Love of Cooking Re-discovered - Yet Again

Up until my senior year of college I pretty much existed on my Mom's amazing cooking, Dad's gift of the barbecue (steaks, salmon, burgers, chicken, pork tenderloin) and later on college dorm food or what our sorority house cook prepared for us.  Far better than the dorm food on campus for sure.

Then, I lived off campus my senior year in an apartment and "suddenly" had to figure out how to cook for myself on a regular basis (with a fabulous roommate too). I think we were allowed to eat on campus as non-campus students a certain small amount of meals per week and we tried to stay true to that and not cheat.  Cheating might have been more about grabbing a couple cases of toilet paper and discreetly sneaking them out of the sorority house back to our apartment.  Food-wise I think we did alright with the mac & cheese, Swedish pancakes on Sundays, a few hits and misses and probably a lot of backup plans ordering in pizza when we were just too pooped out or clueless to cook.

I had a roommate (a different one, actually a friend from both high school and college) after graduation for about 3 years and we each tried expanding our cooking skills and did fairly well.  Stuff like roasted chicken, Boboli pizza with various toppings and pastas with pesto sauces.

Then she bought a house and I in turn found a different apartment on my own.  It was 1992 and I was 25.  And as far as cooking was concerned, I was on my own as well.

If I remember correctly - the specifics can be fuzzy after nearly 20 years - I had to start over with finding silverware, dishes, glasses, cookware - the whole works.  My college apartment roommate and post-college roommate had each acquired impressive collections so I had no need to get my own.

I then found myself spending a lot of time - and money - at cooking outlet shops, the Bon Marche (which is now Macy's), Costco...you name it.  But on a tight budget for sure.  I was still trying to re-balance having an apartment ON MY OWN compared with splitting rent, utilities and everything down the middle - food included.  Along with purchasing basic kitchen supplies I hadn't needed to buy before.

My Mom and grandmother shared a few recipes and cookbooks along the way and for some reason I resisted really diving in at first.  I knew how to boil water, make pasta, make omlettes or scrambled eggs for breakfast, make coffee - but beyond that it was pretty tame.

Then for some reason I had the urge...the urge to COOK.

Perhaps it was partly because of the sudden appearance of cable TV at my apartment complex a couple years after I moved in.  Suddenly I had access to home decor channels, food network, you name it.  And with no increase in my rent!  [I found out later the free cable access was a mistake on the cable company's part - I should have been getting charged but I didn't for nearly a year.  Thankfully the cable company did not back-bill me!]

I became fascinated with cooking in the Italian and larger Mediterranean realm and scooped up a few cookbooks. I devoured Nick Stellino's and Caprial Pence's cooking shows - and their cookbooks.  And I blew the dust off my Grandmother's gift to me from a few years prior, a collection of recipes from the Women's University Club Seattle Chapter.  You know, that Hungarian stew with paprika wasn't so hard after all!  Mom's gift of a Sunset magazine subscription?  Always chock full of recipes.  And I cherished them... and lovingly transferred my favorites onto receipe cards in my newly-acquired stainless steel recipe card holder.

Cooking for me was a total trial and error.  And with that, it became a joy.  I threw away my perfectionist tendencies and got down and dirty, sensual, with the food.  Because in the end, who cares if it's not perfect?  You can always try it again later.

Over the years I learned that I was too lazy to halve recipes designed to serve 4 to 6.  If I was cooking just for me, I'd do the whole works and then save the rest as leftovers.  The times I was super single and not dating anyone...well, I'd carve out a Saturday or Sunday and try out a new recipe and just enjoy it the next few nights.  I bought a spice jar holder that was stair-stepped style so you could see the jars in the back as well as the front.  And, staying true to my Mom's habit, I alphabetized my spices A-Z.  I still do to this day.

So I'd grown to love this food-love within me and relished going to grocery stores to hunt down wonderful foods, list in hand.  I then discovered Chefs Catalogue and wound up with a Corian block knife holder - so much more "me" than the traditional wood ones.  I still have it 15 years later.

I took a couple of cooking classes - what fun!  Really expanded my portfolio - and confidence - about whipping up quick but delicious pasta sauces.

Paella: this is LOVE in a large, wonderful pan.  It became my signature dish for a medium-sized crowd.

And then for some reason, fast forward a lot more years - I fell off the cooking wagon.  This is more recently, mind you.

When I was out of work a good chunk of this past year, I resorted back to old, cheap favorites like mac & cheese, pasta with sauce out of a jar and popcorn for lunch. Yikes.  Almost a shameful regression, for my confidence in cooking and living on my own was a slow and delicious 18-year crescendo if you will.  And how sad it got temporarily lopped off.

But given my tenacious nature, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the joy of cooking came back to me.

Recently I took a look at the ingredients label on one of my jarred pastas and was not surprised to see high fructose corn syrup and a bunch of other shizz I nor no one else needs to put in their bodies.

With that, I pulled out some tried and true pasta sauce recipes and swore to myself I would - once again - ONLY use pasta sauces made from scratch.  So much healthier, right?

One of my favorite pasta sauce-making tools is a Cuisinart stick (hand held) small blender my Mom gave me back in those early "first time on my own" years.  I honestly had no idea how in hell to use it or for what until I took an Italian cooking class and learned one, wonderful purpose:  use it to puree whole tomatoes in a 28 oz. can.  No joke.

Are you still with me? 
Here are a few of my all-time favorite cookbooks:
Mediterranean Flavors, by Nick Stellino
Now You're Cooking, by Elaine Corn
Now You're Cooking for Company, by Elaine Corn
Cooking with Caprial, by Caprial Pence

There are so many other cookbooks I just adore - Southwest, Mediterranean, Raw, Vegan, Gluten-Free - probably worth a few more posts to dive in further!

I'll close with my tried and true basic pasta sauce, which is wonderful for just about anything you want to add to it.  But trust me, it's bursting with flavor on its own.

Basic Pasta Sauce - Serves 4
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T Extra Virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh basil leaves, minced or 2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 can (28 oz) pear tomatoes with their juice
1/2 C dry red wine
1/2 tsp hot chili flakes

In a medium-sized sauce pan, combined the onion, garlic and olive oil over medium-high heat.  Stir until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add minced basil along with the tomatoes, wine and chili flakes.

Boil until reduced to about 3 cups - 10 minutes, stirring often.  Can simmer on very low heat 30 - 45 minutes afterwards, stirring occasionally.  Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Tip:  I use my stick blender to puree the whole tomatoes right in their can.  This is straight-up advice from the woman who taught our Italian cooking class a few years ago and I'm a believer after making this sauce countless times in 10 years.  Why not start with pure, whole tomatoes?  It takes just a minute or two to get a wonderful, flavorful puree for your sauce.

Remove the lid from a 28 oz can of tomatoes.  Puree the tomatoes, gently, right in the can with the stick blender using the pulse feature.  There is a metal hood on the blender so the tomatoes should not spill out of the can.

Another tip:  I use minced garlic in a jar instead of fresh garlic.  A half teaspoon of garlic from a jar is the same as one clove fresh, minced garlic, and while I prefer to use fresh vs. jarred THIS is a shortcut that no one will detect, trust me!

Buon appetito!


The Silence of Sunday

I just went downstairs to pour myself another cup of coffee and I realized something...it's so quiet!  If you live in an urban area or have a busy household with kids and pets you probably know how rare this is.  Even for me here in a suburban area (and no kids or pets) I still have a bit of constant street noise on the main road - something that's increased as our neighborhood has developed over the years - but you get used to it.

But today it's extra quiet - and that quiet was jarring.  Hardly any cars are on the roads and no one is out walking their dogs or outside doing yardwork.  Hmmm, looks like it rained last night - the streets are damp and we've got heavy clouds and mist on a magical late August morning.  Wasn't it just sizzling in the high 90s a week ago?  Fall is teasing us with a preview of what's around the corner.

Am I ready to say goodbye to summer?  Honestly, no.  We really haven't had a consistent summer here this year and as I've likely written before, I tend to mentally plunge into Fall kicking and screaming, resisting every day that draws closer to that change of season.  Don't get me wrong - there are tons of things I love about Fall.  Changing leaves. Crispy air. Cashmere sweaters.  Boots.  Hockey season.  Maybe there's a bit of ingrained "back to school" drudgery deep in the body rhythms that still flares up the resistance.

Alrighty then.  I'm going to be shameless here and not sheepish:  my post on Friday (yeah, I am doing two posts this weekend so it's bonus time) was about my unexpected back pain which prevented me from attending a high school reunion I'd been looking forward to for months!  I couldn't move without twinges and even twinge'd just sitting or standing still!  What's the other funky part?  Well, I had a 5K early Saturday morning (yesterday) and somehow, no joke, my back was completely FINE yesterday.  What the F?  And how dorky or flakey does it sound when people ask hey, fivenineteen, how was your weekend?  Me:  well, I had back pain on Friday which I never have and couldn't attend a high school reunion that night but somehow the next morning my back was just fine and back to normal so I did a 5K - ???  Anyone see how weird this is?  But it's my truth.

There was something special about this 5K - it's the same one I did exactly one year ago - my very first!  How much has cycled through life in this past year...no job, a short-term job, no job for months and now this new job I'm currently in...a short relationship of sorts earlier this year...I could go on and on!  So it was awesome coming back to this 5K - my 4th now under my belt - knowing a lot more what to expect.

T and I did this one together just as we did for the one in Seattle proper a few weeks ago.  This was the Snoqualmie Railroad Days 5K and 10K (with a 1K for kids) so it's a fun contrast running in rural areas vs. in the city proper.  And this is a very flat, fast course which is why it's very popular.

I woke up Saturday expecting to have more back pain and wonder how I would squeak through the 5K. But - oddly and miraculously - I had none.  It was early and I rolled out of bed and got into my running attire.  Yep, going on day 2 now of not showering so I was feeling a little stinky.

T and I carpooled to the race site and we went over to pick up our packets (t-shirt, timing chip for your shoe and bib number to pin on your shirt).  We had a good laugh when the the volunteer first couldn't find T's packet but then after looking at a long master list realized they had her registered for the 10K, not the 5K!  And T burst out with a oh HELL to the NO...what the F?  Hilarious! 

The course was just as beautiful as I remembered and it was a good turnout of around 350 (compare that to 3500 at the one in Seattle!).  I finished with a time of 40:37 - last year it was 38:23.  But in the end, who cares?  I had a blast and I had not been training as actively this year for this one and walked a few intervals.  It still feels good crossing that finish line with everyone cheering!

We had a fun group over at T's house to celebrate her birthday too...what's not to love about a girls' night in with laughing, wine and munchies?  And homemade cupcakes thanks to T's boyfriend too!  We were looking forward to meeting him but it turns out he had to work.  D is an extremely talented musician (singer-songwriter, plays guitar) - we had his CD as our background music and watched one of his videos on YouTube.  I'm impressed! Rock and country with a heavy dose of Jimmy Buffett woven in.  Love it!

And as I got out of bed this morning, relishing the laziness of Sunday, my upper legs and abs reminded me of yesterday's 5K.  A few aches and sore muscles!

But good aches.


Is it Back Pain with a touch of something else?

Let's get one thing straight here.  Back pain and I are as far apart as the East is from the West.  And for that I couldn't be happier.  So whatever the fuck happened last night has got me scratching my head and constantly shifting around sitting and standing to get through these twinges today.

I must have slept funky last night.  No reason for that as our weather's cooled down considerably (I honestly don't mind unusual mid/upper 90s temperatures here in the summer) - that's around 36c for those who think Celsius - but it IS hard to get to sleep when it's super warm.  It's a toss up between opening a window which means a lot of street noise but fresher air, or no street noise and hot, stagnant air.  And while work is busy and timelines are tight, I truly feel I can "shut off" my brain in the evening and just table anything on my mind until the next morning.  I don't let work issues keep me up at night...this is actually a huge difference compared to how I was a decade or so ago now that I think about it! 

I'm very grateful to have the technology to work from home.  Because that's what I did today!  But after so much time out of work it truly is a joy to get up, commute and work with lots of people on challenging issues.  Oh yeah, there's politics and all, but I'll take being around people and decent paychecks over sitting at home job hunting any day!  And the fact my one lone meeting today was canceled (so rare having zero meetings on any given day), well that sealed the deal. 

So as I sat here on the work laptop and I continued to stretch, twist and move around to stop the back twinges, I realized something else:  tonight was my 25th high school reunion gathering. 

Has it REALLY been 25 years since high school?  Frankly, I'm in denial, people. Ahh yes, high school.  How was it for you?  Wonderful or miserable?  For me it was all kinds of wonderful.  Sure there were problems and drama but overall I had a blast.  But with very few exceptions, high school was its own isolated Capsule of Goodness.  Meaning, once it was over, I kept in touch with very few people.  It might sound a little strange, but the door that closed that era off was pretty thick.

And I had been looking forward to attending this reunion, for I'd missed our 10th and 20th.  Now it looks like the 25th is a no-go for me too.  Meanwhile thanks to the magic of Facebook I've reconnected with quite a few high school friends and it's been amazing! 

So what's the deal here?  Is there a teeny bit of insecurity preventing me from going to my high school reunion?  Ummm, well, possibly but I hope *if* that's part of the dealio that it's a teensy piece.  Because, honestly, after 25 years I don't need to prove anything to my high school classmates. Enough Life has gone by to where we've all been up, down and all around right?

And yet there's a part of me that needs to feel "on" for events like these.  But yet I feel so "off" with this back pain.  Should I care I'm about 30 lbs heavier than I was a couple years ago?  Should I care I'm a couple weeks overdue for a hair color touchup and can't get an appointment till next weekend?  That I need a mani/pedi something fierce?  That I barely slept last night and am feeling like shit on a stick?  Let's go deeper...how about that I'm still single?  That it's just me showing up with no husband or kids in tow like 99.999% of everyone will be doing? 

I feel like a turd for bailing at the last minute.  I'm not one to do this AT ALL and I hope most people out there who know me don't think me as flakey.  When I commit to showing up somewhere I am there.  I normally don't let pain interfere either.  I've taken a few bumps and hits along the way in hockey and don't let that stop me from going to work the next day.  But I've never had a back injury in hockey, knock on wood.  So I'm not used to dealing with or working through this type of pain. 

For now, I will stretch, rest, think happy thoughts to my classmates enjoying tonight and hope for some rest and no pain tomorrow. 


Uber Casual Koolaid

I've got a tri-fecta work wardrobe dilemma these days:

1. My new workplace is extremely casual.  And honestly, that's not something I've been exposed to super often the past 4-5 years at other various jobs.  Sure, there's a general type of business casual (which may bring to mind things like khaki pants with nice shirts/blouses) but this place is casual on a whole other level.  Jeans and polo shirts or t-shirts are de riguere and flip flops or sandals are just fine in the summer.  Even shorts this time of year are OK as long as they're not too short.  We're all about loose-fitting, cargo style here for those who choose to rock the shorts (we mostly leave that to the guys).  And all of this, believe it or not, is just not the norm in most workplaces around here, even in the casual Pacific Northwest.  We're far from the more urban vibe of our downtown city where you would likely see more people in suits and ties.  Ties are as rare as white tigers on our work campus - if I spot someone in one I joke that they are either going to an interview or a funeral.

2. I'm working hard to rebuild my savings after all these months unemployed so I'm reluctant to spend a whole lot on new clothes given that, plus the fact I've pudged up this past year (Stress?  Poor eating habits?).  This work assignment is slated to last a year and then could get immediately extended another year and so on, but anything can happen in the meantime and I'm just not sure - yet - if I will still be on board a year from now.  I'm looking forward to investing/putting down roots somewhere but as many of you might know it's been quite a zig-zagged work journey since about 2006. 

3. It's summer.  And whether I'm size 6 or size 14 I've always resisted dropping a lot of cash on summer clothes.  In the Seattle area it's just not worth it because our summers are pretty short.  Fall and winter clothes are a different story.  Around here you can rock the gabardine slacks, cashmere sweaters, boots, clogs, scarves/shawls pretty much three seasons of the year.  Not to mention jackets:  leather jackets, trench coats, heavier pea coats for the winter and, my all-time favorite, camel hair coats.

So...what's a girl to do?

J. Crew to the rescue!!

You know, looking back on it now it's starting to make sense.  Remember a few months ago when I was all pissed off about a comment an interviewer made that I was "overdressed"??  That comment actually came from a different hiring manager at this same company I'm at now.  And now that I've been at said company nearly three months (in a different department from that other manager but in the same building if you can believe it), I'm starting to chug more Casual Koolaid and understand the large bubble of this large, well-known company I'm working at.  It's very much its own world in tons of ways.  Dress code included.

My "overdressed" look for that interview that went nowhere was my typical interview uniform:  a grey Trina Turk light wool short-sleeved sheath dress that buttons up the back and is just above the knee, black Jimmy Choo pumps and very sheer pantyhose.  That look never failed me on countless interviews (well, up until that one time) and I could get dressed in two minutes.  Plus, a dress is a nice substitute for a suit; I tend to run a little warm in body temperature, so not having the extra layer of a blazer or suit jacket is perfect.

So, I admit, I now see how at this particular company that that outfit was too over the top, as understated as it is.  Le Sigh.  And if that was a deal-breaker for the hiring manager, well, I have no words.  But in the end it wasn't meant to be.  I'm with a different group in that same building and really enjoy my team.  We're all a little crazy and there's a common thread of adrenaline junkie woven in between us.

Now, back to J. Crew!  I've sung their praises for years both in the catalogue and in the stores.  Classic with a stylish twist.  My only gripe is that everything is cut small, so I have to go up one size from my usual - not very much fun psychologically but in the end we wear our clothes, not the size numbers advertised outside, right?

And the outlet store up at the Premium Outlets - a short drive north of here - has some real gems.  Outlet shopping is very hit or miss but when it's a hit it's a HIT.   Case in point some black wool gabardine slacks I snatched up last year.  They're cut with very flattering wider legs, fully lined and sit right on the hips - $140.  They're very flowing and slimming and I probably wore them 2 or 3 times a week at previous jobs.

Come to think of it, I wore those slacks at my interview for the job I now have!

But now, they're just too dressy around our team.  Plus the nice weather and all - well, summer's been a tad schizo this year but in general it's warm - makes them too warm.

So...thanks to the outlets plus clearance sales online I've picked up a few pieces that are my work mainstays right now:

Khakis!  I found a fun pair that are cargo-style with lots of pockets and zippers and with a drawstring tie at the waist.  And I even saw another woman on campus wearing this exact style too!  My other staple is a cropped pair (the Skimmer pant) which is menswear tailored but capri style.  These are a little dressier but look great with nice flats or high-wedged sandals.  So versatile!  And the fabric is cotton but has just a tiny bit of stretch which makes them even more comfortable.

As we get back into fall and crisper days I'll be ready to bust out my corduroy pants...found a couple in winter white and a light charcoal grey that are perfect for work.

Shirts and tank tops!  How can you pass up $5 ribbed knit tanks at the outlet store?  I grabbed one in light purple and one in light sea green which are wonderful additions to those I already have in tan, black and white.  These are awesome for layering and I typically wear them under a chambray shirt, about halfway unbuttoned at the top so you can see the tank peeking through.  Chambray is a lightweight denim-looking fabric and it's come and gone in and out of style over the years as I've noticed, but it seems to now be back "in" again so I'm happy to indulge.  The light blue color is very flattering for me with my skin tone.  I added a second chambray shirt in a much paler blue to my collection and recently discovered it has tabs inside the sleeves so you can roll them up and button about halfway up the arm!  So THAT'S what that funny thing was inside the sleeve!!

Denim.  Are you sitting down?  I have not worn a pair of jeans IN ABOUT ONE YEAR.  No joke!  Sounds absolutely insane, doesn't it?  In fact, I'm surprised none of my co-workers have teased me about how they haven't spotted me in jeans one single day at work.  And if they did I certainly wouldn't take offense - we routinely take small jabs at eachother and have very healthy, resilient senses of humor.

So why haven't I worn jeans in forever?  Back to part of the dilemmas I mentioned first off in this post - I can't fit into the jeans I currently have (grrrr) AND I am a bit of a denim snob and haven't wanted to spend a lot on the brands I like.  But given my weight gain I couldn't fit into them likely anyway, even in the largest sizes.  Yuck.

I finally caved and bought some motivation - J.Crew denim on sale!  I found a pair of jeans in their Destroyed wash, which already has some rips in it and a worn-in look like you've had them for years.  I've seen this trend in a LOT of denim brands and I really, really like it!  But nothing beats a pair of crisp, dark denim jeans - which is pretty much my signature look in the fall/winter paired up with black high-heeled boots or clogs.  In the meantime, these jeans are calling for me to whittle down that pudge.  They fit fine in the hips/butt, BUT the waist and tummy area is another story.  This was the largest size they had in the ones on sale so time to get to work.  I also found a denim jacket and a denim vest too.  These will be fun to pair up with t-shirts or cashmere later into the season!

So while this corporate campus' dress code is far from traditional "corporate," I'm adapting and slowly getting used to it.  Admittedly it's not how I like to dress for work but you can't deny the fact it's comfortable!

I keep true to my love of accessories (shoes, handbags, jewelry) to really personalize these looks to my style.  I've spent a lot on shoes and sandals over the years and thankfully have invested in styles that are fairly timeless and classic and (hopefully) add a twist of extra panache to my casual attire.  My Hogan flip flops are amazing and have a crocodile type strap with a gold ornamental loop that's perfect with my J. Crew khakis (and shorts for home).  The grey Coach flip flops pretty much go with anything, and I really like my high-wedged Car Shoe sling backs (black patent leather uppers with a straw-like wedge heel).  Car Shoe is a sister line to Prada, actually.  I feel better when I'm in heels, not flats, actually as heels give me a longer-legged look (I was 'blessed' with super short legs, but that's fodder for another post).  I keep the higher heels and wedges for days when I don't have meetings in other buildings.  Heels slow me down when I'm dashing from building to building, laptop under my arm!

Jewelry!  I kinda feel naked now when I don't have a bracelet of some sort on my right wrist and have a pretty eclectic collection.  Silpada is one of my favorite brands, however it's a little on the pricey side (yet so worth it) so I am just enjoying what I have in the meantime.  Ummm, but I did splurge a couple months ago and picked up a J. Crew mixed bracelet (the pastiche, which is the picture up top except mine is silvery grey instead of gold). Isn't it a wonderful cluster of pearls, chains and twisted strands of rhinestones?  It looks great and doesn't get in the way being on a laptop at work.  A fun conversation piece!

I really like the trend of chunky, semi-precious stones or crystals in jewelry these days...things that are a little bold and brash, not trying to imitate "real" stones by any means.  And I really like pairing up stuff like that with casual looks - I see this a lot in J.Crew catalogues and it's just fabulous. I also like stacking multiple bracelets or bangles too - love the statement effect!  When the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale came around I scored a fabulous set of hematite bangles in random patterns.  36 thin bracelets for $36!  The entire stack is about 6" long or so, so I wear about a third of that when I go to work. 

What else do I do to stay true to my style?  I try to keep my hair and makeup simple, yet impeccable.  And I bring a handbag to work that makes me smile.  Kooba, Coach and Louis Vuitton are some of my favorite designers, and I'm proud of my handbag collection.  A collection which remains static for now as I rebuild savings.  Great accessories are great no matter what size we are, right?

That reminds me...I need to get at least one workout this weekend.  Because I'm really looking forward to being able to some day tuck in my shirts again.


Inspiration...where does it come from?

I just have to start out this post by sharing this is THE first time I've been asked by one of my followers to blog about a specific topic.  And no, no money exchanged hands before, during or after, ha ha ha.  Fivenineteen here, serving up responses to your requests hot and fresh!  So if any of the other three of you who tune in here have something you'd like me to ramble about, I'd love to hear from you.  I actually have the comments now enabled (baby steps, baby steps) or you can email me through my profile/contact info.

"...would you consider writing about having support and inspiration to be the best in your workplace (and in your life). Where do you find inspiration?"

Where do I find inspiration?  It starts even further upstream than that as I think through this. I think to be inspired you first have to have an open mind.  And that's something I'm committed to having throughout my life no matter how long I live.  People always have told me oh, just wait, when you get older you'll get more set in your ways.  I like to think - hope - that that won't ever happen to me.  I shudder at the thought of becoming a close-minded old crank someday - horrors!  But then again there are a lot of things in my life that have gradually gelled and crystalized - style, opinions - in very broad brush strokes.  Yet I am always curious about what's out there, what's new and up and coming and how others view things. And I think through that curiosity is where I glean inspiration.

Inspiration is multi-pronged in my world.  I get inspired on what to strive for as well as what NOT to do. 

Back when I was around 23 or 24 I worked for a freight forwarding and international logistics company not far from the major airport here.  We were essentially travel agents for cargo - air freight, ocean freight, you name it.  This was early on in my career and I was still very green in oh so many things, and it was only my second "real" full-time job after finishing college.  Admittedly I was still in that "hey, I have a college degree and why am I having to do this menial, clerical bullshit paper-pushing work."  Now I know -  it's called Paying Your Dues. 

And then there was my boss.

Talk about stereotypical red-faced, sweaty, obese, explosively hot-tempered - the list goes on.  I'm surprised the guy didn't pop a jugular or ever have a heart attack right there in the office.  He was a tricky one alright, for while he was VERY knowledgeable and experienced in the industry - truly someone I could learn a lot from - his delivery was all kinds of Asshole.  But I will never forget him for sure.  I learned SO much from that blowhard - I learned a lot about the shipping industry AND I also learned how NOT to treat people.  And I silently made a vow to myself that if I was ever privileged someday to have a staff of my own that I would NEVER treat them the way he treated me and the rest of our team.  Oy. 

And sometimes inspiration sits right beside you in the cubicle farm instead of hotly breathing down your neck at random times a la that Manager.  Case in point - my co-worker, J.  How she put up with my early 20-something brattiness I don't know but now looking back on it now she really took me under her wing.  J was about 10 years older than I and - what a small world - had been a student of my grandmother's when my grandmother taught Home Economics for many years at one of the high schools here in the area.  When we made that connection she even gasped, "I can see the resemblance!"  Wow.

When it comes to keeping an open mind and being curious about the world, my grandparents (Dad's side) take the prize.  Even into his 90s, my grandfather always kept up on current events and would ask us questions.  "So, fivenineteen, how does the war in Iraq affect your job industry?"  Ummm...let me think about that - I'm not exactly sure!  They always started out each morning doing a couple of crossword puzzles together - likely that's good 'mental' exercising as I've heard.  They traveled constantly, fully enjoying their retirement, until perhaps the bodies slowed down and it became too difficult.  And, counter to most all other residents in their retirement home, they took computer classes and learned how to surf the internet and do email.  At age 75 or so!  How many of you out there can say you get email from your 94 year old grandmother?  Yes, my friends, I do. In very, very large font, of course, as the eyes aren't what they used to be.  My grandfather passed away a few years ago but I am blessed - and yes, truly inspired - by the love, strength and tenacity of my grandparents.  And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if grandma ends up on Facebook some day!

I can only hope to have a small slice of that kind of open-mindedness as my decades roll by.  Who knows what is next around the corner in the world of technology, blogging, social networking, for example?  Will all of this current "stuff" be laughingly passee in 20-30 years?  Probably.

My Mom has taught me about the committment to volunteerism and service above all else.  I could go on and on about the multitude of things she has inspired in me but this is what first comes to mind.  Mom stayed at home raising my brothers and me while my Dad worked - your typical suburban family arrangement back in those days, as it wasn't very common in my circle of friends to have two working parents.

But I remember very vividly how busy my Mom was, in addition to taking care of kids and the house.  The phone.  The phone was ALWAYS ringing and ladies were coming and going in and out of the house constantly for what I didn't know.  More than likely it was a fund raising meeting of some sort; I just didn't understand as a young girl why everyone was gathered in the living room talking about things so passionately!  I can remember being barely tall enough to see over the kitchen countertop while Mom was sitting on a barstool on the phone with the calendar out and her scribbling stuff all over it.  Busy, busy busy!  So I've never understood the whole stereotypical eating bon-bons and watching soap opera lifestyle of a stay at home Mom.  Because my Mom sure didn't believe in that one iota.  Give your time!  Serve others!  Stay busy!

Dad is my career cheerleader.  As I've shared before, right or wrong my job satisfaction is a big cornerstone in my overall happiness and self-esteem.  So as a lot of you know, being out of work the past 12 months save for a couple took an ENORMOUS toll on me.  And yet, even in that darkness there was a twinkle of inspiration, for I truly think that had I not had all that time on my hands in addition to the job search I would not have been inspired to start up this blog.  And I guess it was meant to be, for I still make sure to carve out time to write in here even now that I'm - so gratefully - back at work!

But Dad has always been there to listen and give advice on how to navigate through challenging situations.  I got SO wrapped around the axle with people's drama and shizz when I first became a supervisor.  I felt very overwhelmed and burdened and Dad was always there to listen as I unloaded.  I didn't always agree at the time with what he had to say but more often than not he was spot-on every time.  And I still consider him one of the smartest people I know.

I think to more recent changes I've made in my life, like taking up hockey and training to run 5Ks...I can thank my friends P and D for that.  Sadly, D and I don't really stay in contact any longer, but I hope she knows how profound her influence was on me to give hockey a try.  Who knew a random question of "hey, do you want to try this beginner clinic with me" would turn into 7 years of skating?  And P's marathon training along with starting up a running club in her town too?  "Try the Couch to 5K program - it's great for beginner runners."  And as of a couple weeks ago I now have 3 5Ks under my belt and another one coming up here later this month.  These two things feed right into my desire to always be open minded to trying new things.  Who cares if I never did team sports as a kid, save for some track and field in junior high?  It's never too late to shake up a routine and try something new.

I learned about teamwork and self-discipline from not one but two of the choir directors I was blessed to have during high school and college.  Singing and ensemble performing was huge for me those years, along with competitions and lots of touring.  That was the kind of education you simply can't get by sticking your nose in a book and I am very grateful to have had the support to pursue this.  My directors were very different personality-wise but at the core they had the leadership and tough love a choir needs to continue to push to be their absolute best.  Can you perform at a top level after a long bus ride and you're feeling a little tired or dehydrated?  Can you drown out the noise around you on a stage or in a church while on tour as you're warming up before a big performance?  Can you rapidly adapt and adjust to funky room acoustics?  How about listening close for the pitch pipe to get started off in a complex chord pattern?  These are the things that carry over for me into my career today, even though singing now is mostly kept for the shower or the radio.  Focus, balance, teamwork.  Showing up on time with your A game ready to rock no matter how tired, distracted or shitty you might be feeling.  Those are the things that singing, touring and performing taught me.

I saw a therapist for awhile about 10 years ago when I was dealing with some depression and loneliness - kind of feeling lost in the sauce of the world and unsure about my life direction and purpose.  In that timeframe I took a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean with a good friend of mine and it was exactly what I needed to get a shot in the arm.  Sunshine, meeting wonderful people, exploring fascinating places in the world I'd never seen before...more food for my soul.

And as I recapped the trip to my therapist I remember asking her, "Where did all these feelings come from? Where can I find them again? I hadn't felt so relaxed and refreshed in years!"

I'll never forget her answer: 

"You don't have to search anywhere to find those feelings. They're already right there inside you.


"Mostly sunny with a slight chance of a thunderstorm..."

So said the weather.com forecast for Cashmere, WA back around last Thursday or so, looking ahead to the weekend.

But hold that thought - we'll come back to it in a bit.

My good friend J's consulting firm hosted a river rafting trip on Saturday for their consultants and any friends, significant others and family members who wanted to sign up.  The total group was over 100 strong and ready for a day of fun on a guided tour down the Wenatchee River!

Those of you who know me well know I always love a good road trip.  On my 4th of July weekend getaway to the coast, the 4-hour drive was definitely part of the whole package of fun.  Same with this rafting trip as well, for it's about a 3 hour drive over the Cascade Mountains into eastern Washington to the town of Cashmere where we met up with the group and the rafting company.

I've always been in awe of the beauty of Washington State as well as its contrasts, for once you head over the mountains into eastern Washington you trade the lush green and marine climate for scrubby brush, desert-like surroundings and heavily-irrigated agriculture.  Two totally different worlds, each beautiful in their own right.

J invited me to be her guest for this outing and I was super-excited to tag along.  The last time I'd done any river rafting was as a teenager on the Truckee River up around the Tahoe area in California.  And it was pretty tame...super shallow and calm water and a few people goofing around on inner tubes.

This was totally different.  And now reflecting back on it, that's a total and complete understatement.

The drive over Stevens Pass takes you up to around 4000' elevation before dropping downward again and into eastern Washington.  Absolutely beautiful, and kind of cool seeing the ski chairlifts sitting quiet and and idle, just waiting for ski season again...

We met up with the rest of the group at Riverside Park in Cashmere and were kept occupied watching a large group of wildfires far up in the hills above where we were standing.  They were bad enough to where the side road up the hills was closed, but not so bad that we were blackened out in smoke as they were super high up.  Still, it was easy to see the smoke from the fires - most likely triggered by lightning strikes on the super dry brush and trees.  Helicopters with long siphons would swoop down in the river to grab water and then fly up in the fire to try to douse them.  Wow!

Now we were ready to get rounded up by the rafting company and get on our way!  I really have to hand it to these tour companies for I'm sure you need to have some deeply-rooted passion and joy for telling (and yelling at) large groups of people to do things in tandem who have probably little to zero idea of what they are doing.  Orchestration!  We each picked up a PFD (personal flotation device, something I've always called a life preserver but whatever) and a paddle.

Then we were transported by bus a few miles west to the town of Leavenworth.  The idea was to start back upstream and then raft back to where we started in the park in Cashmere.  Seems pretty logical, right? 

But no one told me that the transport method was by school bus.  Yes, my friend, I'm talking the old, yellow-orange school busses with the dark green vinyl seats, zero air conditioning, zero seatbelts...straight outta 1960.  And we had to board from back to front, which made sense I suppose.  Lucky me - I got a seat right over the freaking wheel well.

So now here I am on a packed school bus with 70-odd people or so.  And I'm feeling a flashback to maybe 3rd grade.  Only now I'm about 33 years older, with my knees under my chin due to that damn wheel well, in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals with a now-getting-sweaty pfd strapped on - oh, and a long paddle in hand.  And for some reason we waited forever before we left for Leavenworth.  Thankfully we got going after awhile to get some cross ventilation through those open windows!

As we headed toward Leavenworth I felt a few wet drops hit me in the face.  Did someone just spit?  Nope - it was a touch of rain. 

We got to the raft staging area and walked down a trail off the road to meet our guides and get a quick talk about do's and don'ts and basic safety.  Remember, this is a large group of 100+...one of the guides welcomed us and showed us some basics about paddle strokes, commands, everything you'd want to know...

...But let's hop back now to that forecast for a 'chance of a thunderstorm'.  Well, that chance abruptly opened up the sky with a huge bolt of lightning and clap of thunder.

The sky suddenly went dark and opened up with shower-like, pouring down rain.  Huge, dramatic bolts of lighting were striking down in the hills on the other side of the river and the thunder bolts were so loud the ground shook and the guides had to stop talking each time for a few seconds until they stopped.  And we stood there and stood there, trying to listen about safety-related stuff as the rain POURED down. "So if the raft capsizes you should...[a bunch of stuff I couldn't hear]Oh, great.  I was glad to be dressed mostly in synthetics...sports bra and the synthetic t-shirt I wore on last Sunday's 5K.  And I was ready with my Merrell river shoes - great rugged-soled sandals with ankle straps which are good both on the ground and in the water.

Below the waist was a different story.  I do have a couple of pairs of synthetic shorts I got from athleta.com awhile back which I just love - they're a girl's version of board shorts and are perfect in the water as well as casual strolling around town.  Sadly, both are too small for me right now so I had to resort to the good old J. Crew cotton shorts.  After a few minutes in the rain the soaking crept downward into my shorts - and undies too.  And folks, there is NO worse feeling in the world.  Good times.

After the safety lecture (I could probably hear less than 10% of what the guide was saying even between the thunderbolts) we walked down to the river where the rafts were waiting and grouped up into teams of 8.  Keep in mind the rain was still pouring down all this time nonstop.  And we all stood there in a sort of surreal daze wondering if this was really gonna happen or not.  Anyone remember the movie Romancing the Stone (with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner)?  Remember when they were in the jungles of Colombia and the rainstorm suddenly pounds down and they end up on a mudslide?  That was us, sans the mudslide - but I wondered what could possibly happen next.

We stood there for quite awhile and I thought for a split second that this whole thing might possibly be called off.  But then I thought, no, if the guides had any concern about us toodling down a river in severe thunder and lightning they would have scrubbed the whole thing.  We waited out the storm and I guess it was good in a way that by the time we launched our rafts we were already soaking wet.

Onto the river!  We had a 9-mile float down the Wenatchee, about 3 1/2 hours or so.  Absolutely incredible.  Our guide was awesome and did a great job steering us (our job as a rowing crew of 8 was to just paddle when he told us to), as he knew the right parts of the river to be in, where the big, hidden rocks were and on and on.  It was still raining somewhat but was starting to taper off a bit.  But for the first few miles we could still see lightning strikes in the hills around us.  Amazing.

The route was a fun mix of calm water and 6 or 7 sets of rapids, each a little different from eachother.  We got used to the bobbing up and down motions of the raft, learning how to paddle in synch when we needed to and the funny feeling of passing over the large, flat rocks where it was more shallow.  Maybe that's what it's like passing over a large whale?

And we peppered in a few water-related jokes:  "iceberg...dead ahead!!"   or, "...we're gonna need a bigger boat" [that's from Jaws if anyone doesn't recall, heh.].  And, "...what could POSSIBLY happen NOW?"  a la some old Scooby Doo episodes if anyone remembers those.  We had a razor-sharp witted group and really fed off eachother's humor.

When we all first got underway a bunch of people got into splashing eachother big time with the paddles.  And why not, given we were already soaked from standing in the thunderstorm for about 20 minutes?  After awhile, it got old and it died down.  Except for one dickhead who would NOT let up and just kept whaling on us from his raft.  I was thisclose to yelling at him to knock the fuck off but I thought hmmm, I'm a guest of this corporate team-building event and who knows if this douche is a major heavy-hitter in the firm?  He got my visual daggers.  Oh well - when his raft got stuck high and dry for awhile on a large rock I knew Karma, that gorgeous bitch with a capital "K", was watching close.

We saw everything from Osprey nests (complete with actual Ospreys in them) to old, beat up homes (which we jokingly called meth houses), multi milion dollar mansions, bundles of old garbage, a random guy standing by the side of the river alone and texting, a party with dudes cranking bass-loaded music and smoking a ton of pot - it's so funny and amazing taking in the world from the viewpoint of the river.  You trust the water, as our guide told us.  It knows where it's going.

Then at another turn in the river we spotted a woman on the banks by herself yelling at us about "jackets!!"  Some sort of jackets!  What??  Did she need help?  Was she hurt or did she need AAA?  We yelled back at her that we had NO idea what she was trying to say.  Finally the dry-witted guy in our group said "...OK...and YOU have a nice day."  We all roared laughing.  Then our guide explained that she was explaining how the rafting company sells splashjackets - and that she works for the rafting company itself.  Oops!  Here we were ripping on her like she was looney-tunes and turns out we were wrong.  But what were we supposed to do...just shout our orders and Visa numbers from the river?  Too hilarious.

By this time the rain had let up for awhile but it was still a tad overcast.  One of the guys up in the bow looked back at me and joked, "Wow, it's a good thing you brought sunglasses."  Dripping in sarcasm, of course.  At this point I was just glad they were still up on my head.  I'd made a point to leave the nice watch and rings at home but did bring a pair of my favorite sunglasses, knowing there was a teeny risk they'd end up at the bottom of the river.  Even through the roughest rapids, they stayed on top of the ol' head here.  Whew!

At one point we had to pull over onto the shore, pick up our rafts and walk for about 10 minutes on a mud trail to meet up again with the river further downstream.   Turns out this was to avoid having to go over the 8' drop of Dryden Dam, which I suppose was a good thing, ha ha.  We even saw a few crudely-painted wooden signs on the river that said "move right."  And one of the guys exclaimed, "HEY!  Movie night!!"  And we all cracked up.  Maybe he needs his eyes checked?  And maybe he shouldn't have been one of our leads up front?  We were dying laughing. 

As we were hauling the raft over land (called "portage" as I learned), I declared outloud:  "OK, this is the Lewis and Clark portion of our trip."  And everyone laughed again.  That's how it was this entire afternoon - nothing but water, laughs and an occasional sunbreak!

There were 7 or 8 rafts total in our group - turns out a few people out of the original group of 100 or so did opt out due to the thunder and lightning.  Our raft was one of the last ones to launch, so we had a funny view downstream of a couple of other rafts in our group who were well-equipped with water soaker guns and we laughed as they kept blasting eachother nonstop the entire time.  Ahhh, everyone loves a water-logged Gaza Strip!

The last set of rapids was the most intense and we screamed and whooped the entire time.  Our guide would give us the command to row "forward!".  But there were times we were tilted over so much I had nothing to row but air for a few split seconds!  Too funny!

Afterwards we met up in Riverside Park again to be welcomed by a fabulous steak barbecue with the whole works - corn on the cob, rolls, potato salad and lemonade.  But before all this, J and I and a few others REALLY wanted to change out of our wet clothes.  The funny part was was that we were about 20 miles away from the hotel where we were going to be staying and hadn't checked in yet.  What to do?

Turns out there was a community clubhouse not far from where we were parked with restrooms inside, but the restroom was packed full of a bunch of girls in evening gowns getting ready for a Sweet 16 party.  Oops!  Where else could we change?  We did it one at a time and old school, wrapping in polar fleece blankets hidden between the car and some large trees.  One changed while the other stood guard.  Hilarious!  But so worth it to get into dry clothes.

After the barbecue we headed further east into Wenatchee to get checked into the hotel, unpack and get some well-deserved showers.  Turns out the fiance's brother of my friend's co-worker (how's that for Six Degrees) was the GM of the hotel where we were staying and not only picked us all up to take us out for pizza and beers but also made sure we had the lowest rate possible on our rooms.  Love that!

So we had a few more laughs recapping the day at McGlinns in Wenatchee; well worth a stop if you are ever out that way.  Good food and nice people.

I was so glad we had decided to stay overnight in town rather than drive back 3 hours over the mountains so tired and drained.  J and I grabbed breakfast in the morning and had a wonderful drive back, complete with a surprise fog cover over Stevens Pass - so thick we barely knew when we'd gone over the summit! 

What an amazing 24 hours....it felt wonderful getting out of town after pretty much feeling like a homebody the past year or so. 

Sign me up for next year!