Sunday, December 16, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Ah, home.

I had my flight schedule wrong in my head and so I ended up a) not having as much time to go out Friday night as anticipated, and b) having to get to the airport earlier than expected on Saturday since they wouldn't through-check my luggage, but I'm now safely in MSP. No guys immature guys with their asses in my face when they reached into the overhead, no recliner guys or scofflaws throwing air security rules to the wind, and a 21-year old kid on his way back from Chile mistook me for 25. Bless him. The lighting was poor.

The only tragedy of the trip was that I mistakenly bought a toilet book at Heathrow. I got suckered into one of those 2 for 20 deals at the Borders right as they called my flight, and I grabbed what I thought was a non-fiction history book with a sense of humour, but which ended up being written in one to two-page vignettes, obviously meant for crap-taking. Even though I am sure that the air of the toilet has never befouled its pages, just knowing it was a toilet book made it disgusting, therefore I left it with Bethany to dispose of.

First game of scrabble in, and thus far I am a loser. My brother did, however, do an emu impression in an attempt to show my mother an important play that would make him the winner, which made it all worth it.

Am happy to be here.

We be back online Tuesday for more christmas memories, and possibly some photologs of my hometown.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 19

My mom is not much of a cookie baker. There are many things she does well, but her cookies are so-so. Actually, I'm not sure it's so much that her cookies aren't great as when we were kids she didn't bake them that much. My Grandma B did.

Grandma B was a precision sort, so baking worked well for her. She wanted to do something to help my mom out at Christmas time, and somehow it evolved to a process whereby we would request cookies and she would bake them...when we went to her house to pick her up, there would be treats galore as well as luggage and Grandma. It was excellent.

Christmas cookies weren't necessarily Christmas-specific ones. For example, one of my personal favourites was the scotheroo - these are known by many names, but they are basically that rice krispie/peanut butter/karo syrup base with milk chocolate top thing - which is actually an acceptable treat year round. However, since we weren't really a cookie family, any occasion where cookies were present was a special one, therefore any cookie we liked could become a holiday option.

There were always date pinwheels, a favourite of my mothers (which I wouldn't touch with a bargepole, but never mind,) the aforementioned scotheroos and a variety of chocolate chip cookies. Grandma used the tollhouse cookie recipe on the Nestle bag, and originally made them with and without nuts to give us options. Sadly, she sometimes used hickory nuts, which suck, so the ones with nuts didn't always go down so well, particularly since my brother is four-square against nuts in any bar or cookie. (In fact, I Bob would be happiest if walnuts and pecans are banished from existence, but I digress.)

The next variation to evolve was the raisin chocolate chip, which seemed sensible since we liked raisins in oatmeal cookies. They were successful, and quickly outsold the nuts variety at any cookie time. And then one year, genius struck. Grandma was baking in the middle of the night and realised she had no nuts in the house, and she could not fathom not making a variety with a bit of crunch. Ever the resourceful one, she cast her eye around the kitchen and there was the box of leftover rice krispies from the scotheroos. So she added these to the batter, developing a cookie that somehow managed to be chewy and crispy and crunchy at the same time. They were awesome, and quickly became my preferred chocolate chip.

Grandma would also branch out to more holiday focused items. She'd make those peanut butter star cookies that had that star-like milk chocolate pressed in the center (far superior to the hershey kiss). There were gingersnaps. Sugar cookies ready for creative frosting by her grandchildren. White mice, peanut clusters and anything else we requested. She made an AMAZING one that was a chewy cookie with cut up spice drops mixed in. The variety was endless, and each was delicious (except those damn date pinwheels. Yuck.)

But perhaps the best thing of all was that Grandma was sensitive to dietary limitations and didn't want to make things too sinful. She was a Baptist, after all. So she made all of her cookies in miniature...you could have three cookies at our house and eat roughly the same as you would with one somewhere else. Grab a handful and it wouldn't matter...it was still about a cookie and a half if you added it all up. This made it feel like cookie feasting, not just a Christmas treat. Sheer decadence, a child's fantasy come to life.

My grandmother died the year my brother started dating his wife. This left a huge hole in our hearts, and there are times I still miss her a lot. But within a few years, the cookie void was filled - my sister-in-law is a cookie-baker extraordinaire, and she makes some of the finest toffee going, as well. I love checking out the options each year when I arrive at their house for the holidays. There's always a new one from a magazine or a friend to try, and you can tell which ones are hers and which ones are from the cookie exchange because the outsiders just don't have the same prefection of taste and texture.

Now if only I could get her to add some rice krispies, life would be grand.

Oh. And snickerdoodles suck, in case you weren't aware of that.

CORRECTION - Christmas memories, vol 17


Actually, our dog, Pretzel, got the first present...usually a bit of hamburger in a snoopy dog dish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Obsessive compulsive disorder

We made a little ExecMBA compilation CD, and my friend Mark submitted this song. I can't stop listening to it, and now I have a huge crush on the Rev. What a fox.


Christmas memories, vol 18

I grew up in a small, small town. It is a picturesque little place...if you have never been to a place that looks like small town storybook America come to life, then Decorah would be an excellent place to start. It has a downtown of cute turn of the century (19th-20th toc) architecture, with independently owned shops in every storefront. It looks exactly like a quaint little town should. But it was in the middle of nowhere and catered to a local audience, and when I was a kid they simply didn't have the wide selection available in the larger cities.

We would therefore make shopping trips to malls in the tri-state area to get access to more choice. There were back to school shopping trips, and trips in the spring for lighter-weight wardrobe items, but the best ones were at Christmas time.

My dad's family lives in Cedar Rapids, so we'd head there to visit and take in some shopping at the same time. The first day was always about Armstrongs in downtown. It was one of those classic old department stores...a city block big, with levels of clothing and housewares and toys and electronics - everything you could want in one place. When we were little, we'd go off with one of our parents while the other did the sneaky stuff, and then we'd meet for lunch and there'd be a swap and we'd head off with the other. When we were older, we were given a larger Christmas allowance for shopping and we were allowed to venture out on our own, which was sometimes about buying gifts, and sometimes about following Mom and Dad to see where they were going and what they were buying. Armstrongs had those cool anamatronic window displays, so at some point we'd have to go outside to marvel at the magical little vignettes inside. (Armstrongs also gave out some of the strongest cardboard gift boxes known to man, and though the store has been out of business for 20 years it is still possible that you'll receive a gift in an Armstrongs box at our house...we recycle, my friends.) It was a full day, and we were exhausted by the end of it.

On day two, we'd go to Lyndale Mall. It was not a fancy indoors kind of mall, but it did have a Younkers and a lot of other cool shops, so it was good enough for us. And when Westdale opened, we added that, too. And then you'd think we'd be done, right?

Nope.

A few weeks later, we'd go to Tripoli to pick up my Grandma B for the holidays and continue the extra half hour to Waterloo and Cedar Falls for MORE shopping. Mom had a system (or perhaps Dad dictated this...who's to know? Mom seemed to run the shopping activities, so I've always assumed.) These were day trips, and you had to be efficient. There were two malls to choose from, but we'd start at the mall in Cedar Falls because it was: a) closer and b) had a Bishop's buffet.

Bishop's was the highlight of any shopping trip. It was a classic cafeteria style restaurant, kind of an Old Country Buffet before OCB was cool. Let me tell you, Bishops was pure heaven to a kid. You could have macaroni and cheese, ham, hot dogs, french fries, mashed potatoes and gravy, jello, fruit cocktail - you name it, they had it, and you got to point and order and then the nice server would hand it to you and you could put it on a tray and carry it to the table all by yourself. The power was dizzying. While my parents were generally of the eat-your-vegetables variety, exceptions were possible, especially with the siren song of fried chicken and roast beef beckoning from the strange orange warming lights. (I still feel a little thrill when I see a slab of something basking preternaturally amber in their glow.) Every meal at Bishops ended with their french silk pie, a sickeningly sweet combination of rich milk chocolate and whipped cream, with a graham cracker crust and chocolate curls on top. Mmmm MMMMMM. I have no idea how we didn't bounce straight out of the car with the sugar rush. Even we understood it was evil, which made it all the more fun.

My Grandma B came with us, but she did not enjoy shopping in the slightest. When we'd get to the mall, we'd find her a bench and she'd sit there for hours watching people and eavesdropping. (Two of my favourite hobbies...I think I learned them from her.) This was also quite handy when you didn't feel like carrying your packages anymore, as we could drop them with her and she'd watch them until you were ready to go.

And then you'd think we'd be done, right? Nope.

When we were older and more malls had opened, we'd go to LaCrosse for a quick stop at Shopko and Daytons. Or maybe Rochester for Daytons and Carsons. Or maybe Burnsville for Daytons and Target. The possibilities were endless. And therefore, so was the shopping.

Christmas gave us the perfect excuse to get out of town, to explore the world - something you just won't understand if you grew up in a larger metropolitan area. I loved these excursions as much as Christmas itself. They gave me a chance to breathe the "city" air and to imagine a life where I didn't have to buy things at the dingy JC Penney's on Water Street that smelled like musty rubber gripper steps and old linoleum.

The possibilities were endless.

Great moments in my history

Our heroine dishes out some tough love to keep the family on task..."Focus, Grandma, FOCUS! These presents aren't going to open themselves!"

I TOLD you I was a taskmaster with the present opening.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Warm spot

When we were in the salad days of college, my friends and I were a bit...oh, let's say rowdy. I was in a rebellious stage, and I found me a circle of friends who were equally ready to push boundaries and question authority and find adventure at every turn.

This is particularly true of my girlfriends from Luther, who were quite the band of misfit toys. We were all pretty, smart women with wicked senses of humour, but that's pretty much where the similarity ended. But each of us had a level of eccentricity that set us apart from the crowd, and we found soul mates in each other...someone who wouldn't judge, who would laugh at our jokes, and who would help you sort out a mess in your life without asking how it happened in the first place.

My friend M was one of the wackiest. She looked perfectly normal, even acted pretty normal, but then all of a sudden she'd hit you with a humdinger of a question about sex or love or body functions or a general gross-out topic, and watch for your reaction. As she got to know you, she'd occasionally get quiet in the middle of a conversation, she'd look at you with this gleeful, knowing look and her eyes would melt and she would grasp her heart and say, "WARM SPOT!" This was Mary's way of saying she was overcome with affection...and whatever was happening had to stop immediately to capture the moment and acknowledge her fondness of you.

It was a little unnerving at first. I mean, I come from affectionate people and all, but ours was appropriately timed and placed, not randomly savaging conversations and sessions of tequila shots or general buffoonery. But as I got used to these bouts of overflowing love coming my way, I began to look forward to them. My friends were the same way, and soon we were all stopping conversations midway to say, "WARM SPOT!" More than the champagne showers before heading out for the night, or the long sessions talking smart in the hall, or the endless discussions of how hot Tim Park was (which, by the way, was VERY), or the egging of the ISO house to defend a friend's honor, these declarations of affection became part of our culture and built a bond that has transcended years and distance. People live all over, do all sorts of things, have taken on boyfriends and husbands and same-sex partners (one even married a prominent Republican whose politics vex us to no end), but we still find a heart-lifting joy in each other - regardless of how long it's been since we last spoke.

Maybe it's the time of year...Christmas obviously makes me sentimental...or maybe it's the end of the MBA and figuring out how to continue all of the intense friendships that have developed over the last two years, or maybe it's just that I'm standing still for the first time in awhile and finally getting back into my own head. But I've been overwhelmed by warm spots for my friends and loved ones in the last few days. So I'm stopping the conversation to say:

WARM SPOT.

I can't wait to see you, and I hope you don't mind if I insist on holding your hand a bit longer or lay my hand on your arm or knee when we're chatting. I miss you gobs, and I need to breathe you in for a bit.

You know who you are.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 17


Obviously an action shot due to the slight blur from movement, nothing says "thanks for the present!"
like a tackle kiss given to a reluctant brother afraid of girl germs.



Christmas eve was always a bit of a bustle at my house. To this day, I believe that it is the longest day of the year. Endless. The morning would start with kolache baking, but while the bread baking lasted the whole day that was pretty much my dad's thing so we were not allowed to assist. If we hovered in the kitchen mom would sternly reprimand us for spoiling our appetites, so we'd be expected to go entertain ourselves in the afternoon. A cruel, cruel expectation, I tell you. Likely I read a book or played Barbies, but still...not enough to to take a kid's mind off of the impending present orgy.

My mom hates wrapping gifts, but she likes shopping. And, especially since we were wrapping cans of stew for my Grandma B, there was a lot of wrapping to do. As a hated chore it got put off until the very last second. Somewhere in the late afternoon, Dad would move all the gifts to M&D's bedroom and then one of them would shut themselves in with a card table and reams of wrapping paper and tape and they'd wrap each little thing one by one. My dad's engineering skills made him quite the precision folder, and you could always tell his packages because the box ends were perfect...not one little gap or pucker. They spent hours in there wrapping gifts, and periodically would set them outside the door. I was more than willing to run them to the tree, especially since it gave me the chance to try to figure out what was in each box.

Mom would come out early to start making dinner. It was always a simple meal...clam chowder and oyster stew, crackers, kolaches, houska and rye bread. There would be a relish tray (as there always is on special occasions) with carrots and homemade dill pickles and both green and black olives...Bob preferred the Spanish pimento kind, I preferred the dyed black ones in a can. There would be cheeses, likely a cheddar or Kojak block and a little pot of Swiss almond or sharp cheddar spread from Hickory Farms. It was quite the smorgasbord, I tell you.

Dishes were set aside, and we'd gather by the tree. Either my brother or I would read the Christmas story from Luke aloud and then we'd start with the presents. I got the first one since I was the youngest, but I think this was just a ploy to butter me up...I also had to hand out gifts to the rest of the family, and they figured they'd get me all frothed up with excitement and then I'd run to and from the tree like a little energizer bunny. (I believe this is the curse of youngest children everywhere. We are gift slaves to our families.) It was okay, though, because I set the pace. And believe you me, I insisted on a good clip. We are orderly present openers; you wait until the person before you has opened, admired and said thank you for their gift before even cracking the seal on the next package. Not easy to do when you're 8. Heck, it's not that easy now. But restraint is the hallmark of the well-brought-up, right?

We'd get through half of the gifts, and then Mom would signal that everything was over by telling me to hand each person their last box for the night. Everything else had to wait until morning. Although every year I hoped for some fantastic surprise finale gift that would fulfill my every wish, inevitably it was a pair of pajamas or a nightgown. I'd love them, too...I can't remember hating a Christmas gift...and would make sure I wore them to bed that night.

We now have Christmas at my brother and sister-in-law's. The day still looks the same, with kolache baking and kids full of nervous energy (though I don't play Barbies anymore to kill the time.) There is always oyster stew, but my brother varies the other soup each year. Often he makes vegetable beef using my mom's recipe, and adds another recipe with varying degrees of success. The cheeses have improved...I often stop at Lunds or Surdyks for a triple creme brie and maybe a Stilton and an Irish Cheddar. And my sister-in-law makes the best cookies ever, and her toffee is to die for so we eat our weight in sweets, as well.

And there is still copious present opening, even though the adults don't officially exchange gifts beyond Christmas morning stocking stuffers. But occasionally mom surprises me and the night still ends with a pair of pajamas. This year, I think mine will come from Lands End. (I like the flannel ones, Mom.)

Great moments in my history


My t-shirt had a silk screen of the revolutionary war on the front.
It was the bi-centennial, and boy howdy did I think I was hip.
Oh. And that is not a little brother. It's an Olejniczak.
And another thing. My 12 year old nephew looks exactly like my brother in this picture,
and Bob is probably 11 here. Spooky.

Great moments in christmas memories


It had an elevator. Or lift, as we call them in Britain. Of course I was ecstatic.
In fact wide-eyed with enthusiasm, as you will see if you enlarge the photo.


This one's for my brother. Poor guy has been plagued his whole life by a geek freak sister, bless him. But at least I'm funny. And have exceptionally good taste in clothes.

My post-MBA life

Today is Sunday of weekend one of my post-MBA life. Two whole days with no obligations to a case study or reading or research for a paper. Ah, bliss.

While last weekend was also post-classes, we still had a paper outstanding so I did have a little bit of pressure to work on things. I had one day of fun, though - I was hosted by the South African Tourism Board at Twickenham for South Africa vs. the Barbarians. It was a blast. I had an epic train journey from MK, as I had to connect in London to trains on limited service due to construction. I left at about 930 and got stuck on a Virgin train full of drunks from Birmingham. I never cease to be amazed by a) the utter horribleness of the Birmingham accent, and b) the ability of the British male to get completely blathered by 10AM. Any time you take a Virgin train on a weekend morning you are guaranteed to be sitting by loud-talking drunks who are at least four lagers in. It's ridiculous. This particular group had the sounds of stag-do...lots of misogynist banter and blatant discussing of the tits and asses of the women on the train. (Though too fat for their liking, apparently I do have a nice rack.) The only thing that could shut them up was Wembley...the train had to stop to wait for a local on the tracks ahead, and we were pretty close to the stadium. They all slammed their faces against the window and murmured in awe, as though they were watching the hand of God dropping straight from the sky.

I'd befriended a South African couple along the way, and since we were all on the way to the match we travelled together the rest of the way. They went into the stands, I went into a box to be wined and dined for a few hours. We ate well and the group was a lot of fun, and we had excellent views of the pitch. Rugby rocks, by the way. It's like the fabulous game of extreme Hot Potato. And there is some seriously brutal behaviour out there...it makes American football look like a low-contact sport. I love it. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend the day. But Sunday I had to read through our first draft and make some edits and set up a plan for the last few hours of work on the thing, so it was still not a totally free weekend.

On Friday, however, I turned in our last assignment and now all of my assessed work has been submitted. While the actual marks may not be predictable, I know that I've passed everything, so I have completed my MBA. In April they do the final review and send me my notification, and in June I walk across the platform to receive the actual degree. I am ecstatic.

So to celebrate, my friends Nadine, Talisha and Yvonne met in London on Friday night. The invite had gone to a larger audience, but wives and girlfriends and friends of our male colleagues were not keen for yet another a big night out with MBA types, so it ended up being the single women meeting for dinner and adventure.

We'd made reservations at a place in Soho, but it had been remodeled and wasn't the cozy, elegant venue we'd been planning on anymore. So we wandered a bit and settled on an Italian restaurant instead. We had a lovely, leisurely meal with much wine, and gossiped excessively. It was outstanding. We spent two years with a load of men who are completely decent guys so most of what we said was of the "isn't-he-great" variety, though a few of our usual targets got a pasting. And now we've met all their wives, too, so we did a little analysis of which ones will let them keep talking to us over the next few years. (Wives can be funny about their husbands having friendships with other women, and now that there's no MBA to use as an excuse there is bound to be some fallout.) We dished on the academic experience, things we'll miss about our MBA weekends, relationships, ideals, you name it.

We even sent a few cheeky text messages to one of our former lecturers who has developed a friendship with my friends Talisha and Yvonne. He fancies himself quite the philosopher and student of the human condition, and over much drink at the ball a few weeks ago made quite a few observations about our cohort. They made the mistake of telling me that I have him flummoxed...seems I am warm and able to get to know everyone on a personal level but have "distance issues" about letting people into my life. You can imagine how much this annoyed me...coupled with the ten or so times at the ball when he told me how I needed to find "the love of a good man," this was NOT the story to relay to convince me he's a sensitive soul. Don't get me wrong...he seems like a perfectly nice guy, but he's got an angle. He and I both know that his "analysis" of me may well be accurate but it is also true of virtually every smart single woman over 35, so it isn't insightful so much as a safe bet. I've warned them to proceed with a healthy cynicism but they disagree. So I fueled the scenario by encouraging the texting of tidbits to encourage speculation. I mean, if he's going to prove me right, I may as well help him along. And it will make for good dishing the next time around.

We ended up at a bar in the Soho Hotel, where we made friends with some people who let us share their table. They were good fun and we ended up sitting chatting until about 6 in the morning over many bottles of champagne. Talisha had not one but two strapping young metrosexuals vying for a snog, there was a pithy gay man who chased one of the handsome boys around the table in a desire to convert him, and we had all sorts of interesting conversations about an array of things. It made for one of the most random silly evenings with strangers I've had in awhile.

Have spent Saturday and the most part of Sunday reading, catching up online, playing the ukulele, watching movies, and snacking on bad food. It's been relaxing and refreshing. I'm now going to start my laundry and finish unpacking the remaining boxes from my move. I leave for the states on Friday for three weeks.

Life is good.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Culture Gap

Sir Cliff Richard was knighted in 1995. Before Paul McCartney or Elton John.

Huh. I suppose it was for Devil Woman?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 16

I like to sing. I always like to sing. I'm not great at it, but I get immeasurable amounts of joy from it. And there is nothing better to sing at the top of your lungs than a Christmas carol, unless maybe it's Nanci Griffith after a few glasses of wine.

I have no shame. Once December rolls around, I sing Christmas songs whenever I hear them, on the radio, on the sound system of a store, or even just in my head. Full voice. Doesn't matter where I am. Doesn't matter who is near me. It's Christmas, damn it, and it's time for singing. I always loved attending the midnight carol service at church, partly because you got to hold a candle in the dark, but mostly because you could sing really loud and harmonise any way you wanted and no one cared. It was delightful.

If you've ever done a holiday season in a mall store, you know that sometime in November they send you a tape that has about four hours of music in a loop. This means that in an eight to ten hour shift, you will hear each song a minimum of twice. Most of the year this sucks but you deal with it, because you have a library of three or four tapes to choose from and you can rotate them a bit. But from Thanksgiving to Christmas eve you are stuck with one tape, one rotation of songs, over and over and over ad nauseum. It drives the employees mad. People would be bitching by the Saturday of Thanksgiving, and by the first week of December they'd turn the music off the second we closed and straighten the store in silence, just to avoid the dulcet tones of more Andy Williams.

But not me. I would learn the tape end to end. By December 1st I could start singing the songs before the tape started playing them. I knew every word of every song, and would sing for eight hours straight (except when I was forced to hold a conversation). I'd walk through the store working on floorplans singing. I'd stand in the dressing rooms letting people into fitting rooms singing. I'd ring people up at the till singing. I was notorious.

By my third or fourth season, I had a following. Minneapolis has many malls, and I'd moved between three of them. Two were in relative proximity, and when word got out that the singing manager was stationed at Northtown, people drove a bit further to shop in my store because it was more fun. And by then, the whole staff had the bug, and so it was like the set of White Christmas in my store, so many people were bursting into song.

I wonder how they'll respond at Harvey Nicks on Saturday when I start singing in the perfume department?

Awesome

Don't you love it when you're minding your own business and they suddenly play Mexican Radio on whatever station you have tuned in? (Tonight I believe it's Virgin on the DAB.)



And you know what other song I really like right now? That Bruce Springsteen one about the girls in their summer clothes. They play it on the radio a lot, and so far I'm not sick of it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 15

My father was a civil engineer for Winneshiek County, and as such he was responsible for all road and bridge construction and maintenance of the county's road system. He had many miles of roads and bridges under his control, and he used numerous contractors to do the work required.

My dad was an honest guy. As straight an arrow as they come, really. He would run a closed bid process, and he didn't engage in cronyism. And this isn't just the biased opinion of a daughter...one of the most common things I heard about my father at his visitation and funeral (from many of these construction contractors, in fact) was that he had impeccable integrity and people trusted him to be fair.

But if you've worked with contractors, you know that they like to send their thank you gifts at Christmas time...even if they know that it will have no effect on whether or not you will give them business in the future. And BOY do road construction contractors give gifts. Dad would turn down the big ones. He didn't feel right accepting really valuable things, and I'm sure there was a policy about what an official could receive. Nevertheless, what he did accept was still mighty impressive to a kid.

Things started showing up at Thanksgiving. There'd be turkeys. Hams. Crates of oranges. Boxes of nuts. The crates of grapefruit were a bummer, but there were chocolates and other candies to provide counterpoint. I used to believe Turtles were the most amazing candy delicacy...I mean, if they were a GIFT they had to be good! One year there was a carving set and some steak knives. We received not one but TWO complete sundae making kits - one had tulip glasses and the other had little metal cups, but both had scoops and syrups and sprinkles. Obviously, someone knew he had kids - and let me tell you they scored big points with us, because thirty-five years later I can still remember my oohs and ah's at the magnificent splendour before me when we opened those boxes.

My favourite gift was a simple one. Back before you could buy them at Target and every other all-purpose store on the planet, my family had one of those giant metal tins of three kinds of popcorn delivered to our front door every single year. NO ONE had seen anything like it. My brother and I LOVED this. Carmel corn. Cheese Corn. And regular...which was always the last to go, but was still cool because it filled one of the sections. But still...THREE KINDS OF POPCORN! NO WAY!

It was Dad's gift, not ours though, so he was in control. My dad was a master at drawing things out for an eternity to drive his antsy children wild. He would get a wicked twinkle in his eye, and even start moving slowly just to piss us off. The popcorn tub usually sat for a few days, taunting us with its deliciousness, hermetically sealed so that we couldn't sneak a bit before Dad authorised it. By Saturday night, we'd have given up hope that the popcorn would EVER be opened. We were sure it would be Easter, and that tin would be sitting there untouched. And then sometime after bath time when we were mesmerized by Mary Tyler Moore or Carol Burnett, Dad would surreptitiously get the tub and let it sit there until we noticed it. HOORAY! POPCORN TIME! We would definitely squeal and whoop while Dad ceremoniously opened the bin, and he would dip us each a sampler in one of the orange or yellow margarine bowls my mom had designated for popcorn. Dad, of course, would just eat straight out of the tub...it was his, after all....and if you were really lucky he'd let you sit with him and grab your own handfuls.

Even after he retired, one of these popcorn tubs was always around somewhere at Christmas. I've watched my brother taunt his kids with similar torture over his own tub given to him by my mom and dad as a stocking present on Christmas morning. This year my dad isn't there to munch popcorn with us, which makes me profoundly sad on so many levels.

But life goes on whether we want it to or not, and the trifecta of popcorn deliciousness will be...and if the lid sticks, well, I know it's Dad just making us savour the moment.

Soup Swap


Hi all.

National Soup Swap is coming up....January 23rd is the official day! The organiser is a former housemate of mine and obviously a genius. (They've even made national press!) Get some friends together, start sifting through your cookbooks and get the soup a cookin', baby! It's a brilliant idea. Perhaps some of you blogger folks can even use this for more meetups! Here's a quick summary of how it works:

1) You and 6 - 14 other chefs decide to swap soup.
2) Everyone makes six quarts of soup and packages it in freezable disposable containers. Freezing it in advance is preferred.
3) On Swap night, you assemble at the host's home....nibbles, maybe a glass of wine, your call...but the event is about soup. Soups are placed on display for all soupers to survey.
4) Each souper draws a lot.
5) The crowd listens with baited breath as the other soupers tell the stories of their soups, giving others a chance to strategise.
6) Starting with lot 1 and proceeding in rotations, each souper then selects one quart of soup until all have six new kinds of soup to take home.
7) You leave with six quarts of deliciousness (or not, depending upon the culinary skills of the soupers,) ready to warm you on a cold winter's night.

Full rules and suggestions for happy swapping can be found at the various links on this post. UK readers....the MK swap is on 3 February, as I have plans on the weekends surrounding the official day, plus our holidays are always a few weeks off of US ones anyway. If you'd like to attend, drop me a line.

Get swapping, kids! (And Lu, it's not cheating if you have your chefs make soups for you.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas memories, vol. 14


I do not send Christmas cards. It is not because I don't love you, or because I don't wish you a happy holiday...it is solely because I am too lazy to dedicate the hours to it, and too disorganised to have a complete list of your updated addresses ready to make it an easy task.

My parents were religious senders of the Christmas card. They were of the modest note and picture of the kids variety. Sometime in November, Bob and I would be asked to dress in the year's themed clothing and we would spend an afternoon or an evening posing in various places to capture the perfect image to send out to the world. We HATED this. It seemed to take FOREVER. We would put on pained, plastic smiles...which would prolong our agony...and we could never get comfortable in any position because as soon as we did we would have to change the pose for a different shot. Here above is an example of why it took so long.

When I go home, one of the highlights of my first few days is the review of the cards my parents have received. They're in touch with all sorts of people that I only vaguely remember from childhood, and it's always fun to read about what the bratty kid I used to have to play with on bridge night is doing, or read the personal notes from my folks' friends - not unlike the notes I get from my own friends, which somehow makes them seem less like parents and more like people, which is fun.

The highlight of this highlight, though, is the R********* letter, sent from friends of theirs from back in the early 70's. Though my mom has seen this family only 10 times in 20 years, we know them intimately through their Christmas letter, and let me tell you....they are legendary. My mom, my brother and I all dive for it as soon as it or we arrive.

Their letter is a classic in bragging/self-congratulatory hogwash. They have children roughly my age and slightly younger, and if the Christmas letter is to be believed they are Einsteins in Eddie Bauer, leading the world to a perfect market driven economy, curing cancer, solving world hunger and drumming up a little world peace as a hobby. I was a good student, so my parents said, "Mindy continues to do well in school, though she never does any homework so sometimes we wonder why." Their children were on the A honor roll, achieving the top marks on the final exam in senioradvancedplacementgiftedandtalent astrophysics. We went on a family vacation to Colorado, and it was noted that we had a lot of fun and Bob and I didn't fight too much in the car. The R********** went whitewater kayaking on the Snake River, camping on the banks and enjoying a nightly feast of gourmet camping cuisine inspired by Moroccan Berbers. My dad was proud of a bridge he and his team had just completed, and my mom was enjoying her antique store. The R********** had just made their third million as real estate moguls, purchased a Porsche 911 - a little toy that they know they didn't need (but it's so fun to have ;) and are planning to take a cruise around the world, likely uncovering a lost tomb in Egypt along the way.

The poor R********** have suffered endless catty backlash at the hands of my family. It's part of the family tradition. My brother and I started the whole thing, and though my mom told us we weren't being nice she joined right in pretty quickly because it annoyed her just as much as it did us. My sister-in-law even knows what to expect, though she's had more exposure to the dark comedy of Tom's annual missive. The only one to stay above the fray was my dad, who was never one to be petty. Even he would admit he had a snicker in the corner, though, listening to me do interpretive readings of this fine fine letter.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to read between the lines. They're actually new money with tacky taste and messed up priorities. That whitewater camping trip was probably a package holiday that any SOB who can fit his fat ass into a canoe could take with no prior experience. Their boy geniuses are a family physician and a manager at a well known bank's mortgage division in Minneapolis - I think I sold his employer their President's Club trip that was so raved about in a letter a few years ago, and I can tell you exactly where the corners were cut to make it affordable. Which makes the letter even more fun every year...now the game is to translate it into plain English. I promise I will do so here in a few weeks when I get home.

Classic writing like this deserves a wider audience.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 13

My company in the states is a touchy feely kind of place. Not in the pervy sense...that goes against their mutual respect policy...but in a warm fuzzy happy family way. The founder is very Catholic, so company holidays revolve around Christmas and Easter, and there is much emphasis on good clean family living. For example, before Thanksgiving there used to be a bit of a prayer over the loud-speaker on Wednesday before we were sent off to "spend quality time with our families." We got the same speech on the last working day before Christmas Eve (a holiday) and the Thursday before Good Friday (also a holiday).

The first few years I worked there all employees were given two things for Christmas.

The first was a frozen turkey. These were never handed out until at least noon. I mean, they wouldn't want you having your turkey too soon in the day because it might be a distraction. (Though what exactly they thought we'd be doing with a frozen turkey beats me.) Each department was given a time slot to pick up their birds, and then you'd walk to the main warehouse entrance and the owner would personally hand you the turkey and wish you a Merry Christmas. I thought it was kind of quaint and quite liked this tradition, but many people started blowing off their turkey pickup time and he got a little huffy and that tradition stopped, thanks to those ingrates.

The second gift to all employees (and worse, to many of our customers) was a Christmas poster. One of the guys in the "creative" team drew the image every year. It was a realistic pencil sketch and depicted some poignant family moment or child in a cute pose, obviously grabbing at your heart strings to give them a firm pull.

The thing was, this guy was a crap artist and had an imagination stuck in 1953 (even though he was probably born in 1960.) The people in the drawings were always slightly distorted; the scenes were cloying and a little too Leave it to Beaver. One year there was a slightly cross-eyed girl on a swing. Another had two children with smile-grimaces on their faces "beaming" at the old man giving them a candy cane. A third actually featured a clown. I mean, come on. It's Christmas. What's up with Chuckles? The pictures were printed on fake parchment style paper, and had some sentimental quote at the bottom wishing people a Merry Christmas. They really were truly awful.

I'm not sure I know anyone who actually liked them. The company suck-ups would put them up in their cubes to show their sycophantic spirit, but would still bad mouth them just like the rest of us. A few bold types would bin them straight away, though usually in a bin that couldn't be traced to them or that was in the cubicle of a sworn enemy. Most folks took them home and binned them there so there would be no evidence or witnesses.

One year, my friend Kimmy had given her notice and her last day was the Friday after these little babies were distributed to the company. Kim hated them more than most people, and was always the first to find the child molester or the poor retarded child in the picture. So I decided to give her a going away present. I went around the building and collected as many of these posters as I could find. My friends Frank and Mark and Abby helped me, and I think we found a good 150 or so that people didn't want. (Who'd have guessed.) We hid them in an empty cube, and while Kimmy was in her exit interview we stole her car keys and we filled her Subaru to the ceiling with these stupid posters. She came back to her desk, said her final goodbyes and got all weepy that she was leaving her good friends behind. Ever the thoughtful one, I offered to walk her to her car.

Let's just say rage is a great way to stop someone from crying.

The tattletales spread the word quickly...not only had we destroyed 150 of the sacred posters, but our actions had resulted in PROFANITY, and even a bit of taking of the Lord's name in vain by my friend Kimmy.

By the next Christmas I was shipped to England so I'm not sure if our ungrateful behaviour actually ended up putting an end to these horrible things, but one can only hope. Perhaps my secondment was punishment for my insubordination. Or perhaps it was a reward for my heroism.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 12

It's that time of year! Time for you to listen to me tell you stories of the many delightful things that roam my mind at Christmas.

We'll start you out slow, not with a poignant yet funny vignette, but with a general list of some things I love about the holiday season. How about 12 things, both because this is the twelfth installment in the series and because there's that one song about the french hens and milking maids (which I love to hate, though the Bob and Doug McKenzie version rocks.)

1. The smell of those holiday scented candles - not cheap ones from Walmart or even Target, but proper expensive Christmas scented candles from those Partylights people or Bibelot et al.
2. Christmas music. All of it. Heck, I'll even throw in the Dradle song. I love Christmas music almost as much as I love Christmas lights.
3. Finding the perfect parking space at Target on a busy Saturday. Talk about the holy grail.
4. Holiday sweaters. Mind you, I wouldn't wear one, not even if the love of my life knit one by hand as a gesture of pure devotion (let's face it...I've had bad experiences with Christmas knitting,) but I LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing them on other people. It boggles the mind how a person could see a $75 cardigan with a Santa and sewn on sleigh bells and sequins and the nativity scene and say, "My, that would look good with my black stirrup pants!" (Let's see...how many things are wrong with that sentence?) Hours of amusement for a catty fashionista such as me, I tell you.
5. Kids who are scared of Santa. He's fat so you can out run him, he's jolly, and he gives you anything you ask for. What's not to love? In fact, if you were a bit older, I'd say marry him.
6. Decorating my Christmas tree. There's the anticipation of the ornaments, and the twinkly little lights, and hiding the pickle and the basking in the glow of its beauty. Sigh.
7. Mulled wine and mince pies. This is an England thing. You can buy these things pre-made, or you can get all handy and make them yourself. (The wine is actually no harder than making a cocktail.)
8. Secrets. I love secrets. I can't always keep them, but I love them. And Christmas is all about the secrets.
9. Peanut brittle. You just don't see a lot of peanut brittle in March. Or cheese balls. Or gift boxes of oranges. Or my sister-in-law's bitchin' toffee. Or scrabble mix (aka chex party mix).
10. TV specials and Christmas movies...Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, of course, but I'm also a sucker for A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (old AND new), Home for the Holidays, Scrooged, Elf, It's a Wonderful Life...pretty much anything except Home Alone.
11. Even better than those old standards are the "very special" variety shows hosted by a cavalcade of "stars". If there's a has-been actor singing, you're lucky. If there's an Osmond on the show, even better.
12. The excitement of the last day of work before you are off for the holidays...no work is done, you always eat too many little snacks and when you leave the building just for a second you feel EXACTLY like you did when you were a kid and had no responsibilities and could leave school knowing you had a whole school holiday ahead of you to do nothing but play with new toys. Man, that feeling ROCKS.

Thin line between love and hate

MnMom has tagged me to list 10 things that make me want to smack someone in the head.

1. Skinny girls who talk about how fat they are and refuse to eat like a normal person.
2. Drunks who hit on me.
3. Adults who are such picky eaters that they can't just make do with what they're served. You're not five...just remove the damn tomato from your hamburger and move on.
4. People who pass me on the motorway and then once they're settled in front of me, they go just slow enough that I have to reduce my cruise speed or pass them.
5. Men who walk with their hands in their pockets, or who stand with their hands in their pockets and exhibit incredibly bad posture. In fact, I hate all bad posture full stop.
6. People who don't wash their hands after using the lavatory. That is seriously disgusting.
7. Sanctimonious parents who think that they know more than I do because they have kids. Ditto for people who think they know more because they're married. Come live my life for a week and find out how much YOU don't know.
8. People who proudly proclaim they don't read.
9. People who use emoticons, LOL, LMAO and other online or texting expressions when they have a full keyboard at their disposal. Again, are you five??? Use your words, moron.
10. KARE11 for airing Cheers at 1030 for something like 25 years. I'm holding this grudge as long as you aired that damn show. Perhaps by the time I'm ready to forgive, Cheers will be funny again.

You're tagged.

Mindy's List


I don't want to put these back in storage. They're in Minneapolis, and they're from Room & Board, and they're incredibly comfortable. They need a good home, either as a babysitter to take good care of them until I move back to the states, or for a reasonable price to just make them your own. Oh. and the sofa is filled with down, which means that if you're allergic to it you should leave it alone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

my day

Today was a sad day because my housemate had to put one of her dogs to sleep because it was full of cancer...wasn't diagnosed until this morning and it was too far gone for help. Very sad.

I took off work early and drove her to the vet, and stayed with her while she was saying goodbye. We came home and I filled her with wine and made my mom's vegetable beef soup from last night's roast as a way for comfort food. I wish I could do more.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Executive MBA 2006-07 Director's Prize

This prize is awarded to the Executive MBA student who is judged by his or her peers to have contributed most to the overall success of the programme.

Awarded to: Me

I'm really happy about this - I've been the stream rep between the administration and my fellow students, which is the primary reason I've won this...I've managed a lot of situations and helped sort out problems, and while it's been a bit of work it's also been quite fun. I've got all sorts of thoughts and feelings, and in about an hour I'm calling my mom to hear about Thanksgiving with my brother and to tell her the news, but the over-riding reflection I have is this.

My dad would be very, very proud. This would have made his day.

Monday, November 19, 2007

10 songs I never want to hear again

MichaelG has tagged me to list 10 songs I never, ever want to hear again. Child's play, I tell you.

1. You're Beautiful by James Blunt - you freaky stalky little weirdo.
2. Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphy- what a stupid song. So what if the girl and the horse die? I hate horses, and frankly, when I think back to teen girls with horsey love I hated them, too. I mean, how obvious is that? I say good riddance. I'd take Seasons in the Sun over this one. At least Terry Jacks is about humans.
3. Don't Cha (Wish Your Baby Was Hot Like Me) - Shut up you stupid Pussycat Dolls.
4. Light my Fire by the Doors - "liar" is not pronounced "li-yah", and I don't really care for organ music
5. In the Name of Love by U2 - you've had once more, Bono. Give it a rest.
6. Centerfield - Fogerty, your whiney falsetto pisses me off
7. Boys of Summer - same to you, Henley
8. Anything Madonna has issued since Ray of Light - just stay at home and take care of your kids, Madge. And please get a new stylist. That feathered do from year or so ago was not good.
9. Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold - you have to be a really, petty, immature jerk to grow into adulthood and still be so pissed off that your parents had a second child. Get over it you loser. (I wonder if Bob is still seeking the love that I stole from our parents?)
10. Rule the World by Take That - what a sucky sucky whiny song

If you've made it through the list, you're tagged...add it to the comments, add it to your blog, whatever. And once I've handed in my final paper maybe I will coordinate some sort of downloadable mix like all the cool kids do so you can put little music bombs in your iPod...talk about Russian roulette.

Dirty little secret

I hate Neil Young. Seriously. Hate him. It's his voice, I think. It gives me a headache. But when I hear other people doing his music I realise that I'm not being fair. He's a talented one, that Neil.

Britishisms

Today I caught myself saying:

- PROH-cess
- SHHeh-dual
- fortnight
- Thursday next

Crickey. I've been here for three years and it's finally starting to rub off on me. I even called someone "missus," not as in Mrs. followed by a surname...just "missus". Would girly-girl or miss-thang be better? I'm so confused.

Taking a break

I am 1000 words into our MSI report. I have a total responsibility for 4000 of it, which isn't so bad. Of course, I have to write the literature review and methodology sections which are dull as dirt, so you'll have to excuse me if I am having difficulty paying attention. The 1000 I have written are in that section, which means I'm halfway through and then things start to get more interesting. Hooray.

It snowed last night. Like an inch. In true England style it was melted by the time I got up to go to work, but it never snows here in November so it feels like winter is upon us. Just to add a bit of festivity to my mood I've added some Christmas tunes to the iPod, so when Sleigh Ride starts playing or I hear Santa Baby I am reminded that I will be home in a month. This has been the shortest autumn on record. By next week you'll be getting Christmas memories and more pictures of me as a chubby kid. I mean, what are the holidays without eggnog lattes, mince pies and Mindy's pithy reflections?

In addition to finishing my coursework, I have additional pressures from school. First of all, I have a black tie ball on Saturday to celebrate the end of our MBA, and I need to find something fabulous to wear. I have two black tie standbys...one is a sexy lace cocktail dress and another is a lacy ballgown skirt with a beaded silk top. I was perfectly content with these options until the women on the course started comparing notes about what they are wearing and now I am compelled to buy something new. I have found a satin tulip skirt, an Anna Scholz lacy corset and a swishy little velvet jacket online, and if they fit (they arrive tomorrow) I may go for boho-chic black tie instead of my retro-sexy look...we'll see. Then there is the issue of shoes...I have some lovely black patent ones (two pairs, actually) that will do, but I have a burning desire for something beaded and pointy. And then I need to figure out what to do with my hair.....

Secondly, I was asked to give a keynote address at our final session on Saturday. I said yes without thinking, as I can usually throw something together that says what I want to say. (If you've had me in your wedding party you probably have me on video doing just that!) But a few people know I'm doing this and they've been talking about how this is really a big deal and that brits will expect laughter and tears and that there will be some sort of rebuttal and, well, now it seems like a big damn deal. So I feel like I need to spend a night on it now, which is one more night (possibly even two) more than I have to give and so I'm pissy now.

Okay. Back to the grindstone. Off to innovate. See you later.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Guest blog - Mama Gin files

Dear Gentle Readers of Melinda June,

Min has generously offered to host this week's episode of "The Mama Gin Files." I was unable to post it on the front page of Coaster Punchman's World for fear of retribution by Poor George, who forbade me from publishing the video. However, since the trials and tribulations of living with Mama Gin is my story too I feel altogether entitled --- at least as long as I don't get caught.

Click here to experience Poor George trying to practice his bass clarinet in the face of Mama Gin's daily dose of harassment.

Google Video has been acting really weird lately, so it may take several clicks on the "play" button before you actually get to see the video. (It might tell you it's "unavailable" a bunch of times - something Google is trying to iron out.)

And if you aren't amused by crazy Chinese ladies harassing their gay sons, there are also some cute cats in the video. Maybe that will make up for it.

Enjoy.
CP

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oh well

After your resounding advice, I consented to having a drink. He beamed. He told me I looked lovely, and he paid. I'm still just not that interested. Sadly, I'd like to be the sort who has a handsome younger man on my arm, but this is not the one. I find him dull.

Dull is not sexy. Oh well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Trophy boyfriend option

I'm 41. I'm a few weeks shy of having an MBA and a few months shy of a fancy new job. I'm smart, I'm arty, and I read a lot. And now I have a new admirer and he's 26 and he's handsome but not that bright and his major interests (aside from me) are the footie and beer (in quantity).

I've always preferred my men smart, even geeky. They have wicked senses of humour and know lots of things about lots of things and they read books and see movies that don't necessarily have Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson in them and can occasionally play all seven tiles in a game of Scrabble.

But those aren't the ones admiring me. Little British Jethro is. Those guys are married or seem to be looking for someone that's decidedly not me. LBJ blushes when he talks to me and thinks I'm fascinating.

If I were a guy, I would mercilessly ridicule me. But I could do with a night out and a little attention.

What's a girl to do?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I can has cheezburger

I spend a lot of time here while avoiding working on my papers. I usually laugh a lot, which is better than writing papers because that isn't fun at all right now.

Advisory

Movies warn you about sex, language, adult situations and violence. None of these do me any good, as I don't really care if a movie contains these things.

I do, however, think they should also offer a "D" rating that warns unsuspecting film goers that the movie contains poignant death scenes of characters losing loved ones to debilitating or long-term illnesses. I was watching a movie called Wah Wah last night, which was moving but good, and told the story of actor Richard E. Grant (best known to American audiences for vaguely villain-like roles in Masterpiece Theater episodes or Gosford Park.) There's an abusive father, an adulterous mother, a wacky new wife who helps turn the father around, and a young boy trying to grow up in Swaziland about the time the British turned it back to its people. All good. And then the father starts dying of brain cancer, and they're all sitting by his bed as he withers away and tries to let them know that he loves them and to tell them goodbye.

I've done this. Don't want to watch it on a Saturday night. Turned it off immediately and paced the house to calm back down.

Had to watch Peggy Sue Got Married to clear my head.

Lazy Sunday morning

Ah, Sunday.

Not sure why it sounds like Hips Don't Lie is coming out of my iPod, but never mind. It's Sunday and I slept until 10 and made soft boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast and have finished my second cup of coffee, so all is right with the world.

Sorry I haven't been around much this week. It had nothing to do with my head bang and more to do with the fact that I was simply too busy and tired, and preferred surfing to writing when I was online. Work has exploded...we have something like 30 active proposals on my team of 3 full time and 3 part time people, and since our capacity at full staff is 20 and we have one person on holiday you can imagine my consternation. That, combined with my final three weeks of MBA work and trying to find my stuff amid my still packed boxes and a genuine desire to get some rest so any minor damage from my tumble could heal have made this a less than pleasant week.

I had two big accomplishments this week.

1) I turned in my Globalisation report on Cuba. As I've mentioned in the past, I was supposed to go to Cuba for a week on a study tour back in June, and then the individual assignment in that class was to write a 1500 word personal reflection on that experience. But instead of going to Cuba, I came home to the states and spent three weeks with my family while my father was dying...certainly the right decision, but it put me in a spot because I then had to figure out what to do to meet the assignment requirements. Everyone was very accommodating...they made it all very open ended and didn't give me a deadline and were very supportive. I decided to basically follow the assignment and do a personal reflection on Cuba as an America who'd never been there. But I didn't write the report. I couldn't. I'd try, but I would find a thousand other things I had to do instead. I'd even clean to avoid writing the thing, for pete's sake. I DID NOT want to write this report. When I DID try, I'd start crying. It was like some sort of grief trigger...there has been so much to deal with in my normal life since I got back from the funeral, and for the most part I've dealt with grief by setting it aside because I simply don't have time right now. I think my report somehow opened that door, so I kept avoiding it so I could keep going.

But to get my MBA I have to get the damn thing done. A few weeks ago, my co-coach, Simon, gave me a kind but pointed talking to about this and starting holding me to deadlines, which helped. And he was nice enough to check in regularly to be sure I was on track, so I was able to treat it like a task, compartmentalizing it, as well. Tears were running out of my eyes pretty much the whole time I was writing, like some sort of faucet that was dripping, but the report is done, it's turned in. It is not my best work. It could have been a whole lot better with more word count and research time. But is is done, it will pass, and I can move on.

2) I have been growing increasingly frustrated with workload at the office....there is somehow this perception that my team has too many people on it, and I get lots of pressure to be working more efficiently. That's a fair request, and I'm happy to do that. But there is also this very subtle message that we should actually be reducing head count by achieving these efficiencies. This annoys me, partly because it takes a different strategy to prepare a team for optimal efficiency than it does for reducing headcount, and partly because this is all based upon gut feeling and not on tangible performance matrices...in fact, my offers to try to do some numbers analysis on productivity per head have been squelched because my manager thinks that's all just open to interpretation. (Whereas gut feeling...now THAT'S a science, but never mind) We've agreed to disagree, and I do things his way.

Unfortunately, when I flag the possibility that we can't take more work without breaking morale and possibly under-delivering and losing business, it either falls completely on deaf ears or I actually get reprimanded. The reprimand is for being negative...my supervisors believe one can never say anything negative and should only state solutions, whereas I believe that one can only come up with solutions when one has articulated a problem. Therefore I articulate a problem prepared to discuss solutions with my supervisors to gain consensus before proceeding, and my managers get angry because I haven't just stated a solution. I find this incredibly frustrating, especially since I've also been reprimanded for taking the wrong approach by stating a solution they disagree with, and I'm often having to manage situations with only 50% of the information, as there are often significant unspoken agendas at play higher up the food chain.

So this week I decided the rules were changing. I threw politics to the wind and sat both of my managers down to discuss problems on my team. I was completely unemotional...something that I have only recently learned to be when I'm passionate about something. I stated facts, my interpretation of them, and what I was doing as a result. I articulated areas where I felt I was not receiving appropriate managerial support and pointed out that, in the same way that I am accountable to my team and must adjust my style get their willing support of the goals I have in place, they are accountable to me and are currently not doing a good job at gaining MY support.

I'm not sure they were so pleased with my feedback, but I feel much better now, and will therefore be more effective at my job. I can say, though, that I delivered my message in a manner that will get me better results than my old tactics...I didn't rant and rave, but instead matched my style to theirs, and I have the best chance I can of getting through to them. We all know that I'll be moving on to something new now that my MBA is completed, so it's an odd situation. I am now extremely over-qualified for my current position, and while it makes it harder to manage me because they know I have opinions I am not stating unless asked, I am willing to do my job well until I find another job and right now they can't really afford to lose a set of hands.

I also got a new haircut...the stylist is an older gentleman who used to work at Vidal Sassoon in London and now he is semi-retired with his own shop in a nearby village. A friend recommended him, and he gave me a very good cut. It is a precision one...you can see the layered segments within it, and they all swing together nicely to release the curls. But I wasn't done with the shaggy crop cut I got in August, and now I'm back to a bob with heavy bangs. It looks nice, but it wasn't what I wanted. I am conflicted.

The head is fine. Bruises are almost gone now, and I still have had very few side effects. And I figured out that the toast-buttering problem was the knife, not me. I've since used that knife again and realised it is just plain awkward for spreading things...the weight is off or something. A relief to know. I've done a little research, and as I'm sure the Bethanizer and El Doctor Ben and will verify, if you're going to bang your head the best place to do it is squarely on the forehead, as it is the least vulnerable part of your skull. I was very lucky.

I am now going over to my old house to meet my landlord, who says there are things there that are mine (two things are because I couldn't get in the house when the prospective buyers changed the locks on me, even though they don't actually own the house yet,) and then I'm going to the gym, and then I'm going to crank out a paper and do some research on another. Lazy Sunday is over. And I'll try to get online more often so you don't have just one giant post to read once a week.

Oh. And though one deadline has shifted slightly, in two weeks I'll be done with classes and in three I'll be done with my MBA. I then get my life back. HOORAY!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Checking in

Don't have time to write today, but in case you thought my silence was related to my injury I figured I'd better update you. Those of you who've joked about me having a thick skull were apparently much more correct than you knew. I'm just fine.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Oops

I'm not so coordinated in the morning. Today, I lost my footing on the steps and went careening headfirst into a wall. I was trying desperately to regain my balance, and had my head tipped back so I hit first with the bottom of my chin, scraping the underside of it and slamming my upper front tooth well into the flesh of my inner bottom lip. In a split second my forehead followed, smacking dead center into the wall with a little nose-slam follow-through to boot.

I don't really have a headache but I look like a unicorn, eating or drinking is painful, and my right knee and my left shoulder sustained some sort of strain, as well. I can move around just fine, though, and while I'm sure I won't feel great tomorrow there is no nausea, forgetfulness or other symptom of concussion so I think I'll live. That said, I had serious trouble buttering my toast...it seemed like a minor depth perception thing. But I figure that since I just wrote a 1500 word paper maybe it was just the lack of coffee.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Old vs. new, or why being a housemate isn't all bad

Old Friday Night:
  • Leave work at 7pm or so. Go to the grocery store for something to make for dinner, end up going home with some snack that you shouldn't have.
  • Watch Eastenders.
  • Make a cocktail. Make dinner. Eat.
  • Half-heartedly work on a paper. I mean, you're busy and all, but it's Friday night. Mostly you surf the internet and watch Ugly Betty.
  • Fall asleep watching Jonathan Ross and make catty remarks about Girls Aloud and how stupid Gordon Ramsey's boots are.
  • Go upstairs and get into bed, but now you can't sleep, so you toss and turn and then drift off around 2.
New Friday Night:
  • Leave work by 6 because you have plans.
  • Go pick up housemate, go to Ikea and walk around looking at things. Buy a chair and a throw and a few necessary household items you weren't planning on (this time some pretty little juice glasses.)
  • Go to local Chinese restaurant for some delicious food and conversation.
  • Go home to watch Ugly Betty.
  • Unload car during commercials.
  • After UB finishes, assemble Lillegard rocking chair.
  • Watch Jonathan Ross and make catty remarks about Girls Aloud and how stupid Gordon Ramsey's boots are, to which housemate responds in agreement.
  • Stay up chatting, and then head to bed around 1, and with the blackout shade on the window you actually fall asleep and make it a full night without fitfully waking up from the stupid streetlamp.
All in all, the move is successful so far.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Move completed

Hooray! House move is done except for foodstuffs (tomorrow at lunch or Friday after work) and cleaning up rubbish for the bin man on Monday AM, which I will do on Sunday morning.

HOORAY!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Laugh out loud funny

My friend michaelg has been making me laugh now for well over 35 years. Today, he succeeded yet again with this.

That poor girl. Bless.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Using what's in the fridge, vol. 8

I am moving next week, and though you wouldn't know it looking at my house, at least my fridge and pantry are getting down to nothing. I'm especially trying to get things out of the freezer because those things are just a hassle to move. With a little planning ahead, I've actually eaten quite well for the last week or so. Tonight, I did this (FYI, the plate is a side plate size...these are not mushrooms the size of a human head):

Grilled portobellos with chorizo stuffing

Find:
4 decent size portobello mushrooms
Sundried tomatoes, which you rehydrate
a yellow pepper
two slices of bread
some spring onions
a clove of garlic
olive oil
a bit of chorizo, preferably the Spanish kind that is like a hard salami bologna ring, or thin slices of the salami kind will do in a pinch
Boursin light cheese

Preheat broiler

Chop the garlic, spring onions, part of the yellow pepper, the chorizo (maybe a thumbs worth if you have a ring chorizo) and the tomatoes into tinyish pieces. Heat a skillet, add a splash of olive oil, and saute the garlic, spring onions and yellow pepper until softened. Add the chorizo and tomatoes and keep sauteing. Meanwhile, toast a couple of thin slices of bread and cube that up into tiny bits. Add that to the pan. When everything is warm and seasoned and slightly browning take it off the heat and let it cool just a bit. All told, you should have cup and a half or so of this stuff when it's done.

Toss the mushrooms in a splash of olive oil, put gill side up in an oven-proof dish, and crack some black pepper on them. Broil to soften and mellow and then take out.

Turn the oven to about 200C (= hot). Spread about a teaspoon of boursin on each mushroom. Take 1/4 of the stuffing mixture and press it onto each mushroom. Put them in the oven for about 8 minutes and they'll melt the boursin and get a little crusty.

I had two for dinner with a salad on the side and saved two for lunch. You could serve one apiece for an appetizer, as well, but the flavours have a bit of a kick so it will be hard to pair this with something.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hmmmm

It's been four months since my father died. This has been a horrible couple of weeks. I've been really sad. I've been missing my father terribly. I cry for no reason. A lot. Hard. Sobbing, actually. But then I have to stop it and refocus, because I have gobs of things to do for school, as well as mountains of work sitting on my desk in the office. I want to be able to share the good things happening in my life with my dad and I can't. The emptiness is unbelievable. And if all of this normal grief stuff wasn't bad enough, this week I got pictures of the grave stone via email, which was finally put up earlier this month...and while it gives me closure it still leaves me feeling profoundly sad.

People always tell you that when a loved one passes they don't really leave you, that you can feel them with you. I so badly want this to be the case, but I've just not felt that. I feel totally and completely alone. And I'm far from everything that reminds me of my dad, so other than a few photographs I haven't had anything tangible to remind me of him.

On Sunday I was on the phone with my mom, and I was getting emotional and verbalised this. She's having the opposite problem...she's surrounded by memories all the time, so she can't escape even if she wants to. But she feels his spirit with her. It helps her when she's really low. It comforts her. I didn't have that.

And then Monday night I was sorting through some clothes to get them to the curb for the Salvation Army to take away. I made sure I was going through the pockets to be sure I didn't leave money or ID of any sort in them, since I don't know where they'll end up. And in a pair of black trousers I found this:


This is one of my father's prayer stone. There's a woman that goes to my folk's church who makes them...they're glazed clay and they fit between your thumb and forefinger and you can use them as a little meditative touchstone for prayer, collecting your thoughts, whatever. My father carried one in his pocket from the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he'd use it to center himself throughout his many treatments.

About four years ago he had a heart attack and was rushed to Rochester. I drove straight down from MSP to meet him in the emergency room, and when he emptied his pockets before he put the gown on he took that stone out. I gave him a really hard time about carrying the Swedish flag around...I mean, nothing against Swedes and all, but we're Czech and it didn't really make a lot of sense. He laughed. When he'd been picking out a stone before he started radiation, he wanted one with a cross and didn't actually put two and two together until he'd taken it home. So my mom had been ridiculing him for months, but he figured if it was helping him get through radiation he could put up with it.

He needed a quadruple bypass, and so when he went into surgery he asked me to keep it for him, along with his watch and his wedding ring...he thought it would help me not worry so much. I don't think I put the thing down the whole time he was under. I had to give the watch and the ring back but he let me keep this stone, maybe because he knew that I'd continue to worry about him and it could only help.

It's been in my pocket for every major presentation and event I've had until I lost it about six months ago. It's been really bugging me that I couldn't find it. In fact, I really wanted it with me when I flew home knowing I eventually would end up attending his funeral on that trip, but I couldn't find it so I had to fly solo. The stone he got to replace it is buried with his ashes.

Maybe I'm a sap. Maybe I just so badly want to have him here, I am letting myself be fanciful for a moment. But I've chosen to believe he heard me on the phone. And he helped me find it to make me feel better. And in a small way, it has.

End Product - vegetable beef soup



It was delicious, and is the first time I didn't put garlic in something in a very long time.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Lunch

I find that on weekends where I'm stuck at my desk working on coursework I follow the path of least resistance and eat whatever's convenient, and unless I plan ahead it isn't healthy. I have a difficult week ahead, so I made sure I'd gone shopping and could cook ahead so I'd have something decent in the house to eat.

My mother used to make the most delicious vegetable beef soup. (She still does, I just haven't had it in awhile so it's a childhood recipe for me.) She'd use left over roast beef, frozen mixed vegetables, broth and some tomato juice or something red. (I am going to get clarification from her later today.) It was a great meal in one bowl, and will keep really well in the fridge for a fast dinner with a salad when I get home from a long day at work and need to jump straight into an MBA project. (Bubs, you're a wise, wise man for thinking twice about taking on school at this ridiculous age.)

The problem with this recipe is the requirement for roast beef. I think I've made a roast a total of once in my life, and that was a Christmas meal for my Mom and Dad 5 or 10 years ago. But they say roasts are actually pretty easy, so I got me a top loin rolled roasting joint and figured I'd give it a try. And since I wouldn't need the whole thing for the soup, I figured I'd have a traditional roast dinner for Sunday Lunch while I'm at it. Okay, I wasn't really in the mood for roast vegetables today, so I baked a small potato and stir-fried some vegetables with chili and garlic instead, but you get the idea. Here is the result:

I am now going to take pictures of my concoctions with the camera
my Mom and Dad got me for graduation. I don't have the food photography skills
of my friend PAM, but I'll learn eventually. FYI, she does some mean fish recipes each Wednesday, if you want some extra Omega 3 in your diet.


It was delicious, if I do say so myself. If that looks tasty to you, do this:

Poke a clean potato and put it in a pre-heated oven, say 190C. (= hot.)

Depending upon the size of the joint you have, you roast the beef at the same temp, 18 minutes per pound for rare, +20 for medium, +20 for medium well, etc. Before you roast it, do the following:
- rub with olive oil
- season with salt and pepper
- roll in a bit of dried rosemary or thyme

When the meat is done, take it out to rest. Heat a wok, add olive oil, and then add (chopped up, if sensible):
- clove of garlic
- carrot
- chili flakes
Pause
- zucchini
- green onion
- yellow pepper
Saute until done, and add a shake of salt.

Squeeze half a lemon over the beef, then slice thinly.

Plate. That baked potato can sit in the oven turned off while you're doing all that, if necessary. And if you have a giant roast or want it roasted within an inch of it's life, potatoes only need an hour, hour and a half at the most so plan accordingly and don't start them too early.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Creepy

Okay. I just got really creeped out. Here's how.

Click on my profile, read the movies and books, and then click on the book called "Squares are not bad", which is a favourite from childhood. There are two people in the blogger universe who cite that book. And the other one is named Melinda, which is not exactly a common name. Now, click her profile and read her movies and books.

Someone is playing a joke on me. I think it's Martha Dumptruck.

What separates me from the pack

I've just quoted Spider-Man in my Leadership Skills essay.

Swingers

I wish swingers would tell you up front about their interests instead of befriending you first. I mean, this seems like something you should disclose.

Leading by example

It is cold here. There is a skim of ice on the pond across the street. It gets dark by 6pm now. There is a distinct blusteriness about the wind. I have spent the day slogging through research and essays. I have completed my paper explaining what I've learned in Managing Mergers and Acquisitions, and am 1/5 of the way through the 2500 word analysis of my leadership skills. I am wearing yoga pants, wool socks and felt slippers, a black t-shirt and a variegated green-black wool jumper (that's a sweater to you yanks,) as it is a bit chilly in the house, even with the heat on. Therefore, I've decided to have a sidecar to warm me up a bit. It's the perfect elixer to defrost from a chill...you can feel it seeping into your bones, relaxing the tension and radiating warmth. It also conjures up a romantic expat exoticness, with a rich Parisian history that reads like a scene from classic movie, as described by Drinkboy:

"Recently, while talking with Colin Fields, the head bartender at the Bar Hemmingway at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, another very important aspect of the Quality cocktail was brought to my attention by way of the Sidecar. He commented on the importance of the history of a cocktail in order to understand how it was originally intended to be served. While the true origins of many cocktails are lost to the ravages of time, and others suffer from too many contradictory origins, anything that can help you put more behind a cocktail then just its list of ingredients, can help you to add a sense of character to your drinks.

Colin recites that the Sidecar was developed during WWI, when a certain regular customer arrived at the Ritz on his motorcycle (replete with sidecar), and asked the bartender for a cocktail that would help take off the chill. The bartender was caught in a dilemma, a drink to remove a chill would appropriately be brandy, but brandy was traditionally an after dinner drink, and his patron was wanting something before dinner. So he combined cognac, cointreau, and lemon juice to mix a cocktail whose focus was on the warming qualities of both the brandy and the cointreau, while the lemon juice added enough of a tartness to make it appropriate as a pre-dinner cocktail. So a properly made sidecar should betray its roots as a drink that warms your palate if not your bones."

Sidecars are velvety and delicious and they have a beautiful murky amber glow that looks like liquid fire.

I believe I will have another...I'm about to write about my leadership weaknesses. A girl can use a bit of fortification.

Follow my lead:

Classic Sidecar: One part cognac or brandy, one part Cointreau, one part lemon juice

Modern Sidecar: Three, two, one respectively

Either way, put it all on ice, and shake it like a hurricane. Strain into a glass and swoon.