Thursday, December 23, 2010

"You're a Baker . . . Bake Something!"

I am a baker at heart.  From earliest memory, my grandma would prop me up on a step-stool, with a flour cloth towel tied around my little self, wooden spoon in hand, "helping".  We made more dozens of cookies than I could ever count.  Lemon-nut refrigerator cookies, date pinwheels, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, shape cookies, chocolate chip, chocolate pixies, ranger cookies, and those funny face cookies from the Betty Crocker kids cookbook that tasted yucky but were fun to make, so I didn't complain.  She also had me pull taffy, bake pies and cakes, make popcorn balls, and muffins. 

My mom was very happy that I had the baking bug.  She was more than happy to turn the kitchen over to me to experiment and bake anything I wanted, provided I cleaned up after myself.  In jr. high, she pulled me out of school to do her Christmas baking.  I was stoked.  I pulled my little tv into the kitchen and watched reruns of Tarzan and The Love Boat as I made her famous Thimble Cookies, which have an indent created by a thimble dipped in sugar.  I tell you, that metal thimble gets hot when you re-press the cookies halfway through the baking time. 

I made my first wedding cake for my brother-in-law and his wife back in 1995, or so.  They were married in Vegas and I decorated the cake in the hotel room, using squat-shaped champagne glasses with roses underneath to hold the layers up.  There were blue and pink hearts piped onto the sides.  Looking back, it was pretty hokey, but it was my first wedding cake!!!  I am the type of person who fully embraces the bride and groom getting real messy while feeding each other the first bite.  I think we left an extra tip for the housekeeping staff who had to clean the carpet after they were finished with each other. 

In college, I studied Communication, which finally came in handy for this librarian gig I have currently.  During Junior year, however, as I color coded the index of my newest Bon Appetit in the library instead of studying, I wished I had gone to culinary school instead.  For Christmas and Birthdays, I got down and jiggy in the kitchen.  People with sweet tooths (?) love me.  We were staying at a friend's house in anticipation of Ozzfest the next day.  Some of his friends were there, and when they found out what I did for a living, they said, "You're a baker.  Bake something!" like I could just pull the butter and sugar out of nowhere.  Grrrrr.  My husband loves that line and uses it on me anytime he has a craving for something sweet and there's nothing to be found. 

I was a baker at Coco's in Rancho Cucamonga for a few years.  There I learned the fine art of inventory, clipboards and checklists, and baking all night long with Metallica as loud as it could get.  I would be a drooling mess by the time family Thanksgiving dinner hit, but it was a great learning experience. 

We worked as servers at a local restaurant in the mountains called the "Antler's Inn".  At times I would give away my tables to bake up sweets in the kitchen.  My hubby wasn't so happy about my tips going down, but I was happier behind the scenes than running the floor.  One year the owner bought a whole bunch of supplies for me to bake anything that I wanted.  I was still inexperienced and was like a deer in the headlights.  I needed structure.  I disappointed her, and myself, by not utilizing all her purchases adequately.  Give me that stuff now.  I would rock it!!!  For a few meals, she had a special menu and I was in charge of desserts.  This was more my style.  I would plan and implement the desserts, spending hours in the kitchen.  Score for her!

After we moved to San Diego, I worked for a short time in a hellhole of a restaurant I refer to as "Perfect Puke".  It's real name was "Perfect Palate" and was run by an ex-baked goods delivery driver who wanted to make a profit by cutting out the middle man.  The plus side of the job was more creative freedom and a storefront to sell out of.  The downside was that he was a disgusting person who used his mother's name to open credit accounts, hoping she would die and he wouldn't have to pay.  We used to have to serve lunch at the local strip clubs.  I tell you, there are few things more uncomfortable than having to tell the strippers that they couldn't have any of the patron food.  We catered a luau and there were 2 dead pigs in the walk-in refrigerator for a couple of days.  What a nightmare.  I was not sad to leave that place!

I was eventually hired by a husband and wife team who had opened up a little cafe in La Jolla called "The Come On In! Cafe".  I had to work my way up to baker's assistant, by working the front and making sandwiches, but it paid off.  Working for this perfectionistic, exacting, high-level couple introduced me a whole new world.  Previous to me getting that fabulous job, I had applied to be a pastry cook for the San Diego school district.  When they offered me a position, I couldn't turn down the hours and benefits, but held my place at the Cafe by coming in some afternoons and working the summertime.  As a pastry cook, I learned to bake for hundreds.  We fed about 7 schools.  They got homemade breads, brownies, cookies and pies.  I would (illegally) take the leftovers to the Ocean Beach pier to feed the homeless.  I hated throwing food away, which led me to eventually quit that job.  I worked for the Cafe for about 14 years total, for different bosses.  I opened a new store in Sorrento Valley, leaving my house at 3:30 a.m. to get the muffins and scones ready for delivery by 6.  Again, lots of loud metal got me through those surreal mornings. 

After awhile, I had developed a serious allergy to the flour dust and cinnamon.  I would bake with a dust mask on, but I was still sneezing my head off all the time.  I also got sick of the commute and of being a zombie by 7 p.m. so I gave notice.  I started stalking a local restaurant/bakery that was simply not living up to its potential.  By the time I had the courage to ask the owner if he was willing to sell, he had already sold it and informed me that the new owner needed a baker.  Sigh.  I was bored with baking, but figured it was a step in the right direction.  And I could walk to work.  Score.  I worked at "The Lace Apron" for a few years, but unfortunately, the local business just wasn't enough to keep it afloat and my dear boss had to let her staff go.  I was ready for a new career and started subbing at the local library and schools.  I was thoroughly sick of baking.  I didn't volunteer to make birthday cakes or Christmas goodies anymore.  I was perfectly content to be the one bringing the salad to the potlucks.  For a few years, I would break down and make cakes for my hubby or son, but that was it.  I would buy the pre-made chocolate chip dough and tell myself that it was almost as good as making it myself.  My husband just raised his eyebrows and ate the cookies. 

Well the years went by and the love for baking came back.  This year I have been in the kitchen since the holiday started for me on the 18th.  I made fruitcake (for my mom), cranberry-orange nut bread (also a request) and Bishop's bread, a family recipe that contains dates, pecans, chocolate and candied cherries.  Yum.  I also made cookies for an exchange and an apple/berry tart.  I've got 3 pumpkin pies in the oven, then I'm calling it quits for the season.  I also spent time in the kitchen melting down some candles that my grandmother had left behind and reforming them to burn at our family dinner tomorrow night.  I'm glad I'm a kitchen goddess once again.  I missed that part of me.  Thanks for listening. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holidays 2010

The finely tuned and edited version



Christmas hit me early this year.  Sometimes, when the holidays come our way, I want to call the whole thing off.  The thought of all the planning and baking and shopping and cooking and traveling and spending just because "they" say so, just seems overwhelming.  This year, however, we pulled up all our decorations from the basement around Thanksgiving . (Yes, we have a basement!  One of the few houses in S. Calif that does!!!)  I like to have at least our revolving, pre-lit tree up in the window and the inflatable Santa (thanks, Auntie the great!) up to greet the Fallbrookians who travel down our street to see the Christmas Parade which is held in early December.  We had the whole house dialed in earlier than ever this year.  Don't know why the bug bit me to celebrate full-bore, but it did. 

As usual, I have great and huge plans for the Christmas card that always gets put off until I practically panic.  Well, guess what?!?  It is December 18th and I haven't even ordered them yet!!!  Ha ha.  This isn't too unusual.  I usually focus on the "Have a great New Year" to make it seem more appropriate when it gets to people's mailboxes in mid-January.  If you notice the cute pic above of our son and his dog, it seems wholesome and celebratory.  Let me tell you a little story about it.  Last weekend, we enticed Kodi to sit for numerous pictures by having the bag of doggie snacks close by.  He didn't even try to shake the reindeer headband off.  Good doggie.  Jake was still wearing his pj's, but I didn't really think that would matter, even though his green camo sweats clashed horribly with his Chargers shirt.  I figured it wouldn't show too much.  After downloading the pictures and deciding that this one had the best looks on their faces, I realized that my dog was sporting a boner.  Yup.  I said it.  I laughed, I cried, I kissed my  . . . never mind.  I just decided that I would either throw the whole card idea out the window or break down and retake the pic.  I had to share it with E, however, because it was just too funny.  When our dog gets excited or nervous, he shows it.  And boy did it show. 

E cracked up, then got to work, downloading a free photo-shop-type program and erasing the X-rated part.  For some reason, this grossed me out to the max.  Seriously, I was shrieking with laughter and peering through my fingers as he very carefully "cut" it off.  I couldn't get a grip.  Then he fixed Kodi's eyes, which had captured the flash and looked a bit supernatural.  Did he stop there?  Oh no, not my man!  He then colored the green in our son's offending mis-matched pants blue to match his shirt.  Man oh man, is this man good!!!

Christmas time is also a time to remember times past.  I have a jar of ancient maraschino cherries which remind me of one of my grandfathers.  Every year my son asks if we are going to eat them.  Heck no!  First of all, they are very sentimental to me, and secondly, they would probably kill us. 

I unwrap other remembrances from grandparents who are no longer living.  Ornaments, a Mr and Mrs Santa kissing candle, some creches given to me by a grandmother, all fill my heart with a bittersweet longing for the "good ole days".  Well, I know perfectly that today is tomorrow's good ole day and I move on.  I let myself feel what I feel and when I get tired of decorating and packing up my usual decorations to make space, I remind myself that I am creating those memories for our son. 

I have been overcome by my emotions a bit more than usual this year.  Today when driving home, I saw the Christmas lights on the street and it hit me afresh that this would be the first year without my beloved father-in-law.  He died on this past Labor Day.  I got my mother-in-law a carved angel ornament to commemorate this year.  My Aunt K has asked for family recipes to put in a personalized recipe book.  I typed in my Grandmother B's Gingerbread Cake with tears pouring down.  She used to make it every year for my mom's birthday in November.  I miss her so much.  I was reminded of her just a few minutes ago when I pulled out some white tissue paper that had tiny colored sparkles in it.  She used to lay out a similar cotton blanket under her tree.  It looked like sparkly snow to my child eyes. 

Starting in November, the season just hits the ground running.  Our son's birthday is in November, my husband's is 5 days before Christmas, my niece on Christmas Eve.  Our Anniversary is on New Year's Eve.  This year marks our 20th.  We will be on a cruise in the harbor celebrating this year.  We travel a lot, celebrating Christmas at least 5 times in as many days.  We spend too much and tend to pull the belts tighter in the coming months.  We get burned out and cranky.  We wonder if it is all worth it.  My answer?  Yup.  Thanks for listening and have a great holiday yourself.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bloody with a Touch of Angst

Since becoming a Middle/High School Library Media Technician three years ago, I have dived whole-heartedly into fiction geared toward these younger readers.  Beside an occasional Stephen King or Alice Hoffman novel, I find my fiction selections based entirely on what's right in front of me.  The Hunger Games Series, all 12 of the Cirque du Freak stories, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Skellig, to name just a few of the books I have enjoyed while chomping down my lunch, sitting at my desk, happy to eat and read in relative peace. 

When I hit the public library, I find myself in the Young Adult section, seeing what they've got and occasionally grabbing from there as well, especially the audio books.  Blessed audio books.  Nothing makes a commute more enjoyable than a good story. 

True, sometimes the younger fiction can bog down in emotions or simplicity.  I have to admit the same can be true for a lot of adult books as well.  What I am continually encountering is, however, Darkness.  Sadness.  Loneliness.  Alienation.  Being misunderstood by family and friends.  Love.  Passion.  Need and Want.  Having to choose between what the heart craves and what seems to be the more acceptable choice. 



At school right now, I am reading Crescendo, the sequel to Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.  Book one had all the "good girl drawn to the hot bad boy" that was found in the Twilight novels, but the sexual tension was turned up a notch, if that's possible.  High schooler Nora Gray is still reeling from the murder of her father when she is partnered with Patch, (the aforementioned hot bad boy) in Science class.  By the end of the book, she is in love with this fallen angel.  Literally.  He has the scars on his back to prove it.  In Crescendo, the drama continues and Nora thinks she sees her dead father all over town.  I haven't finished it yet, so I can't ruin the plot for you.  It's pretty good stuff, though.  Tasty over a bowl of soup during period 5 which is my blessed prep period and I am only interrupted about 3 times on average from my book and meal.
In my car today I just finished The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  Seriously, how could I resist a title and cover like that?!?  I hadn't even heard of it before I found it on the library audio book shelf.  Mary lives in a small village surrounded by chain-link fence.  She has never been beyond its boundaries because they are surrounded by a forest which is filled by "the Unconsecrated", (read Zombies) and one bite will turn you into one of them.  Her father has disappeared and her mother gets bit in chapter one.  Mary has not been "spoken for" by a male and must go live with the Sisters (who rule the village with religion and rules).  While learning their ways, Mary uncovers some very ugly secrets.  A childhood friend, Harry, steps forward and asks for her.  Even though Mary is in love with Harry's brother, Travis, she makes the choice to become betrothed, despite her broken heart (on so many levels) and her craving to leave the village to find the fabled ocean her mother used to tell her stories about.  Eventually, Mary, Harry, Travis and some others must escape their village as it has been breached by the Unconsecrated.  This has to be one of the saddest books I have ever read.  There is about 4 % happiness and 99 % blood, horror, gore and gristle.  (I know that math doesn't add up, but it's true.) The end is a bit of a cliffhanger.  I am hoping for a part two from this first time author.  I will put it on my wishlist for the school.  The teens will eat it up.  I do have to say, however, that I hope they get a different narrator.  The girl who read it used the same voice inflection for commas as for periods and I was constantly re-speaking it in my head.  Very distracting. 

Today when I went to the library to return my latest story, I perused the children's section of audios.  I picked up some slightly more wholesome stories, both for me and my boy, who loves to listen to sleep at night.  I picked up Peter Pan (unabridged, thank you very much) in memory of the recently seen movie about it's author, J.M. Barrie.  "Finding Neverland" was a great movie;  one I will watch more than once.  Starring Johnny Depp (purrrrrr), it is heartbreakingly beautiful.  I also got The Wind in the Willows.  It's been on my son's bookshelf since he was an infant and we never really got into it.  I will start disk one tomorrow.  Maybe I'll let you know how it is.  Thanks for listening.       


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Iris Murdoch



I had not heard of author, Iris Murdoch, before watching the movie about her life. It came in them mail a few days ago.  I had been prompted to put it on my Netflix list because of the description, "Iris Murdoch was l'enfant terrible of the literary world in early 1950's Britain, a live wire who tumbed her nose at conformity via a voracious and scandalous sexual appetite. "  Well, the movie wasn't all that scandalous, I must say, but it was amazing.  Author of 26 novels, philosopher, playwright and free-thinker, Iris lived a fascinating life. The movie, "Iris" was based on a book written about her by her husband, John Bayley, entitled, Elegy for Iris.  What a love story.  What heartbreak.  Iris Murdoch died in 1999, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for five years.  The woman who's entire life revolved around words, lost all of them in the end. 

"You love words, don't you?" , asked John. "Well, if one doesn't have words, how does one think?", she replied.

The movie stars Judi Dench and Kate Winslet as the older/younger versions of Iris.  The movie is rated "R", because of some nudity and profanity, but I would recommend it to any of my adult friends.  Grab a box of tissues, however, especially if you have been touched by Alzheimer's in your own life.  (My darling Grandpa suffered from it in his latter years.  To this day, my memories are tainted by the horror of seeing someone who used to be so vibrant, reduced to confused silence.)

Iris believed very strongly in what was good; what love was.  I tend to be drawn to movies in which the main characters' houses are overflowing with books.  This one might take the cake in that respect.  John Bailey, her husband, wrote numerous books as well. 

Iris was a free spirit, who believed in being herself.  In the movie at a dinner party she says:

"Yes, of course there's something fishy about describing one's feelings.  You try hard to be accurate, but as soon as you start to define such and such a feeling, language lets you down.  It's really a machine for making falsehoods.  When we really speak the truth, words are insufficient.  Almost everything except things like, 'pass the gravy' is a lie of some sort and that being the case, I shall shut up . . . Oh, and pass the gravy.'"

And in an interview:

"People, of course, are very secretive.  And, for many reasons, want to appear what we call ordinary.  Everybody has thoughs they want to conceal.  Perhaps even quite simple aspects of their lives.  People have obsessions and fears and passions which they don't admit to.  I think any character is interesting and has extremes.  It's the novelists' privilege to see how odd everyone is."

The movie is beautifully done.  It flows back and forth in time.  There are many subtle cues and undertones.  Iris sitting at her desk, surrounded by crumpled papers as she struggles to write her last novel, John watching her concernedly from the bedroom intermingles with a younger John, who sees her with a lover, as he peeks through the doorway at their lovemaking.  Iris stating that she will write and write as long as she can still find words, and John turning on the light as he states that he shall keep her at it. 

I watched it two times in as many days and was extremely touched by the love shared between Iris and John.  Iris was like a star and John orbited around her.  Even after being married for ages, he doted on her and admired her.  "I feel as if I am sailing into darkness", says Iris as she noticed that the words were becoming harder to come by.  Her brain scan shows the holes where the disease has eaten away the cells.  The image reminded me of a death head moth.  Words meant everything to her and she eventually lost them.  "It frightens me, and then sometimes it doesn't frighten me, and that's just as bad, because that's it winning, isn't it?"  says Iris about Alzheimer's. 

"Education does not make you happy, and nor does freedom.  We don't become happy just because we are free, if we are, or because we have been educated, if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy.  It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking . . . convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever--that of the mind--and gives us the assurance, the confidence, to walk the path of our mind--our educated mind--offers.'

"Her novels embraced freedom and what it meant to be good", stated an interviewer.  I would like to check them out for myself.  I perused the online catalogues of the three local library systems I own cards to, but they didn't have anything on audio, my preference these days.  That's ok.  I'm still into grabbing a book and falling into it.  She's written quite a few.  I'll give them a go and see what I think.  In the meantime, I highly recommend watching, "Iris".  Just don't forget the tissues.

John Bayley and Iris Murdoch

Friday, November 12, 2010

1408



I have a serious case of the creeps right now. I would blame Stephen King, but I know better. It's my fault. I KNEW that story was horrifying, and yet, I decided to reread it. Well guess what. In the vein of The Shining, I have to put the book down and get my normal equilibrium back. This story, called "1408" is damn scary.

As a child, I was plagued by fright until I was almost 30 years old. Scared of the dark, scared of being alone in the house, scared of malevolent spirits living in trees (especially Oak) or in certain houses. When I was younger, pre-teen or so, one of my tasks was to close and lock the garage door every night. The garage was seperate from the house. I would have to cross the back yard, pass the slightly creepy "playhouse" that used to be a homemade camper shell of some type. (It was dark wood and although we played in it, it never felt quite right.)  Past the little playhouse was the garage. The door slid to the left to close. It locked with a padlock. I would have to reach in, turn off the light, slam the door, lock it and get back into the house before something evil got me. My heart is beating hard just thinking about it. On the bad days, I would forget about closing it until after dusk. I would rush over, hit that light if it was on,  try not to look into the dark space within, get that door shut and locked as quick as I could.  I would then race back into the safety of the house. I don't think my feet hit most of the four steps on the way up into the house. They were flying.

When I stayed at my Grandma's house, I was creeped out about what was lurking under the bed, ready to grab my foot and pull me under. (During the day, that bed and space underneath was relatively safe. I hid under there regularly when playing with friends or hide-and-go-seek with my brother. But at night it was a different story altogether. The house had nightlights, but sometimes they make matters worse. The shadows can be unholy and grotesque. I would pause on the threshold, then make a wild leap onto the bed. My grandmother called me out on it a few times. She did not approve of my wild crashing onto the bed, but I doubt I shared with her the reason I did it. Something was possibly under that bed; something hungry.

Sleeping at my mom's house, I would line my stuffed animals and dolls all around me like a sacred ring. Head to toe they would surround me and keep me safe. I still remember lying there, breathing shallowly, waiting to finally go to sleep. 

In my late-20's, I realized that some of that paralyzing fear had diminished. I could stay alone in the house and be ok. It helped that I had Tobi to keep me company, of course. Tobi was our dog, the runt of the litter, about 1/4 pitbull. Small but with a wide evil streak. She was very protective of me and I felt better when she was around and E was off somewhere else.

I am a huge Stephen King fan. I've read pretty much everything. I don't know why I can handle his books but not watch scary movies or read other creepy authors. A couple of times, however, I have had to put a book down and come back to my safe self. I had to stop reading The Shining two times. It just colored my whole day wrong. The movie gets scarier for me every time I see it. I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago where a man spoke about how when he was about 7, he watched the movie with his uncle. It scarred him. They played some clips from the movie.  "Play with us, Danny", spoken by the ghostly murdered girls. gave me the chills then and just did again. Lunacy freaks me out. Haunted spaces that can make one lose one's mind are high on my list of horrible things in this world. The story, "1408", is one of those.

At my recent yardsale, I picked up King's Everything's Eventual from my girlfriend for a buck. It is a collection of short stories published in 2002. I listened to it on audio a few years ago, but had forgotten some of it. Besides, I didn't have THIS book in my collection. The whole time I was reading it, I was fine. The stories are twisted and weird and disturbing, but I was ok. In the back of my mind, however, a quiet but cautious voice didn't let me forget what was coming. "1408". Earlier tonite, I finished "That Feeling, You can Only Say What It Is In French", and turned the page. There it was. My heart sped up, I put the bookmark in the book and walked away. A few hours later, my chores were done. Time to crawl into bed and face the fear.

I got about halfway through. My spidey senses were prickling and I had to get out of the bedroom. I turned on all the lights. Checked on J and his friend, E who was sleeping over. I thought about finished the story in their company, but the light was already off. Ok. Next plan. Open the fridge. (Hmmmm. Comfort eating?) I heated up some leftover soup and decided to share my fear with my blog readers. I sat down at the computer desk. To my left was the open closet door. Heck no. I pushed it closed. It opened again. (This shouldn't have been creepy, the house is old and there is no latch to keep the door closed. Still. Decidedly creepy.) I continued typing, horribly aware of the door cracked open and, worse, the small hole where a doorknob used to live. Something was watching me. I pushed the laundry basket against the door. That solved the problem of keeping it closed, but I was still aware of the hole.

Yes, I will finish the story. E is home now. Maybe I'll read it tonite, but since the fear has been reduced to a low hum in my spine, I'll probably wait for the safety of the light of day tomorrow when we are driving to Legoland to celebrate our son's 10th birthday.

I realize that I haven't even really explained what the story is about. Just a haunted hotel room, who's numbers add up to 13. People die in that room. Suicide. "Natural" causes. Digital devices don't work in there either. The room is alive and it is really, really evil. They made a movie a few years ago. When I first saw the preview I decided that under no circumstances would I watch it, despite the fact that it stars John Cusack who is a cupcake. I'm sure they changed the plot to suit themselves and it probably doesn't come close to being as scary as the story, but still. I have stayed far away from it.

King's  are something else, however. I can handle them, even if it is in small doses. I'll get back to it tomorrow. Perhaps you'd like to check it out. If you do, let me know if it scared you as much as it scares me. For now, goodnight. Sweet dreams. I hope I have them myself. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flag Football Mom

Ok.  It's official.  I have finally become a sports mom.  J joined Flag Football a few months ago through the Boys and Girls Club in our town.  (They sponsor his afterschool program and practice was built right in.  Nice, huh?)

I am NOT a sports person.  I am married to a sports person.  I am physically (if not mentally) among those who have gathered to watch games on TV.  I have never played a sport.  My mind just doesn't wrap around the games.  My mother in law likes to remind me about how I brought a book to my brother-in-law's High School Football games back when E and I were dating. 

But things are different when it is your child out there on the field.  Running and catching and pulling flags.  All of a sudden, I was watching.  Screaming.  Yelling.  Cheering.  Getting into the game.  What???!!!  Yup, I said it.  I got into the game. 

For all you sports fans out there, give me a break.  Don't judge me.  Ok, judge me if you want, but know that my life was changed forever when J started playing. 

I learned the names of the kids on his team.  I loved watching their easy-going coach have fun with his kids, aged 9-10.  Some of those kids were really good.  Others were average.  They all got equal play time.  They won quite a few of their games.

Yesterday, their coach couldn't make the game, due to a class schedule conflict.  The team was all amped up to "coach themselves".  I was so nervous for them!  Of course it turned out that another staff member oversaw the team, but for the most part, the team called their own plays.  It was awesome, and they won.

Today was their last game.  They lost, 10-13, but had great attitudes.  Pizza party next Friday after school.  I tried to get Jake to join the basketball team.  No go.  Baseball?  Nah, he says.  Will you play football again next year?  Yes.  I smiled.  And guess what?  I look forward to it.  Yup.  I can't wait for football to roll around again. 

I included a short video of one of their games.  It is probably incredibly boring for anyone not related to J (and maybe even to some of them), but it is pretty cute.  Our team wore the yellow shorts. 
video

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa. . . No, Not the Chef . . .


Apparently last time I added movies to my Netflix queue, I was in an old school mood.  Last week, M (my movie buddy) and I watched "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Brando ("Stella!!!!").  Yesterday, "The Barefoot Contessa" showed up in my mailbox. 

Released in 1954, the movie stars Humphrey Bogart (yah, baby) and Ava Gardner (purrrrrrrr) in a story about a beautiful flamenco dancer named Maria who is "discovered"  by a jerk of an American millionaire, and becomes a movie star. 

Bogie is the movie producer who becomes  friend and confidante from the beginning.  Rosanno Brazzi plays the Count, with whom Maria falls in love.  There is just something about the timing and beauty of these old movies that make my romantic heart go pitter-pat.  The kiss between Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window", the electricity between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember", and the scene in "The Barefoot Contessa" where the Count saves Maria's honor and she gets in the car of this handsome stranger, puts her head back on the convertible's passenger seat and lets him drive her away, just got to me.

The movie opens at Maria's funeral.  Throughout the story, two narrators tell it like they see it, from entirely different points of view.  I won't ruin the plot for you, watch it yourself.  The dresses worn in the flick make it worth watching alone.



It was nice to watch an "adult" movie where I didn't cringe and have to pause it when my 10-year-old son walked in the room.  In fact, he crawled up on my bed to patiently wait out the movie so that I could help him build his newest Lego creation.  The movie lasted longer than he did, however, and before long, he was twitching and mumbling.  Such a lovely time for a tired mommy!  We'll work on the Lego's in the a.m.  Veteran's Day.  No school for either of us. 

After the movie was over, I watched the preview that was available from the menu screen.  The feminist in me started an internal discussion when I saw that the movie byline was "The Most Beautiful Animal in the World", referring to Maria, who is disdainfully insulted by a shallow lover.  Seriously?  Not only was she a sex symbol, but not even human?  I know, I know,  "Down, Girl!"  but hey, seeing how the world sometimes saw women, even if it was over 50 years ago still chaps my hide.

M and I finished the movie and discussed it a little.  Ah.  That's what free time is all about.  Watching beautiful people on the screen and falling into their stories for a couple of hours.  Heaven.



Saturday, November 6, 2010

When Food is Love

Geneen Roth is an author who explores the intimate relationship between eating and feeling good, feeling loved, feeling stable.  She has written quite a few books, such as The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed ItWhen You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair  and Women, Food and God.  For those of you with no patience for people who believe in exploring childhood experiences and how they affect our adult lives, go ahead and stop reading now.

For the rest of us who are interested in linking our behaviors and thought patterns with the past, Roth does an amazing job.  She is nakedly honest in her books and touches many nerves in my psyche as I read about her struggles. 

Here are some of my own food patterns:  I like to eat alone, with a book or the tv on.  I like my food in a bowl to be eaten with a spoon.  I like my food to touch, in fact, I create crazy mixes of flavors that make my husband and son shudder.  (My favorite way to eat spaghetti is with my dressed salad mixed in.  I learned this trick as a child.  I was not allowed to leave my Grandmother's table unless all my food was gone.  Over time I came up with a lot of devious ways to escape from the "yucky" parts of the meal like hiding the food in my underwear and flushing it down the toilet, learning to use my tongue to close off my sense of taste while chewing the food with a mouthful of milk and swallowing it down, and by camouflaging flavors by putting something I liked with something I didn't.  Thus my love for pasta sauce on salad was born.  Don't worry, I like salad now.)  I don't like to be interrupted when I eat.  I hate when the phone rings and I most likely will not answer it, or will be grouchy and short-lipped with the caller if I feel I must speak at that time.  I like my food to be piping hot, but can also handle the leftovers straight from the fridge.  My mom sometimes gave me leftover dinner for lunch.  My schoolmates sometimes raised an eyebrow at my tacos or meatloaf sandwiches, but now I can eat leftover dinner for breakfast anytime.  Prefer it to eggs, actually!

I gained quite a bit of weight last summer.  I had quit some habits that weren't healthy for me and as soon as I heard the term "cross-addiction" I knew food would be my next "feel good" retreat.  I eat when I'm happy, sad, mad, bored, wanting comfort, wanting sleep, or just because it's there.  Learning to eat when only hungry is quite a challenge.  Learning to eat smaller portions of protein and starch (especially rice, which I LOVE) and more veggies is a mind-game for me.  I make my plate (or bowl), heaped with veggies, but in the back of my mind I am contemplating the protein I will have for seconds. 

I didn't finish When Food is Love, but it is overdue at the library and I am going to return it today.  Here is what I gleaned so far: 

"Diets don't work because food and weight are the symptoms, not the problems.  The focus on weight provides a convenient and culturally reinforced distraction from the reasons why so many people use food when they are not hungry.  These reasons are more complex than-and will never be solved with--will-power, counting calories, and exercise.  They have to do with neglect, lack of trust, lack of love, sexual abuse, physical abuse, unexpressed rage, grief, being the object of discrimination, protection from getting hurt again.  People abuse themselves with food because they don't know they deserve better.  People abuse themselves because they've been abused.  They become self-loathing, unhappy adults not because they've experienced trauma but because they've repressed it."  (p. 4)

I feel I need to post a disclaimer here.  My childhood was, for the most part, very safe and loving.  Like pretty much everyone else I know, however, there are things I need to acknowledge, accept, forgive and let go.  When my "buttons are pushed" and I overreact unreasonably to not getting my own way or feeling abandoned or ignored, these are signs that stuff from the past is still shaping who I am and how I see the world.  Back to the book.

"When Food is Love speaks to the heart of why people turn to food.  It explores the messages we received as children, how we translate them into messages of self-hate, and how we pass this pain on to other people, including our children.  And it explores the importance of taking responsibility for change in the present rather than feeling victimized by the pain of the past.  Because our patterns of eating were formed by early patterns of loving, it is necessary to understand and work with both food and love to feel satisfied with our relationship to either." (p. 4)

My favorite line in the last paragraph is "the importance of taking responsibility for change in the present rather than feeling victimized by the pain of the past".  This is easier said than done, however, especially when I am in the throes of passionate emotion.  My ego rides that roller coaster and all sorts of voices speak in my head, promoting "unfairness" and "you don't really know me" and "you're gonna f*** it up anyway, so who are you kidding?"  Phew.  It makes me amped just to think about it.  How does one reprogram one's brain to stop reacting in such an emotional manner to people and situations in our lives that we can't control anyway???

"Compulsion is despair on the emotional level.  The substances, people, or activities that we become compulsive about are those that we believe are capable of taking our despair away.   . . .  Someone once came to a workshop after she had lost seventy-five pounds on a diet.  She stood up in front of 150 people and, with her voice shaking, said, "I feel like I've been robbed.  My best dream has been taken away.  I really thought that losing weight was going to change my life.  But it only changed the outside of me.  The inside is still the same.  My mother is still dead and my father still beat me when I was growing up.  I'm still angry and lonely and now I don't have getting thin to look forward to."     (p. 15)
"Compulsion is the feeling that there is no one home.  We become compulsive to put someone home.  All we ever wanted was love.  We didn't want to become compulsive about anything.  We did it to survive.  We did it to keep from going crazy.  Good for us.  Food was our love; eating was our way of being loved.  Food was available when our parents weren't.  Food didn't get up and walk away when our fathers did.  Food didn't hurt us.  Food didn't say no.  Food didn't hit.  Food didn't get drunk.  Food was always there.  Food tasted good.  Food was warm when we were cold and cold when we were hot.  Food became the closest thing we knew of love.  But it is only a substitute for love.  Food is not, nor was it ever, love." 
"Many of us have been using food to replace love for so many years that we no longer know the difference between turning to food for love and turning to love for food.  We wouldn't recognize love if it knocked us over.  Not because we are ignorant but because if we've never been loved well, we don't know what love feels like, what love is like.  And it follows that if we have not been loved well, we cannot love ourselves well.  Compulsive behavior, at its most fundamental, is a lack of self-love; it is an expression of a belief that we are not good enough." (pps. 18-19)

I could go on and on, quoting this amazing book that I have not even finished yet, but my belly is grumbling (ha!) and my coffee is cold and this book needs to get back to the library pronto.  Someone else has put it on hold and I got an embarrassing letter in the mail yesterday from the library.  Let me just parrot a few more tidbits and then I'll let you go:

"Love and compassion cannot coexist.  Love is the willingness and ability to be affected by another human being and to allow that effect to make a difference in what you do, say, become.  Compulsion is the act of wrapping ourselves around an activity, a substance, or a person to survive, to tolerate and numb our experience of the moment.  Love is a state of connectedness, one that includes vulnerability, surrender, self-valuing, steadiness, and a willingness to face, rather than run from, the worst of ourselves.  Compulsion is a state of isolation, one that includes self-absorption, invulnerability, low self-esteem, unpredictability, and fear that if we faced our pain, it would destroy us.  Love expands, compulsion diminishes.  Compulsion leaves no room for love-which is, in fact, why many people started eating: because when there was room for love, the people around us were not loving.  The very purpose of compulsion is to protect ourselves from the pain associated with love."
"It is my belief that we become compulsive because of wounds from our past and the decisions we made at that time about our self-worth--decisions about our capacity to love and whether, in fact, we deserve to be loved.  Our mother goes away and we decide that we are unlovable.  Our father is emotionally distant and we decide that we need too much.  Someone we are close to dies and we decide that there is no reason to love anyone because it hurts too much at the end.  We made decisions based on how we made sense of the wounds and what we did to protect ourselves from being more wounded in that environment.  At the age of six or eleven or fifteen, we decide that loves hurts and that we are unworthy or unlovable or too demanding, and we live the rest of our lives protecting ourselves from being hurt again.  And there is no better protection than wrapping ourselves around a compulsion."  (pps. 23-24)

I myself am compulsive about a few things.  Just a few come to mind immediately, but perhaps there are more lurking beneath the surface.  I compulsively shop.  I compulsively create projects for myself.  I compulsively speak without thinking.  There are more, but I don't feel like baring any more of my tender neurosis to the public.  Let's just say that I'm gonna work on this self-esteem thing some more.  How about you?

Want to read more?  Check out Geneen's blog at:  http://blog.geneenroth.com/notes_from_geneen/.  You can order her books through her site.  You can also find some at a more discounted price (used and new versions are available) at http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=geneen+roth&sts=t&x=0&y=0.  I know I promote Abe Books enough to be an official spokesperson, but hey, when you can get a book for less than 4 bucks, including s/h, how can you lose?

Thanks for listening.  Take care of yourself.  Today I will notice my triggers and get a little more introspective about them.  Thanks for listening.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Arrrrrrrrrrggggghhhhh . . . . . . oh

So in usual form, I have spent a hectic morning running from one task to another.  If you read my post about our Halloween party, you are familiar with my menu.  Did I have to plan and shop for all this stuff?  No.  Did I want to?  Yes. 

Today is another party.  A friend is turning 50.  It's a potluck and I am to bring a fruit salad and wear a costume.  The plan was for my friend, D, to come over with her son to hang out with mine.  My darling mother-in-law has graciously volunteered to chill with the kiddies while the grown-ups play.  Fabulous.

I stayed up pretty late last night, cleaning up the carnage from the Haunted House centerpiece, and doing dishes.  My alarm went off around 8 but I snoozed until after 9.  I sure needed that extra hour of cozy pillow time.  As soon as my brain started functioning, my thoughts turned to my "to do" list.  I am a compulsive list maker.  I am also the kind of person who flits from task to task, getting all worked up, but eventually finishing most of it.  In the meantime, stuff is chaotic.  The whole "stick with one thing at a time" is foreign to me.  I understand the benefit of it, but it's not my style.

I also had a list for J to do.  His room was still a mess from last weekend's sleep over.  He also had  belongings strewn from living room to bathroom.  He didn't want to hear about any chores.  He wanted to watch TV.  Not gonna happen.  J is what is known as a "slow starter".  He hems and haws and has a billion excuses to not get going.  He also wants me to "help" him with everything.  After some arguing back and forth about what I said and what he did or did not hear, we sat down for a little breakfast.  I brought along the dry-erase board.  I have found that when getting him to get through tasks, a list and a timer is the way to go.  It's still a struggle, but at least I have some voice and patience left at the end of the day. 

In the meantime, girlfriend D called and opted out of tonight's plans.  She just isn't feeling well and wants to reserve her strength for tomorrow (Halloween).  This meant that I would not have much female companionship at tonight's gala and J wouldn't have a friend to hang out with.  As much as I preach flexibility, it is a bitter medicine. We were both disappointed, but her health must come first.

D was still open to to having the boys hang out, but both of them had chores to complete first.  I now had even more ammunition against my kid and his resistance to chores.  In the meantime, I had to decide if the boys would go to her house (she wasn't contagious) but that meant rearranging my plans with my mother-in-law.  My brain started getting ahead of myself and I started getting short-tempered. 

Unable to make a decision quite yet, I made a breakfast smoothie, with bananas, protein, soy milk and a little splash of coffee.  I have heard that caffeine can help kids (and adults) with ADHD and wanted to run a little experiment on J.  I didn't tell him what he was drinking besides the bananas and chocolate.

My adrenalin flowing, I tackled the outside mess.  We had a yardsale yesterday and two days of charity pick-up, but there was still a file cabinet, TV stand, trash compactor, two soggy boxes of books (it rained this morning), a huge suitcase and a large box of rusting cabinet hardware.  I started wiping it all down, tossing the books that were soaked (they would just get moldy) and packing my truck to make a charity run myself.  Before muscling the trash compactor in, I wisely called the thrift store to ask if they would even take it.  They said no.  Instead, I grabbed our hand truck from the garage and put everything on the street.  I guarantee it will be gone by Sunday night. 

I was on a roll.  I threw some more stuff away, put other stuff back in the garage and decided with D that she would bring H over in an hour.  It's amazing how much of a roller coaster one's emotions can ride.  I have gone from happy to agitated to frustrated to determined to peaceful in about 2 hours.  Phew.  I'm  ready to shower, prep some food and get dressed for tonight's party.  Getting all this inane stuff off my chest has left me feeling relieved.  Thanks for listening. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Big Mess of Creative Play

The other day I was bemoaning to E about how I felt like I didn't really have a creative outlet.  As usual, the answer was right in front of my face.  I am a mom.  Halloween is right around the corner.  Although I am not having a big get-together this year, why not get a little crazy in the kitchen?  I find that I can spend hours on food preparation and not get bored.  The exhaustion rears its head when it is time to clean-up, but it always gets done . . . eventually.

 I have one child, but another is readily available practically anytime I ask.  E is my surrogate daughter.  She is a great sport and hears me when I ask something the very first time.  She is a breath of fresh air.  Despite the age difference between her and my son, they are like two quirky peas in a pod.  Her mom brought her over tonight and the kids went wild.  I have to admit, I did too.

For the past few days, J, my son, and I have been pouring over the Halloween cookbooks, creating the perfect menu for Sunday, which is Halloween.  We are making a Spider Web cookie, Caramel Apple Cupcakes, Marshmallow Mummies (which will be a do-it-yourself kid activity with pretzels, marshmallows, fruit roll-ups and some chocolate icing), Mummy Dogs (hot dogs rolled up in bread stick dough with googly eyes), Boo Bites (chocolate and peanut butter rice-crispy balls), and some Mexican Chicken Soup. (I teetered on the idea of making the main protein something scary too, but I think just a delicious soup in the crockpot will save me from od'ing on sugar.)  There will also be a cauldron filled with fizzy grape and cherry juice.  I bought some dry ice today to make it foggy and bubbly and my mother-in-law is bringing some spirits for the grown-ups.

Pretzel Corpse
I set the kids to making a Haunted House centerpiece, which was comprised of two, empty half-gallon beverage containers, covered in chocolate frosting and then decorated with candy, cookies, pretzels and pumpkin seeds.  In true kid style, the most exciting part was opening all the goodies and putting them in bowls, while making sure none of them were poison.  It's called "quality control", right?!?  We slathered the foil-covered containers in chocolate frosting, then got to work, making windows and dead-bodies; tombstones and crooked paths. About 30 minutes into it, J was spun from the sugar, squawking like a bird.  E plodded on, creating the deathly tableau.  I served up some dinner to counteract the glucose.  J had officially lost interest in the decorating.  The table was covered in frosting and fallen goodies, but he was ready to play robber, first using masking tape to secure his feet together, then asking us to tape him to the chair.  E obliged and I took over, using pretzels and cookies to outline and refine the house.

"I would never eat your masterpiece . . . while you were watching!"
The robber, caught!

 
E's mom called around 9, wondering if we were about finished.  She was exhausted and wanted her girl home.  I dissuaded the kids from E's turn to be taped to the chair, and we quickly brought the bowls of goodies into the kitchen.  I made sure the chairs surrounded the table, as our boxer, Kodi, was sniffing around hopefully.  Since he has a history of eating my creative masterpieces (glue and all), I knew better than to leave him an opening.  Sure enough, after dropping the girl off, the tablecloth was pushed back at one end of the table, where the big boy had pushed his snoot around for deliciousness.  Luckily, the house was unscathed. 
I got the boy to bed, untaped our chairs, laid down a black table cover and centered the satisfying haunted house in the middle of the table, carefully placing all the chairs back around to keep it safe until fingers start picking the house apart on Sunday.  If only I could summon the kitchen spirits to whisk away the mess waiting for me when I am done here.  That's alright.  It's all part of the process.  Still gotta prep up those cupcakes and Boo Bites.  Gonna be a yummy Halloween.  I am grateful, as ever, for answered needs.  My creative cup is full for the night.     


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yardsales, Children and Sleep Depravation

So.  I held a yardsale yesterday. 

We used to have them back in Ocean Beach years ago, but then swore off, preferring to donate our "treasures" for tax purposes.  Well, my girlfriend D called me a few weeks ago.  She had just remodeled her kitchen and had loads of stuff to unload.  She's going to Hawaii soon and thought a little extra cash might come in handy.  Some other friends who live across the street from us had mentioned that they might like to do a sale soon, as they had just cleared out a 10-year-old storage unit.  So, what could I do but organize something!  (Yes, I know, I could have let people work out their own stuff, but that's no fun!)

We decided to hold a "multi-family" yard sale, having my stuff intermingled with D's on my driveway and my neighbors would use theirs.  The thought was that buyers would not be able to avoid visiting both.  (I know I wouldn't!)  I live on a relatively busy street. My house resides between the hospital and a main street.  Forgetaboutit.  We get foot and car traffic all day long.  We posted notices in the Pennysaver, Craig's list and did a late-night-sign-posting excursion.  (When I say "we", I mean my son and his friend, E.  My hubby was out of town for a handball tournament.  Lucky dog.)

For the past few weeks, my free time has been a flurry of purging.  The only place that I didn't really delve into was the garage, as we had cleared it out recently.  I did run down there for the old beast of a suitcase that has laid dormant since visiting Japan in 1995.  It is powder-blue and takes up a lot of space.  We are duffel-bag people these days.  I texted E about selling his beer-brewing supplies, which have also been collecting dust since the 90's but he didn't respond.  I took the hint.

I prepped some crockpot chicken fajitas and rice, bought some tropical and cranberry juices to compliment the champagne and set the coffeepot.  J and I slept like the dead until about 5 a.m., when we arose and started setting up the stuff.  We put out 3 foldable tables and a whole bunch of old sheets for stuff to sit on.  J decorated one last sign with a bunch of shadowing and happy faces to adorn the sign-post to point the consumers to our two houses.  Friend D and her son, H pulled-up with doughnuts and more boxes of stuff and we got rolling. 

The sale was set for 7 a.m., but as anticipated, as soon as the sun rose around 6:30, the cars started slowing and stopping.  We kept reassuring people that we'd be done pulling stuff out soon, and tried not to be grumpy at their early arrival.  We knew we they would come, after all, and a few things sold right away.  By 6:30, my living room and dining room were cleared of the boxes of stuff, and my friend M and I pulled out my gorgeous-but-humongous lawyer's bookcase with glass fronts that housed our  videos.  All of our VHS tapes and VCR were for sale and our DVD's had been moved over to the CD cabinets.  The CD's have been transferred to our i-tunes and boxed in the garage.  We can't bear to part with them quite yet.

I let a lot of stuff go for a buck or a quarter or 50-cents.  I let the bookcase leave me for $50.  (E has promised a love-seat for more seating to take its place in the living room).  A friend of mine warned against dwelling on the original prices of stuff when selling at a yardsale, as you will never get anything even close to it monetarily.  I did pretty good with this, except for the BBC language course, "Muzzy" that my dad had bought to teach my son Spanish.  He spent close to $100 on it and I couldn't get $5.  I eventually pulled it.  Perhaps I can get more on Craig's list. 

By 7:58 the champagne had been popped and the house smelled great from the chicken that had been slow-cooking since the night before.  The kids had their own table of stuff and were allowed to keep the money earned, as long as they were outside manning the stuff.  H racked in over $30 and J got about $22.  They were good sports and had a lot more tenacity than I had anticipated.  When they got bored, they played with the stuff that they were trying to sell or punish my bushes with sticks.

I visited my friends to see how they were doing.  A pimpin, fluffy purple hat caught my eye, but I resisted.  I did buy a new pocket-knife for my brother-in-law's bday.  It's a cheapie, but it will stand in until he gets another.  My friends were exhausted.  Because of the recent rain, they hadn't been able to go through their garage properly and had raced on Friday afternoon to get stuff sorted.  By 2 they had packed it in, determined to hold another sale soon.   By then my resolve had waned and the hat was still there.  I got it for a buck and will build my Halloween costume around it.  Leisure suit, tall boots and a bunch of bling.  I'm usually a witch or vampire but this year, I will be pimpin for sure.

By 3 p.m., we were exhausted too.  The crowed had waned; a car stopped once every 10 minutes or so and we were done.  We packed it up and documented the items, and loaded the side of my porch with the stuff awaiting the charitable pick-up on Tuesday.  I sent D home, keeping her son, H and little E, our dear friend who is 12.  I poured a cup of coffee and vegged out for an hour, watching a pre-recorded episode of "Storm Chasers".  (I am WAY into watching a bunch of shows on the Discovery channel these days.  Very cool stuff like "Hoarders", "Intervention", "Billy the Exterminator" and "Myth Busters" keep our family entertained and informed.  (I haven't let J watch "Intervention" yet.  He doesn't need to see people smoking crack quite yet.)

Then I packed the kids in the truck and did a recon mission, pulling down all the signs we had put up the day before.  We stopped for a Little Cesar's pizza and bread sticks, then to get E a change of clothes.  The kids were doing a sleep-over. 

By 9 p.m., I was a zombie.  I wanted the kids to clean-up their ginormous (gimme a break,  That word's awesome) mess, but they had creeped themselves out playing scary tunes on the synthesizer and telling supernatural stories.  I dispelled the mood by playing Chipmunk's Christmas full-blast on the house stereo and telling them to be more scared of my wrath than of any ghosts.  They got the hint.  The couch-bed pulled out and piled with blankets and pillows, they settled in to watch "Fred.  The Movie".  I am not proud to say I let them watch this pathetic soul for an hour and a half, but they were cracking up so bad, it was worth it. 

J was up by 6:55, complaining of a sore throat.  Great.  I got him some homeopathic stuff and was about to pull him in my bed for a few more winks, when early-riser H appeared.  Double great.  I relented and let them watch a movie while I climbed back in bed.  An hour later, J was back.  A picture had fallen from his wall and there was glass on his floor.  After I got that cleaned up and dealt with silly putty stuck on the synthesizer buttons, I poured a cup of coffee and got back to my copy of  The Power of Now.  Talk about extreme mornings.  Guess I should cook the heathens some grub.  One likes scrambled eggs, one doesn't like anything, one will eat anything.  I'll make a smorgasbord and let them pick.  No whining allowed.  I need to take it easy today, reserve my strength.  I need to go shopping for some pimpin duds and gather up my ho's to complete the outfit.          Thanks for listening.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ode to Punky (Bill Egan, R.I.P. 1941-2010)

I was 17 when I first met my father-in-law to be.  I was soon won over by this big, strong, funny, intelligent man.  The creed in the Egan household was all about enjoying life: experiencing what the world had to offer, hard work, perseverance, sports, delicious food and drinks,  and a lot of laughter (not necessarily in that order).  He welcomed me and my sister-in-law Jaime into the fold from the very beginning.

Bill, AKA Punky, had definite opinions, but allowed others to have their own (even if he personally thought them foolish.)  He was an observer of life.  He found others very amusing, whether he liked them or not.  He was a visionary.  He would watch CNN and ESPN and the Financial Reports, read the daily paper and tell it like he saw it.  He was very often right.  He went to bed early and woke up before the rest of us, jotting plans on his yellow pads and oversize calendar and paved the way to an adventure-filled existence. 

He loved to rhyme in your birthday cards and twist up crazy nicknames.  "Well, well, Judy-Bell, that's just swell", he'd say when I would bring him something yummy.  If you were around him for the first time, watch out.  You just might come out of it with a nickname of your own.  And those names stuck and morphed and would encapsulate the past and the future in one fell swoop.

He was a man of particular tastes.  Slap-stick movies (at which he would laugh so loud and hard, you would be laughing too, even if you missed what was so funny in the first place), green olives and salt in his beer, and the best margaritas around.  My favorite memory of one of his concoctions was at the river one year when he decided to make a batch of margaritas in an ice-bucket with honey.  He stirred it all up with his big fingers and passed it round.  The best ever.  Another one of his quirks was the need of a toothpick at hand at all times.  You can find toothpicks in the garage, in the trucks, on the dining room table and in drawers.  You may have wondered why there are packages of toothpicks at your table. Please take them with you and use them with a smile.

Bill wasn't perfect, none of us are.  He could be stubborn at times.  But more than anything, he loved his family and friends and would go out of his way to make every day enjoyable.  I have learned a life-long lesson from this wonderful man, who lived life to the fullest.  He will forever live in my heart.  Love you, Punky!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wow. What a ride!

Mockingjay emblem
Harriet the Spy, my childhood hero
I have always been drawn to books with strong, female characters.  It's one of the reason I love reading Stephen King books.  When I was young, my life was shaped by books like Walking Out, which tells the story of a city girl who survives a plane crash and lives in the woods until she is rescued.  The Girl Who Owned A City told the story about "the end times" when children were the only survivors and how one girl rallied the children against bullies and re-established some semblance of normality in a world without adults or electricity.  I read and re-read Harriet the Spy.  My dad bought the book for me at a church rummage sale and I still have the original copy.  It's held together by a rubber band.  None of these books affected me like The Hunger Games series, however, and this is said by an adult who has immersed herself in YA lit for the past few years. 

I just finished book three of The Hunger Games and wow.  These books are INTENSE!  I read the first one shortly after it came out and had to wait (very impatiently) for books two and then three to make their way into my greedy hands.  I will do my best not to ruin the story for anyone who is moved to read it, so bear with me as I tell a bit of this amazing story.

It is the future.  The United States no longer exists.  The country is divided into 12 districts, in a communistic state, run by "The Capitol".  People are told what to do, who to marry and have barely enough to eat.  They are not allowed to leave their districts, which are surrounded by electrical fencing.  Katniss Everdeen is about 14 years old, and the main provider for her family, since her dad died in the mines and her mom has been swallowed by depression.  She has learned how to escape the boundaries and hunts to supplement her hungry family.  The title, The Hunger Games represents the horrific event that is held to amuse the people who live in the privileged Capitol and their president, Snow.  Many years ago, District 13 rebelled and were supposedly defeated.  As a gruesome reminder to stay submissive, two children from each district are required to fight to the death on public television.  (Think "The Running Man" but with kids.)  Katniss' little sister, Prim is called to join the games.  Katniss steps up to take her place.  What follows is a bloody and heartbreaking adventure, where only Katniss and her fellow district tribute, Peeta survives.  Katniss eventually becomes the figurehead of the rebellion against President Snow.  In an effort to quell the rebels, Katniss and Peeta are called back into the arena.  (I said that I would do my best not to spoil anything, but I think I may have already given some plot away.  Tough.  Read it anyway!)  In book three, Mockingjay, named after Katniss and the discarded weaponry of the Capitol (Mockingjay's were hybrid birds that and the capability to repeat what they heard to the establishment.  They were discarded after being fed misleading information by the rebelling citizens but survived and pick-up song and speech they hear).  Mockingjay has become Katniss' symbol.  Ok.  I've told you a lot.  Now stop reading and go read The Hunger Games and don't stop until you've read all three.  You may weep, you may cheer this amazing heroine, you will probably love her and all those she loves.  Then call me.  We'll chat.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

That Rush You Get . . . Part 2

As if the excitement of buying all those books from the Scholastic Book Fair wasn't enough, a few days later I found myself at the local Barnes and Noble with a gift card worth over $700 in my hot little hand.

It started off innocently enough.  I was at the store to sign some paperwork confirming that our school would be  holding an event with Barnes and Noble in December.  The gift card was a result of all the hard work last years' librarian put in at her event. 

I had a short list of titles to purchase while I was there, some more copies of Twilight and Breaking Dawn, some manga, the second book of Skeleton Creek, and a Goosebumps book that had been requested.  Then the Barnes and Noble rep gave me a tour of the area where we would be setting up our event.  She showed me a copy of a local author I might be interested in having come to my school.  I grabbed a copy of his book, (autographed with a cool octopus picture on the title page) and was ready to find the other titles.  Then the rep had the brilliant idea of getting me a cart.

Oh Dear.  Barnes and Noble doesn't provide carts to the everyday shopper.  They don't even have little baskets, that I have noticed, anyway.  So she comes out from her office with this funky little dolly-type thing that is made for holding books.  Lots of books. 

Whooee.  With a book cart and a gift card for over $700, you can only imagine how much fun I had!  I got all the books on my list and about 30 more.  Seriously.  I spent over half of the card.  Yup.  That's right.  Only a little over half.  That means I get to come back.  Good.  I already have a list started.

Friday, September 17, 2010

That Rush You Get From Spending Money That's Not Yours


I just finished with my Jr. High's first Book Fair of the year.

About 3 weeks ago, I called to update the Scholastic Company with the information that I was the new Library Tech at this school and was informed that a Book Fair had been scheduled and was coming up right quick.

After the shock wore off and the panic subsided, I went for it.

A lot of work goes into hosting a Book Fair.  The library has to be closed to regular book check-out (and this wasn't much of a problem because I had been down in the textbok dungeon for the past few weeks and the library hadn't even opened yet, so what was another week?!?)  Next, all the furniture needs to be relocated to create a big, open area for all the book displays.  Then there's the matter of notifying the staff and students of the upcoming event, sending home book flyers and making announcements.

The awesome Tech that was here last year had scheduled the event to coincide with the Back to School night.  Very clever.  Parents, afterall, are the ones with the money. 

I opened the doors during lunchtime and had the door staffed with someone who could regulate the number of students in at a time.  The kids would be asked to leave their backpacks at the door and put their money in their pockets.  I sold a whole lotta erasers, pointy fingers on sticks, pencils and bookmarks.  A few actually bought books, but I gotta say, the majority of the sales are from just plain stuff.

Today I tallied up my sales and had about $900 book credit awaiting me.  Wow.  That stack of ever growing "wanted" books?  Mine for the taking.  When a parent complained that her daughter had already read the books in this library, I gleefully pointed out the stack of new books awaiting barcodes and date-due slips.

Seriously?  I racked up about $700 in sales in about 5 minutes.  I smile just thinking about it.

Now you might think that I am feeding my inner, possession-oriented child.  Perhaps.  But the fact of the matter is, this school, this district, this STATE has no money that they are willing to spend on my little library.  It's up to me.  So if I have to give up hours of my own free time to get books into eager middle-school-aged hands, so be it.  Books are my passion and it's contagious.

Now I just have to wait until the $100 I spent on my own card shows up on our bank statement.  Some of the items are for Christmas presents.  I promise!!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tit for Tat

Tit for Tat.  A ridiculous phrase used to describe when "someone pays back one wrong or injury with another", according to Dictionary.com.  And it really chaps my hide. 

First of all, it's unfair to speak your mind, share your emotions, trust your soul with someone who cares about you and instead of responding to your needs, they get defensive about it, override your emotions, and throw something back at you.

Second of all, it's horrible communication, especially in a meaningful relationship.

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty steamed.  I started to write in my journal, but I got impatient with handwriting.  I can type much quicker and the delete button is very handy.  I needed to vent and as long as I play my cards right, my blog is a safe place to do it.  No, I won't name any names.  I am not "bagging" on anyone.  I feel unheard and my feelings are hurt and I need to share it aloud.  On paper.  On the screen.  Whatever.

I fully understand becoming defensive when someone doesn't like something I did or said.  It's like an instant response.  Sure.  But I think that part of becoming a responsible adult is learning how to take a deep breath before throwing something back at someone just because you're uncomfortable with what you are hearing.  Anyone out there agree with me?

I also believe that with maturity comes the acknowledgement that oftentimes one should calm down before bringing up a touchy subject.  I am getting pretty good at this.  The last time I had an issue with someone, I kinda sat on it for a few days, playing it around in my brain.  I wasn't dwelling (too much), simply formulating my stance and rebuttal before confronting them.  It worked.  I was able to approach the person calmly and lay it all out in a not-so-personal manner.  They were uncomfortable for a few minutes, but we were able to resolve the matter.  Pretty much.  It takes time to create new habits, after all.

Ok.  So let's get back to that phrase, "Tit for Tat."  What did it mean originally?  Without doing extensive research, I turned up: Origin of TIT FOR TAT (first known use: 1556) is an alteration of an earlier version of the phrase, "tip for tap", meaning a blow for a tap. (Merriam Webster online)  So, you tap someone and they punch you?  That's what it originally meant?  I nod my head.  That's how my overactive, emotional state feels right about now.  Angry.  Justified.  Unfairly treated.  Butt hurt.  (Hey.  I thought getting all this out of my system was supposed to calm me down!)  Hmmm.  It might be a long night . . .

Friday, August 27, 2010

Semantics

  "Don't take classes on not being an enabler", she told me.  "You're too good at it." 

I was cooking for the woman as she said this.  My heart started beating a whole lot harder. 

Seriously? 

Had she just said this to me?!? 

I took a few deep breaths and thought about how to approach this situation.  I didn't want to be rude, but I sure as heck wasn't going to let this one slide.  I had not come over to her house to "support her craziness"!  Yes, I am a good helper, but no, I didn't want to feel taken advantage of or to be silent and walk away pissed. 

I stopped cooking. 

It's not good to cook when you're angry. 

After a few more breaths and a little courage gathering for the one who hates conflict, I said, "I took personally what you just said to me."  "What did I say?" she wanted to know.  "That I am an enabler. I'm helping you because I want to."

She quickly explained what she meant was that my presence was motivating her to take care of some very uncomfortable tasks; things she had put off doing for a very long time.  Her meaning came from St. Paul as he spoke to the Corinthians in the Bible.  He tells them to enable each other.  To bring out the best in each other. 

I have taken a six-month cognitive therapy course to teach me how to set boundaries and embrace my emotions as valid.  To me, "enabling" means to support someones unhealthy habits.  A codependent who sweeps up the mess after the drunk spouse breaks something is an enabler.  The parent who doesn't let their children face the consequences of their own actions is an enabler. 

Her housemate sauntered into the kitchen.  We drew him into the discussion.  She asked him what his definition of an enabler was.  His matched mine.

She got frustrated and blamed the people who have "ruined" the term.

OK. 

Alright. 

Point taken. 

My heart slowed down to normal.  My self-righteous anger abated.  My Cinderella complex sat back down in the corner to sew up someone else's ripped clothing for awhile.  I finished cooking.  It was delicious.