Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Fragments

Hmm...I'm beginning to think my lovely, thoughtful, fascinating blog is going to be reduced to Flartus' Friday Fragments.


Well, I know I've mentioned it a few times before, but let me be explicit about my sudden new work schedule. As my handful of regular--and very much valued--readers know, I recently accepted a part-time teaching position. Yay! Very exciting; an adjustment to the schedule, but after a few weeks, I knew it would be fine.

So my Monday through Wednesday evenings are taken. No prob; I still have the rest of the week, right?

WRONG! Ever hear of a little government program called Cash for Clunkers? Well, my day job is in auto loans, and our volume has suddenly tripled. Besides working 10- to 12-hour days during the week, my department has worked every Saturday since...well, sometime in July. And it's going to continue for at least another two weeks. The worst thing is, 50 hours a week still leaves us 3 days behind!

Now, I don't want to complain (not that I haven't been complaining on my tired, panicky days!). I'm paid hourly, so the overtime isn't hurting the bank balance. And Miss Chef has been working these kinds of hours for at least 4 years, so I know it's not the end of the world. But that's why I haven't been to the farmers' market in a month. And why I dropped the ball on the garden, the canning, the teaching stories and the food pics. There has been very little cooking in the Flartus household! Hopefully by the end of September, I'll have some more time to share with you all.

So, anyway, off to the Fragments!

Brussels sprouts THIS is how they grow:

They start out like any little cabbage plant. As they grow taller, you cut off the lower leaves, promoting larger buds. You can see some of the leaves on the ground around this plant. I didn't realize they would need cutting every week or two. But Miss Chef was the one who wanted to try these out, so I figured everything I did was extra, anyway. :)

Here's a close-up of the growing stalk.

Miss Chef's Birthday Well, falling on a Saturday, this was going to be another working birthday for Miss Chef. In fact, she and I both went to school Saturday morning: she to do a demo for the open house, me to work on my lesson plans (our computer was still down, so I needed to go onto campus anyway.) We had lunch together at O'Charley's, where our food runner turned out to be one of my students. That happened fast; I'd only been teaching for a month before I ran into a student. Anyway, we each went off to our separate workplaces after that.

But it wasn't all lame-o work stuff. As he did last year, Chef Adam made Miss Chef a cake, and they called me from the restaurant to come for post-service cake & drinks. Which meant driving half an hour and arriving at 10 pm. But you know I love the post-service family-meal time there, and Chef once again ended up telling stories and acting out weird previous employees, so it was worth the drive. Plus, the cake was really good!

Sunday we went to see a free Shakespeare Festival rendition of Julius Caesar. It was not as good as the Twelfth Night show we had seen the month before, but we met up with Michele's (of Bosky Acres) two oldest kids, and stumbled upon an excellent little soul-food restaurant for dinner afterwards. So it was still a fun change of pace.

Teaching I love realizing that my students and I have established a group relationship. They know my sense of humor, I know more about their interests, strengths and weaknesses, and I've encouraged a number of them through some frustrations and bad grades. I may have finally figured out how to use the book: have the students read the bare-bones content before class, then flesh it out next session with more examples, explanations and practice. I'll see Monday how that works.

I came up with a really good partner practice activity for last Wednesday's class. They had to describe their situation ("I'm thirsty") using some new expressions, and their partner had to suggest where they should go to solve their problem ("Tu vas au café"), using new vocabulary and a new grammar structure. Unlike some classwork, this felt very natural; they found it amusing, too, but best of all: they were communicating in French.

Sure, it was very basic, the pronunciation was mediocre, and they could cheat by falling into English. But walking around, watching and listening to them do exactly what this course is designed to do, is one of those rewarding moments that inspire me. It's one of the few times I can see the tangible results of my work.

Ted Kennedy It's been all over the news the last two days: how much he did for the disadvantaged, and how good he was at reaching "across the aisle." I don't know a whole hell of a lot about his history in either area (nor about Chappaquadick, which seems obviously absent from what I've heard; let us speak not ill of the dead, I suppose). Sounds like Ted did a lot for his country and probably was sincere about trying to help the citizenry.

But I keep hearing about how he would compromise, reach out to conservatives and back off some aspects of his bills to make sure something got done. How he had actual, true friends of the opposite political persuasion. And it makes me wonder if that's all done. Is there any hope of sewing up this conservative ~ liberal, Democrat ~ Republican, red-state ~ blue-state, us vs. them, name-calling divide? As a true blue liberal, I could easily blame the past administration, but as Mom always said "It takes two to tango."

Cut it out, Americans! Would you start looking past political opinions and maybe consider where that other person is coming from? There's got to be a reason they feel, believe and vote that way, and no, it's not because they're crazy or stupid. Just different. Every sane person generally acts from a basis of rational thought.

And yes, I need to heed these words myself. I'm no saint, either. But sheesh; where is all this hatred coming from? Is this going to be our new reality, or are we still capable of returning to a more mature mode of communication? I'm scared, people, very scared for our little 200-year old political experiment here. As George Washington said (I believe), "Democracy breeds mediocrity." Are we becoming just another isolationist, ignorant populace, led by the nose by our demagogues?

I hate to end on a down note, but that's all I've got for this week. Maybe something miraculous will happen at Ted's internment tomorrow, and we'll all find ourselves joining hands and singing "Kumbaya" together.

Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Silly Saturday

Quote of the week: "Nothing says 'I love you' like pork."

(One of the farmers at the market gifted Miss Chef with a pound of frozen ground pork today; we were both delighted.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Four Friday Fragments

I told myself I wouldn't do this...after about 60 hours in front of computer screens this week, I told myself I would go home, pet the dog, and get to bed early.

But there's so much I've been wanting to share, I just couldn't resist. I did take Rosie Toes out on a walk, though, if that makes it any better.

First Fragment: Anybody remember Herb? He is, I'm sure, long since gone, but a second generation of Jamaican-striped caterpillars showed up on our volunteer dill patch several weeks ago. I watched as a dozen tiny ones turned into 9 medium ones, turned into 3 big ones, into one gigundo one. And then, last weekend, I had a few minutes' visit from this:

A cousin, perhaps? I'm pretty sure this is a Tiger Swallowtail; I'm positive it's (sing-song) GOR-geous! I sure hope Herb de-chrysalised successfully and had a chance to be this beautiful! (Do yourself a favor and click on the pic to biggerize, my camera picked up a lot of detail.)

Second Fragment: A garden first for us: harvesting brussels sprouts! In spite of serious predation by cabbage moths (frown face, hand on hips: bad moths!), and my lack of consistency in spraying with BT (which I learned about during the New Town Farms tour in May), they're still growing. We cut two plants at the beginning of the month, and I painstakingly cut each little sprout from the stalks.

Miss Chef shredded them up in the Cuisinart, and sautéed them with some brown butter. Yum, yum! There was more than we could eat, unfortunately. Next time, I'll know to share with neighbors or co-workers. We still have 6 more plants out there, bug-eaten as ever, but still growing sprouts.

Fragment Three: general garden news. I've hardly seen the garden the last three weeks; I generally get home between 7 and 9 pm, and stagger outside to see if the rabbits have left us anything. Our tomatoes are a bit scraggly, many are splitting, but the several cherry plants are trouping along. This pic is from last month.

Rosie, after turning her nose up at tomatoes all last summer, suddenly came around after tasting these sweet beauties. Now whenever we go to the garden, she comes along to beg, and when we try walking back to the house with our hands (or shirtfronts) full of little 'maters, she literally sits on our feet, as we're walking, with that "Where's mine?" look that all dog owners recognize.

Fragment Four: Beautiful flower picture I took of one of our black-eyed Susans, after finally discovering the close-up function on my camera.

Well, I thought it was beautiful, anyway. Looks better bigger, of course.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Clothes Hoarse

No, I'm not back online yet, but finally realized I can save my, posts to my jump-drive and download them on campus. Not an ideal solution, but better than keeping my mouth shut, eh?

My new schedule is, as they say, kicking my ass. I’ve been working 50-hour weeks at my “real” job, and still remaining steadily two days behind. Then of course, there’s the new teaching job, which I’m trying to wrestle down into a manageable number of hours. I’m such a perfectionist I can lesson plan entire days away.

The craziness does, however, have a few benefits.

Mostly money. It’s nice not having to count every dollar. Last time Miss Chef and I stopped in the grocery store to pick up a few things, I found myself dithering in front of the fresh fruit juices.

“I’m gonna get the expensive juice, ‘cause I can afford it!” I stated both defensively and with a sense of liberation. Thirty cents be damned; in fact, I’ll buy TWO!

Later, I dreamed about all the things I’d put off buying that I can fit into my budget now: a ladder to clean gutters & trim the bushes; a new pair of tennis shoes to replace my lone pair from last year that’s partially green from mowing the lawn; the fence around the backyard that we’ve been talking about for three years... The only problem is finding the time to spend the money!

So, as I drove home Friday night from work (yay! My first night all week to finish at 5:00!), I decided, what the heck, I’ll stop off at Kohl’s and see if I can’t supplement my tired and outdated work wardrobe with something new.

Miss Chef and I love Kohl’s because they have a wide selection, reasonable prices, and it seems like everything there is at least 30% off when we visit. We have to pick through many racks to find clothes that suit our rather plain taste, but when we do find something it’s usually quite cheap.

Friday, for example, I found a lovely, comfy blue pullover shirt for only $8. And WonderBras were on sale for $20. But it wasn’t ‘til I wandered past the bras, looking for dress socks, that I got really excited.

Petites!! Not since the Sears in Mobile (where we lived before Charlotte) had I found an affordable petites section that was more than a handful of racks. Granted, this section is somewhat crammed into a corner in the back of the second floor, but they had work clothes, and jeans and all kinds of stuff!

I was so thrilled, I came close to getting teary-eyed. Seriously. I’m only 5’2”, on a low-gravity day, and being overweight makes it doubly difficult to find pants that will button, without having to hem six inches off the bottom. And I hate sewing. Especially hems. Which might help explain why I only have 3 pairs of dress pants I feel really comfortable in.

So as I trolled through the racks, I grabbed about eight different pairs of Lees, Gloria Vanderbilts, Sag Harbors and whatever the heck else looked good. Almost every rack had my size with that lovely “P” next to it. Truly, I was like a kid in the candy store, and it was only when I thought my arms were going to break off that I headed for the dressing room.

Which turned out to be one of the smallest ones in the store. Small people, small dressing room? What, we’re supposed to cram two to a stall? Whatever. I spotted another room across the aisle in the Women’s section, and lugged my finds over there, wondering how many pairs of pants I could truly afford.

I’ll bet you can guess the result of my try-on…I didn’t like a single pair. Oh, they fit ok; some of them were quite comfortable. But by the time I was done, I had chosen only a pair of denim shorts off the clearance rack, and composed a list of grievances for the women’s off-the-rack fashion industry, which I now share with you:

1. What is with the freakin’ clown pants, people? C’mon ladies, is it just me, or is every single pair of ladies’ dress pants finished off with ultra-wide, flappy ankles? Who has ankles the width of their thighs? Oh, yeah, I know, wide pant legs make your legs look thinner. That may very well be, but I happen to have decent enough legs, and I don’t appreciate the breezes floating up past my knees as I walk. Nor do I enjoy the fwip-fwip of my trouser legs fighting past each other with every step I take. I could use that extra material on a lovely school uniform for an underprivileged six-year old. (If I liked sewing, that is.)

2. Pick a *&%$# fastener system and stick with it. Single buttons, double buttons, side-by-side, over-under, hook clasps, ties, and any combination in between. What’s the point? Men don’t have all this engineering to figure out in the dressing room, do they? Button, zip, they’re done. Granted, sometimes a double-button front helps, er, smooth things out, but often I feel the extra buttons are just to make me feel like I’m buying something luxurious. C’mon, I know I’m not at Sak’s or Bergdorf’s. And when I gotta pee, I don’t always have time to unlock Fort Knox down there. Let’s get real.

3. Stop the circus-freak treatment of “differently-sized” women. Do you have the men’s “husky” section on an entirely different floor from the rest of the men’s clothing? I felt like a member of a traveling carnival show, where the manager said “Stick the dwarves and the giants next to each other back there; they’ll make each one look even more freakish! Plus, you know, it’ll make them easier to avoid, for the squeamish.” I’ve been shopping at that store for over two years, and only now have come across the petites section--after walking through bedding, boys, seasonal, infants and intimates. Because nothing says “Petites!” like bibs and Elmo pajamas.

4. Treat us fairly. While the dressing room shared by the intimates & petites sections seemed reasonably-well maintained, the one dedicated to Women’s sizes was oddly empty. As I approached the dressing room, the motion-sensor lights clicked on. There were only three stalls in this one, and all three were crammed with tried-and-rejected clothing. The rack inside for re-hanging clothes was half-full (and, by the time I was done cleaning out a stall for myself, mostly full). Obviously, maintaining this section is not a priority for the staff. No wonder there were no shoppers there. Or maybe, they just couldn’t find it.

So how about it ladies, did I hit any nerves or ring any bells for you? Or did I miss anything? What makes you mutter under your breath when you try on clothes? (And if there are any men reading this, what hidden fashion abuses—other than ties, which I also think are pointless—are being foisted upon the, uh, unfair sex?)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Still Here..Sort Of

It's almost 6 on Friday night, and I'm still at work. I need a break, and I thought I'd take advantage of my internet access...shhhh! pop in and say "Hi! I miss all you bloggy friends!"

Here's an update on our computer situation: a friend pulled our hard drive out and stuck it in a temporary machine. It's still got all of our stuff--pictures, resumes, Miss Chef's recipes, old love letters, the works. PHEW!! But...we're still waiting for her to install the drive into a new machine, so we haven't loaded our internet-connecting software yet.

Hopefully, we'll get our new machine on Sunday; whether the software will load and connect as it's supposed to remains to be seen. I sure hope so, because not only am I losing touch with you all, but my poor students have a dickens of a time getting a hold of me outside of class.

And, as you've noticed, I've been working a bit of overtime at job #1--blew past 40 hours this morning, and will definitely be coming in Saturday, and possibly Sunday.

And, might I add, tomorrow is Miss Chef's birthday, and what have I done in preparation?

Yup. So the weekend's not looking so hot, either.

But I look forward to diving back into the blog pool someday soon. Don't forget about me; I miss you!