Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, July 29, 2011

Packing Light Seems So Wrong

I feel like summer is just screaming by.  I feel lucky - it's the first one in years that I've been able to take advantage of as if I were a student on summer vacation.  I've tried not to be too lazy.  I've tried to get out more, I've taken over cooking dinner every night, and getting chores and errands done during the day, instead of scurrying around after work or on precious weekend time.  But I can't deny I've had the time to bask in the sun, get a tan, read some good books, and - perhaps best of all - sleep until 7-7:30 every day.  What a luxury!  I feel good going back to work next week - although it's hardly work yet.  Three days at a resort on a lake can't be counted as true work, other than the stress of travel and meeting a whole team of new people, as well as getting up to speed on my new role.  And yes, even though I like to travel and meet new people, when I'm traveling alone it's a little stressful for me.  I worry that I'll miss a flight, get lost in the airport (Minneapolis is HUGE!), run out of cash, or worst of all, have an arthritis flareup and feel miserable.  Now bear in mind that none of these things are likely to happen, but I am inherently a worrier, despite my outward joie de vive.
So because I tend to be worried and sleepless before a trip, I'm spending today washing, making a packing list, and seeing if I can downsize any hair products, etc. into smaller containers.  I have a brother who is a world traveler for business, and he told me quite belligerently that no one who travels with him is allowed to check baggage.  For any reason.  *GULP*  I felt guilty.  I am the classic over-packer.  The thought of being stuck somewhere wishing I had brought this sweater or that pair of shoes wakes me up at night.  So I typically arrive at my destination with way too much stuff, but I'm confident that I have everything I could ever need.  And I can sleep.

I'm not really this bad...  but close...

But I am trying to change.  I don't want my new work team to eye my super huge suitcase and think I'm ridiculous.  I can't guarantee I'll be able to fit everything into a carry on (my carryon bag is pretty small so I'd need to shop for a suitable size) but at least I'm determined not to show up with a suitcase AND a carry on.  Simplify is the new mantra.  Which I've been practicing all summer.  Simpler hair, simple (or no) makeup.  Simple needs.  Simple life.  But in order to simplify I need to be organized, and that is the task of the day: to organize everything so I'm not throwing things into a suitcase in the usual last minute, over-tired panic.

The next thing I want to talk about is Blogger.  Is anyone else having the problem of posts disappearing from the Google Reader?  I all of a sudden lost some readers, and while it hurt my feelings a little bit, I thought that ya'll had grown weary of me.  One of my friends told me that my posts weren't showing up in the reader.  I had a very kind blogger show me how to fix that, but I'm still seeing my posts go back and forth from the Reader.  The fix doesn't seem to be permanent.  Just wondering if anyone else has had that problem and what you did about it.  That is all.

Although this isn't a cooking blog, I've been spending so much time trying new things this summer I like to share the highlights.  One of my favorite sites to find recipes is The Pioneer Woman.  The other day I was looking for something to do with chicken and came across a recipe for Herbed Chicken - you know, the kind you get already roasted in the market?  (I love market chicken!)  If you're afraid of roasting whole chickens (you shouldn't be - it's so easy!) I think you could do this just as well with the packages of chicken where it's already cut up for you.  If it's a whole chickeh, stuff the cavity (after you take out all of the disgusting guts and dispose of them...yuck... a good case for a pre-cut up chicken) with a quartered whole onion, a lemon cut in half, and 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed.  You're not going to eat this - it's just for flavoring, so no need to take a lot of time chopping it up small.
Make a rub of 2-3 T chopped fresh herbs (I used sage, rosemary, and thyme) and 1T salt and 1 tsp pepper.  I also added a little bit of brown sugar, paprika, and cayenne, because I like a little spicy sweet flavor.  But the herbs alone would be delicious as well.  Mix all of that thoroughly with 3 T olive oil and rub it all over the outside of the little chicken.  It will smell so good!  But don't eat it yet. Pop it in the oven at 450 (yes, 450 - I had my doubts too) for about an hour for a 3-5 pound chicken.  If you use a thermometer, it will register 160 when done.
The chicken will sizzle and pop like you're frying it (which you almost are with the oil and herb rub) but don't be scared.  It does make kind of a mess - I had to clean the oven afterwards, but it was worth it.  When it's done, it will smell heavenly, the skin will be brown and crispy, and it tastes like the best chicken you've ever had, juicy and savory.  Worth the little bit of messy cleanup (unless you have a self cleaning oven - yay for those!)  If anyone has an idea of how to solve the problem of spattering oil, I'm open to it.  But try this - it's really really good.

I've been checking the Minnesota weather.  On Monday when I arrive, there are supposed to be thunderstorms.  I remember the first time I ever went there, it rained like a mother.  Those folks have weather!  Anyway, as long as I can land safely, it would be fun to have a little lightning to look at, or hear some thunder.  Makes me feel like I've actually gone somewhere.  And then please let the sun come out so we can enjoy the next couple of days at our resort on the lake.  Amen.

Pies From Summer Goodness

Lately I've become obsessed with making pies.  Not big full-size pies - little hand pies or mini pies.  I've gathered recipes from Williams Sonoma and others, and I've been having pie baking days about once a week.  Last week I made blueberry and strawberry pies.  The blueberry ones were so delicious, but the strawberry ones - while not as pretty (they leaked a lot while baking) tasted just like the best summer strawberries you ever had.  It was hard to stop at just one pie.
This week I wanted to use the blueberries I had, but try something a little different, so I added peaches.  I sprinkled the fruit mix with a little sugar and cinnamon to start.  The fruit looked so gorgeous in the bowl with the flecks of cinnamon!  

I had some really good frozen pie dough from Trader Joe's and I was able to make 13 little blueberry-peach pies with it.  (Actually there were 14 - I had to eat one.  You know - take the new filling for a test drive.)  This is how they looked right out of the oven:

Next up: strawberry.  I'd run out of frozen dough, so I got brave and made my own.  Surprisingly, it wasn't hard to do at all.  I've always been so intimidated by pastry dough that I've just bought the frozen kind, but no more - unless I want to take it easy on myself.  While the dough was chillin' in the fridge, I chopped up the strawberries into small pieces so they'd fit in the smaller hand pies.  This pie is so easy because all you do after you cut the pastry rounds is put a dollop of strawberry jam (any kind) in the middle of the round and then top it with some strawberry pieces.  Brush the dough on the edges with an egg wash, fold it over into a half-round shape, and crimp it with a fork.  So easy for something that is sooo good.
Once I got both kinds of pies all baked, I put one of each on a plate and took their picture.  Help.

And now they'll have to wait to be eaten until tomorrow.  I'm taking them to a friend who is here on vacation with her family - which is why I needed to make so many!  They're such a good little treat - they taste like summer with all the fresh berry goodness inside, and they'll be easy to serve and eat.  You can just hold them in your hand if you want.  Does anyone remember eating those Hostess Pies when you were a kid?  These are like those - only a million times more fresh and delicious.
It was a fun day.  I love to bake, but I can't bake without having somewhere to send all the deliciousness.  So my friend gave me the perfect opportunity to do something fun for her in return for all of the nice things she's done for me, and to enjoy the heck out of myself while I was doing it.  Williams Sonoma sells a new cookbook for these mini pies.  The description in their catalog even mentioned a s'more one.  I've been thinking about how that one would be done.  I may have to break down and buy the book.

I did have some blueberries and strawberries left over after making the pies.  When I was watching the Today Show, Giada di Laurentis was on and gave a recipe for a Mixed Berry and Thyme jam.  I'm here to say it's one of the best things I've ever tasted.  Only, instead of jam, I think we'll spoon it over vanilla ice cream.  It's beautiful to look at, and the slight undertone of thyme gives it the most interesting flavor.  Even better, it keeps for a month in the fridge - plenty of time to use it up!  

I love having a baking day.  I'm learning a lot about making my little pies, and the biggest problem I'll have is to keep myself from sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to have a little secret snack.  Take my word for it - these little treats are fun to make, and are so good that you really do need to plan on giving them away before you begin to think of them as yours.  Otherwise your jeans will get very tight.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Achieving The Dream: Retirement In Paradise

I've got one more week to go before I start working.  I have to admit - I've kind of lost the knack of knowing how to fill my day when not working.  I thought it would be so easy.  So many projects and ideas swirling around in my head.  But I haven't started one of them.  I don't really know what my paychecks will be like and it's thrown me for a loop.  Made me scared to spend money, and anyone who knows me will not believe that, but it's true.  I feel like I'm in some kind of limbo.  An alternate universe where I have the same wants and needs, but I'm afraid to act on them.  L and I have lately had some serious discussions about retirement, and where we want to be, and how we want to live.  And we've realized we need to step things up a little bit in the savings department.  Not that we weren't doing OK, but it was just that: OK.

I don't want to retire just OK.  That implies a part time job being the greeter at Walmart.  I hate Walmart.  I want to retire greeting friends and family in a house in Hawaii.  At least for part of the year.  (L actually found one for sale that had a view of the ocean AND a guest house for less than 1 million.  Can you imagine?? That would be the ultimate for me.)  I want to spend my nights falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.  Weeks at a time breathing thick salt air while beachcombing.  And for that we'll need to have lots saved up so we have some ready cash to achieve our impossible dream.  So we've been having lots of Serious Talks about budgeting and saving.  Not my favorite conversations, but I'm trying to be adult.  A responsible adult, for once in my life.  So we've discussed not eating out as much (no more that once a week - GAH!), cutting down on the clothing allowance, and other such no nonsense measures.  Sooo, my working from home has come at a very opportune time, hasn't it?  There's a master plan in the works for each of us, my friends... always a plan.  I'm convinced of it.  I don't need a corporate wardrobe to sit in my home office during the day.  And while it sometimes hurts my heart to realize I'll have to use words like "No" and "Budget" and "NO," I know in the long run it will be a good thing to stifle my/our compulsive purchases.  I'll just have to hum hymns loudly when confronted with a shoe sale, the same as others do to overcome evil thoughts.  Evil thoughts being a whole other problem, but I can only concentrate on financial planning or evil thoughts at this point - not both.

It'll take some getting used to.  Instead of each keeping our own money, we're going to *gulp* POOL IT.  It will be hard.  I haven't discussed or asked anyone else whether or not I could or should make a purchase in years.  My MO has been to do pretty much what I please, within reason.  As has L.  But no more.  We will discuss. We will weigh the fiscal soundness of each expense.  And, if we don't kill each other first, we may actually end up with that Hawaiian beach house complete with guest house in our golden years.  Trade winds on the lanai... that would turn "sticking to a budget" into the sweetest phrase ever.

The Need To Perfect The Aim... Or Maybe The Catch

I had to fill out a million pages of information and sign away my rights to privacy so I could have my evil ways investigated in a background check for my new job.  You know, just in case I'd decided to go on a wild crime spree in the two weeks I've been unemployed.  They asked the names of work supervisors I'd worked with over 11 years ago.  And these were the retail jobs.  Anyone who's ever worked in retail knows the crazy musical chairs of going from store to store searching for that elusive bigger commission check.  So not only could I not remember any of their names, they wouldn't be there anymore anyway.  The only names I could remember were my last manager (Non-retail. And good he was memorable since my job with him just barely ended) and also my brother's name dating back to the time when I worked in the family biz, and he was the general manager.  But  judging how my memory has been lately, it's probably a triumph that I remembered his name, too.
It was a long, boring hour spent in the Volt agency office filling out paperwork, signing forms, calling people to get correct addresses, etc.  At last I was finished, and out the door to my next appointment: the drug test.
I parked in a space that was marked "20 minute parking only."  Because... that's all it should have taken.  I had my order form ready, I'd made an appointment the previous day.  I was PREPARED.  First I was asked which Volt office had ordered the test.  Umm.... Minneapolis?  Does that help?  They couldn't find me.  I supplied the name and phone number of the person who had placed the order and made the appointment, so they called old Darla up.  Oh dear... she'd "forgotten" to enter me into the system.  This was after I'd been sitting there for 45 minutes amongst all manner of tatooed, skinhead types who were there for some kind of Workman's Comp treatment.  I felt a tad out of my element since I'm a middle aged girl (is that an oxymoron?)  with no tatts or piercings.  I tried to sit there and be invisible.  I read my Kindle.  I played Angry Birds.
Turns out we were waiting for Darla to fax some info over.  And then we had to wait for the drug test nurse to get back from lunch.  Finally, after an hour and a half, I was called to the back.  I had to stuff my purse into a locker so I couldn't, you know, use someone else's "specimen" to cover up my heavy drug use.  I was handed The Cup and told I was not allowed to flush afterwards. ???  For some reason that would invalidate the sample.
So in I went.  Relax.  Relax.... RELAX.  Just let it go.

And then I did.  All over my hand.  Why is it so hard to judge where that pee is going to hit??  Plus I panic when I start to pee because I'm afraid I won't get the cup there in time to catch it, or I'll miss it or something, and then what'll I do?  When I told my husband about it, he had a hard time understanding it too, but then I reminded him that it's easy to hit the cup when you can aim at it with a hose.  Try doing it blindfolded like a girl and it's not so easy.
So.... yuck... I'm trying to mop up around the cup and towel off my dripping hand, and all I can think about is getting out of there and washing my hands.  Scrubbing my hands.  Of course there's no sink in the bathroom - that would encourage cheating of some sort I'm guessing.  While the nurse labeled my offering, I was scouring the skin off my hands.
I'm glad I decided to get it all over with in one day.  I'd have hated to spread the aggravation over two days.  It was all I could do to drive by the Sugar Rush Bakery on my way home without stopping for a chocolate covered Oreo.  Today I felt that I was entitled to a treat, but you'll be pleased to know that I persevered and went home and ate tuna instead.  Not a fair tradeoff, but life is often unkind, isn't it?
Besides, I have my team building meeting with my new group of work buddies in a couple of weeks and I need to lose about 20 pounds by then because we're going here and I'm not sure if it will involve lake activities.  It's either lose 20 or wear Spanx in the Minnesota summer.
Mostly I'm just hoping I won't have to share a room.  I'm hoping to keep them ignorant to the fact that I sometimes snore.  I didn't believe L when he told me I snore... zzzZZZZZZZzzzzz..., but then I woke myself up doing it a few times, so I can't deny it anymore.  Getting older definitely has it's ugly side, but I find I've also gained more confidence and yes, a certain poise and assurance as I've aged (except when I sleep, apparently...)  Still, after all these years of living intimately with myself, you'd think I would have been more coordinated at peeing in a cup.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Things Come To Those Who Whine... NO - To Those Who WAIT

It's been a whirlwind week.  On Tuesday I was determined to keep myself busy all day.  I got out my sketchbook and practiced up, and I got out my new camera, determined to teach myself a thing or two.  I spent all morning sketching a few things here and there, and snapping pictures of mundane things in my yard using different settings to see what would happen.  It was fun, and it kept me busy for most of the afternoon.  I'm constantly amazed at how hard it is to figure out what to do with yourself when you're not used to having free time during the day.  I can see that new habits need to be forged.  Practice makes perfect.
I haven't sketched anything in the longest time, and I've missed it.  And I clearly need the practice.  I was reading an acquaintance's blog - she is an amazing artist - and she has started doing what she calls "Postcards From My Walk" where she and other artists from all over the world send each other sketches and quick drawings or paintings from their walks or surroundings.  I'm nowhere near on their level, but it inspired me to practice and see what I could do.  This is the first thing  I did, and I was pleased that I was able to do it quickly without obsessing on the details (which is what I usually do - the opposite goal of a SKETCH...)

I did a couple of others but I won't bore you.  It felt good to go through the exercise and realize that I could still make quick pencil drawings.  I have a lot to learn - and I would love to take classes - but it was enough for a start.
I'd also decided to get out my camera (which I really have no idea how to work) and fiddle around with it until I'd played with several settings in different ways.  The hours flew by and it was so much fun!  Here are a few of the images that worked out, and that helped me to learn a little bit more about what to do when with this camera:

I put the camera on the manual setting and just turned dials and pushed buttons to my heart's content.

I changed apertures and adjusted shutter speeds back and forth.  I did things that I know not 
what they are...

Or what they do...

I waited all day for the fountain to turn on so I could try to catch the water drips.  Most of the shots didn't turn out at all.  Some were too light, some too dark, some were completely out of focus.

But some didn't turn out half bad.  And I had a lot of fun playing around. I'm not ready to 
shoot anyone's wedding yet, but it was a good start.

But the best part came next.  About 4:30 my cell phone rang and it was someone from one of the companies I'd sent a resume to.  They had two positions they thought I'd be good for: one was an Admin position for their Meetings Department, a temp to hire opportunity, but they weren't quite sure if the position had been filled already as they'd been interviewing.  The other was for a short term temp project working with both this company (Allergan) and Price Waterhouse - so even though it was short term (about 90 days) it was a chance to be in front of two good companies.  I set up an appointment for an interview Thursday afternoon at 1pm.
Now I was in a quandary, as I'd also been going through the interview process with my old company for a new position there.  But they hadn't finalized anything yet - things were still going through approval.  What was going on??  What to do...?  What I did was get up early on Wednesday morning and get on email to contact my old company to find out what was going on.  But before I could do that, there was a new email from them telling me I had the job and they would be calling me later that morning.  Sweet relief!!
Two months of waiting, watching, applying, chewing my nails, stressing out.  And suddenly, in one day, I have not one, not two, but THREE offers in the works!  Nothing like going out in a blaze of glory...

Long story short: I have accepted a position as registration coordinator for the Education Department at Medtronic.  It's technically a temp position (working through an agency that supplies contract workers to Medtronic), but it's a permanent position, with a possibility of hiring on to Medtronic itself down the road.  There are no benefits (medical, 401K, etc) but I'm covered through L's insurance, and I'll just have to take what was being contributed to my 401K before and do it myself.  The perk of the whole thing is that I can work from home - and for me, that's a HUGE perk.  I start on August 2nd - and I will debut at a team building meeting at a resort somewhere in Minnesota!  (yay... Minnesota in August...)  But despite muggy, muggy heat and big bugs, I am happy to go and meet my new team.  It's an exciting new endeavor.  
So we can all stop worrying about me and concentrate on the next person.  Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers over the past few months.  I know I've been whiney and unbearable at times, but it was always good to feel your kind support.  We did it together.  And I can still work all day in my jammies if I want to.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lost In Free Time

A Saturday with not a lot to do.  Which I feel a little bit guilty about, as my friend Wendy has a daughter getting married today, and I'm sure her day is drama and chaos all rolled into one package.  Probably wrapped beautifully with a gorgeous bow, but drama and chaos nonetheless.  I have my task to perform: pick up the fruit trays at about 5pm and get them hence to the reception location.  My one recurring nightmare is that I'll arrive to pick them up and they won't be there.  *stop it, crazy imagination*  But until then, there's not a lot to do, so I'm sitting here letting my hair air dry as much as possible.  It's so hot I can't stand the thought of blowing heated air on my head for 20 minutes.
I got up and made pancakes today with some blueberries that needed to be used.  Lemon blueberry pancakes, because I folded lemon curd into them.  They were ok - tasted good - but I'm not a great pancake maker.  They were a little soggy.  I think the pan has to be really hot to give them that crispy edge?  That was L's consensus, anyway.  Try, try again.
After breakfast we headed out for a walk.  By this time it was about 10:00 and it was heating up outside.  We started over by our church at the bridle/hiking trail that starts across the street.  Lots of people were out with their dogs and bicycles and kids.  It made me wish for a bike (again).  The trail winds through homes and then ducks under a big street, coming out and up alongside a large church in our area.  Good to feel a little breeze at this point.  We'd passed couples, families, and one older man, and we all said a cheery "Good Morning" to each other.  On to the Nixon Library, where docents waited to give tours outside one of Nixon's old helicopters.  (Can you imagine what an oven that tour would be on a hot day?? No thanks...)  Other docents were giving tours through the old homestead and the gardens.  It's really a lovely property.
Not too much beyond that, we stopped and turned back.  It could feel the sun hitting me pretty strongly at that point, and I kept having to mop off my face with my top layered tank top.  (Yes, I am a hot mess when I exercise.  I drip in rivulets...)  Finally back to the car and we sped off to the gas station for a couple of cold, frosty Diet Cokes.  Ahhhhh...that's it...
A cool shower later and here I sit... waiting for my hair to air dry...  L has gone off to get a new tire put on the Exploder.  It's been an odd few days.  My life, my job is changing, and I'm not quite sure how things are going to go.  I've felt alternately anxious, depressed, and exhilarated.
I've been home with not much to do for the past week.  I'm a little disappointed in myself as I thought I would pull out projects, get busy, be creative.  I've done none of that.  I fought off a cold.  But I was hoping I'd get out and do more.  Be more disciplined with my time.  Accomplish something wonderful.  So that is my goal this next week - to make a list of things that I need or want to do.  And do them.  I may be searching your blogs for inspiration and a guiding light.  But no pressure.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch

I had the best day today!  An acquaintance called out of the blue and invited me to lunch.  Do you know how long it's been since I could go have lunch with anyone socially on a school day?  (Too long, that's how long.)  And if that wasn't enough good stuff, when I was getting ready to go, a prospective employer called and wanted to make an appointment for a conference call interview with her whole team.  Would now be a good time?  Why yes, I thought - now is as good a time as any.  Let's just get it done.  So I called my friend and told her I'd be a little late.
The call went great! (At least I hope it did...)  When I talked to the team leader yesterday she told me that I was one of the top people on a very short list of applicants that they were considering.  So that helped up the confidence factor.  I felt like I answered all questions to their satisfaction - although I got a little stumped on that classic question "What are things you feel you could improve on?"  Not that I can't improve in dozens of ways, but which one to pick that would be the least harmful to mention?  All in all, I thought it went well, the group (which I've worked with in a limited capacity in my former job) was friendly, and when they asked me if it would be a problem to come to Minneapolis to train for a week, I took that as a very positive sign.  They will make their decision tomorrow.  Prayers please... multiples if possible...
Next on the agenda: lunch with my friend.  We went here:

and ate this:

Mmmmmmm... Pork Barbacoa Salad...  It's been awhile since I've been to Cafe Rio, and it was like going to an old friend's house for lunch.  An old friend who is a really really good cook.  I temporarily forgot about my diet.  Don't judge me - friends and lunch are an irresistible combination for me.  We had a great time talking about everything under the sun.  I don't know why it's so satisfying to get out with a friend and feel so comfortable that you can talk about anything, but it is.  It's good to connect, understand someone else's trials, and feel that yours are understood as well.  I learned some things about her that I didn't know before, and it made me like her even more.  We think a lot alike, and it was refreshing and surprising.  I think we'll do it again.  We may even grab the boys and have dinner.

So I've (almost) secured a job, and I made a new friend out of an old acquaintance.  It was a really good day.  A friend, a great interview, and Pork Barbacoa Salad all in the same day.  Things are looking up, and I'm the first to say that I appreciate that.
It feels kind of like this:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thanks To The Patriots

Happy Fourth of July!

Have a safe and happy day with family and friends...

Wave flags, have delicious BBQ's with the ones you love, jump in the pool, watching the little ones through the grilled smokiness.

Light sparklers and make bright, sparky trails through the dark. At least one child will step on a hot one with bare feet. It's a kind of rite of passage.  Enjoy the big fireworks lighting up the sky.  Listen to patriotic music, loud and clear.

Eat watermelon, make home-made ice cream.  Love the community spirit of wherever you live.  Celebrate it all in glorious red, white, and blue...

And always remember - never forget - the ones who came before who made our country great, sacrificed all,  and made our blessed freedom possible.  A land where our children can grow up happy and free, if we but keep our diligence and remember.

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