Sunday, January 30, 2011

Minor accomplishments, coming to terms with a few things.

First is an update of minor importance but a victory nonetheless: I WON the Fifth Third essay contest, and therefore, my entry into the River Bank Run was free! The value of the prize was only $38, but it's $38 that is still in my pocket. Feel generous, I donated $5 for a special YMCA running bib with my entry form so I am officially a runner on May 14 in the River Bank Run!

Training for the run is coming along in fits and starts, but I am now up to a mile and a half doing a fast-paced jog, not quite a run. Eh, my goal is endurance and finish, not setting any land records. My goal for the next month is to get to 2 miles with the ultimate goal of trying to do 3.1 miles on 3/1. Cool, huh?!

My other goal was to write an artist statement and begin a painting for inclusion into the Healer's Art juried exhibition at Pine Rest. Several ideas have gone through my head until I settled on one strong idea. The light washed canvas is far from complete, but it's that first initial stroke that is the most important. I'm hoping my proposal is accepted and I am added to the list of artists showing in the gallery.

I also have ideas about what I'm going to do for ArtPrize this year! It's cute, clever and has the potential to be a charming, interactive piece. For obvious reasons, I'm not willing to share it here until its been constructed, but I really love the idea behind it. I hope to capture others imagination as well.

The baby is in good health and having been in and out of hosptials and doctor's offices, we are crossing one thing after another off his list. So far, no more Dr. Dodge, the developmental specialist; no more Dr. Utvigult; no more eye doctor; and as late as tomorrow, no more Dr. Roeloff. We will be working with a speech pathologist, but in the meantime, we are still working on Will's speaking skills.

As for coming to terms with things... well, it's now been two years since I was employed in my field. I've gone on countless job interviews, I've tried changing my portfolio, changing my interview outfits (thanks Glamour and allure!), changing my hair, defending my hair, then finally accepting my hair. I've tried on various personalities in the process - perky, studious, aggressive, quirky, eager, and not-too-eager. The success has been in the fact in this market I'm able to GET an interview, but there has been a marked failure in getting past the first, second and even third interview.

I've asked interviewers to be honest and frank with me about this failure at landing the job, and the good news is it's not a question of my resume or my portfolio. Question is: what is it? A recruiter has told me the market is simply saturated with people and my theory is if employers can hire someone with half my experience cheaper, they will.

My sole consolation career-wise has been the frelance work I have produced to keep my resume fresh and current, and the new clients I have recently acquired that has made me feel successful and relevant.

But what I need to do for myself is come to terms with the fact that as Michigan is mired in the recession, it may be a while until I get a job in my field again, if ever. I was so proud of my professional accomplishments, but I can't let the loss of a job define me and depress me. It's amazing to see what I've accomplished in the last two years and must embrace and claim it.

As such, I received in the mail the invitation to the service awards for the position I'm currently in. A co-worker, seeing my distress in recieving the honor, encouraged me to see myself and my postion for what it is. I did a GREAT job in the marketing department when I was there, typically going above and beyond what was asked. I created great work, did great things, had a good time doing it. I did nothing to cause the elimination of my position, as hard as it is to accept.

Then there's my current postion, she argued. I made a bad situation and created a solution. I worked to train myself in a position and have been successful, and provided for my family. There's no shame in any of this.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trash Day Gourmet With Mel

What's so special about Tuesday? Well, given my wonky work schedule, one could say that Tuesday is my Monday. It is also garbage day, the unceremonious day when decisions about the freshness of foodstuffs in our fridge are made.

It's more than just the day of reckoning for leftovers. It has become a time of creativity in stretching the food dollar in new and tasty ways.

Last week was a boon for whipping up leftovers into new dishes instead of throwing them away. One sad, wrinkled, lonely roma tomato was diced fine and after making a roux out of olive oil, garlic and herbs, become a seductive chunky red sauce paired with a handful of elbow macaroni. I made a slight mistake in burning the roux slightly which resulted in a toasty, summery flavor.

Two heads of wilted baby lettuce were brought back to life with a soak in cold water. On day 1, Tuesday, one head was chopped into a salad bowl and decorated with leftover steak sliced thin, a pinch of cheese, some cherry tomatoes, a couple of green onions that weren't too wilted, half an avacado, and cucumber. It was every bit as delicious as expected.

Head #2 was consumed on Wednesday. What adorned this masterpiece? Leftover taco meat, more cheese, cukes, carrots, the last of the onions, more tomatoes, and a couple packets of sauce from Taco Bell. Yum for the border!

A few other items were repackaged for eating for later. We had a venison roast that was a bit too freezerburnt to keep too much longer, but still good enough to make. A slow roast in the slow cooker kept it tender and Dave recooked it the next day slow in barbeque sauce. The gamey was tamed by the sweet and smoky.

Ah, but for today, there was more tossing and cosuming to be done. There's really no culinary magic to be done with bologna, and while it passed the sniff test today, I worried that it would not be the case in a couple of days. What's a girl to do but fry it up and eat it with mustard! I also sliced up an avacado for a taste of summer instead of throwing it in the trash.

The strawberries were no longer sweet and plump, and the cherries, imports from Chile, were looking tired too. Removed the tops from the strawberries, pitted the cherries, and threw it all in a blender with a splash of grape juice for color and moisture. The fruits roared back to life and will be tasty stirred in oatmeal and cream of wheat, our breakfast cereals of choice for the winter.

Ah, but there are other things that simply go bad. We bid farewell to the mushrooms, fungi that was no longer fun; baby food that didn't age well in the fridge; sour cream that turned. There have been instances in the past where we simply asked "what the heck is that!?" and dumped it.

All this food eating, casseroling and dumping has made bellies in our house quite happy but this leads to the inevitable task I do not want: off to the grocery store! At least we know there's going to be some great specials heading into Superbowl week.

Bon apetit!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Road trip!

My friend Julie, lover of books and especially fond of gatherings forwarded the message to me that Johnny Weir, 3-time National champion and two-time Olympian, would be in Okemos to sign and promote his book. Was I interested?

Was I!

I immediately sent out the mass email to the skater girls to see who wanted to drive the 84 miles to see the star of Johnny Be Good. Leslie and Becky signed up for the trip.

Any casual followers of skating and Weir know the many quirks and peccadillos of his personality. His love of fashion, combined with some unfortunate photos of an anonymous woman in a sad knit top at his book signing in NYC inspired the three of us to pull out the stops and glam it up for the event. Leslie and Bex went for stilletos, fur and belts; I went for skinny jeans, a DKNY empire-waist top and motorcycle boots. Makeup by Ulta, hair by God, attitude by me.

The trip across state went quickly as we shared stories from college, played dance songs and laughed at our fandom making an otherwise dull Monday night noteworthy.

Anxious that the store would be crammed with the hoardes of mid-Michigan skating fans, we arrived well over an hour early to find instead that we were approximately 7th, 8th, and 9th in line. The store had a cozy, drowsy aura that someone special *may* drop by, not nearly the Pop Star on Ice frenzy that we had whipped ourselves into. We settled into line and started talking skating, and became friendly with a familiar face in line behind us. Lo and behold it was Mary Karen, a fellow skating judge I hadn't seen in a while, and the other judge that had been verbally assulted in the German/Russian mom incident last August. MK is a beautiful woman with an amazing mind for the sport, and she quizzed us on boots while we quizzed her on skating at large. The conversation made the hour speed by.

Johnny arrived shortly after 8pm, swathed in gray wraps and wearing large glasses, looking a bit like both Harry Potter and John Lennon. He jumped up on a chair, and with a bullhorn, jovially greeted the crowd to thank us for braving the cold in "Oak kee most," then he wondered aloud where the hell he was.

His team was very efficient, and once the iced lattes and bottled water hit his podium, he was ready to sign books. Weir has been very vocal in his disappointment in what he percieves as unfair judging against him in the past, which as a judge, of course saddens me. Without much more to say in my 20 seconds with him, I said "I just wanted you to know that I'm a figure skating judge and I think you are wonderful." He flashed me a sad smile that still retained some warmth and replied with a quiet "thank you."

Well that was over way too quick. We lingered a bit to see others pass through the line. The line was modest by some standards, but for a champion like Johnny, a bit sad that more didn't turn out to enjoy a smile or a quip from the quote machine. But given his crazy schedule, 3 book signings in one day, he was probably pleased that he could be done and on the road.

Then, we noticed girls stopping to pose for pictures with him. Whaa--?! The strict rules sheet said no posing with Johnny, we wanted our share of face time too! Apparently because of the sparse crowd and a photo-op with a local skater going to nationals for the first time, Johnny was open to taking a few more pics with fans. We got right back in line for the chance to get one of those posed pictures with celebrities that I usually hate unless mine is the other face in the photo. Hypocritical? You bet.

So I had one more opportunity for face time, and I reiterated the fact that there are judges out there that think he's magical. I'm a moron, I could have been more clever than that, but I stammered that nonsense out. Tired or forgiving, he wrapped me in a warm hug and thanked me for coming. He made me sad in a way.

As we were leaving, we were amazed to discover his very over-the-top tour bus with the cover of his book plastered on it. Bravo, Tara Modlin. So we had fun posing next to the nearly life-sized book jacket on the side of the bus.

The ride home was fun, as we talked about this and that, and even passed the bus on its way to Chicago. Stranded motorists - we could be Johnny's heroes! Alas, the roads were getting messy for us, and with the tricked out bus they didn't need our hysterical help. Still, you wonder what hilarity could have ensued...?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Frustration - where's my muse?

I may keep this one short, as it feels like the creative well is DRY. I am blaming the weather, this crappy winter-is-never-going-to-end weather. And I feel like I'm constantly cleaning the house to only have it magically get dirty overnight. And I'm frustrated by flip/lutz "clinics", as we are trying to correct some technique errors and the result is rather adult bronze as opposed to the adult silver I'm trying to achieve.

So how to recharge when you're scraping the bottom of the barrel? How to find a spark to reignite? Good night's sleep does help. Exercise. I fall asleep sometimes imagining our "getaway" house, complete with all-season porch, hot tub, and near the snowmobile trails, an ice rink and beach with a boat launch (the house really exists in Cheboygan!)

Sometimes, you have to allow yourself the downtime, watch TV, and eat some junk food.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mel's Infamous "Celebrity" Playlist, 2010 edition

I have been listening to and loving the iTunes celebrity playlist podcasts. From what I can gather, iTunes grabs a few celebrities, makes them list their favorite top 10 songs, and lets them talk about why those songs are their favorites. To date, I don't believe a single artist has kept it to 10. My blog, my rules and I don't want to keep it to 10 either.

For me, my favorite list changes DAILY. What I fall in love with today may pale in comparison to the earworm that gets me tomorrow. And, I want to revisit this idea of "what I'm listening to now," at later times.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season growing up was listening to Casey Kasem count 'em down, when American Top 40 expanded to play the top 100 songs of the year. I was a diligent listener: I would write the list down, song by song. I would listen all day, with commericial breaks being my only way to get food, go to the bathroom, etc. The lists had a long shelf life with the kids at school, and were passed around, with everyone interested in seeing where their favorite songs ended up. I also had the knack of picking the song that was going to be #1 for the year, for several years in a row.

So, to celebrate that end-of-year tradition, I give you my in no particular order picks for 2010:

"O.M.G." Usher and - the song is so much fun and the most fun you could have saying "oh oh oh oh" all year.

"Bad Romance" and "Telephone" Lady Gaga (w/Beyonce on the phone) - both songs delivered as pop songs and visually with their music videos. To distinguish between the two would be blasphemy by a Monster (Gaga's fan base). So what's so awesome about them? Bad Romance the song had scatting by Gaga, a catchy hook, and the rockin' sentiment that I'll love all of you, even the stuff that's not so good. The video on the other hand: the crazy fashion! the white latex asparagus outfit! the glittery breadbasket hat! the go go boots! Oh, the dance!

As for Telephone, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways. Simple lyrics with that delicious "t-t-t-t-t-" hook. Danceable, sing-a-long-able, I reckon there were lots of automobile singalongs with people shouting "stop calling, stop calling~!" And the video, and homage to Prisoner Cell Block H, Quentin Tarantino, a Wonderbread commercial, and Thelma and Louise. Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Beyonce exploring her crazy side. The dance routine! The silver boots! Beyonce's geegaw encrusted heels! Oh did I love it, and if I were younger with more time to devote to it, I would have had that dance routine down pat.

"Only Exception" Paramore: now for something calmer. A lovely little ballad by a band I hadn't ever heard of before that apparently has been everywhere. Blame me being an old woman. Hayley Williams, the lead singer, could not be lovelier in the video, her running away from love in one scenario after another, then finding that true love and going back through her past to find him. A beautiful story in under 5 minutes.

"Like a G6" Far*East: saw the video, but it makes no sense to me, I think it's just the band clubbing with other clubbers to their song. Made me think of a gum commerical with intense neon peppermint flavor. But the song is a cool blend of techno beats and sexy, detached vocals.

"Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart" Alicia Keys: Kind of a sleeper song that flew low on the radar but rich in story, harmony and achingly lovely, lush orchestration. Dare anyone to find a more beautiful, real-life superhero than the one Keys depicted in her video, the rich plum catsuit of the butterflied alter ego that can save everyone but her love. Slick purple motorcycle too.

"#%*! You" Cee-Lo Green: This song just kills me: it's funny, catchy and the lyrics are so bad, their's an alternate version. Ain't that some s#&%!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

What a wonderful way to usher in the new year. We had the usual suspects over for a small get-together. Dave made chicken wings, I made a "vile punch", which has been renamed "magic juice" by Denise.

For the wing recipe, see Dave's sister's blog at Madison House Chef.

The punch was easy to make, I combined kiwi strawberry juice with raspberry sparkling water, vodka and Chambourd. That didn't quite give me the sparkle I wanted, so we added 7-up and more vodka. I finished it off with a frozen punch ring made in a bundt pan with tangerine rings and lemon juice. If I'm going to get loaded, it's going to be a healthy blend of booze and vitamin C.

Not known for my baking/pasteries, it's kind of an ego boost that I get raves for my soups, main dishes and now punch. So allow me to bedazzle you with a roast and bring the cookies.

Denise brought the game "Apples to Apples" and we gathered around the dining room table to play. For those who don't know the game, you are dealt a number of red cards. You take turns choosing a green card. You select a red card that most closely defines the green card that was chosen, say Jerry Seinfeld for "witty". But you have to keep in mind who your audience is, I'm a sucker for flattery of my hair for one, and inside jokes may lead to some surprising choices. I was terrible at the game at first, but then gained steam as I caught on. We played to the end of the deck, and I won!

We toasted the new year with a bottle of Italian sparkling that I had never had before, and shot off some fireworks to cheers from the neighbors.

We went to bed with the kitchen a horrific mess, but it was an easy cleanup the next morning.

In keeping with our new years' tradition, we took a little road trip to the Saigon Market to try something new. I bought a bottle of lychee soda, with a very cool bottle: the stopper was a clear blue glass marble that had to be pushed out of the way to allow the gas to escape. Verdict? Cool and refreshing! I also picked up peach sugar wafers, canned lychees (they look like white cherries), canned spiced crab meat (already mixed with corn meal to make asian johnnycakes), a pommelo (asian grapefruit), and seasme seed candy. One thing on the ick list was a bottle of salted lemonade with manadrin: didn't need the salt, and way to syrupy. Feeling bold, but not quite bold enough to try any of the salted, dried or frozen fish there yet.

We also went to Marge's Donut Den (yum!) and Pete's Gourmet Market (closed). Ended the day with three movies: The Time Traveler's Wife, Superbad and Avatar. TTW was kind of a frenetic mess, the pacing was too confusing to embrace the story and frankly, adult time traveler hanging with the child-wife was just a no, why not send the child version of himself? Superbad, we started watching on FX, but decided the previous viewing was enough and decided to watch Avatar instead.

Hm. Visually, Avatar is amazing, the computer animated sequences believable. The first quarter of the movie was interesting storytelling. But the movie started to strike me as something I've seen before. It was like someone took all the best hooks from epic movies and tried to make one movie out of them. And the storyline was, well, a mishmash of genres: a sci-fi love story set in the future based on prehistoric principles of living as one with nature with a cautionary tale of corporate greed destroying nature. What about religion - got that too! As for obvious ripoffs or "homages," I give you Dances With Wolves, Braveheart, Pinochio (or any number of Disney movies), the list goes on. Once we started playing the "hey, wasn't that just like Yoda and Luke in Star Wars?" the film lost its luster.

Overall, a delightful weekend with plenty of resolutions already in place and the formation of more to come. But that is for another post.