List Therapy

This week, even shortened by a day (Monday was Memorial Day), felt so very long to me. I know it’s been an especially stressful week when, by Friday, I can’t successfully concentrate on anything for any length of time. Sometimes, to try (“Do or do not, there is no try.” See? Told you I can’t concentrate.) to rein my concentration back in, I make a list.

The list can be anything from groceries we need at home to supplies I need to buy for work to Disney restaurants I want to try (see an upcoming post!).  I love making lists and though I never spend much time making them, the act of focusing on something very specific and non-taxing centers me enough to make it through the rest of the day.

Here’s a list of things that went through my head from about 3:00pm – 3:10pm today:

  1. I love listening to Disney music at work.
  2. Crap! Did I send that email to Tigger (not his real name)?
  3. Why won’t someone answer the phone?
  4. Crap, crap, crap!
  5. Aww, Mrs. Wood (6th grade English teacher) loved that word.
  6. Heh. So did Mrs. Finnegan (12th grade AP English teacher).
  7. Crap, the email. (I did send it.)
  8. Ugh. What is that noise?
  9. I wonder what we’re having for dinner tonight. The Dude is going to kill me if I ask again.
  10. Seriously, what *is* that noise?!
  11. Oh, tacos! Not the noise. Dinner tonight.
  12. Crap, I forgot to move those meetings.
  13. I hate wearing pantyhose.
  14. Did that student finish her training? Crap.
  15. It’s a stapler. (The noise, not dinner tonight.)
  16. I love tacos.
  17. And, avocado.
  18. Oh, good. She did finish her training.
  19. I wonder what I’m going to order for dinner tomorrow?
  20. Stupid pantyhose. I can’t wait to put sweatpants on.

Ah. Got that off my chest. Now, I can go back to my regularly scheduled tasks…

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Steam Dragon

As much as I hate the winter and the snow, it’s been so humid this week that I’m longing for slightly cooler air. Whenever I think of winter in a non-hateful way, I think of this picture.

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Steam Dragon

It had snowed a couple of days before and the ground was still covered and glittering. It was just before 8am and the heat from one of the buildings was venting outside in clouds of steam. I managed to capture a photo where the steam twisted into a serpentine shape. I like to think I caught a steam dragon.

The Dude’s Mole

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Mole chicken tacos with radish, guacamole, and pickled red onions.

The Dude loves making Mexican inspired food (his tortillas are delicious) and he seems to really love making mole. I won’t lie, the first time he made it, a large mess was involved. The mole itself was very tasty, but it took forever and seemed to splatter the entire kitchen. I still tease him about it. He’s gotten the process down pat, though, and it now only requires minimal cleanup.

Like all moles, the recipe does contain quite a few ingredients and steps. It’s really much easier than it looks, though, and is absolutely worth it. It’s a great go-to sauce and we love having it in the fridge or freezer. This mole is also a bit on the spicy side, but it’s really worth it and can easily be tempered  with crema, sour cream, or cheese. Plus, it’s mole – it’s supposed to have a kick! It works on pork, chicken, and fish (and probably on beef, but we didn’t try that).

Ingredients:

  • 2 dried guajillo chiles
  • 2 dried pasilla chilies
  • 2 dried ancho chiles
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 tomatillos, quartered
  • ½ can (15 oz) fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Large handful toasted almonds
  • Large handful toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Large handful raisins
  • About 1 ½ cup of chicken stock, divided.
  • ½ cup black bean stock (substitute chicken stock if necessary)
  • 5-6 dark chocolate pieces (we used dark chocolate covered almonds)
  • 1tbs smooth peanut butter
  • Grapeseed, canola, or other non-flavored oil (olive oil is too strong)
  • Agave to taste

Method:

  1. Place a heavy pan (we used cast iron) over medium heat. While the pan is heating, remove the seeds from the chili peppers.
  2. Place the chilies in the pan and toast until fragrant. This only takes a few minutes, so watch them; they go from toasty and yummy to burnt very quickly.
  3. Remove toasted peppers and place in a heat-proof bowl. Cover with about ½ cup of hot chicken broth. Steep until peppers soften.
  4. Add 1-2 tbsp oil to the pan and toast almond and pumpkin seeds until fragrant and slightly darkened (about 2 minutes). Make sure to stir frequently and watch the pan! Set aside.
  5. Add the onion and tomatillo pieces. Sear 1-2 minutes on each side until charred.  Set aside.
  6. Add raisins to the pan and cook for about 1 minute until they plump up and change color.

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    Blend it up!

  7. Add all of the following to a blender:  softened peppers (with liquid!), charred tomatillos and onions, toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, and raisins, fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon, oregano, and allspice. At this point, also add ½ cup black bean stock (cooking liquid – water and some baking soda – from black beans). If you don’t have this, just sub in some more chicken stock.
  8. Blend until smooth, adding more chicken stock if necessary.  It will take a little while if you have a cheapo blender like ours!
  9. Taste the mixture; it will likely need some salt and some sweetness. If you are using dark chocolate almonds (like we did!), add them and a pinch of salt now (we’ll add more salt to taste later) and blend again until smooth. If you’re using plan chocolate, just add some salt and wait until later to add the chocolate.

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    Time to strain.

  10. Now for the messy part – straining! Place a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl and add the mixture. Push the mixture through the strainer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. This will take some time, but make sure you push everything you can through the strainer – it’s totally worth it! Discard anything left in the strainer.
  11. Add about 1 ½ tbs of oil to a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over and heat on medium low. Add the strained mixture. Yes, it will splatter (told you this can be messy!). Cook down until the mixture resembles tomato paste, stirring frequently. Be patient with this part, it can take quite a while and you (and your kitchen) will get splattered.
  12. Once cooked down, add enough chicken stock to get the sauce to the consistency of a thick puree or thin applesauce. Simmer on low for about 15 minutes and salt to taste.

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    Reduced sauce. Notice we used a way-too-large pot to minimize splatter.

  13. Add 1tbsp of peanut butter. Also, if you are using chocolate pieces instead of chocolate almonds, add them now. Stir until incorporated.
  14. Taste again and add agave if you want it sweeter.
  15. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

 

Once your sauce is cooked, use immediately or cool and place in containers. It will keep for about 1 week in the fridge 3 months in the freezer.

 

 

 

Vroom, Vroom

I don’t like driving. I can count the number of times I’ve done it on two hands (counting the times as a teenager and recently). I don’t like that I have a hard time seeing the lines on the road (I’m short), that I have a hard time judging the size of things (let alone a car), and that I can’t control other drivers (who can be terrifying). I don’t like being in control of such a gigantic and potentially destructive machine. Part of this dislike comes from being hit by a car when I was in college. The rest comes from my general anxiety and perfectionism.

I feel like I can’t control enough variables when I’m driving. Sure, I can control myself, but I can’t control my surroundings and I hate that feeling. I also can’t control if something goes wrong with the car. Worrisome. I get that you can’t live a life that’s completely controlled – well, you might be able to live one that’s mostly controlled, but I can’t even fathom how boring that would be – and it normally doesn’t bother me that much. There’s just something about driving that trips all of my anxiety sensors.

I am getting better about it, though. I don’t have terrifying nightmares where I am driving and inevitably lose control or drive off of a cliff. I don’t completely shutdown at the thought of getting behind the wheel. I actually got my permit and have driven on the road. I have gotten a car (via my uncle) and my goal is to get my license by the time my permit expires in October.

I can do this.

Even though I don’t like it, even though it makes me nervous, I can do it.

 

Books from Childhood

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” – Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan),You’ve Got Mail

Today would have been Nora Ephron’s 73rd birthday. I can’t think about Nora Ephron without thinking about You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite girly movies!) and I can’t think about You’ve Got Mail without thinking about the above quote.

I really couldn’t agree more with Kathleen Kelly. I read a lot now, but very few things stick with me the way books from my childhood have. Here are five books/series that I remember most. In all cases, I have re-read the books more times than I can count:

  1. Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede
    This is my absolute favorite series. It’s the one I pick up if I’ve had a really hard week and just need to lose myself for a little while. It’s the one that I turn to when I’m sad or lonely or just plain cranky. I love that Cimorene hates being a princess because it’s boring and that she’d rather cook and learn Latin and be a dragon’s princess. I love the hints of other fairy tales and the witch that gets in trouble for having too many cats and not having a warty nose. I love that the King of Dragons is a job title and that gender doesn’t matter. Being curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, drinking a cup of tea, and reading any of the books in this series (though, Calling on Dragons is my favorite!) makes for a pretty perfect day.
  2. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
    I really wanted to be friends with Sara Crewe. In the blink of an eye, she went from having everything to having nothing, and still remained kind, imaginative, and full of joy. She gave me a new meaning of princess, one that didn’t have to have fancy dresses or jewels to be beautiful and special.
  3. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
    I have always loved fairy tales and folkore, and I especially loved reading the original stories that inspired Disney movies, no matter how gruesome they could be. Later in life (when wearing my anthropologist hat), I was particularly interested in what the myths, legends, and lore of a group could tell you about their culture. My favorite stories? Jorinda and Joringel and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
  4. Nancy Drew Mysteries, Carolyn Keene
    In elementary school, we had a library period at least twice a week. Each period, I would borrow at least one Nancy Drew book until I had read them all more than once. I wanted to be Nancy when I grew up; she was poised and feminine and respected and whip-smart. Plus, she was a detective which I still think sounds like an awesome job. I loved everything about her (even if her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, was kind of a lunk). The thing I remember most about the books? Hearing my mom read them to me; she loves them as much as I do.
  5. Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
    Even though I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until I was in junior high/high school, I simply can’t leave them off of any list of favorite books. I still read the entire series every year and I still miss the hype and fervor that surrounded any new book release. There’s truly something in the books for everyone. They show you that sometimes evil is pink and fluffy, that the most unlikely hero can save the day, and that anyone can be capable of encompassing, enduring love.

You know it’s finals time when…

I work at a local college and interact with students on a daily basis. Here are 10 surefire signs that it’s finals time:

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Athena and her offerings

  1. The main library is open 24 hours and staffed by my student workers. They leave notes for me and each other.
  2. A very tired looking student bursts into tears because she can’t find her favorite pencil.
  3. The Athena statue looks ready to crumble under the weight of all of the offerings.
  4. It’s normal to see a student walk into the library wearing pajamas, a tiara, and a blanket tied around her like a cape.
  5. I see a young man eating some sort of wrap in the main floor computer lab (with about half of it left). There are signs on every table stating that food isn’t permitted in this area of the library. We make eye contact and as he sees me start to walk over, he stuffs the entire rest of the wrap in his mouth. All I can think is, “Touché, sir, touché.”
  6. I often can’t see the circulation students that are hidden behind mounds of returned books.
  7. My office gets decorated. Really, really decorated.
  8. Students can be found sleeping all over the library. When they’re found in the middle of the floor, most people just step over them.
  9. Library loaner laptops become an especially hot commodity. There’s often at least one student waiting at the Help Desk for the next one to be available.
  10. Cookies are delivered at all hours. Seriously. All. Hours.

Courage, dear hearts, the end is near. And, done is very, very good.

 

Kindness Matters

Prompt that inspired me: What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you a year (or five, or ten…) ago?

Do you remember getting your picture taken in school and then getting a bunch of those wallet sized pictures that, after writing some profound thoughts and acronyms on them, you’d pass out to all of your friends? Well, I remember them and I remember amassing a huge collection by the time I finished high school. Still, I only really remember what one of the said.

During my senior year, I had class with a new girl (new to the school). She was very sweet, but a little quiet. We sat next to each other and, not thinking much about it, I started talking to her (I was a chatty Kathy back then). We were never really friends – we never hung out after school or even exchanged phone numbers – but we chatted every day in class. At the end of the year, she gave me one of her senior pictures and on the back she thanked me for being nice to her, for not caring that we weren’t in the same group of friends, for not caring that some people thought I was popular that she was. She thanked me for making the “new kid feel comfortable in a new place”.

I was floored. It had never crossed my mind that I had that power: to offer comfort and a sense of belonging by just… being nice. While I got other pictures with nice words or funny anecdotes or joyful memories, nothing stuck with me like hers did. Now, every day, I make an effort to be nice to whomever I meet: I smile at the young woman on the way to the train station; I ask the coffee shop clerk how his day is going; if I see someone crying, I stop and ask them if they’re okay. They’re not big things, they’re not hard to do, but I can’t help but think that they matter.

So, I wasn’t inspired to write about what I wish someone told me, but rather what I’d tell someone else: Kindness matters, it matters so much more than you may think. We all have the power to affect someone else’s day.