Monday, June 24, 2013

Homemaking on the ranch (or in this case a suburban condo)

Even my mother has made careful note that I have been born outside of my century. She often discusses that she is unsure where my homemaker gene comes from, more specifically the kitchen gene. Mom does not do much in the kitchen other than warm microwave meals. She hates cooking. She tolerates baking and somehow her daughter could live in the kitchen carefully crafting homemade meals and goodies all day.

The summer is about taking advantage of what is available. Nearly every fruit and vegetable is widely accessible freshly straight from the farm. Our 855 square foot condo does not offer garden space (surprising). The best I can do is visit the many farmers markets, join CSA’s or hope that a nearby neighbor will sit out fresh offerings for free (it happens all the time).

Looking over the pantry this weekend, I noticed the absence of jam. I love toast, waffles, and muffins. Many folks would be happy with a jar of store bought jelly but my last purchased jar yielded no identifiable fruit and within 2 weeks, I had a jar of sugar. The first ingredient in jam should be fruit, not sugar, fructose or fruit flavoring. Surprisingly, jam is easier to make than many people think. It involves few simple ingredients but it does test the patience of any kitchen cook.

I picked up a pint of fresh strawberries from a nearby farm on Saturday morning. By late Sunday morning we had fresh strawberry/ ginger jam. I tossed my Smuckers jar in the trash. Jam, from berry to canning stage takes less than an hour and it is worth the careful attention to detail (stirring...stirring...stirring).

Chopping strawberries for jam-5 minutes

Boiling fruit and sugar for 10-15 minutes
 I’d like to think if I lived on an Alaskan homestead I could prepare adequately for winter. I could make jam, sauces and other canned goods without fail. I could “process” chickens. Unfortunately, there is no need for me to do this for the condo except when I refuse to have too much over processed food in the cupboards. I do not fret about winter because our streets are plowed. I have no room for a chicken coop. However, should the apocalypse come, I am sure, we will be well prepared. Let us eat jam.

Finished product: Jam

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Most Perfect Jeans...EVER (I think).

My wardrobe is in distress. I hate clothes shopping. Most women I know hate shopping for themselves. I believe most of us feel buying clothes only shines a spotlight on the flaws we see and we don’t want others to see. Blame it on poor lighting, cheap craftsmanship but honestly, it’s just poor self-esteem.

By now, I’ve reached the age, where I’ve encountered several styles of jeans. I’ve tight rolled stonewashes jeans, scraped bricks across denim for the perfect distressed look, purchased jeans with holes made my machines. I seem to recall a time when my jeans were adorned with neon splatter paint, also done by a machine. There was time, I wanted my wardrobe to be “in.”

With age, comes denim maturity. I am a petite girl and when the skinny jeans craze rolled into town two years after the first sightings on the coasts, I felt awful. I do not have long matchstick legs. I have short, stocky, bicycle/ runner legs. Skinny jeans are painted on. My alternatives were boyfriend styles with larger saggy waistlines, the infamous mom jeans with heart shaped curved pockets, or the classic boot cut when and where I could find them. I opted out of all jeans and wore skirts or sporty motifs (yoga pants).

Like many women, when I say I have tried on every pair of jeans, I know for certain, I’ve tried on hundreds, if not, thousands of pairs of jeans. I’ve been to every store, outlet, chain and consignment shop for jeans. I’ve tried all the major name brands and the off brands. I’ll admit it, I’ve sampled jeans at Walmart. They did not fit but if they had, $19.88 would have been ONE amazing price. I’ve tried boutique jeans in excess of $175 per pair telling myself that IF I found a perfect pair, it would be worth it (The jury is still out on this thought process). Thankfully, none of those jeans worked either and I avoided a disastrous spending nightmare that I would have likely never been able to do.

I compromised and purchased a simple straight leg cut from Talbots (on-sale). They were a darker wash and did the job when I needed to wear a pair of jeans. They were stiff and uncomfortable but they fit (sorta). I was neither happy nor upset with the jeans. They made me feel like I was wearing clothes. That’s it. I just dreamed of a jean nirvana that may never happen. I never gave up hope and luck is a mysterious lady.

In a fitting room inside the newer Anthropologie of the south, my friend and I embarked on an Olympic sized task one Friday evening of trying on dozens of sale garments hoping for the rare gem amongst the smaller label designers. Most women I know under the age of 50 enjoy the relaxed look and feel of Anthropologie clothes but few of us can enjoy them at the retail prices. I enjoy wearing that small designer that is not a huge name and running the red carpets of NYC fashion week yet. My salary says otherwise. Thankfully, they know that their clientele seeks bargain among the short batch produced pieces. They’ve devoted a room to the sale items carefully organizing and zoning discounted pieces. On this Friday, I did find a buried treasure. I found the PERFECT jeans.

These are perfect jeans. The AG Petite Angelina
Among the racks were carefully placed shelves where several piles of pants folded atop one another. I reached over my head to sort quickly through the material mountain. Folded in a heap were red ankle pants, purple suede kitchy pants, and a single pair of jeans. I was almost defeated before I even unfolded them. I'd picked up a pair of AG Petite Angelina Boot Cut jeans. Had it not been for my friend saying “just try them on,” I may have returned them to the heap like a discarded tissue. The one lonely pair appeared to be my size. I threw them over my shoulder with some hesitation with other sale room items breaking my forearm beneath.

Louisville waited for years for an Anthropologie. It finally arrived.

Between divisional privacy walls, we sampled each of our selections. We offered each other a quick peek fashion show when we felt an item was not too embarrassing. I had two piles of clothes, one mentalley labeled ‘yes’ and the other labeled‘no.” The ‘no’ pile had more items. I slid the jeans on last and much like a kid being told they are going to Disney for the first time, I wanted to scream. These jeans FIT…they FIT GREAT…they felt GREAT. I raced out of the dimly lighted fitting room to the degrading three-way public mirror to pay careful attention to all of my self-proclaimed flaws. I tested them, bending over, squatting and pulling at the threads. The jeans were not pinching my legs. They were not painted on. They were not embellished with cheap crystals spelling out adjectives used to describe fruit. These jeans were dare I say it, PERFECT. It got even better when I grabbed the sale tag to find them onsale…DEEPLY on sale.

I wasn’t about to proclaim victory without carefully grilling the sales staff about these jeans. “Are these being discontinued?”, “Do they change styles often?”, “Do they come in weird cuts?” I fired questions at her one after another. I’ve been burned before having purchased a pair of jeans only to learn they are were later sent away to some jean heaven without any ceremonial send off. The sales lady was as calm and collected. She’s had this happen before. Once I was assured, I knew the jeans were coming home with me. I found jeans that fit, that I like and I could afford.

I realize that my obsession with finding the perfect jeans may be a true obsession but I feel everyone deserves clothing that fits and makes them feel good. As women, we are so closely judged by what we wear. It's hard to not be somewhat self-concious. Feeling bad is only enhanced when we have ill fitted clothing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A year in a hospital

My first year at the new job is about ready to turn over. I've never been so elated in my entire life to reach the one-year mark at a job. It's gone by so fast. I would not have it any different. There was little time for adjustment in this position. I was tossed into the deep end and forced to tread water fast. Unlike previous jobs with micromanaging and drama, this position is more about the work. Because of this extreme pace, I've noted some key things I've learned in 12-months.

Things learned in a hospital in one year

1. People walk fast: People walk very fast in a hospital whether they are clinical or non-clinical. Even if you are early for a meeting, it is recommended that you walk fast. I personally believe this makes you look more important than anyone on the street. People are less likely to stop and ask for help if they think you are in a hurry and its a great way to raise your heart rate. When I say walking fast, I mean just below a light jog. Hospitals wear shoes out and it's not uncommon to see people in full stride or run.

2. Hospitals have bad coffee: Whether you are out on a unit or in an administrative office, you are likely to drink bad coffee. What they pass off as coffee is a hot water concoction that looks and smells a lot like coffee. Powdered creamer is abundant which only worsens the burned dark water. My hospital hosts a Starbucks in the main cafeteria and you can bet I will make the 15-minute walk to get a good cup in the morning with real creamer.

3. Some people are not nice: Even though I smile and say hello to everyone in the hall, my success rate of receiving the returned greeting stands at 50%. There are many tired, grumpy people in the hospital. Some can walk past you and never notice you are there. Others, smile, wave and say hello. I've learned to not take it personally when someone does not say hello back to me but I have been tempted to break out in a chicken dance to see if they would crack a smile.

4. Hospitals are machines: I've worked for large companies before and I am fully aware of how a machine operates. Each part has a job and there are a lot of parts to any single machine. Hospitals are machines, taking people in, turning them out, repeating as necessary. This machine never stops. It operates 7 days a week, 24-hours a day and then some. It does not pause for holidays, weekends or natural disasters. It never stops.

5. You truly never know what you will see in the hallways: Everyday I work, I never know what I will encounter in the hallways. I may run into someone sick, bleeding, about ready to give birth or just lost persons trying to find the appropriate waiting room. We're a huge set of buildings and hard to walk around. I constantly direct people to reach their destinations all day. (I have seen a woman in the midst of strong contractions grab a side rail and scream. I helped her reach the elevators which were quite a ways away from where she was-thank goodness for wheelchairs).

6. There are some talented healthcare professionals: I've met many clinicians who are passionate about what they do. They are good at it. They care and you can feel this passion when you meet or work with them.

7. There are people in healthcare that have no business being in healthcare: I've also met people burned out and angry about their jobs. They lack personality. Their careless attitude about patient care is obvious and they are poison to be around. Coincidentally, they also tend to be the people who refuse to say hello to you in the hallway.

8. Change is quick: Healthcare and how hospitals operate is changing in America and it's changing fast. There is no reason to get too attached to your office, your chair, your desk or supervisor. It can change overnight and your only notification may come in the form of a memo received in your inbox. If you are a person who needs a precise routine, constant direction and oversight, a hospital is not the place to build your career.

9. IT departments in hospitals are overwhelmed: When I first came onboard, it took nearly a week to get my email and computer set-up. The help desk is overwhelmed with IT professionals who should be wearing  fire fighter suits. Instead of waiting on the phone for hours for them to find your favorite font or give you access to other applications you really don't need, google your issue and see if YOU can fix it. Those poor people need a break.

10. There are a lot of smells in a hospital: In addition to preparing for whatever sights you may come across for the day, you must prepare ALL of your senses. Simply by walking between units, your nose may be battered and assaulted with a bevy of smells ranging from refreshing and pleasant to atrocious and nauseating. I'm used to every smell now and can drink coffee while smelling all of them.

11. Hyper people need a hyper environment: The best part of my job is it matches my energy. I am wired sun up until sun down and since this machine NEVER quits, it feels great to know I can expend my energies here. Even on a slow day, if I so choose, I can find a project to work on. There is always a project to work on here.

Training therapy dogs and their handlers to visit with patients.

12. Anything can and will be stolen: Never leave anything unattended in a hospital. Everything that can be touched, picked up, or moved will be stolen. Pens, portfolio's, coffee mugs, candy, coffee, powdered creamer and even a can of Pledge have been lifted from my office. It's too tempting for some people. Because of these incidents, I am cautious with my personal belongings. It behooves a person to find a way to hang, tape or sew all personal items to your body. It's the only way to guarantee you will have your items at the end of the day.

13. Managing 172 people is challenging: I have a mix of volunteers and staff. In all, I manage 172 persons but never all at once. It is a challenge to learn about them, keep their schedules straight and be as positive as possible. I love a good challenge and I always want to be a good manager. This position allows me to make decisions and mistakes along the way. I've taken all the negative experiences I've had with managers and used them as positives for how I do not want to be with my folks. I never want to be distant, self-centered, or too busy. Every person needs time with their manager. Sometimes I am put on the spot to fight a fire. Later, I go back and think if I'd do the same thing over. If the answer is yes, then I plan on it for the next time. If the answer is no, I think of another solution. My brain is engaged and it makes me want to be a better person.

More than anything I've learned is I can enjoy a job. In this day and age, this is a huge accomplishment. I finally report to someone who does not operate in chaos or panic mode. Although, he is busy, I feel I have someone I can look up to, a mentor of sorts. His calmness helps me remain the same. I enjoy hard work but I do not enjoy operating in a manic state with unachievable goals.