Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Dear (Totally Imaginary) Housekeeper

Thank you for continuing to work for us during this weird time in history. You are like a chosen family member.

Thank you for staying on top of the laundry, making sure we've ordered all the food for the pets and the squirrels,  and for planning our meals in response to ingredient shortages at the stores. (Seriously, why is there no slow-cook brown rice to be had?) But... last week when our curbside grocery order made it home, I noticed that literally one-third of the items were missing. We were charged for those items. We were counting on those items for meals. When you contacted the store to try and rectify the situation, I understand that the prerecorded message directed you to the website, and then hung up on you. I'm sorry that happened to you. I know how frustrating that must have been. But... I'm still awaiting a refund from the store after you emailed them about the situation. Please follow up with the store again.

Thank you for being resourceful, and planning curbside meal pickups from our favorite local restaurants last week due to our grocery shortage. But... we were looking forward to healthy homemade meals.

I understand that you panicked after last week's grocery pickup snafu. Frankly I also felt my anxiety rising. While I appreciate that you took the initiative to set new grocery pickups for this week, you went a bit overboard. So much cheese! Which luckily keeps for a while. But... what am I supposed to do with five pints of organic grape tomatoes. And why can't you find any slow-cook brown rice still? How long does it take to grow more rice? I'm holding you personally responsible for the rice shortage, (Totally Imaginary) Housekeeper.

Also, thanks for ordering washable face masks for the household. But... the large size you bought for Chad does not fit over his big face. What do you mean there is no extra-large size? Can you get out the sewing machine and fix this?

Also, the dog needs you to do more enrichment activities with her. She seems to enjoy the training activities. Please stop just giving her a Kong treat every time she whines. That only buys us four or five minutes. You have to do the training where you make her sit and stay, then come to you in the far corners of the backyard. That tires her out more.

Also, L.B. misses his former feline companion. I need for you to play chase the laser pointer dot with him more frequently now. He also wants more brushing. But... please do be a dear, and swiffer all the loose fur after his brushing sessions. I'm tired of seeing cat-fur-tumbleweeds rolling around the hardwood floors.

Also, I noticed you haven't been ironing the pillow cases for the bed. We really liked that. Can you please do that again?

Also, I know I said I would repaint all the exterior doors during this stay-home time, but I don't feel like doing it now. Please, (Totally Imaginary) Housekeeper, can you paint the doors? We have the paint and the supplies. Just make sure you clean up after yourself.

Also, can you please go to the plant nursery and buy tomato plants, tomato cages, basil, and bougainvillea plants? Now that it's warming up, I need you to spruce up the raised planters and hanging basket planters. Just wear a face mask. I'm sure you'll be fine.

One more tiny thing: my car battery warning light is indicating that I need a new car battery soon. Can you please deal with that?

Thanks so much, (Totally Imaginary) Housekeeper. You're the best. I don't know how I'd cope right now without you.

via GIPHY

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Sonic: A Memorial

Sonic came to live with us in October of 2006 when he was approximately six months old. He was originally found in a feral cat colony in the Travis Heights neighborhood. Sonic was named for his loud, yodel-like meows by the lady who found him. Sonic was always very chatty, responding vocally to any prompts. Sonic adored and annoyed his two older feline roommates in equal measure. He loved people, especially people who fed him. Sonic loved a heating pad. Perhaps owing to his early days in the feral cat colony, Sonic also enjoyed the outdoors. Typically, when Sonic went outside he stayed in our backyard, in or on top of his heated, weather-proof cat shelter on the back deck.





Sonic was mostly a sweet cat who loved a warm lap and getting brushed, but he had his dark side. Sonic struggled with anxiety which manifested in resource guarding and inappropriate urinating all over our home. The amount of Sonic's pee I cleaned up over the years is both heart-breaking and infuriating. Heart-breaking that he suffered with his anxiety. Infuriating, because cat pee is a booger to clean. The amount of Simple Solution and Nature's Miracle we went through with Sonic was astounding.

Sonic did not like our dog, who joined our home in February 2008. Sonic charged at our dog, and bopped her on the nose aggressively a few times a week. Our dog is a tolerant sweetheart, and never once defended herself. I tried to explain to Sonic that he weighed thirteen pounds and the the sweet, tolerant dog weighed fifty-plus pounds. I told Sonic that one day he would pick a fight above his weight class, and that it would not end in his favor. (This, here, is called foreshadowing.)

Sonic loved his new little brother, L.B., when he arrived on the scene in December of 2015. The two boys were sweet wrestling buddies, always up for a game of chase. They both indulged in catnip, laser pointer shows and ribbon chasing together.



Late on the night of Friday, March 13, I heard (but thankfully did not see) a cat's war cry out in the front of our home. The yowl was loud, and ended abruptly. L.B. was sitting with me at the time, and heard the ruckus also. It ended so quickly that L.B. and I thought nothing of it, returning to our reading. The next morning Chad asked if I had let Sonic inside last night, because Sonic wasn't waiting at the backdoor to come inside that morning as he usually was. I said no. I did a thorough sweep of all of Sonic's favorite cozy hiding spots inside the house. No Sonic. I walked the front yard, the side yard and back yard, calling for Sonic. He typically came running when I called him. Still no Sonic.

At this point, I think my brain was protecting me from the memory of what I'd heard the night before. Especially on top of the whole quickly evolving COVID-19 situation, I was processing too much information.

Chad and I have seen coyotes roaming our neighborhood late at night on several occasions. They come up from the creek bed, looking for food when most people are sleeping. But Sonic had disappeared in the past for up to three days, and returned home unscathed. I was trying to decipher if Sonic was out on an adventure, or if Sonic had been a coyote's dinner. I checked the local lost and found pet pages online. Still no Sonic. I checked his microchip registration, which has current contact information. No reports of a microchip scan for Sonic.

On Sunday afternoon, March 15, I looked at Chad and said, "It feels different this time. I don't think he's coming home." Then I teared up just the tiniest bit as I relayed the scuffle that I heard out in front of the house the night Sonic disappeared.

Three weeks later, still no Sonic. We're 95% certain that Sonic charged at a coyote, thinking he would win that fight, and became the coyote's meal. The circle of life isn't always pretty.

Sonic lived a good life of almost fourteen years. He was predeceased by two of our beloved O.G. cats. He is survived by Janie, the dog he bullied, and by L.B., his beloved feline companion. Sonic's favorite vet tech, Jan, once said, "He's a cool cat, so chill, just hanging out with us while we do his bloodwork and urinalysis." While in some ways we miss Sonic, in other ways it is a relief that he is no longer peeing all over our home and bullying our sweet, elderly dog.

Maya Angelou said it well. "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Sonic made us feel many things, some lovely, some not so lovely.



Sunday, April 05, 2020

Manic Hobgoblin Retreated to Bunker

I haven't heard much from my inner Manic Hobgoblin of late. He retreated to his luxury bunker in an undisclosed location somewhere in the Southwestern United States of America. Luckily he left me with one tub of sanitizing wipes and about ten rolls of toilet paper. I also found a box of face masks in my painting supplies that he forgot to abscond with when he left at sunrise a few weeks ago. (These face masks are not the N95 kind that should absolutely be donated to health care workers, just the little pleated ear loop kind.)

In absence of Manic Hobgoblin, and under stay home orders from my city, I've been balancing chores with fun homebody activities. Lots of laundry, washing dishes, cleaning out clutter, vacuuming,  preparing tax documents, etc, interspersed with lots of reading fiction, playing card games/board games, moving around the giant Easter eggs on my front lawn each day to amuse myself and passers-by, cuddling the pets, watching Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. All this fills my days just fine. I don't need Manic Hobgoblin spinning around my house right now telling me to learn a fifth language or to try every exercise video from the internet. I wish Manic Hobgoblin well in his bunker. Maybe he can stay there permanently.

via GIPHY

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Manic Hobgoblin Hates That Class

Going back to school during middle age is difficult for me. I always feel like I should be studying, watching a how-to video, doing homework, or practicing recipes for my pastry chef classes. I made all A grades last semester. I am on track to make an A in two of my three classes this semester. But the third class is very challenging for me. I hate it. It makes me want to quit the program. If I don't pass this class, I will not be allowed to continue the pastry chef program. The name of this vexing course is "Basic Food Preparation", and it is anything but basic. I'm learning to flute mushrooms, tourne potatoes, make hollandaise sauce, and a bunch of other overly complicated, fussy stuff I'll never do again as a professional baker.



This past week, the chef-instructor for this class scolded the class members, saying we should memorize our recipes and methods for preparing the assignments before class. (Forgetting that many of us have never worked in a professional kitchen. Ignoring that most of us have never made the Mother Sauces from scratch.) Chef barked that it shouldn't take 30 minutes to make a Hollandaise sauce, Espagnole Sauce and French Classic Tomato Sauce. (Um, I beg to differ. The instructions for the Espagnole Sauce clearly state to simmer it for one to two hours.) Chef also said that his job is not to teach us to cook, but to teach us to be professional chefs. (Clearly discounting that the baking and hospitality students must take this Basic Food Preparation class, and that baking and hospitality students do not want to be culinary chefs, thanks all the same.)

Chef has failed to instruct our class about mis en place, or getting all of our ingredients prepared and organized before we begin. He just barks at us to go faster, and to come wash the dishes that are stacking up at an alarming rate. Then Chef yells at us that we didn't finish all three sauces and our fancy cut board presentation. Is this what hazing feels like? I am not a fan. Class consistently gets out late. We are sent home to do our lab reports, rather than being able to fill them out while Chef is present to answer questions.

Also, Chef hates when his students are vegetarians (even for religious reasons), and when they have food allergies (going so far as to drop a student from the program who has an anaphylactic allergy to fish). I'm a vegetarian with a peanut allergy. *sigh* So I gagged my way through rendering pork fat for the tomato sauce and deglazing beef scraps for the Espagnole sauce. (I was told by the culinary school program advisor that the Basic Food Preparation class didn't deal with any proteins. Um... beef and pork are proteins!) I will never again prepare Mother Sauces as a baker, I hope.

My inner Manic Hobgoblin wants to quit. This class is difficult. This class is not fun. Chef is unreasonable in his expectations, and sloppy with instructions. Manic Hobgoblin says it is better to quit than to fail. Manic Hobgoblin says that something I want to do as a future profession should not hinge upon this difficult class that is so very loosely related to my future profession.

Manic Hobgoblin and I agree that Hollandaise Sauce looks and tastes like heart disease, that Espagnole Sauce smells like a sickly sweaty cow, and that pork fat has no place leaving greasy drops in Tomato Sauce. Gross.

However, I have to disagree with Manic Hobgoblin that I should just quit the program. I'm going to get through this BLEEPing prerequisite class. I probably will not make an A, thus ruining my 4.0 Grade Point Average. I will do my very best to pass this vexing class with a C or better. Being imperfect is better than quitting in this case. Riiiiiiiiight? Because I'm having doubts.

via GIPHY

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Manic Hobgoblin's Resolutions for 2020



My inner Manic Hobgoblin boldly announced his New Year Resolutions for 2020:

1. Get back on Twitter and start a Twitter-feud with a major celebrity to gain more followers and engagement.

2. Start day trading with the goal of 400% R.O.I. in the first month alone.

3. Really solve Brexit this time.

4. Schedule a round-the-world-in-eighty-days exploration trip. Fly first class and stay in only the best accommodations. You deserve this. (Never mind that your dog is coming up on fourteen years of age. Never mind that your cat sitter just announced that she is moving to Denver. Never mind that you are a full time student again.)

5. Read 150 books this year. Again, never mind that you're a student with many hours of homework each week.

6. Go ahead and buy (not lease) a charming space for your bakery now. By the time the build-out, permitting and inspections are complete, you'll be finished with your pastry chef certification.

7. Run a marathon in at least five major cities this year.

8. Pay off your mortgage nine years early with the profits from your day trading.

9. Buy a vacation home. Anywhere. Regardless of how remote the location. Remodel it and outfit it with only the most high-end accoutrements.

10. Watch every show on every streaming service.

_________________________________________

Yeah, suuuuurre. It's good that you said that, Manic Hobgoblin. *backs slowly away*

My true New Year resolutions are to read thirty three books, and to take care of myself, my husband and our pets. Last year I resolved to read thirty books. I read thirty nine books including three college textbooks cover to cover. I went back to school after many years of thinking about it and talking about it. I earned a 4.0 grade point average this past semester. 

However, I did not make good on last year's resolution to watch the original Charmed television series (1998 - 2006) in its entirety. I gave up halfway through the series. Life is too short to fulfill meaningless goals made on a whim, especially when a television series gets that ridiculously bad in season four. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Most Terrifying Haunted Barn

Tis the season for all things ghostly, ghastly and terrifying. Even at church. Or at a church function.



I was in the fifth grade. My family attended a large church in the Birmingham, Alabama area. My dad volunteered in the Evangelical Outreach mission in the church and also taught a young adult Sunday school class. My mom worked as a secretary for the Minister of Music at our church.

Our church was a wealthy one. The church had recently bought a multi-acre parcel of land that featured day camp grounds, a large bunk house for retreats, a big swimming pool, giant picnic pavilions and a stable without any horses. (My church was wealthy, but not wealthy enough for horses. They had some sense of decorum when it came to spending church funds.)

During the fall season our church usually held a Halloween carnival at the recreation center on the Friday before Halloween for families with young children. There was a costume contest, carnival games with cheap plastic prizes, bobbing for apples, refreshments such as mini-donuts hot from the fryer, popcorn, corndogs, candy and orange drink (it was orange colored and tasted like sugar water with a hint of acidity).

When the church bought the "camp" which was located within a thirty-minute drive of town, they started hosting the Halloween carnival at the camp, with the addition of hayrides and a haunted house in the horseless stables.

My dad had a younger friend at church named Warren. Warren and my dad met in the Evangelical Outreach program. They thought each other to be hilariously funny in their little mutual admiration society. My dad and Warren had been largely responsible for the haunted barn. They had kept the details top secret even from me, or maybe especially from me.

Here's some background information to consider about my dad. My mom was (and still is) deathly afraid of snakes. There are no beneficial snakes or harmless snakes as far as my mom is concerned. There are only "kill it now" snakes according to Mom. One day my mom was taking a nap after work. My dad and I found a tiny garter snake in our yard. Dad bribed me with candy to carry the little snake into my sleeping mother's bedroom and wake her up while dangling it over her face. I believe you can still hear the echos of her screaming in that neighborhood. Another example: My dad knew I suffered from motion sickness as a child. Yet whenever we went to the park with the tire swing, he'd push and whip the tire swing mercilessly with me in it as I screeched for him to stop. I know this led to projectile vomiting in at least two instances. My dad had a bit of a mean prankster streak under the Sunday school teacher facade.

So I'm at the Halloween carnival at the fancy church camp in the fifth grade. My mom's boss had a daughter that was my same age named Kim. Kim sported an impish face with freckles and a bucktoothed smile. She had reddish brown hair that stuck out at odd angles from her scalp. Kim never liked me for whatever reason. Kim saw me in line for the hayride and sidled up to me. She said, "I do not want to be you tonight."

I replied, "Did you ever?"

She said, "Did I ever what?"

I said, "Want to be me?"

She rolled her eyes and snorted, "No! But especially I don't want to be you tonight."

I shrugged. "Okay." I tried to think of somewhere else to be, but didn't want to lose my place in line for the hayride.

Seeing that she had me more-or-less captive, Kim smiled like a cat who swallowed a canary. She continued, "I especially don't want to be you tonight, because when you go through the haunted barn tonight, Warren and your dad are going to grab you and not let you out."

This information seemed plausible based on what I knew about my dad and Warren and their synergy. So I looked at Kim with wide eyes. She knew she had me hooked. I said, "What? Why?"

Kim spun her tale. "They are going to make this big deal out of counting everyone on the way in, and then counting everyone again on the way out. They're going to say eight people went in, but only seven people made it out alive. Warren is going to tie you up, and hide you in the back of the barn. He's not going to let you out until the end of the night." Then Kim threw her head back and let out a practiced and perfected villainous laugh.

Kim saw from my wide-eyed look of terror that she could milk this moment for even more hilarity. She delivered the final insult. "I bet you're too scared to go now."

I couldn't back down from this bully, who also happened to be the child of my mom's boss. So I stayed in line for the hayride that would deliver me to the haunted barn. Kim stayed right there with me. Once aboard the hayride, we ascended the hill to the horseless stables, a.k.a. the haunted barn. I felt like I was going up the hill on a roller coaster, soon to plummet into sheer oblivion. I kept thinking about what Kim said. I kept thinking how likely the scenario was to play out just as Kim described it. My pulse quickened with palpable fear. People climbed off of the hayride to wait in line for the haunted barn. Kim relished my growing anxiety. My turn to enter the haunted barn grew nearer and nearer. I finally turned around and said to Kim in defeat, "I'm not going in there."

Kim clapped in delight and stamped her feet devilishly. As I tried to get back on the departing hayride to leave, Kim grabbed me by the arm. She tried to drag me into the haunted barn. That kid was strong! I yelled "no, no, no, no. no" with increasing volume. Kim cackled, tightened her grip on my arm and pushed me harder. I realized I couldn't out-muscle Kim. I went limp and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. She didn't want to topple over with me, so she let go. Finally free from my tormentor. I ran down the hill in the dark night back to the picnic pavilion where other people were oblivious to my fright.

Later that night my mother asked why I made "such a hysterical scene with all the screaming" at the haunted barn. Word travels fast at big, snooty churches. I tried to tell my mom about what Kim had said, and how I believed her. My mom wouldn't hear a word against her boss's child. My mom said that I embarrassed her and the whole family with my "ridiculous behavior".

A little later that night my dad pulled me into a half hug at his side and said with a mischievous grin, "Warren and I missed you in the haunted barn. We kept looking for you."

The most terrifying haunted barn was one that I never dared to set foot inside.

Also, if your child tells you they are being bullied or harassed, please hear them out. Kim continued to torment me until my family moved halfway across the country a year later.

Hey Kim, if you're out there:


Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Pivot: I'm in Pastry Chef School

I've had many different jobs. I love to try new things. I love to learn. For many years, acting for stage and screen fulfilled my creative urges that weren't met by regular jobs, and/or acting was my regular job for several years. (Yes, I made money acting. The income was really good sometimes, not so good other times, overall inconsistent.)

Since I lost most of the hearing in my left ear, I don't get the same joy from acting that I once did. (I had a demeaning experience with a mumbly director this past year over my hearing impairment in one ear.) I'm also choosing to age somewhat gracefully, and not freeze my face into a rictus facsimile of youth. I'm out of the acting gigs, at least for a while.

My inner Manic Hobgoblin and my more rational inner voice teamed up last year to convince me that I need to find a new career path that incorporates my creative compulsions with a more steady stream of reliable income. After much thought, navel-gazing, planning and paperwork, I am back in school for an accredited, well-regarded pastry arts certificate at Austin Community College. I'm taking the prerequisite classes this semester:

Food Production and Planning - This is actually a math class for the professional kitchen that includes conversions from volume to weight measures, scaling recipes, figuring portion numbers, portion sizes and costing menu items. When I first started this class, the algebra made me hyperventilate with anxiety. Now I love this class. There is an elegance to the math. I see how incredibly useful this math will be.

Sanitation and Safety - With great power comes great responsibility. Serving food to people is a huge responsibility. I won't go into all the terrifying pathogens, parasites, toxins and contaminants that food can carry. It makes me both queasy and a bit scared to eat in any restaurant that receives a score below 90 on their health inspection. The information in this class is so vital, but it also kind of takes the joy out of food preparation.

Hospitality Human Resources Management - This class is all about the business end of things. It's an invaluable introduction to business, especially for people who haven't held many jobs in service industries, or who haven't had to interact with customers or employees much in their past experience. The professor for this class tries to keep us all engaged. He brings many years of professional experience in hospitality jobs to the teaching role.

So, I'm not baking pretty things in any of my classes yet. I'm working on the foundations to be able to safely bake pretty things in the correct proportions without causing interpersonal strife in the workplace. I'm spending about twelve hours a week doing homework with lots of reading, typing and use of a calculator.

Next semester, I hope to bake some pretty things. I will learn at least fourteen different ways to cook eggs and chop vegetables. I will take a chef nutrition class, which will likely involve more typing and calculating. My inner Manic Hobgoblin is itching to just frost cakes all day, but I'm trying to keep him soothed by watching pretty pastry videos on Instagram for the time being.