Friday, January 29, 2010

Telling Tales out of School

While I doubt I'll share many of my homework assignments with you as they're mostly organic chemistry formulas and microscopic pathogen life cycles, I was doing this for my professional cooking class today and it felt more like I was writing a blog post. So because I feel so pressed for time and don't know when I'll squeeze out another, I offer to you my introduction paper to my Chef. He wanted us to present ourselves as if we're seeking a position as his assistant on a cooking show. It kinda sums up the last few years...
Dear Chef Smith,
I have been a fan of your show, "Cooking is Real" for some time now. It has come to my attention that you're seeking an assistant and I think I would fit the bill perfectly.
For many years I considered myself a pretty good cook. I loved to flip through cookbooks and peruse the gadget aisles at fine cooking stores. I watched "Good Eats" with rabid excitement, but when it came to actually preparing a meal, more often than not I'd find a less-than-stellar shortcut or complete the meal with the assistance of Ore Ida.
Then about five years ago, my (now ex-) husband came home from a meeting claiming to be on a very strict diet. I looked it over and was happy that he was making a solid effort at dropping the extra 100+ pounds that he'd been carrying around for years. It was a plan based (for the most part) on sound nutritional principles. Lots of veggies, some fruit, a smidge of dairy, limited carbs and reasonable portions of meat. I was also feeding three children at the time, so many of our old favorites continued to grace the dining table -- quesadillas, pizza and plenty of pasta. But as the weeks passed and the pounds dropped, I began spending more time in the kitchen, cutting sodium from all of our diets and enjoying more fresh, minimally processed foods.
And by virtue of a few healthier meals a week, plus walking away from a 20+ year diet soda addiction, I effortlessly dropped 10 pounds.
After he lost those 100 pounds, (which I later was told he lost so he could leave me!), my interest in diet and exercise continued. I acquired my own grain mill with which I milled wheat for breads, pastas and other baked goods (I have a thing for muffins), as well as corn for the best darn cornbread you'll ever taste. My kids soon became food snobs as well, expecting fresh flavors and nutritious balance.
When the truth came out that my husband was no longer happy in our marriage, I gave up at-home-momming and sought employment. After a few months of searching, an ad seeking "Not Your Average Cook" popped up and I thought it to be a perfect fit. Luckily the chef thought the same. I soon began cooking for a 16 bed HIV/AIDS nursing facility. Unlike most nursing homes, we enjoyed flexibility with our menus as well as recipes. We shopped the farmer's markets, eliminated typical convenience foods and introduced new flavors to our residents. I worked with varying dietary restrictions and continued my strong interest in nutrition. After several months, I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up. A dietitian.
I quickly looked up nearby programs and enrolled within days at a local college. I will graduate in Spring of 2011, and following an internship, I'll be a proud member of the American Dietetic Association. But for now...I'd love to assist you on your show.
What else makes me tick? I drive a minivan named Hot Red Speed and a sassy Italian scooter named Vivianna. I keep roller skates and knee socks with me at all times for an impromptu spin around the cul de sac. I'm training for a marathon. Natural crunchy peanut butter makes me swoon. I have a mannequin torso in my living room.
What do I bring to the [prep] table? A passion for healthfully prepared foods with minimal processing. An avid interest in bettering my technique. And a blank-slate attitude where it comes to learning from you.
I hope you'll consider using my services as your eager assistant. I think we'd make a great team.
Sincerely,
I omitted the brain damage and my gluten fussiness. I figure both will inevitably come up sooner or later in class. I've gotta leave something to keep him on his toes...

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Need to Feed

A bulldog in the kitchen. That's how I've been described -- and not because I have a scrunched up face and bowed legs. I don't share my space well (see, I even used the phrase "my space"), I know I've growled more than once at a well intentioned "helper," and while I've not yet peed around the perimeter, I mark my territory pretty clearly. But now it appears I've found someone with whom I can share that space, trade advice and have even resisted re-arranging his kitchen (though he can see it on the horizon. "Just tell me where you put my things" he politely requested).

Yes, Wasabi and I are culinarily compatible. You didn't think it possible, did you? We both used our culinary prowess to charm dates in our past lives. The very day we met, he was greeted by freshly baked bread; he soon returned the favor with a blueberry soup that knocked my socks off. While I'm fairly certain he's a better cook than I, he humors my experimentation. Both chapters of our love have been largely centered in the kitchen.

He's a hospitalitarian too. Very shortly after our reunion he suggested we have dinner parties. Lots of them. And I wholeheartedly agreed. I used to love having friends over to feed them. That kinda fell apart once I moved back to Kansas and I've been trying to rediscover my inner hostess since.

So last weekend we threw our first dinner party together and I had a great time prepping for it. He and I move around each other quite well in the kitchen (either a sign of true love or a precursor to the apocalypse). A little music. A little laughter. A lotta love. Seafood, goat cheese and wine too.

We started with tapas and sangria, the main dish was a gorgeous paella and then we finished with flan and cappuccino. No one in Kansas City enjoyed a finer meal with finer company that evening. We all quickly found ourselves comfortably conversing with new friends.

And as always, I was the one who spilled the red wine on the white tablecloth.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Senior Moments

Through the magic that is facebook, I've reconnected with several high school friends. More than twenty years after the fact (can it possibly be that long ago?!), Lynn posted an album with some school photos as well as pages from the book that we all took home after our senior night -- including the class will and prophecy among other things.

I vaguely recall participating in the preparation of the booklet. The credits list me as having helped design the cover, and I remember wishing to be reasonably polite when it came to the will, but looking at it now, I'm unsure how strong my influence might have been. There were a couple of real zingers, including, "Can you imagine [insert name here] without a hickey?" I perused the pages, giggling at some memories, and completely lost with others. (I'll play the "brain damage" card for those fuzzy remeberings.)

Anyway, the will stated I would "donate my boyfriends -- all 100 of them" -- to one not-so-social underclassman. I didn't have a boyfriend at anytime during my senior year. But...I did show up to every dance with a different guy. I was apparently not girlfriend material, because once J.R. (yes, I dated a guy named J.R.) and I broke up at his junior prom (because I hadn't gotten over Brent, but Brent already liked Stacy and by the time I wanted to get back with J.R., he had a thing going with Lisa, and then I was heartbroken all over again), I don't recall ever again having a steady. I was usually relegated to the role of my best friend's sidekick -- the gal who got to go out with her boyfriend du jour's friend. Good times...(?)

But on to bigger and better things...

The class prophecy turned out to be mildly prophetic. It predicted that, first off, my driving had not improved (was I that bad?), but was not an issue because I was walking a college campus as a professional student. It claimed I changed my major as often as I changed my hair and was still in school. So twenty(some) years later, here I am...a different hairstyle (just say "no" to perms)...and a different major (in my earlier years of college, I declared at least three separate career intentions)...and still in school.

I was surprised to be reminded that I had been voted by the class "Best Hair" (I think because it varied dramatically many times that year), "Most Revolutionary" and "Best Personality." Ohhh, and one writer decided it unimaginable that I might be a wallflower. I don't recall being a terribly boisterous student, but perhaps I stood out from the crowd back then just as I like to now (but this time around I'm the middle aged gal in class who blames her mistakes on a stroke).

So maybe the spunk that I currently embrace (and thought was new to me) has been around for a long, long time. I'm reasonably sure that it was stifled for several years while I was in the throes of making and nursing babies, but I could be mis-remembering again. In any case, it's good to be reminded that I didn't blend in then and I certainly don't want to now. I wonder what the Class of 2011 will think of me...

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Table Has Turned

You'd think a girl who finds comfort in the kitchen and fulfillment through feeding others would own a dining table. But upon moving into Casa del Mar, I didn't, and since there's a built in bar, or peninsula as I like to say, I just picked up a couple more stools and we've been dining there. Anytime we had a guest, it was a bit of a shuffle. I had a short stool for one extra body for awhile, then picked up another, but I always knew my dining situation wasn't wheelchair friendly for my dad, or young kid friendly because of its height or multitude friendly because of the limited space. So just days ago after dining at Wasabi's (don't expect me to give up the nickname cold-turkey) parents house, I stated that I'd like to find a table for my home -- but it had to be just right. My "style" is, well, distinctive. ("Our house doesn't look like a anyone else's house," Audrey commented recently.) Every piece in the living room (and almost the entire home) is second-hand. Garage and estate sale finds, thrift store bargains and the occasional curb-side treasure have come together in quirky harmony to make this house our home. And to find the just right table and chairs at the just right price? Well, I knew it would come along eventually, but I was going to have to be reasonably patient.

The next day I decided to take a peek at what was available on Craigslist. Not expecting to find anything that intrigued me, a listing from a few days earlier caught my interest. A dark picture seemed to be telling me that I'd found exactly the set I'd envisioned. I quickly sent an email, fearing if it was really the treasure it appeared to be, it would have been quickly snatched up and was now long gone. And I didn't hear back. But rather than just assume it was sold and they were blowing me off (which is pretty standard Craigslist courtesy), I checked into the website that the dealer had listed, found two other email addresses and a phone number. And I used them all. Finally, the next morning, I was emailed the wonderful news that the set was still in their little shop. In Leavenworth. Not an outrageous distance to travel for the perfect item, but I certainly had to consider the cost of gas into the price. I responded, saying that I'd be by to see it, probably before noon.

And just before noon, I finally found the store (after choosing the long-and-winding-road set of directions from google maps). And no one was there. I panicked [quite] a bit, as I'd called three times the day before and left two messages with ne'er a response. I feared I'd driven 50 minutes to do nothing more than drive 50 more minutes. Two rings and I thought I might've hit the lottery. A voice answered. She'd be down at the shop in five minutes. When she arrived, I saw the table and chairs and was right. I'd hit the lottery. This baby was exactly what I had in mind.

Hot Red Speed and I came home with our new found treasure. But it couldn't come inside until I did some serious rearranging. I got to work, glad to have a project on a school-less day. I tried a couple of setups before I settled on one and looked at my fresh home. Then I inspected my find, not surprised to see it needed a pretty good cleaning. I started with standard wood-dusting spray. It was fine, but I was using a lot of elbow grease. I checked back under the sink to see what other household cleaners I had, and spotted a box of those magic erasers that you just add some water and scrub. Worth a try, I got to work. And it was amazing. Years of food and wax and grime came off without too much labor.

I was tickled at the result. Then I remembered I had a piece of era-appropriate upholstery fabric in the basement. So I recovered the original black vinyl seats. All before bedtime.

I did a little more touch-up this morning, then another furniture shift. I'll soon have guests seated around it (it has secret pull-out leaves and nearly doubles in size). And those magic cleaner thingamajigs...they're so good, I think they can erase your sins...if you believe in that sorta thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stubborn as a...

A Jennie at last! I started school at Warrensburg on Monday. Having whittled down my course load down to one hour a week there and the remaining 15 at JCCC, I won't be doing a ton of driving this semester. Next fall and spring, however...well...anybody have a spare car that gets 40 mpg?

As expected, the first day of class was fairly unproductive. Summed up, "Here's your syllabus. You should come to class. Please don't use your cellphone on my time." I was rather surprised to watch the classroom fill up with very young kids -- a good portion of them boys. When one walked in and asked, "Is this di-ec-tics?", I realized some might be there for the 'easy A' to fill out their schedules.

Anyway, the gist of the class will be learning exactly what I'll be doing once I become a dietitian. Which is a good thing, because I'm not quite sure. I was so happy when I had my light-bulb moment in the Chair of Fabulosity pointing me toward the career, I didn't look further -- not into what I'd have to study or what I'd be doing. I just knew it was right for me.

And really, it's probably for the best that I didn't overthink it at the time. Had I taken into account the sheer number of science classes required of me, I might have thought twice about it. I didn't think I was skilled in that field. A funny thing happens when you're doing something you're supposed to be doing...you do it well.

But I still have to admit I'm unclear of precisely what my career as a dietitian will bring to me. This class will supposedly introduce me to some of the possibilities that lie ahead. That, and I'll introduce those kids to my curve-busting ways. 'Easy A,' my ass...I mean Mule.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Might Have Been...

Several snow days have me desperately longing to be back in school -- both for my own sanity and that of my children. It's been a brutal last few weeks here in KC. I've become the hard core driveway-shoveler who heads outdoors before the last flake of the storm has fallen, deriving a sick sense of satisfaction from being the first on the block who can make her way onto the slippery streets.

And today I was reflecting on my almost-done winter break (my class at UCM begins on Monday) and wondering, "What on earth would I have blogged about had there been no stroke?!"

I truly don't know. I was planning to start a cooking gig on the day after finals but a hiring freeze put a stop to that before the blood clot put a stop to my formerly perfectly healthy life, so witty tales from behind the chef's coat wouldn't have graced the page. Perhaps shared a recipe or two? (Oh, last night's stew was quite lovely, by the way -- beef, sweet potato and garlic. You can take it from there.) I guess I might have told you tales of challenging weather, a Christmas morning with Mark's family and a Christmas night with my Three Little Diggs. I should've done some variety of "I enjoyed the holidays" wrap up, complete with baking photos and testimonials from slack-jawed bystanders.

But I didn't do any of those things, now did I? Just my old snarky ways and my smartass approach to my health problems, combined with my standard "I'm invincible" attitude.

I really do hope one of my instructors asks what we did over the break. No one will believe that I was once rendered speechless...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More on the Medical Front...

Today I met with a cardiac surgeon -- one who specializes in PFO closures. He was very frank and laid out some points about the surgery that concurred with what I'd found on the web. Basically, it's a crap shoot. Maybe.

Because there's no good reason for my stroke (because there's ever a good reason for a stroke?), because there aren't any risk factors I can minimize, because there is a hole in my heart, well, that seems like the best because we're gonna find. Then come the questions -- will a surgery prevent another? Will aspirin alone keep me out of the ER? Can a Jayhawk and a Blue Devil find peace and harmony?

While I go a bit longer without, for lack of a better word, closure, today's visit was very informative. It was great to meet a surgeon who took nearly an hour to offer up the truth -- that medicine is an art as well as a science. He's putting the final decision in my hands and those of a neurologist (who I meet on the 27th). I keep swinging back and forth on where I think I fall in this debate. I'm not a big fan of invasive procedures, yet I'm glad to have the cognition to know that I feel that way. Another blood clot to another part of my brain could put a quick halt to that...and would most likely stand in the way of me making my way through all of those resolutions I've been ranting about.

Maybe I'll have another kind of resolution by the end of the month. I'll keep you in the know.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Stroke Joke!"

That's what Wasabi's eldest proclaims when a zinger is tossed my way. I've made good on my promise to use the brain damage as an excuse for my many mis-rememberings and social faux pas. So much so that my kids as well as Mark's (oh...so he has a name now...) have taken a well deserved jab or two at my more-than-occasional silliness.

So I will take yet another shot at myself and add one more resolution to my ever-growing list. This one I had mentioned several times in the days leading to the new year, but forgot in my original post...because I have brain damage. (See how easy that is?!)
  • No trips to the ER in 2010.
There will be more than enough time spent in doctor's offices in the upcoming months, so the goal is to opt out of any late-night surprise visits. Sleep generally eludes me and all that poking and prodding and super sticky goo that attaches the EKG leads tend to distract me from the tossing and turning that is my familiar, almost comforting insomnia.

Okay, that should do it. Surely I've covered my resolution bases now...unless, of course, another one slipped through that hole in my heart.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Missing the Obvious

For the last week or so, I had been jotting down notes to myself in anticipation of my big New Year's Resolution post. I wanted to take my public declaration pretty seriously, as last year's was a raging success and having a sense of accountability to someone other than myself is fairly meaningful.

So last night as I dug through my scraps of paper and mental notes, I composed my post. It seemed like something was missing, but I couldn't quite place what I'd forgotten. No biggie. I'd made a decent list that would occupy my year quite nicely.

Then this morning, it dawned on me. The personal challenge I'd omitted was omitted because it is such a personal challenge. I will strive to be more organized this year.

Yeah, I know. This blog practically writes itself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Year That Is

Last January I threw down a few resolutions for all to see and before I knew it, I'd checked them all off my list. I hadn't previously been a big fan of the New Year routine, but drawing from last year's success and my new found holiday spirit, I'll play along again.

First: Kill fewer houseplants. I offed no less than five last year (not counting the windowsill basil that I have to regularly refresh). I have only five remaining, so to help me keep my resolution, please resist any carbon based gifts.

And I plan to keep my 4.0 g.p.a. Okay...to be fair, I'm ignoring those pesky pre-thirty something grades. And I hope those reviewing my scholarship applications will do the same.

Like most folks, I wish to reel in my poor eating habits and up my veggie intake. You might think I keep a pretty tight rein on my diet, but my sweet tooth has spun far out of control lately and I need to reset the way I eat. How 'bout I start by eating when I'm actually hungry...

Part of the reason I'd like to eat better is so I can drop a few pounds so that when I run 26.2 miles I'm lugging around a little less mass. Yes, this year I'm shooting for a full marathon. Right now my sites are set on Lincoln, NE on May 2. I'll adjust my goal if this hole-in-the-heart thing becomes problematic, but until I'm told otherwise, training starts, well, very soon.

I hope to become a better mother this year too. 2009 was filled with new adventures and big changes and I spent more time focusing on me!me!me! than I'd like. Now that I have some sort of rhythm to my life, I need to focus on the little ones a bit more. It's time to delegate more responsibilities to them (which is time consuming and forces me to surrender control) and be a more on top of their school schedules (I'm continually shocked at those random days off). This whole parenting thing I took on is a pretty big gig. Time to get serious.

By the end of 2010, I'll be a mere semester away from graduation and a whole new set of lofty goals will present themselves to me. I think these few tasks should occupy a good portion of my time. I hope to spend the remaining minutes living more, laughing more and loving more...because those are a few of my favorite things.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Year That Was

Though calendars are man-made and today really is just another day in the big scheme of things, it seems like a great opportunity to pull together a highlight reel from the last 365 days. Gotta admit, from where I sit right now, I'd place 2009 at the very top of my list of Favorite Years of my Existence. This might come as a surprise to any high schoolers who are being continually told that "these are the best days of your life," because I promise that it really can be soooo much better than keg parties with the cheerleaders and ditching class to make out with the boyfriend/girlfriend-o-the-week.

I should probably start small and build up, but I can't resist mentioning the biggest event first. I'd been waiting for this to come about for many years, seeking the answer high and low and near and far. Who knew it was waiting for me in the Chair of Fabulosity? This, of course, was my epiphany that I want to be a dietitian when I grow up. So many more good things have fallen into place as a result of this finding. And to keep things from dragging out for a dozen more paragraphs, we'll tie in going back to school too. I am frequently amazed at how much I enjoy learning in a classroom setting. It's a shame I missed so much the first time around. Ahhhh, second chances...how I adore thee.

Another biggie was getting the divorce finalized. Though Martin and I were playful enough to attempt an April Fool's declaration, and the marriage was toast long before the judge signed the papers, it was a big step in my independence to push it through and truly be done with that chapter of my life.

The biggest physical fitness challenge of the year was running my first half-marathon. Unfortunately (or not), it left me hungry for more. We'll cover that in an upcoming New Year's Resolutions post, though.

I made a few solid attempts at holding tightly to my youth in '09 as well. I think getting my nose pierced earns first place, jumping off a cliff takes a close second and the Miss Congeniality award goes to Viv. I don't think I had ever given myself a birthday gift of any variety, so I had several years to make up for and a stylin' green scoot seemed like the perfect treat after 38 missed opportunities.

But it can't always be ponies and rainbows (as Audrey might say). After nine months of a patchy rash (and some less-than-pleasant gastrointestinal effects), I learned that the precious wheat for which I was an advocate had betrayed me. A gluten intolerance shook my Hottie with a Grain Mill persona and left me lost in the kitchen for a few months. I have since learned more than your average dietitian knows about dozens of other flours and am back to weekend muffin making and bread baking. I still occasionally long for the simplicity of my old recipes and the ease of grabbing a sandwich when out and about, but will chalk all of this up as a learning opportunity of some variety. I'll get back to you when I figure out the lesson...

The last several years have been quite lean, but I was able to treat the kids to a couple of small, yet monumental trips in 2009. First to St. Louis over their spring break, but the best was to Joy Agent 007's cabin at the lake. Two-plus days of nothing-but-fun did wonders for all of our spirits.

The biggest surprise was learning that I'm no longer one of those "young invincibles" we hear about in reference to health insurance reform. Though still in the thick of getting care for it, learning that I'd experienced a stroke and have a hole of some variety in my heart has been as big a surprise as I could have ever imagined I'd experience at my age. While aware that I'm no spring chicken, I certainly didn't expect to become a regular at the medical center at this time. "Eye opening" would be putting it mildly.

And the icing on the cake of my full year has been my reunion with Wasabi. While I promised to take it easy here, I'll say that his presence in my life is heartwarming and an absolute joy. And since he takes me to the ER when I have medical emergencies...well, that gets him bonus points.

So there it is in a nutshell. Good thing I saved the nut, added it to fresh baby greens, threw in a juicy ripe pear, some goat cheese (of course) and a lovely balsamic drizzle. Happy New Year!