Being Sick Sucks.

This week was a blur.  In the role required by my secret real identity, I work at a university and this was the first week of the spring term.  I saw more people this week than I like to see in a month.  It was crazy.  Their faces all ran together, and in my head they just exist as a singular talking head giving me reasons why they hadn’t registered for classes yet.

As an added bonus, I contracted some sort of plague that wasn’t severe enough to merit sick days (nor contagious with coughing or sneezing) but did call for OTC medication that put me in enough of a fog to make it feel like I was in an episode of Scooby Doo.  Thursday night I got home and crashed early enough to get rest for Friday, and Friday night I took some burly antihistimines that launched me into some funky dreams involving my childhood home and Jerry Lewis (?).  I slept most of yesterday.

Mr Incredible spent yesterday doing laundry.  Wash, dry, fold, put away.  He changed the sheets on Boo’s bed.  Can I get a round of applause for Mr Incredible?  Because he totally lived up to that name yesterday.

As an added bonus, it was raining, so there was no outside time at all.  Boo was largely left to her own devices. She watched more TV than we prefer under normal circumstances, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  At the end of the day, her playroom looked like a Barbie/Superhero Opium Den after a wild night of partying.

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I blame Wonder Woman.

Yeah I don’t know why everybody has to be naked and face down, but apparently that’s the rule.  Lucky Strawberry Shortcake has her clothes permanently on or she’d be on the walk of shame too.

I’m better today.  It’s amazing what 20 hours of sleep in 2 days can do for one’s health.

This week we’re finishing the first month of the House Blast.  When I started it on January 1, I had no idea that anyone would pay attention.  I figured a few of my friends would humor me, and it would likely fizzle out (like most New Years’ resolutions do…) within a couple of weeks.  But it became a Thing, and there are 300 cleaner bathrooms in the world because of it.  The interwebs are amazing.

Next month we’re going to do the master bedroom.  I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to approach it.  It’s not like a bathroom, which is all about functionality.  Our bedrooms are where we land at the end of the day.  It’s the most personal space in the entire house, I think.  Without delving into HBO Late Night topics, it’s where we need to recharge and reconnect with ourselves and our spouses (as applicable…).  There needs to be room in the bedroom to allow for us to prepare for the upcoming day.

And that’s how I’m going to approach it.  Stay tuned.  The end result is going to be amazing.

Summertime, and the living is easy.

A couple of weeks ago, I was staring dolefully at the apricots we’d received in that week’s farm share basket.  I’m not a big fan of apricots–when I was a kid, we had an apricot tree in the back yard that exploded into thousands of nasty bits of orange slime each pecked once or twice by a bird before it fell to the ground and rotted, and it was most often my job to pick them up.  GROSS.  Seriously disgusting.  I’ve lived a good life free of apricots for 25 years, no regrets.

But then they showed up in our basket, and Mr Incredible (rightly) insists on at least trying everything in the farm basket and not just waiting out the shelf life of whatever we don’t like so we can just toss them.  So I had to deal with some rapidly ripening apricots tout de suite.  Fine.

I’d made strawberry preserves before, and it was kind of involving.  The simple act of locating Sure-Jell in a suburban desert grocery store almost killed the whole process.  Sterilizing jars in the Great Big Family Canner?  Crazy.  But it happened.  I knew I could do it, but I knew that there had to be an easier way.  I mean, Laura Ingalls didn’t have to do that every freaking time, right?

No.  As it turns out, she did not.  She may have anyway, because that’s how they roll By The Shores of Silver Lake.  But maybe she was just a glutton for punishment.  Or maybe she just didn’t have The Google.  Because a quick search for “easy apricot jam” led me here and a whole new world of culinary wonder was revealed to me.  Twenty minutes after I thought “Maybe I could make jam…?” I had made jam, and it was cooling on the counter.

I made this!

I added some vanilla extract, and it became a marvelous dessert topping as well.  I was so full of myself that I also baked bread, because one simply does not put homemade jam on store bread.

When I was properly stuffed with bread and jam (omg so good), I came back to the Google and started sniffing around for similar recipes.  How many times have I tossed furry strawberries and blueberries and insert-name-of-berry-here-berries because I buy more than I can possibly eat?  I started with strawberries, and I found this great, simple, no-fail recipe that tells you how you can do the sterilizing and canning, but also how you don’t have to.  Long story short, if you’re going to eat the jam “immediately”, which I assume to be within 7-10 days refrigerated, you just extended the life of your fruit.

I quickly found that there are two types of jam-makers: those who require pectin (Sure-Jell) and those who do not.  I do not.  Right then, things got easier.  Cindy Burke at Culinate.com blew my mind by putting it all on one site.  The riper your fruit is, the sweeter the end result and the less sugar you’ll need.  Your fruit doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s clean and not fuzzy or similar.  You cook it down, stir in some sugar and lemon juice (lemon keeps it from turning brown) and if you know it’s going to cook up tart or overly sweet or whatever, you season accordingly.  In my experience, you cannot go wrong with vanilla.  It makes just about anything better (amIright? yeah.).  When I get some strawberries, I’m going to go off the grid and toss in some fresh basil.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful? YUM.

What I love about this is that it’s super quick and doesn’t require anything that you don’t have in your kitchen already.   You don’t need to break out Grandma’s great big canner.  You can do this tonight for tomorrow’s pancakes.  Really.

I would be remiss if I did not include some very clear information and finger-wagging about safety.  Food preparation is serious business.  Taking a dozen peaches and making jam for your family is great, as long as you’re careful about your environment.  At eatright.org, we learn scary things about E.coli and wikihow.com tells us all about the dangers of botulism (scroll down).

So that’s it.  Don’t shy away from buying as much summer fruit as you possibly can.  Eat all you want fresh out of the bushel basket.  When you’re turning into Violet Beauregarde, just make some jam.

Out of the (very very organized) closet.

I have previously alluded to the day I would inform my father (with whom I have a solid, albeit occasionally tricky) relationship about this whole Get A Grip thing.  That day? was Friday.

It needed to happen, because the next day we were all going to a party, and people would be there who knew about Get A Grip, and I could not run the risk of him finding out from someone besides me.  People were going to talk about it.  Lots of people know about it, but it was time for my father to know the truth about my life and how I was spending my time.

It was time to come out of the closet to my folks.

It started as most of our visits do.  “So,” my stepmom asked,  “What’s new?”  I took a deep breath and I told them that we needed to have a conversation about work.  Dad asked if I was having problems with work again?

“No, not again.  It’s ongoing.  It’s not going to get better, I don’t think.”  I went on to describe the environment, which isn’t a bad environment, necessarily, it’s just not the right place for me.  I’m not my true self at work, and the stress of it is causing problems in other areas of my life.  I’m not happy, and I deserve to be.  So a few months ago, I started exploring my options.  Experimenting, if you will, with alternatives to the mainstream life I was leading.  And I have discovered a new path that really is putting some joy back into my life.

It was my father’s worst-case scenario for my career choices.  One of his children wanting to leave the fold and be something else?  And leave a pension and benefits?  Our people don’t work for ourselves.  We are hard workers, yes, but we work for somebody. Not “clients”, and by the way, what sort of people will you be dealing with?  Who doesn’t know how to clean a house?  Who will hire you?  Your friends?  What happens when you run out of friends?  You might as well be a goddamn insurance salesman.

Le sigh.

Trying to explain internet marketing to my father is like….. trying to explain internet marketing to my father.  He is of the generation that still writes a check at the grocery store, and prefers to do business in person, face to face.  The internet is for email and tracking down classic cars and evidently people also put dirty pictures on it (such a funny story, the day my father became aware of this phenomenon), but to depend on it for your livelihood?  Does not compute (HA! Compute. That’s a joke, son.).

In the end, and as it stands now, he’s supportive of this new alternative lifestyle I’m trying to put together.  I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s just a phase, and I’ll grow out of it, but he’s on board.  He’s got my back unconditionally, as ever. He knows that I’m not going to do anything that puts our ability to keep a roof over our heads at risk. He wants me to be happy, and he knows that when I stand my ground on a big decision that I know he doesn’t like, I mean business.

This is me, out of my very organized closet, standing my ground.  I mean business.

What’s my motivation?

I think the hardest part about making a change is remaining positive about where you are while being excited about where you want to go.  This week has been a big one for Get A Grip, while I’m stoked to be taking big steps to make this happen, it’s so easy to get negative about my actual, income-providing job.  I do realize that I’m fortunate to even have a job at all, and it’s not a bad gig.  Not really.  I’ve been with the organization for over 10 years, and it has led me in some very surprising directions.  I’m grateful for all of the professional and personal opportunities that I’ve gotten from working there.  Hell, I was introduced to Mr. Incredible and some of our dearest friends because of a co-worker from my first assignment.  Working there has been an amazing foundation for the rest of my professional development.  Seriously.  Not even being a little sarcastic there.

But sometimes, it’s just time to go.  Regardless of how the last year has played out, I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to move on.  I could go on and on about how the environment has changed, and how the people in charge are doing it wrong blah blah blah.  But it’s no longer about them and their environment.  It’s about me and my environment.  My primary motivator is based upon the environment in which I want to be.

I’ve touched on this a couple of months ago and a couple of months before that.  My dream job revolves around being in charge of my own time. That’s where this began. I have always been more of a “work until the work is done and then figure out how you can go home” kinda girl.  And that’s not a popular approach to work in the modern office.  In the bigger picture, the work is never done.  There is always one more batch of forms to process.  So I get why the expectation of  8:00-on-the-dot until 5:00-on-the-dot is in place.  I honestly feel like I’m in a place where that expectation no longer needs to apply to me.  So much more of my life could happen during those hours.

The scariest thing about all of this is the realization that if this happens, it will be up to me to fill those hours.  Full disclosure:  I’ve developed some rather, um, lackadaisical work habits in the past year.  It would be easy to point fingers and say “It’s their fault!  Upheaval!  Half-assed training!  Scorn and disregard!” but I have to own this one.  I spent so much time being pissed off that I let it affect my own diligence.  I hate that.  I need to get back to how I was so long ago, when I didn’t take “mental health” days at least once a week and I had a good deal of pride in my work.  I had control over how I reacted to things at work, and I reacted poorly.

One of my most significant anxieties about this whole thing stems from when I think about the day I tell my dad that I’m going to quit my job.  It’s not going to happen anytime in the immediate future (unless we hit Megabucks and then SEE ya!) but when it does, I’ll be giving up a pretty good benefits package, including a pension.  I’m already vested, but if I could stay for 30 years (omg kill me….) I’d get a decent retirement.  My dad is of the opinion that the only way to win, and winning is important, is to outlast the sonsabitches.  I can’t do that.  I can’t be the wife and mother and friend and person that I need to be if I spend all my energy outlasting the sonsabitches. I don’t need his permission to proceed, but things are a lot easier when he doesn’t make that Dad Face that means he’s puckering up to give some advice (not telling me what to do just advice and suggestions so don’t take it like he’s being bossy he’s just trying to help) every time I see him.

Dammit, I just want to enjoy my time.  I want to be able to incorporate new choices into my life, and it’s hard to do that right now.  The environment I create for myself and my family needs to be one that works for all of us.  It’s like any other system or process that I have (and I have so damn many…) in that it needs to flow in such a manner that it doesn’t get in the way of what we want to do.

Does that make sense?

What’s your uniform?

 

If you were to meet me in person for the first time, chances are I’d be wearing jeans or khakis and a button-down shirt.  It is my uniform.  My friends tell me that when they think of me, this or some variation thereof is what I’m wearing.  And it’s true.  I’m not one to follow (or set…) trends.  I feel ridiculous when I venture too far away from this basic get-up.  I will accessorize it, dressing it up with jewelry and fabulous shoes or down with flipflops and a beachy hat.

When I shop for new clothes, I tend to buy pieces that can be rotated into this uniform.  A denim skirt?  Perfect!  French cuffs?  Love it.  Scarf?  Um, I don’t know what to do with a scarf, and I would spend the entire day fiddling with it because in my head it would never look quite right (even if it looked fine).  Scarves have too many variables.  Cool necklace?  Much better.

Periodically, I do endeavor to mix it up a little.  I look in my closet (which is sorted by color, which should surprise nobody) and if I see too much of one thing, I know it’s time to go in a new direction.  I recently rediscovered skirts, and I’m liking them.  I bought one that was COMPLETELY different from my usual palate, however, and when I wore it to work, I was actually uncomfortable by all of the (overwhelmingly positive) attention it received.  Lots of bright different colors, horizontal stripes (!!!), very cute, but I realized that I prefer to stick to my basics for the office.

When we change little things about our appearance, they can make a big difference.  Last year, I completely revolutionized my hair by changing the part.  My whole life, I’m fighting with a natural part that starts over my left eye and angles back kind of diagonally.  No amount of product was really effective–by the end of the day, it always kind of went back to this weird part.  So one day I just let it happen.  Suddenly, my hair takes half the time to do, and I’m able to envision doing other things with my hair.  Right now?  Growing out bangs.  I’ve had bangs of some sort for as long as I’ve had hair.  And they don’t lie flat.  The part goes right through them and it just doesn’t work.  Instead of fighting with it, I’m going to see what happens if I let it win.

Comfort doesn’t have to equal boring.  You can be comfortable in couture, and that’s fine (awesome, in fact, and I have a jealous of you if that’s the case).  When we’re comfortable (not ridiculous or sloppy {sorry Britney…} ) we walk taller.  We feel like we look good, so we feel good, and that shows.  My uniform may not be all zazzly and exciting, but if it’s good enough for her…

Ohhh, she added a scarf. Hmmm. Maybe….

..then I think it can work for me too.

I think a big part of Getting A Grip is about knowing what your best path is.  In my case, that’s often the path of least resistance.  I feel like when a decision is full of “no” then it’s not the right decision for me.  It’s important to be able to identify your comfort zone, even if only to be able to know when you’re out of it.  A comfort zone isn’t necessarily a rut.  Make your comfort zone a starting point.

Of course, some rules are carved in stone.  Some lines should not be crossed.  Ever.

Don’t get me started.

Give us this day our daily bread…on the cheap.

In the interest of Not Being Broke All The Time, Mr Incredible and I are constantly on the prowl for what we refer to as “no money fun”.  If we can find something that kills time and has some other beneficial effect and it doesn’t cost a lot, we’re on board.

I’m not a big food snob, but ever since Boo was born, I’ve been more attuned with what’s in our food.  We read labels, and we avoid high fructose corn syrup and saturated fats and all that bad stuff that you read about. It’s not hard to do, really, but sometimes we have to get creative.

A couple of months ago, I baked a loaf of bread.  I found a recipe at The Simple Dollar that looked easy enough, so I bought a loaf pan and some yeast and tried it.  And you know what?  I freaking love to bake bread.  It’s like therapy.  There are simple ingredients that you probably have on hand (except for yeast, because if you’re not already baking bread you’re not just going to have yeast in your pantry…), and you need about a 3-hour block of time where you can run into the kitchen for a few minutes at a time.  The benefits to my now weekly bread baking habit surprised me:

  • Homemade bread tastes SO.MUCH.BETTER. than store-bought bread.  There’s no comparison.  The texture, the flavor, and you can throw in garlic salt or fresh herbs and you have fancy bread that will amaze your family.
  • Kneading bread is like punching someone.  You know how sometimes you just wish you could pop some jackass in the face?  This is the next best thing.  When your dough is the right consistency, you take it out of the bowl, put some flour on your knuckles, and you beat the crap out of that bread for 10 minutes.  Sometimes?  I name my dough.
  • Bread at the store is expensive.  Homemade bread is made from cheap, simple ingredients.
  • There is satisfaction in making something.  I come from a long line of quilters and crocheters and who knows what all is involved in making some of the crap crafts that some of them hang on every single wall in their homes.  That gene totally skipped me.  I have none of that.  I walk into Joann Fabrics, and it’s like I’m on another planet.  But when I pull a nice warm loaf of bread out of the oven, I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder making something from scratch for my family.
  • This amazing aroma fills your house from the moment you add water to yeast.  You can’t smell anything else–not the dog, not the man cave, nothing.  Just the smell of home cooking.  And it lingers for hours afterward.  It’s so pleasant and soothing and homey.

And then you cut into this still-warm bread, and you see a little puff of steam, and you take a deep breath like you do (or at least I do…) when you open a bag of coffee and you just take it in and it’s incredible.

You learn lessons from homemade bread, too.  You have to deal with it quickly, but not too quickly.  Because there are no preservatives, it needs to be either consumed (no problem here….) or frozen long before store-bought bread is.  But if you put it in the freezer too soon, it will steam itself into a sad, squishy lump, and you’ll still eat it (um, at least I will because I’m like that…) but it won’t be that perfect puffy bread you pulled out of the oven.

You need to respect the process of the bread from the first moment to the last.  It’s the simultaneous application of attention and patience.  You knead it for 10 minutes, and then you let it sit for an hour.  You have to leave it alone, as much as you want to touch it and maybe even take a bite?  Because it’s dough, and dough tastes so good… but you leave it to do its thing. And every week’s efforts yield a different result.  Bread is affected by what’s going on around it.  Temperature, humidity, how angrily firmly you knead the dough, are all variables.  Bread isn’t about perfection, but the result is invariably some version of perfect.