Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Give Back, Don't Give Up

When I hear stories about children who have died, my heart aches. On my List of Things to Ask God, finding out the answer to that one is pretty high up.

In the last couple of months, there have been many stories about children in the St. Louis area who have died. One in particular was a young girl died while on vacation in Costa Rica when her ATV went off a cliff.

I found her memorial website, and read about their plans to hold an annual benefit on her birthday. I was so touched by their story that I left a comment explaining who I was and that I also hold a benefit for Jessica and Kelli. Her mother, Jennifer, responded to me. She asked what kind of benefit we hosted, and I gave her the details. She also asked for whatever guidance I could give her to deal with Brooke's death.

I told her, "I find that writing about them, while painful, is cathartic as well. By writing about them, I introduce them to a larger audience, even outside the US, and make people aware of not only how they died, but how they lived. I realize the impact that they had on their friends, family and even strangers. I pass on the good that they embodied and that I am trying to keep alive by my community efforts."

The community, both local and global, has been so supportive. I am still receiving emails and donations a month after the fundraiser. I know that Jessica and Kelli would want to repay that kindness by helping others, whether by scholarships, food drives, dress donations, planting trees or giving blood.

Jessica and Kelli were smiling, happy, kind-hearted girls who loved helping others. I do things that I know they would support, and would have loved being a part of, like the prom dress donation.

So I give back. I can't give up and just let this sadness drag me down. Believe me, there are days that I physically feel the weight of my grief. And those are the days that I drag myself to the mirror, and hear their voices saying, "Geez mom, brush your hair, and put on some lipstick!" So I do. I see their pictures smiling at me and I can't help but smile back.

That's what gets me through. Creating a positive result from a senseless tragedy. It's not easy, it's not the magic cure, but it's all I've got.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whipping It Up - The Grand Finale

This week's theme was to recreate your favorite takeout. I chose Outback's Alice Springs Chicken, accompanied by Red Robin's Garlic Parmesan Fries.

Alice Springs Chicken:

Two chicken breasts
1 tsp season salt
2 strips thick cut bacon, cut in half
1 T olive oil
1 T honey mustard
1 small can mushroom slices, drained
1/2 c shredded colby/jack cheese

Pound chicken breasts to about 1/2 thick and rub with season salt. Let them sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon, and drain on paper towels. Drain off most of the bacon fat, then add the olive oil. Cook the chicken breasts until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the skillet, coat with honey mustard, top with bacon, mushrooms and cheese. Return to the skillet and cover with a lid until the cheese melts.

Garlic Parmesan Fries

1/2 bag frozen steak fries
1/4 c parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 T parsley

Combine the cheese, garlic and parsley in a small bowl. Sprinkle half the mix over the frozen fries and bake according to the package directions. Flip the fries halfway during cooking and sprinkle with the remaining mixture.

Was it easy? The chicken was pretty much a one-pan meal, which is nice for quick weeknight dinners. The original recipe called for letting the chicken sit for about an hour with the season salt, but I only let it sit about 15 minutes. It was still good and you could taste the seasoning.

The fries were pretty easy, too.

Did it taste good? Yes, the chicken was pretty tasty. I made up the fries recipe, and although they were good, I think I spritz them with some olive oil after baking, then sprinkle with the cheese, The garlic didn't stick to the fries very well.

Will I make it again? I will make the chicken again, and keep experimenting with the fries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Co-Workers Think I'm A Snot

I started my new job on Monday. Actually, I went in for a couple of hours on Friday so the current assistant could show me around. However, my official first full day was Monday.

I like the job so far. Everyone is very nice and helpful, and it seems like a relaxed place to work. However, in the two days I've been there, I've had a few "oh good lord" moments.

Monday morning I had orientation. As my desk is on the first floor and I needed to go to the third floor, I decided to take the stairs. As I ascsended the second flight, I saw a door, but no more stairs. Oh. Crap. We don't have offices on the second floor, so I had a brief moment of panic that the stairwell door was locked. Much to my relief, it wasn't. I looked around but I couldn't find the stairwell for the rest of the floors, so I ended up taking the elevator anyway. Only I could screw up taking the stairs.

Once I returned safely to my desk, I began working on a project. As I was busily typing away, looking all kinds of efficient and professional, I crossed my ankles under my desk and my monitor went dark. I had managed to kick the power strip switch into the off position. Well. Damn. As I scrounged under my desk to turn it back on and to move it to a safe position, I heard footsteps and figured someone was coming to my desk to say welcome. As I emerged (praying I wouldn't bonk my head underneath my desk) I hit my chair and it rolled backward into the nice young man who had indeed stopped by to say hello. However, it was his last day so I don't have to avert my eyes in shame if I pass him in the hallway.

The rest of Monday went smoothly, except for the horrible awful no good very bad traffic and pouring rain that I endured on my way home. We shall not speak of it anymore.

Today, I went out for lunch, and when I returned I decided to park in the parking garage, as there was a chance of rain again this afternoon. I had to park down a level and way in the back in the common folk spots. I decided to take the stairs up to the street level, to try to make up for yesterday's failure (and to offset the bag of Qdoba in my hand). I quickly jogged up the parking garage steps, feeling all virtuous and healthy, crossed the parking lot, opened the building doors and strode through the lobby like I belonged there. Then I realized that someone had brought in potted plants and also stolen the the office door while I was at lunch. Upon closer inspection, I was in the wrong building. Oh. Good. Gawd. So, I strode through the lobby like I belonged somewhere else and crossed the parking lot to my building.

As for being a snot, I've had a cold, or allergies, or swine flu since Sunday night and have gone through an entire box of tissues. I am courteous enought to sneeze three or four times as a warning before I'm going to be blowing my nose. I do have some lovely Nectarine Mint hand santizer from Bath and Body Works that I slather all over my hands. That's all I need - to infect our CEO.

So, here is hoping that tomorrow I don't get lost, turn off my computer, run over someone with my chair, or pass my germs around the office.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Whipping it Up Week 7

This week's challenge was to make a recipe from your favorite chef. I chose this spinach and artichoke french bread pizza from Rachael Ray. I found the recipe earlier this week, and decided to use it as an appetizer for a cocktail party on Friday. I've been craving it all week. Yum-O!

Spinach-Artichoke French Bread Pizza

1 loaf french bread, quartered
2 T butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 T flour
1 1/2 C Milk
1 pinch nutmeg
2 boxes frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (I used 1 bag fresh baby spinach, chopped)
1 box frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 C mozzerella or provolone
2 T chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the bread on a baking sheet.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cooked until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk and season with the nutmeg. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Pull the spinach apart then add to the sauce. Fold in the artichokes and cook until heated through. Stir in the parmesan, and remove from heat.

Spread the spinach mixture on the bread, then top with the mozzerella. Bake about 10-12 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Top with the thyme.

Was it good? My stars, yes, it was good. Everyone raved over it. One friend took some home to her husband, and he loved it as well.

Was it easy? It was pretty easy. Not a last-minute recipe, since you have to thaw the artichokes and spinach, but you could use jarred artichoke hearts and fresh spinach.

Will I make it again? I might use this as a dip instead of spreading it on the bread, and add some roasted red peppers. It was fantastic, though, the way the recipe is written.

Friday, August 14, 2009

B Is For...

Bacon sizzling in the pan:


Breakfast for strong bodies and brains:

Bus approaching, signalling the end of summer:

Big bad fifth-grader off to school:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The End of an Era

My friends, it has been a great time, but now I must bid farewell to my leisurely pace of living, and bust out the pinstripes and heels.

Yes, I am once again gainfully employed. Praise the Lord.

I cannot tell you how much of a relief this is. I'm happy, so happy.

Thanks for your well wishes, prayers, encouraging words, support, and happy thoughts during the past five months. It helped so much more than I can ever convey.

I start my new adventure on Monday. I can't wait.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Whipping It Up Weeks 5 and 6

I slacked a little last week and missed my Whip It Up entry for week 5. The theme was "spicy," which came in handy when I was craving tacos and had no taco seasoning. A quick search of Allrecipes gave me a few options, but they all made 24-32 servings. As it was just the husband-elect and I, and I didn't have anything to store the excess in, I scaled it back to 6 servings.

Here is the recipe I used:

1T flour
2 T onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cilantro
1 tsp salt

Combine the spices, then add 2-3 T and 2/3 c water per 1 pound of browned ground beef. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Did it taste good? It was lacking something. At first I only used 2 T of the mix, and after monkeying with it by adding a little bit of onion or cumin, I finally added another tablespoon of the mixture. That helped. It still lacked some spice.

Was it easy? Yes, I had all the spices in my pantry, so it was just a matter of mix and measure.

Will I make it again? The original recipe as scaled called for 1/4 cup of chili powder, which I thought was excessive, so I only used 2 T. In light of the lack of spice, I may add more chili powder next time. I will make it again, once I buy an empty glass jar to store the excess mixture.


Now, week 6 is "appetizers." Earlier in the week, my darling husband-elect told me about a family reunion this Sunday. I asked him if we needed to bring anything and he said he'd ask his parents. Fast forward to Saturday night, when I again asked if we needed to bring anything and he said Oh, I'll call my parents. When he told me his mom was bringing a salad, I knew we'd need to take something as well. Besides, I hate going to a potluck empty-handed, so off to the computer to find a new and exciting appetizer recipe.

I found this at Allrecipes. It sounded intriguing, and all the reviews were at least 4 stars. It is an Italian layered cheese appetizer. After reading the reviews, I didn't use the sun-dried tomatoes, but used roasted red peppers.

Italian Torte

10 slices provolone cheese
3 oz sun-dried tomatoes (I used 8 oz roasted red peppers)
2 pkg cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz pesto

Whip the cream cheese and garlic until well blended.

Line a medium bowl or loaf pan with a large piece of dampened cheese cloth. Layer with 1/3 of the provolone cheese. Spread with 1/2 the pesto. Pour in 1/2 the cream cheese and garlic mixture. Layer with 1/2 the sun-dried tomatoes. Layer with 1/3 provolone, remaining pesto, remaining cream cheese and garlic mixture and remaining sun-dried tomatoes. Top with remaining provolone cheese.

Pull cheese cloth around the layered mixture and gently press into a bowl to mold and remove excess oil. Chill in the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours. Remove cheese cloth and turn upside down onto a large dish to serve. Spread onto crostini or use pita chips to dip.

Was it easy? The ingredients were all readily available at my local grocery store, and the assembly was pretty straightforward. I did have to hunt for cheesecloth, which I finally found over by the paint and varnish section.

Was it good? Well, it's 9:30 am and the reunion isn't until this afternoon, so I'll have to update this section later. However, I love garlic and pesto and red peppers and cheese, so I can't imagine how it could be bad.

Will I make it again? My husband-elect looked over the recipe while I was making it, and he said "it doesn't sound like something I'd dip into." He might change his mind after he tries it. But again, since it's still in the refrigerator, I'll have to update this part.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I had my final interview this morning with Major Company. I think it went really well. She did say there were two other candidates to interview. I'm hoping I impressed the VP enough to offer me the position.

So, this is it. I either did my best and they like me, or I did my best and they didn't like me. Bottom line is I did my best.

I also heard back from the other Major Company, who went with another candidate. However, they might have another legal-related position in the near future, so the HR rep said she'd keep my information on file.

I also got an email from one of my readers with a link to a Major University job website, which was very sweet of her. I'll be perusing that website, and I'll keep looking while I wait for the decision.

I'm hoping, and wishing, and praying...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roller Coaster

I haven't been on a roller coaster in years. Even though I'm in close proximity to Six Flags, I just don't have the desire to go stand in line for 20 minutes to enjoy 60 seconds of "whoo-hoo!"

Besides, I get enough of the "whee! I'm flying...oh no, I'm plummeting!" in my day-to-day life. For example, this morning when I checked my email, I had a message from one of the the Major St. Louis Companies with which I had interviewed last week. My inbox shows the beginning of the message, which started out "Thank you for your interest in our company..." and I just knew the rest of it was rejection. I squashed my initial immature desire to just delete it, and read the email - yep, they went with another candidate. I knew they had an in-house applicant and chances are she got the job.

As I was pouting and whining (to my dogs, as no one else is home right now), my phone rang. It was another Major St. Louis Company, with which I had a second interview yesterday. They were inquiring whether I could come in tomorrow for a final interview with the bigwig that I'd be supporting. As I mentally scrambled to re-arrange a few appointments I already had, I very calmly said, "Yes, I know you are looking to fill this position quickly, so I can certainly come in tomorrow." So, I go again tomorrow morning, hopefully to impress the bigwig with my professional demeanor, mad skillz, and general "hire me you won't regret it" attitude.

And then I did the happy dance with my dogs. Who knew greyhounds were so light on their feet?

So who knows if I'll stay up on this sunny peak, or plummet back down into the black pit of despair. You can bet I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Looking for Control

I'm desperately seeking some control in my life. (I'm also seeing control for my flubby midsection so I'm not all lumpy in my wedding dress, but that's another story).

As a card-carrying member of the Control Freaks Club, the last 18 months have been pretty hard on me. Obviously I had no control over someone killing my daughters, nor have I had any control over the courts and their schedules. Although the dates are set, there is always the possibility of rescheduling. I had no control over my job being cut, and I've had no control over those who call me in for numerous interviews, only to be still sitting here with no job. Or even any control over those who never acknowledge that I've applied for the job they advertised. That is frustrating with a capital Eff.

As much as I would love to be a go-with-the-flow kinda gal, it's hard to change a lifetime habit. I am trying really hard to be less screech-y when things don't go the way I meticulously planned. I feel that I've made a little progress, but oh my sometimes it is so hard to just let it go and keep my mouth shut and remember that it's not all bad. I have so many blessings and life really doesn't suck all the time.

So I find myself being even more detail-oriented (or anal, if you will) than normal. My dime-store psychology degree tells me that my overwhelming need to organize my cupboards, pantry, closet and desk are my ways of asserting a little control over my life. Or maybe I'm just tired of looking through a jumbled-up mess for what I want.