Monday, December 13, 2010

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

The past few days have really helped me believe in the goodness of humanity.  We had about a foot and a half of snow on Saturday-- much more at one time than we are accustomed to.  It was declared a snow emergency, everything was canceled, and some roads are still not cleared of snow.  The parking lot at my apartment is one of those places.  On Saturday, I stayed inside all day until about 7pm, when I decided to go out and see how badly my car was buried, and try to dig it out so I wouldn't have to Sunday morning before church.  I found a shovel near the entrance to my building, so I borrowed it.  I had been working for fifteen minutes or so, getting totally absorbed in the work, insulated by my hat, scarf, and hood, when suddenly a voice behind me says, "Digging out?"

I think I jumped and perhaps yelped in surprise.  It was the guy who (I think) lives above me and works maintenance on the building.  He offered to help me finish moving the GIANT drift of snow, and as he is taller and stronger than me, was finished much quicker than I would have been.  It was very kind of him, especially considering that he said he had been shoveling snow all day.

Sunday morning, having already dug out (or so I thought), I went to get the car out.  But I realized that digging out my own car was not enough; there was a single set of tire ruts to drive in, but getting into them was another matter.  To back out of my parking space enough to clear the huge piles of snow on either side, and then turn around enough to get going the right way, required more space than was there.  Even with four-wheel drive, I got stuck in the snowbank.  So I went to find the shovel and dig out again.  Who should be using it but the same guy from last night, having the same problem with his car that I was having?  He was trying to get out to buy some gas for the snowblower, so he wouldn't have to shovel all day again.  So I helped him dig out and pushed the car while he gunned the engine, and he finally got going.  Then he helped me dig out and get going the right way.

Later on Sunday, I went church again for the rehearsal for the evening service.  When I got there, I realized that I couldn't get into the parking lot my usual way, because the city snow plows had shed snow about two feet deep blocking the entrance.  So after I found the other entrance clear, I parked, got a shovel from the narthex, and started clearing the snow.  There was a lot of it, and it was taking a while.  I was taking a short breather, when I realized that there was a car behind me, coming out of the parking lot.  I turned, and it was an older couple in a big SUV-- with a plow on the front.  The man got out and said, "Can we help you with that?"  I said, "Yes, please!"  They proceeded to clear the entrance, saving me at least half an hour of hard work.  As they were leaving, I asked if they were members of the church.  They said no.  I asked for their name, so we (the church) could properly thank them, and they wouldn't give it!  Just said they were "two angels, passing by".  So sweet.

Then today, before work, I stopped by the apartment office because my heat hasn't been working.  They said they'd take a look at it while I was at work.  Then I went to Target to buy my own shovel-- figured it might come in handy.  Then after work, around 6pm, it did!  I was about to head out to do some errands, and I saw an older man trying to drive out of a snowy parking space he had backed into.  His tires were spinning and he was not moving.  I offered to dig him out with my (brand new) shovel.  Tried that a while, still wasn't moving.  Then I tried pushing.  Still nothing.  Then we switched; he pushed, and I drove.  Finally, I put his car in first gear and we were able to rock it out of the snow.  Hooray!

THEN, when I was home again after my errands, I found the notice on my door saying they had been in to look at the heater.  Turns out there's something wrong, but they're not sure exactly what it is, so in the meantime, they gave me a space heater.  As if that wasn't enough, a little while later the friendly maintenance man stopped by and made sure I was okay, and explained what the problems might be and how/when they might get fixed.  Again, very kind and thoughtful of him.

All of this to say, Minnesota is a great place to live if you want friendly neighbors and the opportunity to "pay it forward".  It's hard to say whether this is Christmas Cheer, or Holiday Spirit, or just the natural human urge to band together against the elements, but it's a pretty amazing feeling-- that you're a part of a network of people who don't even know each other, but support each other all the same.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Eater's Worst Nightmare

Well, maybe not worst.  But pretty bad, all the same, especially if it's cold and snowy and you have little food left in the house.

I was eating leftover chicken and potatoes.  Had reheated in the micro, was about to sit down with a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.  Needed to season the plate with a little salt and pepper, both of which, in my house, come in grinders.  Can you see where this is going?

The pepper went on just fine-- a light dusting of black specks.  The salt, however, was another matter.  The whole grinder-lid fell off, along with about a quarter of the jar of sea salt.  Sad, sad day.

Fortunately, because it was unground sea salt, I was able to scrape or pick off most of it.  Still, it was a very sorry, salty, disappointing dinner.  I thought about just ditching it and going to Applebee's or something, but my paycheck hasn't gone through yet so my bank account is dangerously low, plus there's about a foot of snow still covering my parking lot that I don't feel like walking or driving through.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Things that WILL get done today!

Posting this list in an attempt to self-motivate.

1. Dishes!
2. Laundry!
3. Vacuuming!
4. Making bread!
5. NOT going out in the four gazillion feet of snow!

That is all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cranberry stuffing

OMG a real food post.

I looked at several recipes for stuffing, then just made my own based on the methods I found there.

toasted bread cubes
chicken broth
spices: sage, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper

I started with about half a loaf of store-bought bread, cut into cubes and toasted on cookie sheets.  Then I softened the cranberries in simmering water on the stove.

One of the recipes I looked at said to drain the berries, and I did so, but I kept the water.  It's bright red and really yummy.  I might mix it with other juices, or make some kind of fruity spiced cider sometime.  Right now it's in mason jars in my fridge, looking very festive indeed.

Mix the reduced cranberries with the bread cubes.

My mixture was a little too large for the Pyrex dish, so I expanded into the pie plate.  [Sorry for the poor quality photos.]
Next, I sauteed a medium onion, two celery stalks, and two cloves of garlic in about a tablespoon of butter, just until softened.  I probably should have started with just onions and garlic, and let them fully brown.

Then I added the chicken broth (of which I only had about two cups; more would have been better) and the spices to taste.  I poured this mixture over the bread cubes and mixed together.  This did not yield the desired consistency; it was too dry, so i added some water.  Then the pans went into the 350 degree oven for, oh, I dunno, maybe half an hour.

When they came out, they were the right consistency, but didn't have much flavor.  I think they need some kind of meat (chicken, sausage, turkey) and more fat in order to get that awesome stuffing flavor.  Using more broth instead of water would also have helped.  Were I making this with a roasted bird, I'd use the drippings to boost the flavor.  As it is, I will certainly eat it, but probably only with a more flavorful main dish.

A New Venture

I have become a direct sales consultant for a major producer of cosmetics and skin care products.  To avoid any potential issues with copyright, I will refrain from mentioning its name here, but it is an anagram for yak army, if that helps at all.  [Note: if you try to guess (and really, it's not that hard) in the comments, I will neither confirm nor deny your hypotheses.]

This is a very strange move for me, I know.  I rarely wear makeup, and I just started using Yak Army products two months ago, tops.  But I really like them, and my friend and recruiter A convinced me that the product itself is not the most important thing in this business: making my dreams happen is.

A asked me what I would change about my current situation, if I could.  It was incredibly easy to answer that question: I would be living in my own house, on a small farm, raising chickens, having a large garden, and living with a dog.  Easy.  But lately I've felt stagnated in moving towards that dream; my day job, while fun and rewarding, doesn't pay enough to meet all my expenses, let alone save up for a house.  And with more debt and student loans on the way, it sometimes seems like I'll never get there.

Enter Yak Army.  Being a consultant means that I run my own business.  Through this venture, I will learn how to manage expenses, tax write-offs, etc., as well as hopefully bring in a few extra dollars.  If nothing else, I'll at least get the products that I love at half price.

But this whole experience has helped me put my financial goals into perspective.  First, pay off my credit card bills.  Second, pay off student loans.  Third, buy a house.  I realize there are probably some steps missing, but that's okay.  For now, it feels good to have priorities in order, and to know that the ultimate goal is actually on the list.