Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A vacation for me! Not to a warm place though.

I'm going to be taking a trip on my own for the first time since Zoe was born.  I did go to California by myself for a few days in 2012, but that was to visit my grandfather while he was still lucid. He died four months after I saw him, so I'm hesitant to count that as a vaca.

This time, I'm going to be traveling to Iowa.  Yes, Iowa.  I'll be visiting my friend Sarah, the owner of Envisage 365 online art project.  It's a website where women post a photo a day for a year.  This is the 7th year it's been going.  I haven't been able to keep up this year, but I was a charter member and was very active in years 1 - 6.  The project is very important to me and was a vital part of getting through my breakdown in 2009. 

Sarah and I have watched each other go through a LOT in the last 6 years.  Even though we've never met in person, I call her my friend and she calls me her friend.  We communicate on Facebook every day because we both spend almost all of our time online. 

While I'm there, we will be going to stay at the Villisca Axe House in Villisca, Iowa.  What is the Villisca Axe House, you ask?  Check it out here:  Villisca Axe House.  It's supposed to be terribly haunted.  Therefore, we will be spending the night with Sarah's daughter, a friend of her daughter's and some other people.  We're bringing cameras and a ouija board and our overactive imaginations.  My biggest fear is that some of the locals will see us staying and scare the shit out of us by banging on windows or making noises outside. 

This town is very small and I'm sure we'll stick out like sore thumbs.  Sarah's daughter with her snake bite piercings, me with my leopard coat and Sarah with her tattoos may advertise us as people in town to spend the night in the murder house. 

After our little overnight adventure, we're going to go up to St. Paul to spend the night at another friend's house as the three of us are going to go see Miley Cyrus the next day.  Sarah has told me to be excited even if I'm faking it.  It also looks like we're going to be wearing full body pajamas that are designed to look like animals.  Mine is a wolf.  We're going to have fun. 

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  in the winter time make sure to moisturize your hands and your hair more than you usually do. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Just a quick story

I just finished this.  I have no idea if it's good or not, but I wrote it about my grandfather's house.  My grandma Dortha still lives there, but Grandpa Grant died in the front room.

Anyway, for your consideration:

The Haunted House

“That was a disaster.” Connor clutched his head.

“We knew that was going to be the part that would make or break it. Now we have to try someone else. We've got a couple choices. Who do you want to go with?” Alison pulled out her tablet and started to poke at it.

They sat in their apartment, surrounded by audio and video equipment. Along with a friend of theirs, they'd put all their time, energy and money into developing a paranormal, investigative show. They wanted to focus on private homes rather than hotels, historic locations or urban legends.

The market was ripe for something new. Audiences were tired of hotels and dramatic recreations. They wanted to see people's houses that were haunted.

They had found a house that was experiencing activity. The owners had contacted them after moving into a home built in the mid 1950's. They had been hearing noises coming from the basement and kitchen. The front room, which they didn't use much, was always cold and the sound of heavy breathing would be heard regularly. What sounded like slippers shuffling around were a daily occurrence. They weren't very frightened, but they did hope for some answers.

The home was old enough to be considered old by American standards. Connor and Alison hadn't done the digging into the history as they'd found a family member of the original owner. They'd gotten a smaller cable station interested and needed a complete episode to show them, the quicker the better.

Connor sighed and rubbed his face. “I think we're fucked. I'm going to go back and see if my old boss will take me back. Hello wedding videos.”

Alison kept poking at her tablet. “Stop being such a Debbie Downer, we're not fucked until we've gone through all the psychics. Want to try that guy from Huntington Beach?”

“Might as well. She's going to rip him up too.”

The issue they'd run into, was with the granddaughter of the home's original owner. She was in her early 40s and had been open to the investigation from the beginning. When Connor had contacted her the conversation had gone well.

“Hi, Mrs. Michaels Yeah, my name is Connor and I'm with the Orange Paranormal Society? I was hoping I could talk to you about your grandmother's house.” He'd been nervous, if this didn't work out they'd have to start over with a new location.

“Which grandmother?” her answer was quick.

“The house on the hill in Villa Park.” Connor hadn't thought this would be an issue.

“WHICH house on the hill in Villa Park?”

“Oh, the one on Mesa.”

“WHICH house on Mesa? The one with the water tank or the one with the long driveway with the big tree at the end?” Mrs. Michaels waited for an answer.

“Oh. Um, the one with the long driveway.”

“Grandma and Grandpa Gordon's place. Sure. What's going on?”

“Well, the new owners have been in for about a year......”

Mrs. Michaels interrupted. “Yeah, they're nice people. They've done some updating, it looks good. It's great that they kept the land together. I was worried it would get subdivided a million times. So, they've got ghoulish, ghosting and long legging beasties?”

“They've been hearing noises.”

She interrupted again, “From the basement?”

Connor was taken aback. “Yes. From the basement and some heavy breathing in the room that faces the driveway near the front door.”

“What are they hearing in the basement? Like a ratcheting? Gears working? Like that?”

Connor was again puzzled. “Yes, sort of metallic. Like Nanchang.”

“That's my grandfather. He's refilling rifle cartridges. He had a little machine down there. If we were lucky we'd get to go down with him and make sure they were open and straight so he could load them up with shot.” She waited for him to answer.

“Oh wow. So you're a believer? Because we'd like it if you would come out to California and participate in an investigation. We're going to be filming it. There will be a psychic coming in to try and communicate. Is that something be interested in?” Connor started to sweat, his stomach was in a knot waiting for her to answer.

“I'd be glad to come participate. But I'm not a big believer in psychics. On that subject I'm very skeptical. I want to let you know that I won't go along with something that's vague. When are you going to be doing this? I need to ask for some time off work. Have you talked to my mom?” She spoke fast.

The conversation after that was Connor explaining that he had spoken to her mother, in fact, that was how he'd gotten Mrs. Michaels' number. Her mother wasn't interested in being present, but had suggested her daughter would most likely be open to the idea. Alison had found the mother through Facebook, which had surprised everyone involved. It seemed too easy.

Mrs. Michaels, who said they needed to call her Gina, agreed to call them back once she had secured her time off.

Three weeks later, she met them at the single level house in the hills of Orange County. She'd started to cry when she got out of her car.

“I'm sorry. I haven't been back since my grandfather died. A lot of memories. Give me a minute.” she'd said before she wandered off into the rose garden that grew under the kitchen windows. The view was spectacular. Connor, Alison and their friend Rob kept their distance as they waited for her.

The new owners, Alex and Paige Black, came outside to see what was going on. Paige went inside and came out with a box of tissues. She went over to Gina and they had a quiet talk. Gina blew her nose, wiped her eyes and came back over to the little group.

“Okay, let's get started.”

Setting up for the interviews took some time. Everyone sat very still while they checked angles, decided what light was best and got the boom mike adjusted.

Gina sat at the kitchen table and they'd started. She'd told them that her grandfather had died in the house. He'd been suffering from heart disease for quite some time. The family had opted to take care of him at home during his final weeks instead of hospitalizing him. He'd died surrounded by family.

“My mom's side of the family does things old school. Bring them home and take care of them yourself. Grandpa's mother-in-law died in her daughter's downstairs bedroom. It's the way they would have wanted it.” Gina explained.

Connor had gone into what the family was experiencing.

“Alex and Paige have been hearing heavy breathing in the front room. Any idea what that would be?”

“Well, that's where his hospital bed was set up. He died in there. And he was having a very hard time breathing close to the end.”

“There have also been popping noises like firecrackers. Did he really like 4th of July or something?”

“Oh, no. That's him firing his .22 at rabbits. He'd plink away from the outside patio.”

And so the initial interview had gone. Gina giving more details, explaining what she thought noises were, attributing everything to her grandfather. It was wonderful, exactly what they'd been hoping for. She delivered her information very matter of factly, not having to hesitate which would make it look like she was making it up as she went along.

They broke for a meal. Then Connor, Alison and Rob had gone wandering the property looking for outside shots.

“I don't think that could've gone any better.” Alison had said, wading through the tall grass. 'Wow, this view is incredible.” From the hilltop one could see Disneyland on the left and Cal State Fullerton on the right, a distance of 12 miles as the crow flew. You could stand in the field below the house on a summer night and watch the fireworks at the amusement park. “I bet you can see Catalina on a clear day.” A breeze gusted up, stirring up the eucalyptus trees and making the tall grasses sway.

“Now we wait for Margaret and do the walk through.” Rob stood with his hands in his pockets looking out over the valley. “Let's hope that goes as well.”

It didn't.

Margaret was a self-proclaimed psychic/medium they'd worked with before. She seemed to do well enough at the locations where they'd worked together. She had been good with the families and had hit on many events. Margaret was somewhat eccentric, she preferred to wear a paisley shawl over long skirts and peasant blouses, gypsy style. More often than not, she smelled like patchouli.

When Margaret had ascended from Rob's car, Gina had raised one eyebrow. She stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, the look on her face clearly saying “Are you serious?”

After fitting everyone out with lapel mikes, Margaret had started her walk through of the house. Making comments as she picked things up.

“I'm sensing” Margaret had said first.

Gina had sighed heavily. “Yeah.”

“What was his connection to the water?” Margaret had frowned a little.

“It's Orange County, everyone has connections to the water.” Gina said pointedly.

“Okay, we'll come back to that.”

“What's the A? I'm getting the letter A.”

“I have no clue. No one in this house had that initial. First, middle or last.”

“Well, maybe it's someone who lived here previous to your family. We can come back to that.”

“My grandmother and her first husband had this house built. No one lived here before them.”

“I'm guessing it was the land. Something going very far back. But there is an A that's associated with this location.” Margaret moved down the hallway.

Margaret turned to a room on her left. “I'm getting a lot of energy in this room. There was a lot of living done in here. Did he spend most of his time in here? His den? A TV room?”

“This was the guest room. It was hardly used at all when I was a kid.”

“I'm getting that he spent a lot of time in here. I may be picking it up from the next room though. Is that the master bedroom? The one next door?”

“You tell me.” Gina sounded annoyed.

Margaret looked at her “I can only pick up on the vibrations and I get glimpses from those that have passed on. I need you to help me put the pieces together.”

Gina had grunted “Uh-huh. Well, let's move on.”

“Who's the woman? There was a woman here with him towards the end.”

“Which woman? What does she look like?” Gina wouldn't give an inch.

“The woman with the dark hair. She was by his bedside most of the time. She was very dedicated, right up to the end. I'm getting an M. Who's the M?”

“I think you're getting your letters mixed up. N for nurse. Not M, like Mary. And all the women who were here had blonde or grey hair. You're just cold reading me. This is bullshit.” Gina said and left the house.

“Oh, fuck me sideways.” Alison had mumbled.

And now they were sitting around trying to not watch their dreams go down the drain. The scenario couldn't have been more perfect, but they needed the psychic to complete the episode. If they didn't have a completed episode to pitch, and soon, they'd lose the window of opportunity. There were a ton of other paranormal investigators developing shows.

Alison looked up. “I just got emails back. The guy from Huntington Beach is the only one available.”

Connor clutched his head. “Shit.”

Two days later they were back at the location. Gina was wearing a dress, flats and a sour look. Connor looked at Rob, who was unloading the audio equipment.

“Dude, it's gonna be okay. Fry's is always hiring.” Rob said, trying to lighten the mood. He fiddled with his boom mike. “Look, this'll work or it won't. Just accept what comes.” Rob had recently embraced Buddhism. His new mantra was “Just accept what comes.” It had started to get on Connor's nerves.

“Why can't she just go along with it? This is my fucking dream and this woman won't help me out.” Connor had tossed and turned the night before, becoming more and more mad at Gina. This woman was going to single handedly crush his heart's desire. All those years of school, making student films on no money, unpaid internships and an industry bloated with talented people who wanted the same thing he did. He felt like laying down and curling into a ball until he could convince himself to go back to filming weddings and working part time at Starbucks. At least Starbucks offered health insurance.

Alison rolled up in her VW Beetle. Before the car even stopped a big man was unfolding himself from the passenger seat.

Gina walked over to Connor and said “He looks like The Dude.” referring to the movie The Big Lebowski.

Marcus did look like The Dude. He wore jean shorts, a hawaiian shirt and crocs. The crocs were pink. His hair was pulled back in a long ponytail and he'd combed his long beard so it lay neatly to the third button of his brightly printed shirt. He had a Super Big Gulp in his hand. Marcus as partial to Dr. Pepper mixed with Sprite and Orange Fanta. More than once he'd gotten great enjoyment from letting someone have sip from his 2-liter sized cup and watching their face upon tasting his concoction. He would laugh, a weird little giggle that didn't match his appearance.

He approached Gina with his hand extended. “Hello, I'm Marcus. I'm very pleased to meet you. I'm looking forward to touring the house. I hear the view is remarkable.”

Gina shook his hand. “Gina. I'm sure it will be, um, memorable.”

Everyone moved indoors and prepared for the walk-through.

Marcus began to rub his chest. “Ow. Chest pains.”

Gina frowned slightly and turned her head to the right a little, the universal signal for being confused or skeptical. Then Marcus belched hugely.

“Whoa. 'Scuse me. Phew, went up my nose too.” he pounded his fist on his sternum, burped once more softly and moved to the kitchen.

Gina followed with crossed arms and leaned on the fridge. Marcus stood, sipping on his soda thoughtfully. Then he spoke.

“Why is this guy duck walking around the kitchen?”

Gina looked dumbstruck. “What?”

“He's duckwalking. He's squatting but he's walking. And the lights are off. What's that about? Weird.” Marcus took another sip of his drink.

Gina's eyes grew wide. “They had sheep. The sheep learned that when the kitchen light turned on in the morning, they'd be fed. They'd stand outside and bleat. My grandfather started making his coffee with a flashlight, but they figured that out too. Then he just did it with the lights off but if the sheep saw him they'd make a bunch of noise. So he duck walked to make his coffee.”

“He liked to watch the birds too. The eaves used to be lined with hummingbird feeders. Didn't he have a big pair of binoculars?”

“How do you know that?” Gina looked scared.

“I don’t' know, but I do.” Marcus walked to the front room. “He died in here. I can smell that. Lots of people around him. Wow, you guys loved him. What a lucky dude. Breathing heavy at the end, but really ready to go. Why are there two women with the same name?”

He looked at Gina questioningly.

“He was married twice. His first wife was Sarah Rose, but everyone one called her Rose. His second wife was Sarah. “ she told the group.

Connor, Alicia and Rob were all watching with open mouths. Alicia had almost let the camera slip off her shoulder she was in such awe. Rob's eyes threatened to fall out of his face, but he held the mike steady.

“He was going between here and there while he was dying. He was seeing his mother, friends, people from his childhood. He wasn't born here, eh? In the midwest? Something about a farm? I'm seeing mules. And a little kid in overalls.”

Gina paused a long time. “Iowa. He was born in Iowa. Yes, he wore overalls as a kid”

Then she blurted out “Why don't you go to the James Rani Institute and get the million dollars? He's offering a million for proof of psychic ability. You could collect that.”

Marcus sipped his soda thoughtfully, “Lots of people have asked me that. I don't want wires in my head. And I hate talk shows. I like my life.” He wandered off into the living room.

“Wow, this view is incredible. Is that Disneyland?” he gazed out the picture windows. “I think I can see my house from here.” he giggled his little giggle. Then he asked “Where's the basement?”

Gina nodded silently and headed out the back door. The stairs were on the right past the patio, steep and made of concrete. “When I was a kid there was a chain across here. Grandma was worried about us falling down them.”

As they descended the air got cooler. Marcus commented “It's nice down here. Cool. Must have been great in the summer heat, to come down here and cool off.”

The new owners were using the basement for storage. Nothing big like furniture since the stairs made bringing them down impossible, but small boxes and plastic tubs lined the walls.

“There's these, like, metal sounds down here. He came down here to be alone. Get away from things. Be in the quiet. What IS that noise?” Marcus wandered over to look in the plastic boxes, being nosy.

“He's refilling rifle cartridges. He had a little machine that he worked by hand.” Gina bit her lip, remembering sitting with her grandfather.

“They had a big garden too. They had a nice life.” Marcus slurped up the last of his soda for several seconds, making sure to get the last drops out. Ice wasn't in his vocabulary, he preferred to fill his cup with as much sugary, caffeinated formula as possible.

“Yeah,” he sighed contemplatively, “It's all good. Residual stuff, the house remembering. But it's good stuff. No need to worry and it'll make great conversation at dinner parties.” Marcus suddenly crumpled his big cup in his hand. “Welp. That's it. What now?”

Connor grinned hugely. They were going to be a hit.

Friday, February 21, 2014

So, it's like this see

The smallest of choices can make big differences in someone's life.  Today, after some internal debate, I decided to go to the craft store closer to my house instead of driving to the bigger one further away.  That way I could go to the Wal-Mart up the street and get the other miscellaneous stuff I needed.

On my way out, I decided to go see what was at Redbox since Scott was going to be late-ish.  I could watch a movie.

As I'm browsing, I notice a woman sitting on the floor in the foyer.  She's looking at her phone, nothing out of the ordinary.   I heard an older couple ask her "What breed?"  and I look over.   She has a puppy in her lap.  I hear her say the puppy is a red heeler and she's looking for a home for him since she lost her place and can't take care of him anymore.

What do I do?  I go over and look at the little guy.  I held him and he was a little cuddle bug.

I tried to text and call Scott but I wasn't able to reach him.  I told her that I couldn't reach my husband and I didn't want to make a decision without him.  I got her number in case we would be able to take him.

When I got home I instant messaged to Scott that I almost brought home a puppy, then I told him the same story I just told you. 

He said "You could take him.  If the doofi don't like him, at least he'll have a place to stay until we can find another home for him."

I sent a text and went to pick the little guy up.  The woman I got him from was staying in a by-the-week budget hotel.  I paid her $60 and watched while she said goodbye to the pup.

"I lost my husband and my other dog.  Now I'm losing him."  She hugged him and said "I'm glad you're going to a good home. You be good."  Then she went into her room while I walked away.  My heart is breaking for this woman, who is obviously down on her luck.  I didn't press her for details, I just got out of there.

I named him Fender.  I took him home and spent 20 minutes introducing him to our other 2 dogs, Gibson and Peavey.  Peavey got a look on his face that clearly said "Oh, fuck my life."  and went in another room.  Gibson is the one we were concerned about.  He exhibits some aggression towards other dogs.  He wants to make sure that everyone knows he's the alpha dog.  We can't take him to the dog park because of this.  But, he took it pretty well.  He wagged his tail really big while he sniffed Fender all over.  He let him walk around the living room but stayed close to him.  There wasn't any growling or snapping. 

I took the puppy to school to pick up Will, who was thrilled.  Will held Fender in the car on the way home.  They played together while we waited for Zoe to get home.

We sat in the front yard and I hid Fender under my shirt while she walked down the street from the bus stop.  When I showed her what I was hiding she froze for about 5 seconds.  Then she started to squeal with excitement.

A couple of the kids' friends came over and swarmed all over our newest family member.  Now, I'm supervising everyone around the puppy. 

We were going to go to the local renaissance faire this weekend, but we'll be putting those plans off until next weekend.  Tomorrow we'll go to the pet store for supplies.  Then we'll come home and continue to see how our new dynamic is working out. 

Damn, but he's cute.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  Coconut oil makes an excellent deep, hair conditioner.  It will actually penetrate instead of coating.  A big jar of the stuff isn't super expensive and will last a loooong time. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I share my greatest failure with you.

As everyone who knows me is aware, I went to culinary school during 2011-2012.  I received my certificate about a year ago, four months after I completed my program. 

I first got the idea to attend cooking school in 1997.  Since the kids were in school full time, it was time for me to make that dream happen.

I got so much out of it.  I learned a huge deal and I felt very, very accomplished for completing the program.  I suspect I was second in my class, but I have no proof of that.

I have different talents than those of my classmates.  My niche is comfort food and baking sweet things.  When we started on our cake classes, I was the one my fellow students came to for advice.  I  was the only one to make an Italian meringue frosting come together on the first attempt.  The pastry instructor who was assisting my teacher in checking our work gave me high praise.

(Italian meringue frosting is made by whipping eggs for a loooooong time until they become high in volume and fluffy.  Then a simple syrup is created by boiling water and sugar together, twice as much sugar as water.  The hot syrup is poured into the eggs while the mixer is going.  The last step is to start adding in butter until it reaches the correct consistency.  This stuff is sweet and very buttery.  Sinful and decadent.)

Armed with my certification and my year of experience interning at a local cupcakery (thanks Amy!) I started applying for jobs.  I applied to bake cupcakes at a local company who popped an ad up on Craigslist for half a day.  Out of literally hundreds of applications, mine was pulled out along with exactly 5 others.  I wasn't selected, but I was assured the decision was a difficult one.

I found a position at a grocery store looking for a baker.  I went through an extensive interview process and I got the job!  I was super excited to learn more and have a source of income that would include benefits and discounts on anything I purchased.

I did two weeks of training at a different store than I'd be working.  My role at this store was to do the early morning frying of donuts, baking muffins and bagels then setting up the display case for the opening of the store.  Then I assisted the lead baker with breads, rolls, cookies and cakes.  I pulled the frozen product for the next day and stored the product that had arrived that day.  I was told I had done well.  I felt good about how I'd do. 

When I got to the store where I'd be working, things were very different.  First of all, the staff was short by three people.  With a staff of eight, this is a significant shortage.

I was excited to be working with the manager as he had trained in Switzerland.  I knew I could learn a huge amount from him simply from watching.  I was ready to take on this challenge.  

The manager put me on early frying and doing ALL the baking for the day.  All of it.  I was doing the job of two people.  I worked from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week and I still wasn't cutting it.  I was going home sobbing every single day.

Then there was the manager who yelled, called me names and questioned out loud why I'd been selected for the position.  He didn't give me guidance for my first few days, just let me leave loaves in the proofer far too long, wouldn't tell me to put toppings on the loaves or tell me where to find them.  And, then he would yell at me.  I can take constructive feedback, but telling me he was told I was smart but I acted like a stupid person is another thing.

And the kitchen was filthy.  I mean filthy.  Like, the sugar glaze for the donuts and other pastries wouldn't get stored properly each day and bugs would get in it.  Baking sheets were left dirty instead of being washed.  I wasn't shown how to work the giant dishwasher or how to drain the oil in the fryer, which was a gross dark brown.

I seriously played with the idea of just not showing up on my fifth day of work.  I was miserable.  I was failing. I was failing epically as my son would say.  The money was good.  But my soul was dying.  I gave exactly one day notice.  Then my son's school called to say he had a fever.  It turned out to be the flu and I'd have to stay home with him on what would be my last day.

I went home and cried.  I cried for hours.  I had failed.  I had failed like I'd never failed before.  I'd created chaos, stress and difficulty for other people.   I had crashed.  I had burned.  I had burned up to a crisp. 

I was discouraged and wallowed around in negative self-talk telling myself I'd been fooling myself that I could make a career out of cooking.  One of my classmates had landed a job at one of the highest rated, white tablecloth restaurant in the city.  The one other female in my class was running a kitchen at a local bar and grill.  Another was managing a take out place near campus.  Yet another was working at a fancy resort and had been quickly promoted.  And I had just fucked up a job at a grocery store.   I was still cooking at home for my kids, who begged for Hamburger Helper and Ramen noodles.  Wow, I was really putting that year of training to work.

I took a couple of months break and started looking again.  On a whim, I applied at my local location for a major coffee chain.  The hours could flex around. I could go in early , but not 2 a.m. early.  I could leave in time to pick up my kids.  Being a big corporation, massive overtime wouldn't exist.

My background is in customer service.  I can work a fast pace.  I learn quickly.  I told this to the store manager and I was hired.

I've been there for about 10 months and I'm doing great. I'll blog about what I do another day.

Today, I'm going to make rosemary and garlic infused pork chops with a berry compote accompanied by mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner.  I'll bake up some brownies to have with ice cream.  Then I'll go to bed early so I can go to work tomorrow at 4:15.

And I tell myself that it's fine what I'm doing with my life.  And I'm trying very hard to believe that.

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  In the winter time, you'll need to exfoliate more often due to the dryness heaters cause.  When you scrub more often, use something gentler, like baking soda with your facial cleanser.  And up your water.