Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my father’s 60th birthday.

These are a few of the things that always remind me of him.

One of my dad’s favorite movies. We watched it nearly every weekend when we lived in Germany.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you.

Best Friends

IMG_2604_c

Let the baking begin!

DSC01382Christmas is not my favorite time of year.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to launch into a tirade about how commercially motivated our society has become, or goad anyone into a theology debate.  No, I made a promise to myself that I would leave my cynicism at the door.  I vowed to make an extra effort to avoid allowing my negativity to overshadow the holidays or bleed into my blog entries.

Not an easy promise to keep, especially after dipping my toes into the pool of Christmas shoppers down at the mall.  I barely escaped with my life.  I will refrain from recounting the whole grim tale.  Doing so would only set me down a path of no return and then I will have broken my vow to be, if not cheery, at least, civil.

Finding Christmas related activities or events that don’t leave me wanting to chug the nearest carton of laced eggnog is a pretty tall order, but not an impossibility.  After all, I have discovered that I like Christmas music.  Granted, the playlist is minimal, but I’m a firm believer that all good things should be moderated.

There is another thing that I like about Christmas.  It’s the perfect excuse to bake an exuberant amount of goodies.  Of course, I don’t want them in the house because sweets are counterproductive in the whole healthy living lifestyle thing I’ve got going on, but I’ve come up with a solution.  I’ve devised a way to make them essentially guilt-free.  I bake them, pack them in cute bags adorned with curly ribbon and a festive candy cane, and give them to all my friends, family, and coworkers. They seem to like the gesture and it always leaves me with the warm, gooey satisfaction of having put a smile on their faces.  If I were a humane person, I might feel a twinge of remorse for having sabotaged their holiday diet plan, but I’m not, and I don’t.

DSC01370

I usually try to make a variety of treats including some old favorites, such as chocolate chip and peanut butter.  I also try to incorporate cookies with a little spice.  Some of my favorite cookies aren’t sweet at all.  This is the fault of my little Italian grandmother who used to let me help her make batch after batch of pizzelle cookies.  For those who have never experienced these anise-flavored Italian cookies, I’m truly sorry for they are wonderfully yummy.   My grandmother made the best – my mother runs a close second  – and she used to let me lick the bowl until my tongue went numb.  My mother never let me do that.  You know, that whole Salmonella thing and all.  I miss my grandma.

This year, I have brought back my chocolate ginger spice cookies that are rolled in raw sugar, giving them a nice crunchy texture on the outside which contrasts nicely to the soft, moist middle.  To complement this offering, I have added a Chai flavor inspired cookie.  This one is definitely one to be enjoyed with a tall glass of milk, and while the dense cookie itself is more spicy than sweet, the white chocolate coating drizzled with melted milk chocolate gives it a nice balance.  They are considerably more work than just the basic chocolate chip, but I think they are worth it.  If for no other reason than they are a nice change of pace.

DSC01351While I am a pretty decent baker, a confectioner I am not.  Over the years, I have tried my hand at a lot of different candies: peanut brittle, almond bark, peppermint almond bark.  None of them resulted in anything edible.  In spite of this, I do try to add a bit of fudge to every bag.  Of course, fudge can be as frustrating to make as peanut brittle, especially when one has no idea the difference between those very technical candy making terms: hard-crack stage and soft-crack stage.  However, I’ve found a no fuss recipe that takes all of 20 minutes from the second the sugar hits the sauce pan until I pop the finished product into the fridge to set up.  Everyone seems to like it, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out.

The past two years, due to circumstances beyond my control, life has made this task overwhelming.  I just didn’t have the time to bake enough goodies for everyone on my list.  This year is different.  My school semester is finished, there are no obligatory family functions looming that require an ounce of my attention, and I have a couple of days off a week until mid-January.  More importantly, because there are no outside pressures, I feel that I am going to enjoy this year’s baking marathon much more than I have in a good long while.  That makes me happy.  Perhaps even instills a smidgen of holiday cheer into my Scrooge-filled heart.  Anything is possible, right?  I mean, I voluntarily put up the Christmas tree on the 10th of the month.  Much sooner than usual, and with minimal grumbling.  Perhaps Christmas miracles do happen.

DSC01401

DSC01385

DSC01409

Things I learned in the last two weeks

The threat of Christmas hung in the air, visible already in the fretful look of passersby as they readied themselves for the meaningless but necessary rites of false jovialities and ill-considered gifts. – Peter Dickinson

I couldn’t help myself.  Now that Thanksgiving is over, I must turn my attention to bashing the holiday I find the least appeal of them all.  This is only the beginning.  There are 28 shopping days left until Christmas.

I learned the last couple of weeks…

Source: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hamlet-agnieszka-reichelt.html

…that group projects don’t suck after all.  Okay.  Perhaps that is being a bit overly optimistic.  Let’s try that again.  Group project, in general, suck.  However, there are rare occasions when you are grouped with a person who is a bigger overachiever than you are.  In Western Civilization last week, we were divided into four groups and instructed to develop an argument that was either for or against the Protestant Reformation and explain its impact on Western Europe.  The guy who sits in front of me is a devote Christian and….wait for it….an award winning debater.  SCORE!

…that I love Shakespeare’s Hamlet more this time around than I did last time.  I didn’t think it was possible.  But I always did love it when all the important characters die at the end of a story.  Is that weird?

…that hard drives will crash at the least convenient time possible.  It’s like they wait patiently, biding their time, for the most advantageous moment to strike.  Unaware of the treachery lurking, you spend the day writing and revising.  Just as the last word is written, the very last source properly cited, you make the fatal mistake of turning your back on the lecherous laptop – just for one brief moment – and BAM!  It’s all gone in the blink of any eye, never to be seen or heard from again.  Bastards.

…that my little old lady kitty, the one I thought was misdiagnosed, does indeed have a tumor.  The vet has offered to biopsy it for us.  I think I am going to decline.  We’ve spent a fortune the last few months with no real answers or solutions.  As sad as it makes me, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and allow nature to take its course.  She’s had sixteen good years of life and we are going to do our best to make sure the rest of her time with us is as comfortable as possible.

…that I should probably stop cursing my overly sensitive tire pressure sensor.  Turns out that my tire really was low, though not for the reason I thought.  My tire was fine.  My rim was not.  Apparently, somewhere in my travels, I hit a pothole lethal enough to crack my front driver’s side rim.  Rims for my car at the dealer aren’t cheap ($600 each), but the internet is wondrous place with many deals to be had.  My car is as good as new.  Well, almost.  I still have that door ding that irks me every time I see it, but that’s a rant for a different blog.

…that looking into the face of your child’s child is a strangely emotional thing, especially when the newborn baby girl strongly resembles her father.  It is even stranger and more emotional to see pride and love etched in your child’s face and he gazes at his own child.  Very surreal.

…that Black Friday is an atrocity that does nothing but feed on the greed and depravity that is overtaking our society.  Call me old-fashioned.  Call me a cynic.  I don’t care.  I remember when nothing – and I mean nothing – was open on Thanksgiving, people weren’t camped out in front of big box stores looking to snatch up flat screen TVs, Blu-Ray players, and laptops, and no one was “neutralizing” the crowd with pepper sprayed or getting trampled to death.  Yet another reason to ditch the holidays for a warm, sandy beach on an island far, far away.

…that – in keeping with my Scrooge-like attitude – nothing makes me want to throw the remote at my own flat screen TV like the intro credits to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I hate that movie.  Yeah, I said it.  I HATE THAT MOVIE!  If they are going to make me watch Christmas themed shows, the least they could do is make it “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  The original.  Not that “update” Charlie Brown mess.

…that jacket shopping with my daughter is worse than shoe shopping.  This weekend brought a blast of cold air to our little neck of the woods.  The coldest of the season and thus, it was necessary to replace the winter jacket my daughter had long outgrown.  She is a sweet girl with an easy-going personality, but she has very clear likes and dislikes.  She likes jackets with zippers.  She does not like puffer jackets.  She likes a little faux fur.  She does not like jackets that make noise.  She likes jackets with hoods.  She does not like jackets that are too long.  It was a long, arduous process.  We finally found one that was deemed acceptable at Macy’s, a store that I really don’t like all that much and only went into because I desperately wanted out of the mall.

…that my daughter is moving out of the kid’s department and into the junior’s department.  Have you seen some of the things these teenagers wear?  Scary prospect, indeed.  Just for the record, bedazzling the bum of jeans, regardless of the targeted demographic, is a bad idea.  Very, very bad idea.

…that the onset of the holiday season brings a whole slew of new faces to the gym.  The day after Thanksgiving was crazy.  I was predictably annoyed by the newbies who hampered my workout process with their ignorance, but I was also secretly thrilled.  I find a lot of my character inspiration at the gym.  There’s just something so special about those people.

…that Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 is grosser than the first.  I didn’t think they could top the “cheese touch”.  I was wrong.

…that I really liked the movie Fair Game.  It is Hollywood’s version of the Valerie Plame scandal.  I love spy thrillers and political conspiracies, so this one was right up my ally.  Of course, I am sure the story has been enhanced for the pleasure of the viewing public, but it was entertaining and gave food for thought on the far-reaching power of the White House.

…that since my last “Things I learned…” post I’ve sat and watched Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel twice.  I’ve also watched Bourne Identity (my second favorite movie) twice – in the same day on Starz.  Don’t you judge me.

WARNING!  WARNING!

My pet peeve of the week is…

…that I can’t seem to get away from those radio commercials that swear that you can lose weight and keep it off simply by subscribing to their prepackaged “restaurant quality” meals.  No exercise or life style change required.  Is this company on crack?  Are people so desperate to avoid sweating that they buy into this crap?  Calorie in/calorie out people.  The weight may come off initially, but it will be back.  With vengeance.  Serious lifestyle change is required to obtain good health and certainly, if you want to keep it.  Believe me when I say it is easier, and less expensive, to just suck it up and get your ass moving.  [Okay, I shall step off the soapbox now.]

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a very over-ambitious hamster with eyes bigger than his stomach…or mouth.

Get in my belly!

Where’s my wine?

The funny thing about Thanksgiving, or any huge meal, is that you spend 12 hours shopping for it and then chopping and cooking and braising and blanching.  Then it takes 20 minutes to eat it and everybody sort of sits around in a food coma, and then it takes four hours to clean it up.  ~Ted Allen

I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the “history” I was told in second grade.  But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America’s traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it’s a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all.  ~Ellen Orleans

Well, here I am again – standing at the gate.  Behind me, the joys of Halloween call to me, mocking me; in front of me, the holidays loom like Grendel’s mother.

Whether I am prepared for it or not, Thanksgiving is upon us.  Time to give thanks for a year of blessings.  Time to cook and consume copious amounts of food that will have no positive effect on my waistline.  Time to endure the company of family members who would otherwise be avoided.

Contrary to how it sounds, I don’t necessarily dislike Thanksgiving, though I will admit to being slightly annoyed by it.  Sure, I understand the importance of such a holiday to our national history.  I get that it is supposed to act as the adhesive that brings families together for a day of reflection. (Isn’t it ironic that this day of thanks occurs just before millions of Americans turn into greedy monsters consumed with the materialistic need to get a deal on the next “it” thing.  Just saying.) However, I am a person who does my very best to side step stress and drama.  Not something that is possible this time of year.  I think we can all agree that Thanksgiving, and the weeks that follow, are synonymous with stress.

Each year I swear it will be different.  I vow that I will channel my inner Martha Stewart and reduce my stress level by planning ahead, allowing a few extra hands in the kitchen, and forgiving myself a few missteps.  After all, it really doesn’t matter if the stuffing is soggy or the pumpkin pie is a little too brown around the edges.  What matters is the family who has gathered around the dinner table and I have a wonderful family.

My intentions are good.

But…what is it that Robert Burns says…

Oh yes,”…the best laid schemes of mice and men…”

My intentions are good, but they are doomed to failure.

It happens every year.

The problem?  Poor planning.  Plain and simple.  Yeah, I know…I know.  Total contradiction to my personality as a whole.  As one who favors structure and rules, it is odd to think that I am completely incapable of adequately preparing for upcoming events, but it’s true.  It’s not because I am a grand procrastinator.  Okay, maybe I do suffer from a small case procrastinatoritis, but my issue lies mostly in my inability to deal with more than one dire issue at a time.

In my head, next to the filing cabinet that holds my phobias, is a desk.  A very messy desk, kinda like the one in my office.  Piled high upon this desk are files, each containing an upcoming event or a to do that I must accomplish within a certain perimeter.  It’s a pile that grows exponential with every passing month, each file more important than the last.  None of them forgiving enough to permit me to give the next one the attention it deserves until a deadline is standing before me with an unpleasant consequence aimed at my head.  It is the story of my life.

And the very reason I wake up one morning only to find that it is the day before Thanksgiving, my relatives are beating down the door, my cupboards are bare, and I have absolutely no idea what I am going to feed anyone.

To make matters worse, there is absolutely no wine to be found anywhere in my house.  Not one stinking drop.

This year was no different.

With two major papers and an oral presentation due the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, who can really blame me for forgetting to plan.  Add a hard drive crash to that and you will understand there was no room in my poor brain fried mind for thoughts of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie.  By Wednesday of this week, I was hovering between the need for a reschedule and full on denial of what was coming down the pike.  Sadly, there is no rescheduling Thanksgiving.

I blame the liberal media.

What?  Is that going too far?

In the end, it all came together, just as it always does.  Yes, I was cranky.  Yes, the roasted carrots burned and looked a lot like orange-colored turds.  Yes, the turkey was a smidgen dry.  Yes, I burned the pumpkin pies so bad that I had to start over.  Yes, I almost forgot to make my family’s favorite dessert – high calorie banana pudding.  But the homemade stuffing turned out fantastic and the gravy was free of lumps.

And I finally found my wine.

As for what the next file on my mental desk demands of me…

…well, I don’t know.  I don’t care.  It’s my day off.  Ask me again on Monday.

Things I learned this week (November 7 – November 13)

I learned this week…

…that snickerdoodles will be added to my holiday cookie line up this year.  I’ve made all sorts of cookies over the years – chocolate chip, pizzelles, peanut butter, spice cookies, etc. – but never snickerdoodles.  I made them for the first time this week.  I’m not really sure why I’ve excluded them in the past.  However, I will rectify this mistake as I delve into the my marathon of holiday baking in the coming weeks.  They were very tasty.

…that it is time to up the resistance on the elliptical to a solid 9.  I surpassed my best distance record this week.  I was able to cover 6.56 miles in one hour.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve mastered the elliptical and am officially a convert.  I’m going to have to expand this thought into a blog entry.  I have a lot to say about it.

…that my little old kitty does not have lymphoma, after all.  Misdiagnosed.  She does have a slew of other health issues, but all of them manageable.  It’s always much easier to take a misdiagnosis when the error is in your favor.  Of course, this doesn’t alleviate the sting of the vet bills.  I’ve spent a fortune over the last month or two trying to find out what is wrong with my kitty and if it was time to make THE decision.

…that Shakespeare’s sonnets are much more entertaining than Petrarch’s sonnets.   Though, if I am to be completely honest, I probably only understand the meaning of one in three without prompting from dear Dr. W.  This sonnet, No. 130, I understood perfectly, however.  I’m sure you will, too.

An earlier version of Summer, 1563. Giuseppe Arcimboldo
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red, than her lips red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
 
I have seen roses damasked, red and white
But no such roses see I in her cheeks
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks
 
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground
And yet be heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
 

…that inexplicably, I will experience a surge of excitement when I stumble across Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel.  It matters not that I own it on blue ray and can watch it whenever my little heart desires.  It seems I am too powerless to change the channel, and too lazy to get up and pop in the DVD.  So, here I sit typing away at this blog, watching my favorite movie in low resolution, and suffering through endless commercials.

…that crazy gymnastics moms + vendor selling racks and racks of bedazzled leotards = calamity + a near homicidal me, squared.  You would really think that after four years of twice weekly practice at the same gym, surrounded by a lot of the same people, I would be more tolerant of these magpies.  I’m not.  I don’t think this is any fault of my own, but rather the fact that these woman have had their brains sucked out by some unknown force.  I am convinced that I am the only person in the entire place who is somehow immune to this mystery brain sucking foe.  I wonder if this is how Ripley from Aliens felt.

…that ineptocracy is a fun, new word.  I wish I could take credit for this one, but I learned it from my fellow WCer, Bill.   [Click here to for more from Bill].

…that I don’t know squat about what a biochemical lab looks like, or what it may contain.  This poses a problem for me because I am currently writing a scene for my novel, Retribution, that is set in a biochemical lab.  Guess I am going to have to consult my friends over at Wikipedia and Google images.  If anyone wants to share some expertise…

…that my husband should not be allowed to “clean” the coffee pot.  For a few years now, we have had a couple of those dispensing pots.  You know, you stick your cup underneath the spout, press it against the big button, and coffee magically pours into your cup.  Every time my husband “cleans” it, the stream diminishes.  Last year, he decided to “fix” this little problem by taking the pot apart.  Needless to say, I picked up a new one on my way home from work the next day.  Yesterday, my husband decided to deep “clean” the pot again.  I am now the proud owner of a new Kitchen Aid 14 cup coffee pot.  It is not the dispensing kind.  Lesson learned.

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable little piggy.  I have a soft spot in my heart for pigs.  I think they are freaking adorable and when all my kitties are gone, I’m going to get me one.  (Shhhh don’t tell Nolan.  He thinks we are getting a dog).  This little piglet has a story.  [Click here to read it].

Things I learned this week (October 23 – October 29)

This week I learned…

…that apparently my husband can either relate to or, more likely, commiserate with the characters of the new sitcom Whitney.  I’m not really sure how I feel about this because Whitney is nuts.  I’m a lot of things, not all of them flattering, but nuts is not one of them.

…that my obsession with the Real Housewives franchise is waning.  I guess all things, including guilty pleasures, must run their course.  I’m a little sad by this, but I’m sure it won’t be long before something equally trashy comes along and piques my interest.  I only have to look as far as the Bravo network.

…that nothing makes you appreciate a former co-worker like having to deal with some of her former crazy clients.  Boy, do I wish I could tell you all about it.  I can’t.  You know, that whole confidentiality thing.  Attorney’s are sticklers.  Who can blame them?  Getting sued sucks.  But trust me when I tell you – clients are CRAZY.  I miss you, Val.  Seriously.

…that failing to remember to do something and then have it negatively impact your child sucks. I forgot to refill my daughter’s lunch money card.  She didn’t complain – just texted a sad face.  Poor kid.  However, I tried make up for it by arriving to pick her up from school with a PB&J in hand.  She’s a good girl with a forgiving heart.  I earned a smile and an “I love you”.  I will try to do better.

…that I am having a serious case of writer’s ADD.  I’ve started five blog entries (unrelated to Man vs. Beast or Things I learned) and have lost interest in all of the subjects.  Perhaps, lost interest is not really the right way to describe what I’m feeling.  Maybe I am going through a period of self-doubt.  When I started this whole blogging thing, I swore to myself that I was going to write as an exercise and not care if anyone really read it. Now that I see people do read it, I am worried about writing uninteresting things.  No offense, but I think I need to go back to not giving a shit and just write for me.  I seemed to be more productive that way.  Of course, I love writing the Man vs. Beast and Things I learned blogs too.  Oh man.  I’m so…SQUIRREL…

…that the honey badger just don’t give a shit…

…that the Princess Bride is a wonderful movie.  Megan and I watched it for the first time over the weekend.  She was less enthusiastic about it and told me that it was stupid.  I’m going to venture to guess that this just wasn’t her thing.  Not that I’m surprised.  Next, I’m going to make her watch D.A.R.Y.L.  I think she will like that one better.

…that my Western Civilization professor is a Monty Python junkie.  As a means of helping us understand the role of knights in medieval Europe, he had us watch clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never really understood the allure of this genre of comedy, but I love that he has a quirky sense of humor.  This alone will earn him a positive review from me on www.ratemyprofessor.com.

…that as a history major, the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens incites a vast array of emotions in me.  None of them favorable toward the show.  However, there is one thing about it that makes me giggle like a school girl.  Giorgio Tsoukalos and his ever-growing hair.

…last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought you by my brother, Rob.   He was kind enough to pass along this adorable picture of a chimp giving its kitty a hug.  Enjoy.