Thursday, July 31, 2008

Barbie Cake Day 1: Baking

Last night I raced home from work and got to mixing the store-bought (oh hush) batter for the barbie cake. I started with four boxes of moist deluxe cake mix and proceeded to make 2 9" round vanilla cakes, 18 chocolate cupcakes, and the whopper of a dome, a two-box half-circle strawberry cake baked in a tempered glass bowl.
So let's get this straight. That's 4 boxes cake mix, 12 eggs, 4.25 cups of water, 1 1/3 cups of vegetable oil, and 2 big handfuls of Crisco, for greasing. Yes, I said Crisco. After you worked with that much batter (I actually experienced a hand cramp), you want to make darn sure that it comes out easily.

I had one hour after work to get started, so I quickly mixed the vanilla, then realized it made two rounds, not one as I originally thought, so I rushed to grab a pie plate (hey, it'll double as a flared skirt) to use as the second cake pan. Dump, dump, stir, Crisco, bake.

While the white cakes baked for 22 minutes, I raced to get the cupcakes in the oven when the timer hit 18 so they'd both be on the same timetable. Dump, dump, stir, cupcake sleeve, bake and we were seriously cooking. Made me realize that I shouldn't complain about making regular cakes. Look at what I got made in an hour!

So from there I went to cheer on B at his law softball qualifier, then again after they won at the championship, clearly determined not to let this cake thing dictate my schedule. The first game took the full hour (the time limit), and they started playing The Legends. I'm not sure what The Legends are Legends of, but we were winning 24-0 in the second inning.

"Excellent!" I thought, already visualizing the strawberry mass awaiting me at home. "This game'll be over in no time. Thank you mercy rule!" Usually, if a team is winning by 10 after the third inning, the ump calls it. Apparently, that is not the case in championship games. Lucky me. It was a lot of fun though, and I'm super glad I stayed to watch B's homeruns (yes, "s") and his killer throw to third. Then, after the game was over, I bolted back to my kitchen.

I'd heard that baking the dome part is easy. Bake two boxes of the mix at a lower temperature so it gets done all the way through for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. I started at 9pm. The night goes as follows:

9:20 Hmm.. looks like that strawberry stuff might spill over. Like the marshmallow man from Ghost Busters.

9:40 &*$^ that stuff IS going to spill over! Add cookie sheet under bowl.

10:00 Learn oven is not level, as pink fluff only spills over one side, meaning I have to come bail out the pile of fluff every 15 minutes or it'll spill over the rim of the cookie sheet

10:20 Done? Ha. Not even close. Very sloshy. The only part that was browning has now spilled over the side onto the cookie sheet. Excellent.

11:00 I hate the smell of strawberries

11:20 Screw this. Up temperature to 300.

11:30 Edges are browning too quickly. Add foil rim to pan.

11:45 Get in shower. Ready to give up, and swear off strawberries forever.

12:00 What?? Solid cake? Thank you God!

So I waited five minutes, then dumped it out. Low and behold, a dome cake. Tonight begins the stacking and icing segments of the competition. I decided to use Swiss buttercream, which I've never tried before. I think I have a penchant for suffering...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Princess!

My niece E turns two today. Two! I called her this morning to sing happy birthday, and her mom said "Aunt Ashley's coming to see you next weekend."
E replied "Come now!"

Her mom, undeterred, continued, "Isn't it nice she called you?"

E said, "NO!"

I get what she's saying. Visits are way more fun than phone calls, but for now I had to wish her the best "turning two" I could. I can't believe that two years ago I was still working the crick out of my neck from having spent the night in a hospital chair. And my arm was still throbbing from carrying my nephew A (then one-and-a-half) through the RDU airport to meet his new cousin.

Happy Birthday, E!

I Heart Feedback

I love positive reinforcement. Huge fan. Makes my heart sing. And I'm always reminded of that whenever I get even the smallest hint of PR (an appropriate nickname, yes?). But it also makes me think of how quick I am to forget to pass along that kind of accolade--the arms-open type that makes you feel swallowed whole into a big, warm blanket. That's the best.

I say all that as a disclaimer to what I'm about to post, which is a thank you note from a realtor whose home I wrote about for the Real Estate section of our local paper. Mind you, I know I'm not moving heaven and earth by writing about crown molding and 4-sides brick as a side gig, but it pays nicely and I really enjoy it. Those who can't own homes, write about them, as the revamped adage says.

So here's what I got from Debbie, the realtor, in my inbox this morning:


How AWESOME your work is! I cannot tell you how I felt Sunday when I read the article on 986 Brickyard Pass, in Brierfield, Alabama. You will win many awards in your career. Thank you so much for such great coverage. My family thought I had won the lottery I was so excited about the generous coverage. You will NOT go unnoticed by your peers! May your work always bring such joy and happiness to others!Be blessed,Thank you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Granted, I was doing Debbie basically a paid favor. I wasn't reviewing the home, but simply pointing out some of the finer qualities. She darn well should have been happy with what I wrote. But it makes me remember that, just as Debbie's letter made my heart soar, maybe I need to take some time today to make someone else's heart flutter a little faster with an open-arms thank you.

Debbie's only the second person (that I remember) in my two years of freelancing with the News that has gotten back to me in such a memorable way. I'm sure there have been other emails, but Debbie's may just go on my mirror to inspire me to keep trying to write that award-winning piece, or at least act like everything I write is important enough to be considered and treated as such. The other thank you? A delivery of two dozen yellow tulips (my favorite flower, coincidentally enough) for an artist profile I did.

Let's make good news, and great thank yous, travel faster today, ok?

Mission: Barbie Cake

Everyone knows I love to bake (Hello, Christmas Coconut Cake), so it's no surprise that when my friend J decided she wanted a special cake for her 25th birthday party, I volunteered to give it a go.
I should start by mentioning that instead of having a quiet, wine-soaked dinner out, J decided she'd like a birthday party with a few dozen of her friends. No biggie--we can handle chips, dips, cake, wine, etc. But then she decided to theme it.

It started innocently enough. "Big hair," she decreed. "All shall have big hair." Since the playbill from Hairspray looked weird as an invite, we asked her for a little more refined theme. Like the 80s. Who doesn't love the 80s? Spandex, sneakers, side ponytails, blue eyeshadow, and, obviously, big hair.

But it was not to be. Just as the rest of the party planning crew was plotting the party's soundtrack, J had an inspired moment. "BARBIE!" she cried, despite being in a very public restaurant on a very quiet Tuesday night. Little girls everywhere went for their camera phones.

"I want a barbie party," she said, the words falling around us as if weighted down by huge, round plastic earrings and pearl-shaped bangles. And so it began.

We divided up the party-planning duties (food, drinks, decorations, invitations, and....cake), and I leaped at the chance to take on the cake, which J had asked be a Barbie Cake.

If you've never seen a barbie cake (and are somehow blind to the post picture on this blog entry), it's a half-circle cake with a barbie sticking out of the middle. Then you decorate her cake "skirt" and add an icing "bodice" and serve. (It's great fun for everyone--"lets carve into barbie, kids!")

Now, you can order these cakes from Publix at $50 a pop, but they don't tell you how many they feed (the skirt's not that big) and they definitely use fondant, and for good reason. Fondant is the Franzia of frosting-- it comes in a box, simply unroll and apply. You can also make it by hand, but the stiff, cardboard taste is hardly worth the effort. It is, however, beautiful. You can give barbie the smoothest, prettiest skirt, perfect for embellishing with designs. I should mention that J hates fondant. Loathes fondant. If there was fondant at the party, barbie would probably be stripped naked and left a sad, cake-clad doll.

So, starting tonight, I'll be embarking on Day 1 of the barbie cake creation: making the cakes. I'm making a 9" round cake and a double-cake in a round glass bowl, as well as a dozen or so cupcakes for people to actually eat. The cake has to cook for a few hours (lower temperature), so I can honestly say it's taking over my life. I'll let you know how it goes, and if my finished product looks nothing like the above picture, then I won't, and will just pretend I never made it. So there.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fun with the Family

B's parents came into town this weekend for a whirlwind visit to the city. They'd never seen Birmingham, so we decided to show them as much as we could in the 36 hours they'd be around. Translation: We'd eat our way through Birmingham.
They arrived Saturday morning, just in time for the sky to open up and the clouds to give a moving performance of Noah, The Remake. They kept calling all the way from Atlanta saying, "Sorry we're going to be late, it's pouring!" To which we'd scoff, "Good thing you're heading here, it's not raining at all!"
Apparently, there was one happy cloud over my apartment complex. Then that happy cloud got ticked off and left, leaving us with a soggy driving tour through the usually beautiful Homewood, Mountain Brook, and Highlands areas.
But drive we did. We took them to Bottletree for lunch, a great, Hippy-inspired joint that serves tofu-versions of everything and some seriously delicious salsas and sauces.
The rain stopped, so we continued the tour, seeing where B works and lots of the downtown area. He kept pointing out things and, truth be told, I was just as interested as his parents. I'm never downtown, so lots of it was news to me.
We dropped them off at their hotel and let them rest for an hour or so before dinner. Granted, it's hard to rest when the entire Hampton has been taken over by a family reunion. A family reunion in matching shirts, whose softball tournament had been rained out. Which explains why they set up the smoker in front of the hotel. Classic. And classy. Oh Alabama.
Dinner that night was at Hot and Hot, a fantastic, and somewhat famous, "fish club" that I'd been dying to go to. They're known for only using fresh, local ingredients. If they don't have good tomatoes, you don't have any in your salad. That kind of thing. We got shrimp and grits, tomato salads, and oh-so good doughnuts for dessert. It was so wonderful just sitting with his parents, sharing a bottle of wine and enjoying hearing all about what's going on with B's brothers and the rest of the family.
They came back to my apartment to hang out for a little bit after dinner. (Where do you take company "after hours" when no one's interested in a drink/cocktail/pub crawl?) Then put them to bed back at the Hampton.
Sunday was perfect. The sun was shining when we got out of church, and we were all smiling when we left City Hall Diner after lunch. We strolled through Mountain Brook, visited the creamery, then returned to my apartment to rest for a little while before having dinner at Rojo (more food! more food!). Sitting in the dim restaurant enjoying good, casual food was the perfect way to end their trip before they headed back to Atlanta.
I think my favorite part was hearing the happiness in B's voice as he showed his parents around town, like he was almost proud. I love that he loves Birmingham. Who knows what will happen for us, but it's nice to know that he could love this city, too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Checking the Box

Did a survey this morning for a web-based company and was quickly reminded that I'll soon age out of the 18-24 year old age group. 45 days left (yes, I counted). I'm ok with it--I'm not so much a "quarter life crisis" girl, though I bet I could be if I gave it a little effort.
Rather, it's the little things that get to me. Yesterday I was working with my iPod on shuffle, a nice break from my usual routine of show tunes and musical numbers (Rent is exceptional when cruising through Excel), and Vitamin C's Graduation Day came on.

I remember that song so clearly. It came out the year before I graduated high school and we just held it over and adopted it as our own. It's your usual "friends forever" song with the refrain, "As we go on, we remember all the times we've shared together. As our lives change, come whatever, we will still be friends forever." You felt silly singing it then, and silly remembering singing it now, but it's the very first line that gets me:

"And so we talked all night about the rest of our lives. Where we're gonna be when we turn 25?"

Whaaaa? But, I AM turning 25. And soon. Which means, I can actually tell you where I'll be when I turn 25. It's a Monday, so unless I take the day off, I'll be celebrating here at my desk, probably writing an article about wings or beer for our Tailgating section. I can hardly believe that I'm at the age that Vitamin C deemed "the rest of our lives."

Don't worry, I'm not going to have an existential crisis over lyrics by a singer named after the redeeming quality of orange juice, but it did make me think. What do I want for my next year?

I want to volunteer more, work harder at my job, and get settled into my apartment alone after K leaves. I think I'll take some time in the next 45 days and pick a few more things to work on... And maybe that will include writing the lyrics to a hit song that ups the age of "the rest of our lives" to 50, or at least 35.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where the Hell is Matt?

Best idea ever: a guy travels the world dancing in areas of great and little historical significance. He does it again a year later and asks people to join him. It's pure joy. Four and a half minutes of it.

Check out the video of him dancing with people around the world. It's really, oddly moving. I teared up watching him dance with kids in the streets of Africa, monkeys in the jungle, and beautifully dressed Indian dancers. It was one of those "can't we all just get along" moments that makes you feel like the world isn't as big as it appears and that maybe, just maybe, we're all pretty much alike after all.

It also made me think of my dear friend C, who's quite the world traveler herself. First of all, I think she should marry this guy and continue to dance her way around the globe. Second, something about the optimism in this video reminded me of her spirit. Dance on, C!

Wish List: Sweet Tea Shirts

Seriously, how freaking cute are these shirts? They take all the Southernism that we've forgotten are native (and normal) to only us and plastered them on sherbet-colored tees. Love it!

I love "Bless yer Heart" and "Might Could," and I love them even more that, for some unknown reason, they have quotes around them...on the shirts. Somehow that makes them even more Southern, because people are always using "air quotes" to "quote things" that "probably" don't need to be "quoted."

And I love them still...

Your Big Day vs. My Big TKTKTKTK

I have to send a sincere thank you out to all the women I've been a bridesmaid or maid of honor for. That's right, all eight of you. You may have put me in neon pink (B), or navy blue elbow-length gloves (H... but it was the 90s), but you never once asked me to do what Kacey Knauer asked her bridesmaids to do: Botox.

The New York Times is running a story about bridezillas, only is giving them fair treatment, which almost seems unfair, especially if you're a bridesmaid.

I've been a bridesmaid a lot (see above, the number rhymes with "great"), and generally I'm asked for some combination of the following:

Purchase dress, shoes, earrings, necklace.

Attend shower, brunch, luncheon, bachelorette weekend.

Throw shower or bachelorette weekend.

It can be a lot, but it's fun and never overwhelming. These women (yes, they're women, mid-thirties to be exact) asked their attendants to get something from this list:

Spray tans

Teeth whitening




...and that includes their mothers-in-law! I can't image asking my (nonexistent) mother-in-law to please ditch the crows feet around her eyes so that my (nonexistent) wedding pictures wouldn't be tainted by (gasp!) reality. Seriously, do you want your mother-in-law looking better than you on the big day? Scary.

But that's besides the point. The real question is, when did being a bride endow you with the right to pass judgement on your best friends? I'd be crushed! And I darn sure wouldn't be wrinkle free. Forget that.

I think I'd draw the line at teeth whitening. If the bride (who happened to be a dentist) offered to give us all whitening treatments as a gift, then I'd accept. But if I had to a) pay or b) make an appointment with a strange dentist I didn't know then count me out.

It reminds me of another bride who wound up in Newsweek for her "Bridesmaid Contract." Bless her heart--the contract (which stipulated her maids couldn't get pregnant or gain more than 5 pounds between then and the wedding) was a joke meant to spoof the bridezilla she wasn't going to be. Unfortunately, her sister (!) leaked it and it went viral. And the bride had more to worry about that a preggers bridesmaid--she was fending off death threats and mean phone calls.

My thought is that if your bridesmaids are already wearing clothes you picked out for them (low-cut? sure... no way that's going to look inappropriate for your Nana when I'm readjusting your train at the front of the church), then maybe you should refrain from picking on them for, say, I don't know... the rest of your happy life together as a couple. Just a thought...

...By the way, if you don't know, "TK" is writer-speak for "to come," never mind the c and the k confusion. It just means "I'll fill it in later," or more likely "some intern will fill it in later." It's obnoxious, pretentious, lazy, and (to be honest) how I get through writing deck after deck. By the way, if you don't know, a "deck" is....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mind the T-Zones...

Yesterday I spent my day on-set at a photo shoot for the website where I work. Technically I was there because I'd enlisted a friend as a model and I wanted to make sure she was all set up, but it turned into something more.

I've worked on video shoots before where I've run around like crazy helping out by washing bowls, prepping ingredients, or fetching things when really I'm suppose to be watching the script and making edits as Holley, our talent, modifies bits and pieces of her lines to fit her personality. I love it. Chaos and hubbub that I can totally immerse myself in, then leave on someone else's doorstep at five when I go home.

The photo shoot was different. I've been the subject of shoots before (I have long fingers, great for holding soup bowls), but never on the other side. Honestly, I tried not to take over. There was a photographer, two editors, a lighting guy, and a stylist (for the food), so heaven knows they didn't need me to prop or stage. The "talent," however, was another story.

I have trouble getting myself ready in the morning, and that's with my (fairly) limited wardrobe and the knowledge that I don't have to match anyone else all day. These five girls, however, not only had to dress out of season (we're shooting for the holiday), but also had to complement and not clash with the other models, as well as worry about what colors would be in the shot. We couldn't very well have three people in orange for the wrapping paper shoot where everything was red. Oh, and they couldn't wear prints, white, or black. Simple enough? We'll see.

Basically, my coworker E and I played dress-up, holding up clothes to the girls, to each other, to the light, to the wrapping paper, and hustling everyone into place at the last minute (have you ever tried to hold hot chocolate for a long time when it's 104 degrees outside? Last minute is key.)

One of the editors on set, A, started calling me the hair and makeup girl when I whipped out my hairbrush (flyaways) and hairspray (static), and touching up everyone's T-zones with loose powder. Little did she know that she hit on my earliest passion: hairstyling. I didn't have time to give these girls the same rocked-out updos that my barbies suffered in the 80s, but I did enjoy the little fixing here and there.

The best part? The lighting guy thought I did it for a living and, wouldn't you know it, he's a photographer with his own business shooting "country music guys who are big, or who think they're pretty big." He said he's always looking for someone to help on the shoot. I gave him my card and told him to give me a shout if I could ever help. Who knows? Maybe that first dream will be realized after all...

Loaves and... More Loaves

The bread baby (aka Carb) is a success! So far I've made two batches (?) of the sourdough goodness, which translates into four loaves. Luckily they're smaller than your standard bread loaf (or so I keep telling myself), otherwise, I'd be worried.
It's not a hard process, just a mindful one. I have to remember to tend to something other than my orange juice fix in the morning and mint karaoke cookie ice cream addiction at night, but the results are oh-so worth it!
I wrote about the joys of kneading, but the true joy is in tasting. Cutting into a slice of still-steaming, freshly baked bread is unbeatable. So far B and I have had it with olive oil dips, hummus, pasta, and as a grilled cheese. So far, the grilled cheese is a winner. Nothing better.
If you're looking for a cheap way to host an after-work event, start with fresh bread (everyone will ooh and aah, even if it's just from a local bakery), then make this dip.

Over-the-Top Olive Oil Dip
(pair with sourdough bread)
Pour lots of olive oil into a cute and shallow (hey, I have friends like that! :)) glass dish. Add a generous shake of black pepper, a few turns of ground sea salt, and a few shakes of red pepper flakes, to taste. (I like mine hot, so I shake a lot). Then dump in a few pinches of grated Parmesan cheese and stir it all together.

The dip at the Macaroni Grill will never taste as good to you...unless you become obnoxious like B and myself and order little dishes of red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese before we've even gotten our drinks.

I made the bread and dip and sent them with B to work, and this is what I got back:
Tell A great job on the bread and her dipping oil - YUMMY. I just came in for a late afternoon snack. next time she'll have to include recipes ;)

So, Ginger Ann, this one's for you.

I'm telling you, if baking bread (which essentially cost me $2 for 4+ loaves) is all it takes to gain office notoriety, and the envy of your friends, then sign me up. Knead on, baby!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Day I Met Jurstine Cooper

...and about 9 of her fellow centenarians. A coworker J and I signed up to do Meals on Wheels in one of our town's regions. I have fond memories of MOW. My mom and I used to take meals around when I was little. I remember hanging out in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon with a laundry basket of warm meals just waiting to be delivered. These days, the system is a little better (good directions, food in much safer temperature-controlled contraptions), but the feeling is the same. Unless you ask my mom, who shared her fond memory of the volunteer experience we experienced together, "They just loved seeing a baby, but it took me a lot longer when I had you. A lot."
I get what mom means now though. J and I showed up, got our list of 9 stops (10 people. One house was a couple. Cute!). We grabbed our two coolers and surveyed the menu: warm dish sealed tightly in tin foil, chilled green bean salad, wheat bread, butter, strawberry cake, milk, and cranberry juice. Each house got one of each, and we were instructed not to give extra milks, and should the milk be flavored (chocolate, strawberry...) we were to use our best judgement as to which diner got what flavor.
Out into the 104 degree heat we roamed, mapping our way from Jurstine Cooper's house to the couple's home, whose name I only remember as rhyming with "bolognia." It sounded Italian.
We made our rounds, talking to some who wanted, and being shooed off the front porch of those wishing only to watch their "stories." There were little old men and women, which was somehow surprising, but the whole hour and a half was a true pleasure. Until we got back to the Senior Center, where we were to drop off the coolers.
The Bolognias weren't home (out cruising in their white caddy, said the maintenance man, which made us wonder how exactly you qualify for these meals in the first place. Another post.), so we had two extra meals. The coordinator told us to chuck them, which (with skyrocketing food prices) baffled us. So we did what any two charity volunteers near starvation would do: we scoped them out.
We'd smelled these meals for roughly the past ninety minutes and had more than once tried to discern their contents. They smelled like pasta. Maybe baked pasta, with chicken. Or lasagna. For the bolognias. We pried the tin tops off the sectioned plates to find pale, lifeless chicken parts, with corn kernels and broth. We wordlessly extended our shared apology to Jurstine and the bolognias (maybe they were driving from the meal), and tossed the leftover plates, but not before pocketing the strawberry cake which, for the record, turned out to be a huge mistake.
If you can, volunteer with your local MOW. It's a fun way to spend a lunch hour, especially when they're strapped for volunteers (damn gas prices). Just don't sample the food.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dinner on 5th, Dessert of 22nd

I could get used to this law school summer life. During my journalism internships, I worked for experience (and ok, a few pennies toward my rent, thanks mom and dad!), and for a lot of fun. These law school kids do it much better. The firms host bowling nights, wine tastings, weekend getaways, and, the coup de gras, the progressive dinner.
I'd read about progressive dinners. Goodness, I've even written about progressive dinners. Not that that means I've ever been to one, at least not until this summer.
I'd always pictured the streets of Mayberry with women in 50s-style skirts spilling out of colorful front porches carrying casseroles while their husbands, in casual suits walked alongside carrying the wine. It seemed like a block party, only indoors. My kind of block party.
So when B showed me the 10 page packet for our first PDP (progressive dinner party, stick with me), I was amazed. Appetizers at one home, dessert at one home, and, for dinner, the 150 or so of us would be divided up around the surrounding area to be seated at real dining room tables with a dozen or so of our soon to be dinner buddies.
The first PDP was fabulous. The food was great, I'm sure, but the truth is PDPs aren't about food at all. Ok, so they're a little about the booze, but the food is so secondary to the getting to know you and dinner conversation that it's almost comical. You forge a little bond with the people at your table, so much so that the firms have regulated the food served at the events. No more making your own. Now everyone gets the same dishes from the same caterer. Otherwise, the filet would always top the salmon, and who wants to discover that their seating at the PDP was anything but first rate?
Last night was our second go-round, though this time with a different firm. The beauty of the PDP is that they're always running late and everyone is totally ok with it. No one (we know) made the food, so it doesn't matter when it gets served, or if it's perfectly presented. Everyone just has fun. So drinks started at a local restaurant and went from 6-7. We left the bar at 8. By the time our host served dinner, we were already 30 minutes late for dessert. I talked B down from the rooftop in downtown where the gourmet cupcakes were being served at 12:30 with the reminder that we both had to be at work the next morning, in his case by 8:30 (and yes, his coworkers were all still there).
Needless to say, I'm now a huge fan of the PDP, save the fact that everyone's drinking and driving around all over town looking for homes they've never been to. So maybe Mayberry did have it right. Share in the fun and festivities of PDPs, but keep them close to home so no one has to worry about the keys. And make sure to sit by someone you don't know. You'll be surprised how much you enjoy it.


If I thought Wednesday's offer was official, I was nowhere near ready for today's version of "official." K's offer (well, her counter offer to their counter offer) went through. Contract has been signed, and now, as she says, all that's left is to "pay people to tell me buying the house is a good idea," and so begins the litany of home inspections and mortgage approvals.

Wow. It's still so unsettling to me, and I'm not sure why. I can't believe we're old enough to do things like sign up for 30 year mortgages and worry about faulty wiring and water heaters. Just a few days ago, I called my apartment manager to take care of the bees that are making themselves at home on my porch.

A big, very real part of me wishes that I was looking to buy a house in the near future, but not even for the reasons anyone might think. It's not about "pouring money" into rent, or even investing. I can invest on my own in something that I don't have to maintain. Rather, I think it's everything that I view as coming with a house. Having a house means you're happy, settled, stable, situated.

As I get older, I'm starting to embrace my fear and hatred of transitions, because I'm finally figuring out that I will always be transitions. That, or I will have made that final transition (eek!). It's like the people that always ask when you're going to get married, then, when you do, they start asking about kids. Then another kid. It's never settled. It's never done. And that's the beauty of it.

So I need to put my house-envy away and pocket that real emotion, that life is ever-changing and it's scary, but it's what makes it fun. Or at least interesting.

For now, hurrah for K! I'll have to find her a plant she can't kill to go beside her cute little front porch swing. And get back to looking for a new roommate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Offer's In

A crazy thing happened on the way to the bottom of the wine bottle tonight.  K told me she made an offer on the house, so it's official.  Her money is on the table, ready for the taking.  Now she's just waiting to hear.
But a great thing happened, too.  For the past few days, I've been unsettled about K's decision.  Is it the right move?  Will she be ok?  Will I be ok?  I'd been anxious and worried; every room in my apartment was clean and I'd even made bread.  So on the way home, knowing I'd have to face a very happy, excited K, I prayed that God would give me a better attitude.  Her buying a house has nothing to do with me, save the fact that I'd be minus one roommate, but it'd brought out the worst in me.  I was jealous, stressed, and frustrated.  I knew I couldn't walk into a wine toast with that dirty aura hanging around.
So I acted like my attitude had changed and bit by bit, it did.  I can say I'm happy for her.  I'm still worried about her buying a house, but then again I still see myself as 21.  We aren't 21 anymore, we're adults, ready for whatever we think we're ready for... or at least as ready as we'll ever be.  So we'll see what happens with K's offer.  She thinks they'll counter and it might go on for a few more days.  I'm hopeful that, whatever happens, she finds peace and solace in knowing she's following her heart.  And seriously, what a big girl move!  

Another Challenge Issued high school friend K, a fellow blogger who often doesn't update her own blog, to start doing so. She's the one who challenged me to start this bad boy in the first place, so I've shared the link and am hopeful that she'll click on here, see herself, and be shamed into writing. Muwahahaha.
Love you, K.

Normally I wouldn't...

But because this is new, and I am new on here, maybe it will help. Plus it'll get me over that whole "your business is your business" stuff. Honestly, my business is clearly everyone's business.

10 years ago I was:

Spending the summer on the lake enjoying life and no worries before Sophomore year of high school. I went to nerd camp at Clemson, studying astronomy and physics (seriously?), and basketball team camp at UNC, personal camp at Duke. But mostly I tanned, tubed, swam, ate, watched movies, and pined over a boy who turned out to be a distant cousin. Ouch.

5 years ago I was:

About to start my junior year at Princeton. I spent the summer in D.C. working for Roll Call Newspaper on The Hill, which basically meant I worked for free and had a lot of fun. Highlights included pictures in the massive chair in front of the art school, visiting every museum on the mall, and walking the two miles between my apartment and B's at every hour of the day and night. I also met Ozzie Smith, but that's another story...

1 year ago I was:

Rejoicing that I'd just gotten my first full-time, benefits included, 401K ready job at a food website. I spent the month before traveling to see B play minor league ball, and visiting Las Vegas, Sandestin, and South Carolina. One year ago exactly I was probably crying in my cube at work because I didn't understand our online publishing system. But I got over it.

5 things on my TO DO list today:

1. Bake the sourdough bread that's rising in the safety of my oven

2. Clean the apartment so the girls can come over for drinks after dinner

3. Go to CVS for much-needed staples (as in products, not metal)

4. Set the grilling Drinks page for online publish tomorrow

5. Staff meeting at 11

5 snacks I enjoy:

1. Salty chips

2. Salty chips with salsa

3. Salty chips with hummus

4. Mini chocolate crunch bars (in the red wrapper)

5. Strawberries

If I were a billionaire I would:

1. Invest

2. Set up college funds for my nieces and nephews

3. Buy a little cottage-style house

4. Endow Christmas dinners at a local charity forever

5. Take a week each year to visit a non-profit, learn, and help

5 bad habits:

1. Picking when I get stressed

2. Stressing when I get nervous

3. Piling clean clothes in heaps on my bed

4. Leaving said piles for weeks on end

5. Dreaming big, not following through

5 places I have lived:

1. Florence, AL

2. Washington D.C.

3. New York, NY

4. Princeton, NJ

5. Birmingham, AL

5 jobs I have had

1. Senior Decor Writer, Bliss Magazine

2. Reporter, Roll Call Newspaper

3. Freelance Contributor, Daily Guideposts

4. Temptern, Southern Living Magazine

5. Assistant Producer, unnamed food website (ha.)

Carb Therapy

Cancel the Prozac. Delete the therapy appointment from your Outlook calendar. Unwind from the praying lotus yoga position. I've discovered a new mind-cleansing activity: kneading bread.

I've wanted to make my own bread for a long time. Seems like a smart thing to do. You get starter (an intoxicating bubbly, yeasty bacteria substance that B finds disgusting) and basically add flour and water, plus a little bit of salt, over the course of 48 hours and bake. No more last-minute bread purchases (unless I forget to start the bread 48 hours before I want it), and never mind that I don't eat sandwiches, so really it's just ... extra bread. It's my bread. And I like it.

For those Atkins followers out there, follow me. You start (ironically enough) with starter. If you run low on starter, you feed the starter and it grows, freaking the hell out of B in the process. I've killed numerous plants and basically roasted tomatoes on the vine last year at my apartment, but I have high hopes that I can keep this little life alive. At least long enough to cook and eat it. Hello slow-food movement.

Adding the water and flour is no biggie. The real thing is a) having patience enough to let it rise for the right about of time and b) kneading. Oh glorious kneading. I have a bad habit of multitasking. Last night, in the 20 minutes I was making apple turnovers for a dinner party, besides peeling the apples and actually making the dumplings, I also

1) changed into a sundress

2) fed the bread baby

3) made today's lunch

4) got tonight's dinner ready for the fridge

5) packed a cooler

It's amazing the dumplings turned out at all. Plus I was only 10 minutes late.

Kneading bread isn't like that. You stick your hands in a big floured bowl (no surface in my kitchen is clean enough to flour and roll something I want to eat around on it) and get them covered with sticky, tacky dough. Sure, you can add flour and make it less likely to turn your hands into webbed creatures from beyond. (And, by the way, you should.) But the point is, you can't do anything else. You're in there for the long (15-minute) haul, forced to hang out with yourself. I suppose you could turn on the TV, but that would be cheating. I think from now on, when I'm kneading my bread, I'll make it a point to do something...pray for my friends, think about the good things in my life, or talk to God a little about whatever's stressing me enough to knead two loaves of sourdough in the first place.

In the meantime, if anyone kneads (ha. ha.) any bread, let me know.

Monday, July 14, 2008

SWF Seeks...

Cards on the table.  I clean when anxious, and lately that anxiety has been linked to my fluctuating roommate situation.  Two years ago this June, K, a former coworker, needed a place to live "for a few weeks" until she figured out what she was going to do with her life.  Since then, she's found a great job, starting dating a sweet guy, and has generally become totally settled into quasi-urban life.  Ergo, time for a change.  Done with apartment life (ie, pouring rent into a dark pocket in the main office), K is looking to buy a house.  Looking so clearly in fact that she's planning to make an offer this week.
It's funny.  When my brother left our apartment (we shared for a few months), it really upset me.  Not because he and I were particularly close.  I love him, but I think we're both still a little fond of our shared memories of our version of sibling death match. No, it was more the little things.  He took the hammer.  The tool kit.  My nails (iron, not french-tipped).  The stuff on the walls.  He did leave me every kitchen appliance known to man (juicer, anyone?), but just the sudden upheaval, the actual removal of some of "our" stuff sent me into a tizzy. I don't like blank spaces.
So now, aside from wondering what life will be post-K, I'm also thinking about what it will be like post K's stuff.  I'll have a spare bedroom, fewer red kitchen utensils, and a distinctly lower number of things on the wall.  Oh, and I think I'll lose some fake grapes that currently hang in the kitchen (you heard me).
I also worry that she'll make an offer, it'll draw out a bit, and then she'll move right around the same time that B has to go back to law school in NC.  The weekend my brother left, I would up calling my mom no fewer than four times crying.  Once about my car. Once about not being able to hang a picture.  Once because I didn't know what "weight" nails I needed.  And once because he had indeed taken the hammer.  If K and B leave in the same week, I think I'll go on vacation.  And a heavy-duty sedative.
I know everything will be fine.  I'm almost 25, I can live on my own.  In fact, I think it'll be good to be on my own.  I need to have some time for me.  Right now, it's just hard to look at the hand I've been dealt as anything but a hand that's a few cards short of a full house.
On the other hand, I'll have the bathroom to myself.  Hellllooooo long showers.


My first ebay experience ended well. Long story short (ah, blog life), I have long-since wanted a cast-iron cornbread skillet in the shape of hearts. Frivolous, you say? Uber-girly, you say? Yes on both counts, but at least I have good reason.

When I was little, my grandma and I would make cornbread. We'd make it for boyfriends (mine), family dinners, and, yes, even A.P. US History final projects (don't ask). And we always made it in her classic, ancient, perfectly seasoned cast-iron cornbread skillet.

Grandma lived in her own house until she was 93 and when she had to move out suddenly due to illness, my aunt called me and asked if there was anything in the house I wanted as they packed things up, gave them away, or moved them to grandma's new home as the assisted living place. Grandma didn't have super fancy things, but she did have nice furniture in her house, not to mention a to-die-for rose garden, but I knew there was only one thing I'd ever want: the heart shaped cast-iron skillet.

My aunt sounded doubtful, and maybe she didn't believe me. After all, I don't ever recall sending her any of the love-stuffed muffins. Whatever happened, I never saw hide nor hair of that cornbread skillet.

I gave up on the family side of the search and went online. Lodge, the only US manufacturer, doesn't make the heart-shaped skillets anymore. (Believe me, I work in food. I would've pulled out the big guns if I thought they had one in storage they'd send me.) So every once in a while, I'd check ebay and my search for "heart shaped cornbread skillet" would bring up anything from a heart-shaped wreath made of corn husks to a cornbread mix that incorporated hearts of palm. To be cooked in a skillet.

My grandma passed away this spring at the ripe old age of 97, and I just knew that I needed that damn skillet, so to ebay I went and I found (by God's grace, I'm sure) not one, but 4 skillets. I almost bought all of them, but instead found one that had never been used.  Rather, it had been displayed in a lady's home for decades, decorating her kitchen hutch. Now she was moving out and didn't have space to take it, and wouldn't I give it a good home?

So I did what any experienced ebay guru would be. I let the bidding expire then paid full price, plus shipping.

But now I have my skillet, and there will be lots of cornbread eating in my life ahead, especially on July 24th, on what would've been grandma's 98th birthday. I may even stick a candle in there, for good measure.

Lazy, Wonderful Weekend

I love rain. Pouring rain. It makes me long for an apartment with a tin roof. Ok, a tin roof during the day (ideal for late-afternoon naps), but a normal one at night. Some people want bi-level homes, I was a bi-roof home. Add it to the list!
Aside from the (wonderful) rain, the weekend was pretty much perfect. I got some new-aged apartment therapy on Friday night, then woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning and headed to the Farmer's Market.
Six peaches later, B and I were enjoying a lunch of baked ziti before playing tennis and hitting the pool.
Saturday night was fun, if interesting. I got together with a bunch of my Birmingham girlfriends and their respective boys. It wasn't really planned, but just snowball worked out where we could all get sushi and see a movie. B compared it to (a fun!) 8th grade date night. At least we could all drive.
Sunday was church, followed by a now traditional bacon, egg, and cheese fiesta at home before a super long nap, more rain, a little grocery shopping, and a lot of crab cake making.
Sometimes it's good to be home. And great to start 4 consecutive paragraphs with 's.' The copy editor in me lives!

Moved by the Mac & Cheese

Friday night (don't judge) I spent cleaning. I inherited my apartment's lease from my older brother when he moved out of Birmingham. The thing about gradual transitions is that you never quite get the other person's stuff totally out, then it gets all mingled with your stuff and the stuff gets comfortable and attached to itself and just stays forever. Enter: the pantry.
The pantry has been the bane of my Birmingham existence. Ok, so it's no freezer (don't ask), but it is pretty bad. I have a problem with throwing things away, especially when they're pantry items. Items that take forever to expire. So I decided to make it easy. Anything that was expired, and therefore put into said pantry by my brother, would go.
Three garbage bags and one "come to Jesus" talk with the pantry (and my stingy, saving soul) later, I'd purged the pantry of no fewer than eight boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese (Exp. 2002), two boxes Samoas (purchased in 2006), and a handful of "soup on the go" (Exp. 35a.d.).
Now here's a secret you don't know about me: if something is unstable in my life, I clean. I take my angst over being unable to control a certain thing and exert it over some innocent, unknowing plot of floor, closet, carpet, or pantry and attack it until it makes sense again. I do it with laundry, sorting files, arranging the fridge. Everything. So much so that when B showed up later that night, he walked in, paused, and said "baby? you...ok?"
Gotta love someone who knows you that well. And loves you anyway, even if he is a little scared.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Stage

I met a new human last night. Seriously, and entirely new person. Ten new toes and and ten new fingers now exist in the world. Haley had her baby, Mary Ella, and they're both doing wonderfully. Mary Ella is adorable...warm, cuddly, and with a violent, if short, cry when you disrupt her beauty sleep.
So there's this little person, hanging out on my lap, looking up into the darkened room and trying to get her eyes to focus. What could she possibly be thinking about? Food, most likely. And probably not even as concrete a thought as that, but rather something along the lines of "that warm runny stuff." Hey, it isn't all cuteness.
The world has one more person. One more shot at breaking world records, curing cancer, and redesigning the hybrid car. Who will Mary Ella be? Her parents are both linked with the medical field, so maybe she'll go into nursing. Her mother is an amazing musician, so perhaps she'll create a band and be the next Miley Cirus... she's already got the baby-blanket wardrobe. Her daddy is amazing at his Sales position, so maybe she'll follow in that suit, sharing her already budding personality and happiness with the people she will meet. The point is, she can do anything. Starting today.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I've been...

a) washing my hair

b) trapped under something heavy (points for naming the movie reference!)

c) lazy

d) trying to figure out how to blog about my life without telling everything about my life to total strangers

ding ding ding! Winner.

But I'm back. I've made a pact with my dear sweet former college roommate (see exotic travel photo) to blog as she does during the summer. Currently it's a one-sided pact as I just extended it as she's flying over the open water from Miami to Brazil. I have a hunch she'll agree though. She's great like that.