn, which is too much alike. But then again, that combination seems to attract like-minded mates.

Anyway, so instead of planning a wedding cake for next summer, I’m having to come up with a design today. This wouldn’t be so difficult except that we offered to watch our friends’s nephews overnight, have our nephew’s birthday party to go to, and, oh yeah, I still have to make the cake! Fun day ahead, along with going to WorkSource for a couple job leads I want to apply for, the Health Department to renew my food handler card, and possibly the craft store for a cake topper. Good thing I got fired Wednesday otherwise I wouldn’t have so much time to get all this done!

So while I am happy for my stepdad, who seems to be really happy about all of this, I’m a bit saddened for the rest of the family, but only a bit. You see, they already had a big wedding the first time around and everyone was there for it, so thirteen years later when they are doing it again, I don’t really see a need for a repeat performance. My hope is that they make it work this time because they both deserve to be happy, and if that means finding each other again, then I wish them all the best. In the mean time, I’ve got a cake to make.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Not Telemarketing Material

While I know this job wasn’t a dream by anybody’s standards, it was a paying job nonetheless. Apparently I’m just not cut out to be a telemarketer.

So after having, arguably, the best day at work where I was setting appointments easily and getting people interested in what the company could offer, I get called into the office five minutes before the day is over. With the personnel manager on one side and the manager on the other, they inform me that I’m just not a good fit for the company. After asking why, specifically, I wasn’t a good fit, they told me that this job isn’t for everyone. Dodging the question during an exit interview seems cowardly and unlike either of them, which tells me that someone else who wasn’t in the room made the decision.

I’m not sure why I cared so much, but I was quite visibly distraught, crying, and could not for the life of me stop shaking. Why would I feel so shaken up over a job I didn’t even like? Then the realization that it was the first job offer I had gotten since becoming unemployed set in, and instead of making a calculated, educated decision on the matter, simply said yes right away. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all, and this job market is far too competitive to let any chance of work go, especially a full time job with great hours, even if the pay is shitty and the benefits practically nonexistent.

And so now I go back onto the job hunt, hopefully with more knowledge than I had last time I was let go, and hopefully with a better chance at finding a job that does fit me. While I am still slightly pessimistic at the chance I’ll be happy with the next job I find, I know one thing… it won’t be in a call center as a telemarketer.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Morning Sickness

Okay, so I realize today’s topic is a little, uh, gross, but hear me out. I’ve had morning sickness since I was a kid.

The thing about this particular sickness is the inability to eat breakfast, which, for the most part is fine if you have time a little later in the day to eat something. However, the constant churning, growling and burping caused by this can be quite annoying in an office environment. Whether it is caused by acid reflux, stress, anxiety or a bacteria, the symptoms all seem to be the same. On some occasions it’s so bad it leads to vomiting up bile, which, is quite disgusting and usually leads to more vomit.

So, after a particularly embarrassing day at work yesterday where I threw up during the morning meeting, I decided to do a little research to find out what exactly causes this and how to get rid of it. On the one hand there are quite a few people who have all the same symptoms I do every morning, but on the other hand there is no clear answer for how to solve the problem. Balls. Short of seeing a doctor, I’m going to try a few suggestions that seem to have worked for others, like drinking more water throughout the day (which with my Irish bladder will be fun), and eat a banana first thing in the morning. I ate the banana before my stomach started getting too angry and drank a ton of water yesterday, so we’ll see if this helps. If after twenty years of dealing with this is all it’d take to keep it under control, I’m going to laugh.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Quilt

Yes, I realize I haven’t even finished the Fall Quilt yet. However, I figure the Christmas Quilt will piece together rather quickly.

Last night before I went to bed I decided to simply lay out all of the squares in the Charm pack of Figgy Pudding by Basic Grey for Moda. I hadn’t actually seen all of the fabrics yet and figured it’d be a good idea to look at them before deciding on a quilt pattern. I love this line. I know it has been out for awhile now, but the colors and patterns are great.

Looking at my dog sleeping on her sofa blanket, I’m thinking that using that pattern for the quilt will work well, just slightly tweaked. And filling it in with Kona White will make everything pop. I just need to decide if I want to do a gradient from light to dark or simply mix all the squares up and form a random, scrappy quilt. Either way, I’m sure it will turn out fabulous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Decorating

With Christmas just a few short weeks away we should have our tree up and the house decorated. However this weekend was just too busy for it.

I’m thinking that sometime this week I’ll start getting out the Christmas decorations and swap out the fall décor. I don’t know just how much decorating we will do this year, but I want to get it started, get the few presents we have wrapped and under the tree, and get into the spirit of the season.

If time allows, I’d also like to get my Christmas quilt done, using Moda’s Figgy Pudding by Basic Grey, which also means I should start it. I’m planning on using a very simple pattern for this quilt, but as of yet don’t know what it will be. More than likely since I am using two Charm packs I’ll stick to the 5 inch squares and possibly make a quilt similar to the dog’s sofa quilt, just doubled using some Kona White for filler. We’ll see. I may end up making an elaborate work of art, although, admittedly, that is quite doubtful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When Busy Weekends End

Seriously, even with five days off for the holiday, I feel like today should be Saturday. Alas, it’s already Sunday.

Between hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, out of town family for the weekend, tree lighting & concert Friday and a family brunch yesterday, it feels like this extended weekend has been flying by too fast. But then again it has been a long time since we’ve had a busy weekend like this, and I have to admit it has been fun.

However, today after the family leaves and the house gets cleaned and rearranged back to how we normally have it, I originally wanted to start decorating for Christmas but think that might be best left for next weekend. We’ll see. Personally I think I’d rather not leave the house or do anything of substance.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Candles

I don’t know what it is about candles, but the addition of small flames dancing around a room seem to completely alter an atmosphere for the better. I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.

Spring and summer I can go candle-less. I mean, they can be there, but I don’t find it necessary to light them during these times. Fall and winter on the other hand almost seem to beg for lighted candles. My theory is that less daylight from nature’s candle, the sun, requires a similar energy to make up for it. Of course, I could just be talking out of my ass here, but in all honesty I feel that having candles lit during the fall and winter helps prevent sunlight depression. Sadly, sunlight depression is also known as SAD, (seasonal affected depression) and that’s sad. Okay, so SAD is a real thing, but in all honesty, unless you live in an area that actually has no sunlight for a long period of time you probably just need to spend a few minutes outside every day to form vitamin D. Or drink a glass of milk. Or take a pill.

Candles add a certain ambiance that cannot be duplicated. When company is coming over we usually light candles in both of the bathrooms, leaving the doors open of course, as well as the living room and sometimes the dining room. Typically I don’t use scented candles for the dining room, but if only one is going to be lit and it happens to be meal appropriate, like, say, the cranberry scented candle I had on the dining room table for Thanksgiving, go for it. Otherwise unscented is best so as to not overpower the smell of the food.

As much as I love a roaring fire, personally I find that having a large candle holder fit into the fireplace is not only interesting to look at when not lit, but also gorgeous when it is. Not to mention that lighting it and putting it out is way easier. Well, until we get a gas insert for the fireplace which we can turn on with a remote control.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Consumerism

What does it say about our society that we appear to value shopping more than family? Then again the idea of selflessness has slowly been leached out of our psyche too.

As more and more stores are open on Thanksgiving Day for deal shopping and more and more people are willing to camp out in front of stores for days just to save a few bucks on a television, I’m afraid that the idea of a family holiday is on the verge of extinction. For years I worked in a retail environment where I witnessed firsthand people physically assaulting each other over a DVD player or complete strangers cursing one another in front of their tired children over who should get the last popular Christmas toy of the year. I guess I never got on board the hyped up bandwagon of Black Friday Shopping, and still don’t understand why people would be willing to sacrifice a day they should be spending with family and good friends to stand outside in the cold and wait for the store doors to open. Personally I’d rather be eating more pumpkin pie, turkey sandwiches and playing games.

I know that other parts of the world have holidays that have gone the wayside due to increasingly subversive ideas of consumer-driven economics, and funnily we all fell flat on our asses when that bubble burst a couple years ago during, arguably, one of the worst global recessions (and in some cases depressions) in history. Yet recent events don’t seem to faze many retailers and shoppers alike, as many of them were open on a national holiday so people could spend money they probably should be putting towards paying their bills. With unemployment as high as it is in this country I’m surprised at the sheer amount of high-end electronics that are being pushed. But then again, on the other end of that are the manufacturers of those high-end electronics whose jobs are on the line because they have an overstock they need to get rid of or risk even more job losses.

Of course, right now I’m sitting here blogging on a laptop computer, listening to Christmas music on a replica of an old Crosley radio with our 50 inch high definition television staring at me through the corner of my eye. I’m not saying that I’m a pedagogical example of anti-consumerism, but I also know that these items were purchased at a time we were financially able to afford them. Yes, I realize there are good deals to be found today in all sorts of purchasing categories, but honestly I don’t understand running the risk of coma, death or dismemberment for a new TV that in a couple weeks will probably be priced lower just to get rid of them. I’d rather be in my warm house cleaning up after a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with family and friends.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tips I've Learned

When it comes to preparing a Thanksgiving Feast, the best advice I can give you is to not take on the challenge alone. Unless, of course, you’ll be alone.

Preparing a big meal for a large family get together or close friends you consider family can be a huge undertaking. Growing up we never had one person who was in charge of everything, we were all expected to bring something to the table potluck style. Of course, there wasn’t a randomness as you’d expect from a potluck, but rather one person was in charge of contacting everyone and informing them of their options of what they should bring. This eliminated too many duplicates, but also made it easier for the person bringing the dish to know what they were expected to bring rather than freaking out at the last minute trying to prepare a dish. So if you want Aunt Martha’s Green Bean Casserole, tell her to bring it rather than trying to make it yourself (and no, I don’t actually have an Aunt Martha. Well, I might. I don’t know. My family breeds like rabbits.)

The host should be responsible for the turkey. I’m not saying this out of malice for anyone else who might be inclined to bring the bird, but out of practicality. Then again, in my family, the host was responsible for one of the three turkeys. Anyways, transporting turkeys, with all those lovely juices and drippings, can be quite the messy ordeal. However, if you are the host and you prefer someone else to take on the turkey task, then by all means, delegate. Hell, you could probably delegate the entire meal out if you do it right which leaves you with just cleaning the house and setting the table. Hmmm…

Don’t overdo it. Seriously, why take extra time out of an already hectic day to make a ton of cute little appetizers to snack on before dinner (unless those happen to be deviled eggs, which sadly, I’m not making this year) when you’ve already got a ton more dishes to make? Get yourself a meat and cheese tray and a veggie tray and call it good. Save your energy for the side dishes. Personally I tend to take on more than I should, but only because I’m a control freak and want to make sure all of my bases are covered as well as have a backup plan in case anyone flakes out on their duties. Not that I’m expecting anyone to flake out (lies, all lies) but it does make sense to have a few things on hand in case your guests decide to bring guests, which I swear would never happen in my family (again, lies, all lies!)

Keep it simple. Don’t spend all day in the kitchen. Enjoy the company of your guests. And above all, remember to have fun. And yes, wine helps.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Frozen Water

Yes, I realize that frozen water is called ice. But in all honesty, when that ice is inside the chickens’s waterer and the fish pond, it should be called frozen water, since it should be water not ice.

Okay, so now that I’ve totally confused even a few of my own personalities, let me explain. When I think of ice, I think of things that should be ice, like in an ice cube tray or the roads after a particularly wet day and freezing evening. I do not think that a fish pond should be ice. I do not think that the waterer for the chickens should be ice. I do not think that either of these things should freeze over causing more work for me, but alas, I don’t always get my way in circumstances where nature is at work.

As we left the theater last night after watching Harry Potter 7: Part 1 again, I thought one of the people in our party was joking when he said it was only 8 degrees out. But sure enough, the sign in front of us flipped over from the time to reveal 8 degree Fahrenheit. I don’t know if this was a fluke or if the slight wind chill may have factored into the reading, but it was frakking cold. Of course, after getting home I noticed the fish pond had frozen over and the fish beneath were swimming around, so I took a random 2x4 laying on the deck and made a few holes in the ice for them to breath. Perhaps we should take our old aerator for the aquarium, stick it inside a PVC pipe and use that for oxygen? I don’t know, we’ll see how rambitious I get this morning.

The poor chickens on the other hand will have to be cared for a little more, as I never did get around to making the light-bulb-in-a-tin-can-inside-a-cinderblock-water-heating-device I was thinking about since last winter. Instead I’ll have to haul the waterer into the utility sink, thaw it out enough to open it up, take out the ice, and refill about halfway. Ugh. I really don’t like freezing temperatures. Snow, yes. But ice? Cursed be thy name!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cranberry Sauce

Few things in life cause as much division between people as cranberry sauce. You either love it or hate it.

With Thanksgiving only a couple days away, it’s time to think of make ahead items, and what turkey dinner would be complete without cranberry sauce? Now, I know what you are all thinking, sauce is a rather loose term for a sliced, gelatinized, can-imprinted piece of “fruit”, but I assure you that making your own is not only simple, but well worth the time. So to further entice you, I’ve included my recipe for cranberry sauce and I hope you do try making it yourself.

Cory’s Cranberry Sauce

1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
2 oranges, zested and juiced
½ cup orange juice (or water)
1 cup sugar (more if needed, to taste)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
½ teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a medium saucepan combine cranberries, orange juice and zest, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmering and cook until cranberries are tender, stirring occasionally. In a small cup, stir the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons cold water then whisk the mixture into the cranberry sauce and cook, continuing to whisk, until the sauce thickens. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.

A couple suggestions to consider would be replacing the additional orange juice or water with a good Port, something I always say I want to try but never do. You can usually find Port with other fortified wines. Another would be to use an orange flavored liquor for a quarter cup and using a quarter cup water, as orange and cranberries have an uncanny affinity for each other. And isn’t uncanny what we’re going for on Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Planning Thanksgiving

So with only a few short days away until Thanksgiving, I suppose I need to head to the grocery store to make my purchases. Of course, planning ahead in case the few guests we are having over forget to bring their respective dishes will prevent any (food) disasters.

We are keeping the menu simple, as there isn’t really a need for 20 different side options when there will only be five people, but still, having a variety will be nice. It would be a good idea while grocery shopping to pick up a few cans of green beans, corn, and any other simple veggies, and perhaps even a frozen pie… just to be prepared for missing items your guests may forget. Getting cans and frozen items will make it look like you have a well-stocked pantry and freezer without insulting your guests that you are anticipating they’ll forget something.

I’m also thinking that anything that can be done ahead of time should be, but looking at my list of items we’re preparing, that only leaves the cranberry sauce. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing really aren’t make ahead items, but cranberry sauce can be prepared a week or two in advance. Hmmm… I sense tomorrow’s post. Oh! And how could I forget that my partner is making homemade rolls?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pulled Muscles

My plans yesterday were foiled because, get this, I pulled a muscle turning my neck. I still can’t move my head to the right or look up or down.

So what did I do instead of cleaning or quilting or baking, all of which I had planned to do? Had an ice pack along my neck on and off all day and took copious amounts of ibuprofen. Copious amounts. This morning it is still sore, I still can’t turn my neck very well, and my head seems to be curiously tilted to the left along with my left shoulder looking as though it is raised.

I find it humorous that every time I accidentally move my head in the wrong direction and the pain causes me to hit the counter or stomp the floor (or both at the same time) while spewing out a slew of cuss words, I tense up, causing the pain to worsen. And of course being told to relax and stop tensing up doesn’t actually help, but seems to make it worse. Okay, actually I find it quite annoying, really. I mean, why in the world would the body’s natural reaction to pain be to, what appears anyway, make the pain more pronounced?

Well, I may not have all the answers (which will be shocking to some of you, no doubt) but I think I can figure out one thing for certain… I don’t drink enough water. Even though I was taking ibuprofen every couple hours, I have a tendency to only drink very little liquids due to my uncompromisingly Irish bladder. In case you are unfamiliar, we Irish pee a lot. Even us partial Irish. Or perhaps only us partial Irish who’ve inherited the small bladder gene. It’s no joke, I pee twice as much as I drink, and usually within only a few minutes of consumption. Anyway, the point is keeping hydrated allows the muscles to stay hydrated and helps reduce toxins in the bloodstream produced by strained muscles. While yes, having ice on the affected muscle area on and off will help flush those toxins by reducing inflammation, water will help prevent stiffening of the muscles. So I suppose I’ll just have to buck up, drink more, and have to run to the bathroom frequently.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tuesday, the Bitch

I’m not exactly certain when and where we went wrong in raising our now 12 year old cat, Tuesday, but she has been evil for quite some time now. Recently she has taken to biting me while I’m typing my blogs.


Tuesday is an absolutely gorgeous calico cat, with bright green eyes and a genetic flabby pouch-like belly. I say genetic because her mother had it, her litter mates all had it and so does she. Perhaps it is a remnant of their past life that still hasn’t been bred out of them yet through domestication (her mother was feral, after all), and is much akin to the same flabby pouch-like belly found on cheetahs to help them maintain their balance as they run at breakneck speed. I don’t know. The only time I see Tuesday run is when there is either a foreign dog chasing her or I’m putting food in her dish without her previous knowledge.


Anyway, ever since I started blogging on the laptop in the living room as opposed to the desktop in the office, Tuesday has decided to sit next to me while I do so. It was cute… for a while. Then she would try to chase my fingers as I typed, pawing me with her claws which seem to always be protracted. I would push her away and she would go back to cleaning herself. For the past couple weeks, however, she has gotten slightly more aggressive and has decided to start biting me while I type instead. Actually now that I think about it, my partner was playing his trumpet every time she would bite me, so perhaps she was simply telling me to make the noise stop. Either way, I let our dog chase her off.


Perhaps the thing about Tuesday is that because she is so pretty, she knows it, and thinks it gives her a free pass to be a complete bitch. Same thing with our dog, Lucy. Actually, Lucy is technically already a bitch. Or perhaps because out cat came from feral parentage and was never that affectionate except during rare occasions for mere seconds before she’d go all manic and attack you for petting her is the reason she prefers to simply be let alone. I don’t know. But I do know that the next cat we get will be cuddled from kittenhood as often as possible to prevent the monstrosity we more than likely played a part in creating known as our cat, Tuesday.