Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Baby Steps

The term "baby steps" has been bugging me lately. I think it's because it's absolutely everywhere. The concept is a good one. Break large tasks, projects, and so on into chunks you can easily manage. But "baby steps"? Can't we figure out some grownup thing to call it?

Probably not. It seems that if we call it something grownup, it will end up sounding like work. "Work?"-choke, as Maynard G. Krebs used to say. (OK--how many of you know who that guy is? lol He was a character on a very old TV show, Dobie Gillis. The guy, Bob Denver, who eventually became super-famous for being Gilligan on Gilligan's Island played the character. I was too young to watch it, but I got to see the reruns when Nickelodeon started running really old TV shows. Great show!!)

Back to "baby steps". I can't think of a better term for it. I'm thinking that my problem with it isn't really what it's called, but that I don't seem to be able to do it. My brain sees the whole project and wants to get there--NOW!! I can break things down into little chunks, but I can't seem to do "today's chunk" and be happy with that. I want to do all the rest of them, too. Thus, my problem with doing habit-changing projects. Their nature is "baby steps" because they don't have a time when they're "done".

Our houses will always have something that needs cleaning. We will always have to exercise. We will always have to make food choices. We will always have to deal with that kind of thing, whatever our particular thing is. And the nature of that bugs me. I like being "done".

Life doesn't work that way. Many projects are never done. So, it's something I have to deal with. And many projects don't get done fast. Many, like writing a novel, making a movie, writing a symphony, and so on, by their nature, take months or even years of small steps to complete. But we can finish the small steps. If I plan to polish my sink, as the Fly Lady suggests for her first day's baby step, and I do it, I've finished something and it doesn't matter if I didn't do other things that weren't one of today's baby steps.

It's so easy to only see what didn't get done and not realize what did. We're all too prone to beating ourselves up because we didn't blah, blah, blah. But do we give ourselves credit for what we did get done? Rarely. That's why most systems of habit-changing suggest we reward ourselves. Or at the very least, pat ourselves on the back. Notice when we do what we want to do, instead of whatever thing we used to do that got us in the mess we're in. Paying attention to the good stuff, instead of the bad stuff is a powerful tool to help us make changes in our lives.

One of my new baby steps is to note in my journal when I do those baby steps. And to stop complaining when I don't do them. I think good planning is the key to being able to do what I want to do. And paying attention to when I follow the plan will make me more likely to keep doing it. I tend to get too hard on myself, like a lot of people do.

Anyway, baby steps, for lack of a better term, do work. If I don't plan more than I can reasonably expect to do and pay attention to the successes, I should make progress. And progress is all anyone can hope for. None of us can ever be perfect and trying to achieve some mental picture of perfection guarantees failure.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More about the Fly Lady & Other Stuff

The emails from the Fly Lady are mostly working now. So I'm getting a better handle on how the system works. It was bothering me that I haven't been doing it much. Then I got some that I couldn't do because they were already done. YAY! I realized that I was letting that perfectionism she talks about get to me. After all, I cannot do some of the things because of circumstances beyond my control.

For example, I can get rid of the paper that needs recycling or shredding. Bag it up and dump it down the recycle chute. But I cannot file or put away paper because the filing cabinets that are the legs for my desk, and part of the desktops, won't be here until Tuesday. I need to be happy with what I can do. And the house actually looks pretty good, in terms of cleanliness.

I have piles of books hanging out on my dining room table and in a box and one pile on the floor. It sounds like a lot, but I had to take them out of my small bookcases so I could move them. Then I had to do other things in my life, so they're hanging out for a few days. I'll use Fly Lady's slogan--You can do anything in 15 minutes. Set a timer and get it put away.

Next week, after our computer table gets here and we get it set up, we'll measure the walls and head to Ikea for bookcases. I can actually imagine a day when I don't have boxes lining my walls. YAY!

In other news--we're hitting the busiest concert season of the year. I already did one concert. We have three more, plus I have an additional concert, in the next two weeks. Along with that, we have two more to attend. Plus Christmas Eve service to sing at church. It sounds hectic, and it is. But it's also fun and January can be a bit of a letdown.

I finished off the last of the turkey today. I made a pasta dish with a white sauce. It didn't resemble any of the Turkey Tetrazzini recipes that seem to be in every food magazine after Thanksgiving every year. It was good. I can't give you the recipe, though, and I'll never make it again. It was one of those recipes created by tossing in everything that needed to be cooked or it was going to have to be trashed. I had a great time in the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November

I was shocked at how few posts I've done this month. I expected to keep up, since I started building the habit of posting again. But I haven't been home. I'm on a forensic science list for writers and I have over 40 digests I haven't read yet. It's an active group and regularly has at least two digests daily, so it's not 40 days worth, thankfully. So, I guess I need to catch up for those who actually come here every so often and read this little blog.

NaNo is halfway a bust. It's a bust because I'm not going to finish it. It's not a bust because I discovered I have little bits of time in which I can write. I also discovered that I really didn't want to start a new novel. I really want to finish the one I'm in the middle of. I started NaNo with a different novel because the rules are that you have to do something new. I decided to put my effort where my muse wants to go--on 50 Ways.

It's not happening soon, though. We've had a small inheritance and have been using some of it for things we desperately needed to replace--old, worn out things or things that disappeared or were ruined while we lived at my mom's. The biggie is our Mazda 3 5-door, to replace our over 20-year-old Oldsmobile. We couldn't justify putting more money into the Olds, which was just wearing out. We love the Mazda. So far, we haven't found anything we want to carry that won't fit in it. It handles all the driving we normally do. And it gets decent mileage. Besides that, it's a really pretty dark blue, with a hint of green, and a metallic undercoat so it's nice and SHINY in the sun. What more could you ask for in a car?

Our computer desk and filing cabinets are trickling in. Some of it was backordered, so was shipped separately. Currently, we have one proper cabinet and 2 boxes topped by some of my cookbooks holding up the desktop. It gets the desktop computer off the dining room table. I still have to use the laptop there, but that's easy to move so we can eat. The rest of the modular system is en route. It shipped last weekend and I expect the holiday weekend to extend the waiting time by a day or two.

Our TV died the other day. We can live without a TV. But we'd planned to get a new one for Christmas. We knew it was going, but were hoping to replace it a bit later than this. We dithered around about it and finally decided to go ahead. We ended up with the same TV our oldest son has. He's trying to talk us into buying a Playstation 3, so we can play Blu-ray discs and I can start collecting Final Fantasy video games. It's a video game series we both enjoy. That's not happening. If so much of our stuff didn't need replacing, maybe we could justify spending the extra money. But we have to be mostly practical.

We had to replace our waterbed. It was not going to survive one more move. Then my youngest son used some of the wood for shelves, which sealed its fate. Our current bed is gradually getting off the floor. We'd started with an Aerobed. Then the box springs came and we had the aerobed on top of the box springs. The mattress got here about a week ago. So, we crushed the Aerobed and have the mattress and box springs. The bed itself is on backorder. It's supposed to be shipped on or before Dec. 10. So, maybe by Christmas we'll have a whole bed.

We found a small pantry online. We're planning to move as much of the food that's in our built-in pantry into it. Then we can use the built-in pantry for large pans, small appliances, and large bowls. All the stuff that doesn't fit in the regular kitchen cupboards. Then my kitchen will me much easier to keep clean. It will never be a convenient kitchen. A lot of the shelves need a step stool to reach and a lot are deep, so you have to move stuff to get to other stuff. I try to put the stuff I don't use as much in the back, but nothing is never used, so I expect to be moving stuff a lot.

I have almost all my bathroom stuff unpacked. This apartment has a good-sized bathroom with a decent amount of storage. I love that. I also love not feeling cramped in there.

So, that leaves the rest of the books, music, keepsakes, projects, photos, and misc. stuff that doesn't have a home yet. I expect a trip to Ikea for bookcases and a trip to the storage place for appropriate storage containers will take care of that. Maybe I can meet my goal of having all the boxes unpacked by Christmas. It's costing us a fortune. I expect mainly it seems that way because we had to pretty much start from scratch, like 20-year-old newlyweds or something. At that age, you'd have hand-me-downs from the family and accumulate a lot of this stuff the way we originally did--gradually. But at our age, there are no family hand-me-downs. We already handed them down to our kids.

OK--so, along with doing all the unpacking and shopping for stuff so I can unpack, and working at my job, I've been doing a ton of music. Plus some volunteer work. That's why I haven't been home so I could write posts.

We've done the first of our concerts since fall rehearsals started. Ladyesong had a great concert of works by local composers. Man, these people write wonderful music. But challenging! And totally fun.

We had the first of three Thanksgiving dinners at my church last Saturday. Two of us cooked turkeys, stuffing, and gravy. The third woman in our group took care of table decorations. We shared the shopping chores. A bunch of other people helped with set up and clean up. The guests brought the rest of the food. It was terrific, fun, and a lot of work. We're already discussing next year.

Tomorrow my youngest son, husband and I have been invited to a friend's for dinner. I'm bringing the cranberry relish. My friend moved to a new place a bit before we did. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Saturday, my family is coming to my house for Thanksgiving dinner number three. My married son is at his in-law's tomorrow. So we decided to take a day between turkey dinners and do our family holiday Saturday. My fridge is stuffed. I wish I had a bigger fridge, but it's an improvement over the ones they used to put in apartments. And I have a gas stove. It's wonderful to cook on. I'm looking forward to cooking my family's favorites, since I haven't really been able to do that for a few years. They all requested apple pie. It's wonderful to be able to make the apple pie and NOT feel forced to make pumpkin, too, just because you're "supposed to" have pumpkin. No one really likes pumpkin that much and no one wants two desserts, anyway.

Next week is my birthday. My hubby gave me a budget and I spent most of it on replacing my food processor (one of the casualties of the leaky, damp storage shed where my stuff was for the almost 4 years we lived at my mother's), and got the mini-prep Cuisanart for free, thanks to a coupon at the store where I bought it. I bought several expensive cookbooks I've been eying. There's one I'm still searching for. I could buy it online, but I'm in bookstores often enough. I'll run across it, eventually. Then he's taking me out to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants on my birthday. It's special because I went for all that time not really cooking at all. It's a super treat to rebuild a decent kitchen and cook the good, healthy food I love to make.

I haven't forgotten the Fly Lady, either. I've talked about her emails. She's had trouble with the software not sending them consistently. It seems to be fixed. Anyway, I'm reading them and seeing how it works. I've also noticed that as I get useable storage and get my stuff unpacked, it's easier to keep the clutter down. When I get the filing cabinets and actually have a place to put all that paper, maybe I can keep it under control. I didn't have that problem when I had my big rolltop desk with places to put everything.

The Fly Lady's thing is to start with a shiny sink. I think it's kind of ironic that tonight everything in my kitchen shines except the sink. I had too many dishes for the dishwasher, so it will get cleaned tomorrow. I'm not staying up late to do another load of dishes and I'm not stacking dirty dishes on my clean counters, so I can shine my sink.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNo--Days 3: 162 & 6: 375

My current total is a mere 1,421. I didn't write Sunday or yesterday, but I plan to write more words after Dr. Who and Torchwood. I know. I should write now, but Dr. Who is a two-parter and I just have to know how it turns out. After Dr. Who I have to cut up all the veggies for salads. Cutting them after I go to the store makes it simpler to make salads for lunch and dinner.

That chore is done and I have about 15 minutes, which I'm going to use to write a bit. But that will have to do for today. I'll have more time tomorrow. Today was emergency errand day because we didn't have time to go grocery shopping and do errands for about a week and a half. A quick trip to the local Safeway to pick up a few things was not going to be enough.

As you can see, I did manage 375 words today for a new total of 1796. Not bad, considering how swamped it's been. I'll need a marathon to catch up, I bet, but the next FM marathon will be when I'm cooking Thanksgiving turkey for our church dinner. I guess I'll have to do my own marathon, on those mythical two days when I don't have a lot to do.

I knew going in that I have a busy month. I'll keep chipping away at that word count and maybe I'll manage it. If not, I will have accomplished two things-whatever words I get on a story I'm having a lot of fun with. And established some kind of writing routine, which I want to continue after NaNo.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

NaNo--Day 2: 498

So, yesterday I was not home. I managed 498. I figure every word I get before next week is a winner, since November 1-4 were not going to have long writing sessions, no matter what I did. I knew before I started NaNo that they'd be busy days. I'm going to try to get some words in before we leave for the weekend. And some when we get back. I'm not taking my computer, so I won't be posting any word counts until Sunday or Monday. Anyway, the story is going well. The writing stinks, but there's stuff to work with in revising, should I like this enough to do something with it after NaNo is over.

Friday, November 02, 2007

NaNo--Day 1: 761

My first day's NaNo count is: 761. Yeah, it's not the magic 1667, but I had a ton of stuff to do yesterday and wasn't home. I will be writing this morning. If my son doesn't need a ride to take care of paperwork for his new job, I'll write this afternoon, too. Tonight, my other son needs a ride to do an errand and we have an errand to run, too, so no writing after dinner.

(Funny how our children, neither of whom has a driver's license yet, suddenly need rides. Ya think it has anything to do with our spiffy new vehicle?)

I'm going to be out-of-town this weekend and I'm not taking the laptop. I don't expect to have time to write. I'll do my best to do a bit more on the days I can write in order to make up for the days I can't. Like next Sunday, when I have a concert. And Saturday the 17th when I'm cooking for the church Thanksgiving feast. And whatever day I end up doing the family Thanksgiving. It looks like I'm going to need 2053 words a day on the days I can write in order to make 50K.

My current plan on work days, since most of what I'm doing is pretty tedious computer input stuff, is alternate the two things. Use the work time to plot the novel, write a bit, then go back to the work stuff. We'll see how it goes.

So far, it's going great. I figured out what my protagonist wants more than anything. It's cool to see story developing where I had a void for a whole month.

Re: my Halloween Hangman link:

In the comments, Kristy Shreve Powers noted that it's a great NaNo procrastinator. Yeah, it is. I have another of those, if anyone wants to do a bit of charity and procrastinate on their NaNo novel: Free Rice. It's a vocabulary quiz, which someone posted on Forward Motion. For every word you get right, they donate one grain of rice, through a UN food program. You can rack up a lot of rice in a short time. Anyway, it's a cool way to while away some time, learn some new words, do some good, and have fun. Cool beans -- uh--maybe I should say--cool rice!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Fun

I know Halloween is almost over for this year, but I couldn't resist sharing this bit of addictive fun.

Halloween Hangman created by The Dimension's Edge, Inc.

Set a timer. It's easy to keep going and going and going...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cooking and Life

Last Sunday Paul and I had a new experience. Our church has a cadre of volunteers that cooks at the San Jose Family Shelter several times a year. The shelter looks for volunteers to cook on the weekends when the regular staff is off duty. Our head chef, Andrea, is a super-organized lady, which is why it all works. Someone joked that she's a slave driver, but she isn't. She doesn't need to be because she posts a list of what has to be done and the time schedule, so it's easy for us to choose the next most important task and get it done.

After we madly slice, dice, and cook, we serve the food to the families. It's a lot of fun. I see I'm going to have to get coached to revive my high school Spanish. I could almost, but not quite, remember how to ask the Hispanic people what they wanted. Then we get to eat. However, we had more people than they ever had before and we ran out of chicken. Everyone got some, but we ended up trying small bits of what was left and eating later. Andrea brings good recipies.

It was a fun day and we're all signed up for the next one. Our church's turn comes up about four times a year. It's yet another way I can thank God for one of the gifts he's given me, since cooking is one of my greatest pleasures. And it's much more fun and rewarding to cook for other people, no matter who they are--friends, family, or strangers.

In a couple of weeks, I get to do more cooking. Our church hosts a Thanksgiving dinner a week before Thanksgiving. Three of us are gathering to cook the turkeys and dressing. Everyone is bringing the sides as pot luck. We did this last year for the first time and it was a blast. We decided to make it an annual event.

In other parts of my life--before we do the Thanksgiving dinner, my women's group, Ladyesong, is singing our fall concert. It's called "California Connections" and all of the music has been composed by California composers. Some of them will be attending the concert. We're also having Dan Levitan playing the harp and Michael Touchi on flute. It's going to be a good concert. And I get to cook some more. I'm bringing 2 dozen cookies for the reception afterward. I think I'm going to make these to-die-for fudgy chocolate cookies that are rolled in powdered sugar before you bake them. If anyone living in or near the SF Bay Area is interested, the concert is November 11 at 7 pm at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Saratoga. And it's free. The Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned is also at Prince of Peace on November 17. I don't remember the time, so I'll have to post that later.

Paul and I got a new car yesterday. We retired the old brown Olds and got a Phantom Blue Mica Mazda 3 5-door hatchback. We got a good deal because I fell in love with this color that no one wants. It's a beautiful dark blue green with a metallic undercoat, but it looks really green and kind of ugly on the Mazda web site. When I saw it in the dealer, it looked totally different and really pretty.

We decided to get a new car since, we were looking at putting at least 5 grand into repairs on the Olds and that's way more than the car was worth. The dealer gave us 50 bucks to take it off our hands. lol If only we could have gotten it to fail the California smog test. Then we could have sold it to the state, as part of their gross polluter program, for one thousand dollars.

Paul's phone interview last week went well. The interviewer wants him to come in for an in-person interview. We're waiting to hear the details for that from HR. We hope that will happen soon and that he gets this job. He'd really like the work and it's a good fit for his skills. We're also, of course, hoping it pays enough to cover the bills. A lot of technician jobs these days don't, just because housing is so expensive here. I guess almost everyone who lives in California complains about the cost of housing.

We'd be willing to move to a cheaper location, if companies would give him a chance, but he rarely gets interviews when he applies out of the area. The couple of job offers he's had over the years wanted him to start at entry-level jobs and pay, even though he had 20 or more years of experience. What's up with that? I can't believe they really think someone with that kind of experience would move hundreds of miles to take the bottom job in his field.

On the whole, though, things are looking up here. And I'm hoping for a bit of stability, at least for a while. I really, really like our new apartment and the money we saved on the car is paying for a bed and computer table and filing cabinets and other furniture we need so we're not sleeping on the floor and can unpack the rest of our stuff. It would be a great Christmas present to me if I could have an apartment not decorated with boxes lining every available wall, and half of the main closet.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Habits

Since I subscribed to the Fly Lady emails, I've been a lot more aware of habits. I've started to notice the domino effect of the habits in my life. The effective habits I have make other things much easier. The ineffective habits do the opposite. That seems like a no-brainer, especiall if you're one of the naturally organized folks. What Fly Lady, with her baby steps, is trying to get us to do is change one ineffective habit at a time into an effective habit. Effective habits have their domino effect, too. I think it's easier to make the changes when you really see how it all fits together. Having a positive domino effect is great motivation to change one habit. And move on from there.

I decided to go back to school and finish that web development degree I started before we moved to Salinas. I pulled the information from their web site and now I have to decide what to take. I also want to work on general drawing and design skills. What I love is designing web sites, but I'm not a skilled artist. I do fine with page layout, but I really want to create the graphics I'm using, as well. So, I'm planning to take classes that aren't required, but will help me reach my personal goals. Since I only have one or two GE classes left to take, I have room in my schedule to take classes that will improve the skills I'm weak in. But, if I'm going to continue to do the things I'm doing now--work, sing in my ensembles, take care of the stuff everyone has to do--I need to build better habits. I have the holiday season and NaNo month in which to do it before school starts. That's a good motivation for me. Heck, I to build effective habits just to get through NaNo and the holidays.

I've often tried to create effective habits, and have succeeded in some areas. But I've never before really understood the relationship doing one thing has on everything else. I always thought I had to change everything all at once or I'd be stuck with things the way they are. But I don't. I only need to change one thing. After I see what effect making that change has, I'll be able to see where I'm being ineffective and choose what the next one change should be. I may not make changes in the same order as the Fly Lady suggests, but that's not the important thing. What's important is that I develop habits that make the life I'm leading work for me in a way that's less stressful than it is now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Quick Post on NaNo

I'm not preparing anything other than a character and the essence of who she is for NaNo. It's not that I don't want to know more, it's that every time I try to do background stuff, what comes out is story. Writing story before November 1 is against the rules. My husband says I should just wait for NaNo and start writing.

That's a scary proposal for me because I've tried to write about this character before. She's really interesting to me. But I got stuck because I cannot figure out what the main problem she's facing is. I feel like I ought to have that, at least, before I start writing. But it's not happening.

I suspect what I'll end up doing is follow her around her normal day and see what happens. Something interesting is bound to happen because my imagination hates being bored. Start with the alarm clock going off and soon she'll be up to her neck in trouble, or at least talking to someone else up to his neck in trouble--and she'll want to help.

We'll see what happens when NaNo gets here. I'm determined to do something with it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fusion Food

Sometimes fusion food is nothing more than a technique borrowed from one cuisine used to create a dish using ingredients from another. Take my last night's "Fried Rice". It's just a veggie sauté with rice added in. I needed a simple dish to go with baked trout. Here's what I came up with:

Veggie Fried Rice


Toasted nuts
Olive oil
Frozen veggies--thawed and drained well
1-2 slices cooked bacon--diced
Garlic
Shallots or onion
Cooked rice
salt & pepper

The amounts you need will depend on how many veggies you're cooking. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add veggies and onion. Sauté until the veggies are almost done. Add the garlic and bacon. Sauté a minute or so. Add rice. If your pan isn't nonstick--the rice will stick a little no matter how much oil you use, however, adding a bit more oil before adding the rice helps keep sticking to a minimum. Sauté to heat the rice through. Stir in the toasted nuts. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Note: This is one of those basic technique recipes you can use to create a lot of different dishes. Different vegetable combinations would go with different combinations of herbs and spices. You could melt in some grated cheese right before you serve it. I'd recommend adding the salt after the cheese, since cheese can be salty, so your dish could end up too salty if you do the salt before the cheese. You could use fresh veggies and prepare them the way you would for a stir-fry. After all, a stir-fry is simply the Asian version of the French sauté.

Mangia!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Changes

I had an interesting revelation this week while reading the emails from the Fly Lady site. I thought I was adaptable and accepted the inevitability of change, a "go with the flow" person. I realized that I do expect change and I am "go with the flow", but only in certain situations, those I'm fairly comfortable with or have faced successfully before. Or those I have no control over.

What I also realized is that I'm spontaneous, so I don't cling to my routines so much that I end up with a boring life with no fun in it. I realized that I'm a good problem-solver, so I often can come up with good solutions to the problems that arise in life. But when those solutions mean I have to make drastic changes, I resist. Changing makes me feel uncomfortable, as it does for most people.

I realized that one of the important things in dealing with this quirk is knowing why I'm uncomfortable in a situation. I need to know that the benefits that result from my being uncomfortable, but doing it anyway, are something I really want. I need to know that the discomfort will only last until the new thing becomes the comfortable old friend our habits eventually become. If I have those things, I can live with the discomfort and change my habits.

I also remembered that I need to take time to understand what I'm supposed to do before I actually start doing it. So, I'm not being ornery in not doing what's in the emails from day one. I'm being myself. I plan to start doing day one next week, after I understand the first week. I think I'm more likely to be successful if I use my natural approach, rather than push myself to act totally against my personality.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Fly Lady & Being a "Scanner"

The Fly Lady site is about organization for the genetically disorganized. She broke down the system developed by Pam Young and Peggy Jones, the "Sidetracked Home Executives" or "SHE", into baby steps. Her approach filled in some of what was missing in the original system. Pam and Peggy invented the system and the Fly Lady figured out how to implement it successfully.

I've tried using Pam and Peggy's system ever since I first found the original book. I never was able to stick with it. My current situation is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. I don't have as much clutter to get rid of. Just about a hundred boxes to unpack and nowhere to unpack them to. That sounds like we have a lot of stuff we could get rid of, but every time we move we weed out anything we don't want badly enough to schlep it around. For this stuff, we need bookshelves and appropriate storage containers, but that will have to wait until the job hunt is over.

I have to let that aspect of things go, even though it bugs me to have all these boxes stacked up around the walls. At least I can cook a meal, do laundry, sleep, and get my work done. Most of the books I really want access to are unpacked onto the bookshelves my son gave us. (Bless him! I don't know what I would have done if every book I own had to stay packed in boxes.) And we found some really small, cheap bookshelves at a local drugstore during back-to-school that I've been able to unpack most of the cookbooks I use the most onto.

But my challenge in this new place is establishing routines that will keep it clean. I don't want to go back to the way it used to be in other places we've lived. I think my problem in the past was my usual pattern of trying to fix everything all at once. The Fly Lady's contribution to this is that you don't do that. You fix one small thing and build on it, bit by bit. Each "bit" is a baby step.

Now for the "Scanner" part. Barbara Sher has written a book called Refuse to Choose. It's directed at people like me who want to learn about everything and do tons of interesting projects, which contributes to the clutter, for one thing. For another, although she doesn't discuss housework specifically, it explains to me, at least, part of why housework is such a challenge for "scanners". We have more interesting things to do besides clean. The problem is that often the chaos around me keeps me from doing the projects I want to do. I end up trying to get control of that and neither the chaos gets fixed nor the projects get done. I end up feeling overwhelmed and depressed.

I hope that as I use the tools provided by the Fly Lady, the SHE developers, and Barbara Sher, adapting them to fit my own life, I can figure out how to balance my life so I don't keep going from one extreme to the other. I'd really like to find that elusive middle ground because when I've been in that place, which has happened on occasion, I've been so much more content with my life. Barbara Sher makes the point that Scanners can't be happy unless they do the projects they want to do. I know she's right about that and I'm finally in a place where I'm ready to get back to working on those things that matter to me.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Blog Archives

I've been reading through the archives of blogs my friends posted. My friends write interesting blogs. Anyway, I found this little quiz on Tambo's blog and can't figure out why I didn't do it before. It's so me. (lol)




You Are an Excellent Cook



You're a top cook, but you weren't born that way. It's taken a lot of practice, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of learning.

It's likely that you have what it takes to be a top chef, should you have the desire...



So, are any of you great cooks?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fruit & Veggie Salads, Plus a Veggie Eggs Benedict

I have a couple of simple recipes I wanted to share. They're for fruit salads, even though avocados and cucumbers are usually thought of as veggies.

The first one is as Strawberry and Cucumber Salad. You peel and slice a cucumber. You slice strawberries. How many depends on how many people you're serving and how big your plates are. You have to make this one on individual salad plates. You start at the outer edge and layer alternating, concentric circles of cucumber and strawberry. I like to put a srawberry half in the middle, so I try to end up with cucumber in the center and the strawberry on top. It looks prettier that way. Sprinkle either champagne vinegar or raspberry champagne vinegar and ground white pepper over the top. That's it.

DON'T try to take a shortcut and make this in a bowl. The strawberry juice makes the cucumber turn the most ghastly gray you've ever seen. Hmmm. . .might be appropriate for a gross Halloween food, but try it at your own risk. (grin)

Tonight, Paul tried a variation. We had some strawberries, papaya, and avocadoes that needed to be eaten. He cut them into a bowl. I sprinkled some raspberry champagne vinegar and white pepper, and voila! A great, healthy fruit salad. It was really good.

It would be perfect with that veggie Eggs Benedict I made a couple of weeks ago. I roasted a portobello mushroom cap and slices of tomato. I put the portobello upside down on the plate. I put the tomato slices inside the mushroom. I wilted a few spinach leaves and put them on top. A poached egg topped the vegetables. Then a spoonful or two of freshly-made hollandaise went over the whole thing.

Mangia!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

NaNoWriMo

I went and signed up for NaNoWriMo yesterday. I'd thought at one time that I'd never do that again. I thought I'd gotten out of it what I needed to get out of that writing madness.

Perhaps I'd better explain NaNo, as it's affectionately called. Well, "affectionately" depends on when in November it is and how many words you've written. Because NaNo is all about word count. The idea is to write a 50K novel starting on November 1 and finishing on or before November 30. You only have to write 1667 words every day for the whole 30 days to win. That can be done in a couple of hours, if you just write the story, no editing, no worrying about the quality of this very rough draft. The NaNoWriMo (which stands for "National Novel Writing Month") official web site can be found here, in case you'd like to join several hundred thousand mad folks from all over the world.

Anyway, I signed up. I've beaten NaNo. I know I can put that many words on the page, if I want to. So, why do it? Especially since I may not be able to finish. I've got a much busier life than I had the year I beat NaNo. So, why do it? Because I want to play with words. I want to just have fun with writing. I've forgotten that part because so much of my life has been about money, as it tends to be when your income is as uncertain as ours has been for the past ten years, but particularly the past three, almost four years. And even though I'm not sure I can get that couple of hours every day, I signed up officially. I'll push myself harder if it's official, than if I decide in advance to lose, which is what I'd be telling myself if I just said I was doing it "unofficially".

I'm going to play with some ideas this month and see which one screams, "Write ME!" Then I'll pick that one and start and see what I get. Maybe I'll put up a progress bar for NaNo. Maybe I won't, since, for me, it's about having fun with other people having fun with writing a story, not about whether I win or lose. We'll see when I get closer to NaNo. My competitive spirit may stick up for itself and insist on keeping careful track of the word count. I'm feeling ambivalent about it because I really just want to rebuild the habit of writing.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Books

My friend, Margaret Fisk, has a blog she occasionally posts in. She set up a mailing list so people who are interested can read it when she posts and not be frustrated by how long it is in between posts. Anyway, her most recent post, which you can read at Stray Thoughts of Margaret Fisk, is about her reading list. She's asking for help in choosing what she should read next. I wasn't too helpful, having only read one of the books on her list.

But, it led me to writing about what I'm reading now. That got to be really long, so I decided to post it here. I'm reading Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. I read Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic several years ago. Due to our financial situation, I only recently acquired the remaining books that are out in paperback--Bitten, Stolen, Haunted, and Broken. She has one more out, No Humans Involved, but it's hardcover, so I have to wait for the mass market version before I can read that one.

What makes this all interesting is how I don't like werewolves, vampires, etc., etc., etc. Really, I don't. Or--maybe--I didn't? I love these books. I can't put them down. I'm reading when I should be doing something else. A friend, knowing my taste, said I probably wouldn't like the werewolf books. Most likely because of the violence. But the violence made so much sense with the world she created and the characters in the world, that it wasn't a problem. I probably would have liked them less if the violence wasn't in there because it would have felt like she'd held back from her true imagination.

And then there's Buffy. I refused to watch it when it was on. I didn't get it, and I understand why. I didn't see it from the beginning. I came into a random episode and had no clue what was going on. Then my son shoved it into my hands and made me watch season one. I was hooked. I've watched it all the way through three times since then. He mentioned he and his wife are watching them again and it's made me feel like it's time to go for a fourth go-round, at least with my favorite episodes.

And then there's Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series. I love her writing, but I'm way behind her output. I have at least one StarDoc and two Darkyn books on my shelf. I mention them, though, because the Darkyn are her version of the vampire myth and I love it.

So, what's the point of this seemingly rambling post? I learned, yet again, not to discount a genre, a type of book, or other any general category, just because I've had one or two bad experiences with it. What makes a good story is the combination of writer and subject matter. Different writers will deal with the same subject in totally unique ways. So, while Laurel K. Hamilton or Anne Rice's take on vampires don't thrill me, Kelley Armstrong and Lynn Viehl's do.

I think, in general, people do themselves a disservice when they stick to only one genre, or only a few favorite authors. One thing I used to do, that I don't do as much anymore, is pull books off the bookshelves at random and see if they look interesting. That's how I found a lot of the authors that are now my favorites. But when the money got tighter and tighter, I started sticking to trying to keep up with my favorite writer's books. I think I want to alternate or something. I think it's important for a reader to branch out. And even more important for me, as a writer, to go beyond what I usually read and am most comfortable with.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Music

We had such a great musical day on Sunday. Dr. David Cheriwen, is a Cantor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and conductor of the National Lutheran Choir. He visited one of our local Methodist churches for a Hymn Festival/Concert. The choir members of the local churches were invited, so Paul and I took advantage. It was amazing.

He did mini organ solos to introduce each hymn. Then we sang the hymns. In between, members of the church read reflections on living a godly life. It was set up kind of like an old-fashioned English lessons and carols service. We brought the house down with Every Time I Feel the Spirit. It was so much fun.

Then on Sunday night, we were invited to join one of our fellow choir members and her husband for a piano concert hosted by the local Steinway Society. The pianist was Joyce Yang, 2005 Silver Medalist in the Van Cliburn competition. It was amazing. I'm always astounded by excellent pianists, probably because I can't even come close to doing what they do. I can play the notes, in correct rhythm, if the piece is simple enough. But I was never taught good technique, so, for example, I don't know how to bring out one line, with the rest as accompaniment.

I love days like that. They're definitely worth writing about.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Man, Am I Out-of-date, or What?

I was tooling around the web, looking at blogs I enjoy. I opened up Tambo's blog, Tamboblog, and saw her moon phase widget. I remembered that I used to have it on my blog and I liked it. So I thought I'd just pick it up and put it on again. No way! They've changed things so much that I'm reading the code and it's gibberish. I can see I'm going to have to learn advanced HTML all over again. Things change so fast in the online world, but I'm looking forward to challenging myself to put stuff back on my blog. I'll figure it out, but it's going to take a bit more time than I have right now, as I have to go make dinner and get to choir rehearsal. It just seemed weird to me that something that was so easy a couple of years ago has become harder, just because I haven't looked at it for so long. Thought I'd write about it, but I think this is going to be "Out-of-date--Part One". The idea is sticking in my brain, tickling it, saying that there's more to be said here--more general stuff, as opposed to specifically about the blog. So, I'm going to think on it and see what pops out--later.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Quickie Dinner

I've unpacked my cookbooks since we moved. I'm enjoying making a lot of old favorite recipes. This one is NOT low-fat, low-calorie or healthy, according to current nutritional standards. It's worth making for the occasional splurge. Plus, I don't eat a lot of it at one time. And I pair it with good, healthy stuff. It's a pasta sauce that's made by infusing cream with lemon zest and crushed red pepper flakes. I serve it over those crab & shrime ravioli you can get at Costco. I eat about 3 ravioli, because they're really filling. You don't need a lot of sauce for three ravioli, so I cut the recipe in half. Next time, I'm going to make a quarter recipe, which should still be plenty of sauce for that amount of ravioli.

Here's the recipe--Spicy Lemon Pasta Sauce (based on a recipe from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed)

The sauce:

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced. Use however much makes it taste the way you like it. Judge by the size of the cloves, as well as the amount. I've seen large garlic cloves that are easily as much garlic as two small cloves.

1 tablespoon of butter

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. You can use 1/4 teaspoon, if you like it spicy, like I do.

The zest of one lemon. You can zest the lemon with a zester and leave it in strings or mince it, depending on your tolerance for eating cooked lemon peel. Be sure not to get any of the bitter white pith that's just under the skin of the lemon. Save a little zest to sprinkle over the top after it's done.

1 cup whipping cream. (I've tried several different ways to make lower fat dairy products work, but they tend to burn too easily.)

Salt, to taste.

Melt the butter. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Saute briefly, just to get the oils out for a stronger flavor. You shouldn't cook them longer than a minute and the garlic shouldn't get darker than golden brown or it starts to taste bitter. Pour in the cream and add the lemon zest. Turn the heat down. Watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't boil above a simmer or it will tend to boil over. Stir it occasionally as it cooks. It takes about 45-50 minutes to thicken and get a good flavor. If it gets too thick, stir in a bit more cream. Just before serving, taste it. I usually end up adding a tiny pinch of salt. Literally a pinch--I take my fingers and pick it up between my index finger and thumb because that helps me keep from putting too much in. This doesn't need very much and it's easy to shake too much from a salt shaker.

6 crab and shrimp ravioli. Cook according to package directions. Time them to be done when the sauce is finished. Drain. Put on a plate and drizzle the sauce over the ravioli.

I like to garnish this dish with snipped chives or Italian parsley, in addition to the reserved lemon zest, just to give the dish some color. All that white pasta and lemon yellow sauce can be kind of boring-looking on the plate.

Since this dish is so rich, I serve it with a very simple salad, like mixed greens with a bit of balsamic and olive oil. It's summer and there are good tomatoes around, so I might toss in some tomato, to give it more color. Grilled veggies would also be good. Or, if you don't want any additional fat in the meal, steamed asparagus is wonderful with this.

Mangia!

Hmmm. . . it just occurred to me that I could try making the infusion with stock. Thicken it with a cornstarch slurry. Then put in a tablespoon of creme fraiche to give it the proper texture and dairy flavor. I'll try that next time and let you all know whether it works. I'm always trying to figure out ways to keep the flavor and texture of my food, but make it as healthy as possible for everyday meals. Come holidays or special occasions, I splurge. A Weight Watcher leader once said that we could have ten meals a year to eat what we wanted. Her point was that if you splurge every day, it's not special and it makes you fat. Saving it for truly special occasions makes it truly special and doesn't make you fat. So, this is one example of my love-hate relationship with weight, food, good nutrition, and so on.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Been Reading

This has been interesting. I've been reading a lot more lately. I'd forgotten what a pleasure just reading to enjoy a story is. So often, when a person starts writing, especially writing fiction, you start reading to anlyze the book. What works. What doesn't. Or worse, to critique a book--the writer should have done this or that and it would have been better.

But I've been just reading. No analysis. No critique. Just enjoying the story. Getting lost in it. Letting it become my world for a few hours. And it's wonderful. I heartily recommend any writer who has forgotten what it was about books that got them writing in the first place relearn reading for pleasure. Turn off the editor and just enjoy.

The ironic thing is reading for enjoyment makes my fingers itch to be writing my own stuff. My brain starts thinking of characters and what's going on with their lives. I start seeing the world around me from their perspective, not mine. A sure sign storytelling is imminent.

That reaction doesn't happen when I analyze or critique a book. It's probably because when I'm analyzing or critiquing, it's too similar to parts of the writing process. It feels too much like working on a book, so it pulls me away from my own stories. It also spoils the pleasure of reading the story.

I'm beginning to think that unless I'm looking to learn a specific technique or studying something a particular writer does especially well, I should analyze and critique my own stuff. And read the books I buy strictly for pleasure. After all, I bought them because I thought they'd have a good story inside. If I'm looking for how to write stories or what could be better, I'm missing that good story.

Friday, September 14, 2007

April

April slipped by with nary a post from me. In June, our church had a Sunday dedicated to reports of our trip to New Orleans, which took place in April. I had started this post, but never posted it. Instead, I turned it into my contribution to that Sunday service. Months later, I'm checking out my blog, which I'd like to resurrect and found the original draft of this essay. I decided to finish and post it. Maybe I'll even manage to keep my promise to myself to start posting regularly again.

I'm not sure how to relate what happened in April. First there was the Easter season, with lots of extra music, rehearsals, etc. That was wonderful. As a musician, I love the big religous holidays because there's so much great music written for them.

Then, right after Easter, we went to New Orleans. Easter is a season of contrasts--the rejoicing of Palm Sunday, followed by the sobering week before the crucifixion, followed by more rejoicing as we Christians celebrate the resurrection. New Orleans is a study in contrasts, too. I think that's the main impression I brought back from there.

There's the desolate neighborhoods with brick shells that used to be houses next to empty concrete slabs where the house was completely destroyed. Some lots have grass and nothing else left. No trees, flowers, nothing but the grasses that are the first things to start to grow back. Contrast that with the neigborhoods we drove through after taking the ferry across the Mississippi. They hadn't been touched. They looked like middle-class and upper middle-class neighborhoods anywhere. They were lush with the greenery that grows rampant in the area. There were no boarded up, empty stores. You could find a grocery store to go to.

Yet, there was a spirit of hope, too. Some neighborhoods had the same destruction, but every so often, you'd see a renovated home with people living there. It takes a lot of courage to go back and live in your house. Think about what it must be like to be the only people on your street with a home. Every time you leave or come back to your house, you drive by reminders of those who may never be able to come back. It wasn't just the homes and stuff they lost. It was family, friends, their community.

We went with members of our church. We spent a day and a half painting the sanctuary and new preschool classrooms of Gethsemane Lutheran. We painted part of the small dormitory. People who come from all over the country to help will be able to stay there. We planted new landscaping, which helped make the church look a bit less desolate.

We sang. Most of the people were choir members. We were part of a Musicale put on at Grace Lutheran to help raise funds to repair their pipe organ. Someone took two of the destroyed wooden organ pipes and made a cross for them. It sits in the narthex and is a testament to their resilience. They have a map of where people have come to help. People from all over the country are represented on that map.

We sang again. Our choir director is also a harpsichordist. She accompanied us on a harpsichord built by the organist of Grace Lutheran. St. Mark's escaped the devastation of Katrina, but its members did not. Yet there they were, diminished in number, but huge in spirit, helping each other recover from what they'd experienced.

We ate. There's a contrast for you. The members of Grace cooked dinner for us. It was amazing, topped off with that irresistible Southern guarantee to cause tooth decay, homemade pralines. On Sunday, our council president directed a bunch of us in a very California-style brunch. Great food, there, too. I keep forgetting to email her and ask for the recipes.

But it wasn't all work. We had time to walk around the French Quarter. Somehow, a small part of me felt a bit guilty playing when there was so much work to be done. Yet, playing is as important as work. Another contrast, but one we often forget in our supercharged Silicon Valley life. It's different in New Orleans. They have a different pace of life. If the kitchen crew isn't ready, you wait for them. If that means church is a half hour late, you just have more time to chat with everyone. And the pastor simply cuts bits of the service so it doesn't run over too long. Pastor Lisa got a bit carried away with the cuts--she almost forgot that all-important ritual--passing the offering plate. If your waitress needs to tell her story, a coworker grabs the heavy tray and lets her talk. Out here, she'd probably get fired for chatting so long with the customers.

It was the French Quarter Festival, an annual street festival they have every year. We spent some time listening to the music. But somehow, we managed to miss the jazz and get the pop stuff. Yet, on the streets, the street musicians sang and played the jazz New Orleans is famous for. You can't walk through that part of town without hearing music.

We went to the famous Cafe du Monde for beignets. Do not go to New Orleans without having some. Diets be damned. They're worth every calorie and it's open 24 hours so you can't say you couldn't find the time. As we walked back to the hotel to get ready to leave, an old guy started playing Amazing Grace on his trumpet. It was gorgeous and I couldn't help but sing along. He started singing a capella after playing one verse on the trumpet. I sang softly as we walked past. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up sign. It was a fitting end to the trip, somehow.

Because the ultimate contrast for me was that we went to help, yet they helped me more. They had every reason to whine about their lives. They had every reason to be angry with God or lose their faith, as many people do when faced with tragedy in their lives. But these people, not just those we met at the various churches, but even people like the waitress I mentioned above, who we met while exploring the rest of New Orleans, had a spirit and faith that humbled me. They put my life, which as many of you know, has been a struggle the past three years, in perspective. And I think their expression of faith helped when, near the end of April, Paul's mom died. They showed me how important it is for people to tell their stories, to share the important things that happen to them. Those stories, full of the richness of spirit they all expressed, are the main thing I bring back in my heart.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Even busier, if you can believe that.

OK, so here I am singing in three choirs and working and walking and doing all the stuff you have to do in life. What happens? The leader of the group Paul sings in that I wasn't singing in emails me to say he had an opening in the alto section. Wondered if I wanted to sit in and see if it works out. I did. And so now I'm singing in four groups. It's so much fun. And because I'm now singing 5 days a week, my voice is getting better. The voice is like any other set of muscles--working out helps it.

I'm still walking every day except Sunday. I probably won't walk tomorrow. Paul's getting a rare Saturday off. We're going to spread out the errands and chores over the weekend so we can have some time just to do something fun. I don't know what that will be, but I imagine it will involve lunch or dinner out and a walk and maybe a simple bookstore browse. We'd go to a movie, but there's nothing out we want to pay movie ticket prices to see right now.

Sunday evening we're going to a local church that does a Messiah Sing. They put together a small orchestra and the audience is the singers. We sing any part we want, including all the solos. It's the only time I get to sing the tenor solos at the beginning. But I sing the alto parts in the choruses. Sometimes I sing the bass parts up an octave. I don't sing the soprano stuff, though. It's too high because I never sing up there anymore.

I'm almost finished with my prayer shawl. I have a foot left to knit. Then I have to put the fringe on and I'm done. I should finish this weekend, a week before the deadline. It's going to be a good trip. We're looking forward to it. Even if it is in the 80s and humid this time of year. Bad for my sinuses and they took the teeth out of Sudafed, so it doesn't work as well. (sigh)

Once I'm done with the prayer shawl, I'll have a bit of time I can use for writing. Once I'm done inputting music into my computer for rehearsal CDs and transferring my part to my MP3 player, I'll have that time free for writing. The problem is I'm starting over with one of my choirs because we just started a whole new set of music. It's all good, though, because I have most of the stuff done for next year's concert, so I won't have to do it then.

I've given up trying to write in the blog on anything like a set schedule. I know that means I don't have many readers, but that's the way it goes. Maybe things will settle down more later in the year, if we manage to move out on our own again. Somehow, I suspect that being able to set our own schedules and have an office will make it easier to find time to write.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I used to have time to post

I used to have time to post almost every day. Now, I hardly ever post. I'm just busy. I have three rehearsals a week, plus singing in church almost every Sunday. It's Lent, so we have midweek service on Wednesday. One of my rehearsals is on Wednesday, so we leave church and walk across to practice. Luckily, the choir rehearses at my church. Makes things easier and we pretty much only miss the warmups. Not a problem; we warm up singing in the church service.

I've been typing my handwritten material into a computer file. Once I get it all typed in, which means I can read it in chronological order, I can put it into the manuscript and move on to the next part. I don't write in chronological order. My handwritten drafts are a mess of arrows and numbers pointing to places where I need to rearrange sentence and paragraph orders so they make sense. Anyway, I'm enjoying getting some work done on the WIP, even if I'm not writing new material right now and my progress bar is staying the same.

I started a prayer shawl yesterday. One of our former intern pastors heads two congregations in New Orleans. Some people from our church, including us, we hope, are going down after Easter to do some work for their people, worship with them, and we're bringing however many shawls people make as a gift from us to them. I think most people tend to think things are getting better, since so much time has passed since Katrina. But it takes a long time, a lot of money, and a lot of work to fix things after a disaster of that magnitude. It's nice to be able to do something, even if it's small like making a shawl to help them remember prayer--both theirs and that others are praying with them.

It's a busy week for the orchestra. Tickets are almost sold out for Sunday's concert. I'm looking forward to the concert. We're taking season ticket renewals, too. I've been living with my phone stuck in my ear last week and this week. It's way cool.

My mom's birthday was this week. We had a very small celebration, but it was fun.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Writing & Other Stuff

I don't have a lot to say about writing. Just that I've started working on my WIP again. I'm currently catching up on typing in the handwritten stuff. It's actually very helpful in that it makes me focus on what I wrote, which is helping me get back into the story.

I didn't walk this morning because it was raining pretty hard. It's stopped for now. If the sun stays out, I might go ahead and walk this afternoon. Otherwise, it's a mall walk this evening with Paul.

This week is an easy one. We only have two nights of rehearsals. I had Ladyesong on Monday. And church choir was after the Ash Wednesday service. Then we did the last hour of Funtimes Singers. So, we ended up with Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights off.

I guess I'll be working on getting files and software loaded on the notebook for a while. I don't want to put too much on until I get Vista loaded. It hasn't come yet, which is no surprise. I hope the software I use the most will work with Vista. I don't want to have to replace it. That gets really expensive.

I'm getting the music entered in the computer. It's so time-consuming and it's tedious, so it goes really slowly. But I'll get rehearsal CDs done in a couple of weeks, I think. I know I'm going to have a lot to do for the orchestra, though, so that may mean taking longer to finish the music.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Music, Walking, Gaming

My life seems to be mostly about music these days. I have a rehearsal almost every night. One of the women in one of the groups I sing with called me to see if I wanted to sing in a quartet. The song is one of my favorites, Georgia on My Mind, but I want to look over the music before I commit to it.

I'm working on inputting Ladyesong music into my computer so I can make rehearsal CDs. I hope they're helpful to everyone, even though it's just the notes and rhythms, no words. My plan is to do individual tracks of each part and one track with everything put together. I just hope it all fits on one CD. I guess I'll see how it goes this time and learn from anything that could be done better a different way.

I'm still walking. I haven't lost any pounds, but my wrists are smaller. My shoulders are getting bony. My pants are way too big in the seat and thighs, but not in the hips, so I can't fit into smaller ones yet. I need new shoes. I've walked this pair to death.

I spent the day with one of my sons yesterday. We had coffee. Ran a few errands. Had lunch at Togo's. Those of you who don't live around here need to have a Togo's sandwich if you ever visit this area. They're really good. I bought a couple of simple games. A version of Tetris, which I've enjoyed since the original Nintendo system introduced it to an unsuspecting world. And Jewel Quest, which I originally found on Gamehouse.com What I like about it is that as the boards get harder, you have the option of skipping and moving on, or playing it out. If you run out of lives, they start you with five more, but you don't have to start the game over. You just lose all your points. I don't care about points, so that's not a problem for me. Then I played the next bit of Final Fantasy XII, which I have to play at his house because I don't have a Playstation and TV. I try to go over about once a week and make a bit of progress on that game. David's been really getting into video games as a break from school and he's starting to get me going again.

Tomorrow my hubby and I are going out to dinner and a movie as a late celebration of Valentine's Day. We haven't picked out the restaurant, yet. But we're going to see the new movie with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. It's about music, too. Perfect for us.

It sounds like all I do is fun stuff. That's true, because I love my job, too. So fun is fun, work is fun and I have a really great life. All I need is a decent place, that will allow my cat, that I can afford to rent and I'll be all good.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Stuff

I had an interesting weekend. Remember I said I was saving up for a laptop? Well, we went into the Sony store just to do research. Yeah, right. Windows Vista just came out. They had a great deal on their XP machines. So, I went to the ATM, checked my finances, and got a sweet Vaio notebook at a super discount. What's amusing is that I got the discount because the computer had XP Pro on it. And if I was willing to wait 2-4 weeks, I'd get Vista Business for free. I'll end up with the same computer I could have bought, had they had any Vista machines in stock, but I got a substantial discount--all because I can be patient and don't have to have the latest and greatest immediately.

I've been busily setting up the computer. I really don't like doing all that stuff because it's tedious, but when I'm done, Paul and I will pretty much have our own computers to use. It's been getting harder to share because I'm telecommuting to my new job. Paul and I both are inputting music for rehearsal purposes. And we were starting to have more time when both of us had things we needed to do on the computer, but only had one computer to use.

The organ recital was wonderful. I heard a lot of music that was different from what I've heard in the past. I usually hear organ music as part of the church service, so the music is pretty traditional. This was a lot of different styles, since the pieces were from all around the world. The organist chose a lot of the pieces to show off the wonderful organ our church bought about a year and a half ago. One piece had no pedal part and another was just for pedals. Fun evening.

We took our kids out to breakfast last weekend, too. We hadn't all gotten together since Christmas. We had a good time, as usual. We didn't do anything special. Just chatted and caught up on each other's lives. Teased and joked and ate great food at one of the few really fantastic breakfast places in the area, the Country Gourmet. They have a place in Mountain View, but we usually go to the Sunnyvale store because it's closer.

I've almost got my new notebook set up so I can write with it. I need to go turn off all the automatic junk, starting with the annoying grammer checker, that makes MS Word such an irritant. I don't want my computer to interrupt my work because the software geeks think I need help formatting a simple business letter. By tomorrow I can write away from home, which is how I get most of my work done. I think it's partly that if I'm not home, I'm not looking at all the other things I "ought to be doing" or "could do instead". If I take my stuff and go away, I can focus better. Unfortunately, it's supposed to rain the rest of the week. So, no walking for a few days. (Sigh)

I'll try to mall walk on Friday night. And I should be able to walk over the weekend, either mall walking or doing my usual outdoor walk. I think I've lost a few more pounds. My jeans are loose in the thighs and seat, and they don't stay up around my waist. These are my new, smaller jeans. I'm happy with that.

Friday, February 02, 2007

New Blogger and Other Stuff

I've switched to the new Blogger. It's not a lot different from the old one, but I see I have to redo my sidebar. Luckily, my template stuff is saved in a separate folder on my computer. It's weird, though, Wednesday when I switched, the sidebar and everything was the same. Oh, well. I needed to edit and update it anyway. My problem is finding/making the time to do it.

I'm writing along and staring at the new compose screen. There's a title bar at the top of the create post screen. And a space to put a label at the bottom. I have enough trouble coming up with titles. I have to do labels, now, too? I think I'll pass unless someone begs me to collect all my posts about one subject or other into a group. (Please don't beg me. I hate that kind of tedious stuff. (grin))

I've walked to Peet's yesterday and today. I had errands near there this morning. It's two miles one way, plus today I added the walk to do the errands. I need new shoes. I've walked this pair to death this year. I found the same size and type of shoe online for about half off, so I'm going to get two pair and alternate them. It's better for your shoes and your feet to do it that way, anyway. I'll get twice the wear out of the same amount of money, too. Good deal.

I've been reading and doing some of the suggestions in Barbara Sher's new book, Refuse to Choose. It's about the flakes of the world who can't seem to settle on one thing to spend their life on. She calls them "Scanners", not "flakes". A lot of the material is helping me to figure out how to get what I want to do done without having to figure out what to give up. It's a good book, if you're one of the people who thinks committing to doing one job for your whole life is like a prison sentence, since you have so many interests and things that you want to try.

I'm really looking forward to this Sunday. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Saratoga is offering a free organ recital. The organist is playing a program that features music from around the world. From what my friend Barbara, who's heard him, says it will be great. It's at 7:30. If you're anywhere near the San Jose area and looking for something fun and free, you're welcome to come.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

No Complaining Day

I had a weird thought the other day. I'd had a day where I was talking to a lot of people. I noticed that most of the conversation was about what's wrong with their lives. I'm not talking about problems they're working on solving. I'm talking about whining and complaining about things they can't do anything about. I do it, too. So I suggested to Paul that we should have a "No Complaining Day". And I wondered if people would have trouble finding things to talk about, if they couldn't complain. I think we all need to "get over ourselves" and find reasons to be grateful for the good things we have. But, that's just my opinion. YMMV, as they say online.

I'm still walking. I think I lost a whole pound in the last two weeks. It's winter and super cold. I suspect my body is hanging onto the fat to keep warm. I don't know if that's scientific, nor have I ever seen any research on it. But thinking that makes me feel good, so I'm going to keep thinking it. And keep walking.

Today is one day I don't have a rehearsal, but I have music to do every day. Practicing the songs I'm singing is the main thing. But I'm also working on putting the Ladyesong music into my computer so I can burn rehearsal CDs for everyone. I hope they'll help people, particularly those who don't read music, hear their parts and learn them accurately. It's so hard to do that when you don't have a way to listen to your own part, without the other parts muddling up the works.

Last night the San Jose Chamber Orchestra celebrated Barbara Day Turner, the founder and music director's, birthday with a fundraiser. It was one of those milestone birthdays, so they called it "Maestra's Milestone". Good food. Lots of cool people. Fun entertainment that included a bit from a concerto for harp that will be premiered in May. And a humorous look at the birthday girl's life, put together by one of the board members. All in all, it was a great evening.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blogging

I suppose it's only natural that when you blog, eventually you'll write about blogging itself. It's an interesting phenomenon, this blogging thing. I'm noticing that many of my posts have been sparked by what I've read on someone else's blog. This is one reason I think blogging has become a kind of conversation, not just individuals musing about stuff and hoping other people will care about their musings.

I think the conversation aspect is also why people enjoy getting comments from people reading their blogs. Blogs have a connection between people that writing essays for traditional publications don't have. In traditional publishing, pre-blog days, you waited to see if maybe someone wrote to the editor about your essay. When you write a blog, you get instant feedback when people comment on what you've written. Today, though, even traditional publishing has that more immediate connection because usually you can email the writer directly. A lot of writers have blogs, too, and you can read more there and comment.

This all seems obvious, now that blogging has become so common. But blogging is such a recent phenomenon that it boggles my mind how quickly it's become a part of our culture. No surprise to me that us social creatures will glom onto any way to try to communicate with each other. Sometimes I wonder, though, if we're really communicating because, as with every type of communication, there's what we think we wrote, what we wrote, and what you read.

Stuff

I walked an extra day this week. Paul worked overtime and I didn't want to sit at home this morning. So I meandered off to El Paseo and had coffee at Peet's. That's two miles each way. I didn't push for speed because this wasn't supposed to be a workout, yet it only took me 50 minutes to get there. That's a ton faster than my normal walking pace of a year ago, and a year ago I wouldn't have been able to make it at all. I've come a long way since I started walking and that's a good thing.

I normally don't write fanfic. But I have one that won't leave me alone. It's in a world who's creator has said it's OK to do fanfic and I'm not going to post it up anywhere or anything. It's just for me to play with. The idea includes some types of writing that I've never done before and they're not needed for my current WIP. So, I decided to explore this idea and these writing techniques as a reward after I finish my work on 50 Ways for the day. It's a just for fun thing, and I'm always up for fun stuff.

Other than that, things are pretty much the same around here. Paul and I are celebrating the first paycheck of the new job by going out to dinner. It's kind of a ritual thing we do when he starts a new job. We hope this is the last one for a very long time. We have tickets to a concert tonight, too. We're not sure we're going because it's about 30 miles away and he's worked six days this week. A late night may not be in the cards. If he's too tired, we'll give the tickets to one of our sons and just enjoy a quiet dinner and maybe a browse in a bookstore.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Walking and other stuff

Walking is becoming a bit of an addiction, I think. I get grumpy if I can't walk. That's a good thing. I discovered I can walk to the mall that's two miles away, have coffee, and walk home without any problem. That's a total of four miles. I don't think I've ever been able to walk that far this easily. It's cool.

I'm thinking that good days to update this blog are Tuesday, Friday, and over the weekend, since those are the days I don't have rehearsals and stuff. That way I won't be taking time away from practicing music and writing in order to write in the blog. So, I don't think I'm sticking to my original plan of writing every weekday, not that I've been doing that recently, anyway. It's just that I'd thought of trying to get back to that original goal. My life is much busier now, though, and I don't have as much time to blog. A busy life is a good thing, so I'm happy with making that change. It's doable, so I'm more likely to do it.

I'm settling into a good routine for my new job, my music, church, and family stuff. I don't like rigid schedules, but a general routine is helpful because it allows your brain to think about more important and interesting things than, "When am I going to do this or that?" I started a to do list in my little calendar. I don't always get everything done, but I expect that and start with the most important things first. I put things on my to do list that are fun, rewards for doing the not-so-fun stuff. I'm not rigid about it, though. Sometimes I do the fun things first and sometimes I only do the fun things. But sometimes I eat dessert first or go out and get dessert instead of dinner. Life's too short not to enjoy as much of it as you can, as long as you don't become a total hedonist and ignore your responsibilities completely.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Things are Humming Along

All of my music has started back up. Paul has one group that won't start for another week. I've joined another choir, one Paul sang with over Christmas. It's called "Funtimes Singers". I need to get back in the habit of posting concert dates and info, in case any local folks are looking for something fun to do.

It looks like spring is bustin' out with show tunes. Two of my choirs are doing a lot of show tunes this season. It's going to be fun. The music for Funtimes isn't going to be too difficult, which is a good thing, since Ladyesong looks like there will be some super challenging stuff and lots of memorized music.

I like my new job a lot. It's another musical thing, in a way. I'm taking care of phones, ticket sales, and miscellaneous office work for the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. It looks like music is going to play a bigger part in my life, now that my kids are grown up and I have the time for it.

Writing may seem like it's far from my life, but it really isn't. I just haven't been blogging about it much. This past year I've been writing the occasional blog entry, emails, chatting, and doing lots of journaling. Lots of words have left my pen, but not much fiction. I'm not super upset about that. As I look back on it, there are a lot of good reasons more journaling got done than fiction writing. It's not important what they were. What's important is that things are now working better and I can focus on fiction more this year than last year. I knew it would work out this way. I just didn't know when. It's kind of ironic, in a way, that it all changed right at New Year's, since I try so hard not to make resolutions or changes at New Year's, mainly because doing it is sort of expected.

Anyway, I have a lot of typing of stuff I wrote by hand to do. And then I can write new stuff. It will likely be a couple of weeks before the word meter moves. I have a tendency to lose words, not add them, when I type stuff in. I don't change the progress bar when the word count goes down. I just wait until I've added more, as I always do. We'll see.

Still walking. When I started walking to the shopping center, it took me 45 minutes each way. Today it took me 35 minutes to get home. So, I'm walking faster. I wonder if the cold weather is partly at fault. I walk faster to stay warm. In any case, I'm enjoying my walks and coffee and private time to write in my journal.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year!!

I don't do resolutions, so don't expect to see a post about them here. You'll have to move on to someone else's blog for that.

Here's an update on the ongoing drama that is my life. First, Paul loves his new job. It's working out great. Benefits start after only one month on the job. I see new glasses, dental work, and routine medical stuff on our horizon, finally. I can find out how to handle the health issues that have kept me from working the past few years. I am going to have to find the "dreaded day job", as artistic types call the money work that puts a roof over their heads and food on the table so they can devote some time to their art. It's just too expensive here in CA to rent a place on one average income.

I hope to finally get a notebook computer sometime this year. I'm doing some part-time work from home for a friend. It's not a lot of money, but if I save it up, I should have enough for the machine I want before the year is up. And when I get that regular job, I can add some of that money to the PT income.

I'm still walking. I was up to 3 miles on the track. After Paul started his job, I started walking to a local shopping center for coffee. It's about 3-1/2 miles, total. It surprised me how easy the walk is. I'm thinking about walking a different direction to a coffe place that's 2 miles, one way. At least while I'm not working and have the time to do it. I don't know what my current weight loss is or my blood pressure. I started walking mainly hoping to lower the blood pressure, so we'll see, come February, whether I succeeded in that. The last time I was on a scale, which was a few weeks ago, I'd lost 33 pounds. Not bad for a person who wasn't trying to lose weight. I used Christmas gift money for much-needed new clothes. 4 sizes smaller. I'm happy with that and, while it would be great to keep losing, I'd be fine with maintaining for a while.

I didn't post for the last couple of weeks because of the super busy holidays. We had the regular stuff everyone does, plus four choirs between us to do rehearsals and concerts and stuff. It was great!! Then it was kind of a letdown because they all took a break. We needed the break, but I still missed it. It's all starting back up again this week and I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to be singing in three groups this spring. The music looks like it will be challenging and fun.

Last, a recipe, sort of, to start the new year with. It's not a recipe as much as a technique. I've been experimenting with braising these days because all the cheap cuts of meat need long, slow cooking to be tender. And that's what's been on sale. I'm looking for really simple stuff, so I started experimenting with that pot roast recipe I posted a while back.

I got a large pork shoulder roast on sale a couple of weeks ago. I had them cut it into two smaller roasts. I decided to try to do one like Pork Carnitas and the other like BBQ Pulled Pork. So, I kept the idea of putting the roast on a bed of sliced onion and cooking it at 400º F. I added one large can of enchilada sauce for the Carnitas and two regular-sized bottles of BBQ sauce for the Pulled Pork. Next time, I think I need to double the amount of enchilada sauce so there will be enough to spoon on the filled tortillas.

I cooked them on two different days using the same technique. I put them in for an hour. Then I turned the roast and spooned sauce over the top. I cooked them for another hour, turned and spooned sauce over. I stirred the sauce in the pan, too, so it wouldn't be as likely to burn. The last couple of hours, I did the turning, spooning, and stirring every half hour. Because I wanted shredded meat, I cooked them for a full four hours. If I'd wanted to slice it, I'd have only cooked them for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

To serve them, I used two forks to shred the meat. I put beans and cooked rice in the enchilada-flavored pork, but next time, I'm serving the rice separately. I thought the rice flavor covered up the pork flavor too much. I served the enchilada filling in whole wheat tortillas. I made sandwiches out of the BBQ Pulled Pork, using ciabatta rolls, rather than softer hoagy rolls. The BBQ sauce really soaks into the bread, so you need a hard roll or it will get soggy and hard to eat.

Both were excellent and better left over, as long-cooked dishes often are. Both of these are wonderful winter dishes. The oven keeps the kitchen toasty warm while you cook dinner. Mangia!!