Celebrating a life

Today we celebrated the life of the friend who died a few weeks ago, in a lovely memorial service held in the parish hall of an old church festooned with gargoyles. This wasn’t a funeral and wasn’t about a religious ritual. CelloInstead, friends and family gathered and shared stories of her life and discovered things about her that we hadn’t known. We looked a pictures and ate yummy sandwiches and desserts, and listened to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of a solo cello, played in honor of our friend who played in orchestras and musical groups.

I knew her in only one aspect of her life but here I had a chance to have that part overlap with all the others. The library people met the programmers who met the orchestra members who met the woodworkers who met the horticulture specialists. One life touches so many others in quiet ways, but many of us had heard stories of others or at least of things we had done with our friend, so it was like a reunion more than anything else. A happy occasion that we wish we didn’t have to have at all.

But there was satisfaction in knowing that the celebration was what she wanted because she had told her spouse what mattered. That is such an amazing gift. My parents have done the same, although they continue to tweak their ideas as they go to more funerals or memorial services. Mom collects them in a folder along with other important documents so we won’t have to scramble to find them or tear out our hair to make decisions when we are too heartbroken to think clearly.

Today we were sad but not depressed, remembering and celebrating a life and not simply mourning a death. There is such a difference and there is a time and place for both.

Meeting, anyone?

Meeting MemoSometimes I wonder how any of us get any work done when we spend so much time in meetings. This week has been particularly hard and I’m trying to remember that I actually am doing my job when I’m in the meetings; it’s how I learn and consult and educate and inform. But sometimes I just get sick of them.

It’s the time of year when we review the procedures for conducting performance appraisals for our union support staff and this year for the first time the U has standardized a formal process for similar reviews of exempt level staff from the vice presidents on down. From a management standpoint, it’s a great tool. It’s just a lot of work and it all has to happen in a crunched down 6-week period. We’ve been having meetings to learn about the new process, review the forms, and set up timelines. And then talk to other staff about it. Then we had other meetings, the usual ones. Staff meetings and collection meetings and even training for dealing with fire emergencies.

To make up for it, the whole school had pizza for lunch. This was an excellent idea except there wasn’t anywhere nearly enough pizza for that many people – we all turn into pigs at the idea of any free food, especially pizza, especially on a crisp clean fall day outside in the sunlight. Pizza and salad and fruit and cookies, with apples in baskets on the tables and soda. Of course they ran out of pizza early and didn’t have any clue how much diet soda they would need so no one I was with got any. It was fun, though, and got us outside and away from meetings.

I think, I hope, I only have one meeting tomorrow. Of course, it’s at least two hours long, but I should have time to actually be productive. Hope springs eternal.

Critter Contained

I almost hit someone on the way home from work today. He came running down the sidewalk out of nowhere, glaring at me as I got to the intersection, and raced on by. I admit that my heart skipped some beats because I can’t swear that he really did just appear; maybe he was there and I just didn’t see him because he was wearing the same colors as the van in front of me. Or my eyes are just tired and weren’t looking. But I was shook, nonetheless, all the way home.

Inquisitive mouseI opened the apartment door to hear a little squeak from under the kitchen sink. There is not supposed to be a squeak there and it is Not A Good Thing from my wimpette perspective. We have mice at the office and they sound like that when they are stuck in glue traps. I don’t have any traps under the sink, mind you, and maybe it’s a squirrel, not a mouse. But something is definitely making little squeaky chirpy noises. It’s annoying and irritating. I want to open up the cabinets to confront it but what if it runs out and over my feet or turns out to be rapid squirrel that attacks me or runs loose in the apartment? I’d rather leave it under the sink and hope it can find its way out the same way it came in.

So I called My Brother the Construction Lawyer who is my expert in these things. In addition to actually owning a home instead of renting an apartment, he has a ranch (a fancy name for a house in the middle of nowhere that needs a lot of work). And on this ranch he has dealt with all manner of critters. Besides, he lives in Texas and is a guy and likes this stuff. I do not. He thinks I’m funny and told me if I didn’t want to open the doors to see what actually was under the sink, to put rubberbands around the door handles to keep the doors from opening and wait for the thing to go away or die. Oh boy.

His alternative was to take a big can of tomatoes and put it in front of the cabinet, but I was sure I’d trip over it. Mostly I thought I was supposed to take the can of tomatoes and hit a crazy-running mouse or squirrel with it as it squeaked by. He thought that was hysterical but I was serious. I would never manage very well in the country.

So for tonight the cabinet doors are rubberbanded shut and I’m hoping the little squeakbox goes outside to play with its friends and leaves me alone. I don’t want to have to call in someone who actually can face them.

Cookie dough detour

Baking cookiesWhile at Costco on Sunday I bought a big tub of pre-mixed chocolate chip cookie dough. It was a bad idea at the time and I knew it, but I thought I would make them into cookies for the office – not that the office needs cookies either. What I really wanted was to just eat cookie dough. I can’t keep baking supplies in the house because then it’s way too easy to mix up a fresh batch of cookie dough and eat most of it. So I don’t have flour or sugar or anything. Noooooo, I just buy a big plastic tub of premade cookie dough.

Yesterday I restrained myself to a few spoonfuls which I savored and counted and felt virtuous that I only had a few of them. Today, however, I made dinner out of cookie dough and it wasn’t very balanced – although I did like the chocolate bits. I could have had salad but I didn’t want tunafish, I couldn’t STAND the idea of tunafish, and nothing else was handy. Except cookie dough.

It was a bad idea.

So when I felt a little bit stronger, I pulled out my new cookie pans (which I have only used to roast vegetables so far), and chopped out enough dough to make 2 trays worth of cookies. The rest of it went into the trash can and I quickly squirted lemon dishwashing liquid over it so I wouldn’t dig it out and eat it. Been there, done that before, and it feels horrible, so this is my solution to make sure I can’t do it again.

The cookies baked and, thank God, one tray of them burned. I don’t know if it was the new trays or the oven setting or what. But instead of the house smelling like yummy fresh chocolate chip cookies, it smells like burned ones, which doesn’t make me want to go eat them. I’m taking the ones that made it through the ordeal into the office tomorrow to give away so I don’t snarf them down myself and making a note to myself not to buy one of those tubs again any time soon. It’s not worth it.

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole made tonight in my own kitchen!This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. The flavors beautifully compliment pork or chicken but the leftovers are also good cold after the flavors have blended. I eat this all winter.  Originally posted in 2006 with Weight Watchers points. Updated now with nutritional info calculated at MyFitnessPal.com.

NutritionSweetPotatoApple1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced, with pieces quartered
2 apples, cored and thinly sliced with pieces quartered (use a tart firm apple)
2 tsp finely chopped crystalized ginger
3/4 C. fresh cranberries
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 C. thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
2 Tb. packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 C. water

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8″ square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange half of the sweet potatoes in the baking dish; top with half of the apples; sprinkle 1/2 of cranberries, then half the ginger and half the salt. Repeat layer.

2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the juice concentrate, brown sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and water. Pour over the potatoes. Cover and bake 45 min. Remove cover and bake, uncovered, until tender, bubbling and lightly browned, about 15 min. longer.

Yield: 6 servings

Adapted from: Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

– Can use powdered ginger instead of crystallized, just sprinkle liberally over each layer
– Leave apple peels on for less trouble and more nutrition
– Remaining thawed juice concentrate can be returned to freezer in a plastic container. It won’t completely refreeze, will be sort of slushy, but that makes it handy to use again if you make this again. You’ll want to!