15 December, 2015

I'm edging into dangerous territory.

It was a divine weekend. I baked and baked and enjoyed The Messiah at our church.

And...yesterday it was back to the salt mine. I am about done with this job. It's boring. I've spent all my work time since May working on a stupid project organizing thousands of paper files, sorting, completing, and alphabetizing. Then I started scanning. I've scanned and scanned and scanned until the world looks level, my brain melted and ran out my ears, and I feel nothing but loathing every time I pull up to the building.

My hope is that I will be finished the scanning part of my job before I leave for Christmas. After that I have no idea what my Corporate Overlords will find for me to do. I just hope LIKE FUCK it does not involve scanning. If it does, I feel I have some choices. One is pulling off all my clothes and running naked and screaming from the building, convincing them that I'm too unstable to continue working for them. I've thought about it, oh yes I have.

Tomorrow is shopping day. I have to get the Christmas presents for...everyone. This is one of those tasks that is up to me, and tomorrow is my chosen day. I know what I want to get for everyone, I just hope tracking it down, killing it, and strapping it to the top of the SUV isn't too difficult.

If it was up to me, I would not exchange gifts with my adult family members. Alas, it is not up to me, so Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, Off To The Mall I Go.

13 December, 2015

Cookies coming out my ears

It was a busy and rewarding weekend.

Friday night I baked cookies with my Best Baking Friend. We made a bunch of Russian teacakes, or Mexican wedding cookies, or whatever you call them. Basically they are delicious balls of butter, sugar, and flour, rolled in more sugar.

Saturday we baked sugar cookies again. Rolling, decorating, baking. Rolling, decorating, baking. Sugar cookies are delicious and very popular...and a lot of work!

After a certain amount of time, we decided if we rolled out one more tray of trees and holly leaves, someone was going to get hurt, we moved on to cranberry-pistachio cookies. We got 12 rolls of those sliced and baked in about 2 hours, so that was super satisfying.

The Handel Choir of Baltimore performed The Messiah today. They used traditional musical instruments, like harpsichord, violincello, and these wacky looking old-style trumpets. It was a beautiful performance with talented soloists.

Then back home to make sausage balls and binge-watch Grimm. It is a humble life, but it is mine.

06 December, 2015

Sweet and savory

I went over to Best Baking Friend's yesterday afternoon and made two batches of sugar cookie dough. Then I hung around and helped cut out and decorate five trays of cookies. We made reindeer, holly leaves, and pine trees. Then I had to leave. It reminded me how easy it is to make the dough we made, which is from THE cookie Bible, the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion Cookbook. BFF has everything in his kitchen set up for mass production of cookies. In the next three weeks he will make about 10 different types of cookies, which he packs in tins and gifts to his friends. Before it's over he will have made hundred (maybe even thousands) of individual cookies. I am proud that I am completely Certified to help in all aspects of cookie baking!

I am making cookies later this week.

Today, instead of the sweet stuff, Thomas and I mixed up a bunch of cheese pastry dough, wrapped it around olives, and froze the resulting cheese olives. Later in the season, when I need something to take to a holiday party, I have them all frozen and ready to pop in the oven. I use a recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I think it is a good recipe, more flavorful than a lot of others I have found on the interwebz.

I also have the ingredients for sausage balls. I'm going to try to knock those out some day this week and will also freeze them. Getting that chest freezer for the basement has changed my food life. I can make things ahead of time and just bake later.

The sausage balls I make are so easy and delicious. I use this recipe with Bisquick. Don't mock, food snobs, Bisquick is just the flour and rising ingredients. The important thing about making good sausage balls is that you have to use some hot and spicy sausage. If you and your family enjoy spicy flavors/foods, use all spicy sausage. If, like me, you like a little zip, but not too much, use 1 lb. of regular sausage and 1 lb. of hot/spicy sausage. Don't wuss out and go with all regular sausage, they will be too bland. Trust me on this, you need some spice for flavor. If you are me, you will also add a few dashes of Texas Pete's hot sauce (or Tabasco), just to make things even better.

Bisquick® Sausage Balls

For holidays, we usually have these at least once as a snack/appetizer, and usually once for breakfast. Make ahead and freeze, then bake until golden brown and sizzly. So delicious. Nothing says loving like sausage balls fresh from the oven!

04 December, 2015

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch

Image result for mr grinch
I feel somewhat like Mr. Grinch tonight. My heart's an empty hole.

I have GOT to stop listening to the news. But being on a news diet doesn't mean that awful things aren't happening, just that I don't know about them. Is willful ignorance really the way go to here?

Early this year, a friend's beautiful 48 year old wife killed herself in their home. He found her body hours later. His whole life was shattered at that moment. I think about her a lot. And him. At the time that she committed suicide, she was in a major depression. She fully believed that things would never get better, and that her husband and child would be better off without her. So she took a step that made sure that nothing would ever get better for her. It was, bitterly, a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

The way I feel today is pretty awful, but I know that some other day, maybe a day soon (I hope) I will not be filled with such feelings of pessimism and doom. Maybe my heart will grow three sizes and I'll be able to remember all the things about the world that are good and hopeful.

Here are some things that are good about my life, that I can appreciate right now:
  • Thomas fixed me dinner and had it ready when I got home from work. A hot dinner is a comforting thing.
  • I have a little dog on my lap, keeping me warm.
  • I have plenty to read in the house.
  • We have a roof over our heads, food in the freezer, and money in the bank. There are people in the world for whom that is an impossible dream.
  • Tomorrow I am going to a concert with Thomas and friends to hear the talented John Gorka. Music is also a comforting thing.
  • I will bake cookies and make cheese olives and sausage balls this weekend, so I have things to take to the holiday parties that are happening this month.
If anyone out there reads this, what are you thankful for?

03 December, 2015

The Russian judge gave it a 10, but you know those Russians!

I finished The Crappy One and Only. It ended the way I knew it would, with the Walker team winning the big game, and Shea and elderly Coach Hottie getting together. Even though we are told over and over again that Coach “looks ten years younger than his 55 years,” his age didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that he had watched her grow up. It was like a girl falling in creepy incestuous love with the stepfather who raised her from infancy. YUK. I was skeeved.
My grade: D- I am going to stay far away from Giffen from now on. I will say that she’s not a bad writer, which is why I did not give this an F. Story was an F but the prose was a solid B.
Now I’m listening to the mournfully beautiful The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I first read this book years ago; I chose it because I needed something I knew would not disappoint. It is not a traditional novel, but a collection of stories set in the same place: the town of Blackwell, Mass. Starting with the coming of white people to the icy, bear-filled wilderness of the Berkshires, going forward in jumps of 16 or 20 or 45 years. The same families show up again and again, and characters often refer to their parents and grandparents, the protagonists of previous stories.
I find the stories beautiful, though they are strange and full of loss and sadness. Johnny Appleseed shows up, and gives a suicidal widow the gift of knowing she is alive. A strange, plain young girl from Amherst meets a blind man, and although they only know each other for a few days, he gives her a dog named Carlo and she plants a scented garden for him.
A young girl drowns in a surprising summer snowstorm, in a cold year where one of Johnny Appleseed’s trees saves the lives of the town. A murderess’ daughter remembers sadly the execution, by electrocution, of an elephant named Topsy. I don’t know why I love Hoffman’s books as I do, I have friends who do not think much of her, but I find her writing so beautiful, clear and yet with a sense of how much wonder there is in the world. This book is full of beautiful descriptions of nature. 
I need things right now that help me forget the stuff that is going on in the world. So much awful stuff. I may have to put myself on a news diet, because two solid days of obsessively reading and listening to the news about San Bernadino is not good for me.
Here's a guilty secret: when I feel as scared and upset by the world as I do right now, I read children's books (especially old favorites) and Regency romances. Excuse me while I head off to an evening of extremely light reading.

02 December, 2015

The Princess of Peeved

It rained Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and today here in soggy Baltimore. I am looking forward to a less damp Thursday.

Still listening to the crappy The One and Only. It's still bad, but in a good way. I'm so aggravated by Shea, the main character, that it distracts me from how boring scanning documents for hours is!

Wearing her nerdly green sweater that kept her from being too cold. Styling!
 Here is something that has happened to me recently. The Monday before Thanksgiving we had to have our little Cocker Spaniel, Punkin, put down. The poor thing was frail and had become senile and incontinent. It hurt to lose her, but her quality of life was down to about nothing, and I am afraid things were about to get worse, as she had a big infection. It was time.

Punkin, like one of my other favorite dogs (Dru), was not your stereotypical sweet/cute/happy dog. Frankly, she looked at life with a jaundiced eye, not that I blame her. She had one owner from the time she was a puppy. She and another dog lived with that man for 10 years, and when he died, the family took them to a shelter. The rescue we volunteer with took both dogs, but could not find a home for the two of them together, and the other dog was adopted first.

First, Punkin was in a kennel at a boarding facility, but then she went to a foster home. The foster told us that the first few days at her house, poor old Punkin was so upset she basically hid under furniture, growling and snapping at everyone who passed by. Then she settled in for four months. When this woman was getting ready to go away for the summer and asked for another foster family to take her (just for the summer or until she was adopted). I volunteered.

I won't forget the first time I saw this dog. I was told to look for a woman in a red convertible with an orange dog. And let me tell you, she was ORANGE. I said, "You weren't kidding about her being orange!" The woman sheepishly told me that Punkins's coat was really a reddish buff, but she had washed her with a special "brightening" shampoo for red dogs, like Irish Setters, etc. It seems the phone rang while Punkin was marinating in orange dye...and twenty minutes later she was the canine equivalent of Lucille Ball.

When I got her home, Punkin got herself up in the corner of our couch and commenced to glare balefully at us and our other dogs. She wasn't having any of us. She'd been ripped out of her home, her dog friend had been taken away, she got settled into a good home, and now she had to start over...to which she said, "Not just no, HELL NO." Four four days she curled up in an angry ball, snapping at the dogs, snapping at us. The only reason she left the couch was to go outside to pee. She would not eat.

Thomas finally could not take it anymore, and on day four he got a bunch of kibble and boiled chicken, and started hand feeding her. She deigned to eat if he would feed  her. Eventually, she settled in and started eating out of a bowl and nosing around the yard. After three months, she was doing pretty good. Standoffish and a little snippy, but we all understood each other.

Then the time came for 1st foster mom to come home and she emailed me to ask when she could get Punkin back. I asked if she was adopting her or just fostering again. Just fostering, I was told.

I got to thinking about something my friend Christine said about fostering dogs. It is a good thing, because it keeps the dogs out of kill shelters, and in a home situation where they keep their house training and good manners...but the dogs don't know it's just temporary. They settle in and love you. Every time we move a dog from one home to another, we take a little piece of their heart, their trust, away. It's for a good reason, but we do some damage.

"Screw that," I told Thomas, "we're keeping her. She's a little pain in the butt, but she's our pain in the butt, and I'm not going to make her move again." And Punkin was a member of the family.

Our friends just learned to leave her alone. She didn't want you to pick her up, or pet her, or fuss with her at all. She would take food, if she felt like it, but she was not food motivated like our other dogs. We hardly knew what to do with a Cocker Spaniel who wouldn't readily sell her good will for food! She was a tiny little thing, barely 21 lbs at her heaviest. By the time she died she was about 16 lbs of toughness. Like the Energizer Bunny, she kept on ticking, but she'd failed badly since the end of the summer. Monday we knew the time had come.

So, Punkin, Princess of Peeved, we loved you and will miss you. We hope you are running through the fields of heaven, at peace. 

01 December, 2015

More like a June - September romance - but still gross

These last few months, I’ve been listening to a bunch of books on CD and playaway (www.playaway.com) while at work. My job is now tedious in the extreme; I sit at a desk and scan page after page of old forms, and then organize/save them. Trust me, this is the type of thing that requires something entertaining books.
I am currently listening to The One and Only, by Emily Giffin. I have seen her books on the shelves for years, but it’s been a long time since I tried one. The choice of audiobooks at the BCPL is heavy on scary murder mysteries and romance novels, neither of which I want to read at work, so Emily Giffin seemed like a reasonable choice.
Be prepared. Spoilers ahead! This story is about a woman who works for the fictional Walker University, a football school near Dallas. Walker is a football school in a football state…and the main character, Shea, is in love with her home town, her alma mater, and on many levels, the head coach of the football team. Coach Carr is her best friend’s father, and has always been Shea’s hero. In many ways, he has always been her male role model, since her father left her mother to go back to his first wife and daughter.
I myself happen to be from a beautiful, small town that happens to have a beautiful state university. It’s also a football school that has a Coach Carr-like coach. Everyone in Clemson has Dabo Fever; he’s not just a good coach, everyone loves him for his open Christian faith, the compelling backstory of his difficult childhood and rise from poverty, and his super-earnest, shucks-ma’am-Southern-shtick. I recently read an interesting article about the difference between Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier. Swinney sounds like a nice person, but I would probably prefer to attend a dinner party with Spurrier, who would be more entertaining. Because I am somewhat cynical about life, the universe, and everything, I find people like Coach Swinney hard to understand, and maybe, a little simple. Life is not simple, there are no easy answers, and to act like there are, is disingenuous.
I recognize a lot about the kinds of football fans who Shea represents. Football is her game, and Walker is her school, and as far as she is concerned, anything about them is good. I have friends like that, although that’s never been my way. I love Clemson (the town) and Clemson (the school), but I am not obsessed with sports. If Clemson loses a football game, hell, if they have a sucky season, I don't love town and school any less. I love them in their entirety.
Anyway, this book has me thinking about all this because I do know people who are obsessed with Clemson football. Or with their own alma mater's team. When they talk about it, they say, "We won," or "We lost." I look at them with my jaundiced, cynical eye and think, "I'm sure you weren't out running your 50 year old ass around on that field." It's a game people, and in the end not a terribly important one. It is not a metaphor for life, or something that give it meaning, it's a fun way to spend an afternoon cheering on your team. But if your team loses...it was still a good thing to do, and then you go home and throw some steaks on the grill or play a game of Charades and life still has savor.
I am somewhere in the middle on this. I don't play sports, and I don't really care about wins/losses, but I do enjoy the occasional game. I don't hate sports like some people do; but they are not my life like they are for Shea Rigsby in this book. 
At chapter 18 or so, she's sleeping with the fictional QB of the Dallas Cowboys, she's yearning for her best friend's 55 year old recently widowed dad, and lying to her boss that she can be objective about the Walker football team. I see tears ahead. TEARS, I tell you, because when the best friend finds out about Shea and Coach Daddy, things are not going to be pretty. And a 33 year old woman leching on a man who has known her since the day she was born ought to be seeing a therapist about her Daddy Issues...