Saturday, October 30, 2010

Banner Day

It's a banner day here at Bravely Obey. At long last, I have a new banner from the super talented Brenda at Secret Agent Josephine! Totally worth the wait, by the way. I had the pleasure of meeting Brenda and her adorable, opinionated daughter Bug (who kept calling Joe "Steve," which still cracks me up for some reason,) when we went to visit Bethany and Annalie and pick up the temporary Porsche in San Diego last fall.  We got to hang out with Brenda and Bug for a little while before they headed home, and we had a blast. Then Bethany and Brenda convinced me to start writing again, though it didn't take much effort. I was just waiting for that little push.

These two fabulous ladies, avid bloggers, inspiring cooks, loving moms, creative dynamos, both inspire me to keep writing this blog, so once again I throw the credit your way, ladies! Brenda's blog is filled with beautiful photography, and since she lives on the beach in California, she often makes me nauseatingly jealous. She blogs about her life, art, family and she's so damn open and real that it's a delight to read. Plus her daughter Bug is quirky and sweet and a budding fashionista. So go check out Brenda's blog. And while you're at it, Brenda has recently restarted her graphic design business. So if you are looking for a new banner for your website, a logo for your business, party planning genius, a professional photographer or that perfect craft for a rainy day at home with the kids, go visit her here! And put Brenda to work! You'll be glad you did, I am.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Best Kind of Hole

I made apple cider donut holes over the weekend. I find anything home-made and deep fried to be intimidating. We do not own, and let me add, will never own, a Fry Daddy or a Fry Pappy or any of the home kitchen size deep fryers. I like someone else to make my french fries. I have no interest in running my kitchen like a McDonald's. But making donuts is something I've always wanted to try.

Empty plate, full belly

My hesitation around deep frying and large quantities of super hot oil is not unfounded. In fact, it's quite founded. When my younger brother was about fifteen, he and his unsupervised friends were hanging out at my dad's house after school. They quite possibly might have been smoking an herbal refreshment on the back deck. Through the haze of sweet acrid smoke, they might have noticed that their stomachs were growling.  They might have then torn apart the kitchen looking for worthy sustenance to satisfy their gnawing hunger. And in their altered states, decided that deep frying some frozen ravioli was the perfect solution to a vicious case of the munchies.

Now, I wasn't there. But I heard that the boys then dumped a very large quantity of vegetable oil into a pot, turned the burner up to high, and when they proceeded to dump the entire contents of the large bag of V's frozen ravioli (that had been sitting in the freezer since before I was born) the ravioli overflowed the oil, which quickly caught fire when it hit the scalding burner and when they attempted to control the fire with a dish rag, it grew and scorched the cabinets and ceiling. The hooligans quickly sobered up and realized that this was rapidly getting out of hand, and called the fire department. The kitchen wasn't a total loss. The cabinets, back splash and part of the ceiling had to be completely replaced. The ceiling replacement was truly a blessing in the long run. The previous owners had wallpapered the ceiling in dark red with a country heart border to match the blue country paper on the walls. The fire was a redecorating solution courtesy of the insurance company. Though it took about ten years for my dad to see it that way.

I was pretty sure I wasn't going to burn our kitchen down on Sunday morning when I randomly decided to make donut holes.  One, I'm an adult who knows her way around the kitchen, two, I wasn't high, and three, I made sure to have the fire extinguisher and baking soda on hand just in case I somehow stumbled into a grease fire. I actually googled grease fire just to make sure our fire extinguisher was the right kind for the job. It was. I kept it handy. I am paranoid. Once my safety precautions were in place, it was hole making time.

Since I'm a Sunday baker, I had all of the ingredients handy that the recipe called for, which you can find here at The Pioneer Woman's cooking site.  Except for the buttermilk, which I just don't use often enough to keep on hand, I added a little vinegar to regular milk and it did the trick. So with exactly one cup left of apple cider, I got down to business. The recipe is quite simple. It's more about the timing. I pulled out my handy candy thermometer, back from my caramel making adventures, poured about 3 inches of canola oil in a solid pot, and got that going so that the oil would be around 380 degrees by the time the dough was ready. Reduced the apple cider down, while creaming the butter, sugar and eggs, and adding all the dry ingredients. Cardamom smells delicious by the way. And then my favorite messiest part, the part that ended with my toes covered in flour, it was dough kneading time.

Flour toes: The perils of cooking barefoot

I added another cup or two of flour to the dough, until the stickiness was gone, then rolled the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness. I popped out the donut holes with a one inch cookie scoop. And with multiple plates covered in paper towels and a small bowel of cinnamon and sugar, I got down the the frying.

Not quite donut

The process is underway

The pot could hold about 8 holes at a time, and lowering them in with a metal slotted spoon, they turned a delicious golden brown, popped out of their round shape a bit, and were done in just a minute or two. After letting them cool slightly and drain on the paper towel, I dredged them in cinnamon and sugar, and after about 20 minutes, the kitchen was overflowing with donut holes.

They were delicious. Lightly sweet, crispy on the outside and soft and slightly spiced on the inside. Not bad. After analyzing them with my step-mother the other night, I think I would use real buttermilk or a fattier milk at least for next time. That might prevent them from being a touch dry. Warm out of the oil they were perfect, but once they cooled a bit they were slightly dry. More fat in the milk might help with that, and might help with the fact that they could have used a bit more salt. I sprinkled a little salt over all the finished holes and that enhanced the flavor quite a bit. (Joe asked me if I'd done this after he tried a couple, his response, "Yes, good call!") And for my tastes they could have used a little more spice, maybe a little ginger.

Can you smell them?

Would I make these again? Absolutely. Will I invite a mass of people over to eat them straight out of the oil next time? Absolutely. Because eating donut holes alone and marveling at your own accomplishment is not nearly as much fun by yourself. So go make some holes, go share with friends, go bribe your children with crispy sweet orbs of goodness, they might actually clean their rooms willingly.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Gold Star Worthy

I am trapped in this window-less basement room. Twenty five nonprofit students are screaming at me for showing up to class five hours late.  Wearing only a t-shirt and underpants, I stand ashamed at the front of the class, the words of someone's power point presentation glowing across my face. Paper airplanes are hurled at me and the professor banishes me to the back of the class, telling me that I have failed the course. "No, Ms. Sands, you cannot give your presentation. I don't forgive tardiness."

I bolt awake and frantically look around, a side glance at the clock telling me it's 4:15 am.  Panic and dread fighting in my stomach, then I realize I haven't missed class. And logically the most I'd get for showing up late would be some slightly judgmental glances and very minimal heckling.  Shrimp with spaghetti at midnight is the culprit.  I was starving when I got home after working at client's gala, not thinking about the ludicrous late night dreams that would certainly be visited upon me for eating dinner right before bed. I fall back asleep and am promptly dreaming again. This time some combination of an episode of Hoarders with myself as the star, mixed with some light gardening.  I am aware that I'm dreaming the whole time. Weird.

The alarm goes off at 7:00, snooze button until 7:15 and then manage to force myself up and start getting ready for class. I am 35 and I'm in school again.  It's a warm familiar feeling. But it comes with the stress and performance anxiety that I remember less fondly. Yet it's invigorating. I have an assignment to present to the class today. I'm confident that I've done a solid job, but now I have to present it to a class of 25 other non-profit fundraiser types. My class is filled with sharp, dedicated people. A wide age range, from early twenties to late sixties, one actual nun wearing a habit, one older professor filled with war stories about his Jerry Lewis telethon days and a abundance of politically incorrect jokes, a woman who manages to don more scarves than even I do, the cackling laugh girl who rolls in the aisles over EVERYTHING and yet does not take criticism well, another woman who has worn these bright purple boots at both class sessions (boots so desirous that I completely relate to teens who beat each other up over Air Jordans or Starter jackets, I promise I didn't hit her over the head with my book and steal her footwear, her damn feet are too small.)

In case I didn't mention, these classes are for my fund development certificate at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and this was the last session of my first complete course.  I'm taking two this fall and two next spring, and when I finish I can cross off #41 on my life list!  Officially crossing it off still leaves me with some other decisions to make. I need to get a Master's degree at some point, and probably in Public Administration. I'm just not ready. These current classes can be used towards graduate level credit hours which is useful, once I decide to go back to school. I don't want to yet. Part of my delay is the cost, part of it is the time commitment, and part of it is, I just don't want to right now. So there, decision made. But I'm crossing off #41 either way, next spring once I get my certificate, and framing that sucker right up on the wall with hipster giraffe. 

All morning, this session, will be filled with presentations.  It's decidedly harder to fall asleep when you are expected to speak and not just take notes, so this is a good thing. I want to present first and get it out of the way so I don't have to sit all afternoon dreading it. I like public speaking. But like the balance of the population, it makes me nervous. I talk entirely too fast, escalating the speed with which I talk normally, already fast, to the point where I sound like the Micro Machines' pitch man. So the mantra "SLOW DOWN" is constantly running through my head as I stand facing the class and winging it. The professor arbitrarily decides to have us present in the order that he received our assignment in the mail. I have no idea if this is good or bad until I get called to go fourth. Aaah, good.  Some of my fellow students prepared lengthy and elaborate power point presentations. I didn't. It's just me and my direct mail fund raising piece standing at the front, ready to be ripped apart.  I got a few laughs, some truly positive feedback and constructive criticism and overall I felt good. I ended up with 100% on the assignment, and the class. I am still so driven by receiving those grades. I feel like a little kid receiving a gold star for cleaning my room or putting away my shoes. I feel accomplished. My professor liked my work. I reek of teacher's pet.

After a morning of presentations and feedback, we break for lunch. Over in Midtown Kansas City, with so many restaurant options, I tend to grab cheap fast food, eat in my car with the windows down while reading a book. But for some reason that just seems kind of wrong today. Fast food is crappy and the weather is warm and humid, so sitting in the car for some peace and quiet would be sticky. I went to lunch all alone at Cafe Europa instead. I don't feel very comfortable eating by myself in nice sit down restaurants. This is silly. I just so rarely do it that I feel like I stick out in the room, sitting by myself with my book. My waiter was chatty and funny and certainly gay, based on the way he outrageously flirted and touched the gentlemen seated next to me, my quiche and soup were scrumptious and once I got over the fact that the woman sitting on my other side really was looking at me a lot, (I was slightly eavesdropping on her conversation about liposuction, maybe she noticed) she leaned over and said "Sorry, I keep staring, but I love your bracelet, where did you get it?" Ok, so I'm unnecessarily self conscious and no one could give a crap whether I eat lunch alone.

After lunch I browsed at the little boutiques and shops around the restaurant. Trying to hide my sticker shock in one lovely austere shop, I turned over a price tage and saw $550 dollars for a scarf and had to reconnect my jaw to my face. For a scarf? Huh? A scarf that I think I've seen at Marshalls for $20. I think I was in the wrong place. $550 for a scarf. I wandered into the little stationary store next door and bought a couple of little presents and a small "Keep Calm and Carry On" print for myself. And then back to class.

The afternoon dragged. Once the other presentations were over, the last hour of class felt like slow torture. Coming down off of the double whammy adrenaline high of the special event the night before and the presentation that morning, my serious lack of sleep, I was looking rough. I hung on, attempted to take some notes, though on closer inspection yesterday they are a bit incoherent. 4 o'clock finally meandered up and I dragged myself home. A brief blessed nap later and I felt like myself again, like myself who had just gotten an A+. Nerd.

So are you totally grade driven? Are you still giddy when you get an A? Do you still get nervous giving speeches? Do you talk so fast during presentations that you should be in the Guinness Book of World Records? Tell me, tell me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Just Like an Episode of Cribs: Minus the Bentleys, Plus Books

My friend Bethany inspired me the other day. Oh, she's inspired me before, often actually. But the other day in a conversation on Facebook, she posted a bunch of photos that she's taken at our house over the years. And it made me think. Hey, even though this house is taunting me with the thousands of unfinished projects, the irritating backyard swamp and the serious paint and chimney work we still need to tackle, I love our house. And since I am a bit of a voyeur and I'm guessing you, readers, might have a tendency of the peeping tom as well, I'm going to let you peep on me. Or just on one of our rooms. 

Joe and I have very different styles. Or at least we used to. No. We still do. They've just grown a little closer together over the years. For example, I used to sleep under a feminine Waverly floral bedspread, had a vast collection of celestial themed knick-knacks and read novels while curled up in a white wicker chair. Joe used slumber away in a water bed with black satin sheets that he never changed, drowsing under posters of architecture and The Hunt for Red October, with a tall lamp that you could turn on and off by hissing at it. These things have disappeared in the last ten years. (Though I think those posters are still lurking in the basement waiting for some future man cave placement. I hate the expression man cave. Let's try den.) And together we've come to some middle ground. The middle ground of eclectic.

We aren't designers. We don't live in a magazine photo shoot. We have mail on our counters and dirty dishes in the sink and a couple of stains on the carpet. But that doesn't prevent us from wanting our house to be beautiful and comfortable and personal. We both care a great deal about how the things we decorate our home with look together and even about how the things we use in our home look. (Particularly Joe and particularly in the kitchen, but that's a whole other post.) Maybe this is shallow. But I don't think so.  I used to think that everyone felt this way about their houses.

Turns out this is not true. There are many people who are just thrilled to have a roof over their heads or don't care if the curtains go with the color of the couch, or the whole hoarders issue, which fascinates and nauseates me a bit. I am not that person. These small things, like the photos or art on our walls or bright pillows on the bed, are actually really important to me. I gain a lot of peace and energy from our home, when it's clean and orderly, and a lot of frustration and stress when it's not.  (Except for our messy office, which I've essentially abandoned and like to pretend is some kind of outbuilding that is not on my property.)

Our home is my favorite place to be in the world. I look around at all the things that I love, and each one seems to have a great memory or story attached. I love that feeling. They aren't just things, they are recollections, memories, bits of our lives scattered around on walls and shelves, reminding us of gorgeous vacations, lost family members, or raucous evenings with friends. But all these beloved things don't necessarily fit into one style. So eclectic simply works for us.  Because nearly anything goes with eclectic. As long as we both agree to it.

That is the key. Unlike most men, Joe has opinions on decorating. I'm sure this would bother many wives, yet I love it. Joe has great taste and a good eye for color. He has the precision and attention to detail to hang an entire hallway full of photographs, or a whole mess of bookshelves. I'd just eyeball it. While he's got three levels, a stud finder and six nail choices. Joe would prefer a home filled with gray concrete and granite. Hard steel, industrial fixtures, high design furniture and the occasional pop of color, Patrick Bateman's apartment in American Psycho, swap out Huey Lewis for ELO, and Joe would be in heaven. But that doesn't work for us together. His sleek modern look has made my cozy, colorful, slightly kooky Pier 1 vibe more sophisticated. And my comfy vibrancy has warmed up his industrial cool.  So vintage, brightly colored, modern, if we think it's cool, then somehow we make it work.

The room

Our bedroom is the perfect place to start. With light gray walls and one dark red accent wall, it's my favorite room. The focal point of the room is our bed. Shouldn't it be, in any happy marriage? I love our bed. It's firm and has super soft sheets, Joe is in it, and my favorite piece of furniture is our headboard. In college, Joe studied industrial design, which included a furniture making class. He made this lovely headboard for me. It's a light birch veneer over a gently curving scrolled frame. When he originally designed it I wanted some kind of quote painted on it. I love words painted on walls and furniture, but I'm so glad he talked me out of it. It would have completely distracted from his careful design. I would have grown really tired of it. I still love our headboard after twelve years and I'll love it in another twelve.

Handmade HeadboardIkea birdies

The footCrowded nightstand

In addition to a hell of a lot of red stuff and plenty of birch veneer furniture, we have so much reading material in our bedroom. If someone locked us in, we'd have decades worth of books, magazines and more books to keep us occupied. Is it wrong that that actually sounds rather appealing? Like a deserted bedroom island. As long as we have access to basic bread and water, and maybe some music, I think we could last for quite awhile all locked away.

African wood carrier/magazine holder

Our basic furniture, other than the headboard, isn't particularly exciting. I think it's the accessories that make spicy. The photo above is of this awesome wooden carrier that I bought when I was traveling in the Ivory Coast during college. African women carry this on their heads, filled with wood or other supplies, when they walk home from the market or fields. I've just filled it with more magazines, since I rarely need to carry wood around on my head. I tried to buy this intricate woven chicken carrier basket when I there too, but my limited French and the basic confusion over why a white American lady would want to buy a chicken carrier caused a scene, and I gave up while about 35 old African men watched, pointed and laughed over my struggle. I settled for this wood carrier instead. Probably more practical than a portable chicken coop.

Painting by Dad, Joe's books

The painting up above was a wedding present from my father and one of my favorite pieces of art. It's vivid and messy and loose and the color is so strong that it vibrates on the wall. It's also huge. I can't wait until we have taller ceilings or a larger entryway where this piece can really dominate the space. And of course more books.

Hipster GiraffeNot enough time

Now I've realized that this post is getting long, and quite possibly I'm boring people half to death with the knick knacks and art talk. So in the words of Inigo Montoya, let me sum up. Hipster giraffe wearing a beret and monocle bought from a young artist at a youth art show, more books, shiny red coral Italian hooks filled with jewelry, tiny pottery collection filled with more jewelry, one tiny footed dish glazed by me while painting dottery with Katrina and Bethany, handmade birch picture frame by Joe, Kofi Swank my "spirit spouse" from the Baule tribe (he is the one wearing short blue shorts and a tie,) antiqued jewelry display rack with a tiny bird perched on it (a sweet birthday gift from my mother,) and finally our super fancy lighting fixtures, the paper lanterns that we used to decorate at our wedding.

Alessi coral hooks

the Jewels

Pottery collection
Kofi Swank returns
Glazed bowl

Matisse print in Joe made frame

I could go on and on. But I've only posted the attractive glossy views of our bedroom. The version of our bedroom that I try to focus on. What you can't really see is the dog's ugly plastic crate in the corner, the bland black TV cabinet, the window frames with visible nail holes and sashes that still need to be painted or the dust bunny family breeding behind that sleek headboard. But who cares? There's so much else to occupy us, I rarely notice the flaws. So what's your favorite thing tucked away in your bedroom? Do you have as much junk shoved under your bed or in your closet as we do? Do you read before bed or just watch Letterman? Come on, I shared, now it's your turn. Let me peep on you!

Paper Lantern from out wedding
All photos actually by me this time, as Joe said, it's a special occasion.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thicker Than Water

Dr. Evil, Dr. Joe Evil

I haven't cooked a dinner at home in almost two weeks. My dad and Kristy, my step-mom, have fed us nearly every night or we've been out with friends. And it's been wonderful. Though I can honestly say that I've missed cooking a bit. I haven't even been to the grocery store in ages, so it's about damn time I make a list and get back to reality. (Especially because we ran out of creamer this morning, and that cannot go on, black coffee, no.) And since I'm in my thirties, married with my own home, why have my parents been providing our meals for the last two weeks? Well, we've had lots of family in town and how do we celebrate and spend time together? Probably like you do with your family, we eat.

Mr. Cannon

Kristy's parents, Phyllis and Paul, were in town last weekend for a few days. We don't get to see them very often since they live in Illinois, so it was a treat to see them this visit.  Paul is a huge fan of the author Doris Kearns Goodwin and Kristy got a couple of tickets to an event that she was speaking at last week, so the folks came to KC. Phyllis and Paul are warm and kind people. Phyllis legitimately laughs at my dad's jokes and has no trouble bossing me around, particularly in the kitchen, which is just endearing and funny. Paul is a rabid Cardinals fan and rather reserved, so it was fun to see him all giddy and excited to get to meet one of his favorite authors, and of course spend some time with his daughter, but really to meet Doris.  (Doris is reportedly very petite, birdlike really, she looks taller on TV.)

Mrs. Cannon

We had dinner over at my dad and Kristy's house on Sunday, went out to dinner with my dad and Phyllis while Kristy and Paul went to the Doris event on Monday, and then back again for a little going away dinner at Dad and Kristy's house on Tuesday. We hung out, took a bunch of pictures and had some fantastic barbecue. But whew. I'm guessing Paul and Phyllis got enough of us to last a couple of years. It was a great few days. I rarely get to spend that much time with my parents during the week, and certainly don't get to spend that much time with Kristy's parents. They headed home on Wednesday, just missing my younger brother, Mike, who was visiting for the week from Florida.

I was a high school thespian

Mac D

Mike got in on Wednesday morning, so of course, my parents had us all over for dinner again. Leftovers and just hanging out with Mike, who we all hadn't seen since May. I love just spending time with all of us together. We all get along so well. We speak the same weird family language, cobbled together from shared history and too many viewings of the Big Lebowski, and it's just easy. It hasn't always been like that. We've all struggled to get along, figure out our roles and how to support each other, how to forgive past mistakes and arguments. But I think we're there now. And it feels good.

Party dress, red shoes, alright

Thursday we were home, but Friday night was party night. We went to the Spofford Home Butterfly Gala with our friends, Caroline and Kegan. I finally decided on a party dress, after trying on another three options. We got all dolled up and headed out to one of the largest silent auctions I've ever seen. It was gigantic. Held at the Doubletree Hotel, my old high school stomping grounds, home of my first job and my junior prom, we browsed table after table of items, big and small. And I mean table after table. We put in a bunch of bids but got outbid on nearly everything.

So friggin sweetButterfly Gala

Couple of glasses of wine, mingling with Caroline and Kegan, then a tasty dinner, and a slide show that made Caroline and I both cry, watching the story of one child whose life was changed by his stay at Spofford Home, which is a residential treatment facility for young children with mental health issues. Then we got to watch all the rich people bid on crazy decadent live auction items.  Trips, jewelry, golf and wine events of course, and more trips. And a fur. Evidently people still wear fur. They raised $25,000 in cash donations in just under 3 minutes. Impressive. We had a great time, supported a wonderful organization and walked away with one small butterfly pin and a membership to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Solid night. Thanks for inviting us, guys.


Saturday we got to sleep in, putter around the house, replace my car battery, run errands and yeah, more family time! This time we went out to dinner with my mom and Mike. We ventured out to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in town, Guadalajara Cafe. I've mentioned it before here, and it's always good. Whether you order for yourself or let the owner or waiter order for you, the food is delicious and the staff knowledgeable and competent. And Mike and my mom had never been there before, which made it even better.

We got to celebrate Mom's new job (Go, Mom!!) and Mike's visit, all between bites of the "best tacos you've ever had" and the "no yellow cheese, no ground beef, no crispy tacos" shrimp entrees. After dinner we all lounged around at our house, and looked at photos and talked and just caught up. Another relaxed, mellow night with the family.

Sunday, Game Day! Yeah. That is entirely fake enthusiasm. I have no interest in sports of any kind.  I like hearing Al Roker say "Sunday Night... Football Night... in America" but that's pretty much it. Sorry, just not my thing, remember? The Chiefs played early on Sunday, so Joe and I did some yard work. I whipped up some peanut butter cookies, because baking on Sunday has just become a habit, a delicious fattening habit, and we cleaned up and headed over to my dad and Kristy's to "watch" the game.

DoughCookies for game time

Before the sad loss

Or read old issues of Vanity Fair and post silly pictures on Facebook. After the shouting and sadness subsided, evidently the Chiefs lost, we watched Big Night and forced my dad to realize he actually liked it,  watched a little bit of the documentary Babies, (somebody really likes their Netflix Instant Watch) and then our family photographer took some portraits and we ate some more. Ah, Sunday.

Stallings Goofs

He always makes her laugh

So sweet, or stop touching my hair

The ladies and beasts

Little brother

Mike left today. We had a little going away dinner with him last night. But I'm sad. Having him back in town this week was wonderful. In part, because he's my brother and I love him.  But as we've both gotten older, I realize how different we may be from each other, but how little that actually matters. I just like Mike and I'd like him even if we weren't related. Mike's grown up so much in the last couple of years and I'm so proud of him. Plus he's just damn funny.  I don't know when I'll get to see him next and that makes me a little teary eyed just thinking about it. Christmas won't be the same without him here. But we'll see him soon. Even if we have to visit him in Miami ourselves next spring. How awful, right?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thor's Day

I just googled the word Thursday. Yes, I am lame. Trying to find a decent title for this totally scattered blog post I'm about to throw your way, I resorted to googling a day of the week. And this is why I love the internet, because Thursday is actually fascinating. Thursday's entry pops up on Wikipedia with a large painting of a muscley blonde god, Thunor or Thor for you Nordic readers, wielding a friggin hammer and sporting a very fashionable wide gold belt, that I'm pretty sure Michelle Obama has worn to a state dinner. Yes! Go, Thor's day. So after procrastinating, I mean reading, the entire Wikipedia entry for Thursday, I'm now forcing myself to just dive into this Thor's Day blog post. Some blog posts write themselves, and some are like trying to dig a small rock out of your little brother's nose: difficult, frustrating and mildly funny. This is a rock in the nose kind of post.

Today was a crazy busy day at work. Lots of projects, deadlines, client phone calls, class work deadlines and did I mention deadlines? Throw on all those little urgent requests that constantly pop up throughout the day, and I felt spent by 5:00 pm. I need to find a way to get more control over all those fires that eat up the day so that I can actually get my arms around significant projects.  But I tackled it. I treated myself to a mocha frosted brownie for lunch. You know, 'cause I deserved it. And I finished the biggest portion of my direct mail fundraising class homework assignment. These fundraising classes are better than I expected and the fact that I can actually apply them to my work immediately makes them worth the tuiton. I'm really proud of the finished assignment actually. I think it's a compelling letter, and it looks good too. You might see it in your mail box in just a few weeks. But we won't know whether it's really a success until the money starts rolling in. Fingers crossed. I'm sure my client's saying the same thing.  

After work I headed over to my lovely friend Tara's house to do a little dress shopping. Our friend Caroline invited Joe and I to the Spofford Home Butterfly Gala and Auction tomorrow night and I'm tired of everything I own, and not willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a dress for one night.  Plus Tara has a wardrobe that looks like you walked into a slightly messy Nordstroms, the girl likes clothes. And she's generous enough to share. I stopped by, chatted with Tara and her husband Mike, giggled with baby Madeline and checked out her two new teeth, scooped up a few dresses to try on later and headed home. Except my car was dead. Dead and parked so that it perfectly blocked both of their cars. Mike kindly pulled his car up on the lawn, turned around, popped the hood, whipped out his brand new jumper cables and juiced my battery back up.  This is one of the benefits of marrying well and having friends who've married well, nice guys that are actually happy to help. I know Joe would have done the same. Plus Mike got to break in those new cables. And crisis averted. Thanks again, guys! Car running and finally time to get home.

After a quick dinner with Joe, it's party dress fashion show time. Normally I love trying to figure out what to wear to events. It's fun, I like accessories and dressing up on occasion and feeling pretty. And I have a slew of potential favorite new dresses just waiting to be zipped up. Except I don't feel pretty, I feel tired. My makeup has vanished, and my hair is flat and I am not looking like "party time." But since I've waited until the night before the event I kind of have to figure out the outfit now.  I have to admit my brain is fried by this point in the evening. So the following choices were poor and based on minor levels of exhaustion and ridiculous feminine stereotypical behaviors that I'm slightly ashamed about. I pulled Joe into it.  No, I did. The pain I put Joe through for the next hour was quite selfish and cruel. No husband should have to sit through six dress and accessory changes and be forced to give his opinion. And then have his idiot wife demand his honest opinion, no really be honest, and then when he is honest, give him a pissy response. Really? Isn't this some kind of Rita Rudner comedy routine? Have I just cast myself as the shrewish wife asking her husband if she looks fat in that dress? Yes, I have.  And what did I end up deciding? To wear one of my own damn dresses. And just to make myself even crazier and to torture Joe just a bit more, what was he doing for me while I made him give me fashion advice? Editing my homework assignment.

I stand there in front of him, one dress after another, and every time I come out of the bedroom to show him the next option, I see more edits all over my precious letter. I asked for this. I wanted him to edit the hell out of it. It needed it. I've been staring at that letter for way too long and it needed a fresh set of eyes. But it still kills me to watch him find all the little things I should have noticed and fixed myself. I am a ridiculous defensive perfectionist. He's a great editor. He knows what I'm trying to say, but can clearly tell me why it's not coming across that way in writing. He's gentle, but persistent. He has strong suggestions and let's me try to argue my way out of them, even let's me win sometimes. And it drives me insane, because it's exactly what I need. He's exactly what I need. So I set myself up for this dreadful vulnerability tonight. Exposed myself to the party dress critique (and all it's attendant body issue/self confidence damaging lady head games) and even more distressful, exposed my writing to his brutal accurate pen. He took it in stride. I'm sure he wouldn't even call it torture. Just part of the whole package of being married to a neurotic, slightly dramatic, overly analytical writer.  But I do make a mean mocha brownie.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Just Go Slow

When I was about eleven years old I went out on my first date. Now, calm down. I know. Eleven is entirely too young to be dating. Ridiculously young. But my first date was with my dad.

My parents always made a concerted effort when we were little to spend time with my brother and me one-on-one. First, I'm sure we were easier to manage by ourselves and second, spending time with just one parent we got their full attention, could blab and talk and basically run the show, no compromising or having to get along, and it was wonderful.  I'm sure there were lots of times like this for both of us, but for me the time I remember the most vividly is when my dad took me on a fancy date out to dinner at EBT's.

EBT is a special occasion restaurant. It's expensive. It's beautiful. It was built with Victorian and Gilded Age splendor, utilizing the original 1890's columns and elevator cages that were a part of the Emery, Bird and Thayer department store that was a fixture in downtown Kansas City, and the origin of the name EBT. When the store was demolished in the 1970's, EBT, the restaurant, opened with many of the original 1890's decorative pieces. You can even eat dinner in one of the private elevator cars. The interior is a total contradiction to the dull gray 1970's bank building it's housed in, glamorously located right off the highway. But it's EBT. When I was eleven, EBT was the tip top of fancy. It was one of those buildings that I remember driving by a thousand times as a kid, asking my mom, why does that bank say "EBT" on it? My mom always explained that it was a very fancy restaurant that I could go to when I was older, much older, like married older, or maybe hold my retirement party there older.

But magically I didn't have to wait until I turned sixty-five. One of the mysteries of my childhood, somehow the parents decided that eleven was time for my first multiple forks, multiple course dinner. And why not make it at EBT?  I was an old eleven, head in a book, though still playing with Barbie dolls, usually responsible and always highly worried about making  mistakes. Not much different from today. Highly unlikely to cause a scene or disturb anyone taking their wife out to dinner, so Dad made a reservation. Mom started to help me figure out what to wear. And I started to get excited.

I remember careful wardrobe discussions on the day of my fancy dinner date. We chose my favorite cream drop-waist knit dress.  The dress I would have worn everyday if someone would have let me and did wear every Sunday to church, until I tragically spilled hot wax all down the front of it at Christmas services. (Why do we let children hold hot drippy candles while singing Silent Night dressed in their finest garb? I nearly cried when it happened, ok, I did cry.) Mom helped me put my hair up in hot rollers, so it was all wavy and fluffy, then tights and patent leather black shoes with a very low heel and the look was complete, oops, can't forget the shiny Bonnie Bell lip gloss in strawberry, though totally clear, because Mom didn't allow colored lip gloss, until I was thirteen. You have to have rules about lip gloss.

And of course I had to bring my purse. It was a lovely little bag covered with multicolored hearts and carefully filled with a watermelon and a grape Jolly Rancher that I had earned earlier that day for getting a 98% on my spelling test, some crumpled Kleenex, a sheet of stickers, two quarters and my lip gloss, all any eleven year old girl really needs on a date. (I would sadly lose this purse sometime the next month while out Christmas shopping with my parents. I think I lost three purses before Mom had to put a moratorium on purse purchases until I could get my act together and not leave them everywhere, I was probably twenty before that truly happened. So much for being responsible.)

And then it was fancy date time. I was anxious and a little giddy. We drove to the restaurant in the snow. They took our coats to the coat check room when we arrived. The waiter pulled out my chair for me and even placed the napkin on my lap for me. Strange and kind of thrilling. And then the silverware. And the glasses. There were about a thousand of each, surrounding my plate like some kind of dining booby trap.  I was certain that if I somehow chose the wrong fork at the beginning, then like Goonies, I would be ensnared in a series of increasing pitfalls for the rest of the evening, culminating in the entire restaurant laughing and pointing at me for spilling my water glass into my lap and using the seafood fork to comb my hair. The enormous glowing spotlight was over my head, while everyone watched and waited for the little kid to screw something up.

But I didn't. There was no spotlight. Dad helped me order dinner. He told me which forks to use. And most importantly he gave me one of his lasting pieces of advice. Sensing my nerves and my hesitation around all the new etiquette, he just said, "If you aren't sure what to do, just go slow." So I did. I took a deep breath.  I slowly cut bites of my salad. I carefully laid my knife along the plate when I wasn't using it. When the scallops I ordered for dinner seemed to be coated in a thin layer of saucy shampoo, I just chewed slowly, did not throw up, promised myself I wouldn't throw up, and I even tried another bite.  I didn't say "eeeewww," a common phrase in our house at dinner time, and a serious pet peeve of my father's to this day. I ate all of my scallops and I can still remember the soapy taste of that sauce. But I didn't say "eeewww." Though I might have mentioned that they tasted a little bit like Suave.

We had such fun. I felt special and fancy. I felt sophisticated and capable. I got to have dinner with just my dad, at EBT, like a super fancy adult lady. We talked about school and my mom and my brother, Mike. We talked about Christmas presents and what Mike and I might want from Santa, still keeping up the illusion for Mike since he was only 8. And Dad asked me questions and I got to ask him questions and just got to say whatever I wanted to.

And then there was dessert. Dad said we were ordering something special that they would make right in front of us. The waiter rolled a cart over to the side of our table. Right up next to our table, and he tinkered and mixed and poured things into a little saucepan. And then he lit it on fire! Right next to us!

He chopped some bananas and added them to the pan, and then quickly served it right onto our small dessert plates. And with one solitary fork left, I had no trouble deciding which one to use this time. We had decadent Bananas Foster. The warm caramelly brown sugary slightly adult tasting (I didn't know this then, but that would be rum) sauce blended perfectly over the cold vanilla ice cream and warm bananas. I can still taste it.

That dinner is one of my best childhood memories. The anticipation, Mom helping me get dressed, the kind, bow-tied waiters with their little crumb brushes that they swept the table with nearly every time they came over to refill my Coke. My dad and I still reminisce about it occasionally, and this week while my stepmother's parents are in town visiting, my dad planned to take us all out to EBT tonight for dinner, prompting my little post here. But of course, they're closed Monday.  So we went to YaYa's instead, and it was fantastic. (For dessert we had this pear poached in cloves, cherries, cinnamon and white wine, then hollowed out and stuffed with white chocolate. Sweet lord, it was good.)  But it really doesn't matter which restaurants we go to. It wouldn't have mattered which restaurant my dad took me to back in 1986, it didn't matter which restaurant we went to tonight, because we got to go together.

We got to have dinner together tonight. We shared a meal and laughed and talked and felt comfortable together. And I felt confident that I could choose the right fork and not spill water in my lap, because I feel like that anywhere, everyday. That fancy dress EBT dinner helped me know that I could fit in any place. It helped me feel confident and competent, comfortable at linen draped tables filled with china and crystal, or a dirty bar with old peanut shells on the floor. It made me feel valued and independent as a young woman. And most importantly, it made me feel loved, treasured really.  So take your kids out more often. Show them how special they are, and take my dad's advice, "just go slow."

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Today is a moody, sensitive hyper self-aware, self judging, just stupidly self focused day. It must be that strange monthly hormonal nonsense that hijacks my otherwise normal brain and morphs it into a sniveling questioning mess. Who am I? Am I good? Are my choices and interests too shallow and dull? Am I a valuable person? Is it ok to just be me? Or is this constant pressure in my own head to be better, actually a neurotically beneficial part of my kooky psychological makeup? I am sitting outside on my lunch break writing this. Previously listening to the Avett Brothers, whose sad, gorgeous, profound lyrics set me off into melancholia and minor weepiness. This is how I think today. This is what it sounds like in my head. All the questions tumbling and turning around, cluttering me up, so rational stays hidden under somewhere. I need to stay focused on work and this emotional deluge always corrects itself in 24 hours or so.

I'm not depressed. I get wistful and reflective. I think about lost friends, bad choices, serious moral missteps, am I good? Really good? Does anyone but me really care about the answer? What is my purpose? Am I just a shallow, comfortable girl? Do I risk, do I push, do I love enough, and show it enough? Am I unique or simply posing for the photograph of me in the way I think you want to see me? Why do I let people get under my skin so thoroughly? Why am I so judgmental myself, when there is no feeling I loathe more than being judged by some one else? Why when you disagree with me in a certain way do I want to punch you if not with a fist to the face then at least with stinging words? Why do I feel so selfish and unkind sometimes? Why does writing all this down actually help? Because it gets it out of my head. And in re-reading it I can actually answer half of my own questions, to some small degree.

There are little wrens picking at old french fries right next to me. These tiny fluttery creatures bounce and hop amongst the crumpled plastic grocery sacks and discarded Wendy's cups, just trying to find lunch. But somehow it's still lovely. The dirt and the grime pressed right up next to these perfect sharp little birds. The world is so gorgeous and brutal and complexly layered, mysterious, delightful and constantly baffling to me. The beauty and the trash so tightly connected, it is sometimes hard to separate the two. I am at once too black and white and yet somehow too gray.

I haven't just journaled in ages. Whatever I write lately: grants for work, brochure copy, lame status updates, my blog posts, these are all edited and crafted for public consumption with some goal in mind. Raise $10,000, educate people on a cause, share my concert experience, make you laugh or like me. But this is just for release. Releasing my jumbled thoughts to hard pen and paper. Maybe I'll create a blog post out of it, but maybe not. It might be too poorly written, too loose, too unflattering, just too ephemeral. But maybe you feel the same way sometimes. Maybe it's good to share. Or maybe none of this really matters at all. I don't know which I prefer today.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"Like the Future Was Supposed to Be"

We forked over the five dollars to park on the grass near Starlight Theatre and scurried down the damp hill until we came upon a very long line of giddy high school kids, parents and middle schoolers, groups of ladies out for a girls' night, couples in their twenties and thirties, and lots and lots of roving packs of high school kids. Did I mention all the high school kids? All patiently lined up waiting for the doors to open, because Saturday night was Vampire Weekend's first Kansas City performance, and we got there just early enough to catch decent seats and get settled in.

Actually Alive in the 1980's

The crowd

We spent the extra hour we had before the show started doing one of the very best things: people watching. The eighties are back, my friends. But instead of looking ridiculous like I did, these 15 year olds look sophisticated and clever. The eighties fashion somehow works now.  The busy patterns, the leggings and belts, the bright colors, the tunic sweaters, somehow it all looks cute when restyled and remixed. This young concert crowd looks like the offspring of the cast of Pretty in Pink, thankfully more Ducky than Blane. But we weren't the only people actually alive in the 80's in attendance. It was a nicely varied crowd, and surprisingly family friendly. The family seated in front of us, parents in their late 40's brought their 10 year old son, and once Vampire Weekend took the stage all three of them sang along with every word and danced in the aisles. It was charming.

Beach House- strange glowing pyramids

Killing some time, I chatted up my seatmate while Joe ran off to get drinks. Indie seatmate (I never did ask his name, that would have been weird) actually ran into the lead singer, Ezra Koenig, down on the Plaza Saturday afternoon. He said Mr. Koenig was actually quite nice in person, which frankly was a relief, since I hate it when you find out that celebrities are total dill holes. Then you're stuck with this crappy impression of them that pops into your head every time you try to enjoy their movie or album or book. I hate that. But let's get to the music, because we didn't go to the concert just to talk to plaid shirted Converse wearing strangers and watch insolent teenagers wait in the merchandise line (the incredibly long merchandise line, in sharp contrast to the nonexistent line for the bar.)We went for the music, and were not disappointed.

Vampire Weekend tearing it up

That scrim was so cool

The two opening acts were The Very Best and Beach House. Joe and I had never heard of either band before so we weren't sure what to expect.  The Very Best was fantastic. I have a deep love for West African art and culture and listening to The Very Best took me back to my college trips to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. It was energizing and an inventive combination of African and French language melodies sung by a charismatic young man from Malawi, then mixed over his French DJ's electronica and hip hop choices. (Joe just told me that the DJ's name is Etienne Tron, stellar.)Wonderful. Beach House was also strong, but didn't seem to be as good a fit with the Vampire Weekend crowd. A more nuanced, melancholy, romantic indie rock than Vampire Weekend's sunny bouncy pop sensibilities. I think I would have liked Beach House in a smaller intimate venue where I could actually see their faces. The lighting was way too dim, so they just looked like silhouettes against their glowing pyramids. I would have rather seen their faces than the mysterious shadow people, but whatever, bring on Vampire Weekend.

They played a very tight 75 minute set. Song after glorious catchy effervescent happy preppy African tinged song.  Plus throw in a Bruce Springsteen cover, which I'm guessing only 1/3 of the crowd even knew was Bruce, and it was an exhilarating show. We danced for 75 minutes, bouncing and bopping and singing along, staring out at a sea of happy active lively fans. Fans, like me, who didn't seem to care whether critics think that Vampire Weekend is ripping off Paul Simon's Graceland, they aren't, or whether they simply make snotty privileged Ivy League pop songs, they don't, they make beautiful, fun, well-crafted, well-written, infectious, indie pop/rock songs and they are becoming masters of their craft. I can't wait to see them on their second trip through town.

Excellent set list below, only missing a few Joe favorites. I embarrassingly can never remember the actual names of their songs, so I nerdily wrote down whatever lyric I could remember on my iPhone and actually had to look up the correct names later. Only so I can make my own concert playlist. Told you I was a nerd.

White Sky-lyrics on scrim behind
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I Stand Corrected
California English
Taxi cab
A Punk
One or Blake's got a new face
Cover of Bruce Springsteen's I'm Going Down
Diplomat's Son
Giving Up the Gun-tech problems stopped
Oxford Comma
Mansard Roof

Yes, my mouth is nearly always open
Some photos by Joe, some by me, all pretty iPhone mediocre. And yes, I hardly ever shut my mouth, especially in pictures.