Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Loafing" day at home

I've been back home since last Monday evening.  Woo-hoo!  There is still work to be done, but we're home, and it has been WONDERFUL to sleep in our own little beds and cook in our own little kitchen.  Outside of my house it still looks like a war zone with multiple brush piles of fallen trees and blue tarps everywhere, but it is great to be home nonetheless.

We haven't really been cooking much yet in our own little kitchen this week, so I felt a strong need to make up for that today.  I had planned to work in my garden today, too, but it was pretty rainy all day. 

Side bar - what most of you don't realize is just how incredible it is that I just typed "I had planned to work in my garden today."  I don't garden.  I never have.  But I have these landscaping boxes in the front of my house now, and two planting consultants/friends who have adopted me to grow and learn.  Literally.  We planted some things 2 days before the tornado or 2 days BT.  And then I planted the flowers 15 days AT. 

How long will I measure time by the tornado - BT and AT?  

The BT plants are these few herbs - rosemary, parsley, basil, thyme, sage and dill.  The parsley seems to be suffering a bit from the rain.  Some of the leaves are yellow instead of green, and there are posts on the Intranet that indicate this comes from too much rain and not enough sun - which pretty much fits our weather pattern around here of late, sooo...We also planted some coral bells and hosta which are doing beautifully. 

The flowers were all planted AT.  There are a few daisies and some vinca and some geraniums.  Given the war zone everywhere around it may seem silly to plant flowers, but for me it felt like a small act of defiance and hope for beauty again.

I still need to put the mulch down, which is what I was planning to do today, but given the materials from the contractor still in the garage plus the rain, well it didn't seem to happen. 

It turned out to be more of a "loafing" day at home.  A quiet day to really settle back into home.  And for me that means spending some time in the kitchen, which I did.

It all began with using some of the rosemary from my garden.  I love the sound of that, using an herb from my garden.  I bought a package of chicken thighs a couple of nights ago, so I finely chopped the fresh rosemary and combined it with a few other dried herbs.  I cut up a red potato into eighths to toss with the herbs along with olive oil. 
I heated up some olive oil and butter in the cast iron skillet and browned the seasoned chicken thighs before sprinkling with the herbs and finishing in the oven.  Here is a picture of the browned thighs, but only 3 of them look browned in the pic...the other 3 look rather insipid, but I blame the camera or the photographer.  The real chicken looked much better.
About 30 minutes in the oven for the chicken plus a rest, and about 40 mintues for the potatoes, and here was lunch.  And yes, adding a strawberry as a garnish mattered even though it was just lunch for me.  It made me feel more festive and celebratory that way.

But I haven't gotten to the best parts yet - the "loafing" parts.  First the pound cake.  I first made this 3 days BT.   I made it as part of dessert for friends, served with strawberries, and whipped cream and cookies and some cinnamon puff pastry fans.  I found this cream cheese pound cake recipe on the KAF website and loved the topping and the look of it.  I followed the recipe with only a couple of minor additions - I added sparkling sugar along with the topping called for and then used an amaretto infused sugar soaking syrup.  It really is the yummiest pound cake I have found, and I was looking forward to making it again.  So this is the first loaf of the day...and yes, even though pound cake ripens wonderfully over a day or so, I cut into it and ate half a piece off of the end.  Soooo good...really...

First the recipe link...

And now the pick from my oven this afternoon...

The other thing I needed to bake to feel more at home was a loaf of bread.  There is just nothing like the smell of bread baking.  Nothing, and I was craving that smell and flavor.  So this is the recipe I chose - so easy with no guess work when done in the irreplaceable Kitchen Aid mixer.

And here is how it looked right out of the oven... nice...topped off with watching one of my favorite recent movies...It's Complicated.  Who doesn't fall in love with Steve Martin all over again every time they watch it?  He utters the sexiest line EVER in any movie when they are driving back home in the car after the graduation party...hang's coming up right now..."Jane, your age is one of my favorite things about you."  Sigh...maybe someday My Prince will tell me that.  And he and I can make chocolate croissants on a date, too.

Rambling, but that can often happen after a day of loafing.  Lovely, quiet, restorative and yummy loafing. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

I am a mother.  I am a mother of 4 children.  Well, no, I am a mother of 4 adult children.  And I have much to be proud of and thankful for in them.

My oldest, S, is 28 this mother's day.  He is gainfully employed and has a great view on life.  He smiles more now than in his teenage years, but I was always hopeful that the smiles I remember seeing as a young child would come back.  He had some rough teenage years, no doubt, in large part because of the break up of his parents' marriage.  But he has done the hard work of processing all of that, and now he smiles more.  Part of that is probably also due to a certain young lady, A, in his life.  She is much to smile about, no doubt.  I even caught a pic on FB of S smiling quite contentedly while holding someone's newborn.  I have much reason to be proud of this one.  He will make a great husband and father someday.

My next oldest, S, is 25 this mother's day, but she will very soon be 26.  She is also gainfully employed and also has a great view on life.  She is planning her wedding and working very hard to prepare for it.  She has an easy smile and laughs often.  She loves people, and they love her back.  She is making a mother's day breakfast for her fiance's parents and a mother's day dinner for me and her grandmother.  I hope she gets a break in between for a little nap and down time.  Her special someone, K, is a good match for her.  I am glad he is part of our family.  As with my oldest, I have much reason to be proud of this one.  She will make a great wife and mother someday.

My next adult child, A, is 22 today, and will soon be 23 in early June.  He has just begun college, taking a very big step to attend school in CA.  We just got off the phone; he remembered to call me for mother's day and told me about his classes.  He also has someone special in his life, M, and she often says that I'm her favorite.  She is good for him, helping him prepare for this big step of college.  As with the other two, I have much reason to be proud of A.  He is going after a degree in something he loves and feels passionate about.

My youngest is B.  She is 18 today, but is also having a birthday soon.  She is quite the little trooper, going with the many changes that the recent tornado in our life has caused.  She faces and overcomes her visual issues with aplomb, making jokes at times, putting others at ease.  She misses her "B Cave" right now, but hopefully we will be able to move back in to our home in another few days.  I am glad she is in this with me; her spirit and humor are definitely helping me cope with the madness and distraction of the details.  That is a lot to be proud of.

So how could I be more proud or thankful this Mother's Day?  I probably couldn't be.  I have 4 children that fill my heart with love and that love me back.  We have been through quite a lot as a team, and we still keep hanging together.  They fill me with hope for our future, and make me even somewhat ready to hear the title "Grandmother" applied to me someday. 

I am one blessed lady. 

Jus' a prayer

Lord, this is my prayer this morning.  You don’t need these words.  You know what is on my heart and are already working to conform my heart to Your ways and will.  But I need these words.  I need them to understand my heart.  I need them to understand what I’m feeling and how I am blocking You from effectively conforming my heart to Your ways and Your will.  You already know all of this.  I am the one who is blind.

I am aware of cynicism and doubt.  I am aware of a hardening, but I am want to dismiss those things or down play them as insignificant.  But I am Your child, a child of The King.  Therein lays my hope, the antithesis of cynicism and doubt.  So my heart should be full of light and joy.  Cynicism and doubt are dark.  They are heavy, weighing me down.  Truth is light and peace and trust and joy.  The Truth says that “these light and momentary sufferings are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  The Truth says “our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 

It is my job to trust in that work of Your Holy Spirit through it all.  I am reeling with mixed emotions from the tornado damage.  I am concerned about how all of the insurance and mortgage paperwork will pay for everything, but the Truth says that You “own the cattle on a thousand hills” so You have sufficient means to take care of any gaps.  The Truth says that I can “cast all my cares upon You, because You care for me.”  The Truth says that “my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  You will meet all of my needs – be they physical, monetary, spiritual, mental, emotional or any other need that I am not able to articulate.  The Truth says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns…yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?...But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” 

It is my job to be thankful in all times and all circumstances.  It is my job to ask You to make me content no matter the circumstances, whether in need or in plenty.  I can do all of this through Him who gives me strength – and ONLY can I do this through Him who gives me strength.  I cannot do this myself.  I can only be content in all circumstances BY and THROUGH You.

It is my job to trust that no matter what happens to rebuild or tear down the neighborhood in which I live, You are still with me, sustaining me and caring for me.  It is my job to trust that You “know the plans [You] have for me…plans to prosper [me] and not to harm [me], plans to give [me] hope and a future.”  It is my job to remind myself daily and trust that You work all things “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” 

Again You already know these things on my heart and You don’t need the words to be spoken in order to work.  I am the one who need these words.  I need the reminders.  I need to articulate what You are doing, Your purposes in all things.  I need to repent of the cynicism and doubt and hardening in my own heart.  I need to confess these things, and so I need words to help my understanding.  Thank You for knowing my heart and acting ahead of my mind and my words.  Thank You for Your love and patience with me, Your child, as I process and feel all manner of things and yet hope in You.  Thank You for Your grace that covers my sin.  Thank You for the personality that You uniquely gave B, that she just rolls with the flow and has very few needs.  Thank You for our health.  Not only did You keep us safe from the storm, but neither of us have ongoing health needs requiring meds or electricity to survive.  Thank You for reminding me of the things that I need to be thankful for; I so easily forget and allow doubt to take over.


Compassion oozing

So apparently to work for the government, whether federal, state or local, one of the requirements for the job is to ooze compassion.  At least the bleeding heart liberals would have you believe that, right?  Maybe the new regime of compassion and change hasn't trickled down to the reps in my local neck of the woods.

Ok, so did you notice the use of catch phrases from both sides of the political arena in that first paragraph?  That is supposed to set both sides at ease and make everyone breathe a sigh of relief that this is NOT going to be a political rant for or against either side of the fence.  If you get that, please feel free to continue reading the remainder of this riveting blog post.  If you don't get that, please feel free to stop reading the remainder of this riveting blog post. 

And if you believe that this is a riveting blog post, then let's talk.  I'm sure I have some treasures collecting dust in my basement that you could purchase...or the Brooklyn bridge...either one works...same analogy..

But back to the oozing compassion that must be a requirement for the job of working for the government.  If that requirement is true, one would think it would especially apply post tornado, right?  Well, let's see.  Here are two experiences from my life in recent weeks.

Experience # 1 - the public works department.  We are best buds.  We go way back.  They have been very dilligent to "protect the property values" in my neighborhood (read: "hood" out of that word only).  Hence we had all of the work done to the driveway and the retaining wall - cause even hoods need good driveways and retaining walls, right?  If I had any pictures pre-tornado of my street, you'd really get what I'm talking about here, but that's another story. 

Anyway, back to the story.  4 days after the tornado hit, I find out from the local electric company that I own the electric meter that was knocked off the side of the house by the trees that the tornado tossed around like toothpicks. 

And since I own that lovely piece of equipment, it is up to me to have it replaced.  Thankfully I have a good relationship with the contractor who did all of the other home repair work recently, so I ask them about it.  They start to check into it, only to find out that the city, nay, The City requires a master electrician to do the work.  Otherwise they will not issue the permit.

Cha-ching!  Did anyone else hear that sound?

Fine.  My contractor knows an electrician, so they come out and replace the meter.  However that still does not mean I have power restored to my home.  No...that work has to be inspected by The City and THEN the electric company makes the final connection before power is actually restored to my home. 

The electrician tells me to call The City Public Works to discuss the inspection, so first thing the next morning I call them to find out if they need to come inside the house, do we need to set up a time, etc.  You would've thought I was asking the blondest questions ever from the condescension...oops, I mean compassion...that oozed from this official's lips.  I am apparently expected to have the Public Works department's SOP's for inspection protocols committed to memory.  After a painful few minutes, we finally determine that they don't need to inspect the inside; they can complete their inspection from the outside. 

Fine.  Done.  Now I have the audacity to ask for a phone call when the inspection is complete so that I can then contact the electric company to make the final connection. 

Mistake on my part.  Back to the SOP's.  I apparently "forgot" that they always fax this information to the electric company. 

How stupid can one homeowner be?  Really.

Experience # 2 - the USPS.  Crazy me, I take a pro-active approach on Monday after the Good Friday tornado and ask that my mail be held since I knew we wouldn't be living there and I knew how torn up the street would be for the carrier.  Seems pretty straight forward, right?  Just hold my mail.  Pretend I'm on a vacation for a week, and we'll talk at the end of that week.

Yeah...a week passes, and I go to pick up my mail and resume service.  No mail.  It's out on the street, ma'am, with the carrier.  Ok, so I should get a week's worth of mail in my box this evening?  You should, yes.

I bet you know where this story is going, don't you?  I stop by the house, and it's 1 day's worth of mail, not a week's worth. 

So I stop by the post office the next day.  I speak with the same person.  She checks on the computer; she even calls the carrier.  He says he made a mistake and marked the mail as "Moved w/no forwarding address" rather than holding it.  Then she left me a voicemail later on her personal cell (with explicit instructions that I could not call her back on that number) that she was still trying to find out what the carrier did.

Two more days go by.  Mail has resumed, but it's still only each day's mail.  I still have not had any delivery of mail that was the equivalent of a week's worth.  So I stop by one more time.  Yesterday.  On a Saturday.

The lobby is full of people standing in line.  One worker asks if anyone is there for anything special, so I say that I'm looking for mail that was on hold.  She motions for me to come to her window.  I start to tell my little story.  The lobby is suddenly rather quiet.  It is obvious that nothing more riveting is capturing the attention of the mass than the drama taking place in our corner of the building.

I could relay all of the gory details but the bottom line?  No mail found.  And get this.  It is not their fault that I am missing a week's worth of mail.  Sweet, huh?  Somehow it is my fault.  I shouldn't have had it placed on hold or I shouldn't have found alternative living arrangements or something.  But it was made perfectly clear that the USPS did NOT lose my mail.

Awesome, isn't it?  How do people get these jobs and then belive they are doing them with integrity much less any sort of compassion? 

I haven't even relayed the story of the compassion oozing from the mortgage company rep who made it clear that I was NOT going to get everything she was telling me about how the claim packet would work - that I would have to make her repeat it several times.  See how blond I am?  Even perfect strangers on the phone know it.

So moral of the stories...compassion oozes from government reps and officials.  Right?

Or wait, no here is the moral of the stories.  Deb, don't be proactive.  Don't call, don't have your mail put on hold, and don't think that you need to get involved to make things work right or smoothly for everyone.  You will clearly get it wrong every time.

Tornadoes cause paperwork

I bet you never knew that, did you?  Well, if you did, you are way smarter than me.  I knew tornadoes cause damage and even deaths.  I knew people would file insurance claims after tornados hit.  (By the way, the plural of tornado can be spelled either way.  Check it out.  I just did.)

But I did not know that those claims would generate mountains for paperwork.  It's not only the paperwork with the insurance company.  It's not even only the paperwork with the contractor(s) you hire to do the work to repair and rebuild.  The mortgage company likes their own paperwork, too.  And the threshold for having to file all of the mortgage company's paperwork?  $10K.  Seriously, $10K.  If your damages hit $10K, they have you and your contractor fill out all of their packet of paperwork.  $10K is next to nothing in today's economy of materials and labor.  Oh, and one more thing - the mortgage company holds the insurance company's draft for the damages and they release the payments to the contractor. 

Did you know all of this?  Am I the only blond in the world who didn't know this?

Well now that I know this, I will handle things differently for my next tornado.  I will call my mortgage holder the next business day after the tornado.  I knew to call my insurance company.  I didn't know to call my mortgage company until AFTER I had received the insurance company's draft that was made out to both me and the mortgage holder.  Again, am I the only blond around?  How come I never knew this stuff before?

Maybe that is one of those things they taught in economics one day, and I was asleep?  Cause I really had a reputation for sleeping in class...uh...NOT! 

Anyway, now you know, too, in case I am not alone in this.