Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eagle Update

1. finish the box, build it, stain it, letter it, put hardware on it. 
2. recycle the nylon flags at the National Cemetery on Cape Cod. 
3. Fill out paperwork.
4. fin.

Having a validated Eagle Application in hand yesterday I sat in the parking lot at the BSA office and cried for about 10 minutes. 

There are two things left.

1. Finish the project paperwork and build his binder so he can take it to the Eagle Board of Review (his Scoutmaster is scheduling that with the Eagle Board). 
2. Attend (and pass) the Eagle Board, and we just got email saying that will be on January 15th, 2015. 

Here are a couple of pictures of the things that have happened ... enjoy. 

Here's Geoff with the representative from the National Cemetery, who met us and took our over 300 flags to a burial site at the cemetery. He was really nice, and incredibly supportive of the process.

the first round of lettering by one of Geoff's friends, 
and former Boy Scout now college student Matt.

That. Is. Important.

Office Spaces

My office just relocated.

We moved only a few blocks away from where we were, but where we were felt like it was truly in the middle of things. This feels like it is so far away and on the periphery of things.

There are pros and cons. There is a great, big, huge parking lot right across the street, which is nice. And it is a dollar more than the lot I was parking in over by our old office (when I drive, that is...)

It is almost equidistant from the T stop as the other office was, but the other office was on a Silver Line stop, so if I felt like waiting an extra minute or two, I could basically get right to our front door and not have to walk the half mile from South Station. Now, that isn't an option. Which sucks when it is 20 degrees and windy.

There isn't a food truck at the end of our street like at the old office... but hey, there is a liquor store and for my booze-lovin' co-workers this is a great bonus.  And I think they may have some food products, which is nice considering  I don't know where the food is in the neighborhood.

The long and the short of it is, though, I may not get the opportunity to truly settle into this new space. My contract is ending in January, and I'm really not sure it is getting renewed. I know my boss is trying to get it renewed... but things have slowed down quite a bit over the past few weeks and it looks like it will be that way for a couple of months.  I would feel bad if they let me go, and then in May it all picks up again and there isn't  a fully trained "me" here in this seat and other people have to go back to doing help desk, on top of what they have to do. That's what got me in here. So it is all timing, need, and money that come together, and I'm not sure what is going to happen with anything.

Part of me is truly sad because I feel that I really "get it" here, and I'm happy. I write emails to people who ask for support and I tell them that I love taking care of "my stations" ... and I truly do. And it kind of breaks my heart that there are people I won't be corresponding with anymore, helping them... and being called their "rock star" and "deity" of the support line. That always makes me smile. Making other people who are angry on the other end of the phone to become .... not angry.

Another part of me is just plain exhausted. I hate getting up in the morning so early to spend 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the traffic or trains, getting somewhere. And I'm not sure if it is the time of year, combined with the huge focus of heart and mind on Geoff's project, but .... I'm weary. Last night I left here at 4:30, and was home, in bed, fast asleep at 7.

And it was especially obvious to me how happy I was last week while the office was moving. Loving helping people, in my pajamas, by the wood stove, with the dog, with the coffee. It's good for me in short doses to be at home for sure... I don't think I could do this particular job 100% from home. Being in the office is important.

I've been here since May, and as a contractor, I have learned over the past 3 contracts to not settle in. Don't bring in all the fun shit to put up at your desk. The pictures, the knick-knacks, the "me" stuff. Bringing them all back home is kind of heartbreaking.

The new office space is nice - but we're all literally together in one big room. And it is distracting for some. There have been complaints about the noise level from one group to another. We all have to get used to this space.

I'm looking forward to a lunch time walk-about, to go see if there is food anywhere nearby, so I don't have to walk back to the old neighborhood. Note to self: Bring your lunch, and bring in some headphones.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

For those keeping track at home...

Geoff needed 4 merit badges, 2 Eagle and 2 Non-Eagle. He finished the 2 Eagles with my friend Deb as his merit badge counselor 2 weeks ago. For his non-Eagles he chose the Safety Merit Badge which he finished on Thursday.

Which left one Merit badge.

Now, back in the day he started the Photography Merit Badge with our then Committee Chair, Marie. Marie, like me, likes to keep the blue Merit Badge cards in her possession.  He spent 3 weekends, one or 2 hours each with a couple of other Scouts and Marie doing Merit Badge College kinds of classes. At the same time, he finished Art and Citizenship in the Community.

Marie told me all she needed from Geoff was 20 photos either printed out or put into a slide show. Geoff took 20 blurry and awful pictures of our dogs. I told him he needed to apply some of what the merit badge requirements were asking of him. Rule of thirds, depth of field, macro, portrait. He said "yeah yeah yeah."

When Marie got sick, and I told him all you have to do is pull 20 good pictures together and she'll sign off on it! I got the "but I took 20 pictures of the dogs..." routine. I told him he could not submit those to her.

I registered to be the merit badge counselor for photography for our troop (and others, if anyone local is interested). I thought this might come in handy. I'm sort of a decent photographer, I think. I understand the requirements. I know what an f stop is. Yeah.

Before Marie died, she sent her son to my house with a bag of all of the things she used for the photography Merit Badge. A polaroid camera, some documentation, some books. I wish she had given me her really awesome film SLR but she did not.... such is life.

I emailed her, asking her "where are the blue cards?"

She didn't answer me, and each time I spoke with her she was vague and would say "oh the boys do such nice work on that badge..." And then she passed away on me.

I figured I would wait until her sons tidied up the house. After she passed away, the boys went through things and I know a lot of stuff was distributed back to the troop. I emailed two of her sons and asked -- both reported that they had no idea where the cards were.

All Geoff had to do was 20 pictures.

I made him redo the whole badge.

We spent the whole day on Saturday together, we did all of the requirements outlined in the badge and then we went out to Newburyport and took pictures. His little point-and-shoot camera doesn't have a lot of features. It has an auto-detect for Macro which is kind of cool, but it isn't awesome. We had my camera and a very old Pentax Spotomatic, which suddenly didn't want to work for us when we were on the photo walk. I'm glad we had my camera.

There was a plethora of things to photograph from beautiful store windows, to little lights, and yes... dogs. Geoff photographed 5 dogs. I had him approach some strangers that I noticed were trying to take a selfie. He took a picture of them with my camera, and I took one of them with their cel phone.

It was snowing like mad - he had 50 pictures taken... we went to lunch and went through the camera laughing at some of the shots.

He did a great job.

There were some really great depth of field shots, a couple macro shots where he got excellent light bokeh going on behind.

And dogs. He got some great dog shots.

We did rule of threes with a street. He took some great landscape vs. portrait shots. He even took a cute picture of me laughing at him.

I filled out his blue card yesterday and thought "Whoa. That's it. That's the last thing he needs. This is done."

Well, the Merit Badge portion of the dance is done.

After we went to lunch we went to Lowe's where we got all of the things we needed for The Box. His project coach sent me dimensions for a plywood sheet to be cut down, and miracle upon miracles it fit in our car so I drove it home.

The box assembly started today. The box itself is built, except for the bottom and the top. I am hoping I can get a good friend to paint the top of the box or make a plaque for the box that is gorgeous.... if she is free to do so.

All told... Next weekend we will be done. Just in time as I'd hoped. Just in time.

So if you are keeping track

1. finish the box (will happen next weekend).
2. recycle the nylon flags (will happen on 12/19 when we go down to the National Cemetery on Cape Cod and drop them off. They have a program.... )
3. Fill out paperwork.
4. fin.

Thank you to  all of you who have reached out to offer funds for Geoff to help defray the cost of this project. You know who you are. Special thanks to my Girl C who bought the flags on Amazon and had them shipped to us.  The overall cost of the flags was about $650. The box rough materials ran us $54, and our estimate for what we thought it would cost was $75.  All told, he has about $600 in his account. I don't think we need to do any fundraising letters or anything to get the balance taken care of. I think it will be a break even project. I think the balance can be written off as a donation from me.

This is for reals you guys. You long time readers (all 2 of you) who have followed Geoff since his Kindergarten Graduation.... watched him grow through this blog.... I hope you are smiling as big as me.

I'm overwhelmed by the kindness people have shown. I'm more overwhelmed by how he has done.

We have already begun our paperwork for the submission to the Eagle board. That hopefully will all be in my hot little hands and printed and done for next Monday. My friend Kathy is shopping for invitations for her son's Eagle ceremony, and she keeps sending me emails with "how about this for Geoff? Do you like this one?" and I'm just laughing because I don't want to buy a single thing until he has that board of review. God help us. I'll be a mess until then, I think.

I'll be happy when I can write about other things. Think about other things. Go to sleep thinking about other things....

And as he begins his final lap, I'm already talking to other parents in the troop, heck other parents of boy scouts .... "get going now..." I tell the parents of the 15 and 16 year olds as they are in or approaching Life rank.

Get going now.

Nice story from Lowe's, we were with a staff member looking at plywood. Geoff was in his uniform shirt and a dad walked past with his son in a cart. They picked up what they needed and I didn't see them again until we were close to checking out. He smiled at us and said "Eagle Project?" and Geoff nodded.  "My brother and I are both Eagles. I remember this kind of thing well." He was beaming with a huge smile. "I know a lot of Life Scouts. But not a lot of Eagles." He shook Geoff's hand and looked at his son.

"Good luck," I said to him as I looked towards his boy.

Good luck indeed.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Caribbean Black Cake

Started drunkenly somewhere around 11pm on 12/4
My office holiday party is tomorrow. Unlike last year, where as a contractor I was not allowed to participate, this office embraces the contractors whole heartedly.

The theme is "the islands" and they do not mean "Cape and Islands," for you locals.  Think sandy white beaches and palm trees. Caribbean. Jamaican.

There is always some sort of contest with these people. And I'm okay with that. Last big contest was an ice cream making contest, and my co-worker Molly won with a goat cheese and drunken cherries blend. So good.

I figured, I'm okay at baking, so hey - maybe I'll bake something authentic for my people. So I googled things, and all points seemed to lead to Caribbean Black Cake. I asked a long time blog friend, someone I met on Journalspace back in the day, Mr. Keifel himself, for a good recipe. He's originally from Trinidad, so I figured he'd have a good recipe for me.

He sent me his Grandmother Winnifred's recipe, and I was excited to give it a try.

Seeing as right now it is Thursday night, and the party is tomorrow, it is already a semi-collosal flop because I didn't have the fruit soak in the booze long enough. I prepped the fruit yesterday and it should really sit for a couple of months. But hey -- I'm just trying to have some fun over here!

I went to the market with my smartphone dialed up to the recipe, and walked around in search of prunes and currants. I had to call Jo from Awesome and ask "So, what on EARTH is candied mixed peel?!" She laughed at me, educated me and wished me well.

With ingredients in hand, and booze procured earlier in the day, I set to soaking the fruit. Prunes, raisins, currants and this mystery collection of strange bits like citron and cherries and whatnot. When I got home from Boy Scouts tonight, it was baking time.

At 9pm. 9 Freaking PM.

So I'm baking at 9pm, and drinking beer, like you do, and listening to the police scanner as protestors are out in the streets of Boston... I'm pondering race, race relations, crimes while white, crimes while black, drinking more beer and just feeling like the world just needs so much help. I am thinking about black and white people, growing up white in an all black neighborhood, co-workers and friends who have broken or angry hearts tonight. And overall, there is nothing I can do.

So, back to the cake. I followed the directions and I cut the recipe down to 1/3. I got 3 cake pans out of the deal, which is kind of nice. If I did the whole thing, it would be like 12 cakes.

While working and following said directions, I noted that I cracked all 8 eggs into one container before I read that I should separate the yolks and whites out (again, my cake will be a colossal failure because of that). I couldn't get the egg whites to peak the way they are supposed to -- after 15 minutes of hand mixing, we got nowhere but fluffy and foamy, and the motor on the mixer started to get super hot. (again, colossal equals failure equals cake).

Continued on 12/5, non-drunkenly but somewhat hungoverly
Party is about to begin. I transported the cakes to the office this morning and my friend Rakiesha took some pictures of me finishing the cakes. The cakes are supposed to soak in alcohol. Wine or rum or both or whatever. I had used all of the wine in the part where I set the fruit up but there was still the more full bottle of rum to be used.

When the directions said to add the alcohol at the end, I emailed Keifel and asked "what, like a drizzle? He said no - "I drunken up those babies." So, I did. I poured the entire bottle of rum on the cakes, and they absorbed nearly the entire bottle.

I finished it off with the juice of a lime, one half on each cake.

Winnifred's name is on the tent in front of the cakes. Two are alcoholic, and one is alcohol free.  I better win this competition.

Photos and the process:
I took all the pictures with my phone camera because I have no idea where my camera is right now. Last time I saw it was Geoff's Eagle Project a couple of weeks ago. It's around here somewhere...

The fruit, wine and rum, run through the cuisinart.
I think if it gets to sit for a good long time, that liquid gets absorbed or something...

A pound of butter, a pound of brown sugar.
That's a lot of butter and sugar.

Next time, don't just crack all the eggs into the container, read the instructions. dummy.
Because this is what happens, 20 minutes of whipping the egg whites results in no peaks.

But the good news is, it is hard to mess up blending butter and sugar...
And then you add in your fruit. 

I used half of this amount of fruit... the other half is in the kitchen waiting for 
me to find an appropriate container
After adding in all the fruit, and the egg whites which never did peak 
(I gave up) the mix looks like this. 

I ended up with 3 whole cake pans full of batter from the above mixer.
When were they done? Insert Spongebob 3 hours later image here
(cakes came out of the oven at like 12:45am)
Finally asleep at about 1am with a wake up time of 6am. 
Sounds just about right for stuff I decide to do...

After the cakes cool the recipe says to add alcohol to the cakes. 
I thought I would be drizzling the cakes with booze. 
Instead I was baptizing them by immersion.
The entire rest of the bottle of rum on 2 cakes.

The cakes were like giant sponges, soaking up all the rum. 
I may have over baptized them, because after a while they stopped 
soaking up the liquor, and the liquor pooled all in the pan. 

Note to self, stop after a while.

Just for fun, I added the juice of a lime, one half per cake.
because I thought it would taste good. It didn't make much of a difference because... Rum.

Conclusion, Saturday morning after the party
We didn't seem to have any sort of judging of cakes and baked goods. One of my co-workers made a rum bundt style cake, and it was good but not this good. Another made oatmeal chocolate cookies which were outstanding. Someone else made a dip for strawberries with cool whip and Oreo cookies, which tasted great. It was super firm and tasty. And someone bought some sort of Boston Cream Pie. 

I think everyone just ate fast and had Yankee Swap time and no one was really paying attention to the prospects of the competition... except for maybe me. As far as parties go, it is sometimes just better to not have structured events, but to just party and chat and have a good time.  And this party had plenty of that. It was a really good time.

But I would say it if there was a judged moment it would have come down to my cake vs. the oatmeal  cookies. Hers were tasty, baked right there in the office at 3pm. Still semi-warm by the time we all tucked into them. But I heard a lot of incredible feedback from people about the cake. And that made me incredibly happy.  I enjoyed the cake greatly myself.  And to be honest, you know that's all that matters. 

Notes for future use:

1. Buy some dried apricots too. You like those.
2. Do the eggs correctly? please? It should not take 15-20 min to peak egg whites so ... you did something wrong there girl. Probably that tiny bit of yolk you got stuck in there that didn't want to get out of the whites. Figure it out. Don't do it again.
3. Put the rest of the fruit/booze mixture into a glass container and save for a few months so it gets all super funk just the right way. Or save it for putting over ice cream next weekend.
4. Always have beer handy while baking. It just makes life so much more fun. But... do not drink it all, like you just did.
5. Browning. It's some brown sugar/caramel thing that Keifel mentioned in an email to me that I completely missed this detail. It isn't mentioned in the recipe but Keifel mentioned it in an email discussion. I thought browning was an action, not an ingredient. I was all "ZOMG LET'S MAKE CAKE NAO!" when I went to do things, and so... always read all the correspondence in everything.
6. Cooking time states it should cook for an hour at 175 F. That is actually more like 2 - 2.5 hours. She learned as she crawled up to bed at 12:45am.
7. Use a better quality rum for the baptism. I felt like the cheap rum that we bought for the soaking of the fruit was probably not the best rum to be using for the soaking. No one else complained, but it just seemed too harsh to me.
8. Don't use so much of the rum for the soaking.
9. Room temperature? Seemed super squishy. I think it may be better chilled.
10. Ice cream would be a good addition.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

One more step closer....

I know it feels like the All Eagle-All The Time blog right now but ... It is literally the most important thing going on in our lives. I promise a different post soon. We have other stuff going on.

Geoff got his last 2 Eagle required merit badges tonight. I feel like screaming it from many rooftops.

He started Personal Management at the beginning of the summer, and he started Cooking last spring. Tonight he had all his requirements pulled together and sat down with the MB counselor who covers both of those badges, and talked about things, and went over things and .... got them signed off.

For those keeping score at home... he needs 4 total merit badges, 2 Eagle required and 2 non-Eagle. So he just knocked those 2 Eagles out of the park.

For the 2 non-Eagles, I'm the photography MB counselor, so he had started that 2 years ago with our friend Marie and never finished it before she got too sick to do badges. So. We'll finish it.  When she passed away, I got a whole bunch of stuff from her but no blue cards, so ... Geoff and I will go over the requirements that he already did with her and then finish off the last thing he was supposed to do and never got to do.

For the other non-Eagle, he'll do Safety with our district commissioner Denis, and get all that work pulled together before next meeting.

He wants to finish off Shotgun shooting - and if he does that's great but .... I'm hanging my hat on Safety and Photography for him right now.

Other stuff:

He has been calling funeral homes to make arrangements for the nylon flags to see if they can be burned with Veterans who are cremated. If he can't get them taken care of, we have to just bury them somewhere, and will need to figure out where that where is.

He has to build the drop off box for town hall to replace the weird container they have down there for flag donations, and present it to the Veterans. That will probably happen next weekend, when his Eagle Project Advisor is.

He has to write all of this up.

We'll work on that.

I want all of this buttoned up before Christmas and I believe he can do it. I just feel like my head is going to explode - he isn't very anxious or revved up about things, I guess that is my job.

Denis told me tonight that he did his entire Eagle project but missed out on one Eagle required merit badge, so he never got his Eagle. He's a great boy scout and great boy scout leader. He said "I've known Geoff for so long and I can't imagine getting to this point and having us not get him across the finish line."

I'm so happy there are so many people lining up behind Geoff to help him succeed.

Even an Eagle needs the wind beneath his wings I guess.

So.... stand by. We're getting closer and closer, my friends. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it isn't a freight train coming our way.