Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kid Update

I feel like it's been months since I have posted any update on the kids. They have weathered the transition to Michigan, and are doing really well.

Big J is now 19 months old. He is doing more running than walking, and loves to be outside. Every morning he stands at the back door pointing to go and play in the backyard. He likes boy-ish toys (cars, trains, trucks, fire engines, dinosaurs, robots, monsters, anything that makes loud noises) and has displayed his creative side by coloring on anything that doesn't move (walls, chairs, sofa, TV..... thank goodness for washable crayons & the Magic Eraser!!). His appetite is strong but he's not an adventurous eater, preferring to stay within the toddler food groups of graham crackers, hot dogs, bananas, and milk. He likes to express himself through various hoots and hollers, leaving the interpreting to us. He does have a handful of words, and understands almost anything you tell or ask him. He will respond with head shakes to nearly any question. He is still shy around new people & crowds, but at home he likes to be with others - playing quietly (or not so quietly) as I work in the kitchen. He has been growing and gaining weight at a more appropriate rate, and we're backing off his medications to see if the trend continues. He's a good sleeper, going to bed between 7:30-8pm, and usually sleeping until 6:45am. We've recently adjusted to one longer nap, and I think we both enjoy the 2-3 hour rest in the middle of the day. He also enjoys being read to, and will bring me various books throughout the day. His absolute favorite is the board book I Stink by Jim & Kate McMullin (a story of a garbage truck). He also enjoys watching Dinosaur Train in the morning, and loves seeing Elmo on Sesame Street.


Big Sis loves school. She doesn't love waking up in the morning, and we have learned to allot extra time for the getting-out-of bed process (that girl is more like me every day). She has homework each weekend, and asks to do it every Friday evening after dinner. She has enjoyed making new friends, and getting to participate in her first bus ride & field trip to a local farm. Her artistic sensibilities continue to blossom, and I am continually amazed at both her skill and her creativity. Each week's homework includes coloring & cutting out a letter, gluing it to another sheet, then drawing & labelling 4 items that start with that letter. For T she chose tornado, tomato, tire, and turn. What 5 year old thinks of tornado, then draws a perfect spiral to represent it??? Our lack of TV programming has re-ignited her interest in her own collection of toys & movies, and removed about 90% of the "I wants" that we were experiencing from too many toy commercials. A good thing for all of us. She's also becoming more cognizant of the fun to be had from board & card games. Big Daddy plays War with her, we had a family game of Monopoly last night, and I think Old Maid and Go Fish might be part of this weekend's entertainment. She loves her new ballet class, and I am only a tiny bit biased in saying that she is the most skilled in the class. She is learning the ballet positions, appropriate hand placement, and the other foundational skills that will serve her in future ballet endeavors. She worked hard to memorize her part in last week's Primary Program, and had a flawless delivery. We are so proud of our girl!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fab Friday: October 23

(Better late than never??)

I love me some craigslist. I have bought and sold on craigslist, searched for housing, furniture, vacations, jobs, and even gotten a giggle or two from the "Best of" (Cautionary note: the "Best of" are often R rated).

You have to be flexible - and patient - with craigslist. Those who are selling do not always
share my enthusiasm and eagerness to close the deal. I have learned to steel myself in anticipation of expired listings, repetitious emails, lack of follow-through, extortion-like pricing, no pictures, blurry pictures, misrepresentations in photo and verbiage, a dearth of detail, and of course, the ubiquitous spelling error.

But still.... with time, patience, and a watchful eye, craigslist can work as intended, leaving all parties satisfied.

Case in Point - we turned this:


Into this:
3 trips in the pouring rain, a good scrubbing with vinegar and soapy water, 30 minutes of assembly, and we were in business.

Yes, October is a weird time to buy a playset, but you know me - I was obsessing a little bit & when I can find a deal (and close the deal), I go for it. And 90% off retail is - to me - a GREAT deal. Now if we can just keep the rain away for a few days, the kids might even be able to enjoy it before the snow begins.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life in the Aftermath

I really am not sure what to write about this topic. Life after Work has been many things.

Unsettling
Satisfying
Quiet
Sad
Productive
Frustrating

And a dictionary's worth of other adjectives that do not currently spring to mind.

I never let the job define me (yes, I think I just heard my husband snort)... but it imprinted me more than I expected. When you do something for 5 years, and do it with passion, with verve, with breakneck speed and vigor and competence, you'd have to be made of granite not to emerge unchanged from that trial by fire.

While only 7 short days have passed, my thinking is slowly starting to change. Before, when I took vacation time it always felt like a burden instead of a relief.

"Do more! Get up! Get out! Don't waste your time, cram it all in - you've only got X days until you have to go back to work!"

Now I am beginning to feel unburdened. For the first time in 5 years, I feel lighter. I feel freedom. I feel like I have the opportunity to explore the unexplored.

That hobby/ exercise program/ new recipe/ playgroup I wanted to try?

No problem.

Need to schedule an appointment in the middle of the day?

You bet.

Want to go to the grocery on a Tuesday morning?

Go ahead and enjoy the quiet.

Sometimes I still catch myself thinking "Wow, the phone hasn't rung at all today" (because I disconnected our landline). And then I remind myself that I don't have to worry about that any longer. No more being chained to my computer (although that will be a tougher habit to break away from). No more 9pm conference calls, no more deadlines or invoices or presentations or travel or days on end away from my family.

Although my feelings are still bittersweet, I find the anxiety lessens as the days go by.

The weekend before my last day, I spent Saturday stomping around the house. Unsettled, unhappy, and not sure why. In an uncharacteristic show of communication I unleashed a barrage of verbal feeling on my patient husband. Drained, I realized that I was mourning the end of an era and the loss of a sense of control. It wasn't supposed to be this way. I was supposed to do the leaving. I was supposed to instigate the breakup - on my time & within my schedule. But that's not how it happened, and as with all crossroads in Life, I had to make a choice. I can look ahead or I can look back.

Things are still fuzzy and undefined, but from the tiny glimpses I've had, the horizon looks magnificent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fab Friday: October 16

(Photo by Richard Pierce)

With the advent of Fall, my thoughts turn to the delights of comfort foods of all flavors. Being that we are both a dessert-lovin' and apple-lovin' family, this is one of our new favorite recipes - courtesy of Bon Appetit's October 2009 issue. Don't be daunted by the extensive list of ingredients. It's actually very quick to make, and the free-form cake frosting means you don't have to worry about covering every square inch.

Fuji Apple Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

Cake:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, apple brandy, or rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 medium Fuji or Gala apples (13 to 14 ounces total), peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (I use what we have at home, usually Honeycrisp)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (about 6 ounces)

Frosting:
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted)
  • Coarsely chopped toasted pecans (for garnish)

  • Special equipment: 2 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides


Preparation

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch high sides. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. (
I know, that part seems like extra work, but I swear those cakes popped right out!) Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in apples and pecans. Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper. Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up. Repeat with second cake. Cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature.

For frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.

Using long serrated knife, trim off rounded tops of cakes to make level; brush off any loose crumbs. (You know I don't do this part) Transfer 1 cake to platter, trimmed side up. Drop half of frosting (about 11/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake. Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake. Top with second cake, trimmed side down. Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving sides of cake plain. Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired. Sprinkle with pecans. Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meatballs!

It's a well-publicized fact that I love Italian food. Pizza, garlic bread, lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, linguine with clams, stuffed shells..... I could go on & on.

One thing I DON'T like all that much is plain red sauce. I have yet to master the art of the red sauce, and I find most jarred sauces to be too sweet or too canned or too.... not right. As such, I also have a bit of distaste for the ubiquitous Italian meatball, which always seems to be paired with red sauce like peanut butter goes with jam.

I've never given the meatball much thought, and yet a few weeks ago I was taken with a recipe from a Cook's Illustrated magazine which I purchased at Costco on a whim. Among other delightful recipes embedded in the pages, it contained one for Sunday Gravy, aka Hearty Italian Meat Sauce. It's rather complicated - involving 3 kinds of meat and the majority of a Sunday afternoon after church. The end result was average (the ribs seemed overcooked and I neglected to add the sweet Italian sausage), but the meatballs - Oh! The Meatballs! - they were a revelation. They'll make you a believer.

Meatballs
Recipe: Cook's Illustrated, October 2009
my notes in italics

2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed & bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (I prefer flat leaf parsley)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork, & veal) (Who can find ground veal, much less all three meats together?? I used 1/2 ground beef - not too lean or your meatballs will be dry - and 1/2 pork sausage)
2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine (This is the secret ingredient!)
1 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup) (I used good ol' Kraft Parmesan)
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine bread cubes, buttermilk, parsley, garlic, egg yolk, salt, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl and mash with fork until no bread chunks remain. Add meatloaf mix, prosciutto, and cheese to bread mixture; mix with hands until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 12 pieces (this makes rather large meatballs - about the size of a golf ball); roll into balls, transfer to plate, cover with plastic, refrigerate until ready to use.

When sauce is 30 minutes from being done, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add meatballs and cook until well browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly. Transfer browned meatballs to sauce and gently submerge. Cover and continue cooking until meatballs are just cooked through, about 15 minutes.

The secret really is the prosciutto. The flavor it adds is delightful: a little salty, a little smoky. The meatballs are large so I serve no more than 2 per person, and I froze the leftovers. Just defrost and pop them into sauce on the stove to warm up in about 10-15 minutes.

Bon Appetit!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fab Friday: October 9

Oopsie - I was a little distracted yesterday & forgot to post a Fab Friday!

I'm going to save the flowery rhetoric for another time & just keep it simple.

Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia

What's your favorite ice cream?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And then........

Job Lost.

If Found, Please Return.

I knew this day would come.

I’ve had a bullseye on my back ever since we moved away from Oregon and I started working from home. I felt it grow larger last October when my most recent boss (I’ve had 8) was hired. 3 weeks ago the bullseye moved from my back to my forehead when I got wind of a few more people being laid off from an already too-lean organization.

5 years from the day I started with the company, I got a frantic cell phone call from my boss. I knew the news would not be good. There had just been a last-minute company meeting, and as he cut to the chase I felt my shoulders go numb with tension.

He blathered on about timing, and budget, and severance, and how this had nothing to do with performance. I answered his queries with clipped syllables while my mind raced through unintelligible thoughts and I successfully subdued my desire to hang up on him. When we were done there was nothing to do but let it start to sink in.

I spent several days feeling bitter and panicked. I surfed the Internet, and spent much time staring at our bank balance. I made some calls, sent out emails, and generally wondered “what next”? I had mental conversations with God…. “You know, when I said I was having a hard time juggling the kids and maintaining my productivity, I didn’t mean that I couldn’t handle it. I was having a tough day, but I kept plugging away and I was getting it all done. I’ve never been late for a conference call – even the late night ones with Hong Kong. I didn’t want to not work, I just wanted some guidance on better time management.” This was probably the most intelligible of these many discussions, as most consisted of “Why?” and "What Now?”

It’s always hard not to second-guess yourself. Would we have made some different choices in the last 6 or 9 months if I had known this was a hard reality? Yes. But I take pride in being a productive person, and find that obsessing over the past creates no forward motion. And I am all about forward motion.

Now I am spending my time wrapping up loose ends and forming a plan. A final whirlwind business trip and many doctor/dentist/eye appointments have kept us busy. After much consideration I have lost all hesitation about participating in any – and every - program available to us. Social services is out there for this exact situation, and while I have no illusions about the fact that they are overcrowded and underfunded (fyi – Detroit’s unemployment is at 20%), it doesn’t hurt to try.

I have 4 days left, and see the crossroads looming. Even though I feel a little better about things, I can’t help but keep thinking……. What Now?


PS - Did I mention that I can't wait for 2009 to be over?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fab Friday: October 2

It's turned cool and windy in the Motor City. It's been well documented that Fall is my favorite season, and one reason is because I can once again adorn myself in my uniform of choice: jeans, Uggs, and long sleeved t-shirts.

I am a huge fan of the long-sleeved t - always with a crew neck. I like to layer them under summer t's and tanks, extending the wearing season of some of my most favored garments. When it gets even more frigid I layer them on top of each other and snuggle them under sweaters.

As with many favored garments, the LST rose to the top of the list through trial and error. There are many impostors out there - garments with material that is too bulky, or sleeves that are too long, or a neckline which doesn't lay flat. Being a girl of most particular tastes, I am always on the lookout for the "perfect" long-sleeved t. Two of my very favorites are by Gap and H & M.

I have several of the Gap Favorite T. Available in a mini-rainbow of colors, I find this T to be made of super-soft cotton, with well proportioned sleeves and a lightly fitted body. Long wearing (I last purchased these in 2001), they make a solid, casual layering piece.

My newest favorites are by H & M. (Unfortunately they don't have online shopping so I don't have an image to share.) I recently obtained a buy-one-get-one-half-off coupon (a benefit of being a Facebook Fan of H & M), and was giddy at the prospective of using it on some new Fall fashions. What did I come away with? Two perfect LST's. One is thin, and black, and made of a silky-soft blend of cotton & Modal. The other is also very thin, but white & ribbed. The black one looks dressy enough to wear as a layering piece with Sunday clothes, and the white will be an ideal foundation under a thick wool sweater. At $12 each (before the coupon), these are a great bargain. And if they hold up like my other H & M t's & tanks, I'll be enjoying their cottony warmth for 4-5 years to come.

~Happy Friday!