Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Food, Good Wine, Good Friends

Last night after Jazz, the posse came over to celebrate Rena's birthday. It's on Friday. We had fajitas, veggies, fruit, cake and wine. Lots of wine.

Fajitas are great for stuff like that. You can do all your prep ahead of time for the most part. We had shrimp (Harris Teeter had bags of frozen, cleaned shrimp for $5.99--12 oz per bag) and beef. Lately I have been buying skirt steak, which is tough and kind of cheap, and putting it in my small crockpot with some onions, garlic and a little beef stock. I cook it on high all afternoon and then slice it and saute it a bit to get some caramelization going. It's a great weeknight meal because it's quick and easy. The shrimp I just tossed in butter and Old Bay in the skillet until done. Some cilantro from my herb pots and a squeeze of lemon was all that was needed for the shrimp ones. For the beef fajitas I had tzatziki to put on there, or sauteed peppers and onions. It was a nice meal.

We sat out on the patio and talked and laughed for a couple of hours. The weather has been perfect for that kind of thing.

Off to work!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Can You Stand Another Commentary on Sanford and The Money?

My dad asked me a question about Sanford today that prompted me to come up with this explanation (as I understand it) of the "Sanford and the Stimulus Money" soap opera. Now here are the disclaimers. Dad said he thinks it's interesting that Sanford would reject "any" stimulus money but is willing to ask for Federal Disaster Funds for the Myrtle Beach fire. It's not actually true that South Carolina is rejecting "any" stimulus money. SC is getting something like $8 Billion. The question is about something like 5% of the total amount we are getting. And stimulus money is not the same as Federal Disaster Relief. Different buckets of money.

And finally? This is only MY WAY OF UNDERSTANDING the $500M issue. I completely believe I could be wrong on this. Actually, sometimes I think I MUST be wrong. Because my understanding, illustrated below, makes it seem like such a stupid thing, that I can't imagine I'm right and that this is really what it's all about. But? I've lived long enough to hear bigger arguments about stupid-er stuff. So here goes. For your entertainment:

The stimulus money is going to cost us more in the long run if we take it. Taking the $500Million that he is talking about has strings attached that will mean starting new programs for which that stimulus money is intended by the Feds. I liken it to this: You have a house. In that house you have a washer, stove and refrigerator. You dry your clothes outside on the line. The refrigerator is on its’ last legs. You need a new one. But you are still making payments on the washer and stove. You are just limping along, keeping your beer and brats in your neighbor’s fridge until you can get those last few payments on the washer and stove. Once you get those paid off, you’ll buy a new fridge with the money you’ve freed up in your budget by not having to make those payments.
Your uncle says he’ll give you $1,000. But you can’t use it to buy a new fridge and you can’t use it to pay off the washer and stove. He thinks it’s a travesty that you are drying your clothes out on the line. He lives next door and doesn’t like seeing your undies swaying in the breeze. So he’ll give you $1,000 to buy a dryer. You have to use every dollar of that $1k on the dryer, too. Which means basically a top-of-the-line LG steam dryer. With a 7.3 cu ft capacity, this bad boy is going to need a lot of room in your laundry room. Which means you also will have to remodel your back porch to accommodate it and the existing washer. It’ll probably cost another $1000 in demolition, supplies, and labor to get that done. Now, since I’ve just recently found out that I could lose my job if Sanford doesn’t take the money, it puts me in the interesting position of feeling like he should, so that I can salvage my measly $xxk a year job, and feeling he shouldn’t because I just don’t think my uncle needs to tell me how to run my house.



I'm quite sad today. I ordered perennials 2 weeks ago and they still have not arrived. I checked and now find they will not arrive until the first week of May. I hope that's not going to be too late to get them settled before the big heat.

I shot baseball last night and got only one shot worth anything, and it's not worth more than about a dime. I'm kind of sad about that. Especially because parent expectations are always high when they see a person with a newspaper name tag on and a seemingly nice looking camera, shooting their little darling playing a sport. Ah well.

So today will NOT be spent planting plants. I do still have some garden clean-out to do, and I need to shop for some shoes and whatnot for spring/summer.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

What will I find in the garden?

This morning I woke to a pounding rain. When that happens, the first thing I think about is whether I can get Bear outside long enough to do his business. Because if I can, then I can leave him all day without having to come walk him at lunch. I was successful this morning, so now I can get off at 3:30 instead of 4.

But the other thing I wondered, and am still wondering about, is what has happened to my new little plants that I put out last night. I planted my herb pots. They will probably be okay. But I had plants that were too large of the pot so I split many of them and put part in the flower bed. Some of them were fairly fragile when I put them out there. Will they be okay? Or are they broken and flattened by the downpour? I won't know until after school today.

My mail order plants have not arrived yet, either. If they show up today I'll be in good shape. I can plant them tonight after Jazzercise. But tomorrow night is the Friends of the Library meeting at 6 and I don't know how long that will go on.

Gardening is stressful! It's a little like parenting!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Azalea

My Azalea
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
The other day I think I wrote about Azaleas being best enjoyed from a distance. I said that when you get up close to them, they are generally pretty ragged.

I'm eating my words here. After I said that, I went out and started looking closely at my azaleas and also at my neighbor's. All of them have blooms that are in pristine condition.

Today is the last day of spring break and I could spend it in mourning, dreading going back to work. Don't get me wrong: I love my job. But this is the hardest time of the year for the Guidance Department as we prepare for graduation and also work on testing and just in general try to get the year wrapped up. And of course we are all anxious for summer...not just students, but staff too.

But instead I'm going to live today in the moment as much as I can. I hate to let a beautiful day go by unnoticed because I'm too busy worrying about tomorrow.

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Forester Bob

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
He's taking some trees out around the edge of the flowerbed. Actually, just two little trees and then some branches from other big trees to get more sunlight in there. Tough looking, isn't he?

As it happens the nasty tent caterpillars were on one of the big branches I needed removed. So, problem solved there too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pink Dogwood

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Mensa Boy wants to start going through the woods in our back yard and taking out the dead trees. Then he'd like to plant new trees back there to replace them.
After seeing this one in my neighbor's garden, I told him we should just fill each spot with white and pink dogwoods.


Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
I found myself underneath this a couple of hours ago. Are they friend or foe? Should I let them live or whack 'em? (yes, I've been watching reruns of the Sopranos lately)


Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic

A Little Sprout

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
I found this sprout, among many, in the garden last night when I started cleaning. I like his dual colors and he seems a little stronger than some I've found. I don't know what he is, but he seems like he deserves a chance to grow up to something. So I spared him. If I had come crashing into the garden with a big ole rake I could have missed him and plowed him under. He could very well be a weed. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

I found many promises yesterday when I started. Buried under the leaves from fall and winter were many little green leaves and sprouts emerging from the earth. I gently brushed away the detritus and tried to give them all air and light. I have one Azalea that is leggy but very full of blooms. I'll shoot it later. And my white Azalea is just starting to bloom. And still the guy I call "my deadbeat Azalea," who has not bloomed since 2003. This is his last year in my garden. If he doesn't produce, I'm kicking him out and changing the locks. I'm quite certain my neighbor Mary will take him in.

Some things, when you look at them up close, seem to get more beautiful. Like Dogwood blossoms. But other things are almost uglier up close. That's the way Azaleas are. I think they are best enjoyed from afar.



I watched this movie yesterday afternoon and I must say it is one of the best I've seen in a long time. This lonely, depressed college professor goes to New York to a conference and when he gets to his apartment (he's kept it for 25 years, despite living and teaching in Connecticut), he finds a couple of illegal aliens living there. After only a brief hesitation, he allows them to stay and ends up befriending them and becoming a big part of their lives. The man, a drummer/musician from Syria, is hauled in by immigration and the professor, played by Richard Jenkins, does his best to help him out.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Thursday and I see Spring Break Slipping Away!

I am tired. A little less tired than yesterday, I think. I wasted the entire day yesterday napping and watching a movie. I did go to the grocery store and made a very nice supper. I wish I'd taken a photo of it. It was from Prevention magazine. Next time I make it (and I will make it often) I'll shoot it.

Today I'll go to yoga and then who knows? I may finally get that flower garden work done. But I'm not in a rush to do that today. It's supposed to warm up to the 70s tomorrow and over the weekend so that would be a great time to do some gardening. I also need to start working on my pots.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 15, 2005

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, is the story of a Hmong child with epilepsy and the problems doctors and her family had communicating with each other. Lia Lee had such severe epilepsy and her doctors could not seem to gain any understanding with her parents about medications and treatments. The book was published in 1997 and I sincerely hope things are better for the Hmong people now than they were then.

Carolinians aren't as familiar with the Hmong as Minnesotans are, so this book may not interest my local readers as much. But if you live in Minnesota you really should read this book. I gained not only a better understanding of the Hmong community but also a great deal of respect for them.

"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" is the loose translation for the Hmong word for epilepsy. Hmong believe that a person with epilepsy has had their soul frightened away from their body and a spirit called a dab is catching her. If/when the soul returns then the illness will be resolved.

Many Americans think of Hmong as "Laotians" but that is not the case. Laos is just the last place our Hmong were before being brought to the U.S. The Hmong have history in China, Siberia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They were resistant to governments who tried to assimilate them and when things got to be too much they would pick up and move on. The Hmong were brought here by the U.S. as refugees after they helped the CIA with their "secret war" on North Vietnam by serving in the Armee Clandestine in Northern Laos. They were led by Hmong leader General Vang Pao and helped cut off North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, supplied intelligence for US bombing missions and helped rescue downed US pilots.

The book is about 50 percent Hmong/U.S. history and 50 percent the story of Lia Lee and her family's clash with the American medical system. I had a hard time putting it down. It does not sound academic at all...more like a very good story.


Life's Not a Beach for Bear

We are back from the beach and I think Bear is glad. He didn't think much of it. After considering his behavior I concluded that he doesn't like it because there is no grass. Bear is a typical walker, stopping at many posts, mailboxes, trees and clumps of grass to leave a liquid note that he was there. But there are no such things on a long stretch of sand. And so he ranged back and forth in front of us, at the end of his rope, occasionally stopping to see if we would pick him up.

He didn't think much of the water, barely sniffing it as it wafted toward our feet. The beach was pretty clean of debris too, so no dead jellyfish to check out, not even any interesting garbage. As we headed back to the walkway that took us to the street, he perked up and almost sighed when we relief when he saw a clump of grass ahead.

It was a short, restful visit. It rained off and on and was fairly cool, so we really didn't spend any time by the water. We roamed around Barefoot Landing and had supper at The House of Blues. We read books and Taylor played video games on his Gameboy and watched videos of Corner Gas on the little DVD player. Monday we had our Easter dinner...ham, deviled eggs and salad. Fresh strawberries for dessert.

And so here we are at home. A mountain of laundry to do and the flower garden to gently clean out. I'll do some yoga and Jazzercise this week and some reading. I like Spring Break.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter Everyone!

We are off the beach in a bit. We'll be gone only a couple of days. Taylor's not a big fan.

I bought some plants yesterday and planted them this morning after church. I picked up a plant called Plumbago that I'd never heard of before. It's got these great little pale blue flowers all over it. The plant is already showy just in the pot. There was NO INFORMATION about it all on or in the pot. I hate it when they do that. I picked it up and carried it around to pay for it. "So you're going to get that?" Rena asked. "Yeah. I like it," I told her. "But we don't know anything about what it is," she said. "I know," I told her. "I'll google it."

It turns out to be pretty much the perfect thing for an imperfect gardener like me. Hard to kill, likes sun, can handle shade. What more can I ask? I stuck it in the ground and watered it well. We had quite a bit of rain a couple of days ago, so it'll probably be fine without more watering until I get back Tuesday.

I also put dahlias and lantana in the corner planters of the patio again. And I bought a rosemary bush to put in the flower bed up at the top where the sun shines all morning and all afternoon. Everything I plant up there dies so I'm hoping the rosemary will do the trick. And it can get as big as it wants.

I also found some yellow poppies and I bought some sweet corn on a whim. I told Rena that Mensa Boy wanted corn but I poo-pooed it because corn needs so much room. "Buy him some corn Karen," she said. "If you don't get corn on it, you can just say it's a grass." And so I did that. Mensa Boy now thinks Rena is a hero. "Now we won't starve," I heard him tell Taylor. hmph.

I ordered quite a few perennials from Spring Hill Saturday morning. I'd love for them to arrive before spring break is over, but my luck they'll probably show up after that and it'll rain for several days. I invested $80 or so into them, so I'll have to get them planted whenever they arrive. I'll take some photos when I get back.

I hope everyone has a wonderful day today. I'm so glad we are having spring break. I can feel myself calming down and relaxing already.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009


I made a brisket yesterday. I read through the recipe (in "Fine Cooking" magazine)when I bought the meat, but apparently my reading comprehension was a little off. I saw the part about 2 1/2 hours, and the part about another 1 hour more, but I failed to notice the first 1 hour.So I started the brisket at 3:30 and then realized that this would mean eating at 8 o'clock.

Now, I can wait that long. I'm generally not that hungry in the evening. But my guys can not. Taylor said "We are going to have to eat 8 snacks to wait that long." So I suggested burgers. We'll eat the brisket today.

I know it's a waste of money to buy pre-formed burgers, but I do it anyway. I try to keep at least one packet of pre-formed patties in my deep freeze at all times. They come in handy in times like these. And having bread dough in the refrigerator all the time really has come in handy too. I pulled the brisket out, put it on the back of the stovetop, cranked the oven to 450 and baked off 4 burger buns. Lowered it back to 350 and put the brisket back in.

Taylor cooked the burgers. It's not optimal to cook meat from frozen but he made a mistake that caused them to come out perfectly. He lit the grill without opening the vents. By the time I notice that, the burgers had thawed nicely. I opened the vents and they finished cooking.

But this post is about the OUCH! When I went to pull the brisket from the oven, my carefully sealed foil lifted off the edge of the pan and I steamed two of my fingers. Left Index, Left Middle. And of course I was carrying the heavy pan from the oven to the island at the time so I had to just keep going. No dropping that pan.

There was SIGNIFICANT pain last night. I iced it for about 2 hours, took 400 then 400 more mg of Ibuprofen, and tossed down a sleeping pill at the same time. This morning I woke 10 hours later and the fingers don't hurt. But that middle finger has a terrible blister on it.

So I have no moral tale to tell you about this. Wait. I do.

1. Read the entire recipe a couple of times and maybe underline the cooking times before you start.
2. Always keep a backup meal in the freezer.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bear is Moping

We finally have fixed his bark collar so that it is about 90% effective. We thought we'd fixed it before, but his barking has gotten worse with the nicer weather. Finally last night I told the guys that we needed to adjust things again. He was on my lap and went into a barking fit. I held him and pressed on the collar and he really yelped mid-bark.

"He needs to have some hair on his neck cut," I told them. "Someone that doesn't love him as much as me needs to do it. Maybe Dad."

I'm always teasing Mensa Boy about how he doesn't kiss the dog like the rest of us do.

Today I got a text while in yoga. "The bark collar is finally working!" Taylor said.

"Yay! what did you do?" I asked.

"Tightened it two notches and Dad shaved his chin like you said," he replied.

He's been pretty quiet now. A minute ago he ran to the door barking quietly when the ice cream truck came, but then cut himself off with a shriek.

Poor him. But good for us!