» Archive for November, 2008

Moving dogs around

Saturday, November 29th, 2008 by kara

I did something neat today, and I started out to write a short little feelgood post about it, but I ended up writing a huge, long rant about why rescue is so necessary and so difficult, but I’ll save that for another day when I’m feeling better. I’ve got a pretty good cold right now which is sapping my strength and making me even more cynical than I am usually, so I’ll concentrate on the warmfuzzies I got today.

What was I doing this afternoon? I was helping transport a wonderful dog across the United States. His name is Scooby, and he’s a great old gentleman Brittany of 13 years, and National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network was making sure that he made it from the shelter in Auburn, AL to his new foster home in Adrian, MI this weekend. It’s really inspiring when you consider the amount of effort and care that goes into one of these transports, whether it’s for NBRAN or for any other rescue groups that have other areas to house their dogs.

It never ceases to amaze me how well these transports for NBRAN are coordinated. Nancy Walker is all the way up north in Massachusetts, and she arranges many transports for NBRAN. I’ve had the pleasure of talking and e-mailing with her while she’s been organizing several of these weekend transport operations to move dogs from one part of the country to another. The logistics are daunting. Consider just Scooby’s journey: Over two days, Scooby will be traveling better than 802 miles. He’ll be making the journey in 10 separate legs, with a one-night stay in Kentucky at another volunteer’s house. Each time he meets another driver and begins another leg, that driver calls Nancy to let her know that they’ve got Scooby and that they’re off–and whether they’re on time or if they’ve been delayed by traffic or weather or goblins or what-have-you.

Oh, and by the way, there was another rider on this journey–a three-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Martin hitched a ride from Atlanta to Chattanooga, so he could make it to his forever home, too. Two dogs saved–not such a bad thing to have a hand in on a rainy Saturday in Knoxville.

Nancy sends out an e-mail plea to drivers who are available on the scheduled transport dates. She keeps track of who can drive which legs, and then shuffles them around and puts them in order. She’s a wonderful facilitator and close to being a saint, I think, because she’s dealing with dozens of people, most of whom also have full-time jobs to keep them busy during the week. I don’t know how she does it (I wouldn’t have enough patience and would probably just throw up my hands and drive the whole thing myself rather than try to organize a bunch of strangers) but I’m so VERY GLAD she does do it. She and all these other people who volunteer a couple hours out of their weekend to chauffeur a lucky dog to their new home are wonderful, caring people dedicated to getting these fuzzy kids to where they need to be.

And some weekends, there isn’t just one or two dogs riding along–sometimes there are three or four or five, if they can be squished in, and sometimes they’re coming from different areas to join the transport in progress. Logistically, it sounds like a real nightmare. But it’s worth it for the sake of the dogs.

So on the days when I’m feeling particularly low and wondering why people don’t think of their companion animals as loving, feeling beings, and I’m thinking that all this hard work and worrying that we people in rescue do is all for naught, I try to think about these dogs that I’ve helped to save, both locally and nationally. I remember the faces of each dog I’ve helped to transport, and even nicer are the faces of the great people who’ve worked alongside me to save them. These are quality people, Gentle Reader. They care about the well-being of beings who are weaker than they, and they’re doing something to help them. It’s a boost to call them comrades and that makes it a little easier to face another day of human-to-dog stupidity that we see in rescue.

My turkey is still frozen. As usual. Dangit.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008 by kara

And sooo Thanksgiving is here again, but as per usual I have a huge turkey in my refrigerator that is not thawed yet. What a surprise. What a change from the normal status quo. NOT.

I love fixing Thanksgiving Dinner. Yes, I DID capitalize ‘dinner’ because Thanksgiving Dinner is iconic, it is a special dinner loaded with meaning for probably everyone in the United States. It’s actually pretty simple, too, compared to some meals. Maybe it just seems more impressive due to the size of the turkey and the amount of mashed potatoes. (Large amounts of food can be mesmerising to me.)

And this year, even though we’ll be away from our families for the holiday (again), we’ll actually have some company. Rick’s coworker Sterling is on call and he’ll be staying here to do his duty while his family visits relatives elsewhere. It will be nice to have someone to spoil along with Rick this holiday. Told Rick to let Sterling know in no uncertain terms that he will be expected to play lots of board games because there aren’t a lot of card games that work with three players. Parcheesi, here we come!

But before the Parcheesi comes the food. That turkey is 20 pounds of joy, frozen joy, to be accurate, but foodie joy none-the-less. I pulled it out of the freezer on Sunday evening, and just like every year before it, it’s still pretty stiff. I think it’s because I’m so paranoid about germs and food safety that I keep my refrigerator VERY VERY cold. Ice crystals do form in milk and iced tea if they’re allowed to sit long enough in my refrigerator, and that’s on the top shelf. I’m guessing that it’s not very far away from the temperature range in the freezer, so even though it’s not 32 degrees Fahreinheit in my fridge, it is cold enough to slow down a thaw. I’ve waited DAYS for a freaking Gladware container of soup to thaw, so you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now.

But NOOOOO. Come tomorrow morning, along with making the biscuits and the pumpkin pies for Thursday, I’ll also be dunking my turkey in a cold water bath in the sink, hoping against hope to get that little bugger bakeable by Thursday morning. I shoulda known better. I shoulda just come home from the grocery store and chucked that plucked little monkey straight into the fridge. A week in there should have done it.

A turkey that’s even partially frozen will take a lot longer to cook, ya know. Ask our good friends from Ann Arbor, when we had a ‘holiday dinner’ a couple of years ago. Breads, veggies, taties, gravy, pies, everything was done at 7 p.m. except the turkey–even though it had been in the oven for most of the day. Finally I gave up and just started carving from the outermost regions and left the deeper breast meat intact, and flung the carcass back into the oven while we munched on the carved bits.

Cheezwhiz. Maybe I should go get my hairdryer out…no, no, NO, I KNOW that the hairdryer doesn’t work for this. It’s too boneheaded an idea to work, anyway. I might, however try throwing it in the microwave on defrost for a couple of hours tomorrow. BTW, if you DO use the microwave to defrost your turkey, PLEASE make sure there is no metal in the carcass before doing so. Some turkeys have metal clamps to hold their little leg stumps in place, and I guess that there can be metal bits in pop-up timers, and we all know that microwaves and metal are not friendly toward each other.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a little excitement and you have an extra turkey waiting in the wings, go for it. Take pictures and send them to me. Video, too, if you’ve got the capability. We can submit it to America’s Funniest Home Videos and YouTube.

The rest of our menu will include biscuits, asparagus pan-fried in bacon drippings, cornmeal stuffing with celery and onion, and pumpkin and apple pies. Something I’ll be doing differently this year is making my own pie crust. I hope they turn out tender and good, because I’d hate to experiment on Rick’s friend with something as CRUCIAL as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But piecrust is almost on par with a loaf of plain white bread–it’s simple and I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT DAMMIT. Yeah, piecrust is up there, but maybe it’s not quite the white whale to me as yeast bread.

I’ll cheat, though. I have a couple of coupons for refrigerated pie crust, so if my own is really inedible, I’ll just throw together another pie with that. I’ll let you know how it all turns out. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!

Rescue never ends. It’s rewarding, but draining.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 by kara

I work with a wonderful woman here in Knoxville named Karen Echternacht. She cares about dogs in general and cocker spaniels in particular that she actually started a rescue group for them. Cocker Companions Rescue is very new, just under one year old. She got it rolling in February, after ‘pulling’ a young cocker spaniel boy from the local shelter for a rescue group in Texas. She was only going to keep Finnagan until transport could be arranged for him to Texas, but while he was staying with her, she discovered that he had some serious behavioral problems, and that she couldn’t just send him on to someone who was less-capable than she of dealing with him.

At the same time, she and her family fell in love with Finnagan, and didn’t want to consign him to euthanasia. So they decided to keep him and work with him to try to condition him past his source-guarding issues, and today he’s Karen’s star pupil.

Did I mention that she’s also a dog trainer? That’s what gives her a leg up when it comes to dealing with the ‘problem children’ of the dog world. It’s hard work, and it takes a lot of optimism and love to see through the dirt, mats, fleas and snarling and find the happy, clean family pet in some of the cockers Karen takes in, but everyone gets a fair shot at learning to be ladies and gentlemen.

The rescue gets dogs from many different places, from owner surrenders to strays from animal shelters all over the region, “free to good home” advertisements…the list goes on (and on, and ON). And the really difficult part of this is that the queue of animals needing help never ends. There is always someone who is in a kill shelter, on the last day of their allowed stay, who will be put down unless someone steps in to adopt him or her, or take them in to rescue. As a new rescue group, Cocker Companions Rescue’s resources are limited. We have few foster homes, and the number of dogs that need help always outnumber them. If we bring a dog in to CCR, it needs either a foster home, or it needs to go in to boarding at a kennel–after it’s thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian to make sure it won’t spread disease or pests to other animals.

Karen is a truly kind, loving woman, who feels deeply for all the animals with whom she comes into contact. She wants to be able to save them all, but she can’t–there’s not enough space or money to do that, as wonderful a goal as it would be. But she feels like she’s letting the rest of them down when she has to say no. To date, Cocker Companions Rescue has saved better than 90 cocker spaniels from being euthanized or abandoned, giving them baths and haircuts and training and veterinary care, whatever they need–and then finding them a loving, caring home for the rest of their happy lives. That’s quite a beautiful scorecard–as long as you don’t compare those lucky dogs to the rest that we didn’t get to in time, or that we had to refuse due to lack of resources.

Oh, and this is all volunteer, btw. Neither Karen nor any of her volunteers (including me) are receiving a paycheck for this vital work. It’s got to be done, though, and we’re all willing to keep trudging along, keeping old towels and leashes in the trunks of our cars in case we find someone fuzzy in need. Our reward is hearing from tickled adoptive parents who enclose photos in their e-mails, of a happy and indulged dog laying on the sofa, or on the bed in the master bedroom, with a Nylabone/knucklebone/silver spoon in their mouth. All these dogs deserve a happy ending, and we work to get it for them all.

Recycling, of a sort

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 by kara

So Jes and I were just talking about where we get all our useful information these days (why, the interwebz, o’ course) and she asked a rhetorical question: “Who uses a telephone book anymore these days?” And I said “I use mine. The thick ones. I’ve stacked them up to make an elevated water bowl stand for the kids (dogs).”

And when we get the new ones, I’ll get fancy and tape them together with strapping tape, and wrap them in a piece of old vinyl tablecloth to keep them nice & dry. Sooo, it’s kind of sort of recycling, because I wouldn’t be using the phone books any other way.  And it’s being frugal because I won’t have to go spend money on an elevated watering bowl for the dogs–I’m just using what I have here at the house. (Always, Gentle Readers, always keep packing tape on hand in your household.  The uses are myriad.)

My next question would be “does this count as being a craft project?”  I guess it could, if I used a really nice vinyl tablecloth…

Cleaning is easier without excess ‘stuff’

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 by kara

There were two times in my life when I had a truly clean house, and I loved it. By ‘clean’ I mean that floors and surfaces were uncluttered as well as windows and floors being regularly washed and everything had a storage place. I was ready and pleased to have company come over at any time.

Both those times were when we were selling our first two houses, and we had to make some serious changes in order to do that more efficiently. And clearing out our excess belongings turned out to be a necessary step in that process, but it wasn’t an easy step for either of us. Both my husband and I are packrats, saving many items ‘because we might need them later’ or because they are important mementos.

As a result, we had accumulated waaay too much furniture, clothes, books, old computer equipment, papers, compact disks, movies, cookware…just STUFF. Much of it we weren’t USING, not even on an occasional basis, but we couldn’t picture getting rid of it all. So we ended up storing it, stacking boxes and tables and chairs in the most out-of-the-way places and just sidling past the piles to do our daily living. It wasn’t an optimal, enjoyable use of our living space, but we thought we were coping just fine.

The problem here is the word “coping.” We shouldn’t have BEEN coping, we should have been living comfortably but we didn’t know that until later on.

When we initially put our first home on the market, we bridled against having to deny most of our ‘stuff’, arguing that people wouldn’t be buying our ‘stuff’, they were only buying the house, and if they were so lacking in imagination that they couldn’t see past my kitchen tool crock and breadmaker and coffeemaker and toaster on the counter, then screw them. We were comfortable living in the crowded swapmeet that was our house, and didn’t see any reason to change just because we were selling it.

I should mention here that although I fiercely defended our right to live in a crowded pseudowarehouse that I was also very uncomfortable at the thought of having impromptu company. Whenever the doorbell rang, I would glance around the house and panic. I’d notice the piles of homeless cookware and books stacked on the countertops, and see that the pile of throw pillows and lap rugs on the livingroom furniture prevented guests from having a comfortable seat.

And while we were cool with perching on top of the stacks of throw pillows to get comfortable, I didn’t like asking guests to adapt to our clutter, so we just didn’t have company very often; and when we did I felt compelled to embark on a huge marathon of preparation, which really dampened the joy of having visitors. So I knew we had problems, but didn’t know how to deal with them.

Then we showed the house a few times but none of the people were really interested. As shallow as it seemed, they were more concerned with the colour of the accent paint we’d chosen for trim and the size of the rooms, which looked smaller due to the excess furniture. So we accepted that although some people may have enough imagination to look past everything, it was EASIER for them to imagine their own stuff there if they didn’t have to see ours first. And if it we made it easier for potential buyers to imagine it as their own, we could sell it faster. We acknowledged the wisdom of ‘staging’ our house to sell it more quickly, and packed away everything extra.

It was great. I was amazed at how much easier it was to do housekeeping and just LIVE without having to maneuver around all the crap.  Both times we sold houses, we rented storage facilities to hide our excess furniture, cookware and just plain ol’ STUFF (out of sight, out of mind, eh?) and it was astonishing how much more enjoyable this made many daily tasks. Tidying up was easier because there was always a place available to put ‘stuff’ away. We kept on top of junk mail and magazines/catalogs because we couldn’t have any of them lying about while we were showing the house, so we either read it right away or tossed it out.

We put back just the furniture and cookware that fit, only what we could picture ourselves actually using during this period of ‘roughing it,’ and it was a revelation. Suddenly, our finished basement in the first house because a potential oasis of fun and relaxation. It was designed for living, after all, not for storage, which is how we had been using it. I regretted not having cleared everything out sooner, because we could have been having all kinds of parties, card games, movie screenings, etc. in this wonderful space that we’d just ‘discovered.’

Even emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry was easier, because I could put everything AWAY. I didn’t have to find an alternate storage place for clean towels and end up letting them sit on top of our dresser because the linen closet was too full to put them away. I had actually made room inside the cabinet for all my teapots, and they didn’t need to sit out on the countertop on display.

And when we did have a showing, it was a breeze–all I had to do was to make sure the bed was made and run the vacuum through to “pick up the big chunks,” in the words of my darling mother. On the days we had showings scheduled, I didn’t have to worry about shoving piles of dirty clothes under the bed, and then not having room under there because that was where the Rubbermaid bins of off-season clothes were already stored…didn’t have to haul piles of newspapers out to the garage in a sweat because they were already there in the recycling bins, didn’t have to cram all my pots and pans into the oven to get them out of sight.

With the help of a spotlessly clean house and freshly-baked banana bread, we sold our first two houses and bought a third. But even though we’d already purged a truckload of STUFF during the last two moves, we still have way too much junk in our new house. We have to get rid of just a little bit more in order to be truly comfortable here, and I’m afraid that this last little bit is what’s going to be difficult. It was so much easier just to be able to rent a storage space and pack all these boxes off to exile, but that wasn’t really solving the problem–it just gave us a teasing glimpse of what life in an orderly house COULD be like. And let’s face it–paying to rent storage space for things that we’ll never use again is foolish. We need to face it and get rid of the last of the junk, and be comfortable.

I’ll get started on that tomorrow.

Joy, Joy, JOY! A major triumph in cleaning!

Friday, November 21st, 2008 by kara

Okay, it’s Friday, and by all rights I am SUPPOSED TO BE cleaning my house, but I had to take a break and share this with you, my Gentle Readers. I have just now overcome a major hurdle to my happiness, found a solution to a cleaning conundrum which has been plaguing me ever since we moved into this house!

Dirty light switches. How to clean them safely? Obviously, the SAFE way would be to shut off the electricity and go from there, but I hate doing that and having to reset all the clocks in the house…so I finally figured out a relatively safe way to clean them, using a toothbrush (old one) and some multipurpose cleaner. I spray just a tiny amount of the cleaner onto the bristles of the toothbrush, and then blot most of it onto a microfiber cleaning cloth. Then I brush the daylights out of the switch. It works BEAUTIFULLY!

Switch on the left has been cleaned, and the one on the right is about to get it!

Switch on the left has been cleaned, and the one on the right is about to get it!

This is a small thing, but it’s a huge issue for me because I’ve been obsessing about it for a full year. Finally getting them cleaned up is a big triumph for me! More about cleaning and housekeeping later. Happy Friday!

P.S. Don’t go getting too excited for me yet. This is a baby step toward having a clean house again. My nightstand is covered with a thick protective layer of dust, such that I can hardly see my alarm clock.

Learning to cook and bake with Norma

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by kara

My mother Norma started me off in the kitchen when I was 8 or 9 years old. Her own mother was very capable in the kitchen and for better or worse insisted on doing everything herself, so my mother and her sister Laurel (better known as Aunt Corky) never got any practical cookery experience while they were growing up. This would come back to bite my mother in the ass, because when she married and left home to start her own household, she’d have to learn how to cook while she was on the job.

Norma was fond of saying that when she and my father first married she was so inexperienced in the kitchen that she “couldn’t boil sh*t for a tramp.” She was exaggerating to be funny and to make her point, that she didn’t even possess the most rudimentary kitchen skills. She managed to teach herself how to cook and bake, but it took quite a while and during her learning curve she had to cope with lots of beginner’s level problems which made life that much more difficult–needlessly. At that point, while she was sweating through the basics, she decided to prepare her own children thoroughly for life out of the nest, so she made sure that we all knew our way around the spice cupboard early in life.

(Apparently my brother did not receive the same level of preparation as did the rest of us girls. One Thanksgiving afternoon when he was living in Arizona, he called home to ask what kind of turkey he should buy to prepare for dinner that night. After explaining that it would take three days to thaw the damn thing, much less prepare it, I think he settled on turkey lunchmeat and instant mashed potatoes with canned gravy.)

My mother had a rare, dry sense of humor, and she practised her wit on all of us kids regularly. Most of the time it was cool to have a mother with such a weird sense of humor, but when she was teaching me to cook it was occasionally frustrating. When I was preparing something I hadn’t done before, I’d ask her “how long do I fry this/cook this/beat this?” she’d reply “Until it’s done.” I thought she was being funny or just trying to annoy me by not answering my questions, but in retrospect I can see that by not answering my question directly she was teaching me to pay attention to the food I was preparing. When I watched it carefully, I could see when it was underdone, when it was done perfectly, and the exact point at which it became overdone.

She taught me to observe my results and to learn as I went along, just like she did, but she did me the favor by starting me out early, before I had the pressure of providing food for my own family. I followed her example and learned to cook, preparing new dishes along the way with an eye on nutrition and frugality. She ended up as an accomplished cook who could also can and preserve foods that she’d grown herself. If there was something she didn’t know how to prepare, she’d learn.

But for all her hard-won expertise, she still had her bugbears, one of which was my grandmother’s recipe for Butterscotch Pie. This pie is essentially a homemade, cooked butterscotch pudding in a pastry crust, with a meringue crown. The recipe itself is only a list of ingredients for the pudding filling–no instructions for what to DO with all those ingredients. That obviously wasn’t a problem for my grandmother, who’d been preparing that pie for special occasions for years and years, most likely from memory.

When I was a child, I remember coming home after school to the heavenly scent of this wonderful, salty-sweet pie cooling on the countertop, honey-like drops of syrup bubbling up on the crown of meringue. It was always such a treat to have her make this pie, and for a while it seemed she’d make it without a special occasion–with varying degrees of success. Sometimes the butterscotch was runny, sometimes it might seem almost curdled, and other times the texture was perfect. It always TASTED fabulous, however, no matter how it looked.

When I think back on it, I realize now that my mother was practising making this pie so she could reliably make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas and other special occasions. I think she first began to make this pie just after her mother had died in 1974. Just like any other time when we think we have plenty of opportunities to say the important things or ask the important questions, my mother probably hadn’t asked Grandma how to make the pie. After all, Grandma just made it herself for all the appropriate occasions, so there was no need for my mother to know how to fix it. So Mom had to figure out on her own the proper cooking time for the pudding filling, learning as she went. And like her mother, she kept those steps in her head.

My mother died in 1995, taking lots of important information with her. I still miss her and so often have thought of questions that only she can answer, some as small as “how do I put together these ingredients to make this pie?” and some as large as “what was your father and mother’s childhood like?” And I can’t tell you how often I’ve regretted not asking them. Along with that mysterious pie recipe, I have family pictures of people I don’t recognize and possibly have never even met, and my mother is the only person who could have told me who they were. It’s too late now, by far, but as I’ve discovered, regrets last a lifetime.

That's my Grandma's handwriting, yo!

I’ve kept that same recipe card for Butterscotch Pie, written in my Grandma Mae’s handwriting, and although I’ve not used it yet, I really do want to learn how to make it. I know the logical step is just to gather the ingredients and start experimenting like Norma. Someday I’ll do that, and through trial and error I’ll figure out how to combine these ingredients into that heavenly pie. And even though I don’t have kids to whom to pass this recipe along, I’ll write down the steps and I’ll share it with whoever wants to make it. Hopefully they’ll taste the love that’s such an important ingredient, even though it’s not written on the card.

Cake/brownie mixes and baking bread from scratch

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 by kara

Just put a pan of brownies into the oven for my Pumpkin. I used a *mix* and I feel kind of dirty about it…after all, it’s JUST brownies. I could probably have done this from scratch. But it’s so QUICK to just be able to open the box, crack the eggs and measure the water and oil…and they smell so goooood while they’re baking…

What say you, Gentle Reader? Are mixes a sop to convenience and thusly the Devil? Or are they valid shortcuts for busy people who don’t need to prove their culinary capability by cooking from scratch?

I thought that I should also be able to bake bread from scratch, too. Bread is SIMPLE. The staff of life, the basis for many different meals and foods. Flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast. Can’t get much simpler than that…but I’ve tried making bread at various times in my life, with varying degrees of failure.

Recently we’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible in preparation for a possible financial Armageddon. As a result I’ve been trying to make as much food as possible from scratch. Prepared foods are expensive and don’t always contain wholesome ingredients, especially commercially produced bread. And now that I have nothing but time, I feel that I should be doing something productive with it.

Cookies are simple for me. I can make a yummy, lovely cookie out of just about anything. Soups, stews, meals from scratch are pretty easy too. Yeast breads are a different story, however. I found a really good recipe for homemade frozen biscuit dough over at http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/paulasbiscuits.htm , and had reasonable success with edible biscuits using Susanne’s friend Paula’s recipe, but for the most part, the mysteries of yeast-risen white bread have eluded me since the beginning of my cooking career.

I have tried repeatedly, sometimes using the same recipe over and over again, sometimes using a new recipe. But I have been successful in making nothing more than an almost inedibly hard, poorly risen loaf. Each time. I call it “The Breadbrick” because it’s not so much a loaf as it is a brick of very dense bread. It’s probably more suited to being used as a building material.

I may decide to patent the process if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong so that others can follow my lead. Then millions of people can produce their own “Breadbrick(TM),” the portable snack that can also be used as a personal protection device. Keep the Breadbrick(TM) in your purse, and you can nibble on a corner before going in to do your grocery shopping, and if someone tries to take your purse on the way in to the store, you can clonk them on the head with the Breadbrick(TM) and knock them out.

And I KNOW that my bread is less-than-pleasing. My wonderful husband told me the other day “I love bread…and I love the bread that YOU make, too.” Which I interpreted as “I love the stuff that you make that’s SUPPOSED to be bread, because I love you and everything you do for me.”

*Sigh* I owe the man a loaf of pliable, slice-able, honest-to-goodness bread.

It’s just BREAD, for chrissake. I should be able to do this successfully. I’m full of hope at the beginning of every batch, and the house smells wonderful with the proofing dough poofing out its yeasty goodness into the air. And the smell of baking bread? The only smell better than bread baking is toast toasting.

But my failures are wearing me down. Each stiff, compact loaf I produce wounds my soul. I MUST bake a comely loaf of bread! I’m at the point where it’s not even a QUEST any more, it’s my OBSESSION to make an appealing loaf of plain ol’ white bread from scratch. I was pissing and moaning to Jes about it the other day (really, WHY does that woman still listen to me? All I ever do is complain to her!) and she found a great website that describes the breadmaking process in detail: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/lessons/yourfirstloaf .

After poring through the incredibly detailed descriptions and helpful video here, I think I’ve figured out what I’m doing wrong. I believe I’m putting too much flour in while kneading the dough, which would make the dough stiff and dry. I’ve been letting the dough rise (or proof) in my wall-mounted microwave, because I noticed that it’s quite warm inside when I turn on the worklight underneath. Maybe it’s TOO warm for the final proof, causing the bread to collapse in on itself when it goes into the oven, so I’ll try doing the final proof on top of my stove or inside the oven itself. I have made yeast-risen French bread successfully many times in the past, and the main difference between the two processes is that the French bread does its final proof on baking sheets on top of the stove, because the sheets are too big to go back into the microwave.

I’ll try it again and let you know. Hopefully this attempt won’t be another epic FAIL.

Writing regularly as a workout

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 by kara

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do something you love as a job? I have heard that there are people in the world who have pursued their interests and turned them in to a paycheck, but I have never accomplished that myself. I would really enjoy telling stories and getting paid for it, but as my loving friends and family have repeatedly pointed out to me, I will never reach that Nirvana unless I actually WRITE SOMETHING.

I have heard other (successful) writers say that the key to being productive is to ‘prime the pump’ regularly with ANY type of writing. Once you’re writing SOMETHING on a regular basis you’re motivated to write more and more, rather like fitness training. This sounded like a great idea, and I set out to capture my stream of consciousness on myspace in blog form, but I had no deadlines and no one to keep me accountable, so my initiative for the writing exercise petered out very like my initiative peters out for my fitness initiatives. Seems there’s always something more important to do, like making a batch of cookies or menu planning, or clipping the toenails on our four dogs, and I allowed the writing exercise to take a permanent backseat.

Heck, it wasn’t even in the backseat. I threw it in the trunk, and it got buried underneath a small folding table, a couple of dog crates, and a huge clump of plastic grocery bags to be recycled.

Up until last year, though, I had an excuse for not writing regularly: I was employed FULL TIME, and that along with my housekeeping and volunteer endeavors ate up all the time I wasn’t spending eating, bathing and sleeping. Therefore I had little time or energy to hunt down my unicorn of writing as a profession.

Then my husband Rick (also known as my Wonderful Pumpkin of Love, or ‘The Pumpkin’ for short) got a job in Tennessee. I hung around for a year while trying to sell our beautiful Michigan house, and when that was finally done I followed him to Knoxville. Thanks to the lower cost of living here, I was able to pursue my other dream of being unemployed. In the immortal words of Peter Gibbons in the movie “Office Space,” “…I did absolutely nothing. And it was everything I thought it could be.”

But just like anything else in life, moderation is our savior. Too much of anything in life, whether it’s sloth or peanut butter and walnut brownies with vanilla ice cream, is not good. Oh, I had plans for my new life in Knoxville, grand plans, including organizing and decorating our new home and learning to make homemade bread beautifully, along with finally pursuing my dream of writing for an income. At this same time I was also hoping to become a black belt in some obscure martial art as well as (somehow) getting my young adult body back. Yeah. Really.

By now you may have guessed that even with the freedom of unemployment I have not achieved any of these goals, and now our circumstances have changed. The economy has ravaged pretty much every business nationally, and The Pumpkin’s employer is no exception. His employment seems tenuous, and I’m consumed with guilt about not contributing to the household income over the past year and a half. (Mygawd, it really has been THAT LONG.) There’s no way that I could make as much money as he is currently bringing home now, but I could have been earning SOMETHING. Anything would have helped us pay down our debt and put us in a more comfortable place by now.

I really should go out and find a job, probably something part-time so I can still spend part of the day at home with our adored, indulged dogs and do rescue work with my friend Karen while still earning some money. It’s past the time I should have done this, but I was really enjoying the indulgence of being unemployed.

I was whining to my good, darling, dear friend Jessica about my lack of income, and how I dreaded having to actually buckle down and keep my opinionated mouth shut to a BOSS again, and why is it that we can’t do what we want and somehow magically make a living? We were casting about for income-generating ideas for each other and Jes asks me (again) why I don’t write. I’m pretty good at stringing random crap together in cohesive sentences, and have been told I’m mildly entertaining, so it seems writing could be an income-generator for me.

I trotted out the standard excuses for Jes: ‘I haven’t written regularly in so long, I haven’t ever finished a SINGLE piece of fiction even though I have several promising starts, I don’t know how to market myself, blah blah blah…’ And Jes says “Just start with something–ONE thing. And when you finish that, go on to something else.” She’s so practical! And then Jes gifted me with this blog (she set it up for me and hosted my domain, which is something I’d not have known how to do for myself), so I no longer have any excuses for not writing.

Then she put the pressure on me. Via instant message, she said “And I will expect to see something from you EVERY DAY. No excuses.” Voila! Accountability! This is the structure I so sorely needed!

So I’ll be posting something every day. Every single day. Topics will vary from writing to dogs and dog rescue to food to housekeeping, and anything in-between those topics which is particularly annoying or entertaining that day. I can’t promise that it will be entertaining, but it will be SOMETHING.

If you’re reading this and you’re not Jes and you’re not The Pumpkin, then thank you for trudging along this far. I’d be curious to know how you stumbled upon my blog/stream of consciousness, so leave a comment, please. And try to come back tomorrow, to help Jes tighten the thumbscrews of accountability.

I can has a blogz!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 by kara

Thanks to my wonderful friend Jessica, I now have a presence on the interwebz that extends beyond lurking on celebrity gossip sites! Thanks, Jes, for introducing me to WordPress and giving me a website for my birthday! This WAY better than a pony!