Looking Exorcised

I listened to a friend relate the horrible week she had endured. She told me that she felt that she didn’t belong in her position, was disrespected, nothing more than a glorified secretary, unworthy, unappreciated, under-educated… To top it off she was going to be interviewing a new hire that she was going to manage. The position required a PhD, and experience that was greater than hers. To top it off their salary would be substantially higher than hers. She was feeling low. Although she was doing her best it didn’t seem to be enough for certain people who “email yelled” at her and then took their complaints to others without waiting for my friend to respond. She was also fighting a battle (without back-up) to secure an office for the new hire. In a wild and totally out of the blue event, she was given an office for the new hire. The building manager even helped her clean out the space and arranged for it to be painted, carpeted, and refurnished! But that wasn’t the best part. The department chair went into a lab where equipment for imaging was housed with another faculty member who wanted to expand into that area. The space had an used office and several empty cubicles in addition to the imaging equipment. The chair exited the lab and saw my friend sitting outside the door where she was waiting for a student to be trained on the imaging machine. The chair asked my friend why she was sitting in the hallway at a student desk (the kind with the arm/desk top on one side). When the chair asked if that was her desk, the response shocked her. “No this isn’t my desk. I don’t actually have a desk or an office.” The chair then pointedly asked why as the associate director she didn’t have an office. Her answer was that she was not a Biology department employee and so was not given an office. (Also she had never dreamed of asking because she felt she didn’t deserve one.) The chair, in a very uncharacteristic manner, replied that she should take the office that was empty in the lab she had just exited. Turning to her secretary indicated that my friend should be given a key. To top it off the building manager told her that new carpet should be installed in that office as well!!

We were eating lunch as she laid out the events. She related this to me and was just flabbergasted that the events had unfolded in such a favorable manner. I had to finally stop her when she started second guessing if she would be able to remain in her new office. Why is it we have no problem believing that our phones, computers, and interfaces (like Alexa or Siri) are eavesdropping on our conversations but can’t accept that God is doing that and more by listening to our hearts and minds? The only explanation for the miraculous boon of getting her very own office plus getting an office for whoever the new hire will be is Divine Intervention. I reminded her that she is educated (a masters degree), she is worthy of respect, she deserves the position. Then I told her that obviously God agrees! I’m hoping that she will be able to exorcise her self-doubt and accept that she is blessed.

Looking Fishy

We finally polished off the turkey leftovers. I was creative and we had Loaded Mashed Potato Soup, Sloppy Toms, and Turkey Potpie. And now it is gone and I don’t want another bite of turkey for awhile. As I was making out the menu for this week I penciled in fish for dinner Sunday. Right after church I pulled 4 packages of fish from the freezer. Each package was different and I set them to thawing. After spending the majority of the afternoon running down various shopping items (needed milk, bananas, kleenex, and sugar) and taking the Christmas photo in for processing, I discovered that one of the fish had not thawed sufficiently to cook. I also discovered that the remaining 3 packages had smoked fish in them. So we had a very Scandinavian dinner. That means it was heavy on the fish and cheese and some dark bread that was more seed than bread!
To the far left is a piece of smoked Trout caught in Indiana, next in the back is a half a smoked steak of Coho Salmon from a secret fishing stream in Michigan, and the small light colored piece in the middle is smoked Brook Trout again caught in Michigan. In the foreground is ~3 Tablespoons of cream cheese with onion, garlic, and bits of smoked Brook trout mixed in. To the side is some special bread Mestemacher Whole Grain Sunflower Seed Rye Bread (toasted). It was a delicious meal and well worth the effort to pick out the few bones.

Before anyone asks – no, I didn’t catch the fish nor did I smoke it. That glory belongs to my former coworker, Mr. Fudd. Fishing is on hiatus until there is a at least 6″ of ice on his lake and he can safely go ice fishing. He has been busy deer hunting. His first day out he managed to get a 9 point buck that about killed him. He had to  haul the 200 lb gutted carcass out of the woods solo and with great effort managed to get it into his truck. He thought his hand wench was in the truck but it wasn’t. He resorted to a tarp and a tow rope and got it in the truck without re-injuring his hernia repair. He is now however wearing a wrist brace. All this fish was gifted to me over the course of this last year and I had been hoarding it because I wasn’t sure I’d ever get more. Now it is all gone and in its place is the faint aroma of fish and a warm glow of satisfaction. We will be splitting a little brown trout for lunch this week (it is barely enough to whet the appetite). I’ll serve acorn squash as a side and maybe cookies (since I’m going to be baking more soon) as a dessert!

Looking in the Oven

It is the season for cookies. I love cookies but I’m not too excited about making them. Last year saintvi came over and we baked cookies. I learned about the joy of parchment paper. I never knew. For that I blame my mother who being a good cook was not an expert baker (that was my father’s specialty). Anyway, with the use of parchment paper cookie baking got easier and clean-up was a breeze. So here I am looking to bake some cookies for the annual church cookie walk. Unlike a cake walk (where you pay a fee and walk a numbered course hoping to land on a number that will net you a cake), the cookie walk is where you walk in and plop down your money for cookies at the tune of $6/pound. Some of the ladies have been posting photos of their cookies on Facebook and I’m feeling a little inadequate. One made these amazing almond cookies that look very fancy. Another made kolaczki (a Polish cookie) which if you have never had you have not lived. Another has posted a photo of her kiflis (Hungarian cookies with a chopped nut filling), and still another posted her pressed shortbread cookies. So after some serious thought I’ve decided to go against all conventions and make peanut butter cup cookies. Yep. I’m going to make a cookie that brings back nostalgia for the days when no one was worried about anaphylaxic reactions to peanuts or (gasp) gluten.
 
The first step was locating the recipe. After an hour looking over all the internet options I decided on the cheater’s shortcut. I rummaged through my pantry and found a Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix. Then after a little more digging in the pantry I emerged with a bag of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups. These were specially purchased at Halloween but were set aside for a special occasion. And that occasion has arrived!! What makes these peanut butter cups special is that in addition to the normal peanut butter filling they contain mini Reese’s Pieces!
 
The second step was making the cookie dough and refrigerating it to make it easier to handle. According to the internet that is the big secret to making these cookies. I even broke out my new cookie scoop that I got at Goodwill on half price day for a whopping 12 cents. So I scooped out 3 dozen perfectly sized balls of cookie dough.

The next step is to bake them. Sure, no problem. But wait. All the recipes said to put the dough into mini muffin pans. I don’t have mini muffin pans! I stewed over this for a couple hours and decided to wing it. I put the cookie balls on a parchment lined cookie sheet and popped them into the oven. In the meantime, I unwrapped the peanut butter cups and put them into the freezer. This is because (according to the internet) if they aren’t frozen they turn into an instant gooey mess and look horrible but will still taste good. Since these are for a church function looks are everything.

The last step was the most crucial – remove the cookies from the oven and insert the frozen peanut butter cups into the middle of each cookie. I have to be honest, this was the most nerve wracking part of the whole process.  As I inserted the frozen pieces it became clear that these were not going to look like the pictures. They were standing too tall. By the time I got all 12 done the 1st ones had started to melt. A quick push in the middle and the chocolate oozed into the cracks of the cookie cementing them together. After 30 minutes in the refrigerator and they were ready to package for the cookie walk. I’m feeling the holiday spirit now that I’ve successfully navigated making a new Christmas cookie recipe!
   

Looking at the Latest Art

I’m on hiatus from the ceramics studio since I was gone during most of the 4 week class extension. I did however stop in to pick up a couple finished pieces.
The first is Hibiscus pollen. I could only find one photograph of the real deal and the orb is my interpretation. It is made with a mixture of brown and white stoneware clay as the base. I glazed it in semi-matte blue with royal blue on the ends of the protrusions. It is bigger than my most recent orbs measuring 4.5″ across. I was very happy with the result.
 

My second orb is a different pollen Alisma lanceolatum ( a water plant) and although it looks a little odd in the photo, it is really quite pretty. It is made with the same brown and white stoneware clay mix. I glazed it in Gold Shino which is very shiny. So shiny that it is difficult to get a good photo because of the reflections. The centers of the raised areas have a red iron oxide stain dot. The dot went from the size of a pencil lead to the size of the pencil during the firing. Because the red iron oxide was concentrated, the dot has a metallic matte surface that contrasts with the sheen on the rest of the orb. The pollen is listed as ~40 microns across and my orb is 3 inches across. My rendering is much bigger than life size!

Looking at the Aftermath

She sits defeated with her head in her hands
Stares at the floor as tears drip from her nose
She sobs while off to the side calamity stands
Forlorn and hopeless sorrow unchecked grows

Ragged breathing tempo matches hymns
Birdsong interrupts her thoughts of death
She lift her eyes and self pity fades and dims
She sees joy and possibility with every breath

The soggy tissue and dampened note fall
From hands that now are grasping for life
Self harm’s power holds no thrall
She abandons suicide with a kitchen knife

Hurtful words, half truths and lies
Irritate and rub as sand inside the shell
From morbid dreams she sees with open eyes
Trouble’s pearls formed and poised to expel

Unexpected tragedy and heart hurt bruised
Turned to growth and strength of mind
Emotions tangled are now unconfused
She embraces life and love’s victory redefined

The sunbeam swings across the room
Casts its light and warmth to reconfirm
God’s love is stronger than any doom
And troubles are truly short term

Calmkate on her blog suggested that “Everything has an aftermath or recovery time”. She asked her readers to “please share your creative version of “aftermath” in pics or stories”. So here we are.

This is the time of the year that coupled with the falling temperatures and the stresses of the holidays seems to drag many people into depression. Some struggle mightily and with interventions by family, friends, and medical professionals are able to weather the storm. Others sink so low that they descend into hopelessness and
may attempt suicide. Some of them succeed. Their pain is real. I’ve been told by some that when they are in the moment, they just want the pain to stop. That leads to thoughts of self harm and suicide. In these instances there is no rational thought of the resulting aftermath from their death. Nor do they consider the aftermath of a failed attempt. They cannot even conceive of the consequences or aftermath if they decide to abandon the idea of suicide.

When suicide occurs it is a transference of one person’s pain into the lives of many. That aftermath can destroy marriages, break hearts, twist self-esteem, break trust, and bend hearts toward following with additional suicides. A family friend and Pastor committed suicide. The anguish rippled through the congregation and caused a crisis of faith in many from the youth to the elderly. My mother was shocked and then angry. She was not alone. It was so unexpected. In his immediate family the heartache was compounded. He had (the day before) officiated at a niece’s wedding. Her honeymoon was a less than joyous occasion. Her anniversary will always be tainted with that memory.

This poem focuses on the resultant decision to live instead of die. There is no way to describe the multitude of individual experiences when a person chooses to live. Some people have a singular moment when they put suicide aside – never to consider it again. The reality is that many more have to make the decision to live every day. I’m guessing that the struggle is a fierce one in which those who push away from death are aware, at least is some small measure, of the aftermath

Looking Pleased

I mentioned a little while back that I was working again. Well, I’m really working now. By that I mean that I was offered a position with a researcher as a “self-employed agent” which is a way to circumvent the restriction of only working 900 hours in a fiscal year. I will be paid by an outside (the university) corporation. This means that I will be able to work as many hours as I want doing the work I really enjoy! I have always liked working with this particular lab because they have a plan and a schedule and don’t dink around. They also are good people who follow the rules. So to recap: I retired. There was wringing of hands. I was offered a position with one investigator which I accepted. I was approached by another investigator to do a few limited studies which I agreed to. Then the former boss asked me to come back to work for him – I declined. The researcher that has been a thorn in everyone’s side, thinks the rules don’t apply to his lab, and who had so many violations that his work was suspended contacted me to work for him. As you can imagine, I let him know that I was unavailable. Then the opportunity presented itself to work for the outside corporation which I will be starting the first part of December. This corporation has several employees that were thrilled that I was coming on board – so thrilled that when I stopped in to clarify some details for a study they hugged me!

I’m feeling the love. Everyone wants me to come back. I’m being fought over like the prettiest girl at the church picnic. Because of that I’ve penned the following little poem:

Mousey went a dancing in a pretty frock
Snake tried to woo her by throwing rocks
Snake was insistent that she dance with him
Mousey turned him down right there and then
She waltzed with the frog and polkaed with the toad
She boogied with the raven as the music flowed
The rabbit and the hedgehog waited for their turn
While the sneaky snake did a long slow burn
When the party ended and the music died
The gents lined up to offer a safe homeward ride
Mousey’s calendar is full with no time to share
Snake is out of luck for there is no time to spare

Looking at my Collection

I admit to having had many collections over the years. My first foray into collecting was with my father. He was a coin and stamp collector having started his collections in High School. He decided that I and my two sisters would collect stamps. I selected stamps with an animal theme. I suspect it was just a ploy to get my mother to allow more stamps in the house. He taught us how to mount them and how to tell the difference between a cancelled stamp and a new one. He taught us how to steam the stamp off the envelope. When I went away to college, he took over my stamp collection. However by that time I had started my very own collection of banks. I had china banks, piggy banks, glass and metal banks. I collected them for years. I eventually stopped after my sons were born. I pared the numbers down and kept only a hand full of my cast iron banks. At one point I started a collection of wicker baskets shaped like animals. When they overflowed the top of the entertainment center and I had them scattered all over the family room, I decided I had enough. I sold many of them and now only have 3 left that are stored in the basement… However I’ve had one collection that I started in earnest when I graduated from college.

You see I had always been fascinated by a couple of serving dishes that my mother had. They were wedding gifts. She rarely used them but I loved the way they looked. She had a hammered aluminum bread tray and a covered casserole along with a set of candlestick holders. They had a tulip embossed on the lid or the tray. I couldn’t think of anything prettier. She sold the candlestick holders at a garage sale when I was maybe 12. I’m still looking for ones like them. I bought all my pieces at garage sales for cheap. The most I’d spent (until last year) was $3. Even so I think I have nearly 500 pieces. Now the fun thing is that I use them all the time. My everyday butter dish is hammered aluminum. All my spoon rests, canister set, and napkin holders and even the dish where I keep my medication is hammered aluminum. I use the trays and bowls whenever I can – to serve meals, for picnics and potlucks, for celebrations (like Thanksgiving). I even use them to decorate my kitchen. Because they aren’t just sitting around with no purpose Sparky doesn’t mind that I’ve got so many. Of course I do have a few favorites – I love the Chrysanthemum pattern and the Tulip pattern too. I have a few pieces with Raspberries. I even have one that has oak leaves and acorns on it that belonged to my grandmother. I know this because she wrote her name in pencil on the back (probably to make sure she got it back after a church function) and no amount of scrubbing will remove the pencil! Anyway I don’t have any daughters to pass it down to but son#2 once showed a young lady my collection and said, “One day this will all be mine.” I’m not sure if he was trying to impress her or what but it made me smile thinking that he wanted my collection!
   

Looking Painterly

Saintvi and I have been trying to do a Wine and Canvas painting since before June last year. We were scheduled to paint irises in the style of Van Gogh but due to illness I went alone. We tried to schedule another time but between my whirlwind travel and retirement schedule and her hectic travel and work schedule it didn’t happen as planned. First it was going to be a rustic scene last fall but the class was cancelled. Then we figured we’d wait until the weather cooperated. One thing led to another and we signed up for a painting that was going to be last month – Birch Tree Forest. It too was cancelled. We were a tiny bit bummed. After some discussion we decided to try one more time this last Saturday since they were doing the Birch Tree Forest again. With fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate and there were enough people signed up so they wouldn’t cancel again, we waited for the day. It was cold but no rain or snow. There were no tragic emails indicating we would have to reschedule yet again. So I present to you my version of the Birch Tree Forest:

   
First we painted the whole canvas yellow. My arm got a work out! That was followed by putting a orange sherbet halo on the upper 2/3. This was difficult but not impossible. Which was followed by some fancy adding of white and blending the color to create the “glow” in the center. I ended up adding a little more pink to the sky to give it a little contrast. I didn’t take a photo of that step because we were working very fast!

   
This first shot shows the glow in the sky quite well. I was very happy with the result. We had to turn it upside down and put in the grass along the horizon line. It took me much longer to do the grass than I had expected. With the painting still upside down, we put in the tree trunks. There was a great gnashing of teeth during that part. I think the trees were one of the easier parts. At this point I thought my trees looked purple and I wasn’t very happy with them. The next step was to turn the canvas right side up to put in the vegetation in the foreground. GAH! This was absolutely the hardest part for me. The instructor went so fast and I couldn’t see what she was doing. I was winging it. At that point I was having a bit of a panic as I could see what saintvi was doing and what the woman on the other side of me was up to and neither one was close to what I was doing. Luckily we had a break to let the canvas dry a bit before putting on the leaves and the final touches to the foreground. The second photo shows the leaves and the changes I made to the forest floor. I was able to add more grass and some flowers and a little bit of shading to give it more depth. We also finished the tree trunks. At first I wasn’t too pleased with the tree trunks. After seeing some of the other efforts I really think I nailed them! The rest of the class went ahead and painted a turkey in the bottom corner but saintvi and I decided that the turkey looked lame and so we omitted it. Instead we spent a little mote time on the vegetation – adding some additional color.


Above is the official painting from the website. The one the instructor did had a less interesting turkey and a much darker foreground…


Here we are looking pleased with ourselves. I’m not sure if you can see clearly but saintvi’s painting has a lovely butterfly, some cheerful lavender mums and a little grouping of red mushrooms. The bonus is that they are now doing a “punch card” that after 10 punches you get a free session. Saintvi thinks we should do a painting per month with the goal of finishing our card before the end of 2020. I’m not so sure I have room for that many paintings!!

Looking at the Vacation

It was a wonderful vacation. We experienced sun and sand and family. Thrown in on the end was a 2 day visit to Universal Studios specifically to see Harry Potter World (Hogwarts and Hogsmeade).
My sister and brother in law were gracious hosts and we loved our visit! The hot tub was delightful even if the weather was a little on the chilly side. It did warm up to near 70 degrees so it was definitely warmer than Indiana. We crammed in a bunch of activities – we went to some thrift stores, the guys played frisbee golf, visited the farmer’s market, had sushi, I cooked a steak dinner (with help from my sister), did a few geocaches, we walked on the beach, watched the sun set, enjoyed the hot tub, watched a little TV, and talked! There are a few of you who might think I talk a lot. Well, I can’t hold a candle to my little sister!! The last night there we talked until 3:00 AM… I was so tired the next day.

 

   

After a longish ride back to Orlando, we were able to relax and prepare for the visit to Universal Studios. Having been to “the happiest place on earth” I was hoping for a similar experience. They have 2 parks and each one has a portion of the Harry Potter universe. I suspect this is to ensure fans shell out the money for both parks. I was a little dismayed that all rides exited through the gift shops. It was a little blatant. To be more specific, Paradise Island is geared to little kids. The rides were less terrifying (in general) and the waits shorter except for the new ride “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure” which first thing in the morning was already a 2.5 hour wait time standing in line. By the end of the day it was a 3 hour wait and they weren’t allowing any more people after 3:00 PM! We had a 5 min wait on most of the other rides! Best one was The Minion Ride. Followed by the Fast and Furious ride as the funniest. We didn’t do any of the rides that involved water. The Harry Potter attractions involved spots where (provided you shelled out $55 to purchase the wand) you could stand and waving your wand in a specific pattern activate the “magic”. The result was the sight of dollar signs floating through the air and little wizards and witches having mini meltdowns as they failed to “flick and swish” effectively.


So my overall evaluation of Universal Studios was a resounding “meh”. Yes I had fun but it was not as well done as Disney. The Jurassic Park area was completely underwhelming. Only half the science-oriented stations worked and the overall feeling was of being talked down to… On the other hand the best and cheapest concession was the smoked turkey leg. It was big enough for 2 and without the $3 chips only $13! (yes the food is very over priced) We took a backpack with some foods – bananas and pears and oranges and a couple bagels and pastries from the hotel breakfast. I can’t imagine feeding a family in the park!!
Now on the other hand we got to do some quality people watching. The park was rife with newlyweds. Most of the couples were from the UK or South America. How do you know? you ask. Well, the big badges that many wore that said “We’re Celebrating…” with a write in area. Most said “our honeymoon” while there were a few that said “our wedding”. There were others that had t-shirts that said “Hubby” and “Wifey” or Good Wife/Bad Wife with the word witch crossed out. As for their countries of origin, the accents were unmistakable. Most of the people visiting the Harry Potter attractions were from across the pond (UK) – and they were quite happy to let you know where they called home. The Brits mostly reminded us of a Tracey Ullman type – down to earth working class and plain good people on the vacation of their lives. The couples from South America (some from Brasil and Venezuela and a few from Peru and then the others who were undetermined) seemed to be slumming it. They were on the whole, pushy and loud and not at all friendly. Perhaps it is a cultural thing. Those women were the only people wearing high heels and what I’d consider clothes to go clubbing in (maybe they were so unfriendly because their feet hurt)!

Looking a Little Frozen

An impetus to impertinence
As the leaves fall to ground
And the clocks fall back
After summer sun blaze sputters
And the color drains from trees
All that remains are the remains
A culmination of shifting winds
As cold coalesces to snow and ice
Assailing even the memory of warmth

We have returned from our vacation to Florida. It was warmer than Indiana. It wasn’t actually “run naked on the beach” warm but the sun was bright and the sky was blue. And then we returned to the perennial grey of November. And it is cold. Every winter seems a little colder than the year before. I’ve checked the weather records and it is cold every year. Some years there is an arctic blast that drops the temperature for a week or two and then we are back to the usual cold. Other years it stays an even frosty temperature but it lingers longer. It appears that my tolerance for spicy food is linked to my ability to get and stay warm. That is, the less able I am to eat “spice” the colder I feel in winter. Sparky observed in September as we went for our after dinner walk that if I was cold then I’d not survive the real cold when winter came knocking. I have pooh-poohed the idea of relocating to warmer climates. And every winter I think that maybe I’ll have to change my mind. The problem is and remains the distance from my sons and the size of the spiders and other bugs in the south. I. Just. Can’t! If I never see another cockroach the size of a pocket knife it will be too soon!