Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashanah -- Happy New Year

Last night at sunset marked the first night of Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the High Holy Days.  Now we are not a religious family, and truth be told my family grew up with such a blend of traditions that it was nothing short of confusion.  That being said, I like to mark some of the holidays in a special way, even if that special way is just making a particular food.

Obviously I'm not a very observant Jew --
but I did light a candle (of a sort) at sunset.
Most cultures have some sort of special food that they eat at the beginning of the new year to bring luck, fortune, or ward off the Evil Eye.  For Jews, on Rosh Hashanah we eat honey -- or better yet, some combination of honey and apples -- to symbolize hopes for a sweet year.  Most often, this consumption comes in the form of apples dipped in honey or a honey cake.  Now, I am allergic to raw apples, so the first option is out, and many honey cakes are actually really dry and not that appetizing, so I wondered what to do...until I found this recipe at Smitten Kitchen.  It is delicious.  I only modified two things -- all the sugar I used was brown sugar (I like that better than a combination) and I replaced half a cup of the oil with applesauce so that this recipe would contain honey and apples.  I cooked it in a bundt cake and it baked perfectly and was a huge hit with the family.

And so, dear reader, I would encourage you to try this.  After all, tonight's the second night of Rosh Hashanah and everyone wants a sweet new year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moving into the future

Life often takes unexpected turns. At least my life does.  I have learned to be flexible, prepared to know that what I planned for my day, week, year, career, family may not turn out the way that I want.  This is difficult for me.  I like being prepared.  I like having a plan and sticking to it.  I like organization and expectations and rules and I don't like the unpredictable.  It seems that Life and I have a difference of opinion there.

I was thinking about that today as I helped Tin Man load some of his stuff from the garage into the back of the truck.  Tin Man signed the papers on an apartment today.  It's a nice place, relatively inexpensive for the city because it's in a neighborhood that ten years ago was very scary but has now gentrified...slightly.  (If by gentrified one means "apartment dwellers do not need to worry about being randomly shot, so as long as you stay clear of gang and drug involvement you're fine.")  It's a very short commute by bike to school and it just happens to be within biking distance of a very cute girl, so Tin Man loves it.  And I think that he's a bit relieved to be moving.  He started staying in our basement in July with the plan being that he'd be on the couch for two weeks, maybe three, and then he'd have his own place.  Obviously things did not work out that way and honestly I enjoyed having him around.  The house will seem too quiet with him gone.

We still, of course, have The Teenager.  He just started fall term classes yesterday and I am hoping for a more successful, productive, working relationship through the term so that he can finish with high marks.  I want him to be a success, but whether or not that happens will be up to him and sometimes it seems like I am fighting a losing battle.  We brought him in to our house in the spring because he said he believed he would start going to school again (instead of being a drop out) and would get his life back on track if he lived here.  Then we had several months of me in the parental role, tearing my hair out because I was dealing with an obnoxious teen. Two weeks ago, Honey suggested that we have a formal, serious, sit-down conversation to talk about expectations before the school year started.  Through that, we've agreed -- the three of us -- to be more purposeful about this relationship.  It's hard because the patterns that I would want to establish if I had a child all his life are nonexistent here.  Something as simple as a family meal where everyone shares about their day (or week) and sits politely until the last person is finished eating is still rather foreign to him.  I don't know what the term holds with regard to The Teenager and I know I need to be patient and flexible.  Honey is a saint in the midst of all of this, never wanting children in the house but willing to support me in the effort to save this one.  I wish I could say the same about my family. One would think that they'd be happy to see The Teenager back in school and in a structured home, but that seems to be asking too much.  And so for now it seems like me and Honey against the world, cajoling a cranky teen on the path toward a brighter future.

The Teenager did help me with a little pet issue.  The Cougar has a small dog.  I do not like small dogs.  I especially do not like spoiled small dogs.  But I try to have compassion for this one.  I tolerate him because he's been a part of our lives almost as long as Lotus, my lovely baby.  He knows boundaries at my house (probably because Honey and I are the only people who ever give him boundaries) and he tolerates life when he is with me.  This dog had an accident the other night -- somehow managing to pull his back legs out of the sockets.  Being a compassionate person (or a sucker, depending on one's point of view), I gave up most of my plans yesterday and today to care for this dog while The Cougar was at work.  After two days of this I think I'll need to find the courage and strength to say "thanks but no thanks" to another day -- I am through trying to force feed a biting dog his medicine and food.  Taking care of him has derailed most of my plans for the past two days, things like planning for workshops that I'm leading next month.  I cannot, however, blame The Cougar for my plans being derailed.  I was the one who said that I would help.  I have a hard time saying no.

That inability or unwillingness to say no on a regular basis is what gets me into trouble.  Or I should say it's what keeps me running a million miles an hour even without a job.  You need someone to watch a kid or pet? I'll do it.  You need someone to help with curriculum, planning, workshops?  Great, count me in.  You need a grant writer?  No problem!  And little by little my time is eaten away by all the things I've said I'd do to help others.  Last week and this week have me thinking a lot about boundaries, priorities, and being intentional.  It's time to refocus...again.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons I don't have a job right now.  Other aspects of life require too much attention.  I keep searching and searching and searching and every time I get an interview or multiple interviews I start thinking "This is it!" Needless to say, I've been wrong.  And so I am back to the drawing board.  Today I was in a meeting (helping people I worked with last year get a few things figured out for this school year -- Honey says I'm a sucker but I like helping people), and a woman asked me what I would really love to do in an ideal world.  That's a good question, one I struggle to answer.  But if I were really honest I think my job would be some sort of educational consultant, someone who helps students and teachers.  But I would just do that for part of my time.  The other part would be caring for my family, gardening, preserving food, cooking...and writing.  Walking the dog.  Enjoying life.  Why not have my cake and eat it too?

I had an idea for an educational service company the first time I was unemployed, before I worked at a university and finished my doctorate.  I still love the idea, a blend of the best of home and private and public education.  Something I would do for my own children if I had any.  Perfect Fit Education is a dream and right now it seems like a pipe dream but maybe it's time to brush off the dream, polish it a little, and see if I can make it a reality. After all, if I want to move into the future there's no time like the present.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Ever since I was a little kid, I have dreamed of bring an artist.  The idea that I could have a vision of something beautiful in my mind's eye and be able to transfer that vision to paper or canvas was enthralling.  The only problem is that I can't seem to make my hands do what my eyes and mind see.

We have a wall paper mural in our living room.  It's 40 years old and I love it.
Yes, I love the 70s chandelier, too.
I think that one of the reasons why I love it is because we had a wallpaper mural in the house in which I grew up.  That wallpaper, too, was over 40 years old by the time we moved into the house in the 80s. It was a cherry tree and the branches stretched out over our couch and created a lovely scene.  We didn't quite realize how old the wallpaper was until we were watching an episode of I Love Lucy and noticed that Lucy & Desi had the same, exact wallpaper! (I couldn't find a picture, but an artist watched the same episode and painted a similar mural in her daughter's room.)  The wallpaper was filthy and old and my mother eventually removed it, but I truly did love it and was sad to see it go.

Fast forward to the present and my current situation, which is so reminiscent of the past.  I love this mural (although I thought it a bit odd when we moved in), but the problem is that the wallpaper is filthy.  That's what happens when kids grow up in a house, when wallpaper absorbs oils, when there's no real way to clean it.  When we moved in (nearly five years ago now), Honey remarked that it was filthy.  It would need to go.  But I begged and pleaded until we agreed that it could stay until I found a replacement.

I have not yet found a replacement.  There were large canvas paintings of flowers that I loved...but not $1500 of love.  There was a metal abstract art sculpture Honey loved...but the $800 price tag was daunting.  We've contemplated hiring a friend to paint a mural on the wall once we remove the wallpaper and replace it with proper wallboard, but then that brings up the question of what to paint as the mural.

I haven't found a solution yet.  But I discovered that even though I thought it would be easy to paint a version of this scene, it turns out I was mistaken.
Not quite...
Obviously, my painting skills needed work.  So I tried a tree.
Honey arrived home and found me frustrated.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't paint anything!"

I'm not sure why I'm surprised.  I've never had an art class (okay, I had Art for Teachers, but that doesn't really count because we never learned techniques).  Most people have to practice to become skilled, so why did I assume that I could just pick up a brush and have it work miracles?  Honey asked an important question: "What did you learn?"

I learned that I like little circle brushes.  I learned that I like painting foam board (instead of the paper I was using for these paintings) because it seems to dry quickly.  I learned that I need to be more patient with myself.

So instead of trying to paint the mural again, I decided to go for a tree in the four seasons, a concept that I love.  I found a beautiful work of art here, but again I don't have $365 to spend (although I'm sure it's worth it for something this pretty!), so I decided to try for something on my own.

I had a 20"x30" foam board (purchased at Michael's for $1) that I cut into four pieces.  I painted the background different shades for each season.
Using a pencil I then sketched a tree so that I would know where to paint a trunk and branches.
My new favorite type of brush -- a circle brush (I don't know if that's the proper term) -- came in useful after the tree and branches were created.  I used the circle brush to tap leaves into place on three of the four boards and then used it to put snowflakes on the winter board.
I don't know what to do with it, but I'm fairly pleased with how it turned out.  Now I have to find a way to make it more display-able -- maybe paint something like this on canvas so it's easier to hang?  I'm not sure if I trust myself painting on canvas, so last night I tried a tiny painting on a little 5"x7" canvas.
Honey asked, "What are you painting?"

"A's all I know how to paint...for now."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heaven in a Crockpot

I've been thinking about getting a crockpot -- a nice, fancy one with a timer -- for a while, but learning that my sister makes her own rice pudding using a crockpot sealed the deal.  Rice pudding? That I can throw together and ignore and still have it be fabulous? You mean I can have rice pudding whenever I want it?!?  Oh yes.  I needed a crockpot.  This week, thanks to Costco and my obsession, I finally have one.

Now my sister has her own recipe.  It is good, but it requires cooked rice.  Why would I want to cook rice and then put it in a crockpot for hours?  I went in search of another recipe.  I found three more -- onethat required cooked rice, two that did not, all claiming to be the best and all of them different.  So what did I do?  I combined what I liked about all four into one, plugged the crockpot in and waited.  I think that I can safely say "I've found THE One!"

  • 1.5 c. long grain (white) rice (I used sweet rice that I bought at the Asian market -- it's not sweet in itself, but it's used for making desserts because of its sticky consistency)
  • 2 cans evaporated milk (I used one non-fat, one regular can)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 c. additional liquid (I used 2 c. milk, 3 c. water)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • pinch of kosher salt
Mix all together and cook on high for 4.5 hours, mixing once or twice to make sure everything is absorbing evenly. (The mixing probably isn't necessary since it's done at the beginning, too, but I couldn't leave well enough alone.)

This makes a lot of rice pudding -- probably enough for a large (12? 15?) dinner party to have for dessert.  Or I could give in to temptation and eat it all myself...rice and milk's a good dinner, right?

(P.S. Thank you, Nay!)
(P.P.S. Here are the other recipes I consulted:,,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Things I love about Fall...

The fruits of my spring and summer labors...(at least a few of them).

First time ever this year -- and looking forward to a BIG session in a few weeks!

Can anything be better than food directly from the garden?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The sucker explains

Now I have to decide what to do.  I was very, very angry earlier this weekend.  First of all, we have First Friday Family Dinner the first Friday of every month.  It has been this way for ages.  The dinner involves family plus people I love as family and it is at my house.  I make everything.  I love to feed people.  This month was supposed to be special -- the whole meal involved crops from the garden.

Of course at the last minute, all family members (except Tin Man and Buster) bail out.  "We have other plans!" They said.  Really?  You know that dinner is the first Friday of every month and yet you don't bother to tell me you won't be able to make it until after I've fixed food for 20 people?  And then The Cougar sent a text after dinner started to say that she won't be able to make it.  (That was fine, I am still angry about that situation.)

You know who did make it?  A few friends that I love.  And we had such an enjoyable time.  I'm to the point where I would really like to wash my hands of family and a few others and just let them rot.  I can make my own new family.

But I have The Teenager...who just happens to be acting like a teenager and driving me nuts with his horrible attitude, irresponsibility, and lack of respect.  We're going to have a "come to Jesus" talk here in a bit because if he wants to stay here he needs to shape up.  Otherwise, he can return to his mother and be a high school drop out like he was before he came here.  But if he chooses to stay here, I can't abandon all the other family members.  The Teenager needs a chance at a connected family and he has no idea they are such turds.

That is it.  That is as nice as I can be about some people.

Family and close (or formerly close) friends have taught me a few things:

1). Never trust anyone.
2). People are selfish.
3). People only like you if you do something for them. And if you live on a budget and make it work, some people think that you have money to just toss away and resent you when you don't give them your money.
4). People don't appreciate the kindness of others.
5). Words of love mean nothing without action.
6). Being crazy, whores, and liars is genetic.
7). Being around family may turn a sane, loving person into someone who considers becoming an alcoholic.
8). People will always disappoint.
9). No one wants advice, even if they ask for it.
10). Life is always full of surprises and they aren't all good.

The worst part is that I am a very kind, optimistic person most of the time and I tend to trust that people will make sensible decisions, will stay true to their word, and will be kind.

It is really sad to me that the people I was supposed to be closest to are the people I can't trust or rely on at all.  And now this introvert feels even more isolated.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Looking for the last straw

Sometimes I wonder what it takes to find "the last straw."  I have a deep well of patience tried and tested over a life that feels longer than its mere chronology.  And so sometimes I wonder what makes the difference between someone who is patient, loving, and forgiving, and someone who is just a sucker.

Perhaps the difference is that the sucker keeps going back to the situation while a patient and loving person can say "I love you, but I am not doing this again."  Maybe it's about boundaries.

I am a sucker.

(I wrote a bunch and when I tried to post I got an error message.  This is all that was saved.  Needless to say it does not improve my mood!  Ever have one of those says when you think it might feel really, really good to throw something through a window?  Welcome to my life.)
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