Thursday, December 30, 2004

Last Day of Vacation

Having spent my entire vacation at the mercy of Christmas and mandatory (corporate) training, I feel ready to have some legitimate time off. Ya. That or a stun-gun to my boss's groin. iHubby laughed at me that I was doing mandatory CBTs at the very last minute, which reduced me to a pile of tears. It's a sad reminder that this entire year has just been one big headache. Gross amounts of overtime have been incurred in order to meet expectations - let's not even talk about exceeding expectations. Which, of course, brings up the entire issue of performance reviews, a.k.a., judgements.

Wicked witch CH can't seem to do any wrong and I can't seem to work at all effectively for her. My commitment falls completely flat. I wish I knew why I feel that way about anything and everything about her and her leadership. She hasn't actually done anything. Uh. Maybe that's why. Duh.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sunday Morning

I'm learning about Kerberos today. It's a rough subject for 8:20 in the morning but I'm up for it, having fortified myself with at least one cup of coffee, and had my morning giggle watching Maggie and Tasha chase each other around. And, now that I've found out that it's a private key encryption protocol that allows client/server authentication to occur over an interently insecure network connection, I'm ready to take a little break.

I've taken over the entire dining room table. The third floor AC isn't working, which in turn makes the 2nd floor warmer than usual. This, in turn, forces me to flee to the first floor for cool comfort. Yes, I like it cool. 71-72 is my style. My books, my laptop, my camera and dock, my little desk organizer, and I have all moved to the dining room table. This wasn't an option until we got the WAP, which by the way works wonderfully. We have wireless access in every room of the house (except the third floor). Even the kitchen! I like to move around. Change of scenery. I get bored.

We (Kent) has ripped out a 7-foot section of uuuugly cabinetry in the kitchen. We decided, for better or worse, that we'd start the darn kitchen remodel and do a little at a time. In that sections place is a 7' high, four foot wide open steel shelving. It look better than it sounds. We have two of those now, and definitely freed up some real estate. It also helps us visualize how we want the kitchen to look. It looks as though there is some very good hardwood under about a half-inch of other flooring. We're actually excited about this. Hardwood in the kitchen? Sure, why not! What the hell!

All of a sudden, now that we have a membership at Costco, Kent likes to go grocery shopping. Wants to go. Asks when I am going. Volunteers to go. I'm not questioning it, just liking it.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Happy Friday

Smobriety Day 18. The craving comes and goes, especially when I finish a particularly daunting - or unwelcome - task. Frequently happens at work. Ha ha.

It's official, Nick has dropped out of school; to his credit he promptly took the GED test. Now we wait for about six weeks for the results. I still have mixed feelings about it all and despite all good intentions will continue to wonder where we screwed up. I'll probably never know.

Work continues to be a blessing/curse/confusing conundrum of politics and actual productivity. Things that I think should happen quickly, don't. Things that I think shouldn't happen so quickly, do. And everyone absolutely has to cover their collective asses. Well, ok, I do too but at least I'm not so damned obvious about it. There is no real place for idealism in corporate America. Maybe I've just become One Of Them, and cynical to boot. But the pay? It works for me.

Summer is here, practically speaking. The ambient temperature is between 89 and 100 every day, with lows around 70-75. It's the heat index that pushes it up so high. It's unbearable.

I've had weird physical things going on and now I wonder if they are connected. Clumsiness. More than the usual. Some small balance problems, mild dizziness - like Labrynthitis but fleeting. Of course, I'm always tired - I have been for some time. Motivation? Libido? What're those? Fatigue, muscle tightness, joint stiffness and pain...and, just the other day, the strangest episode of total disorientation. I was driving up the ramps in the parking garage, listening to All Things Considered. Nothing unusual. First I noticed that there were three parking spots next to an elevator where before there were no parking spots. Now, that's pretty odd, I thought. How is it possible to move an elevator and add three parking spots? Was I in the right garage? I rounded the corner and there was another elevator with three parking spots that shouldn't have been there. On one side the the garage there is an elevator with no parking spots next to it, on the other side is the elevator with the three spots. I looked out beyond the openings to locate a landmark and couldn't find one. Where the fuck was I? Was I in the right garage? I looked at the floor letters. Shit! They moved those too! I was starting to panic. Surely this wasn't right. Finally, I got reoriented. But I was scared. Terrified, actually. I figured out that somehow I thought I was on one side of the garage when I was really on the other side (just writing about it gives me the creeps!). I think. Actually, I don't know. I just know what for about 30 seconds the garage and surroundings I saw everyday had changed.

I've made an appointment with Dr. Garris. She'll know what the hell is happening.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Quit Day 5

I quit on Saturday. At about noon, to be sort of exact but still vague. Made it through Saturday pretty well. Sunday not quite as well but still pretty good.

My Smoking Buddies (Gary and Toni) are out of the office so the social temptation is weak. I'm hyper. I mean, really bouncing off the walls, babbling, wired up.

Gary is back, Toni is still out. I told Gary that I quit so not to invite me to the loading dock. He's been very supportive. I also told a bunch of other folks at work that I'd quit. I figured that instead of not telling anyone (just in case I failed) I'd tell everyone so I had lots of support.

Argh! Definitely the worst day by far. Taking lots of big, deep breaths. I'm coughing. I had a cold when I quit which kinda helped me quit since the smoking wasn't helping the bronchitis. So I have cessation cough and bronchitis cough. Frieda dropped off a little square of Ghirrardeli dark chocolate as a reward for making it through another day. She's great.

Not a great day, but still a day. I've made it through another one. Coffee tastes different but I don't have the craving for a cigarette when I have my coffee, which actually surprises me alot. I experimented with green tea earlier in the week and like it. Liked it with honey and a cinnamon stick. Here's my green tea recipe:

4 tea bags
1 4-cup tea pot
4 cups boiling water
2 TBL honey
1/2 cinnamon stick
4 drops of vanilla (or an eighth to a half tsp)

Add the tea bags to the tea pot and add the boiling water. Let steep for five minutes. After steeping, remove the tea bags and add the honey, cinnamon stick, and vanilla; adjust to taste; stir. Pour into favorite cup and sip slowly and leisurely.

The vanilla was an inspired addition which I really like. I've been using a green tea with honey, ginseng, and ecchinacea. Not because I like the ecchinacea but because I like the honey and the ginseng. In fact, I should find some ginseng.

In any case, I played with tea over the weekend and that helped get through. Want a cigarette? Make another pot of decaf green tea.

I'm waking up in the middle of the night, multiple times. Kent quit with me. He's tired all the time. I'm wide awake and ready to run the mile (not that I actually would, of course! gimme a break). But I have indigestion, too, which is a real pain. No pun intended.

Time for bed. At least, time to crawl into bed and read. Rereading Catch-22. It's wonderful, even 20 years after the first time. Better. Always pertinent.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Simplest Apple Pie. Not.

"...Makes one 8-inch square apple pie, topped with crumbled, rich sweet pastry."

Well, ok, that statement is mostly correct. I would not call this the simplest apple pie. I made this the other day because I'm in search of The Perfect Apple Pie and a perfect crumble topping. This seemed like the best of both worlds. The recipe is from Home Baking, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.*

2 Cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar, plus optional extra for apples
12 TBL unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, softened
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 TBL sour cream

Scant 1 tsp minced lemon zest (optional)
Up to 2 TBL cold water, if needed
About 3 TBL fine fresh bread crumbs (see page 333)
8 medium-to-large McIntosh apples (nearly four pounds)
2 TBL fresh lemon juice

Ok, it looks simple enough. The crust doesn't have to be rolled but pressed into the pan. The crust is also used for the topping. Ok. The addition of egg yolks and sour cream to the crust was intriguing. I didn't see the advantage of the bread crumbs and, after having made it, I still don't.

Apples are, by nature, time-consuming objects to core, peel, and slice or chop. I would go so far as to say it's a complete pain in the neck except that it's a means to a wonderfully sweet end. These apples, however, are grated. In all my baking experience I'd never had an opportunity to grate apples and I hope I never do again. Use a food processor fitted with a grating blade. If you don't have one then don't make this recipe. Hand grating (they recommend a box grater) is slow and messy. Although I considered it, using a mandolin seemed like too much work. I do love my little wooden-handled apple corer that came to us from Kent's grandmother. For this recipe I'd have liked one of those hand-crank apple peelers. For those of you looking for gifts for the cook who already has a bunch of gadgets, take note :)

Let's discuss the use of Macintosh apples, anyway. Mushy. Grainy. Like Red Delicious but not as sweet. Turns brown in fifteen seconds, not that that's a big deal in this case. I'd definitely use Granny Smith instead.

The theory (from the book): "...Use Macintosh apples so that the grated apples will melt as they cook." The reality: They don't melt. Let's talk about mouth feel. These slightly mushy grated apple strings had a weird mouth feel. Like sweet, sodden cotton yarn. The look reminded me disconcertingly of Playdoh pushed through one of those spaghetti string tools to make Playdoh grass or hair. Here's what I'll do next time. Like I said above, I'll use Granny Smith. But instead of grating it I'll slice it and saute the slices in a little butter, sugar, cinnamon, maybe a dash of cardammom, then dump it into pan. It's a tried and true technique and makes the kitchen smell great. Make extra because it does reduce in mass, plus you want some for nibbling or to go alongside pork chops. I've noticed, too, that when you do a little apple saute before baking that the filling ends up being firmer, less likely to fall apart when you cut into it.

What's with the breadcrumbs? "...Sprinkle the bottom generously with the fresh bread crumbs."

First of all, why fresh? Second, if you have to "see page 333" to make breadcrumbs you've definitely left Simple Food territory. Break up a piece of bread and process it in a food processor, coffee grinder if you have one, or simply used the rest of the can of plain breadcrumbs that you didn't use for that Chicken Parmagiana two months ago. Alternatively, toast a slice of bread and mash the hell out of it. I used a hot dog bun ground in a small coffee grinder.

But, I don't get the point of the breadcrumbs. Why? It doesn't add to the taste. It doesn't keep it from sticking - we've already up greased up the pan. From what I can tell it doesn't do a thing. The crust is pretty substantial and can stand up to the juices pretty well without the breadcrumbs, if that's what they are for.

"...Add water a little at a time if needed to make the dough come together, blending it in, then pull the dough together into a mass."

The crust. I think the crust has real potential but not in its current state and not using those instructions. My version: Add a little water to make it sort-of come together, then cover with plastic wrap and chill while you do the apples. Do not touch with hands. Don't "pull it together" because you'll want to mash it together like a normal pastry crust. Mashing it together has a kind of emulsifiying effect - warming and melting the butter, really getting things mixed together. No, no, no, that really isn't what you want here. This crumble wants to be crumbly. After mashing it and chilling it, well, it comes out just like any other dough. You may as well roll it out. I admit, though, I do like the richness of the egg/sour cream additions.

To this crust-with-potential I'd add some pecans, a handful, chopped but not too finely; barely a 1/2 tsp of salt because whoa was it bland. The "crust" is used for both bottom and top. On the top, sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon very lightly just to add a little top-crispiness.

Assembly. "...Press (1/2 the dough) evenly to cover the bottom; it will be less than 1/4 inch thick." But not much less.

By the way, I'd also make a double batch and use 1/4 to 1/3 on the bottom and the rest on the top. I like lots of crumble. I don't want to see my apples through the crumble. I want at least an inch of crumble. Otherwise what's the point?

Now, a year ago when my mom came to visit we had an apple pie "cake." That was something, a big hit. Never enough crumble. Wish I could find the recipe...

*if you'd like rest of the recipe, including all the instructions, let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Blustery Day

It is blustery and cold and it snowed last night. All very exciting for a temperate marine climate like ours. We've had more snow events this year than in the last ten that I've lived here. Two years ago there was one big snow event. The kids loved it. It hit the day after they returned from Christmas break and kept them out of school the entire rest of the week. I think we had 8" of snow or something. Hampton Roads was paralized. It just wasn't ready for it. They've gotten much better about the whole thing now.

In any event, today is a holiday for me, this was supposed to be a snow-make-up-day but school is closed because of the snow and dangerous roads. The irony is almost too perfect to contemplate. I'm sure the administration is steaming mad. I wouldn't give two cents for it at all if I didn't have 75% of my immediate family dependent on whether the schools were open or not. Two teenagers, and Kent teaches high school.

The alarm went clicked on at 5:30 this morning. Bomp Bomp Bomp, went Blue Man Group, and my first two thoughts were:
1. Gotta change that CD, it's been out wake-up music for six months.
2. Gee, wonder if NPS finally posted a "school closed" notice.

Didn't change the cd. NPS did post. Kent asks: Do you really want to get up now? I answer: sure, why not. I make a pot of coffee. I can get ahead in my homework. It's all Access2002 anyway, it's a no-brainer. If I don't get an A in this class I will realy have been lazy. More than lazy. But it's quiet, I can listen to streaming WRHV, one of the local NPR stations, and do homework.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Problem with a new computer....

...Is all the software you have to RELOAD. And all the software you realize, Oh, Shit, I didn't actually PAY for that...d'oh! Like WinZip. $29. Easy. So off I go with my little blue and silver check card in hand from site to site making sure that I'm a REAL, LEGAL software owner.

Yes, I'm a reformed, recovering leech. Mostly. Ok, pirate. Whatever. I don't have a parrot on my shoulder and you'd be surprised at just how many average middle class Americans have "pirated" their friend's copy of, oh, Adobe Photoshop for instance.

I reformed when I realized that I was getting bitchy about MY creative property but didn't give two snaps for Adobe or Microsofts software. This was about....oh....two years ago. But I'm not perfect. I speed. I tell white lies occasionally if it will get me that extra 10% discount (Why yes, I'm a senior citizen - NOT!)

Let's face it, though, the really dedicated pirates do it because
(a) they can
(b) they can proove that they can
(c) they can't stand Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, Sierra, Sony, and whomever else for actually, gasp, charging what the market will bare for a piece of very good programming effort.

Hello? Did it ever occur to anyone that programming is HARD WORK?

Actually, it's a piece of cake. What isn't easy is debugging that slick code you thought you wrote. Been there. It's like a little detective journey which some people (me) like and which others (K) steer clear of at all costs.

To My Valentines

Happy Valentines Day
to my friends,
my family,
my kids,

Friday, February 13, 2004

Wow, Vaio, Wow

I bought a Vaio this week. Wow. This has got to be the best laptop I've ever used. The best computer I've ever used. I'm a walking talking advertisement for Sony Vaio. Go. Run and get one. Now. You won't be sorry. It's a GRX670, which is a recently discontinued model but who cares, it's still faster than the P3 that the boys have completely taken over. Funny, it's a lot like a MAC. Or wait, is that the XP Operating System? Hm.....

Actually, XP is much nicer than it has any right to be, and I'm surprised I like it so much. Microsoft finally got plug-n-play right and mostly handles it in the background.

The sound and video cards on this machine are to die for. Beautiful sound on my headphones which aren't the greatest. SonicStage is a neat little piece of software. Not enough visualizations.

Moving right along. Starbucks recently opened a store located on the route I take to work. Hee hee. 8:30 every morning finds me getting my venti Breakfast Blend with extra room for cream. Nya Nya Nya.

I feel overwhelmed at work and in school right now. Work has me on the merger technology transition team. I'm taking on more responsibility than I'm used to and it's kinda scary. I talked to my boss about it and of course he is more than willing to mentor me along. That's good, too, because I need it. My challenge is that I'm barely keeping up with both the transition activities, my regular stuff (like one-on-ones with my directs, taking care of escalations, managing processes), and the application I support and maintain and program and tweak.