Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An unusually sentimental entry

I'm not all that sentimental.  I tend to see it as sappy.  But, it seems appropriate this week to be a little squishy, sticky,  sappy.

I found this link through a friend on Facebook.  What on earth would I do without Facebook?  I'd have no idea what's going on in the world.

Moments that restored our faith in humanity this year.

And I do hold the opinion that the majority of people are good.  I point out the fact that parents will help other parents in a crisis.  It's because we know what they're going through.  We know the feeling of being faced with the fullest, poop stuffed diaper we've ever encountered in a public bathroom and finding there are no wipes in the diaper bag.  Other parents will gladly hand over some wipes with the comment, "Oh, I have soooo been there.  You have a clean diaper?"

I've also noticed that when the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrates the coverage is not about the church members, it's about the counter-demonstrators who block the signs or the bikers who surround them to rev their big engines to drown out their shouts.  They don't turn and scream at the Phelps family, they just turn their backs and keep them hidden.  We know the Phelps family hates everyone and thinks everyone is going to Hell.  But the grieving who are going to the funeral of a fallen soldier don't need to see them.   They have the right to state their opinion.  The rest of us have the right to be offended and protect others from their vitriol.

Most people will do the right thing when faced with that choice.  A mom will stop to ask a crying child what's wrong.  (And a good way to handle a lost child it is to ask the child what their mom's name is.  Then start yelling "Ann!  Ann!  AAAAANNNNNNN!!!! I've got Cody!  He's over here!"  without asking the child to come with you, which they're not supposed to do.  Probably an hysterical woman will run up to squeeze the breath out the kid and thank you profusely.)  A man driving a Roto Rooter truck will pull over to help someone change a tire.  Did you know those Rooter guys give out their home numbers and tell customers to call them if they need any help with their plumbing.  Then they'll come help out for free.

There are all kinds of examples.

I'm trying to learn to be comfy with being optimistic and find the good in things.    It feels strange to me.

But these stories are helping.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  A little sparkle on your face is festive and fun during the holidays.  Just don't over do it, unless you are Lady Gaga and then go for it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

There just isn't an answer, but there is some hope

I've been following the news about the Newtown shooting.  I am still devastated.  I cried again while President Obama read the names of the victims.  I cried when I first saw the list online because of all the ages listed as '6'.  I got two names in and had to stop.

I keep circling back to the thought:  What do you do with their presents?  What if they're already wrapped?  What about the ones that aren't wrapped?  What do you do with them?

I know everyone is horrified and angry and looking for the answer as to why this happened and what will keep it from happening again.

There is no clear answer.  The discussions are turning to gun control and how to treat mental illness, which is good.  Discussion is good.

However,  I've also seen things like this t-shirt showing up:

In the movie Jesus Camp one of the evangelical mothers says that prayer was taken out of schools and the schools are now falling apart.

If bringing prayer and worship into schools will prevent any more children being killed in their school I'm all for bringing it back.  If praying in school will increase the public school budget and bring our quality of education up to the level where it should be for the richest nation on the planet, I'll agree to let my children get down on their knees and bow down to whatever deity the committee decides is the right one.

Submersion baptism?  Sure.  Bring it on.  Daily communion?  Okay.  If THAT is the answer, let's do that right now.  I'll go get a glow in the dark Mary for my son's table.  My kids need a Bible for required daily reading?  Fine.

If bringing God into school will keep this from happening I'm all for it!

But it won't.

God is welcome everywhere in Afghanistan.

I know we all want a simple act, something we can do that will guarantee something like this won't happen again.  There isn't.  There isn't any one thing we can do.

It makes the tragedy that much more senseless because we can't do any one thing to keep it from happening again. 

I do want to point out, that the lock-down drill worked in exactly the way it was supposed to.  The classroom doors were locked, the blinds were pulled.  The teachers got the children into the safest place they could find.

In one case, a teacher got all 14 of her students into the little bathroom in her classroom.

The clerk working in the library found the main doors into the hallway wouldn't lock. She got the kids into the supply closet that locked.  She pushed file cabinets in front of the door before finding paper and crayons for the children.  She wouldn't open the doors until an officer pushed his badge under the door.

All the adults in the school, the custodian who ran down the hallway to warn the classrooms, the secretary in the office who kept answering her phone when teachers called from their classrooms to tell them there was a shooter in the school and lock down, the psychologist and principal who were killed as they ran at the shooter, all of them protected the children there.   None of them dove out the window and ran away in an attempt to save themselves.  They all put themselves between the children and the danger.

There is a Jewish belief I've mentioned before.  It is that if there are 13 righteous people on the planet, life can go on.  It doesn't have to be the same 13 people every day, but there have to be 13.  It can be the person who finds a disoriented elderly person and calls for help for them.  It can be a child who tells other kids to stop making fun of someone.  It can be these people who protected the students in their school.

In a way, it makes me feel better about being part of the human race.  There ARE people in the world who will do the right thing, even if it involves terror and the chance of being killed.  There ARE humans who will put themselves last to make sure someone else can be spared.

It give me hope.  

I'm still crying whenever I see the pictures of the children who died.  But I am finding comfort in the heroism that was shown on Friday.

I don't know what we need to do to stop something like this from happening again. 

And I don't know exactly what my point is here.  I'm upset and I need to type about it.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I came home after being out for the late morning feeling good.  I'd completed my new hire paperwork for the baking job I've been hired for at a large, upscale grocery store.  I purchased a gift for my daughter to take to a birthday party tonight.    I'd also gotten the final supplies I needed to complete the handicrafts I need to finish so I can get them off in the mail.  Among my haul were also a copy of "Muppet Christmas Carol", probably my favorite holiday movie, and a roll of wrapping paper.

I was looking forward to working on the gifts I'm making and watching "It's a Wonderful Life."  I was planning on making cocoa for my kids when they got home.  It was really a very nice day I was having.

When I arrived I logged into Facebook, because that's what I do.  I saw all kinds of posts about a school shooting.  Oh no.  Oh no no no.  Not another one.

I got online to find out what happened.  According to MSN.com, a 20 year old man went to the elementary school where his mother taught kindergarten. He shot her.  He then shot over 20 children.

CHILDREN.  Children who had done nothing to him.  They hadn't caused his fucked up mental state.  They weren't hurting him.  All I can do is cry.

Cry about the senselessness of this.  Cry about the torment and hurt and anger that the parents of these children are going to be feeling.  I can't even begin to imagine what they are going through. What they must be enduring.  The worst thing that can possibly happen to a parent, losing a child.

Losing your child, I can't even think about it without coming close to a panic attack.  To send your child out into the big, wide world to a place they are supposed to be safe only to learn they have been killed by a crazy person who thought it would be a good idea to shoot children.

Then going home to look at the Christmas tree and see the ornaments they made, their stockings hanging on the mantle.  Going into their rooms and looking at their beds that will not be slept in again.  No more kissing them good night.  No more nagging them to brush their teeth or pick up their towels.  No more surprising them with a trip to McDonald's.  No watching them rush to the fireplace on Christmas morning to see what Santa left them.

The silence has to be deafening.

How can you shoot children?  What kind of monster walks into an elementary school with a gun?

Yes, I called him a monster because that's what he is.  A monster.

We can debate gun control until we're all screaming so loud our faces turn red and it won't bring one of these children back to their parents.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda, who expects someone to walk into a school with a big-ass gun and mow down little kids?

I tell my kids I love them every day.  I've told then I will always love them no matter what they do.  Even when they do something that makes me mad, I love them.

I'm not a perfect mom, but they know I love them and I will always love them no matter what.

I can only cry and hope that the parents will eventually be able to get out of bed and continue on with life.  There is no statement of condolence that will make them feel better.  Casseroles or baked goods can't possibly fix the wound that they've suffered.

I'm horrified and sad.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Whoa, I didn't know I even had that much stuff

My good friend Karla (her photo has been added to the Cast of Characters page) came over the other day to help me clean out my closet.  I thought we'd straighten things up, re-hang things that had fallen down and things like that.   Karla had a different plan.

"Pull everything out."  she told me.  I pulled out the stuff that was on the floor that needed to be hung up.

"Pull EVERYTHING out."  she repeated, emphasis on 'everything'.  I pulled it all out.  All the clothes, all the shoes, all the handbags, all the hats all the everything.  Some of you reading have seen my closet in person, some of you are imagining my closet, everyone is probably picturing the amount of things I pulled out in an accurate manner.

Then we started in on it.  She would hold something up, if I hesitated to say I wanted to keep it she put it in the donate pile.  The syllable 'uh' was followed by 'goodbye'.  She also found things which made her say it didn't look good on me and she wasn't going to let me keep it.

She looked at the sizes on things and expressed disbelief that I even owned something in that size, let alone wear the ginormous thing.  She held up a cardigan sweater.  I said I wanted it.

"Amanda, this is humongous."

"No, it's not.  Here, I'll show you."  I put it on.

"That's huge on you.  It's too big.  Take it off we're getting rid it."


"Take that off!"  I took it off and put it in the donate pile.

Once we had the clothing gone through we started on my shoes.  I was better about my shoes.  I insisted that I keep the red flats with the little hole in the bottom because they're the only pair of red shoes I have.

Purses were next.  She thought I had too many pocketbooks.  I became offended.  Too many handbags!  There's no such thing as too many handbags!

All told, we filled four kitchen trash bags with clothing, shoes and one or two bags.

We scavenged around in the garage and found containers for my hats, purses and the craft supplies I had in there.  Now it's all lovely and clean.  I have a little, child size chair in there that I like to sit on when I need a cry.  I cry and hug my grandmother's coat.  It's dark and small and it makes me feel safe.

I'm sure that sounds silly and juvenile, but I like it.   Now that my closet only contains things that fit me and my friend tells me look good on me I can leave the house with a little more confidence.  Thanks Kiki!

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  Wash your hair every other day to prevent it from drying out.  You can use Suave dry shampoo if you have oily hair to control the grease.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How I voted and why.....

I voted on Tuesday.  I could go into my whole diatribe about why it's so important for women to vote based on the incredibly brave actions of the suffragettes who got us the right to cast a ballot, but that's another essay.

Everyone who knows me won't be surprised that I voted for Obama.  I do have the opinion that he's a politician, one who is able to play politics in a remarkable way.  He nominated an Hispanic woman to the supreme court.  Go ahead and side against her, you'll be a misogynist AND a racist.  Go on, I dare you!  I dare you!  Next up, a Jewish woman!  Want to be a misogynist AND and anti-Semite?  Go ahead, I dare you!  I double dog dare you!

The GOP ran Mitt Romeny on the 'I'm not him!' platform.  He was obviously courting the 1%, essentially promising he wouldn't raise their taxes and they could keep as much of their money as possible.  However, what turned me against him, what offended me was when he tossed out the $10,000 bet to Rick Perry.

Mr. Romney showed his true colors.  He flung out that number like it was a dollar.  There was probably a change that between him and his wife they could pull that cash together from his pocket and her pocketbook.

$10,000 is a lot of money.  That kind of cash could keep a family from being foreclosed on.  What about a couple who have only one car?  That would buy them a second car, allowing one of them to expand their job search to include areas not on the bus line.  $10,000 would put double paned windows in my house, dropping my energy bill, giving us more discretionary cash to spend and help boost the economy.

Someone who is able to say 'I bet you $10,000.' the way most people would say 'I bet you a buck!' has no way of relating to the middle class and the issues we're facing.  It makes him even farther away from the 47% he holds in such contempt.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This tells me that he's not going to worry about me.  He doesn't care that we pay our mortgage and our taxes.  That we take care of our children, sending them to the woefully underfunded public schools where their teachers make heroic strides to give my kids the best education they can give them.   We work with the income we have, being as frugal as we can be.  We buy a lot of our clothing second hand.  We do without and budget so we can give our daughter harp lessons, something she loves and is making her a more confident individual. Me and my family who try to be good people, good neighbors, good parents.  We were summarily dismissed to a group of people in Orange County, California.

He dismissed my parents.  My father who dedicated 35 years to teaching continuation high school students math and tutored at the local community college.  My parents who have managed their money very wisely.  My parents who also pay their bills and their taxes, brushed away.

Is Obama a politician?  Oh yeah.  But there was no way I was going to vote to have my country run by a man who stated publicly he's not going to worry about me.

Perhaps this makes me petty, if so, petty I be.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  Mayo is still a great deep conditioning treatment.  Work it in, cover it up with plastic wrap.  Cover the plastic wrap with a towel and let it sit for a while.  Then wash it out and use your fave conditioner.  Soft!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What is it about this stuff? Our heroine contemplates food.

“General Galliffet, our host for the evening, explained that this woman, this head chef, had the ability to transform a diner into a kind of love affair. A love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite. General Galliffet said that in the past he'd fought a duel for the love of a beautiful woman. But now there was no woman in Paris for whom he'd shed his blood except for this chef. “ Babette's Feast 1987

I love that quote. I love it because I totally agree that a love affair exists between humans and their sustenance. Think about it a second. Food is able to stir up memories, cause an emotional response, dictate what kind of experience we'll have during that meal as well as afterwards.

A very good meal will make a person fulfilled and satisfied, moaning in satisfaction when they get up. The first bite of something delicious will pull your eyeballs back into your head and your mouth expel the sound of “Mmmmmmmmm......” usually followed by “Oh my god, you have to try this.”

Pilgrimages are made to favorite eateries when one goes back to their hometown or a favorite town. There are various things that were given to you when you were sick, be it chamomile tea or chicken soup or hot jello. Certain dishes that were brought out as a huge treat on birthdays and holidays. How many cold days have people spent outside longing for a cup of cocoa? Fantasizing the entire day of huddling under a blanket in front of the fire hugging a mug of hot milk with chocolate.

Here's a question for you: How do you feel when you go out and the food's bad? The atmosphere can be kinda crappy but if the food's good you put up with it. If the food is bad, even the most gorgeous of rooms will fade out as your brain focuses totally on the horror going on in your mouth.

Even if it tastes good when you eat it, what if you end up getting sick with heartburn? That will mess up your eating memories too.

The Husband once pointed out to me that when my family visits a destination, we talk about the food. While we are at our destination, we talk about food while we're eating food.

He uses the following evidence to back up his claim: He and I were first married and went to Seattle to visit my aunt and uncle who were living there at the time.

The next day, while we were having breakfast, we discussed where we were going to have lunch. Our activities for the day were planned around where we'd be having our midday meal.

While we were having lunch we conversed about dinner. After lunch we'd hit Pike's Market for the ingredients we needed to cook dinner, then went back to Carl and Carolyn's house and cooked.

While we were eating that dinner we talked about what we were going to do for breakfast.

This went on for four days.

He doesn't like to get into the complexities of Thanksgiving and how many trips to the store were made.

When I have conversations with people about holidays or family traditions, the memories always turn to food. How did they prepare the turkey? Did they have homemade cranberry relish or did they have the cranberry log from Ocean-Spray. (Just an aside, the Ocean-Spray company calls it a cranberry log. They once changed the structure of the can so that there were no ridges, it was just smooth. People complained. They wanted their canned cranberry jelly to look like the can. And, I have to add, that the canned cranberry log was easy to slice for the purposes of putting on a turkey sandwich. ) Jokes and stories are told about the foods that were served, how they were served, who made them, who liked them, who made a face when it was put on their plate.

How is it that an inanimate, one that we consume even, has this amazing power over our psyche?

There is a scene in the Pixar film Ratatouille when the restaurant reviewer, known for his unforgiving harshness, takes a bite of ratatouille and is instantly yanked back into childhood when his mother would serve him the same dish in their home in the country. He is so overcome with the emotion of this memory he drops his pen and can only sit in awed silence.

(I happen to have the opinion that if you can remind people of the food their mother cooked, you'll win them over.)

I once asked my cousins what they did for Christmas Eve. They lived in Colorado while I was raised in California. My uncle and aunt both worked for their church, so their winter holiday was taken up with church functions. The first thing they said was that they made clam chowder. My cousin told me a story about trying to make clam chowder for her friends when she lived in Japan. She got the translation for 'cream' wrong and ended up with sweetened condensed milk.

On Christmas Day, my mom would make cinnamon toast on thick white bread with brown sugar that would caramelize under the broiler. One year mama got distracted watching us open presents and forgot the toast. She tossed it out in the yard and we had bare patches in the grass where the charcoal toast had killed it off.

There is a news clip of a woman having an In-n-Out burger at the freshly opened restaurant in Dallas. She'd camped out to have a double-double. When she took the first bite, she burst into tears. Why? It tasted like home. Not just home, but Home. The capital aitch Home.

When Gordon Ramsey was asked what he would choose for his last meal, he said his mum's mac and cheese. Not her recipe, her's. This distinction has to be made because no two dishes are ever the same twice.

Our dear friend Eileen once made us the Nescafe with milk and sugar she drank when she was growing up in Columbia. As she handed us our mugs she said “This tastes of my childhood.”

Me? I remember my mom making fried egg sandwiches whenever we were in the midst of a family tragedy. A fried egg on an onion roll with mayonnaise. Good for what ails you.

Even religion includes food in worship. Communion, passover seder, the wiccan simple feast, the breaking of the fast in the evening during Ramadan, all rituals surrounding food. That which sustains our bodies can also sustain our spirit. Many pagan ceremonies were about celebrating the bounty of food. That that had just been harvested and that which they hoped would be grown in the coming months. The Mayans made sacrifices to the Gods that gave them not only the sun, but their food.

Formal tea parties, fancy dinners, lunch at Mickie D's or sitting down with the fam all have their rituals, the order of operations, the rites to be completed. Set the table, get your food on your plate, give thanks, keep your elbows off the table, use your napkin, don't gulp your milk that sounds disgusting. Breakfast eaten with the newspaper propped against the cereal box, coffee close by. Ben and Jerry's eaten directly from the carton watching a chick flick or a horror movie and stewing about the unfairness of life. All rituals, all part of each person's experience on this merry-go-round made of dirt.

After giving birth to both my children and after my surgery last year what I wanted after I got out of the hospital was taco salad, like we had when I was a kid. Lettuce, cooked ground beef, cheese, crushed tortilla chips and thousand island dressing. Good for my body?

Nope. But it nourishes my soul.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  It's said to be a myth, but your skin really will look better if you drink plenty of water.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

And this sucks in a huge way

As I've said, we have two dogs, Gibson and Peavey.

Gibson was adopted from a great organization called Austin Pets Alive which rescues dogs from the local animal shelter that have not been adopted.  We're his third family.  He's been a part of our family for three years.

Now, the part that sucks.   He snaps.  He growls.  He's bitten one person already.  Lately, he's been starting fights with Peavey, scary ones that draw blood on both sides. We can't take him to the dog park because he displays alpha dog behavior on the other dogs.

We've had to do some very serious thinking about whether it's safe to have him in the house anymore. We have kids and Gibson has snapped at our son for no good reason.  He wasn't poking at the dog or sitting on him or hurting him.  Gibson just decided he didn't want Will near him and *snap*.

This is awful.  We told APA that we didn't have any room in our home for a dog that bites.  And he's going to bite.  All the signs are there of his behavior that is called "dominant aggression", meaning he wants to secure his place in the pack as the top.

There are trainers out there but the $550-1000 price tag just isn't within our means.  I've talked to our vet.  I've talked to our friend who has a degree in animal behavior.  We've talked to each other. We've done a ton of research and the odds of changing his behavior without intensive training aren't good.  Even then, he could revert at any time.

We've made the very, very difficult decision that it's just not safe or responsible for us to have him in the house anymore.  (I'm crying right now) We're currently trying to either find another home for him without kids or dogs in the Austin area or an organization that would take him for adoption.

I'm sick about this.  I had to tell my children that one of our family will have to go live somewhere else because he's going to hurt someone some day.  He's going to really hurt our other dog, who shows obvious fear of Gibson.

If you know of anyone who might be willing to take him, let me know.  I'm going to hug my poor doggie and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I've got three of 'em

Jobs that is.

As part of my culinary education I need to complete 200 extern hours now that I'm done with classwork.  This means I go work somewhere for 200 hours.

To do this, I've gone back to the cupcakery where I externed last year.  I love working there.  I like making batters, baking and decorating.  We all take turns on dishes and making trips to the store.  (You want to see a grocery store employee's eyes get really big?  Go in and tell them you need eight cases of powdered sugar.)  This Monday I put in 7 hours on the mixer, making batters and icings.  I still get flour/powdered sugar/cocoa powder all over myself.  I still drop icing on the floor when I'm trying to transfer it from the big mixing bowl to the container it lives in.  I like going in early with the morning crew, running around giving each other a bad time and getting home in time to pick up my son from school.

But, I'm only getting 10 hours a week there.  I want to get my hours done more quickly than 20 weeks,  so I got in touch with the bar that employs three of my classmates.  To look at the place from the outside you wouldn't think they served food but they do.

My friend and classmate Karla vouched for me and I'm closing in the kitchen on Friday and Saturday nights.  I do dishes mostly.  And when I do dishes I get just as much stuff all over myself.  Water, bits of cheese that were melted but have now hardened, guacamole and whatever else is lurking on the plates I'm cleaning.  I somehow got bar b que sauce up my left arm last week, I still don't know how I did that.    I just get messy when I clean.

But, I'll be cooking this week. Probably, I'll start on the fryer deep frying chips and french fries.  Bar food can be good for the soul, especially when it's served with a side of ranch dressing.

I get another 12 hours a week at the bar.  Seven at night to one in the morning shift at a bar is good for people watching out the expo window.  (the place where the dishes are passed from the kitchen to the servers)  About 12:30 the white people are dancing in earnest, beer in one hand and giving us in the kitchen a very entertaining show.  They're having fun and I enjoy watching them.

In addition to these two I'm working church child care on Sunday mornings again.  This gives me somewhere to be five days a week.  I will say that getting used to it after having a few weeks of being home is taking some adjusting.  Especially since on Mondays my shift starts at 6 a.m. after having a shift that ends at 1 a.m. on Saturday nights.

And it gives me an excuse to sit around saying I need my rest on my two days off.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  When you work with powders, like sugar and flour, that get on your skin, they can really clog your pores.  Be sure to wash your face well before you go in and when you get home, if you can wash in the middle of your shift that's even better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Working backwards, the end of my schooling

I spent the last year, August 2011 to August 2012, in culinary school.  I first got the idea from an episode of Family Matters, believe it or not.

We were living in Illinois, Scott was in her last year of graduate school and I was thinking about what it was I was going to do after he graduated.  Obviously, I'd be working but I was 26 and knew I needed to something regarding my future besides working retail.

I was sitting on the floor in front of the telly waiting for something else to come on,  just catching the end of the sitcom.  The archetypal teenage son was in the kitchen with his archetypal teenage best friend heating up spaghetti sauce.  He tasted it, made a face and asked his friend to do please do something.

What followed was a full minute of the best friend doing various, elaborate adding of spices and stirring it up.  When he was done his friend told him he'd gotten him an application to culinary school.

I thought "You know what, I could do that.  I could go to culinary school."  And I kept that in the back of my head for a long time.

Two years ago, we were headed out to the Gypsy Trailer Picnic downtown, a collection of the city's food trucks all in one spot where you could go from place to place sampling the great noshes.  It was being coordinated by the Cordon Bleu cooking school.  Scott said I was going to get information from them.  He didn't ask me.  He told me.  So I did.  I gave them my contact info.  I made an appointment and took a tour of the school.  Impressive, impressive.  I let myself get a little excited.

The admissions person told me to do my research, check out other schools and do my thinking.

So I did and I found the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.  The classes were half the size of the Cordon Bleu (or The Other School as it was referred to by the instructors) with instructors that were required to have 10 years of executive chef experience. (Executive chef is the one in complete and total charge of the kitchen.  Developing menus, making sure the quality is correct, hiring, etc. There are many executive chef/owners of restaurants)  It was less expensive and the school didn't own the company that controlled your student loan.

I visited the campus a number of times, took the tour, got to cook some and decided it was for me.  My folks like to keep up with what's going on in my life and kept posted on everything I was doing.  They very generously offered to cover the tuition my student loan wasn't going to cover.  I got my enrollment paperwork done, attended orientation, got my uniform and I was off!  My class started with seventeen.  After losing some and then gaining three from another class, ten of us completed the program.

I was telling someone about a knife skills test I had coming up when I was about a month in to school.  I explained that I'd need to accurately execute a large dice, medium dice, small dice, chiffonade, battone, brunoise, fine brunoise, paysanne, julienne and finely chop garlic.

The person I was talking do said "Wow, I thought cooking school would be easy and fun."  Was it fun? Yes.  Easy?  Not so much.

I had wanted one particular instructor, but I got the perfect instructor for me.  She graduated valedictorian from the Culinary Academy of America in New York. She was tough, demanded a high level of performance from us and kept things very challenging.  And we learned to clean!  Wow, did we learn to clean.  My class was constantly saying to each other how much we appreciated the education we were getting from Chef.

Oh, yeah.  You call your instructor Chef.  An affirmative response to something she told you to do was "Yes Chef!".  And if she tasted something you'd cooked that just wasn't up to par she'd spit it out.  Feedback was ALWAYS constructive however.  My stuff consistently needed salt.

"Needs salt."  she'd say "Needs salt.  Needs salt.  Needs salt."  I learned that when it tasted right to me, add another pinch and it'd be right.

She also had a black belt in a martial art.  We started to call her "The Ninja".  We'd be talking to her one minute, turn to ask a question and she'd be GONE.  Vanished.  Not to be found.  This was called "Ninja-ing"

The Ninja taught me to broil, grill, roast, bake, saute, pan-fry, deep-fry, poach, simmer, boil, steam, braise and stew.  How to make the five mother sauces:  tomato, hollandaise, bechamel, veloute and brown.  Then how to alter those to the small sauces, all alterations of a mother sauce.

I learned to emulsify, leave it alone, stop stirring, not look at my rice, crank pasta and turn it into ravioli and tortellini, sear a scallop, grill asparagus, how to take the trim or scraps and make them into a dish and where my talents probably lie.

I'm not that great at plating.  I don't execute what would be found at a white tablecloth restaurant very well.  Practice will help my improve in those places.  But,  I am very good at hearty comfort foods.  Meat and potatoes!  Fried chicken!  Meatloaf!  Macaroni and cheese! Lasagna!  And sweets, I'm great at sweets.  I did very well in baking. Cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, I can do it!  I'd love to go back and do the pastry program, but it will all come down to time and money.  As much as I wanted to be good at the fine dining stuff, I'm just not.  And that is perfectly a-okay. 

I will happily and honestly admit that one of my main goals for culinary school was to succeed at making a proper, french-style omelet.  And I still can't do it!  I don't have the smooth, smooth finish on the final rolled product with no brown color.  American-style, browned omelet?  No problem!  Again, more practice.

Now, I got on to a totally new chapter where I learn even more out in the real world.  Starting a new career at 41 isn't exactly a fear-free proposition.  I'm old enough to the mother of the people I'm working with.  I'm facing the fact that I have to start on the bottom, doing dishes and chopping onions.  But I like to do it.

I have no idea what I'm in for. But I'll let you know when I'm in it.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  Tea tree oil dabbed on a pimple will help it clear up. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Working backwards, a very sad chapter.......

My mother's father, my grandpa Grant, died at the end of July only a few weeks before his 93rd birthday.

He had been on a slow decline for quite a while.  If he'd known the state he was in he would have taken care of himself.  My grandfather had been controlling heart disease for as long as I can remember.  He'd had two multi-bypasses, a pacemaker and a defibrillator.  He liked to say that his defibrillator was better than Cheney's.

But, his heart just got weaker.  He was starting to have memory loss, losing weight, getting breathless.  When my mom called me in April and told me if I wanted to see him while he was still lucid, I needed to fly out.  So, mom booked me a ticket and I got on a plane.

When I arrived at the airport the security line was massive.  I just had my little, roller carry-on bag which I towed behind me while I read a book to pass the time.  Because the line snaked I ended up standing next to people facing the other way.  I had on one of my outfits with my red cowboy boots.  At one point I looked up at the person I was standing next to and found a woman with a Coach handbag giving me the up/down sneer.  It happened that her eyes were on the way up and I locked eyes with her when she reached my face.  Caught ya!  She gave me the "oh shit, I got caught" smile and I just raised my eyebrows at her.

Luckily, the rest of my trip was very pleasant.  I got some In-n-Out and my grandfather was not only lucid, he was feeling well enough to go out for lunch.  We had an excellent visit, I showed them pics of the kids on my phone and filled in both him and my grandmother on how they were doing.

When he became obviously tired, I hugged them both and headed out.  I parked my mom's car in the high school parking lot down the street and started to cry.  I cried for a long time.  I was very sure that it was the last time I was going to see him.

After that, he got weaker fairly quickly.  In the middle of July, after he'd been moved into a hospital bed at home and hospice was making regular visits, fluid collected in his lungs.  The ER doctor drained it off, but it was found that his defibrillator had been restarting his heart.  My grandfather had a DNR in place and the very difficult decision was made to disconnect the device.

It was maybe 48 hours later that he passed on.  And we were all devastated and relieved at the same time.  In order to allow relatives to arrange to attend the memorial, the service was scheduled for the 11th of August.  This meant I was going to miss my last two days of school.

I could have told my mother that we couldn't attend until the 18th, which would have worked for others in the family as well, but that would have meant Zoe would miss her middle school orientation.  I just couldn't do that to her.  So skipped my very last day of school and we flew to the west coast for the funeral ritual.

I was told years ago that the subconscious loves ritual.  And memorial services are for the living, not the one who has passed on.  Closure as it were, is what it help provide.

The service was as perfect for my grandpa as it could have been.  As a veteran, he was entitled to the Honor Guard ceremony.  Two very nice young men came in full dress blues to fold the flag and play Taps.  It almost killed all of us.  Since Scott is also an Army veteran, he saluted as the ceremony was being performed.  Will looked up at what his dad was doing and saluted too.  And our little man held it for as long as his father did.

Then we told stories and Scott sang "The Rose" which my grandfather liked very much.  He'd been cremated, so there was no casket.  But there was a wonderful photograph of him along with several flower arrangements from friends and family.  There was one gorgeous arrangement of orange roses, maidenhair fern and had obviously cost a pretty penny.  And no card.  There were no other services for that day and the delivery van had no lettering.  We took the gift and appreciated it, although everyone wanted to thank whoever sent it.  When the attendants came up to greet the family, Will spotted his grandpa Art and ran to give him a hug.

(And, like when my grandmother died in 1999, I did something silly.  My mom had bought me a dress but I needed shoes.  We went out and found a pair of wonderful soft pink, platform, suede stilettos.  Tall shoes, these were.  Scott really needed a glass of water and I offered to go over to the administration building of the cemetery to get it for him.  I needed to go quickly, so I took my shoes off.  That's when I remembered that it was August and I had to cross the blacktop.  I didn't run, because I feel silly and I knew I might fall out of my dress.  But I walked fast and stood on the grass for a minute before I went inside.   I found the cooler, got Scott his beverage and prepared to cross back to the chapel.  I'd said "Aw, screw it.  I'm going to run across the street."  Small problem.  I couldn't run or I'd slop Scott's water all over the place.  I did the "cool moss, cool moss, cool moss" back across the street without spilling a drop.  Now, I had to put my shoes back on.  I stood on a little patch of grass and got one of my killer shoes on.  Then I had to balance like a stork with a glass of water in one hand and try to get my other shoe on.  I managed it, barely.  I finally went back inside so Scott could wet his whistle.)

Then we did the next step of the ritual, the reception.  My mom found a really nice place that had it's own catering department.  There was a bar where you could get a drink if you liked.  We had a good visit with my cousins on my dad's side.    And the food was actually not bad.

Two days later we said goodbye to my parents and got on a plane home.

At the funeral I read Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you 'grave for me
Here he lies where he long'd to be
Home is the sailor, home from the sea
and the hunter home from the hill.

Friday, September 7, 2012

She's back!

Wow, five months.  I really apologize.  As you can imagine, a LOT has happened.  so, what I'm going to do is start with what I've been doing the last few days and work my way backwards.  I've got some more free time, I'll fill it working on entries for the coming days.

This week I started on Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred.  You can check it out here. She's the bad ass trainer from The Biggest Loser.  She's got this DVD with 3 workouts of varying levels of difficulty.  They're each only 20 minutes long but they are TOUGH.  At least, they're tough for ME.

It's embarrassing how out of shape I am.  Despite spending a year on my feet sweating over a stove my legs and arms are saying "Hey!  What the hell is you're problem?!"  And my abs are just angry all the time.  They're angry more because I approach this thinking of all the other stuff I've done in the past and the advice I received from both trainers I've worked with personally and from commercial exercise products.

Jillian tells me that there is no modification for jumping jacks.  I have to disagree.  It hurts my kneesies and my breastseses, so I do a modified version using my arms but moving only one leg at a time.  I can't do a full, all the way down to the floor push up, so I go halfway.  On my knees, of course.  Sometimes I have to stop and just hold push up position. 

Stephana, the woman who ran the boot camp I did in the summer of 2011 told me if any of the moves hurt, tell her right away and we'd work out a modification.  Susan Powter, who I liked until she went a little off the deep end, preached modify modify modify, especially when just starting out or if you were heavier, needing to avoid injury to your knees.  Or if you had an injury that needed to be taken into account.   Kathy Smith, who was big in the 80s was a fan of doing a move perfectly instead of faking it.  One repetition, done in perfect form, would give greater results than 20 reps done without thinking.

Stephana and Susan also tell us to lift our abdominal wall, just tighten it up, throughout the day.  I do this a lot, so my abs are angry at me.  I'm eating a little better.  At least one meal a day I'm eating better and drinking a bunch of water.

And no, I don't wear my lipstick when I'm exercising because I sweat like a horse, which I will absentmindedly wipe away.  I always smear my lipstick all over my face.  I know this from experience.  I'll leave you with that picture.

I'll be filling in the last 1/3 of the year in the coming days.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  If you work with food, it's not a good idea to wear nail polish.  But, you can get beautiful results from buffing.  Get online and order an old school chamois buffer, they're much better than the blocks that seem to be everywhere. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Well, the pimple on my psyche known as my midlife issues burst all over my insides sometime between yesterday and today.

Wow, but this really sucks.  It sucks because I can't really put into words what it is that I'm feeling/thinking/experiencing.  I can just say that it sucks.

Whatever this feeling is (you know that feeling when you taste something and think "What is that flavor?" I'm having that same sensation dealing with this amalgam of emotions) it's really not pleasant.  I know I'm supposed to be getting ready to wrap myself up in purple and kick people in their shins but I don't have any clue where to start with that.

I think this all came about after I hung out with some classmates from school a couple of weekends ago.  As much as I enjoyed myself and as much as I laughed while spending time just doing nothing in my friend's apartment with three of her friends, all significantly younger than me, I had the thought in the back of head 'hmmm, I've done this.  I've done this a lot.  This isn't my life anymore.".  Not a good or bad thing, it's just a fact.

I've been dwelling on stuff like:  I can remember seeing the news clips about Nixon and his possible impeachment.  I have vivid memories of seeing photographs of John Lennon on television with the announcement that he'd been shot.  I can recall when there was no cable and no VCRs.  If you wanted to watch something you had to be home.  If you wanted to see a movie you had to see it in the theater or you were shit out of luck.

And I'm going to tell these stories to my grandchildren, watch them oo and ahh at my stories about the old days.

To top this all off, Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" came on the classic rock station I was listening to.  See?  I was listening to a  CLASSIC ROCK station!  Shit.

If anyone has any words of wisdom for me in regards to getting through this intact, please drop me a line.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  The sun is coming out!  Wear your sunscreen!  Find a foundation with a decent SPF and wear it!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Half-way there

I've hit the halfway point of my schooling.   I've learned so much.

How to handle and store foods correctly.
The basic cooking methods and how they can be applied.
How to make the five mother sauces (bechamel, veloute, tomato, brown and hollandaise).
How to make pasta from scratch.
The importance of parboiling.
How a mise en place (meez en plass, meaning 'everything in place') can make or break you.
A good stock is essential for many things.
A sharp knife is much safer than a dull one.
It is possible to use up every pot in the place making one recipe.
How to fabricate a chicken.
How to clean and fillet a fish, both round and flat.
Sweetbreads don't taste like much of anything but the sauce you serve them with.
Cleaning sweetbreads leaves your hands soft.
That I can do a huge amount of cooking in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Keeping it simple is the best bet, always.
Have onions, celery, carrots and garlic on-hand at all times.
Everything benefits from the addition of salt.
Use butter.
Precise knife cuts require practice.
Relax and enjoy the process.

I'm still finding french fries, of all things, a challenge.  I'm terrified of burning them.

It's now the time where I'm starting to wonder what I'll do with this basic set of knowledge.  The next frightening step for me.  I've never worked on a line and I don't know that my knife skills are up to par for high end prep.  When I'm close to the end of my classes, I'll start looking at what jobs are coming available and what I might be qualified for.  I'm still doing the "Oh my god I'm forty years old!  What am I thinking?" but for the most part, I'm optimistic.

Well, realistically optimistic.  I know that I'm going in with zero experience and I'll need to build up my resume all over again.  I know that it will be very beneficial to me to work at well-known restaurants for free to make contacts and gain experience.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my homework,  putting in my best effort in class and practicing at home.  We're in the middle of how to cook fish right now, so the family has had fish sticks and fish fillet.  Shrimp risotto will be coming up.  And a  whole fish will be coming home one day this week for me to take apart.

Pass the salt.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  If you're doing a lot of baking with powdered sugar, the particles can get trapped in your pores and cause breakouts.  Be sure to really wash your face when you're done.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

And after yet another significant absence, I will now whine at you

The very unflattering photo you see here was taken in the bathroom of a Target after and unpleasant happening at Chuck E. Cheese.  My dad is in town and we all went to get pizza with the big mouse as a belated celebration for Will's 6th birthday.

While we were there Zoe had waited very patiently for her turn at a video game that had a seat.  While she was playing a boy was sitting in the seat with her.  I walked up to see what was going on and she seemed fine.  But as soon as she was done this kid started to use his hips to push her off.  I put the tip of my right index finger on his shoulder and said "Stop pushing".  (Yeah, I'm admitting I touched the child. I don't want to get in a big debate about it okay? You'll see why in a second)  I had made the assumption that there wasn't a parent in the vicinity, because pushing someone out of the game you want to play is generally stopped by a parent when they are nearby.

Well, I made and ass outta u and me because this voice behind me said "HEY!  Did you just put your FINGER on my SON?"  I turned to see a man sitting on yet another game behind us, he'd been there the whole time, watching his kid push my kid.  I said I hadn't realized he was there and I was very sorry.  Had I seen him I would have just let him handle it, again, I apologized.

The guy stood up and was at least a foot taller than me.  What he said next is weird.  Here, this is what I recall "Yeah, well if that's how you want to do it."

I asked if there was anything else I could do other than take my daughter to play elsewhere.  He said "Yeah, you'd better just leave."

I walked away with my daughter feeling like an asshole weakling who was not only not able to stand up for myself I wasn't able to stand up for my DAUGHTER.  I had let the bully father of the bully boy who'd been pushing my daughter get away with bullying me.

I went back to the table and ended up bursting into tears telling Scott what happened.  Then I was embarrassed because I was crying and letting it bother me.  I managed to hold it together until we got to Target after our pizza/game free-for-all and ended up crying really hard in a bathroom stall.

After we came home I went to the only place in my house that is 100% mine, my closet.  I sat down on my pile of shoes, buried my face in my grandmother's fur coat and cried about a lot of stuff.

I've been struggling mightily with the current classwork in school.  I found myself actively dreading going to school one day last week. I've become pretty close to convinced that I'm not going to cut it in the industry.  So I cried about that.

I cried about the fact that my house is a mess and my father just came to visit.  My dad is here and there are piles of clean laundry on chairs in the living room and piles of clean laundry in the upstairs hallway and my couch has been torn up by the dogs.

And I'm so fucking TIRED all the time.  I cried about that for a while too.

I've got a voice in my head that says to shut up and suck up it's part of life, there are people out there a LOT more tired than I am and they have more children AND a clean house.  I don't have the energy to try and tell it to shut up right now.

And my eyes hurt.


Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  when your eyes are swollen from a cry, massage ice cubes around them to help bring down the puffiness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes I have to drop the Amazing part......

A little background for those of you who haven't known me since 1998.

Back before kids, we used to go to a lot of science fiction conventions. We were at a big one in San Jose sitting in a conference room listening to someone play music.  I turned to my friend Beckett and asked her if she wanted a beer.  She replied in the affirmative and turned to get her purse to give me some money thinking I was going to the bar.  When she turned back around I was holding out a bottle of beer.  And it was cold.

She took it in her hand.  She looked at it.  She looked at me and said "What are you?  The Amazing Amanda?"  And the nickname The Amazing Amanda stuck.  When I'm able to pull off something that involves a lot of work in a short period of time, I say that of course I could do it because I'm the Amazing Amanda!  Ha ha!!

Fast forward to now.  I'm in school from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.  On Friday and Saturday I work for free 6 a.m. to noon in a bakery to fulfill my externship requirements.  Here is what one of my school days looks like:

5 a.m.  Alarm goes off.  Go out and make coffee.  Spend 45 minutes on my computer watching TV shows and playing Facebook games.

5:45   Get dressed and gather up all my stuff for school.

6:15 (latest) I'm out the door.

6:30-6:45 Arrive at school to sharpen my knife, print homework, go over notes or have coffee with my classmates while we wait for our instructor to arrive.

7:00 Class starts.  Usually we have 45 minutes to 1 hour of lecture followed by 3 1/2 hours of cooking.  We have a break, usually 20 minutes at the most and 5 minutes at the least before we start cleaning the kitchen.

12:30 p.m.  Class is over, but a lot of the time we're there until 12:45.

1-1:30 Get home and sit in my brown chair with my laptop for my afternoon rest.  I zealously guard this time since it's the only time I have with no one else in the house to ask me for anything.

2:30 Leave to pick up the kids.  Zoebelle has tutoring for twenty minutes after school.  Will and I will get the mail, run a quick errand or hang out with the other parents waiting for their kids.

3:30 the kids friends start to arrive at the door.  During the time that I have other kids in the house I try to do dishes or fold laundry.  Friends usually stay until 6 at which point I kick them out.  I start dinner for my kids around 5:30.  Occasionally, my kids will go to someone else's house but it's not often.  I like having them all around.

6:00 Dinner for kids and me.  Afterwards, I'll do my reading/homework.

7:00 I start to browbeat the kids into doing their chores.  Then they go get in the bathtub.

7:45/8:00 - Read to the kids and tuck them in.

8/8:30- I'll finish up any homework I might have before I start to realize that I've been up since 5 and I start to wilt.

In the evening I tend to be a slug.  I take a bath around 9-ish every night which lasts around 45 minutes.  This is another one of my rituals that I refuse to give up.

I look at that list of what happens during the day and I think I should be able to fit all the housework that needs to be done in there.  In 2010, Dr. Phil announced that according to studies, stay-at-home moms actually had around 30-40 hours of leisure time a week.

When that info came out I said, and I quote "I'd like to find the person who headed up that study and punch them in the face."

But I really pondered that.  Did I really have 30-40 hours in a week as a stay-at-home mom?  Did I really have enough minutes to work a full-time job in addition to my already full-time job?  All that did was make me beat myself up.

Anyway, now that I'm doing stuff six hours a day six days a week I'm once again pondering the fact that I've found myself totally unable to keep up with the house.  We can barely keep the dishes done.  And don't even ask about the laundry.  Well, I can get the laundry done, just not put away.  This doesn't effect me that much since I'm in uniforms for school.

I do cook, but that's part of my homework.  Honestly! It is!

Shouldn't I be able to keep everything neat as a pin even though I've got other stuff going on?  If I would just do the 30 minutes a day thing I'd be able to keep up.  But wait, it takes 30 minutes to unload and reload the dishwasher.  It takes 30 minutes to fold the laundry and put it away.  It takes 30 minutes to get the kids to do their chores, which don't amount to much.

I could spend all day Sunday cleaning, but then I'd lose my one day off during the week.

I finally accepted the fact that I can't do it all and remain sane and standing.  This means I have to accept the fact that the house is going to be a mess all the time.  My kids are going to be rummaging around in their rooms for clothes.  There are going to continue to be drifts of dog hair around the baseboards.

I'm alternately relieved to come to this conclusion and pissed off at myself, thinking I'm just lazy.

What do you think?

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  If you have stinky shoes, put them in a plastic bag with a bunch of baking soda, then stick them in the freezer.  Knock off all the baking soda the next day and stuff them with the most strongly scented dryer sheets you can find.  This will help.  Now you can kick off your shoes in a social gathering and not worry.

Sunday, January 22, 2012