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.