Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Get back in the kitchen and make me some pie!"

I've had a head cold and one of my ears is clogged so I'm pretty much hearing out of one ear today. It feels weird. It needs to pop or clear or something, but at least it hasn't effected my equilibrium yet. I'm just normal klutzy, not super klutzy, no tipping over or saying "Uh, could you repeat that, dear?" This all may just be a glimpse of what I have to look forward to when I'm in my eighties.

But this head cold and the generally cold miserable weather has sent me into a bit of sloth mode. I haven't worked out in about a week and a half which is bad. I've remedied that today but still, off my game. But I haven't gained or lost any weight either so it could be worse I suppose. As I was telling a friend this week, this whole weight loss thing is a life long battle for me and I'm just coming to terms with that fact. It's not like I'll magically stop wanting to eat cupcakes one day. I think I'll always want to do that, and I plan to let myself occasionally.  But having the control and structure to pick fruit over cupcakes most days is my goal in this whole thing. Setting myself up for success on a daily basis, and trying to make the best decisions 95% of the time. I want an A on this project. I think I've earned a B- these last two weeks.  But this weekend has been really productive.

In the process of developing a healthier relationship with food I've been trying to cook at home more. Now I like cooking, I'm a decent cook.  I don't cook at home as much as I'd like though. I love going out to eat. Tracking down and testing out new restaurants is a hobby. Sharing a meal with friends and family is usually filled with laughter, delicious food and no dishes to clean at the end of the night. I like the atmosphere and the general merriment that comes with sharing a meal with people I love.  But eating out is expensive and fattening and generally too tempting. And I long to develop my skills as a cook.

Kitchen Before

So I signed up for the Kitchen Cure 2010 from this great website that I follow, The Kitchn.  This site is packed with recipes, cooking techniques and tips, design and layout ideas and general ways to improve the place where you cook and the meals that you create. The Kitchen Cure is basically just a motivational way to clean out and freshen up your kitchen in preparation for spring. With all the crap weather we've had this winter I've desperately needed a shot of spring energy. And you get to be voyeuristic and peek in other people's windows and see into their kitchens.  Or just look at the photos they've posted on their Flickr accounts.

Fridge and Freezer After

Seeing other people's kitchens generally makes me appreciate mine. It's fairly small, not exactly granite countertops and Viking appliances, but it's mine. Joe and I have made some improvements to take away its previous '80's flair and bring it into the current decade at least. And we have great equipment and tools. Joe has a bit of an addiction to kitchen equipment, particularly Oxo. So we are stocked. Stocked up good, believe me. In full Kitchen Cure mode yesterday, I spent a few hours emptying out the fridge, freezer, pantry and spice/tupperware cabinet. I don't think I've done such a thorough cleaning and purging job since we moved into this house almost seven years ago. It was satisfying. I reorganized a few things and just felt rejuvenated. I'm a bit of a neat freak so I need this kind of day occasionally. And it was good. Maybe that makes me boring and domestic, I don't really care because it makes me happy too. Because then today I just got to cook.

I made apple spice cupcakes with brown butter frosting with Bethany's recipe. The frosting is so simple, smooth and decadent and caramelly (I had to use your word, Bethany.) Butter is versatile and perfect. I made chicken salad with dill, almonds and cranberries. I made creamy garlic pasta soup.  The chicken salad was great for lunch on toasted wheatberry bread with a cup of the soup. The soup was too thick and garlicky, but I added some chicken stock to the rest of it so we'll see how it tastes tomorrow. Wow, garlicky. But we have plenty for a few meals and that makes life easier when we have less time during the week.

And I haven't had a cupcake yet. Can you believe it? These lovely little guys are sitting in my kitchen just waiting to go to dinner over at my parent's house. And I haven't touched one yet. I might have had a little of the frosting. Maybe. But just a little. The cupcakes are strictly for dinner, I'm having one. And then Joe is taking the rest to work. Will power, right?

So what do you need to tackle for spring? Cleaning out your closet? Digging through that pile of crap in your basement? What project is whispering in your ear that it needs to get done? Because I say go for it. You'll feel lighter, open and ready for new ideas and inspiration to come your way. And that always feels like spring to me.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's All About The Babies Here at Bravely Obey

Why does it snow every time that I help host a baby shower? Ok, I shouldn't say every time, I've helped host two and it's snowed both times. And we live in the Midwest, and both showers happened in February, so the odds are really pretty likely that it will snow. So in a purely unscientific way I'm going to state that it snows every time I help host a baby shower. And other than the snow, which kept away some out of town relatives, we had a fantastic time!

One of my best friends, Tara, who has been mentioned repeatedly on this blog, is going to have a baby girl in about six weeks. Now this is also the same friend who just got married over Christmas, for whom we threw a rather kick ass cocktail engagement wedding celebration party, if I do say so myself. So needless to say, this has been quite a year for our Tara. Husband, baby, total life change all in one short year, but it's wonderful and she and her husband Mike are thrilled and we, her friends, couldn't be happier for them. And so another opportunity to help throw a kick ass, as kick ass as a baby shower can be, party for the impending arrival of Tara's baby girl! No pomegranate martinis at this one sadly, that would just be cruel.  So between myself, my partner in crime and photographer/designer Kristen, our talented baker and Tara's cousin, Amy, a gifted art teacher friend of Tara's, Tobee, and Tara's supremely generous mother, RoseAnn, we all pitched in and whipped up a nice little fairy themed lady party.

Oh, and it was girlie.  An estrogen packed chick fest, complete with girlie favors, adorable pink and white gift wrapped cakes, scattered fairies, banners with pearls and dresses, butterflies, confetti, balloons, flowers, pastel swathed gift bags and bows, it was an explosion of female maternal energy, all over Tara's house. And good food, too. We had fun, we braved the frozen weather, we played bingo, we noshed and chatted, we oohed and aahed over tiny dresses and baby books, washcloths and handmade onesies, and I think we all helped welcome Tara's little baby girl with the love and support she'll need when she arrives. And believe me, Aunt Kassie can't wait to meet her!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Twins, Triplets, Birthdays and Cupcakes, but No Bald Eagles

This post is about two weeks late now, but who cares, this is my blog and I make the rules, right? Anyway, Joe and I spent Valentine's day weekend in Omaha. We took Friday off and we both had Monday off for President's Day so we made it a long mini vacation.  And as I sit here over a week later, I'm still not quite sure how those four days disappeared so quickly.  But they did.

For most people Omaha doesn't exactly pop up in their minds as a tony vacation destination. But it's a surprisingly fun little town. And see, there are these people, these wonderful people who live in Omaha.  Joe's parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, some of Joe's great high school friends, now my friends too, and then there is this log home that sits on a small lake about 20 miles outside of Omaha and it's quiet and lovely and peaceful, and owned by the best people. This little bed and breakfast, otherwise known as Joe's parent's house, serves the best blueberry pancakes and provides tight security with wild, vigilant Scottie dogs, really our two main requirements.

But first we had to actually make it up to Omaha and Friday morning that was a bit of a question. The check engine light popped up about an hour into our trip and the car started acting a bit weird. We stopped briefly for lunch at McDonalds (their salads are awful by the way) to let the car cool off, where, as a side note, I spotted a 70 year old gentleman wearing those weird shape up sneakers that are supposed to make your butt look good. I guess even old people want cute asses, yet is it really a good idea to wear these strange slanted shoes when it's snowy and icy outside, and your 70+ years old, is a tight butt worth a broken hip? Anyway, after a little break the car seemed to be doing alright. We made it in to Omaha and drove straight to Joe's family's favorite car mechanic, Todd, possibly the nicest Honda mechanic in the world, who through a quick last minute phone call from Joe's mom, Sherry, fit us in, checked the car, and sent us on our merry way.

We checked into our bed and breakfast, ok, we got to Joe's parent's house, dropped off luggage and the dog, hung out with Sherry and John, Joe's step-dad, for awhile and then headed over for dinner with our good friends, Hillary and John and their smart, adorable 3 year old daughter, Sophia and their brand new twin baby girls, Arianna and Helena. I love Hillary and John.  They are both driven, but down to earth, funny and warm and just easy to be around. Joe and Hillary went to high school together, he dated Hillary's twin sister, and they've been good friends since. I admit I thought it was a little odd that Joe was still good friends with his ex-girlfriend's sister when we first met, but as soon as I met Hillary, and her sister and parents, I realized exactly why he was still friends with all of them, they are great. So we had some wonderful Greek take out for dinner, chatted, held the babies, watched some boring Olympic opening ceremony stuff, and had a tea party with Sophia. And those babies, I think I held one most of the night, oh those babies were deliciously cute, well, here, see for yourself...

Saturday was relaxing and mellow and pretty much perfect. I slept in and was awakened by the thunder of Scottie feet racing across the floor upstairs. Our dog, Mac, and Sherry and John's dog, Misty are basically brother and sister since they were born just a couple of weeks apart and have been playing together since they were puppies. They tumble all over each other and fight and tussle and settle into pack mode surprisingly quickly. And they are excellent alarm clocks.

John whipped up his tasty blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I attempted to show Sherry how to use the Wii Fit EA Active game, which involved a little yelling at the TV and some excellent sweating.  Sherry caught on after the first workout, but still was resentful when the fitness coach heckled her performance. But that's the best part, the coach gets you all competitive and riled up and in your anger you sweat even more. At least that's how it works for me. So Joe and I cleaned up, headed out to do a little shopping, grab some lunch and then head back to the house for a little Olympics watching for Joe, which I consider NBC and the world's birthday present to Joe this year, and some reading for me. I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and literally wanted to curl up and read it straight through on Saturday afternoon, it is that good. But I pried the book out of my own hands and Joe turned off the skiing, and we headed over to Katrina and Matt's house for dinner.

Katrina and Matt, and their three triplet boys: Alex, Josh and Zach, have popped up on this little blog before.  Katrina and Joe were also friends in high school. Can you see a theme here, does it seem like many of Joe's friends are girls? Joe likes the ladies. Anyway, Katrina married Matt, who is a pretty terrific guy, they had three awesome boys all at once, and now we get to go over and hang out at their house. We always have a great time with Katrina and Matt. We were talking and laughing so loudly after dinner that the boys had to ask us to be quiet so they could hear their movie. Sorry, guys! It's funny because though I've known Katrina for the last ten years or so, I never realized how much we had in common. Really in the last six months, through the amazing power of the interwebs and our own blogs, Katrina and I have had the chance to commiserate and share some stories that I think a lot of people wouldn't relate to. Thanks for listening, Katrina. So in exchange for listening to my weird stories and hanging out with Joe and I, we got Alex, Josh and Zach sugared out of their minds on peanut butter filled chocolate Spiderman masks. Because nothing says Valentine's Day like scarfing down Spiderman's face. Evidently I underestimated how quickly those boys could devour candy. They had those little foil masks peeled and eaten in seconds. Impressive. (Photos included below were actually taken at Christmas, but because we were so busy talking and eating and hanging, Joe completely forgot to take any photos last time. No big deal, now we can include Bethany, Debbie and Annalie's photo from Christmas too!)

Sunday was family day. And Joe's birthday!! So I celebrated by making him work out with me. No really, we celebrated by going for a little nature excursion to DeSoto National Wildlife Reserve and visiting the Steamboat Bertrand artifacts museum at the visitor's center. It was freezing outside. Snowy and cold and silent, and I think other than the lady working at the front desk, we were probably the only people in the whole place. It was kind of cool and eerie. The museum was like stepping back in time. Basically it's a collection of all the cargo that the Steamboat Bertrand was carrying in 1865 on its way to deliver supplies to the gold fields of Montana. The boat became trapped in the mud of the Missouri River and sunk, losing thousands of dollars worth of cargo. In the 1960's the boat was excavated and the cargo was still amazingly well preserved after over 100 years trapped in the mud. Jars and jars of food stuffs, clothing, tools, alcohol, it's a fascinating collection of the kind of daily goods and tools that are literally frozen in time, giving a curious look into the daily lives of our ancestors. And then we went looking for bald eagles.

The museum is housed on the DeSoto National Wildlife Reserve land and during better weather, say not 15 mile an hour winds with blowing snow, the area is full of birds, deer, beaver and other critters. It's amazing how similar a pile of snow in a tree looks to a white bald eagle head, especially when you really want to see a bald eagle. And even though Sherry was diligent about pointing out every possible bald eagle and bald eagle nest, we saw zilch. But we had a great time. As we drove through the windswept snow covered fields I could just imagine how difficult life might have been as an early pioneer in the Midwest.  Sherry and John had taken some East coast relatives to DeSoto over the summer and Sherry told us what one of the cousins said while driving around, "I used to feel sorry for people who lived in the Midwest, but this is really beautiful." Brutal and desolate, cold and pristine, I was happy to be sitting in a heated CRV.

So after our nature adventure, we headed out for Joe's birthday/Valentine's Day dinner with Sherry and John.  We had great food, entertaining company, and some delicious beverages. Sherry's white cranberry martini is my new favorite drink. Then the four of us went to visit Joe's grandparents, Janice and Gus, to share some birthday cupcakes from Cupcake Island. If I were planning a wedding, birthday party, or just frankly celebrating that it's a Monday, I think cupcakes should be involved. And Cupcake Island makes the best. So we brought dessert over and chatted with Janice and Gus. They are feisty and funny and have been happily married for almost 60 years. I find that amazing. Janice was recovering from knee surgery and what makes a knee feel better? Cupcakes! (ok, pain meds too, but cupcakes have healing properties.) So after consuming some cupcakes and catching up with the grandparents, we headed home for some pajamas, some more Olympic watching, and Joe's birthday drew to a close, as did our lovely weekend. Happy 35th Birthday, honey! Once again, I rave about Omaha, my in-laws and extended family and just how lucky I feel to have this perfect little weekend getaway just a few hours North of us. But they all deserve it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snail Mail and Bible Man

I got a really nice letter in the mail at work today. Now usually the mail that comes to me at the office is sales material for trainings or seminars, or entirely boring client material that we need to put in a database or pass on to someone in accounting. But today I got a legitimate piece of mail addressed to me and for me.  I love mail.

It was a lovely thank you note from the UMKC student that spent all day Friday shadowing me at my job.   The local nonprofit membership organization in town hosts a Nonprofit Shadow Day, where undergrad students from all over the Midwest, who are interested in working in nonprofit careers, are given the opportunity to meet with professionals that already have established careers in the nonprofit sector and spend the day shadowing them at their offices.  And I'm fairly established I guess, some days. So last year, and again this year, I offered to be a host. My student this year was an excellent match. We really hit it off and I think he will go on to do great things in government or the nonprofit arena, which ever he decides to pursue. But last year, oh last year's student.  How could I forget last year?

First off, last year my student was actually a little older than me. Not a problem at all, but not exactly what I pictured when I signed up as a host.  Secondly, he was a film student, studying to become a documentary filmmaker.  Certainly a fascinating career choice, I love documentaries, but here's where things started to get a little goofy. When I initially asked him, via email, what parts of my job he had interest in, so that I could tailor our day around those areas, all he said was grant writing.  Ok, not exactly the easiest thing to show someone how to do, how interesting is it to watch someone else write? But if that was his interest, then that's what we would focus on.  But when we met at the panel discussion and breakfast on the day of the event, the first thing he said to me was that he had signed up for Shadow Day for a class, and he just had to write a two page paper about the day and that was his goal for the day. Oh, and he had no interest in working or volunteering for a nonprofit. Ok. I found that a little frustrating.  Why sign up for it if it doesn't interest you at all? I asked him if there were other options with his class and he said yes, but this one was the easiest. So now I was kind of irritated with the teacher for pushing uninterested students into the spaces that could have been filled by students with a legitimate interest. This is all petty and minor. But having set aside a chunk of my day to help develop future nonprofit leaders (blah blah lofty goals,) and then getting saddled with Mr. Art Film instead, was kind of disappointing. But it gets better.

In getting to know each other, we chatted about how he found himself enrolled as an undergrad in his thirties, how he had spent his time right after high school traveling around the United States as a backup dancer for a famous Christian musician. And then he casually started telling me the story of becoming friends with one former Eight is Enough star turned evangelical superhero, now turned sad, bankrupt financial planner in Kansas City. He said, "Willie was really a great mentor." Yes, the Willie Aames. My student starred in movies with Bible Man. In fact, he was Bible Man's nemesis. The aptly named Luxor Spawndroth, aka Shadow of Doubt, aka Dr. Fear. A real live celebrity, at least in some circles. Dude even had an action figure.

I was wholly unfamiliar with the Bible Man franchise, but believe me, when I went home that night I did some research. A Google search gave me full access to several You Tube clips, some lovely reviews, and a quick browse of Wikipedia opened my eyes to the many many episodes of Bible Man that exist in the world. How nice. But what I saw was both fascinating and disturbing. While I thought my student seemed very nice, I was kind of horrified by the anti-semitism, anti-education, and anti-popular culture messages in these movies. And the awful production values, oh dear Lord, awful. Oh and did I mention that some of these movies are really musicals, with dancing? And spandex?

Now, I'm not a particularly religious person. I was raised Methodist, which is about the most mellow, easy going of the Protestant denominations. I don't attend church currently. I go at Christmas with my family, but then it's mostly a cultural tradition, not so much a religious event for me. But I respect the religious beliefs of other people. I admire my friends and family who have a strong faith, but don't try to pressure or sway my opinions or beliefs.  So these movies certainly aren't aimed at me, but what really bothers me is the hate that comes out in these movies. So much hate, from a Christian super hero. I can't imagine using these movies to teach my children anything. except maybe how to think for themselves and the danger of adult men in blue spandex.  And Bible Man kills people.  Did I mention this? This Christian superhero carries a sword and kills people, for some pretty stupid reasons. These movies offend me and bother me. Plus their mind-numbingly stupid, poorly written and poorly acted scripts are offensive to me as a writer.  Just bad. Bad enough that I dream one day of creating a drinking game to play while watching Bible Man with my friends. "Drink every time someone of another religion is mocked, killed or ridiculed." "Drink every time Bible Man pulls out his Spirit Sword." "Drink every time a child is saved from the evils of computers or video games." "Drink every time someone gets killed for talking about mental illness." But back to shadow day.

With the end of Willie Aames' tenure as Bible Man, my student needed to find a new career path, away from the bright lights of evangelical message driven B-movie action masterpieces. And so finishing his degree was his choice. He was a very nice guy.  We just had nothing in common and some very different opinions on some pretty key issues. And other than a love of documentaries, though I think our tastes were quite different, not much to talk about all day. I talked him through the grant writing process. He showed me one of his documentary shorts, it was pretty good. We had Thai for lunch, another thing we had in common I suppose, and then I sent him on his way. I'm not sure what he wrote in his paper, maybe he talked about how revealing your previous life as Bible Man's nemesis is a great way to startle and entertain snotty, lefty liberal, non-religious grant writers. And he would be correct. Can I shadow Bible Man next time?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Stupid Little Numbers

No one looks this smiley while working out, especially with the Wii.

The weight loss battle is in full swing here. And the evil Wii animated fitness coach is kicking my butt, in fact my butt actually hurts as I sit here typing this. I think I need to stretch. Ah, that's better. I'm back. Anyway, so far, other than some mild craziness on my part, I'm doing pretty well. I've been really focused since Christmas and have managed to lose 17 pounds since the holidays.

Not bad, except I realized that in the midst of eating healthier and exercising harder and more often, I've gotten a bit too focused on the number on the scale and lost a little focus on the big picture changes that I'm trying to make. After hearing myself complaining, to anyone who would listen, about how carefully I was eating and how frequently I was working out and yet I had lost no weight last week, I realized my priorities might be a bit off. And I was boring too, which is probably worse.

But it was torture, getting on the scale every morning last week, all hopeful and positive, and nothing. But who can help that? That number on the scale is such a taunting or rewarding number. And I think we women tend to hyper-fixate on things like numbers and measures of our success especially around weight and our bodies. I know I'm making sweeping generalities when I say that women tend to be more focused/too focused on that number on the scale. I'm sure I have plenty of women friends out there who aren't weight obsessed, are quite healthy and have terrific body image and confidence. But that's probably not a huge percentage of the female population. And certainly not me. I either ignore the scale entirely for months at a time, not willing to be realistic about where I am physically, or I tend to obsess and weigh myself daily, cheering every slight loss and mourning every slight fluctuation up. I'm working on this. I'm weighing myself everyday, but  I'm only going to record my weight on a weekly basis and hopefully that will be more accurate long term.

So much to my delight after last week's plateau, I wound up losing another three pounds on Monday morning. (Yes, dear, it pains me to say this, but you were right. I should have listened.) After a weekend that involved Brazilian meats, pizza, a couple of rum and cokes and some delicious blue cheese onion sauce with my steak, (all in moderation of course,) I managed to finally drop those pesky pounds. I think it must have been the thin mints I munched on while watching the Grammy's. I hear they have weight loss properties.