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Archive for November, 2007

One of the benefits (or not, depending on your point of view) of where I live and what I do is that I sometimes attend events where Very Important Political People speak. I was at just such an event a few weeks ago and Clay Johnson III, the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director for Management spoke to the crowd. Mr. Johnson has quite an impressive resume. According to his bio, he has been the Chief Operating Officer for the Dallas Museum of Art and the President of the Horchow and Neiman Marcus Mail Order companies. He also has worked for Citicorp, Wilson Sporting Goods and Frito Lay.

Mr. Johnson was also President George W Bush’s college roommate at Yale. (an irrelevant but amusing fact.)

What is not amusing is that I have heard Mr. Johnson speak several times over the past several years and this last time, my ears stopped just short of bleeding. Mr. Johnson was speaking about measuring and improving the performance of government programs (who’s not for that? Baseball, mom, and apple pie, y’all.) During his remarks, he made the following statements – they require no snarky commentary from me…they stand on their own.

“The key is greater effectiveness-mindedness.”

“We need to scare people more. And more importantly, embarrass them.”

“We don’t know what this means yet, but we want to be successful at setting the table.”

and my personal favorite…relaying President Bush’s comment about the new French President, whom a white house staffer had just referred to as smart…

” We got a whole lotta smart. What we need is courage.”

Lades and Gentleman, I give you one of the most influential officials in the U.S. Government.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

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Meatless Monday

Yeah, yeah…I know it’s Wednesday. But it was my first day in the office this week so if was *my* Monday. On *your *Monday we were driving home from our Thanksgiving trek (a story for another time) and on Tuesday I worked from home. Part of the beauty of teleworking is that I can get a lot of other things done at the same time. Yesterday’s multitasking project was to make about a gallon of fabulous beef stock…while I worked, it simmered on the stove for 7 hours. So – back to today. Today I needed an easy meal when I got home from work so I made Mushroom-Barley Risotto. I was inspired by a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated. Technically it wasn’t a meatless meal since I used some of yesterday’s homemade beef stock but the meal itself had no actual meat in it so just go with me here.

I love the creamy bite of risotto and was intrigued by making it with whole grains rather than arborrio rice. It came out fabulously, if I do say so myself. And it was healthier to boot. I probably used less oil than normal — maybe a tablespoon or so — when that was almost smoking I added a chopped onion and a package each of oyster and shitake mushrooms, chopped, plus a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. When the veggies were softened and gave up their juices, I added 1 1/2 cups barley, stirring well. To the pan, I added a cup of dry white wine and let that absorb for a few minutes. When the pan was almost dry, I added about 2 cups of heated stock.

Unlike traditional risotto where you stir constantly, I only stirred every so often. I kept adding more stock by the 1/2 cup until the barley was tender but still chewy (probably 4 cups in the recipe, total.) At some point I also tossed in a few bits of fresh chopped rosemary just because I had some lying around. I also added a small handful of reconstituted porcini mushrooms along with the strained soaking liquid, again just because I had them…Mom brought them back from her trip to Italy 2 weeks ago.)

When everything was cooked I finished the dish with a half tablespoon of butter, some chopped fresh Italian parsley, and about 3/4 cup of freshly grated romano locatelli cheese.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Pronounced “yummy” by all.

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Ho Ho Ho…

I don’t care if it’s holiday-greeting-non-grata in Oz…

This was too funny – and too much fun – not to pass along…

Merry Elfmas!

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The ABC Meme

I can’t stand writing my own self-assessments for work when it’s performance rating time…too much horn-tooting for me. So don’t expect all positive words here…

A – Analytical. Sort of an occupational hazard, though I have been this way since I was small. My parents used to swear I’d become a lawyer (though I didn’t – thankfully. Bygones if you are one.)

B – Bookish. I love to read. Or, if you prefer…Budget Bitch. In my office I am privileged to be part of this self-described group of women. DH thinks this is hysterically funny. Though at times he sees no need to modify with “Budget.” Eh – we all have our days…

C – Cook. As in, I Love To… Some people even say I am pretty good at it.

D – Direct. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. ‘Cause I’ll tell you. I’ll be polite about it – I wasn’t raised in a barn…but sugar-coating just isn’t my thing.

E – Extroverted…sort of. It can take me awhile to warm up to someone and get comfortable around them but when I get past that I’m pretty social and outgoing.

F – Friendly.

G – Generous.

H – Happy.

I – Independent.

J – Just Jack – one of the funniest TV characters ever.

K – Kisser (shamelessly plagiarized from Wreke because it is so freaking perfect) I come from a family of huggers and kissers. I think I freaked my future in-laws out when I first met them. I walked up to them and gave them a big hug and kiss. That’s just how we do it. The nice thing, of course, is that over the years, my husband followed suit and even hugs and his parents now, too.

L – Loyal.

M – Mommy, Mama, or MOM!, depending on their mood.

N – Naughty. Yes, just a little bit.

O – Organic. I try really hard to serve delicious, healthy, locally grown and/or organic food.

P – Practical.

Q – Quite Amusing.

R – Relaxing.

S – Sarcastic.

T – Talkative.

U – Understanding.

V – Vocal.

W – Wanderlust. I love to travel.

X – X-hausted. What parent isn’t?

Y – Yoga. My favorite exercise.

Z – Zilch ideas for a Z word.

I’m tagging people who need a smile, to be kicked out of their blogging silence, or help with NaBloPoMo…

1. Bean

2. Red

3. Suzy

4. Radical Mama

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“A” I’m Adorable

I’ve been tagged by Wrekehavoc to make an ABC glossary of me. “a you’re adorable, b, you’re so beautiful, c you’re a cutie full of charm”

rules: list a word that describes you for every letter of the alphabet. offer as much or as little explanation as you wish. please keep the words positive (for example, don’t use “fat” for F or “lame” for L), and feel free to get creative. tag as many or as few people as you wish. Link back to your tagger and forward to your taggees.

As I am chock full of Justin and Worthy I’ll tackle this tomorrow.

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10,000 Spoons

As someone with a dry, sarcastic, deadpan sense of humor…I love irony. I appreciate it. It makes me laugh in that wry sort of way. Except when it come to food. I can’t help it – I’m Italian…food is in my blood. For Hell’s sake, my personal food pyramid has individual bricks for Pierre Marcolini, Humboldt Fog, Barolo. Don’t misunderstand – I am not a Food Snob. I like my macaroni and cheese and pizza as much as the next person. I make a mean crockpot full of Redneck Meatballs. But it’s homemade mac and cheese with real cheese, not processed cheese foodstuff; it’s real New York City by-the-slice pizza, not Domino’s or Papa Johns. It’s homemade meatballs, not the 128 oz. Val-U Pak of meat-like spheres made with ingredients that each seem to be competing for the title of Longest Word In The English Language. No…being a Foodie is about quality, not class.

Unfortunately, tonight I won the Alanis Award in the Food Category. I have found my Personal Food Hell, and it is called Cactus Willie’s.

Cactus Willie’s was the chosen location for A’s end-of-year soccer dinner. You walk in the door into a winding queue where you pay your $9.49 for your All-U-Care-2-Eat adult dinner ($9.99 on weekends, thank you very much) and $0.60 x your age for the under 12 set. And then they set you loose on a full buffet of overcooked “food.” Forrest Gump would have felt quite at home…there was fried shrimp, baked shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp creole… There was a line full of people waiting for well-done steak. Fried seafood of every sort. Veal Parm, chicken parm, eggplant parm…flat, fried rectangles — identical in every way except for their name tags. Besides the salad bar there were exactly 2 non-starchy vegetables: overcooked, soggy broccoli drowning in butter-flavored sauce , and chopped collard greens drowning in bacon-flavored sauce. Day-glo colored pie slices.

Because nothing appealed to A (probably because she couldn’t recognize anything), her chosen dinner consisted of: mashed potatoes, corn, spaghetti w/ sauce. I insisted she add a veg or some salad. She chose the broccoli, and declared it “wet, mushy, and gross.”

Still, she had a ball. But what I wouldn’t have given to be home in my jammies with a bowl of leftover Roasted Artichoke and Pea Risotto. On the way home she had fun offering me two completely awful restaurant choices and making me pick which one I’d go to.

And then she said the words that made me see how truly blessed we were…

“At least we aren’t on Grady’s team, mom…they’re going to Chuck E. Cheese tomorrow.”

Pass the Maalox…

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You Oughta Be in Pictures!

I am so so SO excited!! We are getting family portraits taken this weekend. Real ones, by a professional photographer! I have wanted to do this for *years* and we just never did. Partly because I never got around to it, partly because it’s so freaking expensive, and partly because I was always waiting to lose 10 pounds (yes, lame – sue me.) But the stars aligned and we are having them done this weekend. Full disclosure – the photographer is a friend of mine but WOW – look at her work — amazing stuff.

Cynthia is coming out Saturday morning – I hope the weather cooperates because I’d love to have them done outside in our yard…or at the nearby beach. Pray to the weather gods for me…

Stay tuned for a full report on how it goes!

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Quick! Name 3 classic childhood films! Your answer may depend on your age but there’s a pretty good chance they include The Sound of Music, Miracle on 34th Street, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original one – not that remade freak show – shame on you Johnny Depp, you so disappointed me), and The Wizard of Oz. Their annual appearances on network TV were highlights of my youthful TV viewing. Yesterday driving home from my nephew’s birthday party my kids asked for Family Movie Night – which entails a movie (duh) and — more important — eating in front of the TV. Since we rarely permit this in our house, this is a big treat for the kids. And since I had been driving for 6 of the last 24 hours, something along the lines of popcorn and tomato soup sounded like the perfect plan. Plus, The Wizard of Oz was on at 8pm! What fun – who couldn’t use a little return to childhood every now and again?

Unfortunately, Beans didn’t think this was a good idea. In fact, she thought this was a fabulously BAD idea.

“Oh, OK,” she sighed. “I’ll watch it if you want to.”
“Hon, don’t you like The Wizard of Oz?”
“No,” she says.
“Why not?”

wait for it…

“Because Dorothy is Dumb.”

hmmm….

“Uh…why is she dumb?”
“Well…she’s all ‘LALALA, I’m lost and I need help! I can’t find my way!’ She’s dumb and silly.”
“She’s dumb because she’s lost and scared?”
“MOM. She’s dumb because she’s scared of a place that isn’t even real!”
“Well, she doesn’t know it’s not real!”
“That’s why she is dumb!”
“Oh. Well, why is she silly?”
“Because she acts silly. She was asking silly questions.”

hmmmm…really, I am too road-weary at this point to parse this in a way an 8 year old can understand…

“Well, it’s a pretty old movie. I can see why she’s a little too dorky for you.”
“I like Nancy Drew better. And Hermione. They ask smart questions, not dumb ones.”

Sometimes this child leaves me speechless.

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A UK lottery scratch-off game was recalled because too many people are too stupid to compare negative numbers and correctly identify the lower of the two. The lottery company received dozens of complaints by people who could not understand, for example, how -5 is higher than -6. Because I have a lot of international friends, pointing out perceived and actual American stupidity is somewhat of a sport. So I got a small amount of pleasure from the fact that this is not an American example of stupidity. A very small amount – which was quickly and completely overwhelmed by a feeling of general disgust. Think about it: in the developed world, adults who have been educated through secondary school cannot correctly compare negative numbers.

***

Oops, she did it again. In court this morning, Britney’s attorney argued that the pop star shouldn’t be held to the same set of standards and deserves to be treated differently.“With all due respect your honor, you’re not a pop star with a number one album,” [her lawyer] told LA Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon.

***

Apparently the tallest guy in America says it’s not so bad because he usually receives a complimentary upgraded to first class because “he needs the room.” Erm, ok – we make fat people buy an extra seat but tall people get VIP treatment? It’s not that I prefer one approach over the other but a little consistency would be nice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are screwed.

*A concept shamelessly plagiarized from my friend Mo.

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Bare Naked Lady

No matter how well you know someone, or for how long, or how common your experiences are, there’s nothing like seeing someone’s anonymous writings to give you insight into their true self. This morning I became aware of the blog of a very good friend of mine. This is someone I know pretty well and because of how life’s little adventures played out we have commiserated over happy and sad, successes and challenges. We are alike and compatible in many ways. For example, together we’ve been trying – with varying degrees of success – to lose the same 10 pounds for 6 years. For a time, we traveled the painful road of infertility together, with all its ups and downs. And as much as that road totally sucks, traveling it with a friend was a true gift because traveling it alone would have been unbearable.

But as much as we share, as much as I know her, I was stunned by the bare nakedness of her written words. How they provide laser-beam focus into the very center of her world — her quest for a second child. Her words, and all I saw in them — pain, fear, frustration, exhaustion– were like cold water in my face because not only have I been off that particular merry-go-round for nearly 4 years, but because I suddenly realized that the very fact that I am no longer in that place means that I am, to some extent, no longer available to her as one who “gets it” anymore. And this makes me sad.

As with most painful experiences, the pain eventually dims and while you can remember that there was great pain, and can recall how it made you feel at certain points in time, you can never again be in the moment quite like you once were. I suppose this serves as a sort of self-preservation because when you are in the midst of any sort of extended personal tragedy it is so easy to let one’s most positive feelings gradually fade away into nothingness. And the last thing to slip away…and the hardest to recall, imho, is that which has the most power to sustain us — hope. Hope fades in such a gradual way – the result of long, drawn-out disappointment after disappointment – that you don’t even realize you have become depressed and out of sorts. Rather, it seems as if you have always been depressed and out of sorts.

I realized this one day when I was 6 months into what turned out to be my fourth and final pregnancy. I was far enough along to not worry constantly, but too often I still felt flat and depressed. For reasons I could not quite explain to myself, let alone acknowledge to anyone else, something was missing. I had no right to be anything other than happy – I had gotten exactly what I wanted, hadn’t I? What was wrong with me?

I was sitting in a movie theater around Christmas time – usually my favorite time of the year – watching The Lord of The Rings: Return of the King. At the end of the movie during the credits played one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I have ever heard, “Into the West.” I was memorized by the song in general but when I heard these lyrics

Hope fades,
Into the world of night.
Through shadows falling,
Out of memory and time.

I realized all of a sudden that that was what was missing…hope. And all of a sudden, I once again had…hope. Hope I hadn’t even consciously known I had lost until I realized I had found it again. It was as if the mere act of realizing it had been missing was enough to return it to me. How odd.  And with hope came a feeling of lightness. It seems hope truly does float.

As today wore on I realized that although maybe I can’t possibly “get it” exactly the way I used to, maybe my gift to my friend is to tell her what else I saw in her soul-bearing words: I saw hope. After 2 grueling years of disappointment and frustration…hope remains. It may come and go, but eventually she summons enough strength and it returns. And that takes a serious amount of courage and grit and willpower. I find her awesome and inspiring. I am proud of her. I am glad she is my friend.

And she is laughing as she is reading this because we both know that if that particular brand of courage, grit and willpower could be harnessed and redirected…we’d both be 10 pounds thinner.

So here’s to you, Girlfriend. May you always have Hope.

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