When Things Don't Work

Anyone else out there get totally frustrated when a bunch of little things stop working all around the same time? I literally throw internal hissy fits (and sometimes external too)! And I wonder why stuff happens all around the same time too.

The engine light's on in my car so it's time to get it to the shop even though it seems to be running just fine. My laptop blue screened yet again last week, even after updating drivers and flashing the BIOS (I might sound very technically savvy but trust me, I just know enough to be dangerous). The laptop is 3 years old and I'd hate to plunk down more money for a new one right now, so maybe it just needs more RAM (?). My beloved iPod which I've had around 2 1/2 years now dies after 20 minutes even after getting a full charge. Oh, the places that iPod has gone with me! Business trips, vacations, countless workouts on the treadmill and outside. I love the schizo mix of music on it and it kills me to think it might be on its last legs. How much of a pain is it to get a new battery?

I decided this year to get two small artificial trees instead of a real tree for Christmas, and found a great deal on a faux mini spruce, just 3' high, in a wonderful ceramic pot, complete with tiny white lights. The delivery arrived a few days ago, I unpacked it all excited and plugged it in - and got nothing. The lights don't work! Is it worth shipping the whole thing back due to this? For me, probably not. Christmas lights are cheap so I will likely just take the ones that came on the tree off and put on my own. Oh well!

And with the rain starting up again full force here (very typical Pacific Northwest weather), I came home one night to find water slowly seeping through a tiny crack in one of the concrete walls in my garage. The garage is partially built into the ground, so who knows what's going on here. Might be some drainage problems from the back deck up above it.

Actually, I was thinking about the car engine light issue and the small garage leak on a long walk today - when the iPod crapped out. It was a rare sunny and somewhat clear day today, especially for late November. I said no thanks to all the Black Friday shopping nonsense today and decided to head up the big hill in my neighborhood for a 5-mile walk.

Other than the iPod dying, it was a good workout. I love veging out to great music when I exercise, but maybe the iPod going silent was meant as a much-needed break for my eardrums or a reminder to just stop and take in the real world sounds around me, rather than drown them out with music.


Raw food, anyone? Incredible tuna seviche

I'm back again with another recipe, as I just LOVE food. But I'm very much an 'everything in moderation' type, so while I do enjoy vegetarian, vegan and Raw dishes (such as this one), I can't pin myself down to any in particular. I might try to claim myself a vegetarian, but then crave a good steak and burger just a few days later. And as you'll see below, a Raw food diet does NOT equal being a vegetarian!

Vegan? Sure, I can do that for awhile and have a few great recipes too...but when clam chowder is on the menu in the work cafeteria all bets are off.

This recipe is from Carol Alt's book Eating In the Raw, which is a great introductory reference to understanding Raw food and the lifestyle.

Serves 4
3/4 lb sushi-grade bigeye tuna, thinly sliced
1/4 C red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 C celery, thinly sliced
1/4 C red and/or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced
4 tsp scallions, finely chopped
chives, for garnish

1 C freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 C raw soy sauce (Nama Shoyu, unpasteurized soy sauce)
3/4 C raw olive oil
1 T minced garlic
1 T peeled, minced fresh gingerroot
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

I like keeping the tuna in the marinade up to 8 hours or overnight, as the citrus juices "cook" the outer portion of the tuna. I whisk the marinade ingredients in a large, 8-cup (2 quart) Pyrex measuring cup and then gently add the tuna pieces, cover with plastic wrap and chill.

To serve, lay out 4 chilled salad plates, combine the tuna, marinade and vegetables, mix well and serve onto each salad plate.


Edamame, Vitamin D and a chunk of Celestite

I'm a few weeks into the new job now and am learning a lot very quickly about the health insurance industry, a field I have not yet worked in before. While my career has been a bit eclectic - especially working contract jobs the past three years or so - I'm very proud of the experience and confidence I've gained, along with a thicker skin and some street smarts. As a contract worker, you are constantly the new kid and under scrutiny, and expected to add value immediately from Day One. I've probably written about this in other posts, but it's such a fundamental part of what shapes my outlook on life. I am absolutely fascinated with the differences between work cultures - what denotes being productive, what the unwritten rules are, slowly discovering the politics, developing rapport and relationships quickly...and learning who the decision makers are as well as the influencers. Perhaps I should have been a sociologist!

One thing that stands out about my current work culture is a focus on being healthy and openly talking about it. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise! The internal employee website has a blog and forum to discuss what people are doing to stay fit. The cafeteria is EXCELLENT and also includes nutritional info and Weight Watchers Points for everything on the menu. I hear chitter chatter in our IT department about plans to staff up the call center in case we have a major outbreak of H1N1 this winter. Hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere, and the building is clean, clean clean. Wow. The restroom is just as clean at the end of the day as it was in the morning (someone cleans it midday), and the cafeteria tables aren't a mess after the peak crowd comes through around noon.

Being a true Taurus...well, I love food. I love cooking, eating out and could talk about food all day! So it was a huge relief to discover the cafeteria has great choices (and is subsidized - bonus!). Many of us park in a satellite lot and take a shuttle onto the main campus, so getting out midday for lunch isn't super convenient. I am looking forward to getting off campus and exploring places to eat around town...however, this is a nice corporate campus smack in the middle of strip malls and casinos. I'm sure there's a great hole in the wall sushi place or two.

As I sprinkled a bunch of edamame over my salad from the salad bar, I thought more about eating and the choices I've made. I'll admit when I wasn't working this summer I probably didn't eat as healthy as I should (and didn't eat out very much to watch my wallet). Making a salad at home for one seemed kind of silly to me, so I'd occasionally cut up some vine-ripened tomatoes and make a Caprese salad with some fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of Celtic sea salt. Or, maybe a handful of baby carrots. Or, maybe no veggies at all. Hmmm.

I think our bodies tell us what they need nutritionally if we really pay attention and listen. Last month I constantly craved tomatoes and ate at least one a day for a week, hence those Caprese salads. I guess there was some nutrient in the tomatoes I was unconsciously lacking. I enjoy edamame on my salads now at lunch and after reading about their health benefits that's a habit I can keep. One day I scooped up a little of what I thought was diced chicken covered in spices but turned out - nope - it was Tofu. Not my first choice but it won't kill me to try new things. And on Friday for lunch I had an absolutely amazing shrimp ceviche tostada with fresh salsa!

OK, I'll admit it. I have an extremely nasty Diet Coke habit. Hell, everyone needs a vice or two, right? I don't even want to think about how many thousands of cans I've consumed, especially in years working in environments where sodas and juices were complimentary. I used to joke that if anyone was mapping out soda consumption at a company and wondered why it would suddenly spike up somewhere for a couple years and then drastically drop off, well, I might have been the culprit!

And yes, I'm sitting here typing nursing a can of...Diet Coke. I really, truly am trying to cut back, and it's easier now during the workweek. First of all, it's not free, so I can calculate how much money would go down the drain at the vending machine. Now that I'm getting up earlier for the commute I'm discovering coffee again, but am trying to limit that to Friday mornings as a special TGIF treat. Isn't coffee healthier anyway, given it's natural vs. a can of soda chock full of chemicals? I'm fighting the Diet Coke urges during the week with good old fashioned water. I now have an environmentally correct stainless steel half liter bottle and fill it up throughout the day at work.

A friend suggested taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially through the fall and winter, so I've started doing that as well. I guess I never put two and two together, but we're likely to be severely deficient in it here in the Pacific Northwest given our cloudy skies and short summer season. So, I now add that to my morning routine. I hear it's supposed to help with seasonal mood swings too. Thankfully I am used to our grey, dreary weather so that doesn't get me down.
Weight gain. This is yet again a problem, and I don't recognize myself in recent pictures. Sure, I've played hockey for a few years and trained to run a couple of 5Ks this summer for the first time but I don't feel I have anything to show for it. I lost 35 lbs a few years ago and sadly most of it has returned. In part of my effort to de-clutter the townhouse I finally gave away a lot of the clothes I simply can't wear anymore. And dang they looked tiny when I held them up. Did I really used to fit into those jeans? The early 40s are playing a cruel joke on me, as the weight not only came back but came back in places it never used to...my waist, upper hips and tummy. GAH!! I'm terrified about looking "middle aged." And no one ever told me at this age I'd be "blessed" both with occasional zits - still - AND a few wrinkles too.
So I am hoping healthier eating choices plus stepping up the exercise will get me back to a more comfortable weight. And perhaps the work environment will be some of the influence and support I need.
Last weekend when J and I were out shopping we found a small store with aromatherapy items, candles and other new age-y kind of stuff. Have you ever had something literally jump off a store shelf and just bond with you immediately? Chunks of celestite on display caught my eye. I admired the gorgeous shimmery light blue and white colors anchored in the grey outer stone. I grabbed one and immediately cradled it in my hands. The curve of the stone was an absolute perfect fit and I could literally feel it radiating through my body and could "hear" the sound of the sparkles. Almost as if this stone was "alive."
I tend to pooh pooh a lot of hype about crystals and their healing properties, but I'm not doubting what I felt holding that celestite. I later read that it's supposed to help with communications, clarity of mind and replaces pain with loving light.
It's now on my desk at work...after all, it couldn't hurt.


Afternoon at The Bravern!

What happens when you get a group of ten women together for lunch and shopping? High energy, lots of laughs, great food, hugs, a few fabulous purchases to boost that whimpering economy, and more ooh-ing and ahhh-ing while shopping than you can imagine! We're high energy, we're boisterous and we're not afraid to plunk down serious cash for seriously awesome shoes, bags, scarves, you name it. Shameless enablers in this group!

And our shining jewel Seattle suburb - Bellevue, WA - has grown up. We now have a Neiman Marcus! I can close my eyes and picture the tired, worn-down shops and the Dairy Queen on this prime chunk of real estate in downtown Bellevue that had stood there a good 40 years or so. I used to take ballet lessons at the dance studio as a kid. Now...well, take a look at the picture!

It's like shopping Disneyland came to the suburbs. Not only do we have Neiman Marcus, but we now have Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Hermes, and a whole slew of restaurants and other boutiques I have yet to discover. Until next time!

When you step inside Neiman Marcus it's hard to remember we're still in a Recession. The plans for this store came to life around 2006 or so, when the economy was healthy and thriving. The launch here in September 2009 was in a completely different economic climate. Meanwhile, inside it's almost like an other-worldly bubble. $3000 purses sit proud and glamorous on the shelves. Want a gorgeous $800 cashmere sweater, $700 Christian Louboutin pumps or $1200 boots? Have you booked your trip to St. Barts? Don't forget the Dior sandals from the resort collections. Yep, they're there. With enthusiastic, impeccably dressed sales associates who are more than happy to help you. I tend to calculate high-end purchases like this as how they compare to my monthly mortgage! Hmmm...I could buy that bag or be homeless for two months, ha ha ha.

I'm a huge fan of Neiman Marcus (and a store card holder too) and have been for over 15 years, but I never actually stepped inside an actual store until 2006. It was in Boca Raton, Florida, on a free day during a 10-day business trip to Ft. Lauderdale. I love their catalogue and online sales. I've repeatedly stocked up on basic cashmere when it goes on sale off season, or wonderful towels, sheets, stationery and shoes. And with no sales tax (at the time since we didn't have a store here) and free shipping promotions you could really get good deals.

But the clothes in the store are far more edgy and trendy than what is generally in the catalogues. And this is where I wonder just how well it will blend in with our Pacific Northwest style over time. I stumbled upon a post in Darrah's Dresser (a blog I'm now following) who described it as all very fabulous but somewhat out of place for this part of the country. I liked her write up, as it was very genuine and honest, from a person with enormous passion for fashion. I looked at amazing clothing and shoes today, but I've never seen anyone wearing the trendier stuff around here in real life running errands, out casually walking their dogs or just standing in line at the post office. Or, perhaps it's because I don't run in certain circles, hee hee. And I even had an invitation to the black tie gala (yes BLACK TIE, so rare around here) the night before the grand opening in September. I felt so giddy, but then reality clobbered me on the head hard. Is a $250 ticket a smart thing to buy when unemployed, for a few hours out on the town? It was a charity benefit so I could have written off part on my taxes, but I decided to pass.

I've probably written about this before, but it's hard to describe Pacific Northwest style without keeping "practical" and "natural" in the list of qualities. Meaning, we're stylish here, but understated. [The shoes our group purchased today, for example, were black patent, mid-heeled Louboutin pumps and burgundy leather Prada driving flats, not stilettos with 6" heels.]
In general, we don't worry too much about rain getting our hair a little wet as it's just a reality it's going to happen. And unless it's an absolute downpour, many of us just don't bother with umbrellas. No one's going to get drenched in a little drizzle. We're not overly blinged-out or silicone'd either and don't dress in revealing ways. The Cartier watch might be peeking out from a polar fleece half-zip top from Old Navy, after all, and a Pacific Northwest billionaire is more likely to drive a Prius than a Bentley. If we get Botox, our faces still move. No, we're not all grungy in flannel shirts and Doc Marten boots either, but there is a casual vibe for sure. When talking fashion, we discuss what works in the rain and what doesn't. If we're spending tons on nice clothes and shoes, they certainly can't wilt or spot.

The group today was a blast. Many I knew from previous meetups and we had a couple new faces join too which is always wonderful. After lunch we shopped! One of the NM sales associates was a dead ringer for Kathy Griffin with personality to match and kind of turned into a funny stalker/groupie, striking up conversations and asking us questions. 10 of us in killer handbags shopping and laughing together attracts attention for sure! And we love it! At the jewelry counter a couple of the girls found necklaces that matched the bracelet I was wearing and took a few pictures of me modeling. Hilarious! While this was going on, the sales associate reappeared again and noticed a few of us carrying Hermes Kelly bags and immediately got all giddy and started joking about how if she ever had a Kelly she'd have a neon arrow flashing and pointing, announcing that HEY, I HAVE A KELLY, LOOK AT ME! We cracked up. And we decided we could get a "Kelly Cam," and have online streaming video of the view of the world from a Kelly's perspective. I guess you probably had to be there, but it really was funny how we all just egged eachother on. Afterwards, my friend T told me she wanted to ask her, "How many of us are carrying Hermes bags here?" Meaning, several in the group were carrying lesser-known styles of Hermes. Those who know...know. The Kelly is just one of many.
After Neiman Marcus we ventured out to Hermes, Jimmy Choo and Ferragamo. I smiled as the sales associates greeted many of my friends by name and with a handshake or hug...wow, a few of us are already making strides! I'm still in my Money Diet mode, but I sure enjoyed browsing.
We lucked out with a dry day today - especially in mid November. I saw umbrella stands everywhere, as this is an outdoor shopping complex, not an indoor mall. I wonder how well business will be when the weather is cold and rainy?
As we said our goodbyes, T and I finished up the day at Artisanal Bistro for a martini and incredible fondue. We admired her new Hermes cashmere shawl, which looks like it was just made for her.


Disconnected in a Connected World

I'm old enough to remember the days when we didn't worry so much about being "off line," "out of pocket" or "off the grid" for awhile. The days when I didn't have six or seven email Inboxes (other than work) to sort through...I perhaps only had one. And when I first started using email I didn't worry about whether I could check it anytime, anywhere on a handheld device. I did my work in my office, not in a line at the grocery store, at 3am in an airport terminal or sitting in a restaurant.

I've always loved technology, but also loved separating it from the rest of my life. Didn't matter that the beach house on the coast had little to no cell phone coverage - that wasn't what the trip was about. Didn't matter it had zero internet connectivity inside - no broadband or DSL. The beach house was a reminder to Slow Down and Disconnect from the rest of the world. When I left the office and drove to my apartment on my daily work commute home I left work behind. And when I took a 10-day vacation in the Caribbean in the height of a rocky technology deployment, nothing felt better than jumping off the stern of a sailboat into the warm waters off St. Kitts. That exact moment was "cleansing" in so many ways!

Over time, it became more annoying when I couldn't be connected whenever or wherever I wanted to be. In the late 1990s my job required me to have remote access to corporate email (and a pager), so I got in the habit of reading work email at home as one of the first things I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night.

Add Facebook and Twitter into the mix a decade later and suddenly I was addicted, somewhat. I loved getting back in touch with high school and college friends and seeing pictures of them, their kids and keeping up with what they were doing...whenever I wanted to. My cousin's daughter took her first steps recently, and I knew this within minutes of it happening thanks to Facebook. A good friend got an adorable new puppy. Another friend in Australia ran her first marathon. These are all things I never would have known about, at least not instantaneously, just a few years ago!

When was the last time you received a snail mail, handwritten letter? And not just a nice thank you card or "bread and butter" note?
My friend J and I met for brunch last weekend and spent a wonderful Sunday lingering over omelettes, pancakes and lots of coffee. Then, we wandered through the little shops nearby, poking around. Down in the basement of an old, restored home which is now an antique store we found a collection of postcards in a wicker basket from the early 1900s, well-preserved in clear plastic sleeves. I literally got swept away reading these postcards, admiring the pen and ink penmanship. One postcard was simply addressed by hand to "Mrs. John Smith, Fargo, North Dakota," and I'm sure easily made its way to her house just like that...for a penny. And I bet the mail carrier knew Mrs. Smith and all his other stops too. There were so many birthday postcards too - even some in French. "...and so I wish you, my dear Sister, Many Happy Returns of the day." Wow. Another postcard talked about a mother's worry a package delivery wouldn't arrive safely due to "all those men working on the house." It's almost eerie and intrusive reading personal thoughts like this nearly 100 years after they were written, the sender and recipient long gone by now.

I have to admit that job hunting is a heck of a lot easier being connected - things move fast! When I finished school in the late 1980s we were still applying for jobs via snail mail, over the phone, or maybe fax if we were lucky. If you wanted to find out more about a company you had to look in the LIBRARY, as the internet did not exist.

Nowadays, there's no excuse for not knowing something about just about anything, thanks to Google, Bing or other online searching. I admit I don't send snail mail thank you letters after interviews any longer - I just do them by email, but in the same tone as a handwritten letter would be. Things just move fast, and my letter wouldn't reach the recruiter's or hiring manager's desk until a good 3 days after I sent it, even if they were in the same town. And who knows how often they'd check their mailslot?

I just started a new job a couple weeks ago and while I really like it, I was shocked how locked down the environment is. I have zero cell phone coverage in the building. And, many external websites are blocked as well. No instant messaging access either, except for our Office Communicator, which is limited to internal work contacts only. All of this means I can't check my personal email or pop onto Facebook and Twitter, even on my lunch hour! And I can't access anything on my cell phone either! I can when I step outside, but when the weather's turning cold and rainy that isn't so practical.

And, I have to admit, it was a little frustrating at first! But, I'm slowly getting used to it now.
After all, I made it through over 40 years of life without Facebook and Twitter.


Fennel Corn Chowder!

In honor of the end of Daylight Savings Time (or "Fall Back"), a glorious sunny, crispy Fall day, the change of seasons and my love of cooking, I wanted to share this amazing chowder recipe. I have a few notes/tips having made this a few times. When I lived in a secured apartment building (meaning, my front door opened onto a hallway rather than the outside world) I would open my door - and my slider facing the waterfront canal - to get some additional ventilation and often had neighbors wandering down the hall asking what was for dinner!

Serves 6
6 slices pepper bacon, diced (if you don't want to buy pepper bacon, get regular bacon and grind tons of black pepper over it while preparing; see below)

1 T vegetable oil (olive oil is a good sub)

1 yellow onion, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped (minced garlic in a jar is an OK sub..1/2 tsp = 1 clove fresh garlic)
1 T flour
4 C Chicken stock (make your own or use canned chicken broth as a sub)
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Kernels cut from 5 ears corn (about 2 C). Or...2 C frozen corn is a good sub
1 C heavy cream
1/4 C cayenne pepper sauce
Salt and black papper to taste.

In a large stockpot, cook diced bacon until crisp. (I use a Calphalon 6 1/2 quart stock pot - perfect size for this or an 8 quart is great as well). Add oil and heat. Add onion, fennel and garlic. Saute until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add flour and stir while cooking for about 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add diced potatoes and cook until barely tender.

Add corn and cream and bring to a boil. Season with cayenne sauce, salt and pepper. Serve hot.

NOTES: I prefer to cook the bacon in a separate, small fry pan so I don't have bacon grease in the stockpot with the rest of the chowder. I cook the bacon till it's barely done and then transfer with a slotted spoon to the large stockpot with the onion, garlic and fennel.

If you are using frozen corn add it in very last minute so it doesn't get too tough.

Serve hot! This soup is a MEAL with corn bread or sourdough bread.
From the book: Cooking with Caprial, by Caprial Pence, 1996