Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taxes and beer

We went to the bar for beer before meeting Marie to do our taxes. She has wicker furniture, hard wood floors, rag rugs, and a cat named Nick who chases his shadow or his tail. You can't get that at H&R Block.

We went back to the bar after we got the bad news. It was kid's night at Patrick's so it was nerve-wracking until about 8. We ran into Kate and talked about our collective cynicism about work, politics, life and everything else until we left at 8:30. It was a long night by old people's standards. Kate's going to see Barak Obama at the Target Center on Saturday. I don't care. I can't believe he's any different than any of the rest of them. I'll vote for Hillary or nobody.

We had a few good laughs about the Super Bowl XLII. Extra large II. I said they should have little snapshots of the athletes as they appear today in the corner to show that they are not Super Human. Joe Namath for example. He was so cute in 1968 but Regis says he has gotten long in the tooth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Books and biscuits


I'm too tired to write much today. I went to work early in spite of a late start, worked hard all day, then came home and cooked and cleaned up in the kitchen. I tried the Cook's Illustrated recipe for baking powder biscuits. I love that magazine. They have such good illustrations so you aren't left on your own to figure out folding and rolling. Honestly, they were two inches high and just as flaky as the ones in the picture which are not mine because I'm too lazy to get up and take a picture of them. They peeled apart in lovely white layers of soft dough. Magic.

This is the book I'm reading, The Summer He Didn't Die. It's more of a novella. I know I'm going to hate it when it ends. I like all of Jim Harrison's books. Some of them are listed on the right under my favorite books.

So now with a belly full of beef stew and biscuits, I am going to bed to read. It's still 12 below and it's dark. This is enough of this day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weather bragging

Picture me doing that dance football players do in the end zone after they make a touchdown.

Yesterday the temperature was 47 degrees in the afternoon. Today, at 1:29, the temperature was 8 below and the winds were gusting to 25 mph, making for a wind chill of ...TA DA... 39 below. And that, my friends, is an 88 degree difference in the feel of the air (actual temp versus wind chill temp) in two days. Take that Siberia. We get to brag, and dance, about surviving this shit.

Tonight I'm having wine and crackers for dinner. Regis had left-over Portuguese stone soup. One of our favorite recipes. I can email the recipe if you ask. For the soup, I mean.

I didn't sleep very well last night. With the wind nearly blowing the roof off the house, it was hard to relax. In between the bouts of restless sleep, I had weird dreams. Peter called right before I drifted off, expressing some distress about school. All of his classes are either online or on the television system so he has no interaction with other humans. Regis said it's like going to college on a space ship. It hasn't been the most satisfactory experience but he's being rational and thoughtful about his decisions so I'm not worried.

Regis and I are going to watch Superbad tonight. We'll see if our old-age sense of humor can take it. If it's like Napoleon Dynamite or Taladega Nights, it will be a short video adventure.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Radiohead and Dilbert

Disclaimer: If you know Radiohead and love their music, don’t read this. Or at least don’t be offended.


We got this week’s edition of Rolling Stone and there’s a picture of a blond guy with a headline that says The Future Belongs to Radiohead. I assumed Radiohead was the blond dude and I thought the headline was intriguing. How could the future, THE FUTURE, belong to Radiohead and I had never heard of him?


The future belongs to Radiohead. I read the article, rather than attempting to talk about this as if I knew something about it which I sometimes do, and discovered the name of the cover lad is Thom Yorke and the name of the band is Radiohead. Ohhhhh. I get it.


Then I started thinking about all the bands I haven’t heard of anymore. If you’ve gone by the CD racks at Target, you know what I mean. Who the hell is Radiohead? Now 26? OneRepublic? Maroon 5? There are a couple on the Top 40 list I recognize: Led Zeppelin and Rascal Flatts, the last one only because I made a wedding DVD for some friends and this was one of their favorite bands. This was a band that almost made me jump off the roof.


It’s the beginning of the slide. First you can’t name any bands on the Top 40 list, then you can’t set a digital clock or program the VCR, and pretty soon you can’t operate a motor vehicle or comb your own hair.


I've tried to keep up in small ways. I say back in the day instead of back in the old days. I have a blog and an iPod and I know about things like web-based news readers and uploading digital video to Youtube. But I get the feeling that it's not enough.


Speaking of teachers, I got the seniority list the other day. I was one of the few hired in the 70's and I was at the top of the list in several categories. I sent an email to the superintendent's secretary: Dear Nancy, There is a mistake with the seniority list. The top of the list is for old people. Please correct. Love, Teresa


And yet one more segue. There was a great Dilbert cartoon in the paper yesterday that reminded me of some aspects of my job…the sweet nectar of the illusion of progress…that euphoric feeling you get between the time you make a plan and the time some moron comes along to thwart it. It can last anywhere from less than a minute to as much as a minute. Yeah, that’s it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pierogies a la Alice

Regis and I made pierogies today. We must have been channeling Alice because we had her recipe and when they were all done, Regis said they were just like she made.

Oh my God, what a lot of work, though. This is my Grandma Elsie's meat grinder which I have had for years and never used. We had to cook a roast yesterday, then today grind it up with a head of boiled cabbage, two onions, and a pound of bacon.

Then we made the dough. Things only got tense once in the eight hours this project took us and that's when we argued about whether to cut the dough circles first and then put them through the pasta roller...or roll the dough first and then cut the circles. I was picturing uncooperative dough but this was very easy to work with so I didn't have to represent my dough views so vociferously.

You can see this makes a real mess. After the dough circles were cut, we put put a spoonful of meat in the middle, wet the edges and sealed them up. Regis boiled them in a big pot for 10 minutes, then drained them with a slotted spoon.

About half way through, we realized we had more filling than we had dough so we made another batch of dough (7 cups of flour, 5 eggs, 2 1/4 cups water, and 1/2 cup shortening) so we could finish the filling. We'd also made a bowl full of mashed potato and cheese filling. I should have known this would be enough to feed the Russian army and a few other armies besides.

When they're done boiling and have cooled a little, you fry them in a pan with butter. They remind me a little of potato krub...lots of carbs and butter. You'd think the Poles and the Norwegians would have had enough to do in the winter without all this kind of labor.

Regis figures we made about 175 pierogies. That should last us into 2012 unless we find a market for them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

It's either my eyes or my brain

I've been sitting here in the half-dark, waiting for chicken wings to marinate and the bread to rise. I poured a glass of wine and got into comfortable clothes. Then I looked at my cell phone so I could call someone. Why did the names have little packs of cigarettes or dog houses next to them? Oh...I finally get it. Cell phone or home phone. Life is so complex.

I hope I didn't make a grammatical error there with marinate. As much as I can figure out right now, marinade is the noun, what you slop over the wings, and marinate is the verb. I don't want any critical comments so if you have any, keep them to yourself ha ha. My son, Peter, has gotten very formal in his speech and his speech preferences. He says bad grammar bothers him. Some of it bothers me, other stuff I don't give a shit about. I read an article once about all the mistakes people make in their oral and written speech, even very educated people, because mostly we use what we grew up with (sorry to end a sentence with a preposition).

I remember one of my linguistics professors saying that it doesn't pay to get too hung up on language things because it changes so fast. Then he would bend over and laugh hysterically. He was a very tall man and he had lived in China for a time so he had Chinese mannerisms such as bending over and covering his mouth to laugh. I've noticed (rapid and ragged segue) that quotation marks are going the way of the wagon wheel. Boy, you can't find many people that want to talk about this kind of thing. Good thing I didn't go to the bar after work tonight if I was going to talk about grammar.

The cooking plan for the weekend is chicken wings and bread tonight. Tomorrow we start the pierogies. At least we make the filling for the pierogies tomorrow. Alice made a meat and cabbage filling and we're going to try a traditional cheese and potato filling. The little pasta machine came yesterday and that will be great fun.

So, on to the weekend.

Friday finally


It's three degrees this morning. Bill Watterson may have summed it up best. “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.” Paul Douglas says for the last couple weeks, Minnesota has resembled a well-manicured Siberian gulag. These guys look about as happy as most people I've run into lately.

Yesterday, I had an appointment across town. About the time I was walking out the door, the guy called and said, "Yeah, I had something come up and I can't make it." I thought, "Sure, dude. You just don't want to walk across campus and get in a cold car when it's fifteen below." Not that I blame him.

I made Andouille sausage soup last night. I was worried because it was more of a gumbo process than a soup. The roux was very thick, the recipe called for about three cups of various onions, and then that spicy sausage. It gotr rave reviews, though. I threw in a handful of rice so it was a good hearty soup for a cold night.

Here's the recipe:

Andouille Sausage Soup

    1/2  cup olive oil
     1/2  cup flour
     2  cups julienned yellow onion
     2  cups julienned white onions
     2  cups julienned red onions
     8  pearl onions, -- peeled
     1  pound Andouille sausage, -- cut into 1-inch pieces
     2  tablespoons   minced shallots
     2  tablespoons   minced garlic
     1 leek, white part only, -- julienned
     3 bay leaves
     1  tablespoons   chopped fresh thyme
                      Salt and pepper
                      Pinch of cayenne pepper
    2 1/2  quarts chicken stock
      1  cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
     1/2  cup chopped green onions
      2  cups cubed French bread, fried in olive oil --
 until  golden brown
     1/4  cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
     1  tablespoon finely chopped parsley

In a large saucepan, combine the olive oil and flour.
Stirring constantly cook for about 10 minutes for a blond roux.
Stir in the onions and cook for about 10 minutes or until
the onions are golden.
Add the andouille, shallots, garlic, leeks, bay leaves, and thyme.
Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Stir in the broth and bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce
to a simmer. Simmer the soup for about 1 hour.
Skim the soup occasionally
to remove any fat that rises to the top.
Remove the bay leaves.
Stir in the grated cheese and green onions.
Ladle the soup in a shallow bowl.
Garnish the soup with the croutons, cheese, and parsley.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

16 below zero this morning

It doesn't help to warm a car up in this cold weather. No amount of time really helps. I suppose the engine warms up but nothing remotely warm ever comes out of the vents. I keep waiting for the call that school's closed but I don't think it's coming. All babies, old people, and small dogs should stay in the house where it's warm today! See, even the penguin has decided to stay in bed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Combat the cold with Finnegan's Irish Amber and pasta

It is too dang cold to be real. It's zero degrees...ZERO DEGREES...here now and now going down to 15 BELOW ZERO tonight. Good grief is all I can say. I came home from work, followed shortly by Regis, and we just quietly got in the car and drove to Patrick's for beer, companionship, and pasta. Two friends from school were in the next pew, I mean booth, so we bought a few rounds, ate some pasta and wandered home. Time to turn on the electric blanket and go to bed.

You can't describe accurately the effect on a person's mood of a day that starts with light at 7:30 and ends with dark at 4:30. I know, I know...it's better now than it was a month ago but 8 hours of daylight is ugly. Especially when you spend those daylight hours at work. It's enough to make a guy a little cranky. It must have made the early folks feel a little hopeless...when they hadn't experienced many winters...they must have thought it would never end, that it would always be cold and dark and summer would never come back. Now we know better, maybe just because of the calendars we buy at Barnes and Noble for 75% off because we're too cheap to buy them in December at full price.

I wore my boots at work all day today. Light blue leather plush lined boots with wool socks underneath. What the hell. They looked just fine under my velvet pants. One of our Spanish speaking students pointed and said, "Cool pretty boots!" Yes, and warm, too, I said. Garrison Keillor says we don't worry about fashion in the winter, we just worry about survival and I think it's true. I've given up foot fashion and the next step is hair fashion. Bring on the fur lined Elmer Fudd hat.

Of course, there is always Patrick's, Irish Amber, and pasta. That's survival.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Work whacked at 4 p.m.

It's been a very long day and I feel a lot like this duck must feel. Padded room and straight jacket time, folks. It doesn't help that I don't sleep and it's so dang cold. I told Regis yesterday that I thought I was getting used to it because it didn't even really feel cold anymore at 12 below. Wait a minute. Today felt bitter, wicked cold. My feet were so cold that I stopped on my way to a meeting and bought a pair of fluffy white slippers with rhinestones that I can wear under my desk. A very professional look, don't you think?

When I'm awake in the middle of the night, I find new blogs to read. I started out looking for goat blogs which are few and far between. I have discovered quite a few cooking blogs. These are my favorites of the ones who write frequently. It does make you wonder what happens to the people who just quit. Did the computer crash? Did they move? Forget? Find another hobby?
The author of Tastes Like Home is a woman from Barbados and she uses a lot of interesting fruits and vegetables in her cooking. I love The Pioneer Woman. She has another blog where she writes about her life on a ranch with four kids. The story about how she met her husband is a hoot and almost made me late for work one day. They all have great photos of their food, recipes, and stories. Kitchen writing at its best!

Insomnia and snow plow whacked at 4 a.m.


Here's another bread recipe, similar to the first one, but the Dutch oven technique is different and worth a try. The recipe came from Mother Earth News and has you let the dough rise for a long time, then bake it covered.

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1⁄4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1⁄2 cups warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You may use white, whole wheat or a combination of the two.
1 1⁄2 tsp salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that’s OK. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.
  5. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
Yield: One 1 1⁄2-pound loaf.

Aside from bread, it's hard to be of good humor at this hour. Maybe if I could drink a cup of coffee and go back to bed but I have to drag my butt out into the below zero weather to go to work. Tom, our mailman friend now retired, says we haven't had a winter like this for a long time. He's very glad to not be carrying a ten-pound mailbag ten miles a day this winter.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday dinner

Here's the roast beef. I cooked it in the crock pot with some caramelized onion, red wine, and beef broth. It was delicious.

Here's the finished product. We had hearty white bread and mashed potatoes made with warm milk and butter and gravy made from the stuff in the crock pot. Hard to beat red wine, beef broth, and caramelized onions. I figured out that the secret to caramelized onions is a little sugar.

Here's a picture of the present Tom and Betty gave me...the little shot glasses with red spots and the tray. They got three of my favorite things in one present...red, shiny, and glassware. Lovely!

The roasted cauliflower was ok but not a hit with Regis. I think it need more cheese which I suppose defeats the purpose of a vegetable. I made roasted cauliflower another time that we liked better. I must have found the recipe in a cookbook because it isn't in my recipe file. Yeah, let me know if you're dying to have it. I expect my mailbox to be flooded.

On to the work week. Looks like the temperature will be in the single digits, slowly climbing to a high of ten by Friday. Bring on the bikinis.

Our next food adventure

Our next cooking adventure is something called pierogi. It's an Eastern European dumpling that Regis remembers his mother making. Many emails have been exchanged about how to make them: how thick the dough, how big the circles, how to grind the filling. There's a place in Pittsburgh called Pierogies Plus that makes them to sell by mail order. This is one of those little cultural things you learn about when you marry someone who's not from here. In the course of conversations, JB (sister of Regis) learned we were making beef commercials and asked what that was. It's like the UN of food here today.


Here's a picture of pierogi that came right off some Polish website. You have to roll the dough 1/16 of an inch thick so I finally broke down and bought a hand-roller for pasta dough. See the picture above. They make one that attaches to my Kitchen Aid mixer but I'm too cheap for that.

Apparently, Alice made her pierogis 6-7 inches across but JB says they stay together better during cooking if they are a little smaller. As with any family recipe, there are differing opinions about everything. It makes a big batch so we'll have some for Super Bowl Sunday. It's always more fun to make something interesting.

There's a pastry dough that you roll into circles then fill. You can make the filling with almost anything but Alice's recipe calls for ground chuck roast, cabbage, onions, and beef broth. You boil them and then fry them in butter. Sounds a little like krub only rolled. This is Alice's recipe:

Pierogi Filling

3 lb boneless chuck roast

1 small head of cabbage

1/2 lb of bacon

1 large onion chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Sweet rolls

I made sweet rolls with the bread dough and wasn't very happy with them. The dough wasn't sweet and soft like the dough you usually make rolls with that has eggs, milk, and sugar in it, but it was dressed up with lots of brown sugar and butter and pecans. I'll try the dough for bread this week and give the final verdict but so far it's a thumbs-down.

We're taking the last of the Christmas stuff to the basement today. Was that our plan last weekend? It didn't happen then, obviously. All that's left is the big tree, the Charlie Brown tree from the porch, and a box of miscellaneous stuff that got left when I packed up the other stuff.

I have a beef roast in the crock pot so there isn't much to do this afternoon. Some people would use this time productively but not me. I think it's a good excuse to be lazy.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bread the no-knead way

My first impression of this is not so good. You can do a search on google and find several different recipes for no-knead bread since it's all the rage. Here's one from the NY Times. The recipe I used called for 3 cups of water at 100 degrees, 1.5 T of yeast and 1.5 T of kosher salt, 6.5 cups of flour. Then, instead of kneading it, you mix it with a spoon. It says DO NOT KNEAD. What the heck. Have you ever tried to stir that much flour into that much water? It would be easier to knead it. It's rising now so we'll see how it goes. Updates along the way.

Saturday

Weather report for Miles: On our roof this morning, it's 12 below zero and the windchill is 26 below zero. Keep that Pategonia bunting on, kiddo. Better yet, stay inside.

Regis is sleeping in a little before he goes to a mandatory quarterly meeting. There will be 80 people there and ten of them will bring small kids. He said they run rampant, filling the pop machine money slots with paper and dumping ice from the machines onto the floor. It sounds like hell.


We bought our groceries for the week last night then went to Michael's and bought some supplies for our new bracelet hobby. Mom, could you send those buttons? We're anxious to get started but we're approaching this like we do most things...not a lot of planning. So far, we have a little of this and a little of that and we'll learn as we go along. Nothing wrong with that.

Our Sunday meal this week is beef commercials. Mashed potatoes, gravy, meat, and bread. It must be what cavemen ate in the winter. I have three soups on the menu this week, too: Andouille sausage soup, beer cheese soup, and German potato soup. I found a new recipe for roasted cauliflower (much, much better than boiled) that I'm going to try:

Balsamic and Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower
8 cups 1 inch thick slices cauliflower florets (about 1 large head)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss cauliflower, oil, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Roast on rimmed baking sheet until starting to soften and brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes (watch closely). Toss the cauliflower with vinegar and sprinkle with cheese. Return to the oven and roast until the cheese is melted and any moisture has evaporated, about 5-10 minutes more.

I'm going to make giant snickerdoodle cookies this morning and I want to try the bread recipe that was in the paper a couple weeks ago, the one that doesn't have to be kneaded and the dough can be left in the refrigerator. Oh yeah, and I might vacuum.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Uff da...it's wicked cold

The temperature started out at 12 degrees this morning then dropped like a rock. When I came home from school it was 1 degree and the wind chill is hovering right about 23 below. It's ugly.

I did a pile of dishes. I don't know who comes in and messes up my house when I'm gone. Kramer has parties or something. Dogs who eat a lot of snacks and use wine glasses come in here during the day.

We're going on Week #2 of my menu planning campaign. So far, so good. No real problems. I ended up with one extra meal that I can make for breakfast or save until next week. I have the menu and the grocery list for next week ready so I can buy those groceries tonight. I know, I know...too much. I did give up on my maintaining a clean house campaign. That's really beyond my capabilities. Our house isn't dirty...but it's not tidy either. A friend of mine said today that everything should have a place. I said all my stuff does have a place...out where I can see it. Hey, we're all different.

I have friends who attribute their house cleaning knowledge to growing up with every Saturday spent in routine chores. I never spent a Saturday sweeping cobwebs; my mom took us to the library. So I grew up loving to read and appreciating the beauty of a good cobweb. Nothing wrong with that.

On to the weekend.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gas hole mystery NOT solved

Oh, man. I can't believe I didn't check snopes before I fell for this one. Check it out at Snopes, the Urban Legend Reference page:
http://www.snopes.com/autos/techno/icon.asp


Happy birthday #30 to Young Regis who turns 30 years old today!

Dark chocolate has the same anti-oxidants as blueberries

This is not scientific, of course, so if you're using my blog as a source for your research paper, I would stop right here. I'm just saying that in my personal wellness plan, dark chocolate counts. This is the creative guide to the food pyramid. Anchovies at the top and chocolate, cheeseburgers, red wine, and pizza at the bottom. Hey, ketchup can be a vegetable. Ronald Reagan said so.

It was a long and weird day. I woke up at 2:30 with a nightmare about bad guys coming to a farm house where I was carrying a baby. I peeked through the mini-blinds to see them cocking guns like Chuck Connors in The Rifleman. I had to take the baby to the attic to hide and we rode up on a varnished wooden slide that was actually a cool invention. It was a disturbing dream and I couldn't go back to sleep. When Regis got up, he said he had a dream that we lived in Chagrin Falls, Wisconsin. If there isn't a town in Wisconsin by that name, there should be.

I went to my internship class tonight. I was the oldest person there by years. There were a couple young pups from Iowa where I think you can get a principal's license before you reach puberty. I'm sure they think in Minnesota you can get one with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Actually, one guy was very nice and thoughtful. The other two men (no offense meant to the gender) traded softball coaching stories. Doh.

I tried to talk Larry, the district tech guy, into joining me in a class action lawsuit today. We would be a class of two. I can't remember what the lawsuit was about but it was probably stupid and not lawsuit worthy. But he said we'd have to hire a lawyer and the lawyer would get all the money, the women, and the house in Maui and we'd end up with thirty seven dollars. I guess I'll just hold out hope for my oil wells as Larry didn't think my experience garnered from Law and Order would be very valuable in a real court of law.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Velvet has the same insulating properties as thermal underwear

It's so cold I can't bring myself to wear anything but velvet. It's so warm and soft and surely more socially acceptable than wearing a flannel nightgown and slippers to a meeting. People have such high expectations. It's twenty below, for God's sake. Who cares what you look like?

The truth is I was at a meeting before Christmas and everyone had kicked off their shoes at the door. There was a pair of shoes there that looked like the woman who wore them in must have had her feet bound. I'm sure I stood there agog and stared at those shoes with their pointy toes and itty-bitty spikey heels. My shoes weigh about five pounds each and look like something an immigrant would wear on the Oregon trail.

I made French onion soup for dinner with big chunks of floating baguette and broiled Swiss cheese. A perfect meal for a cold night. This is Day #3 of my written-down menu campaign. It does eliminate some decision making on the ride home, that's for sure, but Regis and I have different views on that. I like to sit for a while and decide I want oatmeal and toast or popcorn for dinner. He likes to know about noon what's for dinner and he doesn't like surprises. Ha! I should post that joke about the guy who married the woman from Minnesota. I'm not an advocate for violence, but...

I'm looking around my living room. It would be a nightmare for What Not to Wear and HGTV. I have two pieces of red furniture, the drapes are red velvet (more like cheap velour), I'm sitting under a red microfiber blanket, and I'm wearing a merlot velvet tunic. Is that too much red? Oh, and red wine. A red phone. Two red checked chairs. A red scarf. A red shawl draped over the red checked chair.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Arctic

It's colder than hell here today, Miles. I mean heck. I shouldn't cuss in front of a baby but when the wind chill is 20 below, it's warranted. I was going to a K-12 legislative finances hearing tonight but you get a buy (or is that a bye, sports fans?) when it's this cold. Who cares.

We watched A Mighty Heart last night. The reviews were good (Roger Ebert) but we weren't too fond of it. It was a powerful and tragic story but not such a great movie. Tonight we have Amazing Grace. I'm famous for picking clinkers and both of these were my picks.

Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century English politician who fought for the abolition of slavery. It sounds boring but it's very good. Two thumbs up.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday

I think I have my sleep mojo back. The last two nights I have slept hard...even had dreams and then trouble waking up to the alarm. That never happens. Usually my eyes pop open and I feel like I haven't been asleep at all. I took a nap today that was like being sedated. Let's hope it lasts.

Regis and I are back to our weekly cooking. Today we made soft pretzels (Martha Stewart's recipe) and white lasagna. The last one is a recipe the success of which remains to be seen. We left out the chicken and the dry white wine and anytime I make adjustments, I get confused. Regis said he'd take pictures so those will be posted later.

I'm going to try having a menu for the week and the groceries purchasing done on Sunday. We'll see how that goes since it seems to be in contrast to my random personality. One thing I enjoy is keeping binders of recipes and notes about what went well and what didn't. I think I can do it like that and it won't feel like a chore. Again, we'll see.

Reggie turns 30 this week on Thursday so we celebrated last night at their apartment. Amber made a delicious meal, her parents were there along with Bob and Emily and Ella, and Glen. We had a good time. Let's see...I'm married to a guy with a son who is 30 years old. That makes Regis an oooold guy. How did this happen? Where did my youth go? And who's that old lady in the mirror?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Books

The Summer He Didn't Die
Jim Harrison

Pretty Birds
Scott Simon

Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life
Abigail Thomas

The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems
Billy Collins

Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U. S. Government
P. J. O'Rourke, Andrew Ferguson

Tracks
Louise Erdrich

The Grace of Grass and Water: Writing in Honor of Paul Gruchow
Thomas Dean (Editor), Carol Bly, Mark Vinz, Paul Gruchow, Bob Artley

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances
Laura Schenone


Regis bought me a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble again this year. I don't know of a present I enjoy more. I usually spend an afternoon after Christmas looking at the lists of award winners, new books by favorite authors, picks by staff at favorite bookstores, and online reviews. I have a list of about twenty books at the end and then I go to the store and spend an hour picking out what I want.

This year I got them online because I got irritated at the new Barnes and Noble store. I won't go into the reasons (see cranky post below). The list is above and I think it's one of my better years. I got some fiction, some non-fiction, some memoir, and a book of poems although I made a mistake and bought the paperback instead of the hard cover. That's my feeble attempt at supporting poetry and poets...buying one hard cover book a year.

Our neighbors Mike and Erin had a baby on New Year's Eve Day. They named her Katherine Nova, as in supernova. Cool name. Not like saddling a baby with a bizarre first name like Sandlot but a cool middle name.

My friend Jan Bjorling died last Friday night. I'm pretending that she hasn't passed, but is just busy somewhere else. I guess that's true in a way...anyway it's a nice way to think about her. She's reading at the library or looking for new stuff for the garden or tossing milkweed fluff off the deck into the wind or drinking tea at the River Rock...or Manhattans at Whiskey River. Any of those things. But not gone.

Regis is going out to blow the one inch of mucky snow we had today. It was pretty coming down but it didn't amount to much but a nuisance snow. He likes to blow snow especially in the dark. Our snow blower has a halogen headlight so it's a manly sort of task. Grab that thing by the horns and off you go.

Here I go...new books and a glass of wine and some of that Dark Chocolate with Intense Orange.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

So you don't think I'm cranky all the time: things that soothe me

1. My dog curled up on the couch. How a twenty-pound dog can curl into such a tight circle that you can hardly tell where he starts and ends is amazing. He's always happy to see me and even if I just took the garbage down to the curb, he acts like I've been gone for months.
2. The smell of garlic and onions on my hands. I've resisted the urge to buy an electric food chopper. Can't remember the name right now. I know it would be a time saver but there's something about the smell of onions, garlic, and all those other things that take time to mince and chop that I love.
3. Candles. We had our furnace ducts cleaned about ten years ago and the guy wrote on the receipt, "Burns candles"! Holy shit. Like we committed a mortal sin. I love the flicker and the smell and the gentle light.
4. Red wine and chocolate. I just discovered the Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with Intense Orange with slivers of almonds. Oh my. With a small glass of red wine, it's heaven.
5. A good story. I reread Kent Haruf's books over Christmas vacation. I want to email Robert Redford and tell him that The Tie that Binds would make a great movie. It would. I cry every time I read it. Same with Giants in the Earth.
6. The smell of dirt. This is not something I experience in January but in May...it's heaven to get your hands right in there and scoop it up and breathe deeply. Tiny little bugs and spores and bits of earth go right up your nose and become part of you and who knows where they started out...maybe Russia. It connects you to everything that ever was and is and ever will be.

And that's enough for tonight.

Wednesday night and things that irritate me

1. Going to Patrick's for dinner and sitting back by the tree. A teacher couple that I know brought their two kids along with them for dinner and allowed them to rampage around the table in the back by the windows. Rampage, I tell you. Loud stomping and crashing into each other. We tried moving to a different table in the lounge area but they still annoyed us so we had to move to the other room. Good grief.
2. Regis eating these monster sourdough pretzels that sound like he's eating gravel with metal teeth. It can't be good for his enamel and it certainly isn't good for my nerve endings.
3. People at workshops who talk in loud voices while the speaker is talking. These people should get forty years of detention in hell.
4. People who are not dumb genetically but are dumb after being educated. There is no excuse.
5. Waking up in the middle of the night with that guy inside who drives the tricycle in tight circles on the threadbare green carpet. The closet of anxieties. Things that are not a big deal in the daylight loom large in the night.
6. Bad food like frozen pretend meatballs, Doritoes, bag cookies (except for Pepperidge Farms Milanos). I'm talking about fake Valentine cookies from WalMart and that meat that comes in bags that isn't really meat but meat product.
7. B.S. I just don't know how people can dish this out all day or sit and listen to it being dished out and keep a straight face without rolling their eyes. Maybe if they pay you a lot of money in the beginning and you think it won't be so bad if you do it for a little while but pretty soon it's years you've been dishing it out and you start to think it's true and real.

That's enough for today.

Insomnia: Awake at 1 a.m.

Insomnia
by Billy Collins

Even though the house is deeply silent

and the room, with no moon,

is perfectly dark,

even though the body is a sack of exhaustion

inert on the bed,


someone inside me will not

get off his tricycle,

will not stop tracing the same tight circle

on the same green threadbare carpet.


It makes no difference whether I lie

staring at the ceiling

or pace the living room floor,

he keeps on making his furious rounds,

little pedaler in his frenzy,

my own worst enemy, my oldest friend.


What is there to do but close my eyes

and watch him circling the night,

schoolboy in an ill-fitting jacket,

leaning forward, his cap on backwards,

wringing the handlebars,

maintaining a certain speed?


Does anything exist at this hour

in this nest of dark rooms

but the spectacle of him

and the hope that before dawn

I can lift out some curious detail

that will carry me off to sleep-

the watch that encircles his pale wrist,

the expandable band,

the tiny hands that keep pointing this way and that.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More on the pants


So Regis got a response from the green pants guy. He said he has a box of 96 Crayola crayons and when he wants to describe the color of something, he picks the color that's closest and that's the word he uses. And that's the color of Regis' pants right there in the second row. That must be green.

He paid fifteen dollars for them and is inclined to send them back but I think they will make great gag pants. Imagine stepping in the door at Reggie's apartment Saturday for the family birthday dinner in those green pants. Priceless. Or standing in front of Patrick's as the parade goes by on St. Patty's Day. Those are some great green pants.

My work day was frustrating and discouraging and made me wish they would strike oil in Stanley and I would become an oil baroness. Most of the time work is a drag and I only go there for the social interaction and the coffee. Well, that last part is a lie because the coffee is pretty bad. When we talk at work about becoming instantly rich, some people say they would continue to work. I would for about five minutes or just long enough to call the emergency telephone tree to gloat. This right here could be my oil well and my ticket to a life of leisure.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Leprechaun pants

Regis buys most of his wardrobe on eBay. They sell new clothes, too, so he doesn't buy used underwear. Today he got a nice pair of Orvis pants that had been 72 dollars. A very nice fabric, nice cut, and only fifteen dollars...but they are leprechaun green. I hooted and said he could wear them to the St. Patrick's Day parade or when he wanted to be camouflaged while mowing the grass. He sent the guy an email: Hey, dude. What's your return policy? I need sunglasses to look at these pants.

I walked out of South Elementary this morning, right after a little bit of rainy weather passed through. The sidewalk was icy so I was taking it easy but I did a slooooowwwww motion swan dive to my left knee. Kind of like they do in the Tour of Figure Skating Champions as they wrap up the free-style. One leg behind, one knee, arms raised. I'm sure it was lovely. If there were judges I would have scored a 10.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

My reward

From www.etsy.com and here's the description:
I was thinking of St. Patrick’s Day when I put these vintage and new components together to make this theatrically evocative charm bracelet: old mother of pearl, glass, bone and metal buttons, a green enamel heart (once a post earring), ornamented with rhinestones, stunning green vintage glass sew-on jewels, green glass shamrock beads, an assortment of Czech glass beads and a great stylized Victorian novelty button. The charms are crammed onto two rows of sturdy brass chain; the hardware is a mix of black-toned, copper, old brass and new gold finishes and the bracelet closes with a lobster clasp. Please note that some of the items are vintage and are re-purposed from their original existences; they show a little wear but you’d have to look hard to see it.
Looks like a great place to shop!

Taking a break

I'm taking a short break from my manic workaholism (don't worry...it's short-lived) to read some blogs. Man, some of you people need to get back to the keyboard. I moved a few of you to the end of the blog list, right below the blog called Buster and Pinky: Superdogs of the Internet. That's Pinky, a French bulldog, to the left.

I also read This Goat's Life regularly. In fact, the other night I scanned through a slideshow and I knew the name of almost every goat pictured. (That blog is updated frequently and it keeps my interest hint hint.) Of course, the '08 kids will start showing up soon so the farmer won't have time to write. The farmer is a good writer and tells some great stories about the goats' adventures. I've learned a lot about goat farming, too, which you never know may come in handy one day.

I also like the blog called The Lope. It's named after an antelope figure that appears in a lot of the pictures. The person who writes it has a penchant for antique decorations and neon so it's fun to look at the pictures. They've been all over taking pictures of Christmas displays and some of them are pretty funky. It's worth a look.

This one is called Roadside Architecture. I don't know if the author works, but in any case she spends a lot of time on the road taking pictures of interesting architecture and neon signs. It's like traveling without leaving home. Kind of like when Regis had that dream that we would dress up in the costumes of different countries and then visit their websites. Lederhosen and www.germany.com. Ha!



Cure for the blues

Larry suggested that I streak around the block in the nude today, soaking up the rays, if I continued to struggle with the malaise. Thank God the sun isn't shining so I don't have to try. Ed Lee covers athletic events for the Herald, but this would not be one. I'm not even sure streak would be the correct verb.

I got up early and commenced cleaning and organizing. I did a load of dishes, Regis started the laundry (it helps my mood to see him busy), and finished the Christmas de-construction. I do feel better.

Now I'm going to tackle the paper mess. It's amazing how fast that stuff piles up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The general malaise

I woke up at 4 this morning, made some coffee and sat in a chair in the living room until 8. That's a lot of time to squander. We went to Mankato for a while, I took a nap, but haven't done one constructive thing all day. Does this sound like a replay of my Christmas vacation? Right now, we're waiting for a pizza to be delivered while we watch Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park. I've had that awful song Delta Dawn going through my head all day and had to do something to wipe the slate clean. Really, tomorrow I'll do something.

At seven o'clock this morning, it was still black as night outside. At five o'clock this afternoon, it was dark as night again. This is not good for a person's mood. You can fight it with candles and Christmas tree lights and wine, but these are long and cold winter nights. Tiffany is leaving for Minneapolis after work tonight and I'm going to miss her. This could account for some of my dark mood, too, I guess.

If we win the lottery tonight, or if I become an oil baroness with the mineral rights to the land in Stanley, I'm going to remodel our house. My idea is to tear out the wall between the kitchen and the living room. I think it's called a great room although that might be a pretentious name for something in an 800 square foot rambler. Regis just wants a fireplace; one of those Ben Franklin stoves.

The pizza is here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Poet Laureate

I've been waiting for news of the Minnesota Poet Laureate since Mom and I nominated Bob Bengtson. When I did a search for news this morning, I found the original bill introduced in the legislature last January, written in poem form.

H.F. No. 224, as introduced - 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008) Posted on Jan 18, 2007
1.1 A bill for an act
1.2 relating to the state; appointing a poet laureate; appropriating gift or grant money
1.3received; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 138.
1.4 BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

1.5 Section 1. [138.99] POET LAUREATE.
1.6 Subdivision 1. Appointment.
1.7
The Gov' shall appoint a state poet laureate,
1.8
Who shall serve for a four-year term.
1.9
Because this appointment will always be great,
1.10
There's no need for the Senate to confirm.
1.11
In appointing a poet for the public good,
1.12
And to ensure there's no unjust omission,
1.13
The governor shall consider, if he would
1.14
Thoughts of the Humanities Commission.
1.15 Subd. 2. Removal.
1.16
The poet will be free to write rhyming lines,
1.17
With removal only for cause,
1.18
But we trust that the bard will promptly resign,
1.19
If the verse reads as badly as laws.
1.20 Subd. 3. Compensation.
1.21
'Twould be fair to provide some just recompense
1.22
As reward for the poet's tribulations,
1.23
But because at this time we haven't the cents
1.24
We're afraid there is no compensation.
1.25
But we ask as the poet travels the state,
1.26
And the people their ears they lend,
2.1
That our learned Commission take the position
2.2
To provide the poor poet a stipend.
2.3 Subd. 4. Gifts and grants.
2.4
To provide the support that needs to come
2.5
To support our new laureate,
2.6
Gifts and grants received of a generous sum,
2.7
We hereby appropriate.

Ella's 2nd Birthday

We celebrated Ella's 2nd birthday with her on New Year's Day. She seemed to have a good grasp of what that meant...presents, candles, and the birthday song. She loved her doll stroller and had Baby Powder strapped in it right away so they could motor around the house. She calls everybody sweetie now. Thanks, Sweetie. Bye-bye, Sweetie.

I went back to work Wednesday which made for a short week. It wasn't traumatic, in fact, probably good to get some structure back in my life and I've gotten more done since I went back to work. I miss the naps, though.

One of Ella's presents was a book called The Napping House. The review says: The misty blue artwork that chronicles the "dreaming child," "snoring granny" and a number of additional snoozers seems to bleed off the pages, until that "wakeful flea" disrupts the sleepers and the sunny colors signal the end of naptime. A perfect book for Ella and Nana.
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What I’m thankful for as 2008 rolls around

  1. iTunes, Barnes and Noble online, and Netflix. I used to spend a lot of time looking for books, music and movies with no idea what I wanted. I made a lot of mistakes. Now with modern technology, my tastes can be compared to others and recommendations made for me based on our similarities. I may never have to watch a movie like Joe Versus the Volcano again, read a book like Echoes by Danielle Steele or buy a CD that ends up being a coaster. I’m not saying it’s never going to happen, just that the risk is minimized. And I won't have to wear that button that says DO NOT RENT VIDEOS TO THIS WOMAN to the video store again.
  2. The realization that I’m not going to have a clean and organized house. It’s really taken a burden off to know this and to say it out loud. Kathy’s tried to help and we did make some progress but the stress is overwhelming. Regis and I are not good at getting all like things in one place. Say socks, for example. It’s really not a bad thing to be disorganized and I think we’ll live a rich and happy life in our slovenly ways.
  3. The Minnesota Board of Teaching. I forget about my anger over the inequity of the secondary principal job market and stop ranting about it toward the end of every year, then I get the letter from the BOT reminding me that I haven’t paid the 75 dollar licensing fee (authorized by the MN legislature and in addition to the regular license fee) since I hold a principal’s license BUT NOT A JOB. I read the letter and it starts the fire all over again: 70% of high school teachers are women, more than 50% of students in ed leadership programs are women, and yet only 10% of secondary principals are women. Some dude at the school board association tells me that by law, school boards are required to hire the most qualified candidate and therefore it must be true. No need to say more.
  4. Technology. I love podcasts, my blog, digital photos, Picassa, and the Google/Picassa website. Think of what the internet will do for human intelligence. Ten years ago, if you had an idea, you could tell a few friends or write an article for a newspaper but very few people had much of an audience. Now I can send pictures or rants clear across the country in a matter of seconds. Even goofballs can have a national audience.
  5. Babies. Just when you think you’re too cynical to live, someone you know has a baby and adults who used to be reasonable sit around for hours and stare at it and think that everything it does is fascinating. We’re in the grandbaby age now and not only are these grandbabies, ours and those of our friends, the smartest and the cutest but we don’t have to be awake all night when they’re teething. All the joy and none of the responsibility.
  6. Sleep. I listen to people who talk with a sense of shame about sleeping in until ten, or better yet noon. If I sleep until 5 o’clock, I’m grateful. Most nights I wake up at 3 and have trouble going back to sleep. I’ve always been a champion napper, but now I get my best sleep during the day. Not at work, of course.
  7. Brain development. I read an article in Newsweek about how the human brain develops slower than what was previously assumed to be true. Right about that time, my son who had given me fits through his teen years, expressed a desire to go to school, moved in with his grandma, got a job where he is admired and respected, and became helpful and social. Yes! If that ain’t proof…

I might come back occasionally and add to my list but that’s enough for now. Of course, I’m also thankful for the usual things: my kids and grandbaby, my husband, friends, my dog, a warm place to live, enough to eat, enough to drink, and pants with elastic waists.