Overrated

photo credit to ToastWizard

Last month, I ran into someone who Did Me Wrong a few years back. We had a falling out of sorts. He was upset about something he thought I did, and believed someone else’s self-interest driven, gossipy untruths, so he angrily confronted me when I was (unbeknownst to him) having a very difficult time. I mustered the strength and calm needed to go back at him without completely scorching the earth.  He then went about having a childish mini-campaign against me. He made it awkward for me to keep engaging in something I had previously enjoyed so much, and his shenanigans even extended to LittleMan and his participation in sports. Not in any dangerous or overly traumatic way, I should add–or else I would not have reacted to him with the maddening cheerfulness and continued (surface) good will that I did, and I might not have minded scorching the earth. But still, he caused discomfort to me and mine, and appeared to get away with it.

And yes, even as he later had continued, all-positive contact with Stretch and I had continued cheerful, if clippy, interactions with him, I did harbor a little wish to see him miserable. To slip on one of life’s banana peels and have a spectacular fall, and spend some time in awkwardness and discomfort and be humbled and know that it was because of his crappy treatment of me. Weak threads of this wish continued on for some time, I’m ashamed to say.

In recent months, he did slip on one of those peels, and he lost a lot, in a very public way. I heard through the grapevine things that I had no business knowing about his situation, about his family. I think it’s accurate to say that he fell hard and was, and is, bereft.

When I ran into him last month with Stretch, there it was–that moment of schadenfreude that we all imagine. There was a bear hug and a “you looked great in that game” and there were updates about our kids exchanged.  The banana peel was never mentioned, but he knew that I knew. His demeanor was humbled, and he looked like it was an effort for him to be upbeat.

This was the moment to snicker inside and think, “ha-HA! You dissed me and were awful to me in 2009, and I see that what has gone around, has come around, my friend, praise be to karma!”  But instead of some yahoo karmic victory, I just felt sad for the guy. I said goodbye and was siezed with nothing but compassion and a desire to make him a big pan of baked ziti or something. Any wish to see him suffer a bit was just hollow. I hope things improve for him and his family soon.

I discovered that I don’t have the stomach for this schadenfreude thing, though I think I may need to be tested a few more times, just to be sure.

Just Can’t Wait

Last summer, I begrudgingly entered one of the souvenir (and Big Inflatable Thing) stores on rt. 6 with the family.  They had succumbed to an urge for hooded sweatshirts that said CAPE COD on them, and a need to putter among the fridge magnets before we headed back to real life.

I picked up a white coffee mug, with the Wellfleet, MA sign on it, for myself.  Hot coffee season was still many months away, but I knew that a day would come, in the middle of winter, when I’d want to be reminded of the most heavenly place on earth. I went outside and stole a few minutes with a book and a beach chair while the Mr. and kids browsed the tchotchkes and paid for the tourist merchandise.

Well, that day has come.  Not for the first time, to be sure–but this was the kind of day that I had in mind when I bought that tourist coffee mug.

I want to get into the car and head for the Wellfleet of summer—with its sun and sand and breeze; with its tides that rise and cut off access to places (sometimes while you’re in those places); with the racing over to Moby Dick’s for an early dinner before the gargantuan line forms; with the Drive-In movies and the requisite Burning Hot Flea Market Afternoon, when we all begin to turn on each other; with the TVs that have the most basic of cable, if that;  with an obscene number of books to be read;  with the many walks on broken clam and oyster shells;  with its uncrowded beaches and protected seashore;  ….and with, of course, duh–the sweetest sounds, which brought us there in the first place.  Where I get to be away, but still, in a way, at home.

 

But in leiu of the Wellfleet of summer,  I’d happily take the Wellfleet of right now. I can handle it–I’m a New Englander. I know how to hunker down in a storm and read by candlelight when the power goes out.  I’d discover the Wellfleet of winter, when all of the summer places are closed and the population shrinks and things are a lot quieter.

I just want to get back there, and soon.

Even If Your Voice Shakes

There was the boss who had probably been good at this gig at some point, a long time ago. At first glance, it would seem that there was nothing to be learned here.

NOT a recommended hair removal method

I mean, what do you take from someone who comes into your office, and in the middle of your discussion, the building maintenance guy pops in with a quick question, and she asks him to go and get the blowtorch please, and the next thing you know, he’s using the torch to singe the hair off her arms, while you sit there, dumbfounded (no. I am not. making this up).

But she did tell me a story once, about how,  when she was put in charge of a fairly large organization, the first thing she did was ask the Board to send her back to school part-time, to take classes in Human Resources and Management, because she lacked this kind of experience. The lesson was a good one:  recognize your skill set gaps and ask for help in closing them. Not as entertaining as the Blowtorch Story, but valuable.

There were the bosses who did not inspire, lead or teach–but provided me with at least some little gems, nonetheless.

A favorite font;

a great fragrance;

I'll find something, doggone it!

There was the boss who, despite my best efforts to find something of value–even something superficial–to emulate, brought nothing to the table. And that’s saying something, because even in the most dysfunctional of sweatshops, there are always little gems to add to our toolkits.  Leadership qualities. Good habits. Favorite office supplies. Something (and a How Not to Do Things list doesn’t count). You have to dig for them, but those little nuggets are always there. And the spirit of always learning something that you can take with you is one that I’m glad to have cultivated. So, to come up empty handed, well, that’s bleak.

...but all I got was this "What Not to Do" t-shirt

But I digress.

And there was the one who brought so much. To the program that she led–which was so much more than a “workplace.” To her family, to her friends, to her community, to the world. It’s difficult to describe how far her hard work and influence has reached, and impossible to quantify.

How many children and youth  are now receiving an education that is not “one size fits all,”  but planned according to their needs, because of her tireless fight for their rights–and the seeds that she planted in so many others, who continue to advocate? How many incredible professionals have been mentored and shaped by her, and now mentor and shape others? How many friends gain strength to face their own challenges, because of having seen her courage in action?  How many family relationships are strengthened by knowing the bond that she had with her own child? Tens, hundreds?  Impossible to know.

I miss her, and I think that “unfair” is both a cliche and an understatement, but there it is.

I take comfort and pride in having absorbed from her what she so generously gave: the tenacity to not let go and settle, when a child’s education or well being is at stake;  the unashamed mother bear instinct (which she had, long before becoming a mother, and once she did become a mother….well, I pity the fool); the delight in embracing differences and the respect and loyalty for her team, her tribe; the ability to conjure up that humor (sometimes silly, sometimes dark, always smart) in the face of the difficult stuff; most of all, the ability to lead by example, and be the best example any of us can hope to have.

I hope that I have taken the qualities of leadership, building of team, managing and mentoring at its absolute finest.  I hope that when I find myself in a position to manage others, I will lead and inspire half as well as she did, giving feedback that brings out people’s best work, knowing their strengths and striving to improve on their weaknesses.

Not long after she died, I read an article that described how she saw evidence that her daughter had internalized an important lesson:  to speak up, even if your voice shakes. This lesson practice embodies how she lived her life. I don’t doubt for a second that the ripples of her influence are alive and well in her bright and talented daughter.

I resolve to not squander those of her gifts that I may have underused or forgotten along the way.   To never stop trying.  To keep my eye on what matters. To never stop learning, and wanting to learn.  To go forward with humility and courage.  To speak up, even if my voice shakes.

Sneaking a Little Perfection…

Perfection Salad

What’s the opposite of a Shit Sandwich?

I was locked out of the house for a few hours yesterday, and decided to stop for some bookstore puttering.    Large, corporate bookstore with a piped-in music track that most likely has subliminal “buy! buyyy!” messages buried in the music, like the satanic messages that were said to have been in “Stairway to Heaven,” or the Paul McCartney obituary messages in “I Am the Walrus.”   Except that this music track actually was a bunch of Beatles (and also some James Taylor and Carole King, sometimes at the same time), and today, Corporate Bookstore had me at “Gooolden slumbers fill your eyes…”  If they had kept those tunes coming indefinitely, I might still have been in the store, six hours later, stomach filled with really good (Seattle’s Best!) coffee and a really bad sandwich.

But I digress.

I settled down into a soft chair with a vanilla latte and a small stack of coveted books to skim and smell and…covet.  Because the recession may be ending, and we both may be gainfully employed, but I remain in Library Mode.  In my experience, total abstinence  from all book-buying is the only answer, lest I completely fall off the wagon and decide that I need, NEED, a couple of audio books and an issue of The New Yorker and a Moleskine notebook, because what more worthy to write important thoughts in, should I have some such thoughts, and some stationary and  a copy of David Sedaris’s latest and Mastering the Art of French Cooking and maybe Dorie Greenspan’s new book.   I’ve watched Dr. Drew, I know how this goes.

So I’m in the throes of Book Euphoria and coffee love and Paul McCartney crooning “Oh! Darling,” and it’s all a lot of beautiful wrapping on the gift! (and I mean the kind of gift that comes in a small, velvet box) of some mandatory free time in a bookstore.

Stacked on my lap are:

Even Silence Has an End (Ingrid Betancourt)–an amazing-looking story of a woman who was held for six years in a Colombian guerilla prison camp;

Laurie David’s  Family Dinners–Gimmicky, yes, but a neat and not preachy book about eating dinner as a family, complete with practical suggestions for making it even better;

Laura Shapiro’s Perfection Salad– (it’s an actual dish)because I’d read anything, anything by Laura Shapiro, and a history of American women and their cooking at the turn of the century is so totally tempting;

No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)–I had heard similar “best writing ever” comments similar to what I had heard about In Cold Blood.

I bought none of the above.   I borrowed the McCarthy book and will read it when I finish what I’m currently reading.   As afternoons go, it was a Perfection Salad.



Every Post a Gem!

Ooh, la la!

I’m Posting every day week in 2011!

I’ve decided that I want to blog more. Rather than just think about doing it, I’m doing it, and starting right now. I will be posting to this blog once a week for all of 2011.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Alternatively, it might drive me to stick my head in the oven.
Therefore, I’m promising myself to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way. Including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already ready my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Signed,

>state your name<

cacklecackle

p.s.   The above was accomplished using a TEMPLATE, from The Daily Post, at WordPress, which is why it was accomplished at all during this quiet window between work and lamp chops and the return of everybody else who lives here.

Foodhack: Pork Carnitas

Lest you think my happy-go-Mellie demeanor had taken an Unfortunate Downturn….here is a Foodhack, for using a big, cheap cut of meat and making something delicious.

Pork carnitas is, for the Gringo, what gefilte fish is for the Gentile (except that carnitas taste really good).   Most of us have heard of the dish, but unless we’re ethnic eaters, it’s likely that we have not made a lot of Latino food at home.  Like so many of our favorite ethnic foods, carnitas is what I affectionately call Poverty Food.    A nice, large, cheap cut of meat, cooked relatively simply, and served a number of different ways, wasting nothing.   There are some variations in how, and how strongly, the meat is seasoned before cooking, what to use for cooking liquid, whether to roast the pork after simmering it or finish it on the stove…I’ve found that seasoning it too lightly doesn’t work well, as the pork can be too bland.  But my favorite carnitas method uses a simpler spice mixture.

The Hacks: The overall economy of the dish, the ease in preparation and cooking, and also the omission of LARD, and other healthy updates.

First: Start with a Boston butt or pork shoulder (semi-boneless, also called a picnic shoulder).  You choose the size, but like corned beef, it does undergo some Shrinkage, and there is never any problem using all leftovers–so I’d err on the size of Big.  I usually make a five or six pound piece.

In a small bowl, mix some kosher salt, cumin, oregano chili powder and minced (or dried) garlic.  The exact amounts are not important–just estimate.   Rub the mixture all over the pork.

Next: Toss the pork into a Crock Pot, cutting it to fit, if necessary.   Add about a cup of Coca-Cola (the Special Sauce of many carnitas-makers) and if you like, some lime or orange wedges.  Cover, press the HIGH button and let ‘er rip.

Come back in about five or six hours, remove the meat from the Crock Pot, and shred it, reserving a bit of the liquid.    Lightly coat a disposable or foil-lined roasting pan with canola oil.  Transfer the shredded meat to the pan, spreading it evenly.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid over the meat, and roast at about 425 degrees, for just a few minutes, to let the pork carmelize (but not dry out).  Remove and let cool.  Consume!

Y Por Fin: Serve with large, warm flour tortillas, black beans, shredded cheddar, diced red onions, sliced avocado, lime wedges, and anything else that your particular crowd likes in a burrito.   Save and refrigerate (or freeze) the leftovers, to warm and top a salad, eat with beans and yellow rice–and um, just warming up and shoveling from the container.   Carnitas is cheap, easy enough for a Gringo to master, and tastes even better the next day.

Hope, Sniffing at the Door

I came across a draft of a blog post today, from about a year ago.  I never did  post it, but it reflects so strongly the undaunted optimism that I had—the certainty that we would get through this challenge as a family, that we’d suck it up and be there for each other and be all the better for it.

The Mr’s job loss was not so fresh as to be shocking and devastating anymore, but fresh enough that we could still imagine him landing in the next job before the severance money ran out.  Fresh enough that we saw it as something we would ride out, make the best of, build character on.  I threw myself into a job search of my own, looking for full time work for the first time in years, suppressing any twinges about not being home with the kids as I had been.  Thanks, COBRA, but no thanks.  You can keep your bureaucracy and your $1300 monthly premiums, because I would provide health insurance for my family myself, doggone it.

I reread How to Cook a Wolf, and my old friend, MFK Fisher inspired me to follow that impulse to keep our collective chin up and conserve, while still living well. I whistled past the graveyard by joking about us being nouveau poor, making it almost fun to rise to the frugalista challenge.  A moratorium on book-buying, and a rediscovering of the library.  Clipping coupons, skipping the movie theater and waiting for the dvd.  A quest for cheap entertainment.  We would overcome this challenge, with family and important things intact.  We would doggedly find ways to make sure that the kids had those things that we had decided were really important.  We would reassure each other, remind the kids what needy really was, and that we were not even close.  Remind them what first world problems ours are, even in these difficult times.  And have fun with food—always, always eat well.

One year later, and the hits keep coming.

It has been a roller coaster of faraway opportunities, wondering what it would be like to live in Cincinnati, Sioux Falls, Atlanta, Chicago, and finding with both disappointment and relief, that really, there’s nothing to wonder about, because that opportunity is dead.  It is being squeezed as if by a snake, tightening its grip around your neck with your every exhale.  It is losing sleep, facing dwindling savings, doing without and then doing without even more.  It’s falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of the day, and still looking for that second job to fill in the gaps, to provide the kids with the things that you still so value.  The unemployment of our family’s primary earner has long outstayed its welcome.

It’s very wearying, hearing a whisper in the background behind the clamor of the day:  Make no mistake about it—when push comes to shove, you’re alone in this world, you betcha.  It is being struck by who has (and who has not) been so supportive and present for us, and how it has been so often folks who would appear to have the most limited resources themselves.  It is testing our ability to support and provide for our children our ability to handle this as a family, to not be broken by it.

Most of all, it’s a cold feeling—no, not a feeling, really, for it’s not a mere perception.  It’s an awareness that you and your children are falling through the cracks, one after another, some of those cracks serving as surprising and disappointing blows to any notion you had of a safety net.  It’s the doing away with the illusion of being part of a school community—a family, it’s sometimes called—when in reality, your family, your child, is pretty disposable.  And the ease with which the refusal is as chirpily delivered (if it is bothered to be delivered at all), as if you were discussing the weather, is as painful as the lack of assistance itself.

The past year has challenged (called out and literally challenged) what I thought I wanted to teach our children about what is important: gratitude for what we have; doing what you love in life and not being overly focused on money; doing your best, because things work out when you try your hardest.  Really, how does one teach by example, and not have their children laugh out loud at what are proving to be empty platitudes?  How does one, with a straight face, continue to misrepresent to them what matters in this life?  Because it is about money, isn’t it.  And striving to be your best often doesn’t protect you, does it..  You can still fall through some very surprising cracks.

*********

Our Pastor recently retired.  There is a lot of Church Buzz about who the new Pastor is, what people have heard about him, what he might be like, and last Sunday, we got to experience him for the first time.   My first impressions are that he is a seriously smart man, and an excellent speaker.  And after spending a few minutes talking about what he hoped to accomplish in our parish, he emphasized, repeating very bluntly, that if you don’t hope, you die.

If you don’t hope, you die.  This statement has been rocking around in my head since Sunday, joining the usual head-squirrels and competing with the smug, whispered reminder of how alone in this world I am.

Also this week, I opened the door to the attic and set out to navigate the cluttered stairs to bring down a fan for Stretch’s room—and I tripped over How to Cook a Wolf.  I wish I could say that it was whatever Serendipity or Good Mojo that factors heavily in so many stories was behind it—but really, it was my efforts not to break my neck on the stairs, navigating the duffel bags, wrapping paper, donation-bound bags of clothing, that caused me to…nearly break my neck on the stairs, tripping over this little book.

I reread it (again) in one day, and it slowly made me Rise Up Like New Bread.  Almost seventy years later, Fisher does “inspire courage and hope in difficult times,” by the grace of her prose and the street cred that comes with having lived through war rationing and the Great Depression (that would be the real Great Depression, not the one that we fear we are currently in).

And I do feel more hopeful, or at least more determined to take some of Fisher’s grace and spirit, and make something delicious with it.  I think that what New Pastor was saying last Sunday was that the wolf will cook you, if you let it.  And that it’s our duty and responsibility not to let it.