Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear Visitor from Washington, District of Columbia

Hi. It isn't often I get close to 300 hits in one day, all from one visitor. I usually get about 25 from a smattering of visitors.

I'm always slightly creeped out when that many hits come from one place, without anyone leaving a comment. I hope you are not some sort of content vulture who is stealing blog entries to re-purpose elsewhere. I've had that happen before and it made me very unhappy.

Maybe you're just bored out of your mind at work, or you are unemployed and are sitting at home just reading and reading and passing time. If that's the case, I hope you are enjoying what you read.

Perhaps just introduce yourself so I know you're not a super creep. Thanks.

Monday, November 28, 2011

In No Hurry

The sense of the holiday season that everyone else is shoving down everyone's throat is not upon me. I get annoyed and angry at hearing Christmas music and seeing Christmas items for sale before Thanksgiving and get especially bothered if it is before Halloween.

This year though, I feel nothing.

I am not irritated or bothered, nor am I inspired and uplifted. And for me, this is bad because it is, after all, the first week of Advent (for those of you who follow the liturgical calendar).

Our family tradition is to be total and absolute slackers and wait until the last minute to get our tree. In doing that, we keep the tree around well into January... at least until after Geoff's birthday which is the 7th. While I go out to put a bag of trash in the bin on December 26th and I look around the neighborhood and see all those lovely trees by the side of the road, discarded like used wrapping paper, I know that I'll go in my house and for another two weeks I'll bask in the glow of silly blinking racing lights and ornaments gathered over the 20 years of marriage and kids.

Right now though, my life feels so blah. So uninspired, so useless, so empty. I'm watching people on facebook and in person rushing around getting ready and I can't help but feel "what for?" Everyone is rabid and running around shopping and getting ready, and TV commercials hyping the big sales are just EVERYWHERE. Doug noted that about 10 years ago NObody outside of retail used the term Black Friday, but everyone does now. And it isn't just Black Friday. It's Black Seven Days or Ten Days or Black Month... whatever they can do to frenzy up the masses. I know they're trying really hard to make the economy better, to have businesses survive. I realize this. But it is cultish and horrifying to me to witness it.

The one thing that did strike me about the whole super hyped up Black Whatever Day frenzy was a quote someone had on their facebook that said "If you can get up to go to a store opening at 4am the day after Thanksgiving but can't ever get out of bed to go to 10am services on Sunday, Behold Your Idol."

So I'll sit back and watch everyone do things their way, for whatever reason or motivation they have, and I'll look to develop some of my own for our own little traditions. I'll look to making week 2 of Advent tidier, week 3 will be bringing Jess home... and getting a tree. And week 4 will lead up to Christmas.

All in due time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Forgot to post photos...

In my last entry, I meant to insert photos for illustration. I forgot to do that, so I'll just post photos here in their own entry. I also got a smart phone right before leaving. I forgot to bring my actual camera to Cleveland, like a dope, so my pictures from that part of the trip are not so awesome. So please forgive me.

To Pittsburgh and Back

Last week I was in the car headed westbound to go pick Jess and her friend up from Pitt and bring them home. My best friend from High School was in Pittsburgh for a conference, and he told me I should come out early and we should have some fun visiting and seeing the city.

We did just that.

Friday it took me forever to get there. I left at 6:15 in the morning, missed all the major traffic, and thought I'd be to Pitt by about 4pm. Not so. I got there around 5pm, picked Jess up to go to dinner with Rob (and her friend and the friend's boyfriend jumped in the car too).  We went and got Rob and I got onto a highway heading out of town, not the road I wanted to be on. We reversed direction and went back to Pitt to eat dinner and then show Rob the campus.

Rob was impressed with the campus and had a lot of questions about the school's history. None of which I knew the answers to. But we left Jess off and headed back to Rob's hotel so I could drop him off.

I ended up on the same wrong highway headed out of town, so instead of going up the highway to the exit I took earlier when everyone was in the car, I took the first exit off the highway, rte 28 towards a little town called Etna.

There were signs that said rte 28 was under construction, but I honestly had NO idea what I was driving into. Navigator Rob had the GPS and told me to take the 31st Street Bridge. That was closed... and the same with the 40th street bridge. we were in a tunnel of sorts, close in on us, made of Jersey Barriers. And we were almost out of gas. I thought to myself, Jeeeesh... If I run out of gas here, we are totally dead.

Luckily, the next bridge was open and we got off of rte 28, and headed back along the other side of the river through Lawrenceville. We found a gas station at literally the Eleventh Hour, and I rode him back to his hotel. We didn't pull in the lot or anything, I dropped him off and we said goodnight. I really wanted my own hotel (his was too expensive) and a shower.

I pulled back into the street, knew that I had to turn left, turn right, go straight and look for the sign to the Ft. Pitt Tunnel.

Well hell on wheels if I didn't turn left and then turn right ... right into Light Up Night celebrations in Dahntahn Pittsburgh. Sweet merciful crap.

The story goes that initially it was a couple thousand people in my way, then a half a million, then a bazillion million, and then the entire western hemisphere, depending on who I told the tale to afterward. Suffice to say, there was a buttload of people in the middle of the street and in my way. My GPS was urging me to "turn left" but the roads were blocked off.  "At next opportunity, reverse direction."

I saw Santa. That's all that mattered. Eventually, I found the ramp up to the Ft. Pitt tunnel and like a screaming bat out of bloody hell accelerated out of town. I got up to Robinson Township and stayed at a little Holiday Inn Express where the kid took pity on me and gave me the $109 a night room for $90.

Rob called me and said "I am looking at fireworks outside my hotel window... it's beautiful" and I was happy for him. But I got to see Santa, in the middle of Liberty Avenue.

The following morning I was up bright and early and found Rob easily. I was getting kind of okay good at driving around the city, and discovered that when there is no one on the road forcing me onto roads I do not wish to be on, it goes rather smoothly. We headed over to Station Square to park and then to ride up the Monongahela Incline. But upon arrival we found out the Incline was broken. So we got back in the car to head over to the Duquesne Incline, and I opted instead to drive up to the top of Mt. Washington. I remembered a few years ago Doug drove me up there and I almost had a heart attack, but the way was easy and Rob was excited about the houses being built into the side of the hill and wondered if people were ever worried about them sliding down.

We got to the top and parked, and enjoyed the absolutely perfect and glorious view of the city. So lovely. So beautiful... we talked about history and manufacturing in America and how cities like Pittsburgh have died, some managing to reinvent themselves and rise from the ashes and others that are not having as easy a time.

There were a few people looking down, straight down, so I followed their gaze. A buck was walking along the hillside, looking up at people. This is not something you see every day in a major metropolitan city. He was beautiful, with lovely antlers and a big black nose, and gorgeous white tail. There was an older gentleman there who said that over the summer he watched a doe give birth, and then leave. The fawn was there by itself... for about 10 days. He said people would come and check on her from above, but she just laid there. He dropped apples down to her, and someone ate the apples daily, because they were always gone. On the eleventh day, he came to check on her and she was gone so he didn't know if she got the strength up to go or if someone came and "got her." By which he meant a coyote or a human... either or. She was gone.

We drove down the hill and went over to Pitt and got Jess. We had a little time to kill, and the day was beautiful so we went back through the campus area. I scored a great parking spot and we went to Heinz Chapel to look inside. The organist was practicing, and the sweet little chapel was just ringing with beauty, with light, with sound... so lovely.

I once again missed the exit I wanted, and was on the wrong road... so we immediately fixed that over by Duquesne University and I got back on the road I wanted. I'm tellin' ya... all these years of being Doug's passenger you would think I knew what I was doing.

Rob's flight was at like 1:30, so we got him to the airport to get groped and fondled on time. Jess and I headed up to my in-laws, and we spent the afternoon talking with them. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at their favorite spot. I was slated to sleep at my sister in law's, and Jess came with me instead of me taking her back to Pittsburgh. We had a lovely visit with the cousins, sat around talking, wonderful Sunday dinner and lots of reading and battle hamsters and car races. We went out to eat with Doug's cousin Andy and his wife, they're expecting their first child and it was so nice to see them and have a little time with them.

Monday found me with only myself to entertain. I had reached out to friends in Cleveland and met them for lunch. I wanted to try the Great Lakes Brewery restaurant, so Bill and Stacey of Nothing But Love/Golf Blogger fame. We've been reading each other for like 10 years now, and who better to show me around Cleveland than them! We had a lovely lunch, they took me to The Christmas Story house on Clark, showed me the church from The Deer Hunter, and then we had mocha and pumpkin whoopie pies at their gorgeous downtown loft apartment and talked for hours.

I got back to my sister in law's close to 11pm. Slept like the dead, thinking that living in a loft in Cleveland would be pretty sweet.

The following morning my father in law and I went out to see his mom at her home. She has always been sharp as a tack but seems to be slipping a little bit. Doug's dad is often stressed by her, and he was glad to have me there as another person for her to talk to and for an excuse to leave because I had a deadline. Jess' class would be over at 3:45 and I had to get her.

It was a good visit, I made her laugh like her head was going to fall off her body at one point. I kind of love doing that to her. My poor father in law is long suffering and he even had a laugh at it.

Getting down to Pittsburgh was no fun. There was an accident outside the tunnel, and it took me forever to get to Jess. Of course her professor released class early, and I wasn't right there to meet her. The area of Forbes and Fifth was a disaster, thousands of people and buses and all kinds of road hogs all up in my grill. I got to Jess and her friend and by about 4:30pm we were on the road. On it but not moving.

We eventually got up to speed east of Monroeville, but it was pouring down rain at this point. Absolutely pouring. So hard to see and drive. I took a different route than normal - usually we go up 79 to 80 and buzz 80 across the state. This time I thought I'd try the turnpike to 99 to 80. It seemed to take longer. We got to Scranton where our friends Chris and Chrissy live, where we were staying for the night, at about 11pm. Much later than I thought we would. I don't know that I'm going to go that way again...  We visited with Chrissy for a while, and that was so nice. So sweet of her to stay up and wait for us and then chat. The girls slept on the couch with the kitties and I slept in the bed that I slept in last year when Doug and I went to get Jess. I couldn't fall asleep because I felt like I was still moving. The morning came too soon, and I got to visit with Chris, who while I was story telling told me I needed an editor. He's right.

We hit the road at 9 and got home at 3, after a brief stop at a Krispy Kreme and running into traffic on the Masspike.

I was so happy to get home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Nightmare of Paperwork

Am I the only one who does this?

You get bank statements, retirement account statements, 529 plan statements in the mail. You throw them in a pile. I'll look at those later.

The pile gets picked up after it has overtaken the dining table, and gets put into a box. If I need that stuff, I know where to find it.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

At our meeting with the lawyer last week he told us that we needed to produce financial documents to show what we have coming in and going out. Including all of our retirement accounts.

Which.... are ..... of course..... all in boxes or still piled on the dining table because there is mail there for about the last 2 quarters.

We don't eat much at the dining table.

So on Monday, Doug went to work and I went to ... work... on the piles.

After about an hour I found all the most RECENT things, but we needed to produce all of our paperwork since the beginning of this fiasco, so going back to December 2008.


I started to hyperventilate a bit. Then I started to feel my throat tighten and sweat.

I'll never be able to find all this stuff. I went into the bathroom, leaned over the toilet and couldn't puke. It just wouldn't happen. But the bathroom seemed to smell super funky to me, so I stopped what I was doing and cleaned the bathroom. Then, I did dishes. Then I took a nap.

My lawyer sent a "um, guys? paperwork please?" update email on Tuesday afternoon and I decided, hey... it's the freaking 21st century. I'm going to get all this stuff online. Like a modern boss.

In 2004 we consolidated all our 401(k)s into one account, so that was with Ameriprise. We've gone through 4 financial advisers since then. These kids come in, are all cool and nice, and then they move on to other pastures. Last time I talked with one was like February when they called to let us know we had a new contact. Well, today I called him and got a girl, and she is our new adviser I guess, for now.  She was super helpful and said she would overnight all our statements back to January 2009 to our lawyer and send a copy to us, no charge... Cool. But going beyond January 2009 meant archives, so we needed to set up online accounts.

So I did that, like a boss.

Then, Doug has some accounts that cannot be rolled into the Roth IRA, because of the type of account they are. they are 403(b) accounts. And they can't even be combined. So he has the one from When he used to work at the college and another from when he worked at Big Boston Hospital. According to this statement, he has 4 IDs. It made my head explode, so I'm going to have him deal with that nonsense when he gets home. I just can't.

I then found email correspondence that I had with the Attorney General's office, which kind of didn't do anything but it shows that I reached out there and provided info to them. I found other email that I'd had discussions with other people.

My poor lawyer's email box must be exploding.

Fingers crossed. Wish us luck...

Monday, November 14, 2011

So we can file this under more ways that I feel like my life is falling apart

My daughter has decided to leave college.

She won't give us a real clear and honest reason. She told me that she no longer cares about what she is studying, she no longer cares about linguistics and foreign languages. She hates everyone. She hates the people. She hates being there. She "cannot bear" to spend another semester there.

So she wants to come home at the end of this semester. I asked her if something happened to her, if someone said or did anything? Was it the homesickness? Was it the fear of having 90,000 dollars in student loans to pay off? What. Give me a reason.

Doug isn't hearing it from her. "You're depressed. Everyone gets depressed in college. Work through it, find a counselor or an adviser to talk to, and stay in school. Dropping out now will do you no good. If you think you're going to come home and find a job that pays more than 9 bucks an hour, you're wrong. Just stay there, and get a degree that will make you marketable."

But I have a degree and no one wants me. Does she see that and feel how fucking painfully USELESS everything is?

I think I've got that part of her experience figured out.

I know she had a good summer. She was very happy, and it was so good to see. She enjoyed working at our church, she loved working at the cooking school. She did a week of volunteer work at a christian rock concert up in New Hampshire and at one point I remembered she posted "I'm surrounded by people who care about things. I wish I cared about things."

Part of me agrees with Doug and the other part of me says to her, "come home, regroup. Take some classes at Salem State to stay on track. Change your major. Maybe we'll buy you a plane ticket and you can go to South Africa and go visit the women who visited us this summer from East London RSA. Go there for a while. They said they need teachers, they need smart women with big hearts. Go. And maybe you'll fall in love with something to care about. Or, just come home and wallow in it with me. Lord knows I'm not the chipperest happy person on the planet of late. Lord knows I prefer to watch 11 episodes of South Park back to back and work on stuff on my computer for Jo and then email it to her. Lord knows that mustering up the energy to go to a football game or to the freaking Grocery Store is a half day battle. Maybe if you're here, we can both yell at each other until we do things. Or watch another episode of South Park."

I don't know.

She told me today she didn't register for any spring semester classes (enrollment was 2 weeks ago) and that "by now, everything that I would maybe want to take is full. So it is pointless."

I honestly just don't even know what to do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

BOA update for November 2011

It has almost been a year since we first contacted our lawyer to put up our fight with BOA. Today, we are going to meet with him, with piles of documentation that BOA is asking of us.

We get to be deposed by THEIR lawyers next month.

My bowels are in knots, I'm completely stressed out. I didn't want to wake up this morning. I was having the coolest dream that I was a live action player in a video game that we like (Ratchet & Clank).

but off we go. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Even The Least of Them

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" - Jesus

I do not get very religious on you here in the blog. What I believe, I believe. Sometimes I find the need to share, and I think this is one of those times.

Today at my happy little part time job, which I do not refer to as "work" but I call "awesome," my love Jo left me in charge of phones for two reasons. One, she has laryngitis. Two, she had to go run errands and shop for the classes. I was wheeling and dealing, marketing and helping, sending emails, answering phones, telling people how to book a birthday party, and telling the Groupon jerks to kiss my ass and go away because Jo wishes not to deal with them. 

Shortly before she returned to the office, the phone rang. On the other end was a woman who sounded as if she was maybe a bit intoxicated. Her speech was slurred, I had a hard time really understanding her. But I listened, because she was full of questions. Pretty soon I figured out she isn't intoxicated, she just is.

She told me that she was attending a cooking school in the Boston Area and was going to be flunking out because the classes are too fast and she cannot keep up, so she wanted to "transfer" to our cooking school.  

I explained to her that we are not a culinary arts institute like the one she goes to. We  teach cooking classes for fun... not for certification. She couldn't grasp that, and wanted to know what our application process was. I explained to her as clearly as I could, that we don't do transfers, we sell individual classes of 2-3 hours to individuals, and those classes are just those classes. She wanted to know what the classes were like, do the instructors work slowly so people can actually learn. She also wanted to know "Why do I need to learn French Cooking? I'm American!" which kind of made me laugh a little. I told her that is so basic! The skills in French Cooking are the foundation for all of modern cooking. Like if you go to become a doctor, you don't just go and take classes in just what you want to do, you have to take Anatomy and Physiology and all sorts of basic introductory classes. BEFORE you can become a specialist in just Otolaryngology or Podiatry. She kind of understood that. 

"The foundations. That's what I need. I need the basics. But for nine months I haven't learned anything so I need to go somewhere that I can learn."

She told me how much she loves to cook, she loves to make food that makes people happy. She wants to be better at it. So she knows she needs to learn things. She asked if she could come just look at our cooking school. See what it is like. I told her to feel free. But she can't transfer here. She can just take classes that make her happy. I explained to her three times how to find us if she took the T. She was laughing and happy when we finished the call; I was exhausted and a little bit sad.

It crossed my mind as I sat there sadly that I'm very lucky. My life may suck in a lot of ways, but when it comes down to it, how privileged am I?

When I call somewhere, I can communicate, and I communicate well. Heck, I've even talked my way into interviews for jobs that I am not even close to qualified for. I realized that this is a woman who probably just wants a better job, or a job at all, and she's just trying to make her life better. Aren't we all? I have a part time job, I have a wonderful family. I have a support system and network which does not allow me to fall through the cracks.

I am not getting financially raped by a culinary arts outfit that really should not be taking my money, at all. I'm getting financially raped by Bank of America, but I'm fighting that fight the best I can. In the back of my mind I recalled Jesus' words in Matthew, which I cite at the top of the page. And I realized that this my sister is really one of the least of them. It started to break my heart, started to make me cry a little.

As for me, I want to think that if we are truly judged by what we do "to the least of them," that this was my shining moment. I'm of the mindset that I always try harder to help those who are obviously handicapped, those who do not get the attention of others, I can focus on them... and help them. And I do it often. I don't do it because I think it will get me into heaven or anything, but I do it because I know that we're known by our love, by treating people the way we would like to be treated, and that it is commanded of us to do these things.

I doubt she will come visit our cooking school. But should she.... I hope she likes the facility.

Jo returned from the world and I told her of all my adventures, including this woman's call. She stated that the woman called on Monday and Tuesday. Jo spent a half hour with her on Monday and Renee had her on the phone on Tuesday. We agreed that she was being robbed by the particular school, and that if she made it to us we'd do what we could to get her to understand how our classes work.

My guess is she will call tomorrow. And maybe the next day. As annoying as it may be, treating her the best we can is all we can do.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fall Back

I slept until a little after noon today, and Doug came to wake me up because I had committed to going and helping with the snack shack at the varsity home football game.

When he woke me from my sleep, I was having this amazing dream about a parade, and there were all kinds of people that I knew at the parade. I was looking for someone, and moving through the procession and the crowd, talking to people, confused and guessing, and seeking and reaching.

I was mad that he woke me. I felt as if I was just about to find that thing or person that I was looking for when he woke me up! He was actually in my dream,  trying to help me, I remember that much. It's a shame he ruined it by waking me, that certainly was no help.

Tonight we get to turn our clocks back an hour for Daylight Savings Time. I will endeavor to use that extra hour to sleep, to find out who I was looking for, and why.

What better use of time can there be?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bread Bowls Should Not Be Feared...

On Facebook the other day, my friend Michael X. said that he was making french onion soup for dinner. This is one of my favorites, and it inspired me to do the same a couple days later. I asked Michael if he served up the soup in sour dough bread bowls, and he said no --  he loves the idea, but he is afraid they would leak.

I decided to take pictures of how to do it, to prevent leakage, and to encourage him to not fear the bread bowl. If worse comes to worse, you can serve the bread bowl inside a bowl bowl, and not have any worries at all about the outcome.

I started with Alton Brown's recipe for french onion soup, found here on the internet. I am a huge fan of Alton Brown, and only once have I been disappointed by one of his recipes (christmas sugar cookie dough. It came out like cardboard, hard and crispy and disgusting. We threw the whole batch out after it was cooked).

There are some tweaks to the recipe that I will state right off the bat.

I didn't have any beef consume, or consomme, and I had no chicken stock, so I used 20 ounces of beef broth that I had in a container in the fridge. We always keep some on hand for soups and whatnot... normally a container of chicken and a container of beef, but I didn't notice when I went shopping that we were out of chicken.

I used two vidalia onions, one red onion and three small yellow onions.

I would cut the apple cider in half, or not even use it at all. The soup was cloyingly sweet, which is too much for me, considering I don't eat a lot of sweets and I really notice when things are sweet... it hits my palette hard.

I would use more wine in the recipe. He calls for two cups, but the instructions say to pour wine over the onions to cover them. Two cups wasn't enough to cover them. But nothing got ruined - the wine reduced to a beautiful syrup and there is something so sublime about the smell of onions cooking in wine. Blissful.

And I left out the cognac, and my "bouquet garni" was more or less thrown in and not tied up in kitchen string. I didn't have any, but had plenty of bay leaves and parsley, so that got incorporated into the actual soup instead of removed from the soup.

For the bread bowls, I went to my local supermarket and ordered sour dough bread bowls a day in advance. They make them, but they usually only make a few and they sell out quickly.  I could have gone to Panera or something, but the local market had them for me the next day, and they were about $1.25 each.  Start by getting a nice knife and cut the top off straight across. Like this:

Put the top aside because you'll need it for later.

Then, using your fingers gently dig  out the center of the bread bowl. Don't dig too close to the bottom or sides, because then all that will be left is the crust and you'll realize Michael's fear -- that you'll spring a leak.

As you can see, I've left plenty of bread inside the bowl, but it is still a nice big bowl.

You will then take the top, and cut it into little pieces. I like how these bowls were scored before baking, and that gave them the little criss cross tops, which were perfect lines to cut on. Take the cubed/cut top (and the insides of the bowls) and put them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with garlic powder, and toast them in the oven.

Alton's directions say to cut a loaf of crusty bread and then put it under the broiler, but I always find that burns the bread. Instead, I put the oven on about 450 degrees, and gently toast/heat until everything is crispy and crunchy, and not burned, about 5 minutes. I also do not apply any butter or olive oil to the bread... it toasts just fine without.

After your croutons are made, take your bread bowl and fill with your soup. Two ladle fulls went into my bowls here. Top with the toasted croutons, completely filling the top so you can't see the soup, and then cover with shredded cheese. I used Gruyere because it is my favorite, but you can use Swiss (Emental) or Fondita. Whatever makes you happy. Gruyere is my favorite because it melts so beautifully and browns so nicely. I should have shredded it smaller here, but we were in a hurry to get dinner cooked so Geoff (my kitchen assistant) used the slicer side of our grater and this was the result.

Pop the soup bowls into the oven, and this time I used the broiler... as you can see, the exposed edges of the bread started to burn (I hate the broiler)... but the cheese was melted just right and everything tasted perfect.

I ended up taking a lot of the left over bread guts and putting them back in the oven with some more Gruyere on them, and toasting them until the cheese melted. I then put them on top of soup in a regular bowl and ate it that way. I seemed to enjoy that a little more than the bread bowl.

The inside of the bread bowl after soaking up the soup gets a little, shall we say... snotty. The consistency of the bread was weird as I scraped the inside and pulled out a long rope of dough. It tasted great, but looked gross. And eating the bowl is always a great time. Whoever thought this up was kind of genius, if you ask me.

As for serving amounts, we ended up with four full bread bowls, a regular bowl full, and a small container of left overs. So I would say Alton's recipe claims to serve 8, it would be more along the lines of 6. Also, it would depend on your vessel of choice, bread bowl or some form of oven safe crockery.

So there you go. Don't fear the bread bowl.