Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Office politics

A couple of months after I started working at the university, a memo came out stating that we were going to dress up like Jesuits for Halloween (Jesuits had a better sense of humor twenty years ago). Collars would be provided; we simply were to wear all black attire.

The day came, we were issued our collars, and walked over to the racquetball court to have a group picture taken.

For the several years after that, we were encouraged to wear costumes on Halloween, provided we didn't have meetings, or it wasn't too extreme. The practice fell away, however, and in recent years, getting anyone to do anything extra in our office has been difficult.

Simply put, morale sucks.

This is in part due to a whole host of announced changes, shifts in personnel and university structure that will unfold over the next year. The stress level around here, usually at a six on a ten point scale, ratcheted up over eight, where it will stay until the dust settles.

One young colleague appears to have taken upon herself the unofficial mantle of "morale officer". She brought in a random treat last week (bagels), and now has sent out an email saying our boss has agreed to let us wear costumes next Monday, meetings permitting.

This leaves me in a quandary.

On the one hand, get off my lawn. I don't "celebrate" Halloween.

On the other, she is trying to make things happier around here.

So, were I inclined to dress up, what is both simple and easy to get rid of if it makes me crazy?

- tape 1040s all over me and go as the Tax (wo)Man?
- find the light up reindeer antlers, add a light up red nose and go as Rudolph?
- pin on a piece of batting covered with pieces of fabric, to be a quilt in progress?
- keep my office door mostly shut all day, and be the grumpy old lady?

Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

31 days....oh, who am I fooling? It's Read-a-Thon time!

Eh. So much for 31 days of posting, huh?

The October Read-a-Thon is fast approaching. Saturday, October 22, if any of you are interested.

There are a myriad of good reasons to participate in this semi-annual festival of all things book-related. After all, a serious reader jumps at any excuse to spend an entire day focused on nothing but the printed (or pixilated) word.

Alas, I lost my mind and scheduled a craft day with a friend for that Saturday. Since it is at her house, and transporting the sewing machine is always a pain, I'm thinking I may be able to bend the craft day rules a bit to make things fit into the read-a-thon.

I "collect" three main types of books: mystery novels, cookbooks, and...quilting books. In addition, I subscribe to two three two quilting magazines. Rather than take a project to work on for craft day, I can load up the car with quilting magazines and books.

The herd of magazines needs thinning, anyway. Every couple of years, I go through the stack (one magazine publishes every other month, the other one per quarter), pulling out articles and patterns of interest. Then, every four years or so, I go through the accumulated pulled-out articles and thin those out. Yes, it sounds like busywork (why not just read, then recycle the magazine instead of pulling things out, to not be looked at again until they are on the way to recycling years later?). But every minute spent looking at other quilts, other techniques is a valuable aid in your own future quilting.

And thus, I won't feel guilty counting those hours towards my reading goals.

The best thing about the fall event is, frankly, the season of the year. How can you not want to curl up in front of a fire, with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate (or glass of wine) close to hand? Or prop a book up to read while you have a thick beef stew (cooked in the crockpot, so you can continue reading) for dinner?

Even if you cannot commit to read for the full 24 hours (I'm not that crazy, personally), consider signing up. That simple act of committing guarantees you will spend more time in a book that day than you would otherwise.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

31 Days...falling down on the job edition

I did warn you. It's been a week, and I've simply not been able to put coherent thoughts together. I was blind Monday night (dilation from eye exam), out late with a friend Tuesday, and recovering last night. Tonight I've a hair appointment after work.

And I'm terribly, horribly, unremittingly crabby.

A confluence of stupid things can put me in a grouchy mood. It's been a banner week for stupid things/people.

Discovered voice mail hasn't been sending notifications since June. Four months of messages.

Coworker decides to unload a backpack on me to "fix" for her.

Had to go into West Allis for the third time in a week (you can't get there (easily) from here, and there are random 10-foot long (but blocking entire lanes) construction zones all over the place).

The brand new washer may (or most likely may not) be part of a recall by Samsung for certain models that have a chance of...going crazy and self destructing (I have to input the serial number in their database to find out...the serial number on my invoice is one number too short; the serial number is on the back of the panel of the washer, where I cannot reach, unless I stand on something, lean over and take a picture (haven't had time yet).

The radio station I usually listen to is running their fall pledge drive. I switch to Pandora, but Pandora is now doing the "are you still listening?" thing once an hour, and they no longer supply the option to interact with an ad to get four hours of continuous play. Instead, they would like you to upgrade to Pandora premium, at $5 per month. Um, no. I keep forgetting to bring the ipod.

Lots of other, in ordinary times, small annoyances. It's just been too many of them all at once, and I just want.it.to.stop.

Going to close my office door to try to get some stuff done, not that it will do much good. They can still annoy me via phone or email, or, as has happened in the past, by unlocking my door and just walking in (not even knocking first - apparently, she thought I wasn't in the office, as I so very, very rarely close my door entirely when I'm here).

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better one.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

31 Days...Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

What? It's my 31 days; I can take the easy way out by posting a recipe.

Leaving sunny Baltimore Tuesday afternoon, I came home to a rainy, cloudy, dreary evening. Things haven't changed much since then, though I do believe the sun came out for about five minutes yesterday afternoon.

Rainy days always make me hungry for soup, in this case, a new variant of tried-and-true chicken soup. The flavors - thyme, rosemary, garlic and lemon juice - along with the orzo make this say "Greek" to me, or at least a close cousin to it. Chicken thighs rather than breast are a nice change, more flavorful and moist.

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

2 TBS olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1" chunks
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 sprig rosemary
Juice of one lemon
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley leaves

Heat 1 TBS olive oil in a large stockpot. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pot and cook until golden, about 2 - 3 minutes; take chicken out of pan and set aside.

Add remaining TBS of oil to the pot. Add garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in thyme until fragrant, about 1 minutes.

Whisk in chicken stock and bay leaves; bring to a boil. Stir in orzo, rosemary and chicken; reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender, about 10 - 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Taste; add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

This makes about eight one-cup servings, though it's so good one little cup isn't enough. Orzo is the rice-shaped pasta. I'm sure you could substitute rice for the orzo in the recipe, though I think you might need more broth if you do.

Now that I am well provisioned with soup, the weatherman says the next several days will be dry. Just about the time the soup-for-lunch runs out, the rainy weather is supposed to roll back in. Maybe a chili or stew next time...

Saturday, October 01, 2016

31 Days of ... Something

As much as I'd like to play along with October's "31 Days..." blogging meme, I'm not organized nor thoughtful enough to think of an over-arching theme. How about I try to post every day, or nearly every day, and stick to one subject in each post? That alone should be challenging enough for me.

Today is all about the food. It's October 1st, time to pull out all the fall food recipes. I just submitted a grocery order that spills over with squash, late season tomatoes, several types of apples and sweet potatoes. The pantry already has plenty of maple syrup, brown sugar, pie spices and other goodies to transform the raw ingredients into autumn-flavored goodness.

In November, I'll be hosting another Dinner for Twelve Strangers. There are three, maybe four new dishes vying for a place on the menu.

The first is a maple-pecan sweet potato made hasselback style. Partially bake the potatoes, then slice hasselback style. The "stuffing" for the slices is a mix of maple syrup, pecans, butter, vanilla and cinnamon. Put them back in the oven to finish cooking. I'm planning to try it out as a side dish for dinner one night this week. The only possible drawback to these is having to make individual potatoes for each diner; generally, with a crowd, it's easier to do a casserole-type side dish.

Which leads us to the second contender: honey glazed apple and sweet potato casserole. Par bake the potatoes. Skin them and slice into 1/2" slices. Core some apples and slice crosswise into 1/2" slices. Shingle them alternately in a pretty baking dish. Melt butter and honey, add cinnamon and vanilla. Pour over the potatoes and apples. Bake. Much the same basic flavor as the first dish, but easier preparation.

Third up is a squash dish, a spaghetti and mushroom tetrazzini. Think of a basic like turkey tetrazinni, but substitute spaghetti squash for the noodles, and mushrooms for the turkey. There's a bit of apple juice in the sauce, giving a little more fall flavor. Lots of mozzarella and parmesan, with tomatoes layered over the top to finish.

The protein, I think, will be maple-brined pork tenderloin. The brine is the same as at the link, you simply substitute tenderloin for chops and let them marinate longer. This is a personal favorite of mine, juicy and flavorful, without being overwhelmingly maple-ish. Whether or not I can do pork will depend on which students are assigned to me; many international students participate in these dinners, and there is a chance one may have a cultural bias against pork. If so, I may drop a chuck roast in the crock pot.

So that is day one - Food. Now you will have to excuse me; I've been up for several hours and have yet to have breakfast.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

And home

...getting home was by no means a guaranteed deal.

Everyone boarded, we pulled away from the gate and...stopped. Five minutes later, the captain comes on the intercom:

"We seem to have a bit of a mechanical issue. We're going to be pulling back to the gate to let the mechanics check things out. We'll update you when we know something."

The "mechanical issue" turned out to be the right side engine refusing to turn over; better to discover that on the ground, than have it quit in mid-air.

Southwest Airlines deserves a lot of praise for their handling of this situation. Within ten minutes of being pushed back to the gate, the mechanics made the decision to pull the plane out of service. We were to deplane, then hang out in the boarding area while they looked for another plane to carry us to Milwaukee.

Within fifteen minutes of our exit, the gate attendant announced that another plane had been located, would arrive in twenty minutes, and as soon as the passengers on that plane disembarked, we would load and go. We had to change gates - to the one next door, which actually shared seating with the gate at which we started.

The longest part of the whole process was waiting for the new plane to empty.

In the end, we got to Milwaukee only an hour and a half after our originally scheduled arrival time. Pretty darn good.

Kudos to the employees of the airline, from the gate crew down to the mechanics and everyone in between. They had protocols to follow for this scenario, made decisions quickly and most importantly, kept the passengers informed at every step.

The only sour point in the whole process came courtesy of my seat mate. As one does, I casually asked him if he was on his way home.

"Hell no - I'd never live there," was the response, delivered forcefully and in a tone that made it very, very clear the mere thought that he would live in Milwaukee was a deadly insult. Yet it's apparently perfectly fine to do business in Wisconsin.

Hmpf. Elitist, rude East Coaster. You live in Baltimore and you are insulting Milwaukee?

So - home. Good conference. Still tired, though. Lots of walking, too much sitting. Grateful it's almost the weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Just dropping in...

...to say I won't be around for a while. Or at least until late next week.

I'm off to a tax seminar in Baltimore, for work. Sixteen hours of c.p.e., spent in the company of more than two hundred tax accountants and attorneys. What could be more fun?

This will be my first time in Baltimore, in a hotel right across the street from the inner harbor - and a waterfront mall. In fact, the hotel has a skyway that connects to the mall. Be still, my pocketbook.

Flying in ridiculously early the day before the conference gives me a bit of time to do some exploring. There is an aquarium nearby, as well as a science center and a really, really old ship. I see that there are some special activities aboard her the day that I'm free. The pier at which she's tied up is across the street from the hotel...though it looks as if the fastest way to get there is...through the mall.

If I read the history correctly, the USS Constellation saw service from 1854 to 1955. Yeah, you read that right. I'm just a little bit excited about the idea of taking a tour. Kind of cool to be able to say you were on board a ship that saw service in the Civil War.

Pictures after, if I don't drop my camera in the harbor.