Thursday, July 29, 2010

Short Weeks, Long Weekends

Today was my Friday at work and I couldn't be more glad. Even though most people in my office have to go to work tomorrow...I don't. To me, that makes for a good end to a somewhat tough week in the office.

It hasn't been a tough week, workwise. It's just been one of those weeks where the coworkers who generally annoy you a little, end up annoying you a lot. It's been one of those weeks where even the tiny normal daily hiccups turn into big delays in the daily breath of your working life. My computer would freeze. I'd have to reboot. My software would stop working. I'd have to reboot. You know how it goes. In the end, it turned into one of those weeks that should have been relaxing since the boss was gone but ended up being a bit of a waste of time.

Still, it's my 'weekend' now. It means I don't have to go to bed at a reasonable time if I don't feel like it. Of course, these days, I tend to go to bed at a reasonable time even when I don't have to get up early. Nevertheless, it's nice to have the option. These days, the best part is that I no longer have to blearily find my way out of bed at 4 a.m. because the puppies need to go out. They're now fully capable of sleeping through the night without having to do their business outside. I find it odd that I can relate a little too much to a coworker whose young son is being potty trained and she was excited that he got through the night last night without an accident. I found myself relating to her with the puppies before I realized I was comparing a dog to a child.

I'm seriously becoming one of those old English ladies with the mismatched outfits, big old hats and a high pitched voice that trills on about her dogs. The thought frightens me a little even though I have a feeling, at the moment, it's inevitable.

I did go out tonight after work. A coworker invited me to grab drinks with her and some of her friends from her former office. I like her and hadn't been out for a while so I thought it might be fun. It was fun. Of course, it did get a wee bit odd when our company president showed up to say hi. In a way, it wasn't as out-of-place as you'd expect: My coworker is good friends with his brother and fairly good friends with him and she'd jokingly invited him.

Naturally, it changed the atmosphere a lot. Aside from passing chats about TV shows, I don't really talk to him much. As you know, I'm not always happy with the way things are at work but I mostly don't blame him. He made a point of telling me that he thinks I'm intimidated by him because I never show up in his office to complain like everyone else. While I'll admit, he is a little intimidating because, well, he's our company president, I politely told him that from my past experience, I've been conditioned to approach my manager/boss if I have a problem. Since he's, you know, the company president, I tend to figure he has more important things to do. Then I asked if he'd prefer me to talk to him.

I think I surprised him. He finally said that he wished everyone had that approach because he spends half his day listening to people complaining.

Here's the thing: I do complain about my job. You know that. I do it a fair amount on here. There are things I don't like- primarily the office politics and our stingy PTO policy. However, whether or not it's right, I do tend to think that even if he's an odd man, our company president got where he is for a reason. I do wish he'd take more action after seeing that inaction was not benefitting his employees but, in an ideal scenerio, the reason there are managers in our company is that they're supposed to manage the day-to-day operations of their department.

It was an interesting conversation. I didn't have to say much. It turns out that, as I suspected, he's much more aware of things than people seem to realize. For example, my issue with the 'clique' is not just my issue. In a strange way, it made me feel better.

The danger, of course, is that I let down my guard just a little. I let myself believe that it was ok to relax around our company president. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing. I suppose we'll have to see. What it came down to was that he asked me questions and I answered them. I'm nothing if not blunt although I can be quite tactful when necessary.

In the end, it turned out to be a fun and interesting evening. I met some new people. I heard some bad music and I got out of the house for a bit. In the spirit of me being boring, I intend to have a quiet weekend now with only necessary errands like car services and doctor's appointments to run. Sometimes, though, those are the best weekends: Nothing firm, just open time to spend as I will. I plan to relax with the puppies.

As long as no bunnies are involved.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Odd Dog Day

Today was a weird day. It began by me waking up rather early in the wee, wee hours of the morn' and having trouble getting back to sleep. Thereafter, when I finally did get back to sleep, I had the type of dreams that are not only perplexing, they're also exhausting because when you wake up, you feel like you were doing everything you were in the dream. In my case, it was outrunning a tornado which wasn't successful, by the way. You can't outrun a tornado, at least in a dream. Also, I suspect in reality.

Anyway, the morning at work was one of those where everyone is deadly silent and then suddenly one of the loudest people in the office starts to chit chat with someone outside in the hall. Normally, when there's been some noise, it's not as irritating but when it's been virtually silent with only the sound of keyboards being tapped or mouses (mice?) being clicked, it's rather grating.

It was also a day in which our company president, in one of his more jovial moods, decided to try to entice everyone in our area to join him in planning a skydiving excursion. I used to think skydiving would be fun. These days, my common sense kicks in and duct-tapes the mouth of fun so that it can't speak up. I wouldn't say I'd never do it. It's more that if I do plan on jumping out of a plane, I'd rather prefer it wasn't in the company of, say, our president and my coworkers. Also, I'd rather jump somewhere fun like, say, Hawaii.

I turned down the invitation to join him for lunch to plan the skydive. So did 95% of the people in our area. The other two were just there for the lunch, I'm sure of it.

By the time I did leave for lunch, I was rather looking forward to the comfort and cuddles of the puppies.

Well, it turned out that even that wasn't such an easy thing today. I let them out and I follow, intending to check to see if I have any more zucchini's starting to grow. I hear a strange, high pitched squealing. I turn to look at Rory and I notice she has this wriggling, squirmy, furry grey creature in her mouth and she's shaking it like she does her chew toys.

Horror sunk in as my brain caught up to my eyes and I realized she'd found a baby rabbit. I didn't even know there were any baby rabbits around- I've only ever seen the grown ones. I sprang into action and forced her to drop it. The bunny stupidly did not break for freedom but, rather, headed to the zucchini patch. The dachshunds followed.

No matter how much I tried to shoo them away from the petrified creature, Sookie and Rory were too fast. Sookie was triumphant. This time it was she who had the bunny and was shaking it like a chew toy. The bunny squealed, I shrieked, in anger, fear and just plain shock. I got Sookie to drop it long enough for me to see that the bunny was now injured; its leg was gashed and it was, as the bunnies of Watership Down, might say, tharn. I didn't think. Instead, I swooped in and grabbed it by the scruff of its little neck before Sookie could try again. I paused for a minute, trying to figure out the safest place to release it. I opted for dropping it gently over the fence into Possibly-Joe the plumber's garden. He's the only one around us without any dogs.

The bunny froze. I had a minor meltdown. I might joke about killing bunnies and squirrels and such but, seriously, I'm a huge softy. I can't see an animal hurt. It just upsets me. So I did the sensible thing; I called my dad.

My father is very rational. This is why he's good in situations like this. First of all, he thought the bunny might be hurt so badly it was dying. He told me to kill it. This elicited another wave of horror. I could not kill a bunny. Not a baby one, at least. When I told him the bunny appeared to be moving, he told me to watch it.

Well, the daft creature was only trying to hop back into our garden, wasn't it? Injured leg and all! Sookie and Rory were going balistic, trying to get at it. They had lost all sense of puppyness and were suddenly dedicated, devoted hunters.

I finally managed to scoop up each dog and shut them inside for a while so I could give the bunny a chance to get away.

In the end, I think it did get away but you better believe I'm keeping an eye on Sookie and Rory.

I think the worst part of the whole ordeal is that while I know that my dogs are, well, dogs, I tend to commit the bad flaw that the real Dog Whisperer would chastise- I tend to assign them human characteristics and forget that they're really just dogs. So, when I saw them with the bunny in their mouths, I was more horrified than I ought to have been. My sweet girls who never get meaner than to give me a playful nip when they're scrapping with each other and that's never vicious, more that I'm in the they were, acting like predators.

I was reviled. I was angry with them. How could they be so cruel?

Then I began to think about it a little more logically which was much easier when the bunny had limped away. Dachshunds were bred to hunt small creatures such as rabbits and moles. It's their nature to hunt that which they can catch. This is why Sookie will spend hours stalking and capturing cicadas in the grass, flattening them with her paw, just watching. She's a hunter. Rory, too, will stalk birds, trying to creep up and then getting sulky when they fly away and she doesn't catch them.

Even though, to me, they had hunted an innocent baby rabbit, to them, they had captured a prize. They didn't know it was wrong to do that. It's just what they do. It's in their nature. You can't stop the natural order of things. Just like there is larger prey that would happily capture my puppies- I'm thinking of a rather large mountain lion because that's safe for me to imagine since there aren't any mountains and, thus, mountain lions around here- my puppies hunted that which they could.

It took a while but afterwards, I felt bad for being so angry with them. If I just shifted my perception, I realized that a few centuries ago, they would have only been doing the job that their humans expected. Just because we humans have evolved into big softies who often shudder at the thought of hunting 'innocent creatures', doesn't mean that the dachshund has. In actual fact, I should really have rewarded them for their first 'kill' even though, I hope, they didn't actually killed.

By the time I went back to work, I felt slightly traumatized but better about it. I wasn't angry with them anymore- just a little sad that I have two dogs rather than two cute little teddy-bears who happen to look like dogs.

The rest of the day was only slightly odd. Aside from being rather frustrated at a couple of coworkers, things were pretty much ok. I also learned that my good friend, Ms. P. from Texas, had her own dog trauma today as one of her dogs captured and killed a neighbour's chicken.

It seemed to be an odd-dog day all around.

In the end, I decided after talking to some coworkers and learning that they all had dog vs. baby bunny stories, it wasn't quite so awful. I felt even worse for being angry at my girls so I stopped at Pet Smart on the way home and got them a squeaky monkey to play with. It's about the same size as the baby bunny. I'm hoping it will entice them to play with that rather than hunt the bunny but I'm pretty sure it won't. They are what they are, bunny hunters and all.

And just like with kids, even when they do bad things, you can't help but love them.

Happy Thursday!

I stopped at Pet Smart on the way home

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Growing Older, Growing up

I’m trying to figure out if I’m getting old or I’m just growing up. In my opinion, there is a difference.

Up until fairly recently, I’ve embraced the fact that I’m an adult but I’ve also enjoyed some ‘younger’ activities. I loved going to concerts, particularly Green Day. I loved dropping everything and going on a weekend trip to visit a friend. I loved going out and about, spending days at Disneyland and forgetting the realities of life.

It’s not to say I don’t still enjoy some of that stuff, if not all of it. It’s just…not the same.

For example, it used to be when I found out Green Day were on tour, I’d research where would be the easiest, most convenient place to see them and I’d find a way to go. Now, while I still enjoy their music, I’ve seen them six times in concert already. If they came to Cincinnati or somewhere else rather convenient, I’d want to go. It’s just that I don’t want to go that extra mile, to fly to Vegas or L.A. to see them. I don’t need to go that extra mile.

There was a part of me, a passion that Green Day used to fill. It sounds a little lame when I say that but it’s true. I got excited to see them. I wanted to know what they were doing, who they were, what drove them, why they wrote songs. Through my entire life, that’s been the case with one band or another, one movie or book or TV show. There’s always been something that I’m passionate about.

I’m not saying I don’t have that passion anymore. It’s just…changed.

I find now that I’m happiest hanging out with my family and the puppies, just…hanging out. I love sitting outside on a cool evening, watching the puppies play, drinking a glass of wine and enjoying the fact that I don’t have to be doing anything else.

I’m horribly afraid this means I’ve become boring. Or, worse, old.

Although, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy going out and doing stuff. I just don’t feel like I have to do something in order to enjoy myself. Sometimes doing nothing is far nicer.

This worries me. What worries me more is I have friends who are older than me who enjoy being busy almost every moment of their life and while what they’re doing is fun, the idea of me having that kind of timeframe makes me feel slightly panicky inside.

What does this mean? In all honesty, I don’t know. I suppose it’s a natural human reaction to compare yourself to others, to say, why aren’t I doing that? Why don’t I want to do that? Is it ok that I don’t do that?

I suppose when I look at it, in a way, I’ve always been a bit…well…boring. As a child, I liked to be read to by whoever would read. When I learned to read, I spent about 10 years in books without really coming up for air and only then because I realized it was probably time to do something other than just read. I always preferred board games to sports though I can appreciate some sports, just not playing competitively. I tried to act but realized watching shows and managing them was far more fun. I find it more fun to stay home and watch a really great TV show than paying too much money to see a crappy film at the theatre. This is not something I ever thought I’d say since I used to think going to the movies was the best pastime ever. I still enjoy it but I now think before I shell out my $11.50 to see a movie rather than just seeing anything that looks entertaining.

Eek gads, I sound like a boring old Monkeypants. Before you know it, I’ll be shouting, “Get off my lawn, varmints!” to the neighbourhood kids.

Although, I honestly have no idea what a varmint is. I think I saw it in a Crankshaft cartoon once. In which case, the fact that I don’t find Crankshaft funny means I can’t be that old, right?

I digress. What I’m saying is that I’ve always been a bit of a homebody. It’s just become magnified by age. This doesn’t mean I’m likely to become a hermit. No, if I spend too much time at home, I get the itch to go out, to do something. I just don’t have to do that as often as I used to. I don’t need to do it, I want to do it. I think there’s a difference.

I suppose what it comes down to is that I’m actually happy with my life and pretty content. Naturally, I think it’d be rather nice to have a Mr. Captain Monkeypants in my life but given my online dating duds, that’s not too easy to come by. Yet, I have a house, two amazingly fabulous puppies who make me laugh and smile every day and the ability to sit down and write whenever I feel like it. I no longer have to struggle with the easy procrastinations of a fairly new writer, the days when it was easier to clean out the fridge than it was to just buckle down and write. No, these days, if I have an hour, I’ll go write- no thinking needed, I just do it and it comes out pretty easily and pretty well.

I have a family fairly nearby and a job that pays the bills. It also gives me plenty of blog fodder/writing ideas.

I have a published book that’s getting some great feedback from readers.

It all seems rather nice when I type it out but the thing that I think is scaring me is the eternal question, is it enough? It’s not glamourous. It’s not exciting.

But it’s fun. It’s relaxing and it’s fulfilling.

Perhaps that’s the key from moving from youth to true adulthood- you realize that it’s ok to be fulfilled even when the fulfillment comes in the form of everyday comforts.

Or, maybe I’m just really boring.

Either way I’ll take it. (Although if you hear me say “varmints”, I’ll rethink that).

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Partys with Enormous Trousers

I always complain about Mondays. I don’t think I’m the only one. No matter what attitude with which I attempt to wake up on Monday mornings, it still very difficult to drag my bones out of bed and get started. I’m not the only one either: The puppies grumbled at me when I finally got up because I was disturbing them. Their grumbling is quite cute though- it sounds like a sleepy moan which, I suppose, is really what it is.

I tried to go into today thinking, “Yay! It’s Monday! Let’s get this party started.” Then I realized the party involved work which, when I look at it, isn’t really a party at all. Though lately, I have been able to have some mini dance parties at my desk which is nice because ever since we moved to Cubicle Central, it’s been hard to do a chair boogie without getting caught. Not that it would be SO bad if I got caught- I’d probably just get some strange, bemused looks. People have long since written me off as “a little peculiar,” I think.

So, I didn’t really get the party started this morning. I sort of shuffled my way to work and sat down with a plop. That’s not really a party. I did have a banana but, again, not exactly a symbol for a wild hoedown at my desk. I suppose it depends what I was doing with the banana but that would be rather silly and disturbing when, in actual fact, all I did was eat the banana. I do like to make monkey faces sometimes while eating a banana which sound rather strange when I type it here. But, rest assured, I do them inwardly so the only thing that can see my monkey faces are the me inside my head, my cubicle wall and anyone peering over the top of my cubicle which never happens so I think I’m safe.

My morning was not party-like in the slightest. I hoped for a party at lunch or, at least, some funness. Instead, as I pulled into my driveway, I noticed that my next door neighbour, on the non Dog-Whisperer side- had hung his shorts over the porch rail to dry. Now, this would not be significant except he’s not a very small man and, well, his trousers are ENORMOUS.

Seriously, they were the type of trousers that you stop and wonder how many people are supposed to fit in them, they’re that large.

This lead me to an internal discussion as to how it was slightly inappropriate to now refer to this neighbour as Mr. Enormous Trousers. And yet, now, in my head, he will always be Mr. Enormous Trousers.

In my defense, he hung his trousers over his porch rail to dry. Either that, or his wife did. While I understand the need to air dry one’s trousers sometimes, usually that’s done in the back yard. And Mr. Enormous Trousers has a perfectly respectable porch rail in the back of his house too. I know this because even though they have a nice privacy fence, I’ve peered through the hole in it to see what their garden looked like.

Yes, this sounds a little creepy now I type that. I mean, can you picture it- an elderly, grey, wooden privacy fence that’s intended to keep nosy prying eyes out and through one of the many holes, you see the eye of a peeping Monkeypants?

I’m not helping my case at the moment, I realize this. I’m not trying to be creepy. No, I’m just, simply, nosy. I’ve only peeked twice and I made sure there’s no one to see me being a peeping Monkeypants. I just wanted to see if their garden was nice. It was ok- they need to mow their grass more often. They also have a rather nice deck with a porch rail. The second time was to see if they had the evil rabbit in their garden since the puppies were going a little nuts trying to dig under their fence.

So, you see, I’m not meaning to be a spy. I’m just horribly nosy.

I did not, however, peek today to see if Mr. Enormous Trousers had used up the back porch rail to also dry his enormous trousers. Perhaps that’s why he put the leftovers on the front porch rail. Me, personally, would probably have rigged up a washing line in the back garden since I’m not big in airing my laundry in public.

Yes, that was meant to be a pun. It was a bad one. I apologize.

Still, it did occur to me to wonder how one can be quite so open as to not mind the neighbours seeing my enormous trousers as they pass by. Perhaps it’s a good state of mind to have. The interesting thing is that Mr. Enormous Trousers doesn’t look quite as big as his trousers. He’s a large man but not…uh…enormous. His trousers make him look bigger than he is.

You know it’s a Monday when enormous trousers become one of the most exciting things you can discuss. I could discuss the fact that it was a pretty day out, not too muggy and I decided I didn’t want to go back to work after lunch.

Of course, it would be far more interesting a story if I hadn’t gone back to work after lunch but I did so it really wasn’t interesting at all. This afternoon, I did do some work which is often cause for a party, if you ask me. I also got to hear all about my coworker’s trip to Comic-Con. Though she said it was fun, she really didn’t seem to enjoy it that much. There were too many people and not enough organization. I feel bad for her since she’d been looking forward to it for months but she didn’t seem to have a completely miserable time- just not as fulfilling as she’d wished.

That killed a good while since my coworker is a chatter. For the rest of the afternoon, I’ve been bouncing between tasks, getting little things done here and there. I also had a rather nice True Blood discussion with the company president but that was pretty much it.

This evening, the puppies and I are enjoying the lack of humidity. The enormous trousers were still there when I got home from work. The evening wasn't really a party but we did have a warm steak salad for dinner so that could be considered a party of sorts though, sadly, by societal standards...probably not.

So, all in all, it’s been a…Monday. It hasn’t really been a party but it also hasn’t been bad. I suppose when the neighbours laundry is the most exciting thing to happen all day, it’s not really party territory. Still, on the plus side, that was the most exciting thing to happen all day and that’s not a bad thing.

We’ll take what we can, enormous trousers and all.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rapidly Rushing Weekends...

The weekend is over already and I feel like it's just getting started.

That's the problem with weekends. They go by so quickly that even when you struggle to hold onto them, they wriggle free and, before you know it, Sunday evening is here and there's only a few short hours before you have to go to bed. I suppose you don't have to go to bed but if you're like me and want to stand any chance of being even mildly functional on a Monday morning, sleep is good.

Ah well, I suppose the best weekends are those that go by in a blur. I can't say my weekend was so exciting that I couldn't see it passing but it was a good, solid weekend.

For one thing, we had air conditioning. Since I was at my parents' last weekend, this was the first weekend that the puppies and I have been home where the air conditioning was working. It's a luxury although I'm a bit afraid of my heating bill. However, when it's 92 degrees out there and the humidity is making it feel like 101 degrees, it's too sticky and muggy to try to survive without it.

I suppose I could try to survive. I've done it before and I'll probably do it again but one of the luxuries of being an adult is that you can choose whether to turn it on or not.

I'm finding these adult decisions are affecting my life far too much lately. For example, this time last year, I was returning from a trip to Comic-con. I was excited. I had enjoyed myself. This year, the friend/coworker who I introduced to Comic-con last year went by herself while I stayed in Ohio.

I was little worried I was going to regret that decision. I decided not to go because it's an expensive trip and I didn't think I wanted to go. Yet part of me was worried that I was trying to fool myself, that I really wanted to go but was trying to be a grown-up.

However, this past week was Comic-con and though my friend updated her Facebook status sometimes hourly to tell the world what she was doing currently at the convention, I found that I didn't really care. I didn't have any stirrings of envy. I've been three times before. The crush of the Exhibition Hall was fun for those three years. It was fun to see the panels, to see the stars of the TV shows I love right there in front of me, talking about the show. It was fun to talk to people who loved the same things I did.

Except I've been there, done that. I didn't want to go this year and I have absolutely no regrets that I didn't go.

My coworker will return tomorrow with stories of the convention and I'll listen, slightly interested, curious to see how it compared to last year's Comic-con. I'll probably get sick of hearing the same stories, of hearing that it was "awesome" every time someone stops by to see how her trip went.

I think what it comes down to is that I'm becoming one of those older folk who is politely interested in things like Comic-con but I have other things to worry about. My idea of a dream vacation this year would be a long weekend in Maine, staying by the ocean.

Unfortunately, with the air conditioning breakage and the expenses of everyday living, my dream vacation will have to remain a dream. Also, I have puppies and the idea of being away from them is a little scary.

So, no vacation for me this year. I'm not too unhappy about it. As long as I have weekends, I'll be able to enjoy my summer. Oh, wait, let me correct that: As long as I have weekends with air-conditioning, I'll be able to enjoy my summer.

If only the weekends didn't go by quite so fast. Ah well, 'tis the nature of life.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Edible Distractions...

So it’s occurred to me that I think a lot about food.

This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to people who personally know me or, even, if you only know me by reading this blog even only semi-regularly. However, how much I actually do think about food is something I never really noticed until today.

Case in point: We had a meeting at work. It’s perfectly normal for people’s minds to stray during meetings. It’s even more normal for mine to stray since we all know I’m not the biggest fan of meetings unless they’re, say, to give me a raise or a promotion and since those NEVER happen, I tend to not like meetings much at all.

Well, that’s a bit of a fib. I do like those staff meetings where people get snarky and snippy with the management and I can sit back and be amused but we haven’t had one of those in a while. Lately our staff meetings have been a lot of people either on Team Yay!, Team Sullen or Team-I-Don’t-Really-Care-Just-Give-Me-My-Paycheck. I’m on the last of those teams. Team Yay! is composed of the people who cheerfully think all is rosy with the company and always will be. They don’t understand why anyone is worried or why anyone thinks it’s possible our company might not be doing fanstastical. Team Sullen is the team where people are worried about their job and have stopped trusting what the management says. They look for hidden meanings in everything and mostly expect that the company is going to go through some massive changes and they might not be good. I used to play on Team Sullen but now I play for Team blah blah paycheck. Seriously. At this point, I’m not in love with my job but I don’t despise it. It pays the bills. I don’t have to force myself out of bed (unless it’s a day like yesterday’s blog where I just feel like sleeping longer).

Back to my original point. I think about food a lot in my meetings. Today, for example, I was trying very hard to listen in my meeting. Then, before I knew it, I was thinking about the quiche I made last night. I have to say it was rather a good quiche. I used sweet mini baby bell peppers, bacon, parmesan, ricotta salada and cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes, shallots and a hint of nutmeg. It sounds like a lot but it balanced out. It was a delicious quiche and I decided to have a piece for lunch. This of course led me to the internal debate as to whether or not I should also have a piece of the fig tart I made which also was quite yummy but that was due to the fig jam, not my baking prowess.

This led me to wondering if Tom Colicchio would like my quiche. Yes, I am serious. I think he just might, actually. It wasn’t dry, it had a good crust and a good balance of flavours. I came to the conclusion that he would probably declare me safe for the week if I were on Top Chef.

Which of course, I’m not on Top Chef and am never likely to be. I wondered then if I was on Top Chef, what I could say my specialty was. I suppose it’s soup. This is not a good specialty for a Top Chef. They need to know how to make a really good bowl of soup but after a contestant’s done it once, they can’t do it again or they get nicknamed The Soup Lady or some such silliness. Also, Tom Colicchio frowns on contestants who make too much soup.

I make pretty good pasta so that would be an asset. However, I’ve never made gnocchi and most of the Top Chef contestants make gnocchi. I began to try to remember what was entailed in gnocchi and, as I recall, Mario Batali makes it seem quite simple. You need potatoes, mostly. I decided that I’d put it on the list of recipes to try over the next couple of months .

I’ve never eaten gnocchi which, of course, I realized as soon as I’d decided to make it. It’d be hard to know if mine was decent if I hadn’t taken it. So then I started to think about trying it. They have the premade kind in the grocery store but I’m sure it’s not as good as the homemade stuff. So I began to wonder where I could find good fresh gnocchi in Cincinnati and I made a mental note to Google it.

Thankfully, I pulled myself out of my food haze in time to realize my coworker was speaking to me and asking me to confirm something. I confirmed it, nodding my head sagely to indicate I was in complete agreement. I’m not sure what I was confirming but this particular coworker is very smart and not wrong very often so I trust her.

I realized it might be a good idea to listen then. I mean, sometimes it’s not good to agree with someone just because you don’t want to look like you were daydreaming. I managed to listen for a few more minutes. Then my boss and the same coworker got into another rather intense discussion involving technical stuff that I’m aware exists but wouldn’t be able to tell you how it actually worked. I probably could learn how it works but, well, I don’t really fancy that. Part of what makes me good at the part of my job that consists of breaking our software to find bugs before our customers do is that I don’t get too technical with my tests. I try to approach it like one of our clients would and thus, I find weird problems that the technical folk never think about.

So, while she was going into intimate detail regarding a bug she was trying to fix, I began to think of what I might make for dinner. It was only 9 a.m. but it’s never too late to plan. I had, after all, decided to have the leftover quiche for lunch and was looking forward to that. It wouldn’t do to have it for dinner. I began to think about chicken. I could make honey ginger soy chicken which is tasty and somewhat nutritious. Then I realized it involves scallions (aka green onions) and I don’t have any.

This of course led me to how I could obtain some. There’s not a convenient grocery store on the way home from work. I now have a Costco membership (FABULOUS!) but Costco don’t have green onions very often. I could make a sidetrip to Jungle Jim’s but that’s not really a sidetrip as much as an evening-time-suck since I can never resist a quick browse which usually turns into a full fledge look which ends up being at least an hour or more. Usually more.

Then I thought about Kroger which, while not convenient, is closer than Jungle Jim’s and quicker to navigate. I love Kroger. They have a nice produce section even if it isn’t on par with the massive one in Jungle Jim’s. Also, I have a Kroger club card. I love my Kroger club card. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Kroger though. I thought about the Marsh store that’s a bit closer than Kroger but that place is the sort of grocery store you don’t really feel comfortable buying meat in because it’s very run down and it smells a bit funny. Also, it sort of gives you a wee bit of a creepy feeling when you’re inside. I only go there when absolutely necessary.

Since the onions might be a problem, I thought about whether I could substitute bell peppers instead. I bet I could though it would change the flavour profile a bit. Then I remember that tonight is the Farmer’s Market.

I decided it might be worth going there. I like the farmers market in my parent’s town better because it’s cheaper and there is one particular vendor who has the best veggies for super good value. My farmer’s is ok but it’s a bit hoity toity for a farmers market. While most places are currently charging about $3 for a dozen ears of corn, last time I was at the farmer’s market near me, they were charging $6 a dozen or 50 cents an ear. I bought two ears and, let me tell you, it wasn’t any better than the grocery store kind.

This got me thinking about the Pumpkin lady who sells her produce at my parent’s farmer’s market. She’s not really a pumpkin but her farm is called Pumpkin kingdom or something like it. She has the BEST corn ever. It’s so sweet, it just makes you gasp with delight. She hasn’t had any corn for sale yet this summer but I wait in greedy anticipation.

This, of course, led me to think about the fact that I already have corn in the fridge that my sister gave me last weekend. Her husband stopped and bought a dozen ears and she didn’t think they’d eat all of them. I contemplated making that for dinner but my stomach had already asked for the honey ginger soy chicken.

So I decided I’d stop by the farmer’s market after work anyway. You never know. Someone might have green onions. If not, I’ll settle for peppers.

At this point, I decided to listen to the conversation in the office again. They’d moved on and I realized I should pay attention. I tried.

I won’t bore you any more with the strange, twisted food-based nature of my mental distractions but lets just say they’re not limited to meetings. I found that even sitting at my desk, working away, I still managed to get distracted by food whether in the form of trying to find a good black bean soup recipe, of trying to remember how many zucchini’s I’ve picked from my garden already this year or trying to remember if I had any celery.

I think I might have a bit of an addiction. It’s not an obsession with eating as much as it is with figuring out what to eat. It’s just too bad that thinking about food doesn’t benefit me in my job at all. Otherwise, I’d be phenomenally good at it. I suppose I should try to stop thinking about food for a while but it’s not like I can really help it. It just sort of happens. Perhaps I should make Tom Colicchio give me a stern talking to like he does with the Top Chef contestants sometimes.

I give up. I think I should just accept that I’m losing my mind.

Oh well, even if I am, I’m having fun while doing it. And planning some excellent meals.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hard to Get Out of Bed Days...

Have you ever had those days where you get out of bed and you feel like just crawling back in?

I'm sure you have. Everyone has. I'm not talking about the normal, human urge to return to our warm, nightly nest because we could catch a few extra minutes of sleep. I'm talking about that urge to just go back to bed without having to get up for anything and being able to snooze in a cocoon of relaxation.

I had one of those today. I woke up, still feeling exhausted. I had a puppy pressed to my side and another one who'd curled up in the crook of my arm as though I were giving her a slumbering hug. I knew I had to get up. I didn't want to. I finally did get up and immediately, wanted to lie down and sleep again.

However, being the dutiful monkeypants I am, I did end up getting up and going to work as always.

Yet the trouble with mornings that start like this is that you never quite feel like you've woken up. At least not until it's almost time to go home.

The other problem with days like this is for at least a couple of hours after you get to work, aside from still being half-asleep is that the deep, buried part of you* is a bit resentful that you had to get up in the first place.

*(This part of you may not be buried all that deep. I know mine isn't as deep as it should be on some days.)

So, since you're feeling just a teensy tiny bit resentful, you find yourself lacking motivation to work. You try to work but each time you try, that slightly resentful part of you speaks up and says, "Come on, what are you thinking? Working? Really? Wouldn't you rather be at home sleeping?"

The answer to that, of course, is...yes. Even if you say no, the Resentful Voice continues. "Well then, how about going home and just sitting on the settee and watching the telly?"*

(*my voice is British since I am British. Hence the "settee" and the "telly." Yours would probably not speak in a British accent unless a) You ARE British, b) part of you quite fancies being British so you talk to yourself in a British accent or c) you have a bizarre disorder that makes you think in a different accent than your own).

Anyway, the minute the voices mentions the "telly", my mind wanders to my lovely living room and how nice it would be to watch telly. Fortunately, the Voice of Reason steps in and says, "PSST! CAPTAIN MONKEYPANTS, yes, you! Over here. That's right. Good Girl! Now, listen to me. Think about it. If you went home, think about all the things you could do. You could clean! You need to clean. Your house is a bit messy, after all. Also, you could weed the garden since you happen to have weeds the size of small trees growing up. Also, it's about time you squirrel-proofed the tomatoes. Also, you could decide what you're going to do with that family room of yours. You fancy a Tuscan style. You really ought to get working on that!"

At this point, I shut both voices off in my head with a shudder and go back to work. The Voice of Reason is making me tired and that's the last thing I need. I get started, waking my sleepy brain up and start trying to concentrate. Then, I find my eyes a little heavier than they should be so I go to get coffee since that might wake me up. Just as I sit down, I hear the Resentful Voice whispering very quietly so as not to alert the Voice of Reason. "The puppies! You could be home playing with the puppies!"

I stop and contemplate that. I think about how nice it would be to have the puppies curled up on my lap. Of course, The Voice of Reason steps in and says, "yes, but then you'd end up playing with them and cleaning up the mess they make when they drag all of their toys out the toybox."

Fortunately, this isn't a bad threat since that's just part of the daily routing. "Also," says the Voice of Reason, "If you leave or if you stay home tomorrow, that's one more PTO day down the train and you only have Three left. What if something happens? What if you get sick? What if you win a trip on a game show? Ok, well, you're not likely to go on a game show but you know what I mean!"

I sigh. I start working. The Voice of Reason is right.

The Resentful Voice and the Voice of Reason battle it out for a while longer but after 11:30, they get quieter because I've already made it half a day and the afternoons go by quickly anyway.

This, of course, doesn't mean I wake up much more but I stop wishing I was still in bed. Instead, I cross over the bridge from looking back with resentment and looking forward with hope. After all, there's only three point five hours left when I get back from lunch before I can go home and go to bed.

Of course, I never end up going home and going to bed. I always find myself less tired when I get home. Also The Voice of Reason is loudest when I'm at home trying to do nothing so I always end up doing something. Tonight, for example, I'm baking a quiche in the oven. I'm also baking a fig tart since I got a rather delicious jar of fig jam at T J Maxx on clearance. I adore figs. Fig jam is my new favourite food group.

I also need to take out the rubbish as well as the recycling since the dustman comes tomorrow. I also need to pick up the puppies toys as well as take a shower.

Then, I could go to bed. Yet, well, tonight is Top Chef night on Bravo and that means I can have Tom Colicchio's voice fresh in my head.

Of course, with the Resentful Voice and the Voice of Reason, it's getting a bit crowded in there.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Potlucks and Rain....

It's turned into the type of evening where you just want to curl up inside, watching the rain fall heavily outside while your air conditioner fights the mugginess outside.

All day, it's been threatening us with a storm, coming over cloudy and blocking out the hot sun. It passed over all day. I got home from work and faced the reality that I really, really needed to mow my lawn. Just as I was getting the mower out, I noticed the sky was threatening a storm, once again. It's amazing how one side of the sky can be blue with puffy white clouds and the other side can be grey and ominous.

I managed to get my back lawn mowed with only a few tiny raindrops. The rain stopped and I went to the front lawn. It started to rain just enough to leave dobbles on my t-shirt but not enough to actually make anything wet.

Then, as I came inside to shower after getting all hot, sweaty and grass-covered, it started to really rain. It's been raining heavily on and off since then and it's the type of rain that makes you glad to be indoors.

Still, the rain held off for the barbecue at work which was...good?

I say that somewhat fasciously because they ended up setting up all the food in our kitchen/break room. This is on the second floor. They had the grill downstairs in our parking lot where there is a picnic table and carried the burgers and hot dogs upstairs for us to eat. Then we had to sit outside in the parking lot. There were plenty of chairs to sit. However, it was very, very hot and muggy and sitting there sweating while you eat is not the most pleasant experience.

The barbecue ended up being shorter than any I remember. The food was...interesting. It seems that I am a little out of sync with my coworkers as far as cooking goes. I made my pesto with a Mario Batali recipe and my zucchini salad from Giada de Laurentis. The caprese was just me knowing what makes up a caprese salad and putting it together. It seems that the cook du jour in the office is Paula Deen.

Now, I have nothing against Ms. Deen. I find her immensely likeable. She's a sweet, funny, blunt southern lady who loves to cook. She uses a lot of butter. I mean A LOT of butter. I've seen her cook and, well, I have to say, she's not for me though I'm sure, for her audience, she's perfect.

I once watched her make omelettes in a ziploc bag by putting a lot of beaten egg and a ton of meat and veggies in the bag and then boiling it. It came out looking like aeroplane food. Since then, I admit, I'm a wee bit dubious of her recipes.

Today, however, Paula Deen was all over the picnic in the desserts and the macaroni and cheese.

I love macaroni and cheese. I like the box kind but I like to 'gourmet' it up by putting in some herbs, adding some cheese to the top and then baking it in the oven. Ms. Deen uses sour cream in her mac and cheese.

I don't like sour cream. I've tried. It just does not please my palette very much.

Of course, I am not being a snob and saying the food was terrible because it was wasn't. Sure, I still have to get used to the idea of Strawberry Pretzel Cake which I think is strawberry pudding and/or jello, whipped cream and pretzels. It doesn't taste bad, it's just..weird. It's like something you'd see in a Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef when the contestents had a mystery box containing four unaligned ingredients and they have to make a dish.

I know, I know...Top Chef again. I can't help it. Tom Colicchio is still in my head.

No, the food wasn't bad. It was just a mishmash. That's the thing with potlucks. You never know what's going to show up. It was an interesting array today with only one crock pot- very rare for a midwestern potluck. More than anything, it made me feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb with my high falutin' Italian salad trio. I should have gone less Batali, more Paula Deen.On the plus side, at least I wasn't the only Food Network inspired cook. Also, the chicken pesto and the caprese went over well even if I wasn't terribly pleased with the marinaded zucchini. It wasn't my best dish and it would have put me at risk for elimination on Top Chef. Eek gads.

Still, at least I didn't attempt to make dessert.

Because we all know on Top Chef, when you make dessert, you most often end up going home.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hearing Voices in my Head

Today went by rather quickly for a Monday. You won't hear me complaining about that. It wasn't a bad day at work, just a busy one. Sometimes they're the best type of Mondays because you don't have time to sit there wishing it was still the weekend.

Unfortunately, the evening has also gone by rather quickly too which, adversely, is a bit of a shame.

We're having an office barbecue at work. They're usually not quite as awkward as Awkward Bagel Days but since the barbecues still involved forced interaction and mingling, there's definitely some awkwardness there.

It's a pot luck barbecue which means everyone gets to bring something. I find it ironic that a few years ago, I used to be one of the potluckers who attempted to sign up to bring plates or cups and things and now I actually enjoy them because it means I get to cook or, at least, prepare something to bring.

This time around, I decided to make a trio of salads. Yes, I know, I've been watching FAR too much Top Chef. I could have settled with one or I could have gone for a duo. However, since I, unfortunately, have taken to hearing Tom Colicchio- the co-host of Top Chef and a very successful chef in his own right- in my head when I cook, I felt like I needed to take a risk. Tom's very big on taking risks.

I think this might be a good opportunity to mention that yes, I do find it odd that I hear Tom Colicchio's voice in my head. This does mean, indeed, that I really should not watch any more Top Chef reruns, even if my DVR insists on taping them. However, it seems to be a compulsion I can't keep from happening. Imaginary Tom tells me to watch my seasoning, lest it be too salty or, just as bad, underseasoned. I also hear him telling me when my food looks like slop on a plate so I try to make it look nice when I cook food now. I find myself checking to make sure my vegetables are chopped uniformly.

I know, I have a problem here. Still, it's making my food turn out rather well so maybe it's not quite so bad. Even if it is a little, you know, crazy.

Anyway, since Imaginary-Tom told me I should take risks and not 'play it safe,' I decided to make a salad trio. This consists of chicken pesto (with homemade pesto, of course. I scoff at you, silly jarred stuff), a caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil (it's seasoned fine, I checked, Imaginary Tom). I'm also making Zucchini & Carrot a Scapece. Since I was afraid I'd scare my coworkers with a fancy name like that, it's been renamed "marinated zucchini and carrot salad." Unfortunately, it has to marinate for at least 8 hours before it's ready for tasting so, Mr. Imaginary Tom Colicchio in my head, I definitely think I took a risk there. Perhaps I'll wait and not take it and make my coworkers take a risk.

Of course, Tom would then tell me off for not tasting my food. A good chef always tastes his or her food.

So far, the salads are looking and tasting pretty good. The nice thing about them is that though they seem fancier than your average coleslaw and potato salad fare that normally accompanies a barbecue, they're actually pretty easy to make. The best thing is I only had to buy the mozzarella and tomatoes (since mine aren't ripe yet). I got all of the basil, the zucchinis, the mint and the garlic from my garden. I had all the other ingredients in my pantry. That made me feel like a well prepared chef.

And you know Tom Colicchio likes a well prepared chef.

Not that I'm a chef. I'm just a Monkeypants who's obsessed with cooking. I'm hoping that tomorrow though, my dishes go over well. If not, well, they tasted ok to me and, since I'm in charge of the Tom Colicchio in my head, they tasted just fine to him too.

I think I definitely need to stop watching Top Chef. I'm afraid Tom might just tell me to pack my knives and go.

Please feel free to offer psychiatric advice.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Time Traveling...Again.

I time traveled again today and, as before, it happened without much warning.

I spent the weekend at my parent's house since I have two nieces who recently celebrated birthdays and I, the dutiful aunt, had gifts for them. Having discovered that the oldest of my two nieces is a reader, just as I'd been as a child, I thought back to what I would have liked at her age. As a result, I ordered three of my favourite books from childhood from a UK based used book store. The books were, "The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark," "The Worst Witch," and, my all time favourite- "Dogger"- a book about a little boy who loses his cherished stuffed toy dog but through the kindness of his older sister is reunited with it.

Sadly, I think my niece wasn't very impressed with the books at all. I'm hoping when she gets a little older, she'll enjoy them just as I did. If not, well...I tried and next time a gift-giving occasion arises, I'll try again to find something I think she'd like.

Anyway, aside from the birthdays, I had lunch with a friend which was very nice since she, too, is a writer and it's always nice to talk writing for a while.

I also was asked by my parent's if I could clean out my old bedroom since my dad wants to start one of his slightly tumultuous renovation projects which involves remodeling my old room. Actually, from the sounds of it, it sounds a little like it's going to demolish my old room but he seems to know what he's doing so...we have to trust him. For now, at least.

So, I spent a good part of today going through my old things which is where the time traveling came in. I found remnants of many ages and stages of my life from the very first 'published' piece of writing I did- when I was about nine, we had to write a fable so I wrote, "How the Sheep Got his Fleece." My teacher liked it so much she typed it up and mounted it on the wall for everyone to see. She said, "I want you to know what it looks like to see your name in print." It was nice to find that old story again.

I found the giant card, decorated with hand-sketched and coloured pictures of Mickey Mouse that my old friend, Lee Hudson, had drawn. Inside were all kinds of notes and messages wishing me luck in America. It was signed by most of my teachers and all of the people in my house at school. It was a bittersweet find- one that makes me smile at the thoughtfulness of my peers but sad that it was another life and another time. Some of those signatures belong to friends I have on Facebook but others...I'll probably never know where they ended up.

I also found my slightly cringe-worthy high school box. It was an old cardboard box, every inch covered by Sharpie-drawn pictures, words and cartoons that my friend, Amy, had done for me. When I'd originally got the box, it had a stuffed monkey in it. I didn't want to throw the box away so it became my memento box. Inside, I found old yearbooks, nostalgic trinkets that reflected my crushes and crazes of my adolescent years. I found pictures, cards and all kinds of memorabilia that is a visual trail of how I used to be.

I found college papers, articles from when I was a journalism major. They were graded and had enthusiastic comments on them from one of my favourite professors- Dr. Caroline Dow. Unfortunately, I found out she passed away from cancer a few years ago so I couldn't bring myself to throw those papers away. She'd believed in me so much and I know I disappointed her when I changed from a journalism major to theatre. To this day, I wonder if I made the right choice but since I liked where I've ended up, I can't look back and regret the decision.

I also found boxes of theatre playbills that is a chronological history of my obsession with theatre, photos of my high school friends, photos of me in high school. I was a supremely shy girl, very lacking in self-esteem, thinking myself very unattractive. I still have traces of that but, for the most part, have accepted that I am what I am and that's not so hideous. It's amazing to see those pictures and realize that I was a bit stupid to think I was so unattractive and ugly back then. I don't look so bad. Some photos, I think I actually look quite pretty. I hate that I couldn't see that then but I suppose most people doubt themselves in high school.

I continued my sorting and unearthed a collection of trinkets and papers from when I was a theatre intern in Maine for a summer and an apprentice the next. I loved Maine. If I were ever to be wealthier, I'd get a summer cottage up there. There's nothing better than the feel of an evening by the fire on a cool, fresh Maine beach. We used to go to the beach after the shows were done and sit out, drink beer and just talk. It was a great couple of summers.

I found articles I'd had published in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette when I'd been working there as a receptionist/library assistant. Short on staff, the features editor was looking for some articles and I volunteered. One of them made it to the front page of the Lifestyles section.

I kept all the mementos I mentioned above but I also threw away bags and bags of things that meant something at the time but didn't hold enough strong memories to justify keeping them. I am a pack rat of sorts but I also have the ability to know when to let things go which makes for a nice balance.

Essentially, I spent part of today looking back over my life through things that I've kept to remind me of it. It was a nice day, if a little sad. It's always bittersweet to look back at our lives and realize how far we've come even though some things were left behind. The things that are important to us change a little over time even though the really important things like friends, family and passions stay the same.

I kept the things that were most important to me. Now I just have to find somewhere to put them. That's the problem with memories; they always need a place to live. Yet I don't want to lose them so even if it means cluttering up a closet, I'll keep them with me as long as I can.

Because, sometimes, it's nice to travel back in time.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Really Boring Staff Meetings....

Today was a sort-of interesting day at work. Lately, I've been feeling frustrated by my job. I've mentioned before that there's a high-school mentality to some of my coworkers. They have a little clique and they're very exclusive. Recently, one of the clique was promoted to a manager level. Now, if it had been me, I would have thought, "Crap, I'm a manager now. I should probably start acting like one."

Let me explain. Like most companies, most of our managers tend to have management meetings. They discuss confidential affairs only with those who need to know. They might be friendly with the staff but they're not super-best-friend-pals at work. There's a line drawn when someone becomes a manager and, unfortunately, if you want to be a good one, you have to stay on your side of the line, occasionally getting close to standing on the line but never crossing it.

Our new manager hasn't learned that yet. She continues to have loud, obvious, whispered conversations with people when she's obviously trying to make sure no one else hears but, by the mere fact that she's obviously whispering, she's getting people's interest. I'm not saying she's not nice because she is. She's very nice.

My problem with her is that because she's part of the clique, the clique tends to benefit from her manager status. My coworker, for example, often spends up to an hour or so just chatting with her friends. She starts with the intent of talking about work but she's very, very easily distracted and she's a chatter. As a result, she comes back from her friend, the manager's office, loaded down with 'inside information.' As a result, she somehow ends up on every project before I've even heard that there is a project. Naturally, I get frustrated. I've contemplated talking to this manager but, sadly, I know that while she might politely receive my comments, it would end up being another closed-door, whisper session with my coworker.

I've let it bother me until today. Today, you see, we had a staff meeting. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I often take a slightly sadistic joy in Awkward Staff Meetings.

Sadly, today's was not an Awkward Staff Meeting. It was a Really Boring Staff Meeting. Really Boring Staff Meetings consist of our president standing in front of the room and talking about numbers. He also talks about projects but since our department manager went over those with us the other day, having to listen to the whole thing again gets frightfully boring.

So, I did what I always do: I tried to listen but found my mind wandering. It wandered to food, of course. I was craving a chocolate milkshake. I don't even like milkshake's that much so I began to wonder why I was craving a chocolate milkshake. The result? I have absolutely no idea why I was craving a chocolate milkshake.

Then I began to think about my work situation and the annoying manager. I contemplated my options. I could speak up or shut up, is what it came down to in the end. Since I've already spoken up several times to by nice-but-slightly-ineffectual boss, I contemplated the reason I was annoyed in the first place. What it came down to is that I do a lot of work and get no credit while my coworker does a lot less work and gets a lot more credit. Then I began to wonder what I would achieve if I got put on more projects. I'd be busier. I'd have to do more work. Then my coworker would find a way to get put on the same projects as me which is how it always is.

Then, as I have several times before, I realized that, really, I suddenly didn't care. I know I'm a good worker and I know I'm quite good with clients/coworkers/customers. I just don't ever get to work with them. If my coworker wants to be the visible one, let her. Eventually, she's going to be so busy that they'll realize that it might be better to spread the wealth. My coworker isn't good at being an independent worker. She constantly has to have meetings or consultations with people to discuss projects. Me....well, I'm not a fan of meetings. I'm a fan of knowing what needs to be done, knowing what I have to do to get that thing done and doing it.

I simply realized that my coworker and I are wildly different- I like to make decisions and take responsibility for them and she likes to get people to help her make her decisions so that she doesn't make a wrong one. There's nothing wrong with that. I just have to accept that things won't change and I either have to change instead or I have to find another job. Since there aren't any jobs out there, methinks I'll just suck it up and let her get the glory for a while. In the meantime, I'll do the work that she's not doing because she's off in the manager's office, having a chat.

Anyway, this thought process took up a large percentage of the Really Boring Staff Meeting. The other percentage was spent listening to our nice-but-not-terribly-great-at-her-job HR manager talk about building safety. We then had to take a tour of our building so we knew where the fire exits were. Since most of us knew, it was an odd thing to do. It really was for the new people just in case they didn't know but since the newest people were pulled into a meeting, it was a wee bit redundant. Still, I did get to enjoy the small signs of our Office Olympics from a few weeks ago during the tour.

After the tour, we were sent back to our desks to "pretend it was a normal working day." Yes, that's exactly how it was put. I think most of us took her seriously and pretended so hard we did some work. We were that into our roles.

Then, after about five minutes of pretending it was a normal working day, our HR manager came over the intercom and informed us there was a "fire in the kitchen. Please evacuate." Most of us in our cubicle farm strolled the 20 feet to our fire exit and went outside. Then we had to walk around the building to our 'rendezvous point.' Then we went back inside to the nice air conditioned building because it was very, very hot and sticky outside.

We went back to work. Five minutes later, our HR manager came over the intercom and informed us that "A tornado has been spotted. Please evacuate."

We dutifully walked around to the exit we'd been informed was the tornado evacuation exit because it had stairs leading down to the basement. We all did as we were told and headed down to the basement. Except...the door was locked. We were stuck on the stairs. A few minutes later, the HR manager comes down and says, "it's locked." We knew this. She informed us she had the only key and proudly unlocked the door.

Once inside the rather hideous, extremely musty basement of our building, we politely asked our HR manager if there could possibly be another key just in case, you know, there was a tornado and she wasn't around.

"I'm always around," she said.

We tried not to look at each other as we politely suggested that she might a) go on vacation (if she did, she promised to leave the key at the front desk), b) go to lunch ("I never go to lunch if there looks like there's going to be a storm" or c) just had to leave unexpectedly ("I'd never do that".)

She didn't get our concern. Now, if you're an HR manager with the ONLY key to a locked basement that's the sole hope of our company in case of a natural disaster in the form of a tornado, don't you, you know, think it might be good to have an extra key made? I appreciate that she wants to be responsible and not risk a security breach of someone getting hold of the extra key that shouldn't but, well....there are ways around security breaches.

Still, we finally went back to work without having to pretend it was a normal working day. I asked my boss if that meant it wasn't really a normal working day since we'd had to pretend and if we could leave. He said no. I was quite sad.

All in all, it was an interesting day at work what with milkshakes, workplace revelations, a fire in the kitchen and a tornado.

Of course, I never did get my milkshake.

Oh, well, maybe tomorrow.

Happy Friday and have a good weekend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Time Traveling by the Scent of a Leaf

I promise not to whine or moan about my air conditioning today. After a four-hour visit from a new repairman, my system is up and running with a cleaned-out evaporation system and a new fan and motor. It wasn't cheap but I didn't expect it to be. I now have blissfully cool air pumping out of my vents while the weather outside is very hot and clammy. All is good.

Instead, I'm going to talk about time travel which may seem like an odd topic of blog-versation but, well, hopefully it'll make sense.

It all began with a hydrangea leaf.

While the very nice air conditioning fix-it man was outside working on my pesky unit, I was
outside with the puppies, trying to make them stop barking. Rory isn't a barker but Sookie is. It's only with strangers which is actually not such a bad thing. She's very protective of me.

We were outside and it was mid-morning. The plants and grass were still very wet from the rain/humidity that we had last night. In one of my side flowerbeds, I have a large hydrangea bush. I didn't plant it but I enjoy it nonetheless. The puppies ran off to chase a bird, and I was left standing there. Without thinking, I reached out and picked one of the large green leaves from the hydrangea bush. I folded it in half and tore a small circle of the folded leaf and then, still without realizing what I was really doing, I gently tore a slit below the circle. I unfolded it and realized I had made a face on my leaf.

It was something I haven't done in many, many years but, obviously, something I had done before. I cast my mind back and remembered doing it as a child. Just then, the scent of the leaf caught my nose and, for an instant, it was like travelling back in time.

The smell invoked in me a set of memories from my childhood. It's a fresh, green, almost herbal
scent. I remembered, then, picking leaves from the large hydrangea bushes that belonged to our next-door neighbour, Mrs. Olly. Mrs. Olly was a mean old lady who hated the neighbourhood children. She would constantly be telling tales on us or watching us from her living room window. She had a lovely garden though and her hydrangea bushes were lots of different colours.
The scent made me remember how my friend and I had invented the face-game with the leaves, making little leaf-people with each small circle that was torn out for eyes. Then I remembered using the leaves to play teaparty- the leaves were our plates. We used the leaves to cover insects, to make leaf trails.

With another sniff of the leaf, I remembered summer afternoons during our British summer holidays which lasted six-weeks. Compared to the American summer vacation of 12 weeks, that seems short but, at the time, it seemed like a lovely long, near-eternity when you're only eight or nine or ten or even eleven. Then again, if you didn't know better, it would seem like a long time to any child, no matter how old.

The smell made me remember the British summer days. We'd get up early, the dew wet on the lawn. I'd be wearing a summer dress because girls really didn't wear trousers much when
I was little. We did on weekends but our primary wardrobes were skirts and tops or casual dresses. I remember putting on my sandals. Buying my summer sandals was an annual affair where my mum would take me and my sister to the shops so we could pick the sandals we were to wear all summer. At first we had to wear socks with them. Nowadays, I'd think that dorky but, back then, it was perfectly normal. As it got warmer, we got to wear them without socks.

Once I had my sandals on, I'd go outside and look at the world. It would be deep in its morning colours, the shadows and light closer together than they would be for most of the day. I remember how wet the dew was and how my feet got wet.

As the morning past, I'd probably either play with a friend, play with one of my siblings- most likely my little brother or I'd read. I loved to read. It was my favourite activity. It still is, actually.

In the afternoons, my mum would often take us to the park. I don't know how she did it,
honestly. She'd not only escort me there but often one of my friends. My sister would take her doll, sometimes in its stroller and my younger brother would always want to bring his friend Andrew. My older brother was often already down the park with a friend. He loved to fish and would often be fishing with his friends.

My mum would patiently lead us down the park. Sometimes we'd go through the brickfields- over the little waterfall things that, to this day, I'm not sure what they do. There was a bridge over them and we always had to pause to watch the water. On the other side of the bridge, there was a river. My brother would sometimes be fishing here so we'd go see if he'd caught anything. If not, we proceeded along the way to Admirals park. We'd pass through a little spinney of trees where there was a tiny, algea-crusted pond. I'd always look at the pond, wondering if, one day, the entire surface would be light-green with algae instead of just patches.

We'd walk a little further and then, finally, we'd be at the park. It was a typical park with
a see-saw, roundabout, swings and slide. Yet it also had a river in which, when we were permitted, we could fish.

That was another annual tradition: Fishing nets. When the summer holidays began, we'd go to the sweet shop (aka, the newsagents) and they'd have a stack of coloured fishing nets leaning up in the corner of the shop, against the window. They were just little nets on a bamboo stick, like a butterfly net but of a stiffer material. We'd proudly buy our nets. After a couple of years experience of fishing for minnows, my brother and I had learned that the nets easily detatched from the bamboo stick so we knew to tape the net to the handle for security.

So, when we'd go to the park, we'd take our nets. When mum was ready, she'd allow us to join the many other children who were already in the river, fishing. Some places were deep, others shallow. The trick was to try to go somewhere where no one else was. We'd be wearing our wellington boots because there were rocks and glass on the bottom of the river.

When we caught a minnow or, even better, a bigger type of fish, we'd put it in a jar that we had with us, just for this purpose. We'd continue until we were summoned by mum to get out. We'd leave with a protest. Most of the time, we'd let the fish go but sometimes, we'd take them home with us.

After that, we'd play in the park for a bit longer and then, tired, hot and ready to leave, we'd go back home, have tea (the meal, not the drink) and then go to bed even though it was still light out and, most likely, would be for a couple more hours.

All this, I remembered in a few brief seconds just by the scent of the hydrangea leaf. It sounds dramatic but it's true. As soon as I smelled the leaf, I was back in England, on a warm, sunny, summer day, my hands smelling of hydrangea, nagging at my mum to see when were going to go to the park.

In a way, to me, that was time travel. I may not have physically gone but for the moments that I remembered, I was there, in my past, back to being a child and remembering every sensation, every sound and every smell of my youthful summers. The memories were so powerful, I could almost hear the trickle of the river as I fished.

Of course, as an adult, I've been back to the park and realized that it wasn't even really a river but more of an over-wide stream. It turned into a river above and below where we fished but, in the park, it wasn't much to speak of; it was just a long, muddy stream of water with a little man-made path on both sides.

Yet, as a child, it was a river. It was our summer place. It was our tradition. It was a place I remember now but remembered far more vividly when I smelled the scent of that leaf.

I was back there, in the past for just a few moments. The air conditioning man had faded from my mind, the puppies were a distant concern and I was back to being a child.

So maybe it wasn't time travel as most people imagined it but, to me, it's as close as I'm likely to get. I think from now on when the woes of the world get to me in the form of broken air conditioners, office politics, writer's frustration and no PTO at work, I will just go outside, pluck off a leaf from my hydrangea bush and smell it.

And, if it's winter, I'll just find another way to travel back in time, just for a little while.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad Days Made Better by Good Food....

So, the saga of the air conditioning continues.


Today, I woke up, feeling rather warm considering that I'd set the thermostat to 74 degrees in an attempt to keep the house cool after yesterday morning's failure of the AC and the afternoon's success in getting it started again.

I got up with a heavy heart. I let the dogs out and looked over at my air conditioning unit which sits on the side of the house. It wasn't running. Again.

More to my chagrin, I discovered the carpet around the furnace which contains the evaporation and blower system for the AC was absolutely soaked. What I'd thought was a roof leak a few weeks ago must have been a minor furnace leak. Now I have a major one.

Naturally, I was not happy. I've now had the air conditioning fix-it-man come twice to my house only to tell me that my air conditioning unit was not working because it was old. He didn't do anything to look at the furnace; he just showed me the magic switch to hit when the system tripped itself off.

Not being a completely stupid Monkeypants, I did ask him if he knew why it kept tripping but all I got was a shrug and, "I don't know. These things happen." I wasn't happy but he wasn't about to tell me more so I had to trust him.

So, this morning, I was a wee bit angry with him. Since my furnace was leaking quite a bit of water, clearly something was wrong with my system. I ended up calling the company who originally installed it and used to do serving on it for the lady who sold me this house. I found their number in the large amount of paperwork she left me. When I spoke to them, the man was a little brusque but as soon as I told him the switch was tripping AND the water was coming out, he said, 'sounds like you need a service. You've probably got a clog." I told him I'd had someone else look at it and he didn't think anything was wrong with it and the man paused for a minute and then said, "he didn't clean it for you?????" in a clearly surprised tone. Nope, he didn't clean it. Seems like he just wanted to sell me a new system and be on his way.

So, tomorrow morning, I have to stay home from work AGAIN to wait for another AC man to come take a look at my system. While I normally like the chance to not go to work, it's starting to get annoying that I'm using my precious PTO to take care of a problem that should have at least been acknowledged the first time I stayed home from work. If the repairman tomorrow does find a clog, you better believe I'm calling that first company and demanding a refund.

On the plus side, it rained almost all day which meant that it didn't get nearly as hot as usual. It's pretty humid but without the accompanying wall of heat, it's tolerable. The puppies and I have the fans going and it's not that uncomfortable. I'm hoping I say that when I try to go to sleep tonight.

The problem is when it's muggy in the house, it's hard to get too motivated to do much. I really need to clean but the house just feels messy, no matter how much I clean. I want to write but, again, my office is stuff and it's hard to work anywhere.

Rather than be a complete sloth, I decided to cook a nice dinner tonight. That usually cheers me up. I decided to try making spiced Moroccan veal patties with a cilantro-lime chutney accompanied by roasted red potatoes and zucchini. Yes, I've been watching far too much Top Chef.

It turned out nicely, I have to say. I didn't have to turn the oven on because I cooked the potatoes in the toaster oven. The veal patties were just seared in a saute pan and the chutney was cold. It was pretty delicious and a nice way to console myself about my stupid air conditioning woes.

I've never made veal before in any way, shape or form. I used to be opposed to it because, you know, it's baby cow. I know my sister who's a vegetarian would be a bit cross at the idea of it. Yet since my taste buds have become more adventurous, I'm a lot more open to what I eat. And I hate to admit it but baby cow is pretty tasty. It's juicier and slightly richer than beef. Yes, PETA, you can start insulting me now.

Speaking of PETA, (and on a random tangent), I heard once again last week how evil KFC was and how they abuse their chickens. They do cruel things like boil them alive and breed mutant chickens. At least according to PETA, Pam Anderson and the internet. Since I found this to be something that seemed a little, well, silly, I did some research. As I suspected, KFC doesn't have chicken farms. Nope. They don't have huge death camps for chickens in which they're abused, tortured and killed. Like many restaurants, KFC relies on local chicken farmers in areas where they have their restaurants to provide the meat. So unless all these farmers have a secret underground Chicken Torture Centre, I'm having a hard time believing those propaganda videos. I do believe there is chicken cruelty out there. I just don't think it's really KFC's fault. Also, I greatly enjoy KFC's coleslaw, biscuits and sometimes, when it's not too greasy, their original recipe chicken so my research was, I admit, a way of self-justification about why I continue to go there. Not that I go there very often but it's nice to be somewhat guilt-free when I go there.

But, I digress. Long story short, a bad day can always be made better with good food. My evening was greatly improved by my dinner. Of course, having two very sweet little puppies doesn't hurt, either. They've been much cuddlier since their spaying and it's rather nice to have their warm fuzzy bodies curled up next to me in the evenings.

At least when the AC works. Ah well, tomorrow's another day and another air conditioning repairman.

I'll keep you posted.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, July 12, 2010

You Don't Know What You've Got....Until It's Gone...

So, it’s come to my attention after now whining in my last two blogs about my lack of air conditioning that I may be a wee bit spoiled.

After all, when I was growing up in the UK, we didn’t have air conditioning. I don’t think I even remember knowing what air conditioning was. During the English summer, in my area at least, we would have a few really hot days in the summer where it went up over 80. Of course, being a little island, that means it was 80 degrees with a lot of humidity. Mostly, though, summer days weren’t intolerable. We expected it to be warm but not too hot, most of the time, at least. Since we moved to the U.S., it seems global warming has affected the UK and they do have a lot more heat over there. My relatives and British friends are always talking about how hot it gets. I’m not sure what the status of air conditioning is over in the UK but I venture to guess it’s still not as prominent over there as it is here in the U.S.

In fact, my very first memory of arriving in the U.S. was in August. When we got off the plane, we were met with a wall of heat that seemed so thick, it was difficult to breathe. When we went into the airport, it was freezing. The air felt…weird. It took me a while to get used to air conditioning though it didn’t take too long for me to appreciate it. The house we moved into was an old farmhouse and it didn’t have air conditioning. In the summer, we sweated and roasted and would find ways to cool down- going to shopping malls, going to the pool, etc. The nights were hot and sticky. I would lie in my room, too hot to sleep and listen to the honk of the Canadian geese that were swimming in our neighbours ponds over the road. I remember those nights well. There was the sound of cicadas, of crickets, of the odd bird chirping, all intertwined with the honking of those geese.

When the sun rose and we’d get up the next morning, I remember getting up earlier than I did during less hot days. The mornings were cooler and I’d go outside to appreciate the fresher air than was in the house. As the day went on, the heat increased but there gets to a point in the house where it can’t get that much hotter- it’s just plain…hot.

After a few years of this, my dad caved and bought one of those window air conditioners. We’d gather in the living room where it was situated and breathe a sigh of relief. It did little for the hot nights, particularly for my sister, brother and I who all slept upstairs, but it was a pleasant relief in the evenings before bed.

Naturally, after I went to college, my parents had central air installed. For the summers I was home, it was a nice change from the hot nights. They also moved my bedroom downstairs and I could no longer hear the sound of the honking geese, nor any other night sounds since I now slept with the windows closed.

Ironically, nowadays, when I visit my parents, I stay in my first room- the upstairs one. The air conditioning sort of reaches up there but doesn’t keep it too cool so I use a fan. I also sleep with the window open and get to hear the sounds of the summer night again. I like that.

What my point comes down to is that I managed to survive years without air conditioning. Nowadays, if it breaks, I have a little whine and moan and act like it’s the end of the world. Granted, it did go out at the worst time- the night prior to taking the puppies in to get spayed and two days after when it was important to keep the pups comfortable- but…still. I acted like a prima donna, like it was my divine right to have working air conditioning.
Of course, my whining was probably influenced by the fact that I was covered with a layer of sweat, had two panting puppies at my feet and only warm, sultry air flowing through the house with no cooling, comfortable breeze to make it tolerable.

I’m obviously conflicted. I know it’s possible to live without air conditioning but since I’ve experienced life without it- both recently and in the past- I don’t want to live without it. This of course makes me sound a bit like an awful human being- after all, lots of people don’t have AC- the starving children in Africa, the third world countries and lots of people in Europe.

In my guilt at feeling like a spoiled whiner, I did some searching on the internet about how people lived without air conditioning. I came across a blog post by a lady who offered tips based on how she lives without air conditioning. She wants to save the money it costs over a summer to run the AC. Her tips included making sure you don’t go into any place that has AC: You don’t know what you’re missing until you experience it. Also, she doesn’t cook indoors but grills out every day, using picnic-style foods to feed her family. Also, the coolest room in the house is the living room so she and her kids camp out in the living room over the summer months.

Now, while I salute her attempts to save a few dollars, I can’t help wonder how her kids feel. My guess is that they go to their friends a lot. They can’t have much company in their house because they obviously have a bit of a muddle in their living room due to the ‘campout’ situation. Also, as a guest, it can’t be too comfortable in a humid, hot house. Also, while I’m quite fond of grilled foods, I couldn’t eat them
everyday. There’s only so many sandwiches and salads you can eat before you start wanting a nice, non-grilled, homecooked meal

My guess is that when they get older, that lady’s kids are going to be the ones who crank their air conditioning up so it’s only 60 degrees in their houses. I’ve met a few of these people and when you find yourself wishing for winter woolies while visiting them in August…you know they HAD to have grown up without AC.

I suppose my point is that, as humans, once you get used to something, it’s hard to lose it. It can be a relationship, a pair of comfy socks, Cost Plus World Market (at least in this area), a chocolate bar you were craving, only to discover it’s a melted, inedible mess….the list is endless.

You just don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Especially when it’s air conditioning.
Happy Tuesday!