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.