Daily Affirmation

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

When Kitchen Shears Are Sharper Than Your Brain

I had the most interesting day today.  Full of excitement and anticipation, as well as deep despair and an overwhelming desire to sit in a corner sucking my thumb.  A small microcosm of life's extremes all rolled up and stuffed into one crazy hour this afternoon.

In my last post, I told you about ordering the BBQ smoker box and the Cuisinart ice cream maker.  I've been checking my emails every day and tracking when they would arrive, and TODAY WAS THE DAY!  I was giddy with excitement.  When the UPS truck pulled up it was all I could do to keep myself from meeting the driver at the door.  *Waggling eyebrows. How YOU doin'?*  I stood out of sight until he drove away, and then flung open the front door and snatched my precious package inside.  Hefted it around the corner into the kitchen.  The smoker box came out first.  It was awesome - just want we'll be wanting for our summer BBQs.  On to the ice cream maker, which was inside another huge box.  Opened that box up.  More packaging.  Got through that.  Everything was wrapped in separate plastic bags and/or styrofoam packaging.  GAH - this is going to take all day to unwrap!

Got the two separate freezer bowls free.  The crank got unwrapped, as did the outside plastic thingy that goes over the freezer bowl.  Now for the unit itself.  It was encased in a large plastic bag that had been twisted at a certain point (to make it tight I thought) and then taped.  I looked at the tape winding around the twisted plastic and thought the tape might just make me crazy trying to get it undone.  And then I had a brilliant thought:  I will just cut that twisted plastic off and the rest of the bag will loosen and lift right off.  And so I did.  Snip, snip.  With my Williams Sonoma kitchen shears.  Like butter.

And suddenly I was looking at the raw wires in a cord.  In horror, I looked at the twisted plastic in my other hand and saw more raw wires sticking out of a cord.  Sweet mother of huge boo boos - I had cut the cord in two!!  I almost started crying.  Right there with two cord ends in my hands.  What to do, WHAT TO DO??  And how would I explain this latest burst of lunacy to L?

I ran upstairs and called Williams Sonoma.  I sat on hold for 25 minutes.  They were experiencing unusually long hold times, the message said.  In desperation I started to order another ice cream maker online (they were on sale and the sale ended today), and then I saw it on the screen: ONLINE CHAT.  I started a conversation with the online customer service rep, and when I told her the problem (i.e. the cord whackage) I asked her please not to laugh.  She replied that she wasn't going to until I told her not to.  Long story short, they are sending me another red ice cream maker.  That's right - ANOTHER ONE.  As in, no charge.  I don't even have to send the ruined one back.  The customer service rep's name was Karen.  If that's not karma, I don't know what is.

I am stoked.  I've never been treated so royally by anyone I've done business with, and I have to say that Williams Sonoma has won my loyalty.  Forever.  If I was ever tempted to sneak over to Sur La Table and sample their wares, that temptation is gone.  I will look the other way as I pass their store in the mall.  To make things even better - the gold at the end of the rainbow - Williams Sonoma is rushing my order out.  I could kiss that whole company.  Really and truly.  I could be making ice cream by this time next week.

And what of the ruined unit?  I took it over to my father in law, who is a whiz with all things electrical.  He looked at it and said it would be easy to fix the cord, so they are now the proud owners of a new red Cuisinart ice cream maker.  With a soon-to-be-fixed-cord.  I like it when I can pay my good fortune forward.  I like it even better when my crap fortune suddenly turns to gold like it did today.  And the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, is that I gave Williams Sonoma's customer service department the best laugh they'd had all day.  Today was all about customer service at it's best, and me right in the middle of it, basking in the glow of being a valued customer.  It was sweet.

Next time I will let L open the box.  Apparently the thought of ice cream gets me a little too excited.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summertime Discoveries

It's been a good week.  Jury duty came and went.  All I ended up having to do was call in every day at 11:30, only to be told to do the same thing the next day.  Finally, on Thursday the voice recording told me my "service" was done.  Relatively painless, except for the slight heart pounding, fingers crossed, while I called in, waiting to see if I needed to drop everything and drive in. It was so sweet that I didn't have to go in and judge some drunk driver, murderer or child molester.  Been there, done that. 

The first part of the week was devoted to my aunt, and getting her a little bit better situated.  We took our trip at last to Orchard Hardware to get her flowers.  She walked almost the entire store, looking at everything.  Finally, out in the garden department, she asked again if there were any pansies.  (There weren't.)  I explained it was too hot for them - petunias had taken their place.  She finally chose some bright pink and purple pansies,  some hot pink double-flowered impatiens, some hot pink Sweet William, and some orange and yellow marigolds.   Along the way we also picked up a pair of gardening gloves, a trowel, a soft pad to kneel on, and some extra Miracle Gro garden soil.  When we got back to her house, she thought that maybe she was too tired to plant it all today, but I know how that goes: pretty soon you just have a bunch of dead plants in their pony packs.  So we both rolled up our sleeves, watered soil and turned it over, dug holes, and plopped little flowers into their new homes. 

In just about an hour (or less) she had two large pots, and a small corner of the real planter edging her patio that was filled with beautiful flowers.  Even viewed from inside, it couldn't fail to cheer you up.  From her patio she also has a full view of a fountain.  The view, the sound of falling water, a light breeze, and the summer colors of the new flowers made for a perfect place to come and sit.  As we sat and enjoyed, we also discussed getting a pot of tomatoes going.  Or a zucchini plant.  She seemed to like that, so I'll just let her mull that over for a few days.  I left her with pride of ownership over her little plot of land.

On Wednesday I had the chance to have lunch with a friend.  I think we got there around 12:30, and it was almost time for the cows to come home before we finally left.  It's been a long time since I've had time to just sit and talk with a good friend.  Catching up on our kids, husbands, and each other.  It was a fun afternoon - even better because it was sort of spontaneous.  She asked a lot about blogging, and I was able to tell her what a great tool it is to keep track of the little things in life - the BEST things, actually.  I can't tell you how many things I've read over after combining a year of posts into a book, where I've laughed out loud and said "I'd completely forgotten about that!"  And I was so glad that I'd had the reminder because the memories were sweet.  So who knows - maybe we'll all have a new blogging friend to follow!

Last night was fun.  I was able to meet up with another good friend who is here visiting from the Bay Area with her family on their annual family reunion/vacation.  Their days at the beach are jam-packed with activity and fun, so it was so generous of her to make time for me last night.  The others had all gone to a movie, and she was needing a little "me time," so we met at BJ's Grille for dinner.  We had our healthy salads, and gabbed away for the duration.  Caught up on our kids and grandkids.  Caught up on each other - our mental and physical well being.  We have so many parallel threads running through our lives on so many levels.  She is a wonderful support and friend, and I like to think she says the same of me.  And she's feisty.  A great trait in a friend, to my mind.  After dinner, we wound our way back to the beach house, where we set up camp on the patio, and continued to talk while the world traveled by us on the boardwalk.  Before I knew it, her family was back from the movie.  Time for a quick hello and goodbye - it was 10:30!  Where does the time go when you're spending it with a good friend?  Wherever it goes, it goes too soon. 

And today it's back to regular life.  Or what has become regular life.  I've talked to friends more in the last two days than I have all year.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do when I'm not helping my aunt, or visiting out of town friends.  We will go to Denver in a couple of weeks to meet Travis, and play with Lexi, Matthew, and Skylee.  I'm looking forward to that.  A lot.  Be prepared to be smothered with pictures.  There are FOUR of them now, so it's likely to be obnoxious.  I'm just warning you.  Lots and lots of pictures.  And the baby can't run away from me!  *You are MINE, little one*

 Isn't that the sweetest armful? 

My thoughts are filled with the upcoming visit, possible creative projects to keep me busy in the meantime (researching those today), and grabbing some beach time - either just on my own with a good book, or with a friend or two. (Anyone?  Anyone??)  I'm also trying to gain some new culinary skills - learning to take decadent recipes that I love and tweaking them here and there to make a decadent tasting dish that is calorie friendly, gluten-free, or maybe both.  And BBQing.  Both L and I have fallen in love all over again with BBQing.  I love cooking outside, and I love sitting outside afterwards, enjoying the night air and the city lights from our (very small) hilltop kingdom.  I finally caved in and sent for the Williams Sonoma smoker box that you put wood chips in for your gas grill.  You can grill directly on top of it with it's top on to save the smoke for just what's on top of it, or you can let the smoke fill the whole grill if you leave the top off.  Deliciousness.

I also sent for their Cuisinart ice cream maker.  No need for ice and salt.  And I've found the most wonderful recipes for fruit sorbets - no dairy involved, for those that it matters to (like me) - or I'll try to substitute almond milk.  My challenge here is to whittle the calories down, but I'm determined.  Because I love frozen treats.  Or any treat - let's be honest, since I'm among friends.

 Yes, please...

So it's a summer of little ones, creative endeavors, and culinary adventures.    Before I know it, it will be time to head to the Central Coast to celebrate birthdays with Marion.  It's going to be a great break from work.  Time to give a little service here and there, and have some fun - but mostly to concentrate on ME.  What I want, where I'm going, what I want to accomplish, and why.  It will be interesting to see where the trail leads me, and what discoveries I make.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Little Gentleman and Summer Vacation

Well, look who made his entrance this week:

Please meet Travis Michael.  I got the text about 11am on Monday that Ronna was in the hospital - that was the exact due date, so already this little gentleman has impeccable timing.  Before the afternoon was over, I was sent the picture above, and I looked at it in wonder.  Such a tiny, perfect little person...  He looks so much like I remember Rex looking when he was born, and he weighed in almost exactly the same - 8 lbs, 6 oz, where Rex was 8 lbs, 6 1/2 oz.   I don't mind telling you that it brought back some pretty sweet memories of my own little boy.  I thought he was the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen, but I guess all mothers think that.  (But Rex really was.  I wouldn't lie to you.)

I was even more in awe that Ronna managed to look so gorgeous after her hours laboring away.  Never once did I look that amazing post-delivery.  Not for days.  Months, even.  *sigh*  But Mom and Little Pirate are doing well, and L and I will be visiting the first part of August, and will properly introduce ourselves at that time.  Just try to get him away from me.  Oh, but there are 3 other lovelies that will compel me to give him up for short lengths of time.  Long enough to play games, have ice cream, go swimming, and any other fun we can dream up.  Skylee is almost 2 now, Matthew is five, and Lexi is seven.  I see a lot of activity and not much sitting still during our short stay there.  It's the first time away in a couple of years where I haven't felt compelled to also work part of the time.  I can completely enjoy where I am, and what I'm doing.

And that brings me to my next Big Change.  I have 60 days of mandatory time off stretching in front of me.  All mine.  To do with as I please.  I hardly know how to act.  Beach days?  Don't mind if I do!  Lunch with friends?  Yes, please.  One of my dear friends is having her annual family reunion at a beach house nearby next week, and I'm so looking forward to spending an afternoon down there visiting with her (and her family!)  And then there are all of the little projects that need doing for my aunt.  I've been procrastinating, telling myself that things will wait until I can properly concentrate on matters at hand.  Procrastination time will be over, and I'll need to buckle down and git 'er done.  It's funny how the time seems to stretch endlessly in front of me, and I'm a little nervous that I won't be able to fill the time.  But in reality, I have a sneaking suspicion that the time will go in the blink of an eye, and that there will be many projects that will have to wait for a weekend.  Or Christmas break.  Or my next 60 days in two years from now.

And then somewhere in the last weeks of August, L and I will travel up north to the San Luis Obispo area to meet my forever friend Marion, who will be down from Washington visiting her mother.  Her birthday is August 28th and mine is September 7th, so we plan to celebrate our birthdays together.  I'm really looking forward to that.  While we're there, we'll also have to drop in on L's brother Rick, and his gang.  We usually go out to dinner with Rick and Diana - they have so many favorite little places in Pismo Beach that we like to eat at, and it's always a good time.  Last time Marion came with us, and we all ate ourselves sick at a great little Thai hole in the wall.  I love the Central Coast, and wish we could move up there one day.  Or to Hawaii.  Don't get me started.

In the meantime, summer is calling my name.  Loudly.  My diet is paying off nicely (21 pounds and counting!) and for the first time in years I'm not embarrassed to get in a bathing suit.  I want days in the sun listening to waves and sea birds.  Gabbing with girlfriends.  I'm gathering ideas to share with the Denver cuties in a few weeks.  I have so many things going through my head every day that it's hard to concentrate on these last few days of work before Lights Out.  When I come back in September, I hope to be recharged, energized, and refreshed from 2 months of doing little bits of duty and service, but also lots of Exactly What I Please.  I have days when it's hard to remember what that entails, but I think I'll get the hang of it all too well.   And I hope it will feel something like this:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fourth Of July - 2013 Style

We spent a quiet Fourth of July, L and I.  I woke up feeling out of sorts.  I missed the kids.  I wanted the grandkids.   Holidays are just not the same without the loud, rambling commotion that accompanies family.  (L may take exception to that, however...)  And especially July 4th.  That day in particular just begs for large party BBQs, swimming in pools, and getting little ones shoes on - maybe a light sweater - to go watch fireworks.

I texted each one of the kids and wished them a happy 4th.  Asked what they were doing.  They were all having fun, going to pancake breakfasts, swimming, the beach, fireworks shows in their communities.  Scott actually called me, and we had a fun little chat over the phone.  Cheered me right up.  Made me look at the day and decide that maybe it would be fun after all - even if it was just L and me on our own.

Our community has a nice sports park where the city puts on a free fireworks show every year, complete with music.  And it's really really good.  It's always packed with people - small children, dogs, picnic food.  Some people come and stay the whole day, and some just come for the fireworks.  We've spent many years with the kids and a couple with grandkids sitting at that park watching fireworks.   I wasn't sure about how it would feel to go, just the two of us. 

L and I had sort of a lazy day getting a few things done.  We went to the store and bought some rib eye steaks to barbeque, and we had some corn on the cob and watermelon.  A couple of days ago we'd gone to Cost Plus World Market, and they had bags of applewood chips to use in the BBQ to smoke your meat.  We'd never done that before (we are not accomplished BBQ-ers) and we wanted to give it a try.  So we soaked the wood chips, and when the coals were all ready, we added the wood.  On went the meat, and it began to smoke furiously.  So furiously we had to shut the sliding door leading out to the patio.  But it was all worth it.  Those steaks were AWESOME.  I highly recommend the smoking technique.  I know - you've probably all tried it and we're the last to know.  But just in case you haven't - try it.

We finished dinner, and L said "Let's go to the park."  I'd wanted to go, but without the kids it seemed like it wouldn't be as much fun - but suddenly I felt like... what the heck, right? So we did.  We grabbed our jackets, a couple of chairs, and off we went.  We found our spot at the park, set up our chairs, and batted away all the little bugs flying through the air.  Watched kids getting all wound up waiting for the show to start, and yet tired from the long day behind them.  Families, large and small.  Some were just couples, like us.  At about 9:00 it started.  And it was loud, and bright, and totally awesome.
I'm so glad we went.  Fireworks on the Fourth, along with all of the patriotic music makes your heart kind of swell.   We're AMERICANS!!  It's a love fest for America, and we should have them more often. 

After it was over, we made the trek back to the car, successfully avoiding the traffic jams and crowds pouring out of the park.  And when we got home, one more treat.  L fired up a few more coals, and we sat on the patio until about 11:00, toasting marshmallows and eating s'mores. 

You know, those toasty melty marshmallows you've just toasted over the coals smashed between 2 graham crackers with a piece of chocolate?  Yeah... that's the stuff...  We sat there toasting, and eating, and talking, and it was just about the best time ever.  Even the crazy June bugs gave us a break that night, and went to bed early.

It wasn't quite the idyllic July 4th of my childhood - or even my childrens' childhoods.  You know where at least one kid steps on a hot sparkler with their bare feet, pinwheel fireworks nailed to a tree somehow work loose and chase you all over the yard in a crazy haze of smoke, sparks and furiously spinning colors.  Black snakes making an inky mess on your sidewalk.  Kids brown from the sun with eyes red from swimming all afternoon and smelling of chlorine.  Neighbors pooling all of their fireworks together into a mass display.  Older boys (or girls) getting a chance to light a fountain cone, or lighting the sparklers for the younger ones.  Writing your name, or making patterns in the dark with sparkler after sparkler, until at least they've all been lit.  Those are fond memories.  For many city folk these days (and especially in California where we are nothing if not environmentally safe and sound) those neighborhood fireworks shows are a thing of the past.  Firworks sales are banned in many cities.  We go to community sponsored shows and sit with our friends and neighbors and strangers, enjoying the booms and explosion of lights in the sky.  It was still good, but I miss how it used to be.

But L and I still enjoyed our s'mores in our own back yard.  We felt like we were camping out as we looked out over the city below and beyond, and watched rebel fireworks being shot up in random neighborhoods here and there.  In the distance, Disneyland's fireworks could be heard and seen.  And in the spirit of American rebels and patriots past and present, we lit our own little sparklers, and wrote our names and patterns in the dark.

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