Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I've Got Your New Years Resolution Inspiration, Right Here

Wow.  Today I just randomly realized that, if I want to work out to lose some of the weight I've been beating myself up about NOT losing for the last *cough* eight *cough* years, one really really good way to inspire myself to work out is to put on a sports bra (preferably one that is a size too small) and skin-tight leggings, and hang out (no pun intended) around the house.  I'm home every day.  There's no excuse to not work out.    Not. one.  Zero, zip, nada.  It's just me...not working out...

So I dress in workout clothes, and guaranteed...if I walk past a mirror or a window, my reflection pretty much screams DROP AND GIVE ME 20!!!  ok...10, posssssibly 15.

Also, sitting at my desk is a no-no, because, hello--rolls.  This dress code is also a great appetite suppressant.  Oh,  I see you're looking in the fridge.  Again.  Have you seen what your butt looks like in these pants?? Is that a muffin top? And what's THIS, right here? See?  Yes, you.  Close the fridge.  Right now.


So.  If you want inspiration, in a nutshell, there it is.  Wear work-out gear, and you definitely WILL work out.  Or at least I will. 

So--  bye.  I'm going to hit the exercise bike and cardio now.

NO, I don't look like this.  But, I could, right?  RIGHT??!?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cookbook Wishes and Carb-Laden Dreams

(You have to read the title with Robin Leach's accent, or it won't work.)

I've been spending most of this month (other than keeping busy and fulfilled working on taxes and laundry and dishes and feeding chickens and vacuuming and reading and painting my nails and more laundry and dishes and basketball games), working on the as-yet unnamed cookbook project that I undertook last year, which I have elegantly and creatively named: The Cookbook Project

I can't seem to come up with a name--at all--so, if you have any ideas for a cookbook other than "The Book" or "Stef's Big Book of Recipes for People Who Can't Cook Good", I'd love to hear them.  My creativity doesn't work that way very well.

It's slower going than I expected, but I've got a system for entering recipes that is working, and it's coming together.  I have about 200 pages already, and I'm *cough* not.even.close to finished, and I keep remembering more recipes to include, so I'm hoping it doesn't turn into like 900 pages of "WHAT? WHY IS THIS SO BIG?!?" and end up costing a million dollars to publish.

And it's making me hungry, plus it's making me want to bake.  So today, I worked on the book, but only after making a lemon meringue pie AND some New York rye bread.  I haven't had wheat since before Christmas, but I tried a piece of that bread just out of spite.  I mean, you can't not eat it, when it's hot out of the oven.  What if there's something wrong with it?  I need to know, right?  RIGHT??

And it's turning out that everyone we know is still waiting for a copy or two.  My deadline of May to have it finished *feels* realistic, but it's a little nerve-wracking because I still need to go through and somehow make sure the proof-reading is right, so no one ends up making something and realizing that...shouldn't there be SUGAR in this cookie recipe? 

Originally it was SUPPOSED to be just a gift for my girls, so they would have every single family favorite recipe that we love, all in one place.  But it turns out, since I love to cook, and I've been cooking and baking for a long time, there are, um...a LOT of recipes to add.  Which means lots of typing.  Or lots of time scanning and then cutting, pasting, editing, correcting and cursing.  I had one recipe that I tried to scan, cut, and paste that took me so long yesterday that I started feeling all restless and irritable and jumpy, especially knowing that I could have TYPED this recipe directly already, like, 48 TIMES.  WTH??  Sometimes technology just--gets in the way.


It's also slow going because my wrists and hands are kind of sore, because I haven't spent this much time typing since my 200+ wpm medical transcriptionist days, so obviously the last thing I feel like doing is writing blog posts.  Plus...none of my stories have formulated into blog-worthy cohesion in my head yet, which is my own highly developed way of knowing when I feel like writing one down--I start telling myself the story, in my head, and if I should write it down, I do.  It's all very highly evolved and sophisticated.  *snort*

Also, everytime I look up a recipe that has pictures, especially the ones I haven't made in a long time--suddenly I'm craving all of them.  So, now, on top of working out and dieting, I have visions of almond puffs dancing in my head!

And sourdough bagels!!

And caramel-raisin cinnamon rolls with extra gooey sauce!!!

 Ahhhhh, carbs!!!  It's like a torture test of willpower.  This from a woman who could live on wheat and dairy products and nothing else.  I have never craved a carrot stick in my entire life.   not.  once.


Just needed to get that off my chest.

Carry on with whatever you were doing. 

Ever start a project that makes you crave food you should not be eating? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

That Time I Worked with Gordon Ramsey and was Almost Famous

A Truly Long Story, (but a long true story, too).

Back when I was at what I will call the zenith of my cake decorator fame, a lovely business acquaintance contacted me to see if I'd be interested in working on a reality TV show with "a very famous celebrity".  She couldn't give details, other than it was someone very famous, with a very famous TV show, and it would involve a wedding.  They were looking for our area's best for wedding vendors, and she wanted me on the team (of course).

 After staring into space for a whole 10 seconds, wisely considering the pros and cons and out-of-pocket expense against any possible benefit, and mentally erasing everything from my calendar for the future, I very calmly said, "OMG YES!! COUNT ME IN!  I AM SO IN!"

I had visions of myself shooting to wedding cake super stardom, working with David Tutera to make My Fair Wedding brides' dreams come true, with my beautiful and stylish bakery being known far and wide because I took this step into worldwide recognition. I couldn't imagine who else could be filming a wedding reality show in our town.  It had to be David, right?  Here was my chance to Get My Name Out There, for real. 


That is the sound Fantasy makes when it crashes into Reality.

Without any idea who I was signing up to work with or what might be required, I signed on and waited on pins and needles for details of my new adventure.  Then she called me and told me Who the celebrity was.  It was NOT David Tutera. 

She was like, "Stef, it's Gordon Ramsey."


Did you say...Gordon Ramsey?  That guy who is one of TV's most famous chefs.  One of the world's harshest food critics.  Gordon who is also best known for cussing out cooks on his shows.  Do you mean THAT Gordon Ramsey?? I never even watched any of his shows, back when we had TV, because just the trailers for his shows were scary and full of him shouting obscenities at quavering kitchen staff.  Shows with names like Hotel Hell, Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen, Welcome to Hell in the Kitchen.  I think that last one is made up...

I had an instant panic attack.  Because, hello--I'm a baker.  If it's a reality show about a wedding, and I'm making the wedding cake, is this a set up?  Am I the one who gets chewed out on live TV?  Ohhh dear, what have I signed up for?

She was like, "No really. It'll be fine.  Our job is to come in at the end of the reality show and magically make everything come together with a perfect wedding.". Well, that's a relief.  No pressure. I just need to make a perfect wedding cake for TV's harshest food critic currently alive on the planet.

I was starting to sweat a bit, but I decided that I didn't care WHAT his name was, if they were thinking of pulling any reality TV make-the-baker-cry crap with me, they had another thing coming.  He's just a guy, and I don't take that kind of nonsense from anyone...I don't care HOW famous they are. 

I was told that at any time over the next 2-week period, TV producers *could* show up unannounced and possibly want to film.  At my shop.  I freaked out and started cleaning like a maniac and dressing up to go to work.  Full makeup.  Clean apron every hour.  I made the building managers refresh the front of the building my shop was in...clean walkways, fresh mulch, etc.  I held my breath and tried to carry on like nothing was out of the ordinary, except for constantly wiping every surface spotless while trying to produce wedding cakes. 


Of course, they didn't decide to knock on my door.  Which was kind of a let-down, after all the cleaning, wiping, mirror-checking, and flossing I constantly did for 2 weeks...

So.  The idea was that basically I needed to design a wedding cake for a bride and groom using the theme of the wedding ("bling"), some of the bride's input, but favorite thing...full creative license.  So, that was no problem.  I sketched pages and and pages of cake designs until I settled on the exact cake that I would want to create, which would combine all these things, look great under bright lights, AND be a stunning example of my work in this, my one shot at having one of my cakes shown on worldwide  TV.  I loved the design I came up with, and since only the bottom tier of it needed to be edible cake for them to cut on the episode, the rest could be Styrofoam dummies.  My favorite kind of cake to decorate--easy to work with, easy to transport, and creative license.  Yeah, baby. No problem.

That part accomplished, I was thinking...this will be fine.  Except for the part that I'm making cake for freaking Gordon Ramsey!  He's going to EAT my cake!!!  aieeeeeeeee      Ok, calm DOWN!!

Then the producers sent a small monkey wrench on over.

My coordinator friend emailed, saying that they would actually need not one, but TWO different cakes for this episode.  One would be for the actual wedding (and yes, the couple really did get married, and they were truly the sweetest kids, and thrilled to be getting a dream wedding).  The other cake would be for a quick "reveal" shot that would be filmed earlier in the episode, but it needed to be something else.  Not the actual final cake.  I was like, "...something else like what?

She sent me this:
"They want to know if you can make this."
Ummmm, WHAT?

They wanted a croquembouche tower like the one at the left (light blue base), above.  I studied these in horrified awe.  I know what croquembouche are, but I'd never seen one placed on top of a cake.  What the actual heck?  Even if done well...those are not, uh, pretty.  And no on in Idaho is going to order one...ever.

Without blinking an eye, I immediately answered breezily that yes, I could totally make that, and how big did they want it?  Like I do these all the time.  (I'd never even made cream puffs, let alone a tower of them held together on top of a cake, wrapped in perfect strands of spun sugar!).  Yep--no problem-o.  Inside...more sweating and hyperventilating.
Omg.  omg, omg Omg OMG OMG OMG OMGOMG.

Crap.  What have I got myself into??

I'd already said yes, and there was no way I was going to do this and fail, on TV, in front of Gordon Ramsey, so I took a deep breath and started researching croquembouche online.  I trawled Food Network's website, Master Chef's website,,, and blogs devoted to nothing but croquembouche.  I visited websites in Europe that specialize in this European dessert. 

The instructions I read were not encouraging, to put it mildly. 
1.  First and foremost--Do NOT attempt to make croquembouche when it's humid.  The caramel will soften and not hold the tower together, and it will collapse.   (Check.  Collapses if raining.)
2.  Do NOT store croquembouche at room temp.  The cream filling is perishable and MUST be refrigerated.  (Check.  Keeping it on the counter will kill people, possibly Gordon Ramsey).
3.  Do NOT refrigerate croquembouche after assembled, as the humidity in the fridge will ruin the caramel spun sugar, and it will collapse.  (Check, keeping it in the fridge will ruin it.  Wait--what?)
4.  Croquembouche should be assembled on site, as close to serving time as possible.  (Check. So,  I need to build this thing, for the first time, in front of Gordon-freaking-Ramsey.  Possibly on live TV.  What could possibly be stressful about THIS?)

I sent a quick email over to the coordinator, asking her, were they SURE that they want croquembouche, and if so...were they planning to serve it? Or could it be a mock-up made of basically empty cream puffs held together with Gorilla Glue?  That, I could handle.  She wrote back and said that yes, the producers wanted it to be real, filled with pastry cream, and that yes, they would be eating it.  I read that as "Gordon Ramsey will be personally eating these cream puffs, so they better be the best cream puffs ever made anywhere on the planet."     Yay, more STRESS.
I wrote back, "No problem" and sat down and tried not to have a stroke.  It was February in northern Idaho, and it was raining almost nonstop.  Hello--humidity 100%!?

I calmly gathered my facts:

1.  I have to learn to make perfect French cream puffs and vanilla pastry cream filling, assemble them, wrap them in spun sugar, transport this tower to the film location, IN THE RAIN, and have it hold together.  For Gordon Ramsey. 
2.  I can NOT assemble this in front of Gordon Ramsey and a camera crew or I will pass out.
3.  I can NOT make it ahead and keep it in the fridge.
4.  OMG I'm making cream puffs for Gordon Ramseeeeeheeheeheeeheee---wheeeeeze
Then:  Oh no.  Maybe this is the point of the show!  Maybe it's about watching a baker try to do the impossible and then have Gordon cuss me out when it collapses, which it MUST.  On TV. 

One of my strengths is that I work well under pressure, so I set about learning how to make perfect cream puffs.  I made batch after batch of them, every day, for about a week.  I made fresh vanilla bean pastry cream filling for every one of them and filled them.  I made sure they were perfectly filled, perfectly formed, and perfectly delicious.  My family was heartily sick of cream puffs.  I was giving them away at our school, giving them to anyone who would take them.  I even donated some to our school auction.

Then, I focused on learning to assemble a croquembouche, which is a tower of about 75-100 cream puffs, stacked and held together with 240-degree caramel syrup, with no support from inside the tower, and then wrapped in a wispy veil of delicate, infinitesimally small, breakable strands of spun sugar.  I would have to drive this thing, assembled, for about 10 minutes in the rain from my shop to the film location, so I made a small practice tower of unfilled puffs.  Here it is, the practice croque:
I carried this around in a box in my car for about 5 days.  I hit bumps.  I hit railroad tracks.  I took corners too fast.  It snowed.  It rained.  I checked the box, and that thing was FINE.  I'm golden.

With a HUGE sigh of relief, I had convinced myself that, yes, this can be transported in the rain, and it will not collapse.  In front of Gordon Ramsey.

Next I baked and decorated the bottom support cake that would hold my croquembouche.  This also had to be "real", because (so I heard), they would also be eating this one too.  (Yay, more stress!)
The finished base cake, 10" of purple velvet deliciousness

My next task was to figure out how to assemble a whole perfect croquembouche, as close to the 7 a.m. delivery time on the filming date as possible, but NOT have to put it in the fridge.  My only option was to make about 150 cream puffs and all the pastry cream filling the night before, and then get up really really early and go to the shop and assemble a perfect croquembouche for Gordon Ramsey, complete with spun sugar, box it up, and be ready to leave with it at 7 a.m.  I allowed all the time I would need to fill each puff, boil the caramel to the right temperature, burn myself several times, assemble the tower, and wrap it in spun sugar.  I realized I needed to get up at about 2:15 a.m. to make it work.  So I set my alarm, ironed my chef's coats--and made it work. 
The final tower

 Unfortunately, I can't show you a picture of the final tower assembled on the cake above, on set.  Due to the highly secretive nature of reality TV security and all, we had the super-strictest orders that if we so much as showed up on set with a phone anywhere on our body, even for emergencies, even if it's in your pocket and it's turned off, they would throw us off the set and possibly close down the production and move out of town and sue us for eleventy million dollars.  Got it.  No phones. 

So I would have to wait til months afterwards, after the show aired, to see my creation.  But even on the disc of a zillion photos that I did score from the Fox TV producers, not one of the photos included the finished croquembouche.  So we'll have to just imagine it, I guess, based on this lovely sketch I sent them when we were negotiating the fact that there would even BE a croque:

 Imagine this.  Only real, and with Gordon Ramsey nearby and/or eating it.
Meanwhile, I had also simultaneously baked a 12" bottom round cake for what became the 4-tiered wedding cake for the real wedding part of the episode.  It was nearly finished when I left that morning with the croquembouche, and I raced back between takes to finish touching it up with lots of iridescent powder, so it would sparkle under the cameras.  I loved how it turned out.
 Some close-ups of the bling-y details, courtesy of Fox TV photographers:

 The final cake that was on TV in September 2012

On the day of filming, I arrived with the croquembouche for the 7:30 setup of the "reveal" shot for the episode.  Basically the vendors involved had to come in and set up the entire reception for a quick sneak peak on film.  Then we had to come back in at like 11 a.m. and remove all of it, down to the last flower petal, and set up a complete wedding ceremony in the same room.  Inside of a 45-minute time window.  THEN, we had to come back in at like 3:30 and flip the whole thing back into (tah-dah) the reception again.  The whole time, we were literally tripping on camera crews and photographers, so we're all dressed in our logo-showing best, fully prepared to see ourselves on TV someday.  

Oh my gosh, this is my Big Break, riiiight?  Not exactly.  Because, hello--editing.  They got like 9 hours of footage for a 1-hour show, so naturally, we didn't end up with any actual camera time.  Surprise.

When I came in after the "reveal" shot had been filmed, to remove whatever might be left of the cream puff tower and the cake under it, I found...the whole entire thing, still sitting there.  Untouched.  Gordon Ramsey had not, in fact, eaten my cream puffs.  In fact, no one had.  The cake wasn't touched, either, so now I was standing there holding 50 servings of purple velvet cake and about 80 cream puffs in the rain, wondering what the heck am I supposed to do with this? and simultaneously...Whaaattt? Are you kidding me right now?  Do you have any idea what I went through to make this?!?

But since questions silently asked receive only silence for answers, I made an executive decision.  I boxed the perfect, untouched base cake back up and handed it to the couple who were on site as the DJ team for the reception, who had 5 kids, who I knew would appreciate a delicious sugar rush.  Then I walked into the set crew's tent, where they were all shivering around a space heater in the solid drizzling 37-degree weather, and set the perfect croquembouche on the folding table in front of them.

"Here. This is for you."

They were afraid to touch it.  "What? It's too pretty.  I couldn't.  I don't want to ruin it."  So I sort of violently ripped off the top cream puff and bit an angry bite out of it, then tore off another one and handed it to him.  "EAT IT."  Intimidated by my chef's coat, no doubt, and the fact that he might be talking to the next Big Thing in cake decorators, and you need to "keep the talent happy", the guy took a bite.  They were heavenly, by the way. missed out, baby.  By the end of the night, most of it was gone.  I can only hope that maybe he stopped in and actually ate one, since I spent weeks agonizing over making them for him.

The whole rest of that day was a blur of standing in the cold, in the rain, and in the dark.  At one point, I did actually see The Man himself...from across a parking lot, getting out of his trailer.  But I was too far away to casually yell "Hi, Gordon!" so I just stood there and hoped that my glaring white chef's coat might give me away as the creative genius behind the reception centerpiece, etc etc.  He must have been super busy, because he did not pop over to shake my hand or take any selfies.  I had vainly imagined having a framed photo of me and Gordon on the wall of my bakery--you know--arm around my shoulder, grinning and making a "thumbs up" sign at the camera, me in my chef's coat, looking professional and glad not to get cussed at...  That so did not happen.  No glossy 8 x 10 for you.

What did happen is we all showed up at 11 p.m. to clean up the reception room after the filming was over.  I dressed up again in a sparkling white chef's coat with my logo on it, full hair and makeup.  Just in case, you know, maybe he's going to POP IN after we all spent 2 weeks of our lives, countless dollars of our own money, put our families completely on hold, went without our phones for a whole day, and maybe, just maybe he will come in and give us a thumbs up, like, "Hey, you guys are awesome! Thanks for a great job."  We waited in vain, and I found out later that he'd been on a plane out of Spokane at like 8 p.m.

Can you say...anticlimax?  Well, at least I didn't fail and get cursed at on TV.

Looking back, I can't say it was truly fun, because at the time it was all so stressful (and costly, and completely uncompensated, except for a CD full of photos, none of which included ANYone famous.  Thanks, FoxTV).  Our episode airing date was rescheduled from April to May to September, but it was a blast to watch, and I got to see my cake right there on actual TV, for a whole 30 seconds.  

Basically none of the lovely, talented, hard-working wedding vendors who gave 110% for that production were given any mention or footage (even in the credits, though we were listed on the website). 

As for my long-awaited croquembouche scene--the camera panned the room once, and the croque was hidden behind a floral arrangement and wasn't visible, so honestly that whole cream puff adventure HADN'T MATTERED AT ALL.  I could have saved myself going through all that stress. 

I can honestly say that I had to agree with my husband afterwards.  Signing up for a reality show featuring one of my cakes, which could be my Big Break...was about the most costly, time-consuming, stressful, and least effective method advertising that I ever did in 12 years.  He's always right.  But I will always remember that day in the rain with that great group of dedicated wedding vendors.  We all deserve a huge shout out for the effort we put into making that day come off perfectly. 

Oh wait...we DID get permission to use this on our websites: 
Well.  It's something, right?

There is one great thing I learned (aside from the fact that I will never be famous).  I know how to make truly fantastic cream puffs.

P.S.  To Gordon's credit, all the vendors who did get to interact with him, said he was delightful to work with, super professional and polite, and very sweet, off camera.  

Has anyone else ever been surprised by something that was soooo not your Big Break?  Ever spend agonizing amounts of uncompensated time on something that turned out to be *not* worth it? 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

More Facebook Tips From Under a Rock

Ok, yes, I've said this before, but there's always more to say, about social media. 

The other day I was laughing at what I call my "ever-shrinking list" of friends on Facebook.  Most people on Facebook have like 462 FRIENDS.  Which just says:  "DON'T YOU WISH YOU WERE AS POPULAR AS ME?  I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE".  Is it a popularity contest?   The one with the Most Likes wins?  I lose, then, I guess.  Or I'm doing it wrong...
Hit LIKE if you have a pulse.  You.  Right now.
I do like some of the positive stuff I've seen posted--don't get me wrong.  I've found recipes, news stories, and some truly funny stuff on Facebook.  I have gotten to see the children of my friends from high school, and it's very sweet to know that we're all still alive and well.  

I must be living under a rock, though, because I can't honestly imagine more than about 10 people who I truly want to know what they're up to  Seriously.  Every day? By the hour?  Lord, no.  I don't even need that kind of constant updating from my immediate family.  It makes me yearn for the time when whole hours (or even days, weeks, or months) could pass before you'd hear from some of your friends.  And you still loved each other.  Remember how GREAT it was to catch up with them, in person?  No so, these days.  It's like Detail Overload, only with no human contact.  It's a little freaky.

Hey, we're almost touching!  Want to see a picture of my pets?
Why should any of us think that our friends from high school (or--let's be honest--some of them are really just acquaintances from high school) would want to know what we're eating or drinking, what our kids did over the weekend, or where we're going on vacation?  These are people I sat in a classroom with, (or not?--I can't even remember anymore), something like 28 YEARS AGO.  Not to sound cold-hearted, but I really don't actually care what kind of coffee you had this morning. 
Isn't Facebook proof that we are all so self-centered?  What could be more attention-seeking than to post publicly to 462 people, who you probably don't know that well, that you're "feeling disappointed today"?  Facebook should impose an auto-complete for those vague posts, like this…"THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE REQUIRED TO ASK THE POSTER WHAT'S WRONG SO THEY CAN BE VAGUE AND MYSTERIOUS."  Do we need this kind of constant affirmation that people, even down to our most minor acquaintances, are interested in our life?  Because trust me, they're not.  They're interested in theirs. 

Unfortunately, these are the reasons I find myself turning off feeds of people who I truly do care about (in the real world), simply because my "TMI input" is maxed out.  I just don't need that kind of info every day (no offense, I love them, but--still).  Also, what is with the "What's for dinner" posts? …WHO CARES? We're all busy.  Eating DINNER.  Stop it!  Finish your vegetables!

Or how about the posts where someone you're with will post pictures on FB, and you'll see yourself online instantly, and it's like, "Oh, look…there we are, eating lunch…and I'm STILL CHEWING THAT  SAME BITE OF STEAK." 
Also, for those who haven't mastered the concept of "Bragging is UNattractive" (especially in this economy). It's very nice that some of us can still afford to travel.  Traveling is lovely, and I adore going places. HowEVER, please pay attention:  If you're lucky enough to be planning a weekend getaway, a major vacation, or a hugely romantic evening out--here's a tip:  Unless you are inviting us to join you, please refrain from posting a count-down like this:  "TWENTY DAYS TIL TAKE-OFF! TAHITI HERE WE COME!!! J  SO excited!"  Because most, if not all, of the people who see that on their screen when we sit at our desks in the morning to deal with bills and emails, will just think "Well, whoopdeefrickinDOO for you.  Shut UP," and continue staring into space with our chin on our hand, trying to figure out how to stop foolishly squandering our money on electricity and food.   Or we might be tempted to turn off your feed…
Not to say I haven't taken some seriously cool trips myself, both with and without our family.  Somehow, though, I've always had the tact to realize that--seriously---no one wanted to hear about it. 

Not before we went ("Guess where weeee're going?"). 

Not while we were there ("Hello from The Bahamas!! Don't you wish you were US right now?"). 

Not after we got back ("Oh my gosh, I'm SO TAN now!  It's so COLD here"). 

If someone asks me about a trip, I think the polite thing to say is, "Yes, it was really nice," and leave it at that, unless they ask for more details.  Then of course I'm happy to tell them whatever they want to know.  Emphasis on "want".
So, every once in awhile, I will cruelly sit at my FB screen and scroll through my 'friends' list, and instead of looking for people to ADD to that list, I'm usually rubbing my chin and considering each name, and thinking…"Well, really.  We worked together for less than a year, more than a decade ago.  You have never so much as even *liked* anything I've posted on here, let alone COMMENTED, so… obviously, we don't need to be in touch.  And if memory serves, we weren't actually friends then anyway."  And so, mercilessly, *click*, I remove our connection.  I mentally apologize to them, and sure, it feels a little heartless, but the truth is, it's not personal.   I'm not mad at them, and I don't dislike them, but chances are, they won't even notice that we're no longer connected (partially because they have 461 other 'friends' still left on their list), which means we probably didn't need to be connected in the first place.

Yay! Everyone Likes Me!

All of this is not to even MENTION the nonsense back-and-forth mudslinging that can get fired up online, usually over nothing.  If you have an argument with someone, take it to them personally.  Don't call them out publicly from behind the safety of your screen.  People will say cruel things online that they would never DREAM of saying in person.  Trust me, I've been there. 

The lesson?  Don't be afraid of the "unfriend" button--and here's to keeping our friends "real". 
-I know… I'm like the Emily Post of Facebook etiquette. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Blogging with the Flu--Today I'm the Wrong Person to be the Family Historian

A super-late post about creativity while self-medicating, or something.  I may need to delete this post when I wake up tomorrow--

Aside from being a regular history freak, I'm also a FAMILY history freak.  Since my schedule's pretty much wiiiide open, an old project I started in 2003 has re-emerged, now that I have TIME, so I have finally started compiling the masses of files full of random tidbits, Ellis Island records, family stories, and photos that I have for so long wanted to DO something with.  I spent a full year back then, collecting and tracking down connections and our Polish immigrant roots in Pennsylvania, emailing relatives (and some strangers who turned out not to be relatives, but now we're friends, so it's all good because we're from Poland, y'all), and now it's time to light the torch back up, so to speak.

My grandmother's sister's wedding, with my great-grandma seated at right

Since I'm also fighting the flu that my husband's had all week, I'm taking frequent breaks to drink a revolving cocktail of Emergen-C, Airborne, peppermint/lemongrass tea, vodka and OJ, and Elderberry syrup that I made this summer, while simultaneously sanitizing every possible surface repeatedly, and washing my hands every time I pass a sink, like Leonardo in The Aviator, (except without the crazy mirror flashbacks...)  FOR LIKE A WEEK STRAIGHT.  EVERY HOUR, ON THE HOUR. 

So, yeah, now seems like as good a time as any, to start compiling all our family stuff into a well-thought-out and informative blog.

Today I spent the day NOT talking to customers, and I created a new private blog (sorry, no, you can't check it out).  I've been having a blast putting our family's history and info together in one place where we can access it from our various places around the world, but it's in a pretty rough-draft stage for now.  Emphasis on "rough".  Probably...doing something like this while simultaneously trying to NOT be sick might make for some, um, interesting editing later ("WHAT is this file doing here??")  And I may decide that purple free-hand script that looks like my grade-school hand-writing may not be the best choice of font for blog posts (I did NOT ace "penmanship" in 1978, as I recall)...but it seems like a GREAT idea when you're living on not much more than Elderberry syrup  for days on end (berries and brandy, straight up, folks).

Of course the goal is to eventually have a cool place for our family to share everything we can remember, post pictures and anecdotes, and save our family's Polish coal-mining immigrant history for our kids.  But it's getting late, and there seem to be too many Charles's (what's the plural of Charles?) on both sides of the family, which is making my eyes cross. 

I also have a second cousin who is going to Poland and Lithuania this summer, and she will get to SEE a lot of the places we came from at the turn of the 1900s, so I can't wait to hear how that goes and what stories she will bring back. 

Ok, I know.  This is SO not interesting, right?  Or maybe it is--or maybe I just need more Elderberry syrup.  But it may explain if I disappear from here for awhile.  New projects make me a bit...obsessed at first.  Like starting to knit a new sweater.  You think you're going to finish it allthefirstnightandwearittomorrow, riiiiiight?  Yeah.  I've been working on the new blog for hours today, but now it's 12:34 a.m. and I'm at the part where I have to get off my butt and go dig through drawers and photo albums and actually SCAN stuff into the computer before I can continue, which is considerably LESS fun than the 'cut and paste' stuff I've posted so far today.  ("Scanning?  I'm out.")   And it's really late, so maybe it's time to turn in. 


I'm back--The bad news is that my husband long since went to bed, and he's been SO sick with the flu this week (a little better today), so I really don't want to wake him up, but there's a little detail about how I super-efficiently tore apart our bed and washed every-single-thing in hot water today, to make it flu-germ-free so I could sleep there, but then I totally forgot to put any bedding back on the bed yet, because I was doing tons of laundry, but I got busy with, you know, THIS, so...the bed is still bare.  And he went to bed.  It's just a mattress, with him sleeping on it, but he's NOT coughing, and if I wake him up and make him stand up so I can put sheets on the bed, he'll start coughing again, so that's out.  So now what?  I can't sleep on a plain mattress; it reminds me of sleeping on a park bench or something (not that I've done that).  I guess I could throw the comforter over him and go sleep in the spare room again, where I've been the last few nights, in an effort to quarantine myself and not have both grown-ups in our house sick at the same time, but I was really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.    *sigh*

Ok, I better hit "Publish" and go.  My throat's starting to hurt again, and I need to find some Kleenex.  Wish me luck-

Has anyone worked on a blog/family history website project?  I'd love to hear any tips you can share.  I already kind of know that I should not work on it while self-medicating...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One-Sided Armchair Throw-Downs with Historic Movies

I can NOT believe they just SAID that!!!
I'm a history freak.  I love it.  Basically, if I'm reading or studying or learning or pinning anything, chances's about HISTORY.  Especially English and (some) French history.

Which means that I have a tendency to freak completely OUT when we're watching any movie or documentary or travel guide to anywhere, and then the plot goes completely out into left field. 

Mind you, I don't care at all really, if it's just a movie that's totally just a period flick about people who lived at the same time as some history was going on (unless the going-on of the history is also completely misrepresented, and then I tend to get very shout-ish).  They can make up whatever they want, and if it's entertaining, then...sure.


The ones that make me freak out are when someone decides to make a documentary about, say, oh...I don't know, Queen Elizabeth I (or pretty much anyone from English history back to like 1066), and everyone's all like..."It's a portrayal".  Well, yes, I get it that we don't know exactly what these people were like--that's FINE, but then, aside from the random mixing-up of dates, events, and chronology, (which is also OK--I suppoooose--because yes, it's a film), BUT why then, is it OK at the end of the film where you're watching the little white-font-OMG-I-can-barely-read-that factoids, they will randomly throw in "factoids" like,   "and she never saw him alone in person again.  Not ever. NEVER EVER." 

And I'm like: 
 Wait--What did that just say?
And then there's like a 2-second delay while the history section of my brain flips through my mental card catalog and processes whatever "factoid" I just read or heard.  On TV.  Shamelessly given as a fact, right there for non-history geeks to read and believe, and then--this:

 My family pretty much knows that they will probably be missing the next several scenes while I GO OFF about how THAT NEVER HAPPENED.  THAT IS SO NOT TRUE PEOPLE.
It happened again last night.  We were watching some random "touring France" kind of travel-ish documentary (since that's my chosen way to see France--from my living room).  And the narrator had this sort of soft, PBS-y kind of lovely voice that is good to sleep to, and he's calmly describing some cathedral or other in France with "...and here is the lovely Cathetral of blah-blah, which was built in whatever year by whoever.  It's also the site where Richard The Lionheart's daughter was bethrothed to the son of blah blah".  
Richard the Lionheart didn't have any children.  aaaaaaaggggghhhhHHHGHGHGHG   I was pretty sure everyone has known this, ever since he died.  Because, hello--King John.  Whatever.  Look it up.
Don't even get me started on The Other Bolyn Girl or so many the coffee mug (which I love) that I got for Christmas that has Henry VIII and his six wives, with etchings of all six.  Or so you would THINK.  Unless you know that the etching claiming to be Catherine Parr, his sixth wife, is actually an etching of Katherine of Aragon, his first wife.  What the actual heck? How hard is it to even just Google these women for a correct face?
I hope I'm not the only one who thinks there should be a RULE that if you're going to write a historical film (or book--or mug), you should have to say, "Look, only SOME of this stuff is true.  The rest will be presented as true but also could be just a guess or is totally made up by my assistant, who does not know how to use Google and has also never read a single non-novel book on this subject.  But we'll present it as fact." 
Sorry--I had to get that off my chest.  Now I need to take a deep cleansing breath.