Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finally Friday

So CBS is working on a new baking show and just had open calls for amateur bakers. They only had 5 cities available and only one of them was in a place where I knew people who were willing to help me out with transportation and board, so Dallas it was. Actually, it was Austin, but that was close enough. I was going to update everyone while I was on the road, but I have a limited amount of patience for typing long entries on the smartphone, so that didn't pan out.

Now that I am back home and have a computer at my disposal, here's how the past weekend went down. I left a bit later than I wanted because the kids weren't feeling great and needed extra cuddles, but I got out the door at a reasonable time. Traffic was a bit heavier than usual for that time of day, but I made it to the airport, got checked in and headed for security. The line was really backed up and moving slow. Odd since they have 6 stations to check IDs, but not so odd when I realized they were only using 1 person for each side. As my plane was starting to board, they added a couple more people and the pace picked up.

When I got through security (thank goodness I didn't get pulled for a random bag check) I had to wait for the train to get me to my gate. I'm so glad they did away with the mobile lounge that used to take forever. As was to be expected, my gate was on the far end and the clock was ticking. If you were puzzled by a blur racing through the concourse and swearing softly, that was me. I didn't dare swear loudly, I'm too out of shape and needed the oxygen. I got to the gate as they were starting to wrap things up and slid through just under the wire. Turned out I was not the last person to board which made me feel a bit better. They really did not want to be delayed leaving, so the attendant stuck me in the closest aisle seat instead of the middle seat I had reserved.

As it turned out, this was not a bad option. We flew out of town, leveled off and they served us our drinks. I had been too nervous to eat a proper breakfast, so I opted for the tomato juice and a water. So there we were, enjoying our beverage and the view of the clear blue sky when we hit a speed-bump. At the first bounce, I picked up my juice. I had my hand poised to lift my water off the tray when we started bouncing like a puppy at a kitten-fest and there went my ice water onto the floor. When things settled back down, I cleaned the ice out of the aisle and waited for a replacement. I could see our attendant carrying on an animated conversation with the lead attendant and it didn't look good. When he came back our way, he explained that he would bring replacement drinks shortly, but that at the moment they were helping the folks back by my original seat. Those folks had gotten the worst of the turbulence and were covered in sodas and juices.

The rest of the flights were pretty uneventful and I got picked up at the airport in Austin in time to grab lunch. My friends always do Torchy's on Fridays, so I had Torchy's Tacos for lunch. I don't know about the rest of the menu, but I can vouch for the carnitas tacos. Mine were so heaped with meat that I couldn't fold it up. I dug in with a fork instead and thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards, it was off to another friend's house to bake my goodies for the baking contest. I made my Tunnel of Fudge cake that has become the go-to favorite for birthdays at work and I cranked out a batch of buttermilk scones with homemade lemon curd. In between, I was treated to some amazing baked ziti which was absolutely wonderful. Some of the most wonderful people call Austin "home" and I was fortunate enough to get to spend time with them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happiness Is As Happiness Does

I was talking to a friend who is working on a degree. For one of her classes, she had to write a paper about happiness and needed to interview a certain number of people. I don't know how many interviews she had to do, but I was honored when she added me to her list. I love interviews. Not the camera in your face while you clutch the microphone in white-knuckled terror and paste a brittle smile on your face as you try to remember how to form human speech. I hate those. I can't stand those. Those interviews are always simultaneously interminable and too brief. They are just long enough for me to feel like I tripped over my words with my foot shoved in my mouth and not long enough to try to repair the damage done by my awkwardness.

 This interview was the other kind. This was the kind of interview I have done a few times for other friends also working on their degrees. The kind of interview that feels like what it is, a conversation about an interesting topic with a good friend. A couple doughnuts and coffee could easily replace the clipboard between us as they ask questions and conversation, and sometime discussion, ensue. I love that sort of interview. It's so relaxed and frequently my friend and I discover a new bond we otherwise might never have known we shared.

When my friend asked if I could answer a couple questions for her class, I quickly agreed. When she said they were about happiness, I thought, "Cool, never been asked that before." She asked me about times that I had been happy, times from childhood, my teen years and adulthood. Now I hadn't really thought much about it, but all-in-all I think I'm generally a happy sort of person.

Not that you can necessarily be happy all the time. Somehow the thought of that feels a little creepy to me. If you are always happy all the time, do you truly appreciate it? It seems like it might be easy to take it for granted if it's always there. I think there are ups and downs and that you do not have to be permanently happy to be a generally happy person. As I was telling my friend some of my happiest times, she commented, "It seems like you are happiest when you are accomplishing things or sharing times with other people." I think she's right. I fondly recall the first time I was on a horse, riding tandem with my mom, getting silly with my grandmother having late-night crossword marathons (not such happy memories for my aunt who had to get to sleep in spite of our giggles), managing to letter in tow foreign languages simultaneously, holding my children for the first time, mastering a new skill, combing my grandfather's hair and so many other experiences that left me with a warm feeling and pleasant memories.

 As I said earlier, I don't know how many interviews were done before mine, but as we talked, my friend commented with a smile, "You're the first person I've interviewed who didn't list a bunch of things that made them happy. The perfect kitchen, a new car, that sort of thing. It's about actions and people with you." I hadn't really thought about it until she mentioned it, but I guess she's got something there. When she mentioned using things to find happiness, my immediate response was, "But they're just things! Things can't make you happy, they're just stuff, they don't do anything. They're tools, it's what you do with them that matters."

 Maybe it's the by-product of being raised in a rural setting by a close-knit family that came of age during the Depression, but "stuff" was never our focal point. Our focus was on the people and how we helped each other. If there was a wreck, the first question was, "Is everyone OK?" followed closely by "How can we help?" Your house burned down? "First, is everyone OK, was anyone hurt?" and then again, "How can we help? You can stay with this aunt first while this one gets her guest room cleaned up for you and we'll make it through together."  That's where happiness came from. Knowing that whatever you may have lost, you hadn't lost the people you cared about, those were willing to gather you into their arms and help make everything right again.

I think happiness is transitory. It is not permanent, it is not fixed, it's changeable. It likes to hide, to play peek-a-boo from time to time, that's what makes it worthwhile, but it's never far away. It's like the small child that wanders just far enough away to peek around a tree trunk, challenging you to come swoop it into your arms and whirl it in a gleeful circle. If you truly desire happiness, I believe you look for it. You can find pretty much anything you are determined to find. You want to find promise, it's there, you want to find gloom, not a problem. You want to find happiness, search it out. For me, it comes from finding the humor that's all around. If you look for the positive in things, it's difficult to remain unhappy for long. So that, I've decided is my new project. I think I can find something positive to jot down every single day and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try to share a little bit of the happiness that's playing tag just around the corner.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Monday- Irish dance classes started up and while I think the median age of our group this time may have dropped below the voting age, I got to reconnect with some classmates from last year, meet some lovely new students and most of all, got the chance to dance, dance, dance. I love it when my feet find the music and I can just go with it. I always wind up wishing the class could last a bit longer, but I'm not sure the class that comes in after us would be thrilled with that plan.

Tuesday- It sounds odd, but I'm really glad I got sent home from work sick. It started out as a little tickle, but it didn't improve, so my boss sent me home at lunch time. I love the fact that I work in a place that tries to keep germs from running rampant. If I had felt poorly before I got there, my boss would have told me to stay home in the first place. The timing meant I got a half day's pay before we threw in the towel, and I have the knowledge that I work with folks who respect and care about each other. This made me especially happy after I had to swing by the gas station where I witnessed an employee who they thought might have pneumonia. She sounded terrible, hacking away in the corner, but I doubt she could afford to take the day off. It made me so appreciative of my work environment.

Wednesday- I got to read a new book by one of our favorite authors. The kids loved his first book and the second one is rapidly approaching the same status. Even the teenager came in to listen and that doesn't happen very often. It made for some really nice together time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Non-knitting Fun

Lately I've been baking. Something happens this time of year. The kids scatter to various camps and to Grandmother's and the house quiets. It's also the season for many of my favorite fruits, so I go picking. One day I will have my own fruits to harvest, but until then, I go to the local farms and orchards and pick. This year I picked strawberries, blueberries, black raspberries and sour cherries. And as soon as they were picked, but not pitted or otherwise prepared, the kids scattered, leaving me with 12 pints of blueberries and 5 pounds of cherries to do something with.

I started by making a blueberry pound cake that I took to work. It was wonderful. I got the recipe from All Cakes Considered (yes, related to All Things Considered on NPR) and it worked beautifully. I love this cookbook enough that if it does not turn up as a belated birthday gift, I will be giving it to myself. The berries were on the big side, so they tended to sink to the top of the cake despite being tossed in flour first. (Yes, the top, it was baked in a Bundt pan.) Next time I will either add a bit more than the 1 cup called for or I will pick through to find smaller berries.

The local kitchen gadget shop missed the boat on placing a timely order for cherry pitters, so it looks like I may be back to using either my DPNs or a new hairpin to pit them again this year. It worked well last time, but I had my short help assisting me. We'll just have to see how that works out this time. The cherries are destined for possibly some sort of pie or maybe just preserves. Both options worked pretty well in the past. The blueberries will be preserves, sauce, pies and/or frozen. I love having them available when the weather has cooled and I crave fruit that is neither imported nor an apple. There are plenty of possibilities to choose from. I think I'll contemplate them in the orchard as I pick some more summer days to sustain us through the winter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life runs the show. You come up with ideas, you make plans and life says, "That's a nice thought, here's what I'm thinking" and before you know it, things have shifted. That's pretty much what's gone on around here. I intended to keep up with the blog on a more regular basis, but obviously that didn't work out as planned.

What did work out however was a spur of the moment job interview that landed me a part-time position in a job I enjoy, doing what I like, around people I would have chosen as friends. The kids are growing like weeds and I now have a pre-schooler, a first-grader and a very nearly teen.

They have argued and fought the way only siblings can, and every night when I go to check on them, they have huddled up like puppies, curled up together with an arm over another's neck or sometimes a foot in someone's ear. They fall asleep whispering to each other and wake each other with hugs and giggles in the morning. As much as they can get on each others' nerves, they don't like being separated for long periods and they watch out for each other. If being able to watch them share this close bond means I'm not writing quite as much as I hoped, I'm OK with life's altered plan.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night

I'm doing the NaNoWriMo challenge and having a blast with it so far. For some reason, my best time to write seems to be after the kids go to bed, naps don't seem to count for whatever reason. Anyway, I'm way behind where I should be in order to be done in time, but I hit my personal goal for today which is cool. When I get stuck I go to Write or Die to push myself and seem to do far better than I do otherwise. I'm not quite sure what that says about my psyche, but there you have it. So far this is my personal best. I gave myself 48 minutes to hit 700 words and this was the result...

I'm so excited. Well, back to my nameless novel...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Vacation Brain

How sad is this? I've been so inactive lately that I completely forgot my sign-in info. In all fairness, life's been pretty busy around here. DH went to Scout camp for a week and a half while the 10, 5 &2 yo's went nuts. Actually we had a pretty good time when we weren't cleaning. We picked sour cherries (note to self- when they say you might want to bring a small ladder, they're not joking, especially if you're only 5 ft 4 in.) We wound up with about 7 pounds of cherries of which the kids pitted over 4 pounds and I made into cherry preserves. It was supposed to be jam, but didn't gel quite enough. Judging by the two year-old's sticky face and hands, I'd say it passed her taste test.

We went back over the next couple days and picked both blueberries and black raspberries. So far I've made one blueberry buckle and lots of plans for other things. It looks like I'll be pitting the rest of the cherries myself (never underestimate the versatility of an old-fashioned hairpin) and baking a pie for the boys. I'm undecided about the blueberries, perhaps a Lemon Blueberry Poundcake, another buckle, a Blueberry Grunt (a kind of dumpling), some jam, or maybe just a trip to the freezer. I'm pretty sure the black raspberries are destined to become a cobbler when Mom comes back. Either way, the kids have had a fun time and we've all enjoyed being out in the fields and orchards during some really nice weather. Not a bad way to kick off our summer vacation. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

There were rats and cats and elephants...

O.K. perhaps that's not entirely accurate, but I do feel like our house has become Wildlife Central. For a while now we have been dealing with squirrels in our attic. Part of the charm of having an old house. I love the tin roof, but apparently when it was built, they didn't make the roof come all the way down. There is a slight gap around the attic perimeter. (I haven't actually braved the Ladder of Death, Doom and Certain Peril to see it firsthand, but I have it on good, corroborated authority.) I'm sure this is great for ventilation, but it stinks for squirrel control. We didn't realize the extent of the problem until we cleaned out the old nests, so until we can get the whole thing fixed, we have Squirrel Nutkin's Home for Wayward Rodents upstairs.

We also discovered earlier in the summer that the pretty little stray who had her kittens under our house and then disappeared when they grew up, has decided we have a wonderful environment for raising her young. She showed up again looking as if she were going to deliver any day. Sure enough, we were eating dinner one evening when we heard this strange sound each time the air conditioner came on. After a few times, I figured out that we were hearing wee kitten voices. Momma Kitty had made her nest under the house right next to the ductwork and the noise startled the babies, so marshmallow that I am, I turned off the unit. I figured we could handle a little more heat better than those poor babies could handle the extra stress. They relocated before the oppressive heat moved in, so everything was good.

I had just come to grips with the squirrels in the attic and the cats under the house when our trashcan got broken into. It was a lovely, pungent aroma that greeted us when we opened the front door and found the top bags delicatley ripped open and the contents lovingly strewn about the walkway. They must have been the kitchen bags that were tossed in when I cleaned out the fridge. My husband was quick to blame the aforementioned cats, but I pointed out that it looked more like raccoon damage to me. Our trashcan is the basic, town-issued garbage bin with wheels and a lid that flips closed, not exactly your toughest challenge for the local fauna. Dear Man came up with an inspired solution to the problem.

Now bear in mind that we live in the mountains. We are at the top of the Parkway and regularly have to wait for deer, raccoons, groundhogs, beavers, skunks and the occasional bear to clear the road, even in town. Every year my friend who lives a block away has to wage war with a bear over the contents of her own trashcan. The deer decimate her flowerbed while waiting for the twin fawns to finish napping. Her cats no longer have food and a litter box on the screened porch because the raccoons inevietably win that wrestling match. As a matter of fact, I have frequently seen a pair of raccoons scurry into the storm drain just around the corner from our own house. Raccoons are known for their problem-solving skills. They are clever and are able to use their front paws almost like opposable thumbs. Our next step to shut down the midnight buffet in our front yard? A half a brick on top of the garbage lid. I'm pretty sure I heard chuckling under the porch as we went back inside. Amazingly enough, when they were again desperate, they re-opened the snack bar.

A few nights later, one of the stray cats got back on the porch and were rummaging around, knocking stuff over. I startled him when I opened to door to retrieve something from the car. He headed for cover in the far corner and I saw just the tip of his fluffy tail as he scurried off. I said, "Oh, it must be offspring of the long-hair that I've seen around. I'll get a better look," and shone the flashlight in the corner to see. I found the fluffy tip of his tail and followed it up thinking, "Hmm... that's a little fluffier than I thought. It must be one of the black and white cats... ummm.... that doesn't look so cat-shaped... oh goody, stripes. OK, Pepe, you just enjoy that corner of the porch. See me? See how I'm easing down the farthest side of the steps in an extremely non-threatening way? You just take your time..." Great. Add one more to the local wildlife tally.