Sunday, August 30, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

Nevada, Iowa's Lincoln Highway Days has nothing to do with the Lincoln Highway except that the highway goes through the town of Nevada. It's a bit like their county fair only it isn't their county fair. It's pronounced Ne-vay-da. Not like the state. It was chilly outside, as you can sort of see from the steam coming off my coffee. Those scrambled eggs were made by the Jaycees on a grill and they were very good. The ham was local. The coffee was very good. It was all incredibly expensive. They'll be taking a few installment payments straight out of the bank account for this breakfast. I guess it's a fundraising sort of thing.

OK, really. We all paid cash. What you see there cost me five bucks, American.


I like cookbooks and there was a man set up with tables of stuff and junk for later in the day when the normal people arrived. He had many cookbooks and I looked at them all. There was a cookbook I really wanted for two soup recipes. One soup was a creamy peanut butter soup and the other used a can of peas, pureed, for a base. Did I mention I went through every cookbook? Some of them had been damp at some point in their long lives and so they made my nose tickle. My fingers felt, well, they felt a little moldy and I had to wash them.

I picked three old Better Homes & Garden cookbooks with their little drawings and sometimes strange recipes (lots of Jell-O molds and salads!) and happily paid a little too much for them.

There they are: the cheese one is interesting. The barbecues and picnics one is good. It's fun reading them. I got home and later in the day, I sat outside and flipped through them looking for the soup recipes.


I didn't buy it. Anyone have a creamy peanut butter soup recipe? A recipe using pureed, canned peas as a basis for the broth? Shoot. Even the google machine hasn't been really helpful. I've found a few, but both these recipes in the unpurchased cookbook were super simple with less than five ingredients. You'd think I would remember them, but I don't.

As you can see, I am wearing a sweatshirt. I wore it all day, even into the afternoon. When I got home I walked the worst 3 miles I've walked in a long time. But I got it done. And today I walked 5.25 miles. Today I signed up and paid for six adult swimming lessons as I hope to feel a little less spastic and unathletic in the swimming pool. As of now, I get the job done, but I feel a bit like I'm flailing around confusing the lifeguards. Oh and, um, swimming on my back all the time. (Shut up)

I have recently left comments on other blogs trying to help out owners of curly hair.

As you see, I'm not just a customer, I'm the president.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Here's lookin' at ya, kid.

I'm a little wary around horses. I'm not technically scared of them, because it isn't anything like going up a lot of stairs, which depletes my energy and ends with a racing heart, rising panic and a heart that threatens to leap out of my chest. I get nervous around horses, so this shot makes me happy. I got pretty close to him. I think his name is Pete and he is huge.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why yesterday got so hectic

Samir was born at 7:01 at 33 weeks, praise God. Details to follow as he is in NICU being weighed right now. It was a very long night.

UPDATE: Samir belongs to a dear friend of mine who graciously asked me to be present at his birth. He weighed 4 pounds, 4.10 ounces (2110 grams) and is 17" long. He is 33 weeks, 5 days old and is not breathing so great on his own, but this was expected. I got to call his paternal grandmother, which was awesome, as well as his uncle who called me Samir's aunt. I got home and only got two hours sleep before the phone rang. I didn't answer it, but I did wake up. I should sleep pretty well tonight!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Nature Notes

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Today just got over-the-top hectic, but that's another post. I got mums for a birthday present, which is a sure sign summer is coming to a close. It is only 66 degrees right now, at lunchtime. It rained all morning and the day is still overcast, cool and damp. Just like August only totally different.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How do I walk when I don't want to

I have been asked to talk about how I walk when I don't want to and how I find the time.

My first attempt at answering this question was a bit like swiping at a hungry tiger. I was surprised by my answer as it sounded angry. The truth is that if you want to find time to do something for yourself, you are going to have to make some very tough decisions about priorities. I know it isn't a simple thing even though I don't have children. Believe me, children are not the only unreasonable, selfish and demanding items on our lists. There are expectations in your life, people who expect you to do or act or say or fix right at the moment they demand attention.

When you decide that meeting those demands immediately is not your number one priority, you can expect life to be sticky for awhile. Or forever. Whatever they choose.

It is my contention that life is better when you make the decision to put yourself first. It may mean getting up really early or staying up really late. Most likely it means kids make their own dinner a couple times a week or they eat without you or they learn to iron... Very likely the reality will turn out to be less painful than everyone imagines during the first days/months of the new way of life.

One thing I have chosen is to live with a house that is not quite as clean as I would like it when I want it clean. My house is not messier than ever before, it just may not be clean right now. While there may be a pile of opened mail or uneaten garden tomatoes on the counter, I sleep better, feel better and (I flatter myself) look better.

Luckily for me, I have long believed that if you are coming over to see me, I should be the attraction unless of course a cat vomits at your feet three seconds after you walk in the door. It's hard to compete with the excitement of a retching cat.


My other contention on this topic is that if you do not HAVE to walk (or run), then you probably haven't been walking long enough. Because this feeling, this strength, this putting yourself ahead of others, the health, the determination, the pride...this stuff is big. I am grateful simply because my body will do more than I thought it would. I am grateful to discover that it still heals well. If there is a gift I could give you that would change your life, I think this is it: go for a walk.

What scares me is the day when I can't. I mean literally cannot go for a walk because something has gone wrong with me, or growing old is particularly unfriendly to me. I sort of have a thing in my brain that whispers, "Do it now. Do it while you still can."

Walk around the block, don't set out to walk 13 miles. Look. Listen. Escape. Sing. Set a good example. As much as we hate to admit it, there has to be a part of you that knows that your Important People will still be there (and they won't starve to death) when you get back.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Working in college

On Facebook I am friends with Kansas State University Alumni Association (go Cats!) and they asked this morning about our memories of working in college. I mostly worked writing publicity for the university and then I became the editor of the faculty/staff newsletter, which was like a little newspaper the university had to print. There were things the university was required to print, sort of the way newspapers print public notices. But I got to do some really neat things, too.

I had to work for the newspaper for my second reporting class although of course that wasn’t a paid position. I enjoyed doing that and I really liked the group effort of everyone trying to get the paper out, the feel of the newsroom, the private jokes and the collective hum of so many brains working so hard to get the keyboard to translate thoughts into words.

Sort of like what I am doing right now.

I never regretted my major although I don’t use it (that’s shocking, eh?) and I enjoyed all the studying that went into getting a Bachelor of Science degree. I like physical sciences and music, so I piled those things on as high as I could. I went to KSU with my freshman year under my belt, but many of those classes went toward my overall selection of electives. It isn’t that easy to get through college in four years anymore as classes are not always available when you are required or eligible to take them.

It was hard work to find interesting classes that actually fulfilled some requirements. And then there was my rather big decision to get a BS instead than a BA. The journalism school’s committee-of-some-sort seemed pleased to have someone want a BS and I got the impression from my advisor that this was a rare choice for a journalism major. He told me they were delighted and said I could do anything I wanted. So I did.

I went to the College of Architecture for a class and took another in the College of Agriculture. It was fabulous and for all my effort to dig out quantitative science classes, I got to skip biology! I hate biology. I had to take one life science class, so I took botany and it cost me. It cost me because I was in class FIVE days a week with botany: M-W-F and then labs on T-TH. But I remembered everything from the 8th grade and I did just fine. I liked drawing cross sections of leaves and I really liked the fact that I never had to take apart anything that once had a beating heart.

A friend of mine from the long ago days in Chicago once told me that it didn’t usually matter what your major was as long as you got the degree and I took that to heart. It wasn’t as if I wanted to be a doctor or an accountant or an engineer. I just wanted a college education, believe it or not. Just wanted to go and take notes and tests and get good grades. And I did all of that. I got very good grades and wasn’t at all obsessed about it.

But, and I mean absolutely no offense to sociology or history or English majors, I had to chose something practical because that's me: practical.

For the first time in years, I have felt a little bit like going back to school. Do you remember your first fall after you graduated either high school or college and your brain was all geared up to go back and your body said, no way I’m not going!? That’s how I feel this year for some reason.

Next thing you know I will have one of those dreams where I am late to class or I had to take a math class and no one told me or I show up on the wrong day for the final exam. I hate those dreams and although they are not near as frequent as they once were, I still have them.

Oh, and one more thing before you go.

Every school has that urban myth that if the teacher is something like 10 minutes late for class you don’t have to stay … or whatever … well get this. For one of my second semester senior year final exams ON A SATURDAY MORNING, the proctor didn’t show up. At. All.

The professor was out of town. We weren’t so cocky about leaving and we all hung out in the hallways of the military science building for about 90 minutes.

We never did have to take the final. I bet the proctor had some ‘splainin’ to do.

It made me mad. I had studied, for crying out loud. But I got over it really fast.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What to do in my next life, which I am totally convinced I will have and I do not mean reincarnation

I had a birthday. It’s over. Let’s not talk about it. The plan was that on one day of the year, I had to get older. So for that part of it, if you want to be positive about the whole thing, the day was a whopping success. Talk about putting make up on a pig.


Moving on: I walked 13 miles on Saturday. I didn’t do it particularly well, but I did it in a respectable amount of time so I feel pretty good about the Air Force Marathon in September. My feet twinged, but did not hurt.


I had a thought during a lunch and learn on Friday about career choices and how I would enjoy being a data modeler or a data architect. Now that may seem a little obscure to many folks, but I have that kind of teeny, detailed way of thinking that would make me feel warm & cozy at the end of the work day for having matched up so much crap in someone’s relational database.

The spooky part is that I already knew this about myself and data modeling. It wasn’t an epiphany. It was more like that feeling you get when you realize you might have missed the jackpot in the lottery by one number. If you had actually bought a ticket…

…since I was a journalism major in college. Yea, so…I didn’t buy a ticket. Get it?

Here I sit as a recruiter. Yep, I like that as well. I do OK with people and I like matching people with jobs and I LOVE working on commission. I totally get the commission thing and am always surprised when people say it would make them nervous.
I LOVE the idea that this coming paycheck could be huge. Of course, my last huge paycheck was two years ago and this year much less, but you live off the lower amount and have fun with the higher amount. By fun, I mean paying off second mortgages and the like. Which I did. I paid off two of them. And the house is better for the improvements made.

Do I need to teach a class on not living on the higher amount? No? Good. But I could do that as well.

Another job I would love is a tour guide. I wouldn’t want to be the sort of tour guide that runs from pillar to post all day long schlepping tired tourists into and out of 17 churches in three hours in four cities. I would like to live in a wicked pisser place that people are chewing their arms off to get to and then just show them around. Going on hikes and eating in restaurants and sitting in pubs, listening to good local music and memorizing historical information and sharing umbrellas and getting on boats and helping when everyone gets sea sick. I would love that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And you thought today was just another day

No! Indeed! Today is my birthday! and I better have something groovy happen to me today so I can come back here and blog about it. With photos. That's all I'm sayin' about that. I'll be back with excitement later on and heaven help us if I have to manufacture that excitement. It could be ugly...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catching up on a Friday

There's a pharmacy in Des Moines that still has a sandwich counter. I took my girlfriend's daughters there today. Bauder's Pharmacy is known for their homemade ice cream. You have to eat your sandwich before you are allowed to have any ice cream. That's my rule. Not the pharmacy's.

I don't have the same relationship with the girls. The older one says she has had to endure my torture (I make her behave in public and have even read books to her kindergarten class - shocking behavior on my part). The younger looked at me this afternoon and said, "I want to be just like you!" followed by "This is the best lunch ever!"

Um, yea. I never got that out of the older one. Not even when she was five. But I love them both.

The only thing you might actually call nostalgic left at the counter.
And then I got home after work and discover that we are babysitting. I don't really mind, but you can see how pleased the cats are about this situation. The bird feeder in the reflection is new. I got it for $6 on summer clearance. I'm excited to have another bird feeder, but did you know (if you don't feed birds) that you can go through $9,451,782.37 a year feeding birds?
The cats have a simpler solution, but we don't allow that inter-species mingling around this house. Clearly.



Thursday, August 20, 2009

My garden: late summer

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Things are changing in the backyard now that August is drawing to a close. I have my first new harvest: leeks!

Fading flowers

Unfinished business:

Curiously stubborn non-growing plants:

Confusing failures:

Continued growth!

Fabulous victories!

Unexpected perfection:

My lovely retreat changes temperature:

And last, but not least, wonderful gifts from friends:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Iowa State Fair 2009

I took the kids to the state fair tonight. I left work a little early and we piled into the car and spent the best 90 bucks I've spent all summer. Don't let the tough poses fool you! Aaron did 8 chin ups with the Marines, they all did an impressive number of full push-ups (Feta did them, too!) at the Army National Guard. They got cotton candy, a caramel apple and chicken wings. They got to ride a roller coaster that was well worth the money. Prince, who is the oldest boy, got to hang out with Pastor Ben and the older senior high school kids. But I heard him say later on that we did more fun things than they did. And you know, what? I think that's true. I dragged them through some barns so they saw baby pigs and goats as well as horses and dairy cows. They saw baby ostriches, turkey, geese and chickens. We saw the crops and some artwork (the sort that uses beans and stuff) along with all the flowers that were judged. And bonus: we got to see the butter cow. We stopped and looked at things like an obnoxious guy in a dunk tank and another guy who used a chainsaw to turn a block of ice into a pig. There was a group called Vocal Trash and we heard them start to play and Feta's eyes lit up. We listened to the group for about 30 minutes and -mind you, she's a teenager - she was smiling and bopping around and showing excitement and so every time Aaron would say whine, "Can we go?" I said "No, your sister is enjoying herself." They're such good kids. It was a good evening.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I learn late in life to shut up

I just read a great post on a blog I read for work about how a 50-cent doll from Goodwill could gurgle and coo, but a more expensive doll from Kohls didn’t make a sound. She joked that the doll’s silence is what made it more expensive.

Her point was that, in our industry, there are a lot of people who talk when they should be listening. There are a lot of people who think salespeople do nothing but talk. I learned fresh out of college in my first sales job that this is not the case. My job was then and is now to get you to talk.

How can I help you find the right job for you if I don’t listen to your story about the last job you had? How can the dude down at Gateway Market help you find the perfect cheese to cure your craving if he won’t listen to you describe your need for cheese? How can the woman in the convenience store give you directions if she doesn’t know who you’re visiting?

Well, you might think the woman in the convenience store should hear about WHAT or WHERE you are visiting, but then we would all know you’ve never been to a super-small town. We went to Orange City, Iowa a couple years ago and when asking for help, the reply was, “Who are you here to see?” When we told her, she knew exactly how to get us to the right destination. Would have been even funnier if she’d said, “They’re not home today, they’re up on the farm visiting her sister.” Ha! But I digress…I’m talking too much.

I have become quiet. I do not need to add to every conversation anymore. I talk less than I used to. By talk, I mean actually opening my mouth and making words come out because, obviously, I blog.

(Being quiet doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say! Holy wow, that is SO not the case. I totally have stuff to say! Keep reading! Read every day! Read early, read often.)

I have even *gasp* made many a conscious decision to withhold my opinion from a conversation. CAN YOU IMAGINE?

Last weekend, I was walking with an old friend and the two women with us were running a constant stream of chat that went like this:

We could go this way.
We could. We could also go down there.
I think we should go this way. O! Look at those flowers.
The path is wet, let’s cut through the grass.
We should have gone on the sidewalk.
I wonder when they poured this sidewalk.
It looks new. They need more.
Wow, the lake looks really nice. I wonder if that’s where they rent boats.
They rent boats?
Look at how the sidewalk curves.
Do you think they rent boats there?
I like the landscaping, but they need a sidewalk where everyone is cutting. And more flowers.
What sort of boats do they rent, do you think?
Watch for the mud there.
Maybe people put their own boats in there.

During this entire exchange, I walked along in silence. My old friend noticed. He asked me why I wasn’t saying anything.

I just looked at him.

I mean! Really! What do you say?

I thought, “I can see the sidewalks and the flowers and since I wasn’t moving my face, I read the sign about the boat rental place?”

I didn’t say anything. I just smiled. I have grown quiet.

There are a few people who will read this and not know what I’m talking about because I talk just fine around them. There is an equation in play: an investment is made and returned. I listen to you and you listen to me and we learn from each other. We grow together. We support and chide and laugh and love and share and sit in companionable silence.

All I’m saying is that chit-chat tends to get me into trouble and I have finally learned to run with my lack of skill at making small talk. It’s OK to be quiet if you can’t add to what is being said.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Random post for a Monday

Who needs cat treats? Lily, who enjoys canned corn and Cheerios, has introduced the feline family members to garbanzo beans. I had an emotional day today. I am leaving for a walk soon. I made Smashed Chickpea Salad for tomorrow's lunch. I need to go to the store to buy corn tortillas and ingredients for corn chowder. I want to sit in my swing because the weather is nice. I haven't slept well in days. I need to go to bed early. There are dirty dishes in my sink. Shhhh.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The reason I walk

I have had trouble with my feet, but like other people, I have found a good thing in the trouble. I have changed the type of shoe I wear and for one week I have done the craziest things with my feet like yoga just for them, picking up pencils with my toes, soaking my feet in cold water after every walk and running my feet over tennis balls. In one week I think I have met with improvement and that's really pretty cool.

But I know there are people who don't understand and even one who refuses to support me because of the lack of "getting it." (Which blows my mind, by the way) Why do I do all this when it is so clearly bad for me? My mom recently asked me if I get what they call a runner's high and is that why I do it? That's a good question. If there's some sort of high out of all of this, I really wish I could hit it. That might be good, clean fun!

I have been disciplined this week about walking and training and just yesterday I felt the biggest reason why I do it: strength. I love that my body can do this. I love that I consider a short walk 4 miles. I wasn't all that surprised that my body could walk 26.2 miles, I was delighted by how it made me feel about my body. I was happy with my performance. I'm usually happy with my performance and always happy when my body does what I ask during a walk. (Let's face it, usually my body just laughs at me when I ask it to behave)

But what actually happened yesterday?

I walked up two steps in the camper and had so much momentum, I felt I might tumble into the bathroom at the top of the steps. I began to pay attention: sitting down, getting back up, walking up steps, carrying a heavy load...I had some strength back. The feeling of strength is great: there's less strain when I rise or bend over or climb the stairs.

Strength: capacity for exertion or endurance. Endurance! Let's do another marathon!

I am feeling optimistic about the Air Force half marathon in September. Maybe this hasn't fully answered the question about why I walk so much. There are other reasons, but strength is a great reason. It's a fabulous feeling.

Oh, and I sleep better, too.

Moravia, Iowa

I stopped to take these in the bright sunshine of midday. I wanted to go back early this morning for better lighting, but it poured rain all night and all morning. I walked about seven miles yesterday morning and it was a fabulous walk. The sunshine was bright, I got photos of many flowers, a butterfly and sailboats. I ran some, I walked mostly. I had had an idea for today's post, but I've forgotten what it was.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hunger is the best sauce

I ate the best hamburger of my life today.

That may be a little overstated, but this morning I walked/ran about seven miles. The ladies had put together lunch and I was so hungry it tasted like the best meal ever put before me. Couple that with eating outside, which always makes food taste better, and you have a meal fit for...well, me!

It made me think of all the times I eat mindlessly because it's time to eat or I am bored. I wonder if most of America needs to work a little harder for their food so it tastes even better and does good things for our bodies.

Did you know that late summer can be a difficult time for your local food bank/pantry? Please buy an extra can of corn to give away this month and savor your next meal!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rhubarb, glorious rhubarb

Sorry for the lousy quality in the photo above. I took the photo with my cell phone as my point and shoot camera is already in the camper for the big weekend at Lake Rathbun near Centerville, Iowa. Can you believe this rhubarb plant? It has been harvested a number of times this year and this haul left behind more than you see on the table. I have the most insane rhubarb plant in the Midwest. I have a recipe for what sounds like a rhubarb dacquiri, but I haven't made any yet. Other than that, I have one recipe for which to use rhubarb, but since the guys at work will eat that recipe's end result, I decided to cut it all up. It will go in the freezer and I will make rhubarb cake and dacquiris this winter.

Here's the recipe. It couldn't be simpler.

Use a box of cake mix - spice, yellow, pineapple supreme, whatever. Prepare the cake mix as directed on the box using one less egg than the mix requires. In a lightly greased 9x13 pan, spread 3-6 cups of chopped rhubarb. Cover the rhubarb with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar. This all depends on your tolerance for the tart bite of rhubarb. Six cups to 3/4 cup sugar is a little tart, so go by that and adjust to your taste. Pour the cake mix over the rhubarb and bake as directed on the box. That's what the recipe says, but I always have to bake it longer and so I would just be prepared with a couple toothpicks. Stick the toothpick into the center of the cake and if it comes out with batter on it, it isn't done.

Let me also add that the leaves are poisonous. They have oxalic acid in them.

I have read that you would have to eat a plateful of leaves to hurt yourself, but I have plant-eating cats in the house and so those leaves are removed immediately, put into a bag and placed back outdoors without delay. Even today for the short time it took to snap that photo , two cats wanted to investigate. (You can see, can't you, that it was a quick photo shoot, right? See the fuzzy, out-of-focus quality only I can provide?)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I couldn’t get out of bed yesterday morning. No, more accurately, I couldn’t wake up. Groggy, you know?
I got out of bed and fed the cats. That's Annabelle (above) being sleepy. Then I grabbed Maggie and crawled into the bed in the guest bedroom and fell back to sleep. I heard Bryan go into the kitchen and say, “Is the coffee made? No,” and so I hollered, “I didn’t realize I was your personal maid.” HA. Dammit, he thought I was downstairs and wouldn’t hear that crap. I hear everything. I have ears like a bat. Except that I don’t think bats actually have ears. Besides, I expect life in the morning to be peaceful on all accounts, including the cats.

I think they know they aren’t supposed to fight or throw up in the morning, but does that stop them? Of course not, it encourages them. They vomit, they argue, they chase each other aggressively while hissing or even sometimes screaming and I have one cat continuously throwing himself down the stairs. Now that’s a long story, but it’s true. He hurls himself down the steps routinely. Yes, like the lead lemming.

Do you know what else I don’t like in the morning besides catty spousal comments? Complaining, arguing and the smell of eggs. Luckily, it’s a rare day I have to deal with any of that except from the cats. Bonus: the cats can’t cook. But Roscoe will often stretch himself up to a standing position and put his front paws on the edge of the counter as if to help.

But really he’s just got a hollow leg. I may tease him about helping out in the kitchen, but it’s just denial of his feline eating disorder and allergy to most meat. Yes, a carnivore allergic to meat. Hardly seems fair, huh?

Anyway, I need the house to be peaceful in the morning. Is that too much to ask?

An entire generation or two?

I was talking to a friend of mine this afternoon and she said, "If it weren't for bad luck..." and I started to sing, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me, Deep, dark depression, excessive misery, If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all, Gloom, despair, and agony on me."

She said she didn't know the song and I said, "I bet you do. I bet you listened to it on Sunday nights at your grandma & grandpa's house."

She said, "Hee Haw?" Bingo!

I thought about how we watched Hee Haw and the Lawrence Welk Show at grandma's house. An entire generation of kids don't go to their grandparents house on Sunday evenings and you know what? I think that's a shame.

I talk about morons, walking and feet

I was thinking about what I should blog today. Yesterday afternoon, I wrote out a post about how irritated I was with a job candidate for whom I had scheduled a telephone interview with a client. He didn’t answer their call. I was pretty irritated.

He finally sent me an email saying that he had been in a meeting with his manager and he had thought the interview was at 11:00am. I have no idea where he got that time, but it was at 2:00pm. OK, so busy people get off track sometime. I understand that. He's a Java programmer and Monday’s interview was scrapped due to a production emergency.

Here’s a thought. When the client didn’t call at 11:00am, why didn’t you call me?

So even though I understand, I still think you’re a moron. Thanks for that. Now I have to make room on my moron list for you and I had hoped I wouldn’t have to add anymore people this year.

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day. I am sitting here contemplating my life and I have decided that the biggest focus yesterday and today is walking.

Two nights ago I walked four miles in 50 minutes. Yesterday I walked 2 miles in 33 minutes and swam for 20 minutes. You have to change these things around. NO, wait. Let’s talk about my feet. I’ve been doing exercises for my feet. I’ve done some yoga poses that stretch the feet and toes. I bought some tennis balls and have fallen in love with the feeling I get from running my foot over it. I have been stretching my toes apart with my fingers and I love that.

I love that because I have always liked playing with my toes like a monkey. So now I have an excuse…as if I needed one.

All of this had made my feet feel much better in a short period of time. I took two full weeks off of my feet, so it is possible it is just a coincidence, but I will keep doing all this since I have the half marathon bearing down on me. Staring me in the face. No pressure.

I printed off the map of the route for the Air Force Marathon and I have it on my desk, just to the left of my keyboard so I look at it every day. For your enjoyment, I have added a low-quality cell phone photo of the map.

I’ll try to be more interesting tomorrow. If you are more interesting (and I'm sure you are, let's face it) tell me about it. Please.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Late summer reading: tried & true

When I was in the sixth grade, we lived next door to my father’s mother. I was only a kid and so my memories are kid-based, but it seemed to me she had an open-door policy. I sort of came and went as I needed to.

My grandma Betty lived in a second-story, two-bedroom apartment with lots of books. As she got older, the book collection grew enormous and the house she bought was full of books – no need to paint or put up hideous wallpaper. She had bookcases floor to ceiling and most of the ones I remember were built just wide enough to fit paperback books.

Surely the woman had some hardback books, but I don’t recall them. The bookcase I remember the most in 1976 was the little metal one with brown shelves and gold ends. That bookcase held the Perry Mason books.

I read every Perry Mason book she had and I have, I feel certain, read every Perry Mason book Erle Stanley Gardner ever wrote. The older ones were the best for me because they were steeped in the contemporary language and mood of the day, albeit it maybe pulp fiction.

NO, not the movie. Geez, I hated that movie. I walked out of that movie.

There are more than 80 Perry Mason novels; the first one was The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1933. I gobbled up these books and have reread most of them over the course of my lifetime.

At some point before my grandma passed away, I got the collection of Perry Mason paperbacks. I think they’re mostly from the 50s and 60s and the cost is roughly 35 cents on each cover. I don’t read those anymore because I don’t want them to fall apart. I just like looking at them for a glimpse into my childhood.

Plus the covers are neat-o!

About five or six years ago, I made a point of reading every single Perry Mason book my local library had. This was mostly for my own occupation, but sort of also to keep them checked out for awhile.

When I was a kid, I:

1. thought Perry Mason mysteries were the only books ESG wrote. I was wrong.
2. would be a Della Street-type secretary. In fact, even now, I know I would make a great Della Street, but that sort of secretary (no, don’t read anything into that, there is no actual hanky-panky in the books) is completely out of fashion these days.
3. never, ever pictured Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. I still don’t.
4. discovered the television series after I had read all the books and the only character I saw in my head was Paul Drake, so I never really got into the show.
5. read my first A.A. Fair book in one of Grandma Betty’s Reader’s Digest compilation books and couldn’t believe it, but the story was just as good as a Perry Mason book.

So today at lunch, I drove over to the library and got a Perry Mason book that has two stories in it as well as an A.A. Fair book (written by Erle Stanley Gardner) that also has two stories in it. If I can sit down long enough to read and relax, this is what I decided will be my late summer reading.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A post about walking

I absolutely have no choice but to walk through any pain and/or discomfort in my feet. Whatever I did to them both is just going to have to heal in November. I have the Air Force Half Marathon in FIVE weeks and I am more than a little out of shape. I will do yoga, swim and walk every single day. I walked four miles this evening and then put my feet on ice. Probably not long enough, but I was in a hurry. I only did one ten-minute round with the ice.

I am excited to do this marathon. I had the goal of walking and running it. But my best walking time is 12:44 and my best running time is just under that so why, oh why should I put my feet through a grinder just to shave off a couple minutes from a 3.5 hour walk?

Why, indeed. It's hard not to compete with myself, to best my last time, to do better and better until my body is completely out of talent. I think I'm close to that point, anyway.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I thought about Daniel today

I think about Daniel every now and then. I used to think about Daniel quite often. Before that I thought about Daniel all the time. There was even a period of time during which I thought about Daniel every day.

I met Daniel when he was about 10-and-a-half and I was nineteen. The youngest of five children, Daniel was a typical boy his age, polite and thoughtful some days, sassy and a little smelly some other days. Fairly annoying most days, but in a still-a-little-kid way that has its charm.

The two things I remember most about Daniel: he liked me OK and he had a mechanical sort of mind. He liked hanging out with me because "being at home was boring." Gosh, where have I heard that before?

So he went places with me, like the grocery store. On one occasion, he went with me to the store and I stopped at the customer service desk to cash my paycheck. The woman counted the money out into my hand, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw his head bob. It was the slightest movement, a bit like a tic. But I saw it and knowing his brain, I counted the money back to her. Sure enough, she had shorted me $100. That's never good, but this was back when $100 was a goodly portion of my paycheck. I asked him later and he told me he had seen it coming, whatever that meant. Maybe she looked shifty!

Daniel learned young how to ride a motorbike and take care of it. He took apart a wonky remote control and put it all together again. I don't recall what it was, but I remember he once took something apart just because he could (that was his answer to the inevitable question), but when he put it back together, there was a leftover part. It still worked. That's what I remember, whatever the item was.

Daniel's birthday was in May, toward the end of the month. This particular year, he turned 14 around Memorial Day. He had recently had his photo taken without glasses and he had changed so much. In that goofy preteen way, you could begin to see that this slightly nerdy boy was going to have a very, very good chance of becoming a handsome young man. We celebrated his birthday with a cake from Gladstone Bakery in Chicago. Yum.

That Monday, instead of going to school, he went into his oldest sister's garage. Inside the garage was his older brother's motorcycle. Daniel skipped school and went joy riding. He put on the helmet, probably because he'd been lectured a million times to never ride a motorbike without a helmet.

At some point during a police chase, Daniel lost control of the bike - a crotch rocket too big and too powerful for a scrawny 14 year-old boy. He hit the curb, I believe, and got himself and the bike wedged underneath a car. He had what is called a road rash on one leg and that just about accounted for his injuries.

Except Daniel put the helmet on without fastening the chinstrap.

The hospital in Niles, a Chicago suburb, did what they could and then sent him down to Northwestern Hospital in downtown Chicago. Things were grim. The doctors talked about organ donation, but the family just couldn't do it. They needed a miracle and they prayed for one on Wednesday when the machines were turned off.

It was incomprehensible.

I learned a lot of things about death from Daniel. He was my first experience with death other than the cats and dogs of childhood. I learned about miracles and how they sometimes don't happen even to the most deserving people. I watched grief rip people into pieces and later I got to watch them pull themselves back together.

It was, unfortunately, not the last time I saw a family's need to blame someone for their tragedy. There was a great time for the healing of family relationships, as well. I only learned later that this is not uncommon, but often the healing is temporary. I saw a family share deep secrets.

Lastly, I felt for the first time the sense that you are on the brink of significant change. It can feel as though you are alone in the ocean and you see a gigantic wave coming. You can brace yourself, you can hold your breath, and you can pray. But that wave is going to swamp you and when it does, you struggle to breathe. You lose your bearing. You fear the second wave. Most of us fight to keep our heads up, some succumb and dip under the water hoping to silence the roar of the angry ocean.

And then...relentlessly, the sun rises and those waters calm. I was 19 a long time ago and I think about Daniel every now and then.

What happens in the early morning: who knew?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I didn't burn down the campground

Here I demonstrate my special two-handed technique:

The batter stayed on:
My empty plate:

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Kitchen Mishaps, Mistakes and Misery

For Christmas 1974 my dad got me my first cookbook and a recipe box with cards. This is the recipe box. I still have it.

I used to enjoy cooking, but now that I am the only one really eating what I cook, most everything is either too much food or too much effort. I still like chopping and chopping away at something as it seems to be therapy for me when my nerves are razzled or I have too much on my plate.

Get it? "On my plate" – cooking, eating, food…whatever.

Now that I am out of practice, I find myself making really dumb mistakes when I cook. Like last night when I made the cookies I had to remind myself to read through the recipe carefully. I also barely had enough unsalted butter (at least it was unsalted since that’s what I prefer and buy) and I had to borrow the brown sugar from my neighbor Mrs. Winnebago.

She lives in the driveway year-round.

The recipe said to sift the dry ingredients, which of course I didn’t do because I never do. But then the butter had to be melted. So I did that and threw it all together. It called for one egg and one egg yolk. Naturally I didn’t separate the egg beforehand. And no, I didn’t keep the egg white. What was I actually to do with that? I could scramble it…if I would get around to scrambling it, you see?

Then I put the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and have I ever told you that I can’t imagine how I ever did anything prior to 2001 when I got my KitchenAid? That should be the number one requirement for every kitchen belonging to a lazy cook. You think you only need a KitchenAid if you cook and bake regularly?


I think the laziest of us need it the most. My KitchenAid is the closest thing you will ever find to a shrine in my house. It deserves a shrine, anyway.

So there’s the dough in the bowl. I don’t have photos because I wasn’t put together enough to do this properly let alone photograph the mess I was making. Then I had to put in two cups of chocolate chips and 20 crushed Oreos. I had to open the bag of chips and then…go downstairs and fetch the Sears 1978 food processor from a cupboard. I washed everything out and threw in 20 Oreo cookies. I dried the bowl-thingy, but it didn't get totally dry. Anyway, I turned that motha on and let it rip.

I ended up with Oreo flour.

So, I backed up the bus and pulled out the few Oreo chunks I saw because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the flour and was afraid to continue pulverizing it into useless dust. I bagged up the flour and threw it in the freezer to face another day. I threw some new Oreos back into the antique gold food processor and pulsed until I had chunks. The pictures on the other website clearly had little tidbits and nubbins of Oreo in the cookies. Throwing the chunks into the bowl, I hit the switch and let the KA power through the dough and ended up with some chunks and some almost pulverized Oreos. The cookies turned out fine and even taste better today.

Last time I made Guinness cupcakes, I messed up the frosting on two different batches. While no one seemed to mind, it was obvious that I’m really, really out of practice in the kitchen. So this weekend, I am making battered and fried fish. I'm never sure how to keep the batter on the fish, but I will try to take pictures in case something goes up in flames and Good Morning America wants to pay me $250,000 for the story of how I burned down an entire Corps of Engineers campground.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Kitchen therapy part two: chocolate chip Oreo cookies

I made them! Chocolate chip Oreo cookies. They aregood, but I expected them to be better. See the recipe here: Sugar Cooking blog

Kitchen stress relief, part one: pico de gallo

Having a bad day? Why yes, I was, so I resorted to what I did when I was in college. Chop, dice, mince, obliterate.
I squeezed the juice and seeds out of and then cut two tomatoes into chunks and with the help of Pampered Chef, I made tiny pieces. It might have been a better idea to skin the tomatoes, but I wasn't really thinking about boiling water this afternoon.
To keep the pico de gallo from turning into soup, I put it in a colander that is set inside a bowl.

I cut up a jalapeno pepper. You can't see it in the picture I chose, but I was wearing gloves on both hands. I once blew into an empty spice jar in order to get the tiny little remnants of leftover spice out of the bottom. Stupid DA, me. No, it wasn't black pepper. Worse than that, it was chile pepper. And I wore contact lenses. Anyway, I guess you could say I learned my lesson the hard way.

I chopped up a clove of garlic with the help of Pampered Chef.

Most of a white onion met up with the CrazyPampered Chef as well. Chop, chop, chop, chop. Dice, mince, slice...

I put everything into the colander because onions have water in them as well.

Cilantro. Rip, tear, cut...

Delightfully tart limes keep things from spoiling and add lovely flavor. But this went into the storage bowl with some kosher salt. No reason to put that in the colander, right? The yummy goodness would drain away=bad.

Sprinkle a very little bit of salt over all and let it drain for awhile. Soon it will begin to look sort of dry. Put it in the fridge and let the flavors spend some time getting to know one another.