Sunday, December 30, 2007

Staker/Bice Family Christmas!

I got to be Aunt Erin this weekend. Hooray! Brooke hardly remembered me at first, and Courtney didn’t remember me at all. Slowly but surely, I won them over…mostly by reading stories and through shameless use of pets. Taking them to see Scooter, Hooligan or Mac was an express ticket into their good graces. Brooke gets a little nervous around Mac because he’s big and a bit hyper, but Courtney doesn’t mind at all. Courtney is also more enamored with Hooligan.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with the cat. He’s not very social, but he put up with the toddlers admirably. At first Court would meow at him loudly, which would make him flinch. I encouraged her to be softer, and pretty soon when Courtney wanted to see the cat, she would come up to me saying, “Shhhh… Shhh.” Heh. (P.S. Someday, she will be so mad at me for taking the photo at left.)

I was excited to see everyone. Unkie and Helen came, as did their daughters Carla and Karen, her husband Lynn and their kids, Connor and Hannah. I got them sketch pads and oil pastels for Christmas. I like getting them artistic presents. Hannah made me a drawing and they got me a poetry book I really wanted. Unkie and Helen gave me a comfy travel neck pillow, and I gave them the same ornament I made for all my grandparents. I didn’t have money to spend this year, so I hope they liked their crafty, homemade gifts.

Great Uncle Bud and Lorene also came, as did their son Wayne, his wife Alysha, and their kids Alyssa and Alex. All the kids went downstairs to color with the oil pastels. Brooke felt very grown up because I let her use my oil pastels, even though they’re breakable and for grown-ups. She informed her little sister, “You can’t use these crayons until you’re a grown-up. You can’t use them until you’re three.”

Uncle Jay and Aunt Dea were also there. So were my cousin Jenny; her husband, Sam; and their baby, Jack, and my cousin Megan, her husband Josh and their sons, Logan and Landon. It was a full house, but everyone had so much fun. We all talked and laughed. The kids played with Mom and Dad’s musical Christmas decorations. We also chowed down on Mom’s famous soup. This year she made chicken noodle, chili and vegetable beef. She’s such an amazing cook!

After the extended family left, we opened presents with the Staker grandparents and Staker cousins. Our grandparents had us save some small boxes for last. They often do this, because the cousins and I often get matching presents. Well, this year as we opened the boxes, we gasped, and Megan exclaimed, “My jellybean ring!” As children, Grandma let us pick the rings we would like to inherit someday. Megan loved the opal, which she thought looked like a jelly bean. Jenny liked a ring that was chocked-full of diamonds and I liked one with eight tiny rubies arranged into flowers which Grandpa gave Grandma for their 40th anniversary.

I had accidentally received the diamond ring, and as such had gasped when I opened it, but Jenny and I instantly realized the mistake and without a word traded boxes, causing the family to laugh. “I couldn’t quite remember whose was whose,” Grandma said. She and Grandpa had decided they wanted to give us the rings while they’re around to see the looks on our faces. It was quite moving, but now I’m terrified. I lost a beloved ring in college (I think it was stolen when I was on stage), and more jewelry in the tornado. Well, I’m going to keep this very special piece safe, I can tell you that much.

Then when the cousins left, we had another session of opening presents with just Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, J.B., Erika, the girls and me. I had gotten Dad a Yankees mug and a subscription to Hawkeye Nation Magazine. For J.B., I got a subscription to Runner’s World Magazine and a book on running. I got Erika a subscription to Taste of Home magazine and some scrapbooking stuff. Mom had asked for amber jewelry with an insect inside. I went from store to store and couldn’t find it. In the end, I turned to the good old internet. I found her a piece of amber guaranteed to have an insect in it and a pretty amber necklace. I couldn’t find both qualities in one piece, so I got her both. I think she really liked them.

I got so many lovely gifts, including pictures of my nieces, a beautiful bracelet (J.B. and Erika are great at picking out ones that match my style), nostalgic videos (Hello, “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.” Long time no see! Oh, how you rule) and amazing books.

It was so much fun to see the girls with their presents. Brooke flipped for some things Mom and Dad got her, especially a Belle doll, complete with a pony which Brooke offered to share with her sister. It is indeed a lucky thing that a pony was included, because Courtney started trying to get at the present. Brooke got nervous that Courtney wanted the doll, but in the end the pony was what Courtney wanted, so the tantrum was averted. Heh.

Soon all the presents were opened and I needed to tear myself away to pack. My nieces wanted to come with, so I let them, but they got bored. They would take me by the hand and pull me away to find the cat or the dogs or read them a story. Courtney wanted me to carry her everywhere. I was torn, because I needed to pack, but I wanted to spend time with the girls. Sometimes I get jealous of their aunt April because she gets to spend so much time with them, so they’ll probably grow up closer to her. Then I remind myself that it’s not a contest. It is about giving support and love freely.

This morning was a bit stressful. We had a yummy breakfast together, but then I was running to finish packing, say all my goodbyes and get my stuff in the car in time to meet with my college pals. We were running late, so the goodbyes were rushed. Dad put some money in my hands as he left me at Jenny’s apartment. Jenny, Jessy, Kelly and I exchanged gifts and jokes while watching The Royal Tennenbaums. I think they liked their boxes. Jessy actually made a sweater for my iPod! Then Jenny took me to the airport, and it was off to NYC. Now I’m in Milwaukee, waiting for my next flight. Tomorrow night, we’ll ring in the New Year. The last one was a year of stress, love, loss and change. I wonder what the new year will bring.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kiley Christmas

Last weekend was the Kiley Christmas. Mom was a bit worried leading up to the event, because the forecasters were threatening bad weather, and so few people had RSVP’d. Mom has the worst time getting the family to RSVP, so there’s always a dilemma in the grocery store. Should she buy for the people who say they’re coming and run out of food if more show up, or should she buy for the people who might come and perhaps have tons of leftovers if they don’t? She’s tried it both ways, but usually errs on the side of leftovers. This time was no exception, and the food was delicious.

Grandma Carol and Grandpa Kenny couldn’t make it due to both weather and health trouble, and Grandma Norrie had a Christmas gather with her daughters to attend. However, Grandpa Russ, Uncle Bill and his (adult) kids Faith, Kaylene and Geno came. Faith and Kaylene brought their cute kids. Uncle Tom also came with his wife. His son Brandon came with his girlfriend and baby.

I had fun playing with the younger girls, but the tweens were glued to their video games for most of the afternoon. When I was playing Jenga with the younger girls, the older kids were slowly drawn downstairs and we played a game of Scrabble. Before we knew it, it was time to open presents (Norie and Russ gave me a pretty blue throw and a glass candle jar. Carol and Kenny gave me a generous check) and then it was time for everyone to head home. Miss Sarah began lobbying for me to come home with her. She’s such a sweet girl. At the beginning of the day, she didn’t remember me, but by the end she informed me, “I couldn’t love you more than I do right now.”

It was great to get to see Dad’s family. I hadn’t seen many of them in years. Too bad the batteries in my camera were dead. I didn’t get any photos. In fact, I thought my camera was broken. It seems to drain batteries SO fast! Oh, well. The pictures I do get are so pretty.

Tomorrow is Staker family Christmas. Then Sunday morning I meet with my college friends and that afternoon I fly back to New York. This trip home has gone so quickly! I’ve done a bit more playing in the snow, more photography (see pretty sunrise above), and more painting. I’ve been drizzling paint into clear glass balls to create marbleized ornaments for my grandparents and Unkie and Helen. I finished painting boxes. By the end, they were getting fancier and fancier!

One night I cooked my best dish for mom: Garlic Chicken with Peppers in a White Wine Sauce. I usually buy boneless thighs, but this time I didn’t see it at the store, so I had to get legs still connected to the thighs with the skin and bones still in tact. It took me twice as long as usual to make the recipe, but it turned out well. Mom and Dad seemed to like it, and I really enjoyed cooking for Mom for once. We all ate and fell asleep in our chairs! Apparently, my food is delicious and sleep-inducing. I wasn’t sure Dad liked it, because he’s not big on the praise, but another night when I was eating some of the leftovers, he kind of gasped. “You didn’t finish that off, did you?” No, I did not, but Dad proceeded to do so in short order.

This week I’ve gotten to spend more time with my parents and Grandpa Keith and Grandma Carmie. I miss them so much. It’s hard, because I can’t afford to visit them often in Arizona. Tomorrow will be the first time this trip that I’ve seen my brother, J.B.; my sister-in-law, Erika; and my nieces, Brooke and Courtney. I wish I got to spend more time with them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Gifts

I love Christmas morning. As a child, my brother and I would be so eager that we would scamper down to wake our parents long before dawn. Our parents eventually set rules: we could not wake them before a given hour. When J.B. became a teenager, it was soon my parents and I waiting for him to wake up.

My dad has a favorite Christmas…decoration? It’s called Santa’s Marching Bell Band. Elves are dressed in Marching Band uniforms. The elves and Santa have turn left and right to strike little bells and play Christmas songs, loudly. In the old house, the Bell Band was relegated to the porch because it was so loud.

Anyway, one year Dad thought it would be funny to wake J.B. using the Bell Band. Hee. Dad has a thing for practical jokes like that. Anyway, he plugged it in, then climbed the stairs and flipped the switch. “DUM-DUH-DAH-DUM, DUM-DUH-DAAHH-DUM!” The door to J.B.’s room opened and he didn’t come out singing “Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-laaaa!” Instead, he trudged by us, grumbling, “If I’d have had a baseball bat…” Heh.

This year it was just Mom and Dad and I. We emptied our stockings and opened our presents. Mom shocked Dad by giving her something she’d really wanted: a telescope! I look forward to using it next time I’m home. We chilled most of the day, watching holiday specials and The Dog Whisperer. Cesar Milan is so awesome.

Then we went to meet Grandma and Grandpa Staker at the airport. They weren’t in the greatest mood, as travel is stressful for them these days. Grandpa needs oxygen. This time instead of a tank, he now has a concentrator which pulls oxygen for him from the air. Nonetheless, hauling the concentrator around wasn’t fun and Grandpa needed a wheelchair.

When they told me this was probably their last Christmas in Iowa, I wanted to cry, but I reminded myself to count my blessings. They’re here now. We love each other. That’s what matters. Those are the gifts. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Finding joy. Spreading love.

It is cold and icy in Iowa. On the news, between political commercials, the weather forecasters warn us not to drive, so for the most part I don’t. When I first got here, I got my hair trimmed and did some shopping, buying a dress for New Year’s Eve, presents and craft materials to make presents. Now I stay off the road.

I decided to make trinket boxes for my friends. I was going to use oil pastels on paper boxes, but found little wooden boxes with hinges for the same price. I tried to oil pastel the boxes for a rustic look, but Mom suggested a switch to acrylics. She was right! I picked color combinations and designs to match each friend’s personality. So far I’ve finished a red and black box for Madrid, a blue and purple box for Riza, a black and green box for Jenny and a blue and white box for Kelly. It's been so long since I painted. It's fun, but for some reason, my face gets tense when I do it.

To relax, I spend time reading, watch a little TV (especially holiday movies and specials) while petting Hooligan, jump 45 minutes a day on Mom’s trampoline and occasionally play in the snow with Scooter and Mac. The sunsets are gorgeous and make me thankful to be in Iowa, to have my camera and just to be alive.

Today I’ve been wrapping presents with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (starring the Rockettes) on in the background. The plan was for us to go to a party at Alice’s house tonight, followed by the Christmas Eve service. There was just one catch. Dad had to work today.

Last night, he said, “But I should be off sooner that yesterday, because there shouldn’t be many packages.”

“There shouldn’t?” Mom asked.

“Well,” Dad said, “surely people should have all the packages they’re expecting by now.”

“Actually,” Mom replied, “I’m still expecting some things.”

“Me, too,” I added, “So if you can gauge by us, you’re in trouble.” And he was. By the time he got done choring, it was too late. (Oh, cityfolk, choring means doing farm chores like feeding and watering livestock.) We had a quiet dinner at home. Then it was time for church.

I’ve always loved the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my church. It was always so warm and peaceful and beautiful. The pastor would briefly tell the Christmas story. He would remind us of the joy of Christ’s birth. Mostly we would sing, carol after carol. At the end, we would light our candles and sing “Silent Night,” followed by “Joy to the World.” Then I would go home to bed.

This year was not like that. The new pastor is a nice guy, and quite smart. I like his approach to religion, but I do not like his preaching. His voice is nasal and LOUD. He used to be a theater person, and I think he forgets that he’s wearing a microphone. It was so painful that I kept flinching! I finally ended up fashioning earplugs out of tissue, which I hid with my hair. (I didn’t want to look rude.)

The earplugs did help, but the man proceeded to do a complete church service. It was a really long one that lasted past 10 p.m. even though there were lots of little kids there and no one working the nursery. Oh, well. At least the singing was good.

I came home and watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, which is my favorite version of Dickens’ story. Michael Cane’s performance is amazing, and the songs are really beautiful, especially “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” and “It Feels Like Christmas.” Suddenly, it did feel like Christmas.

It's funny how that works. Christmas starts as a religious moment and extends to a spirit that revives faith and family. It spreads, person to person, by rituals and lights and songs. It spreads. Keep spreading the joy, faith and love.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Weekend in NYC

Saturday, I was getting ready to go up until the moment the cab arrived. When I hopped in the cab, it was nearly 70 degrees out. The flight to NYC went smoothly, but traveling from JFK airport to Laura and Ryan’s apartment in Queens took forever. Lugging a large suitcase in and out of trains and up and down flights of stairs? It’s no fun, but on the plus side, at least it gave me bruises. We dropped off my stuff, and Laura and I went for Thai food. I’m a sucker for peanut sauce.

That night, we met up with the girls for drinks. Chatting with them was fun, and we nibbled a little of my homemade fudge. We also took part in a light-beer taste test. We didn’t choose the “right” beer, so we didn’t get any swag. Oh, well.

After that, we went dancing at Branch, which is our new favorite dance club. There’s a rope out front, but the place isn’t snobby. It does have a bathroom attendant, however. I hate that. I feel like I have to tip her for handing me a paper towel even though I don’t need her to hand me a paper towel. Heh. Anyway, we had fun dancing late into the night.

Sunday, I went for brunch with Ryan and Laura. Then Laura and I went shopping. The weather was crappy, but we still had fun.

First we went to Columbus Circle to shop at the holiday market there. That’s where I got some great truffles, Madrid’s Christmas present and my scarf last year. Laura found some pretty jewelry, I got truffles again and we bought cider and a gingerbread girl.

We went into the Time Warner Center to find a warm, dry place to eat. While there, we ran into the elusive Lex! It was at Lex’s birthday party last year that I met Tom. The last time I saw her was at his birthday party last October. We had lost track of each other when her cell phone was destroyed. She didn’t have my number anymore, and I never got her new number. She gave me her new number, although I still don’t think she gave me the right one. Maybe she’s trying to give me the slip. Heh.

The shopping center has cool decorative spire-thingies that hang from the ceiling and change color in time to holiday music. Eventually Laura and I found a cozy spot and sipped our delicious cookie and sipped our cider.

Then we went to the Bryant Park holiday Market, which was a bit schmancier, with plexiglass booths instead of tents. There was a lovely tree, and Laura humored me as I snapped a picture of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. I've always loved them. I don't know why I never took their picture before. As an added bonus, right now they're bedecked with festive holiday wreaths!

Then we were off to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. This year the tree was sort of greener and bluer because they used LED lights which last thousands of hours longer and use a ton less energy. It was sweet of Laura to go with me, because she hates big crowds of tourists. We snapped a few photos before heading back to Queens where Laura made a delicious supper.

The next day, I was up by 5:45 to get around and out of the bathroom before Laura and Ryan needed it to get ready for work. Then we all set for the subway and they were off to the Bronx to teach, while I was off to Newark Airport.

From there I flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The runway was covered with snow (see photo at left), so I was sure I’d never make it to Iowa any time soon. I was wrong! I was delayed a little, but before I knew it, I was home sweet home with my family in Iowa. Yay!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Finishing Finals!

It is, of course, December 14. I am in no way lying about the date because it is actually January 10 and I haven’t updated my blog in a month. Nope. It’s December 16th alright. I’m exhausted. Saturday was my students’ final exam when they had to turn in their portfolio. I spent the weekend grading my students and preparing for my finals. Monday was my teaching final. Tuesday was my poetry final, and Wednesday my British literature paper was due. It was one research paper worth 50 percent of my grade. I don’t like one project being worth so much, but that’s the prof’s prerogative. Thursday I packed, cleaned, and uploaded my students’ grades.

Today was interesting. Well, it started out boring. I dropped all my library books off at the library, at which point I ran in to Jake. He seemed happy to see me, and he had been acting strangely, so the warm greeting was nice. Then I went to pick up the bus tickets I won in the silent auction. I still can’t believe my next trip to New York will cost $10 round trip!

Later in the afternoon, I got to sit in on a Q&A with a visiting author, M.G. Vassanji. According to his web site, “M. G Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. Before coming to Canada in 1978, he attended MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialized in theoretical nuclear physics. […]His contributions [in the field] he considers modest, in algebraic models and high spin states. […]Vassanji is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories.“ He says his writing deals with a “sense of loss,” and it’s “like breathing” to him. I asked him which part of his writing process he enjoys most, and he replied, “The word ‘satisfaction’ is better than ‘enjoy,’ because it’s like breathing. I don’t really enjoy breathing, but I feel satisfied when I’m done writing something.”

Vassanji says success as a writer requires talent, hard work and luck. He recommends the kind of discipline he learned in the sciences, and to keep everything you write: “In science, a negative outcome is still an outcome.” Vassanji warns against being too research-driven and reminds us to give our characters and stories room to change and surprise us. He also says to be honest, and “Write what you have to write.”

Not long after that, it was time for the party for Graduate Teaching Assistants in the English Department. The head of composition studies threw it at his gorgeous house. Tim had decorated the place so nicely. There was a ton of great food (I brought my fudge), drinks, and plenty of good conversation. Before I new it, it was time to run home and finish packing. Voila! Now we’re all caught up. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be in NYC!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Poached Salmon, finals and preparing for Christmas

This year, I've been academically happy and very happy with my job, but my lifestyle has suffered a bit. Norfolk lacks public transportation and I lack cash. There's been less hanging out with friends, fewer restaurants, museums and concerts, and fewer evenings of partying and dancing. However, there has been one improvement: my cooking! I've added quite a few dishes to my repertoire. For finals, I decided to cook up some brain food-- poached salmon!

I know that sounds decadent, but frozen salmon was on major sale at Wal-Mart. I found a great recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. The sauce is subtle and lemony. Warning to those who like to cover the flavor of fish: this recipe won't do that. It enhances the flavor of fish. I'm also told it's much, much yummier if the fish is fresh, but my lifestyle does not currently support such purchases. Anyhoo, here's the recipe. If you're a grown-up, it tastes quite nice with a glass of white wine.

Poached Fish with Dill Sauce
1 2 to 2.5 lb fresh or frozen dressed or pan dressed fish
3 lemon slices
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
2 T butter or margarine
4 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp snipped fresh dill or 1/2 tsp dried dill
dash salt
1 slightly beaten egg yolk

1- Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. In a fish poacher or a large roasting pan that has a wire rack with handles, add enough water to almost reach the rack. Remove and grease rack; set aside. To water in pan add lemon slices, bay leaf and 1/2 tsp salt. Place pan over two burners on range top. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Place fish on rack and lower into pan. Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 min. or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish; keep warm while preparing sauce.

2- For dill sauce, strain cooking liquid, reserving 1 cup. In a small saucepan melt butter; stir in flour, sugar, dill, and the dash of salt. Add reserved 1 cup liquid. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Gradually stir about 1/2 cup of the hot butter mixture to saucepan. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Pass dill sauce with fish. (According to BHG, approx. 190 cal., 7 grams fat)

Enjoy the yumminess!

Salmon is not the only happy thing that is getting me through the stress of finals:

I made a batch of fudge and learned an important lesson: do not use reduced-fat sweetened condensed milk. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES! It tastes fine. With the fatty sweetened condensed milk, it tastes staggeringly awesome. But I've been noshing on the mediocre fudge nonetheless.

I also decorated my room for the holidays! I did it on the cheap, but the results were still pretty nice. Over the years, people have given me several ornaments and a wreath. I hung the wreath on my wall and arranged the ornaments on my book shelves as though it were a Christmas tree. I got two boxes of twinkle lights for less than five dollars and put them around my windows. Then I cut ten ornate paper snowflakes from white paper and hung them in the windows. Pretty!

This weekend I managed to finish all my grading! Today I cleaned, did two loads of laundry and began packing. I made enough suppers to get me through the week and lunches for the next two days. I have one final down and two to go. NYC and Iowa, here I come! I love you all, miss you all and can't wait to see as many of you as possible.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Blog Break

It's been a while since I posted...about two weeks. Here's the update: I made turkey noodle soup and then threw out the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers (not counting the turkey in the freezer). I had written the recipe down wrong, and I couldn't find the soup base Mom uses, so I had to experiment. My roommate, Todd, flipped out about how good it was: "This is almost better than the turkey was on Thanksgiving Day." Of course, he's never tasted Mom's, so he doesn't know what he's missing.

Since I wrote last, I have graded the first drafts of two papers and the final drafts of three papers for all my students and had conferences. On top of that, I had some major projects due in the classes I'm taking and the head of the composition department came in to observe a lesson. The observation thing freaked me out, because of my experiences at I.S. 318. I'd feel like I'd done a good job during an observation. Then half of the time my bosses would say I was great and half of the time they'd say it was awful. The thing was, I could never tell from how the class went which one they were going to say! It was all arbitrary and made me a nervous wreck. Oh, I'm so glad I quit that very, very glad.

Last night, ODU's orchestra held a sing-along of the Messiah. It was so much fun to sing, especially the classic Hallelujah Chorus. I was, as usual, one of the few altos, so I kind of had to carry the line. As I explained to Todd, it's like I entered a track meet after not having run for a year. By the end, my throat was tired! It was worth it, however, and as a bonus I won a $40 round-trip bus ticket to New York for just $10 in the silent auction they were holding. SCORE!

Today was my last day of class with my first class of college students. I let them have a mini-holiday party with snacks. One student brought mini-muffins and I brought Jello Jigglers, or as we in the Midwest like to call them, Knox Blocks. One funny student was shook his head in dismay.

"What's the matter, Mitchell?" I asked.
"Isn't it a little early for Jello?" he replied.
"Oh, come on! There's always room for Jello."
"Yeah, when I'm 65 and you're hiding my pill." (I love that 65 is ancient to an 18-year-old.)
"Oh, no. Then I'd go with regular, soft Jello. Easier to chew."
"Come on, they make some surprisingly good denture adhesives these days," he quipped.
"The truth is, I wanted something easy to make, light, non-messy, easy to eat and relatively healthy. This sugar-free Jello has about 5 calories per quarter-cup." (Some of the diet-conscious girls in the class perked up at this news.)
"Actually," another student interjected, "These are pretty awesome."
So Mitchell tried one and shook his head. "I'm going to have to go out and buy some Jello, now."
Hee! That kid is just so funny, and the kids in my class were great. I'm going to miss them.

Then I went for my post-observation with my boss. It was a rave! "In terms of this lesson, nothing could be improved upon." Seriously? SERIOUSLY! Take that, crappy old school! I'm not good enough to get a good rating at your school (even though my students' scores were better than any other students' scores), but I am good enough to get an awesome rating at a state university! Ha-ha! I am redeemed. I love teaching college! I'm so lucky to have a job I enjoy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Carb-loading and loaded words

At left: More pretty foliage on the ODU campus.

Oh, dear. I don't know how much more turkey I can eat! I had been luxuriating in leftovers, but turkey seven lunches and suppers in a row is a bit much. Today I got creative and made a sandwich with bread, a layer of turkey, a layer of stuffing and a layer of mashed potatoes and gravy. It was, of course, most insane culinary concoctions are. Yes, I'll have carbs and protein and carbs and carbs with more carbs on top! The mashed potatoes and stuffing are slowly but surely disappearing, but the turkey? I eat it and eat it, and there's hardly a dent! I finally had to break down tonight and eat something else for supper. The turkey is still moist and delicious, but I just couldn't take any more.

Now for the loaded words portion: Last week Tom called me, so this week I called him. The chat went well. Then at the end, he said something along the lines of: "As always, if anything major changes in my life, I'll let you know." My mind was racing with a thousand questions, but there were none I could ask without it being awkward, so I replied something like, "Great. I'll talk to you soon. Bye."

"As always, if anything major changes in my life, I'll let you know?" What does that mean? Maybe Tom thought I had been calling too much and he wanted me to stop. No, he called me last week. I'm reciprocating. It's not like I'm calling him a lot or out of the blue. I've been asking about his job hunting. Maybe Tom was tired of that and wanted me to stop. Maybe he (or a friend) read about the Jake thing in my blog, and Tom wants me to know I can tell him about it. Maybe Tom's warning me that he's about to tell me about something major that's happened to him -- like he's started dating...Aaah! Or Tom could just mean exactly what he said, which is a bit awkward, but much less alarming than any of the other options. Todd thinks the statement is brilliant in its ambiguity, and Rose thinks I should go with the final, reassuring interpretation. I agree, though that is the interpretation in which I am the most neurotic. Hello, neurosis!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year I decided to make my first Thanksgiving dinner. Hooray! I decided to brine my turkey, then stuff it with apples and cook it in white wine. All was going well.

Thank goodness Mom warned me to thaw the turkey for four days. On day three, it was time to rub the turkey with kosher salt, and there were still big chunks of ice inside! I don't own a pot big enough to brine a turkey, so I put the salted turkey in a large plastic bag, put them in a roasting pan, and filled the bag with cool water. I then put the whole thing in the fridge.

Yesterday I also pre-chopped all my veggies and made a practice batch of stuffing in my little Crock Pot. I accidentally used oregano instead of sage (!) but I decided to go with it. I added some fresh, chopped garlic and called it Italian stuffing.

Today it was time to dump the brine down the sink. I took the pan out of fridge and carried it to the sink. I needed to lift the turkey in the bag. I tried to lift it and...the bag exploded! The top of the bag popped open, and water whooshed into the air and splattered in every direction. My roomate was stunned. Todd had looked over just in time to see the burst of water. We grabbed tons of towels and rags and paper towels to sop up all the salty turkey water. Ew.

After that was cleaned up, I stuffed the turkey and finished preparing it. Once it was in the oven, I started a new, more traditional batch of stuffing. I also started "roasting" pecans in the microwave and halving them for pecan pie. Then I peeled and chopped potatoes to cook and mash. Mashed potatoes are actually quite easy. Todd provided green beans. I used a few store-bought items for dinner: gravy, a tube of biscuits and a pre-made pie crust. Thank goodness I did! As it was, my whole day was taken up on cooking, eating or cleaning up.

I like the turkey recipe I chose. The advantages to cooking a turkey in white wine are moisture and flavor. The disadvantage is it is terrifying to try to lift the heavy pan of turkey. I was scared I would slosh boiling-hot liquid on myself. Todd came to help. As a team, we lifted out the pan to flip the bird and returned it to the oven. My turkey actually cooked an hour faster than I expected. It's a good thing I peeked in at it! The little button thing had already popped up. Todd helped me pull out the oven rack to check the bird's temperature, so we lifted it out again and slid in the pie. Later we slid in the biscuits. It all turned out just about perfect!

Todd carved off a drumstick for each of us, and we covered our plates. I only ate one plate of food, but ended up stuffed to the gills. After the meal was over, we finished carving up the turkey and packed everything away into Tupperware. Then we went on a walk to a little man-made lake a few blocks from the apartment and took a turn around campus. At 9:30, I finally had just enough room to taste the world's tiniest sliver of pecan pie with a little dollop of vanilla ice cream. YUM!

I hope all of you had a happy Thanksgiving with your families or friends. If you had it by yourself, I hope you found reasons to give thanks anyway.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not ready

(I mentioned a while back that If I didn't have a photo to put up with a post, I'd use a random doodle. Here's one I did on the back of an envelope.)

There's a certain talk that I've had to have over and over. It's the I-just-want-to-be-friends talk. I make friends with a guy and then he wants it to be more and I don't. The sad part is, once the subject is broached, we can almost never go back to the way our friendship was.

Well, here I am again. This time it's a little bit different. In the past the problem was that I wasn't attracted to the guys involved. I think I find Jake attractive, but now I realize I'm not ready to date. I'm not over my ex-boyfriend. In fact, when I was discussing the situation with Rose, I slipped and said, "I'm not over my boyfriend yet." Oops. Not a good sign.

"You think you find him attractive? Well, can you picture yourself kissing him?"

"It's more that I picture slipping my arms into his jacket, around his waist, and having him hug me."

"Aww," she replied. Yeah, the extent of my fantasy life is hugging. It's frickin' adorable.

Here, in short, is what happened: Yesterday Jake texted me to see if I wanted to go out for drinks. I didn't think anything of it at first, because we hang out sometimes, but then I wondered if it was a date. After that I couldn't decide if I wanted a date. I decided to go and see. I had fun, but quickly realized it was just too soon. It's been months since Tom and I broke up, so I'm kind of annoyed with myself, but there it is.

I have to tell Jake something along the lines of: "I find you attractive, but I've just realized I'm not ready to date and you're one of the three people I really consider my friends here, so messing that up would mean losing one-third of my friends." Now I am dreading it and putting it off. Wish me luck, courage and tact.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Embracing autumn and preparing to give thanks.

It's finally starting to look and feel like fall here in Virginia. The leaves are turning all over campus, and it's so gorgeous that I had to go out and take pictures. This week I also started researching recipes, and yesterday I went shopping for the ingredients for Thanksgiving Dinner. One of my roomies, Todd, is sticking around for the holiday, so he agreed to pitch in some cash for the feast.

I had been thinking about spending the Holiday in NYC. I like helping a mission in the city make thousands of diners. I love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I love how cheerful everyone in the city is that day.

Then I decided not to. Bus fare plus going our for dinners and drinks would add up to a chunk of cash quickly. I would end up spending a big hunk of break on a bus.

Also, I'd end up with a crick in my neck for the next week. If I don't get an inflatable travel neck pillow for Christmas, I'm going to buy myself one. I don't care how dorky they look. If they work as well as the online reviews suggest, it'll be worth it. Until I get myself one, however, no more uber-long bus rides. Also, I'm going to be spending a week in January staying with my friends and I don't want to wear out my welcome.

Instead I decided to stay home, get some studying done and make my first Thanksgiving Dinner! When I was a girl, my mom told me a funny story of her first Thanksgiving, and it always stuck in my head. Yesterday, I had her tell me the story again.

"It takes forever to thaw a turkey. Give it four days in the refrigerator."

"Seriously? I was going to start on Tuesday, and I thought I was overdoing it."

"Yeah, that's how much time they say it takes, but it's never enough. I always end up trying to thaw it in water in the sink. My first Thanksgiving, I didn't give it enough time to thaw, and I missed one of the bags of organs. There's a high bag and a low bag.

"What do you mean? High and low?"

"One is stuffed in the neck cavity, and the other is in the... the anal cavity, I guess? I found one, but not the other. So not only was the turkey frozen, it had this frozen bag of parts inside."

Mom also had a tough audience. Dad's younger brothers were picky eaters, and Mom had made squash. The boys wanted corn. There was no corn. Mom was already upset because of the turkey. She proclaimed, "You will eat what I made or you won't eat!" Poor Mommy.

I'm just glad I made her retell the story, or I would have had a frozen bird, too. And I knew about the "low bag," but not the "high bag."

Thanks for helping me out, Mommy. That is the whole point. It gives me something to do on a holiday away from my family and friends and gives me a low-stakes opportunity to to perfect my Thanksgiving-Dinner-making skills. If any of you have a great Worst Thanksgiving Dinner story, please post it in the comments section. Help others learn from your life experience.