Archive for March, 2019

Not Quite A Book Review

a man with one of those facesOne of the bloggers that I follow often reviews books that he’s read. I love this idea, both from a reading point of view and a writing pov. That said, I don’t know that I would be an especially insightful reviewer. I am reading a book at the moment that got very good reviews. I’m not “getting it”. I think it might be satire. I have a feeling I’m very bad at satire. 🙂 If I know the topic well, I can recognize satire and enjoy it (or not, depending on the quality of the writing). If I don’t know the topic, and I’m not familiar with the author, I’m often quite lost as to how I’m ‘supposed’ to react. Many years ago a friend gave me one of Carl Hiassen‘s books, telling me that I would LOVE it because not only was it a mystery but it was funny. I don’t remember the book (it was YEARS ago) but I do remember wondering when the humor would happen. Given Hiassen’s success, I am apparently out of step with the reading public on this. I wonder if now that I’m older (much older) I’d better appreciate it.

I’m not always very good with irony, either, although that one might have definitely been because I was too young to appreciate it. I believe I might be the only living soul who didn’t love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have an acquaintance who has read it something like 10 times (seriously? aren’t there any other books you want to read????? the girl with all the giftswho has the TIME to read something 10 times??). Obviously this is also something that needs another attempt. I KNOW I had almost no sense of humor when I was younger. As I look at the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice now, the humor is completely clear.

There was another author I discovered many years ago and I really loved the writing, the characters and the plots. But she never allowed her recurring characters any happiness. Whenever she wrote them in a bit of joy, she made sure to destroy it in the next book. I really can’t keep reading that. I understand that no one has a perfect life. But most of us do find some sort of peace, even if not major joy. Our lives are not an unending stream of betrayals, loss, misery and guilt. Or maybe they are, but I don’t need to read it. I felt the same way about the TV series “Once Upon A Time“. I loved the premise, it started out great, and then no one ever got to be happy. Ever. That doesn’t work for me.

I read to relax and escape – I rarely read to better myself. I do a lot of things in my day-to-day living that better myself. *grin* Or so *I* think. *laughing* Feel free to disagree. Reading gives me a vacation and escape. I really enjoy mysteries, because that genre has the tradition of closure – we get to know “who did it” even if that person isn’t always brought to formal justice. 14 peter clinesI do like a good romance novel periodically because I know exactly what I’m getting and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll feel upbeat at the end of the book. Yes, it is better when it also includes good writing, believable characters and a good story, but if I can’t escape to a warm tropical beach sometimes escaping into the romance genre is a great escape. 🙂 I love historical novels too. Ask the folks who know my family about us and our dinner conversations (especially Hannibal and the elephants) and they will laugh and roll their eyes and say – oh yeah, them and history!

So what authors have I been reading in the last year or so and enjoying? Louise Penny (LOVE), Michael Connelly, Elly Griffiths, Faith Martin, Robert Galbraith (yes, I know who that is REALLY), Peter Grainger, and Charles Todd. There were 2 books I read digitally that I found so intriguing, and that I thought my son would enjoy, that I bought them in paperback for him as well: ‘The Girl With All the Gifts‘ by M.R. Carey and ‘14‘ by Peter Clines. I also enjoyed ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel‘ by Robin Sloan. uprootedIt occurs to me that my brother-in-law might enjoy those 3 as well. I think they are all probably classified as science fiction or fantasy, but I don’t really think of them that way. There are aspects in all that step out of what we’d call ‘reality’, but the plots and characters are what capture my interest. I also recommend Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” and “Spinning Silver“. Those 2 are classed as fantasy but again what makes them so interesting is not the fantasy part, but the people and relationships. I’d also recommend Caimh McDonnell‘s Bunny McGarry books. How can you NOT love a series that begins: “The first time somebody tried to kill him was an accident. The second time was deliberate.” It is a very funny series with strong characters.

As I said, this is not really a book review, but I do enjoy seeing what Donald has to say about what he is reading. I thought I’d toss out my opinions as well. Happy reading!

Tuna Stir Fry

tuna stir fry- shallots, bok choy, mushroomsWe used to eat a lot of fish. I’m not sure what changed, but that has not been the case lately. If we’re eating meat, it tends to be chicken, although we’ve had a lot of beef since Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was the winter weather, or maybe because the grocery store is on the wrong side of the road for me on my way home (and I don’t like that fish market very much), or because my husband no longer stops for fish on HIS way home – I don’t know. But I realized that I missed it and I did NOT want to be eating so much beef.

tuna stir-fry- add the thai peanut sauceWhen I did the grocery shopping this weekend I picked up some scrod and some tuna. My husband used to bring home sashimi-quality tuna from the fish market he passed on his way home. He would season it with a bit of oil, lemon and salt & pepper, and then sear it quickly. Fantastic. I knew the tuna I got at the grocery store was not that quality, so I spent a little time thinking on what to do with it.

tuna stir fry- add the zuchcinni noodlesThe scrod was an easy decision. My husband baked it with lemon juice and a little salt, and we had fish sandwiches made with the fresh bread I’d bought. I haven’t been baking much bread lately. I’ll need to get a few loaves in before it’s Passover and we’re eating matzah. Matzah is fine, but it is NOT bread. 🙂

I thought that I would take the tuna steak and slice it the way restaurants serve tuna – in strips, as opposed to one whole unit. My husband is not as enamored of raw tuna as I am, so I knew I had to cook it. I’m trying to get us back to a diet with a lot of vegetables – have to get ready for spring and all of those outfits that do NOT hide winter accumulation.tuna stir fry - add the tuna I also know that I have a tendency to throw LOTS of ingredients into the wok, so I wanted to rein in that temptation as well.

I decided on a Thai peanut sauce (a bottle I picked up at the Asian market). I knew that the sauce was fairly light and not over-powering. The ingredients for the stir fry would be bok choy, shallots, mushrooms and the tuna. I think the shallots have a lighter flavor than onions. We’d serve it with zucchini noodles (I cheated on that too and bought it fresh at the store). The beauty of cooking the tuna, and the limited number of ingredients, was the speed with which it cooked. I’d been doing chores and errands all day, and didn’t really feel like spending a lot of time cooking.

I thought it came out very well. It had a decent balance of color, no one flavor was overwhelming, and it was healthy. Zucchini noodles and riced cauliflower are great assistance in trying to be healthier in my food choices but still have something that feels like carbs!
tuna stir fry- ready to eat

Cat Studies

cats enjoying the fireplace

Whiling away a raw rainy 1st day of Spring

a bath before sleeping

A bath before napping

Black cat with pillows

I like my pillows

let sleeping cats lie

Even asleep I am the cutest cat in the world, says WC. Note my pink ears and pink paw pads.

Seeing is Believing

front gardenwith curly grass
Yesterday I walked about in my bare feet, toes digging into the still-wet earth. The last week has been wonderful for my psyche – the plants are coming back!!!! I walk out each day and simply STARE at the green leaves and the yellow and purple crocuses. I have things coming up where I know I planted something new last year. what is this?Unfortunately, the little sign is gone so I’m not sure WHAT it might be. I have other long-loved perennials pushing through as well. I know what they are by where they are, because I don’t always recognize the new growth. Last year I planted the curly grass (you can see it in the top picture) and it made it through the winter. I’m a little sorry I put it where I did, because there is typically a large planter in front of that spot so most people won’t see it unless they are looking at it directly.

lemon thyme wintered overIt’s also exciting to see how many of my herbs wintered over. In one of the pots I have either lemon balm coming back, or sorrel. Or maybe it’s a weed. *grin* I’m waiting to see. It also appears that both the bay and the rosemary might have made it through the winter as well. I usually lose both of those and have to buy new ones, but they are both still fragrant and supple, even if I’m not seeing new green yet. I can always hope. 🙂 The photos show the lemon thyme, sage and chives that most definitely wintered over.

The crocuses pushed through and the daffodils are all showing buds. I had more poppies but I do not have much luck with them. I’ve planted them several times yet they don’t seem to thrive. There’s only one showing at the moment. I noticed the Monkshood is coming up along the driveway. I try not to plant poisonous plants, but I ordered these last year anyway.yellow crocuses It was such a mild winter that I’m wondering if my canna lilies might come back. They never have in the past, so I’m not really expecting them this year either, but there does seem to be something happening in that general region.

Two weeks ago I needed more reassurance that spring would really get here. As I mentioned in the last post, I’d bought some bulbs and tubers. I also placed an order with my favorite online nursery, Heritage Flower Farm. I’ve mentioned before that I ADORE Rudbeckia laciniata var. hortensia, or as they are in the vernacular, the outhouse plant. *grin* Insult them if you wish, but they are gorgeous and a group of them tall and proud in the summer sunshine is a sight to behold.

sage wintered overWhen I’m ordering plants I try now to stick to perennials. I’m trying to save both dollars and my energy. If it’s going in the ground, I want a perennial. I’ll put the annuals in the big pots. I always want to find flowers for the pollinators – trying to grow native plants. I have very little area that is full sun, so I need plants that will also tolerate shade. And I like tall, bushy, wild-looking plants. Some people do color-themes, but I like a riot of color. Every time I say to myself that yellow is my favorite flower color, I realize that I love orange too, and there’s a lot to be said for red, and you need white to bring out the contrast, and purple picks up the colors in my awnings, and blue is spectacular. You can see why I have LOTS of colors. They are all the best. 🙂

here come the poppiesThe rest of my current order from Heritage includes Agastache foeniculum Anise hyssop, Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed, and Boltonia asteroides False starwort, Bolton’s aster. The Butterfly weed is to encourage the monarch butterflies that still exist in our area, and it grows 2-3 feet tall. The hyssop blooms later in summer and is blue, when a lot of my late summer is orange and yellow. It grows 3-5 feet and does not require full sun AND the deer don’t like it. Given how often I’ve come home and found a handful of deer grazing on my neighbor’s lawn, I try to find things they DON’T like Chives wintered over(and hide the things they do like behind those). The Bolton’s Aster is new for me. I was intrigued by the description and height (6′): “cloud of profuse, spectacular small white daisies cover this 6 foot tall Midwestern native. Exceptional because it flowers in fall”. I’m not sure yet where to plant this. I think I may need to dig up some more of my lawn. 🙂

Soon. Soon. Soon. Digging in the dirt, removing the debris and weeds, preparing the beds. Soon.

Here They Come!

IMG_0275

IMG_0274 (1)It’s happening!!! It’s really happening! Spring is on its way here! I have 3 bags of bulbs sitting in the front hall. Alert to my sister: 15 of the gladiolas are for YOU! Maybe if you’re REALLY nice I’ll let you have a few of the 9 canna lilies also. But I really love my cannas. I’m NOT sharing the dahlias – get your own. *grin*

Just 2 weeks ago there was snow on the ground and the little green shoots were being brave and pushing through. Now there is gorgeous sunshine and the snow is gone and everyone has room to stretch and grow.

All together now: PHOTOSYNTHESIZE!!!

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IMG_0321IMG_0319

Latticed Apple Pie

needs a topOr, Using up leftover pie crust and aging apples

Or, another way to put-off doing the taxes

It’s a gray rainy morning, we had to do that inane “spring forward” with the clocks last night so it’s already later than I feel, and my agenda for today includes preparing the tax information for the accountant and filing the remainder of the 2018 paperwork. What an awful start to a morning, right????

apple pie ready for the ovenI made a quiche last weekend and my crust recipe makes 2 crusts. Quiche only needs one crust so all week I’ve been imaging ways to use up the remaining crust. Most of the ideas revolved around a veggie & egg pie but I never got around to doing that. In the meantime I had 4 aging apples that soon would be fit for nothing but the deer or compost. And I really don’t want to deal with my paperwork. What’s a poor girl to do? Make a pie!!!

baked apple pieI still had cranberries and sugar-free orange marmalade, both of which needed to be used or tossed soon. I pureed those with a tiny bit of Splenda brown sugar to help the mixture gel instead of run. I sliced up my apples, removing all the really aged areas. I layered the apples with the puree and sprinkled cinnamon and nutmeg on each layer. I didn’t have enough crust to make a top and bottom crust so I thought I’d lattice the top with however much crust remained after filling the pie plate. I probably could have squeeeeeeeezed out 2 crusts, but I didn’t realize that until I was playing with the lattice. And yes, this is probably the worst lattice you will ever see on a pie. 🙂 I figured once it was baked and we were enjoying the pie, we wouldn’t mind the appearance.

It smelled heavenly while it baked, and it looks darn good to me now that it’s out of the oven. It tastes yummy, too. 🙂

yummy good apple pie

Resistance Was Silly

I really, really hate being told “Do This”. Foolish reaction, I know, but the moment someone tells me that I must do something, I want to protest and resist – You’re not the boss of me!!!! There are many situations that bring on my ‘dragging feet’ reaction: visits to relatives with whom I’m not especially close, dealing with my taxes, filling out personal data forms for work, and many other “you must do this” requirements. I say it’s a foolish reaction because typically doing the action is NEVER as horrible as I anticipate. The visit with the relatives is fun, the taxes take less time and energy than expected and to date I have always survived the experience. So when my manager informed us (his team) that he urged us all very strongly to enroll in a certain program at work, I immediately went into “you can’t tell me what to do” mode.

The irony is that the program he was promoting was the kind of learning I usually take all on my own: learning how to coach people to solve work issues that they face. Over the years I have taken courses in Applied Creative Thinking, been trained as a meeting facilitator, served as a mentor, led training courses, and spent a lot of time in behavioral therapy myself and then trying to teach what I had learned to others. So you’d think that learning to be a more effective coach would be right up my alley. You’d think that, and I recognized that idea, but I was annoyed and resistant. I made sure to wait until beyond the last minute so that I was closed out of all the possible teams. But then to prove I was a “team player” I wrote to the program coordinator apologizing for being late and asking if there was a way to join a team or if I should (oh PLEASE say YES) wait until the next time the program was offered. She put me onto one of her teams. Sigh.

I was EXTREMELY busy at work after that (I believe I have mentioned that *grin*) and so I did none of the prep work. I went to the first session and sat there with my virtual arms crossed and a pout on my virtual face. On camera of course I smiled and put on a “very interested face”. I hope. 🙂 I hated the first session all the way up to the very last 10 minutes. We “wasted” 45 minutes or so for 50 people to introduce themselves and say why they were taking the course. I was the last but one to speak. (Feel the resistance?) Then the facilitator did something technically I’d never seen before – she broke us all into small sub-meetings. Wow – isn’t technology COOL????? I had not known that capability existed and thought it was a fantastic innovation for video conferencing. I was in a room with one other woman. We could see each other’s physical surroundings and we broke the ice talking about sports teams, then started on the assignment. We were summoned back (forcibly) before we had the chance to switch roles. I found that my whole attitude had undergone a change simply from interacting with a real person one on one in a non-threatening environment. I liked her (unlike my reaction to many of the other people introducing themselves – wow you can really tell a lot about a person from the words they use, how long they talk, and their focus *grin*).

I resolved to do more preparation before the next class. My big project had launched, I had more time to work on other matters. Part of my annoyance was the requirement to buy a book in which I had no interest, but I finally downloaded the book to my iPad. The part of the course that was still causing me major stress and concern was the requirement to coach 2 people. I couldn’t think who I might coach. I had an idea that it should be someone younger than I, someone still early in their career. I didn’t really want to reach out to people with whom I work because if I failed or was very bad at this coaching stuff, I didn’t want them to know it and have my good reputation ‘tarnished’. I didn’t know anyone else who’d fit the “young, early in career” stage because my office mates are mostly senior folks who are looking towards retirement, or they are transient employees in for the day to use office facilities. I also thought that it isn’t just the coachee/client who is vulnerable in a session – the coach is also vulnerable. At least I felt *I* would be vulnerable – what if I failed? Who to coach and how was I going to avoid/fulfill this requirement?

I had a meeting with a coworker who is also a friend. We were chatting about business matters and about work and I mentioned this course, and whined about not having anyone to coach and not knowing where to find someone. I was absolutely astounded when he said “You can coach me.” Full Stop. It never occurred to me to reach out to someone like this: senior, well-established, a friend. It took him a few minutes to convince me he was serious and me a few minutes to adjust to the idea of trying to coach a friend. We agreed to give it a try. He recommended a young person we both knew as my second ‘client’ but I was still a bit resistant to coaching someone on my team. But his willingness to be coached made me rethink the people I know at work. I actually know many, many people with whom I have a good relationship and who might agree to 3 one-hour sessions to let me practice coaching. I reached out to one of them, a woman with whom I used to work regularly before she moved to another role. She agreed!!! She was extremely interested and enthusiastic about the idea. I began to be very excited as well. We set our first session for later that week.

I began to catch up on all the assignments. I began reading the book (I was correct – I don’t like it, it doesn’t speak to me, but there are one or two points that I found worth noting). I started watching the videos, which infuriated me no end. They were recorded several years ago. This means there has been PLENTY of time for someone to go in and edit those videos and crop out the leading 10 minutes of people chatting about so and so retiring and “can you hear me now?” and “please put your phones on mute”, and “please call back on another line”. Seriously – I feel that not cropping that kind of nonsense out of the videos but making the videos required viewing is disrespectful to course participants. I really hate the videos until they reach the point where the practice coaching begins. I admire the people who have volunteered to be the coach and the coachee. I’ll tell you right now – it’s SCARY to try to coach when you have NEVER done it before and don’t know what questions to ask or what works. The fact that one woman volunteered to do that and to do it IN FRONT OF OTHERS was impressive. She wasn’t very good at it but she was game and she kept going. The other videos I’ve watched (really listened – there is no video recording during the coaching) were much the same – a lot of stuff that should have been cropped, repetition from prior videos, new material and then a practice coaching session, then someone’s observations and feedback from both coach and coachee. The coaching sessions are incredibly interesting and valuable. I have been taking copious notes.

I did my first coaching session yesterday. I did a LOT of preparation. I printed out course materials, wrote notes on them, highlighted things I wanted to remember, spread them out about my laptop where I could see them without needing to look away from the client. I worried about how we’d switch from friend mode to coach/client mode, and reviewed what I’d heard in the practice sessions. I was as ready as I thought I could be. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to maintain a coach role. I have a strong tendency to jump in when someone is explaining a work situation and share my similar experience, or to offer an opinion in support, or to propose solutions to the problems. None of that is suitable for a coach. I was aware through the entire hour of keeping my eyes focused on the client’s face (I moved my screen shot so that her face was right above my camera so as I looked at her face, I was staring right into the camera), to not interrupting (keep your mouth shut and LISTEN), to hear what words she used and where she took the conversation. I was writing notes out of view of the camera (they are probably illegible since my writing is horrible to start and I wasn’t LOOKING as I wrote) but I didn’t really need them. I relied on the course notes, and what I’d heard other coaches say/do and tried to follow those examples. It was GREAT. I loved it.

At the end of the hour, I felt we had done very well. To be fair, I suspect one of the reasons it went so well was because I had a great client. She wanted to be there, she could articulate her issues, she had ideas and she responded well to the open-ended questions. The client had actions she planned to implement, we talked about a time frame, we agreed to meet again to discuss the other issues she’d mentioned. When she said to me “you’re a great listener” I felt extremely rewarded. I learned a lot about myself, and about helping others. This IS the kind of work I like to do. Not only did I enjoy this experience but I’m now wondering if this is something I can do as a next role. Helping people resolve their road blocks might be every bit as rewarding as playing with kittens all day. *smile*

Resistance was silly.


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