Sunday, May 31, 2009

Birthday Month: A Preview

A year ago, I embarked upon what turned out to be as delightful a 30-day journey as I can recall. Neighbor Teri and I declared June to be "Birthday Month" and celebrated ourselves and new beginnings for most of its four weeks. Really amazing changes came about, ranging from beginning a remarkable summer romance, securing a most-perfect job and trying my hand at more than a few new things. Birthday Month 2009 promises to be no less exciting and I'm not even looking beyond Week 1.

So as the buzz (at least the one in my head) has indicated, I'll be starting school tomorrow. Seventeen years since I last exited the classroom, I finally have a reasonable grasp on my professional aspirations and am ready to do something about it. Tonight I'll lay out my exercise clothes, along with a bag packed with my first-day-of-school oufit and I'll create a breakfast safe for consumption on the road. I'll start my Monday as all good Mondays start: 6 a.m. spinning class. From there, a quick shower and drive to campus, facing the choice of blending in or standing out. I'm banking on the latter.

And if that alone isn't worthy of an entire Birthday Month's posts, I will run in my first ever group race the following Saturday. Hospital Hill Run. Last week I managed nearly 11 miles with no great consequences, so I'm confident that 13.1 will be, well, not exactly a cake walk, but rather doable for a stubborn girl such as myself.

The rest of the month? I'm certain it will live up to last year's reputation as life-changing, earth-shaking and mind-rattling. And quite frankly, I can't wait to see where I've gone, what I've done and who I've become by the time the calendar turns to July.

Pre-School Potluck

After 11 straight workdays, I met unemployment head-on with verve and panache. And my first day of "freedom" (of which there are only two) was a kid-full chore-full friend-full day of busyness. I hosted yet another potluck, even more sparsely attended than last, but once again, absolutely perfect.

Sparky and Billy, the Perkins Crew and Sensational Sarah Sutherland made up the core party crowd, with Chef and Jake arriving at the tail-end. We chatted for some time, noshed on fab sweets and snacks and then (thanks to Josh and Billy's brilliant bring-along) we played Trivial Pursuit. I must admit, I hadn't played in many, many years, and though in my high school heyday (this is where you chime in, Sam) I enjoyed reasonable success at the game, I was fairly certain I'd make a bleeping fool of myself. Alas, I did not...for we were playing Genus IV edition, also known as, "The Obvious Answer" edition. As a matter of fact, unless my friends were humoring me on the eve of the eve of my re-entry into school, I did quite well. And in the end, the girls won. Woot!

I was given wonderful reassurances by Rich, who finished his education in his adulthood, that with a sense of direction, school should be rather manageable. A lot of the excitement that I felt two months ago has morphed into nerves and self-doubt. I'm sure those fears will be allayed tomorrow when I start class and remember that kids do this every day.

My first two courses are Accounting and Anatomy (doesn't everyone do school in alphabetical order?) I won't hesitate to call on my many friends who are skilled in both of these subjects for tutoring, counseling and the occasional just-tell-me-the-answer-so-I-can-go-to-bed. But I'm pretty sure I can ingest what I've carefully placed on my plate.

Because reinventing myself has become a way of life for me -- a proverbial piece of (gluten-free) cake.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Got Hope?

The sun has set on my days at Hope Care Center and I feel compelled to share a few of the many, many lessons learned in the last year, a year that brought enormous change in my personal life -- greater changes than I've ever experienced -- as well as my professional life. Did I seriously say, "professional"? Why, yes I did. Because that is what I was. A professional cook. And that is what I will become. A professional health care provider. Geez...that's kinda heavy...even for me!


  • All of those little tastes add up. Quickly. Or maybe my clothes were just shrinking. It's hard to know.
  • I was forced to abandon my attachment to being an at-home-mom for the sake of moving out of an unhealthy marriage. It seemed an impossibility 18 months ago. Now it's hard to imagine my life any other way. Finding ample time to give to the children remains a challenge yet I manage to fit every bit of love I gave them over the course of a long homeschooling day into a few short evening hours.
  • A [good] work ethic is not a universal attribute.
  • You can live with AIDS or you can die with AIDS. These days, you have a choice. The medications are manageable -- for many, just one or two pills a day. There are, of course, a multitude of exceptions, but HIV/AIDS is considered a chronic, not fatal disease.
  • Freshly sharpened knives are dead sexy. Gotta love Ambrosi Bros.
  • I believe there are many people in this life who are my soul mate. Chef is undoubtedly one of them.
  • I love love love to cook, but don't necessarily wish to cook professionally again. I miss digging for creative, healthy recipes and concepts that tickle my taste buds. I miss looking in a fridge with little other than condiments and creating something delectable. I miss my own kitchen. Ultimately, I don't feel the passion required to create unique dishes for a picky public. Finicky kids are another subject.
  • Even if I'm unfamiliar with a menu item, give me a vague idea of what I'm going for and I can have a more-than-reasonable facsimile ready by 5:00 p.m. Always.
  • Saran wrap might as well be Kleenex. I have discovered "food service film" and will never be the same again.
  • "Please" and "Thank You" are among the simplest, yet sweetest words in the English language.
And the biggest lesson of all...
  • Neurosyphilis is a bitch.

I will likely amend this post again and again as I recall some of the many wonders (and an occasional horror) I experienced in my tenure at HCC, but I wanted to honor my last, emotional day with this note. I'm sure I'll pop in on occasion, probably even subbing in the kitchen now and then. And I will treasure my days there, even the really crumby ones. Always.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

It appears as though the staffing disaster at Hope Care Center has finally been resolved...a week before I stop working there.

Oh, hey...did I tell you I was leaving?

Anyway, after nearly four months, 20+ interviews, five failed hires (pesky background checks and drug screens) and one temp, it seems we have scored two really great gals who fit quite well into our department. Well, I guess it's Chef's department. I'm just along for the ride for the next week.

I realized tonight that I haven't had a real weekend since January. I've only enjoyed two consecutive days off a handful of times since then as well. When I entered the kitchen a couple of days ago and they were both there, along with Chef, I didn't know what to do. Finally a case when too many cooks in the kitchen is a good thing.

So as clearly we are now abundantly overstaffed, I'll take off my chef's coat for the last time next Friday afternoon. One quick real weekend and then off to class on Monday morning. The times, they are a changin'.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Best Face Forward

I'm vain.

Not can't-leave-the-house-without-makeup vain, not constantly-checking-my-hair vain. More along the lines of like-to-look-nice-'cause-it-makes-me-feel-good vain. Hardly an obsession, but when my hair needs a trim, I cut it. When my toes need a polish, I'll paint them. I prefer to put my best face forward. And therein lies today's story, dear readers.

I've always had good skin. No acne to speak of as a teen. No tanning since those silly years either. I convinced more than a few women to buy Mary Kay cosmetics from me some time ago because it appeared the products worked miracles on me. I've never shied away from accepting a compliment to my complexion, simply saying, "I'm blessed." Not bragging. Merely giving credit to good genes and a kind universe.

Then about year ago I noticed a little patch of teeny bumps on one side of my chin. I didn't pay it much mind as I assumed they'd find its way off my face as quickly as it appeared. No luck with that, so after a couple of months, I started hitting it with tea tree oil. I thought I noticed a difference once or twice, but it would come back a week or so later. Then it began spreading. The other side of my chin, next to my eye, my forehead, beside my nose. And it became angrier! Redder and bumpier, I grew displeased and it became itchy. I finally gave in and went to my doctor. She called it a "non-specific rash" and prescribed a steroid (not a fan, but I felt desperate). That seemed to help for a bit, but it returned once again. I finally found my way to a dermatologist. She glanced at me from across the room and immediately said, "It's something you're ingesting."

Really? I eat well. Haven't had so much as a nibble of fast food in years. High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats and artificial colors and flavors rarely make it onto my plate. What am I doing wrong? Her first (and quite frankly, only) suggestion was that I dramatically reduce my gluten intake. Just shy of stomping my feet in disagreement, I spoke of my grain mill and the healthy bread and baked goods that I feed myself and my family. She gave me an antibiotic and a topical and nodded her head at my dismissal. Then said I should really try to cut out the wheat.

I didn't. I relied on the meds and the rash began clearing. I cut the dose in half as my face nearly returned to its old self. I did watch what I was putting in my mouth and wouldn't go overboard on foods containing gluten. Until I needed to make bread.

Audrey had a field trip and wished for a sandwich. My kids certainly were overdue for a loaf or two, so I happily complied. And when those golden brown loaves came out of the oven, I promptly cut off the heels and gave them a good rubdown with European butter (a British friend turned me onto it. Oh my goodness!) and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. And then I had some more. And maybe just a skinny slice before bed. It would never be better than that first day, right?

The next afternoon, there was a tingle on my forehead. And by the evening, bumps. Are you kidding me? What kind of joke is this to play on Grain-Mill Girl?

Naturally, I hope this affliction will pass after a few months of careful avoidance. But as I reconciled the ugly truth, I discovered a thick silver-lining. First, I'm grateful beyond words that I don't [think I] suffer with Celiac Disease. Completely avoiding even traces of gluten would be a full time job. Second, if there is anyone equipped to deal with said dilemma, it would be me. My culinary curiosities will lead me to innovative substitutes to wheat in my baked goods (if I can find the time to research them). And finally, perhaps my affinity for a clear complexion will trump my penchant for less-than-nutritious baked goods. Oh yes, and I learned that the gluten is all but distilled out of Scotch, so I can still enjoy my nightcap.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Murder at 5207

I was sleeping, actually sleeping, when a ruckus from my backyard woke me. Crazy animal fighting sounds -- I couldn't even begin to guess what it might be (but let me try)...perhaps a rabid chicken battling an angry llama? Just a couple of minutes and the tussle abruptly ended. I found my way back to dreamland and didn't think much of it again.

...until two days later. The kids were playing on the neighbor's trampoline (oh yes, they're in heaven having befriended little Sierra) and after cleaning up from dinner, I thought I should pop my head outdoors to be certain no one was dangling from a spring or sprawled face-down on the ground. All seemed well. I offered a little counseling, suggesting a fair division of bouncing time, then gazed across my backyard. Proud that the grass still remained reasonably manicured from my recent mow, I noticed an odd lump at the rear of the property. It was gray. Definitely not a pile of dead grass clippings, I hesitantly crossed the yard, assuming the worst. And there it was. A dead full-grown raccoon.

Now, I've disposed of my share of deceased wildlife. Charlie is essentially a paid assassin. We adopted her primarily to rid our house of rodents but she took it upon herself to deliver more than a few headless birds and bunnies, and I even dealt with another odd victim of an unlikely assailant, but this was, by far, the largest corpse I've had to remove. I returned to the house, wondering if I should call out to a manly-man (anybody know where to get one of those?), but quickly returned to girl-power mode and realized I must take care of this on my own. Though poorly thought-out, I scooted the body onto a snow shovel with a big broom and toppled it into the garbage can. YES, I KNOW. BAD IDEA. Just remember, I take lessons from all of these little (and sometimes big) missteps, so I'll likely do better next time. In my defense, I don't own a garden shovel for proper burial, and wasn't any too clever to, at the very least, toss it into a plastic bag...or two.

So today, four days since the discovery and six since the murder, is trash day. My cans await collection and I am hopeful that I won't be approached by a wildlife officer when I return from work. And next time (yes, I'm fairly certain there will be another), I'll be more prepared. I'm adding a spade to my birthday list, just in case you're wondering what to get me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Head to Toe(s)

Did you ever have a perfect day? One where the weather and friends and relaxing and fun all weave themselves neatly together in beautiful formation? Yes, I was blessed with one of those. [happy sigh]

It started this morning with a cuppa joe and Tattoo Steve (formerly known as MySpace Steve, formerly known as Most-Recent-Nice-Man-From-MySpace) introducing me to Scrabble on facebook. We sat side-by-side with computers on each of our laps, playing the game that used to involve wooden tiles, a gameboard and a table. He kicked my arse. Soundly. And I'll gladly go back for more. But my day off was waiting for me. And I had lofty goals to ignore.

I headed home and then back out for a my workout. I didn't have two hours to spare, so I only ran 5 1/2 miles (um, what does it mean when you have to stop running because your chest feels like it's in a vise grip?). It was quite lovely -- the chest clamp thing only lasted a minute or two -- and I'm telling you, a runner's high...delicious.

Many, many errands and chores and to-dos were waiting for me at home, but instead I chose to play a bit at the computer, eventually shower and then enjoyed a nibble before Mrs. Diggs came to my side of town for a pedicure and catch-up session. After she dropped me back at Casa Del Mar, I figured five months was long enough to wait for my stylist to find a new salon, so I ventured out for a haircut from someone new. And she loved my hair. I think I'll go back tomorrow for another...

There was just an hour before Monday yoga, so I bumped around a bit and then to the gym for class -- to which the instructor added ten minutes...oooohhhhhmmmmmmm. Another buzz. See why exercise is a reasonable substitute for love?

And the icing on the cake...Concert Katrina. I picked up Indian food and then to her sweet cottage for dinner and chatting and giggling and more Match stories than either of us wished we had.

So I selfishly indulged my soul today. My mountain of laundry grew while I was playing, yet I have no sorrow. I am joyful and refreshed and renewed. My next day off, Wednesday, will likely be a more formidable opponent, and I'm certain I will tackle it with nearly, nearly as much zest as I did this perfectly perfect Monday.

Friday, May 1, 2009

2nd Time's a Charm

Funny thing happened today...I showed up at a birthday party on the day it was scheduled and wasn't the only one in attendance! I hope Josh understands that I love him so much, I went to his party twice. Great to see he and Billy. Met another friend of theirs. Saw drag queens (not so eventful for me as I see one every day I work). And now I can say I've been to Missie B's.

Billy took three pictures and Josh closed his eyes for each fire of the flash (could've been those Jello shots, though I'm not judging or anything...) However, I feel compelled to demonstrate to you that I was there, as was the Birthday Boy...proving I'm actually figuring out that whole "calendar" concept.