Things I learned this week…

I learned this week…

…that oral presentations aren’t all that bad.   (insert cheesy laugh track here)  I’m just kidding.  Oral presentations suck.  However, they do get easier.  And by easier, I mean that I only wanted to pass out once or twice and the uncontrollable shaking only lasted for half of the class period this time.  Progress.

…that middle school crushes are complicated.   My daughter likes a boy.  He likes her back.  Sounds simple so far – trust me it’s not.  Just getting to that admission was mind-blowing.  Now, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the question of what to give this boy in celebration of the Hallmark holiday has surfaced.  Card?  Stuffed bear? Box of chocolates.  This week, I quietly trailed behind her in the seasonal aisle of my favorite big box store as she grappled with this difficult decision.  After twenty minutes or so, she decided on an oversize Hersey Kiss.   I thought it was a good call.  Getting a boy something too affectionate or personal at this stage of the game is risky business.   Equally risky, I’ve discovered, is the mode of delivery.   She tells me that she can’t very well roll up to the park on her bike and hand him a giant Hersey Kiss in front of his friends.   That would be the kiss of death (har har).  No, she’s given this a lot of thought, consulted with many of her little girlfriends.  The general consensus among the great minds – she should most definitely drop, ring, and run.    This should prove interesting.

…that I am an introvert.  This is not a revelation,  I took the Myers-Brigg personality test years ago – several times, in fact, just in case I was doing it wrong.   I am a ISTJ and scored 1oo% introvert every single time.    As I age, I’ve learned to deal with it, and what I once viewed as a near crippling personality flaw, I’ve grown to accept and even, embrace.  This enlightenment, if you will, has aided in my journey of self-discovery, given me the courage to try new things, and overall, helped me grow comfortable in my own skin.  Susan Cain’s book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is a must read for introverts trying to find their place and purpose in this life.   I’ve got a list of folks who could use a copy of this book.  Maybe if they understood me a bit better they would stop bugging me to speak up and contribute to debates I find pointless and beneath me.  Yes, I know – I am an elitist introvert.  Or so my husband tells me.  Sue me.

that Nicholas Cage is not a vampire.  This is good information.  For a minute there, I was worried.

…that another great musical voice has been silenced.  I am saddened and aggrieved by the loss of Whitney Houston.  Premature death, no matter the circumstances, is a tragic thing and one that deserves a measure of understanding and compassion, if for no other reason, than for those who are left behind to grieve the unimaginable loss of a loved one.

…that four weeks into “Yoga for a Grade” I find myself looking forward to the class.  I still think the instructor is a flake, and that she has failed to read the college’s catalog description of the course.  There is no way this class is beginner level, but I’ve kept up, and though my hamstrings have not quite gotten with the program, I feel my core strengthening and my stamina increasing.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I enjoy this class, but I don’t dread it.  Now, that might change if she makes us do another elementary level art project.   That was just humiliating.

***Warning!  Pet Peeve of the Week***

…that nothing make me angrier (and this is a bold statement because there is a lot of things that make me angry) than being manipulated and threatened, no matter how veiled.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable, and quite photogenic, kitty getting all spruced up for a night out.  I don’t know the source of this photo because my husband shared it with me.  If you don’t smile at this picture, then you need to see a doctor about that heartless whole in your chest.  Enjoy.

Best Friends

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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.

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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.

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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 16 – October 22)

I learned this week…

…that Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale is bawdy, raunchy, and not unlike a lot of off humor comedies in popular culture.  It’s not usually the kind of thing I find entertaining.  I mean, I think I am the only person on the planet who was offended by The Hangover.  Having said that, this particular sequence in The Miller’s Tale was so unexpected that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud – after I figured out what exactly Chaucer was referring to:

The night was pitch dark, coal-black all about.
Her rear end through the window she thrust out.
He got no better or worse, did Absolom,
Than to kiss her with his mouth on the bare bum
Before he had caught on, a smacking kiss.
 
He jumped back, thinking something was amiss.
A woman had no beard, he was well aware,
But what he felt was rough and had long hair.
 

The Canterbury Tales, The Miller’s Tale.  Geoffrey Chaucer.

O.M.G.

…that in-class group projects suck.  Not because I am so anti-social that I am loathed to interact with my classmates….huh?  Oh, shut up.

…that my daughter seems to be embroiled in a sort of love triangle – with brothers!  She has made friends with two brothers, one in 7th grade, the other in 5th. They live just around the corner from us and have become something of a fixture around the house.  I believe that she has a bit of a crush on the older boy, however, both boys appear to be quite smitten.  I see heartbreak, tears and a trip to Sonic for the consolatory M & M blast in our future.

…that I really hate chronic complainers.  So much so that I find that my favorite new past-time is complaining about their complaining.  The irony is not lost on me.  However, at this time, I am going to choose to ignore the hypocrisy and continue complaining about other people’s complaining.

…that it was time to decatify my house again.  It seems like I just did it, but the dust bunnies rolling out from beneath the couch told a different story.  I spent my Saturday moving furniture, vacuuming, dusting and polishing.  With five cats in the house, we will never be completely cat hair free but, at least for now, it is safe to sit in my favorite chair again.

…that I really hope the Libyans have a plan.

…that sometimes my sweet-natured daughter needs to be reminded that I am empress of my domain and this empire does not lean toward democracy.  Luckily, she usually only needs a small reminder and peace is quickly restored.

…that at first glance my Western Civ test study guide appeared harmless.  Boy, was I wrong.  We are closing in on ten pages and I’m not done yet.  I have a feeling this guide will be my constant companion until Thursday’s exam.  After that, I just might have a celebratory burning – and a swig of something potent.

…that my daughter is at the age where doctors begin to encourage the HPV vaccination.  At her annual well check this week, her doctor (who has treated her since she was born and knows me very well – deals with me very well) urged me to have it administered.  I declined.  I’ve done a lot of research on this – both for and against – for a series of papers last year.  I see both sides of the controversy, but do you know what my biggest issue is?  Rick Perry’s mandate.  I’m still pissed about that.  I will revisit the issue next year.  Maybe I will feel differently.

…and last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by three little piggie bums.

Steffen Schmidt / EPA

Okay, not really.  But this picture did make me snort ever so slightly.  Please, no bacon jokes.  I have a little soft spot in my heart for piggies.

…Our real awww moment is brought to you by this baby Bornean orangutan born last month at the L.A. Zoo.  A true picture of maternal love:

Tad Motoyami / L.A. Zoo via AP