Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Amazing Beans

I never knew that plain, regular old pinto beans could be so...delicious! I was reading The Pioneer Woman's website, and I came upon her recipe for baked beans. I modified it just slightly, but not too much - the Pioneer Woman is a recipe goddess. I turn to her for tips on everything from cutting an onion to roasting garlic. She's amazing, and she posts pictures of each step of the cooking process.

Anyway, the beans.

1. Measure 4 cups dry pinto beans; rinse in a colander.
2. Pour beans into a dutch oven and cover with water; water should be about two inches above the beans.
3. Cut up five slices of bacon (or one slice per cup beans, plus one extra slice for good measure) into small pieces; not too small, just strips about a half to one inch wide. Put in the dutch oven.
4. Bring beans to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring, for about two hours.
5. Add 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper to the beans. If you want, you can add more - onion, garlic, chili powder, etc. I like to add a little chili powder, but otherwise, just salt and pepper.
6. Simmer just a little longer, then turn off the heat and let them sit for a few minutes so the flavors really mingle.
7. Serve with cornbread. It is the easiest, most delicious, simplest meal I've ever made.

And damn were those beans good.

(Sorry, but they really did warrant the cursing.)

I can't sleep

I can't sleep. Not only am I not tired, but all these things are floating around in my head, and they're driving me nuts. Grant and Bruiser have been out cold for hours, but when my disc of The West Wing ended and I still wasn't tired, I got up. And I blogged.

I realized that I never publicly stated my resolutions for 2009, nor did I give an update on the 50 books I was going to read in 2008. Well, I haven't made any firm resolutions yet for 2009, and I didn't read 50 books in 2008.

I think I may have come close with the books - but per Emily's rules, you can only count a book once, and I reread a lot of my favorites. Let's just call the book thing 70% complete and we'll move on to 2009.

So - resolutions. I'm tired of the same old resolutions that I (and the rest of the world) make and then forget about as soon as we lose the piece of paper (or in my case, stop rereading the posts on the blog). I feel that this year is all about searching for meaning and purpose in my life, and the same old "I want to lose weight" resolution feels meaningless.

This year, I want my resolutions to mean something. Or at least to be something that I'm likely to do. They don't have to mean something to anyone else, and they certainly don't have to bring purpose to my life, but I'd like to be able to actually cross something off my list this year. So, let's think...

April's 2009 Resolutions (draft in progress)

1. Check my voicemail. I will check my voicemail, both work and personal, each time I get a notification. I will not screen all calls, and I will not let 9 voicemails pile up because I know who the first one is from and I don't want to listen to it.

2. Get rid of crap. I've begun this already, but only in a half-ass manner. I've been trying to buy one nice thing to replace five not so nice things in my house. For example, I bought a set of very nice measuring cups for my kitchen - they were outrageously expensive, but this set will last me my entire life, so there is no need to ever waste money on more. Another side to this is the desire to clean out duplicate items I own, or to get rid of things I haven't used in a year, even if "I might need them someday." I'm working on this part, although I haven't yet been too successful.

3. Stop keeping up with the Joneses. I do not need to have something just because someone else has it. I do okay with some aspects of this - I do not have a Wii, nor a flat screen tv, nor a big fancy SUV. However, I have bought and sold multiple phones, wallets, purses, etc., on eBay and Craigslist. I'll buy one, see that someone has something better/different/intriguiging and I'll have to get one of those to try it out. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I regret it the moment I hit "Buy Now." I need to stop this.

4. Spend more time doing things, instead of buying things. Shopping is currently my only hobby. I used to quilt, and take photographs, and exercise. Now? Nothing. Well, no, I've started cooking and baking again, but that's because I've been shopping for new kitchen things, and then I cook them. I want to make quilts for babies in the hospital, and I want to learn to use Photoshop. I want to learn to garden and become slightly self-sustaining. I don't want to spend every weekend on the hunt for the perfect purse or the latest whatever.

5. Keep up on housework. For awhile, my house was a wreck. This happened to coincide with the black period of my life where I was miserable at work and brought the attitude home with me (see post below), but then it got better. I had a home inspection at my apartment and had to do a massive cleaning in about a week. After that, I've been able to (for the most part), keep the house clean, and even stay on top of laundry, dishes, vacuuming. And you know what? When the house is relatively clean, I enjoy chores. I like the simple domesticity of doing a load of laundry, or vacuuming the living room. And I like just spending time at home when I come home to a clean, organized house. So, I will keep a clean, organized house.

Well, that's it for now. I'm going to add to this as I think of new things. As it is, it's 2:19 in the morning, and I'm going to attempt to go to bed. Apparently, my attempts to lesson my caffeine consumption are working. In my prior life, caffeine didn't affect me; I'd go to bed with a soda and fall right asleep. Today, I had an iced mocha at 4:00 p.m. and the caffeine has kept me awake through the night and into the early morning. I never understood people who said they didn't drink coffee after 3:00. Now I may understand them, but I still can't agree with them. I will, however, order decaf next time.

Reflections

Lately, I’ve been unhappy. I really shouldn’t be – I have a wonderful husband, a loving family, enough money to waste buying crap I don’t need, and endless opportunity (of course I believe everyone has this last one). Still, I haven’t been happy.

I suppose it started with my job, or rather, parts of my job. I absolutely loved my job, for awhile. To this day I love the duties, and I love what I should have been able to do. However, there were some staffing issues, and some decisions made by the gods of the agency, and I ended up deciding to leave.

I hope I'm missed.

No, I know I’m missed, at least by the great friends I made there. I’m probably not missed by a few people, people who made my life miserable, though I’ve come to believe they did that only because they were jealous. Honestly, it had to be, because I was damn good at my job, and I was well-liked and respected. Sure, there were a few things I could have handled better, but, after all, hind-sight is 20/20.

Anyway, back to my unhappiness. It definitely started with the job. I was unhappy for a long time; I dreaded going to work, I complained about work, and I brought work (and a bad attitude) home with me. As I said, I finally left the not-so-great-environment for what I hope is a better one. I’m trying something that is still in my field, but yet is new to me – training.

I’ve done a bit of training before, but never full time. I’ve always had a desire to be a teacher, but I’m not sure I want to make a complete change and do all the work that it takes to become a teacher…what if I end up not liking it? What if a kid throws up in my class and I throw up back on them?

So, training…teaching without the vomit.

I started my new job for exactly one day before going on a previously scheduled vacation. I have roughly 30 hours until I have to return to said new job after said vacation, and I’m having second thoughts. Perhaps this wasn’t the job for me. I don’t think anyone liked me. The people aren’t all that great.

I have the first-day-awkward-jitters. Except I’ve had them for almost two weeks now. The first few days on the job are never great, and since that experience was all I’ve had…I’ve been dwelling on it. Never go on vacation, even a previously scheduled vacation, right after you start a new job. Lesson learned.

So, I’ve had all this time to dwell, and it has at least given me time to think about what I want to do with my life. Is the reason that I’m not happy really my job, which I’ve changed, or is it something else? Am I aimlessly changing jobs within the public sector when I’m actually destined for greatness in the private sector (yet am I simply too comfortable and afraid to try something new)?

I realized I’ve been watching too much tv when I decided I was destined to stay home, not work, and take care of my house, my husband, and my dog. Reality has recently set back in, and I now know that not working is absolutely not an option. It’s simply a question of deciding what to do at work. Some people have a passion for things, and they earn money doing those things, or at least working in a related field. My mom could work in a quilt shop, my husband could build furniture. Me? I like a lot of things, but not enough to do them. I'm analytical through and through. Although I could definitely work at Starbucks.

Anyway...

I’ve come to the conclusion that for so long now, my only goal in life has been to get promoted. I started in public service when I was 18. I was a low, low man on the totem pole, I knew I was more talented than lots of people who made more money than me, and I knew that I’d promote as fast as was humanly possible. Well, I’ve done that, and I’m currently stuck where I am while waiting for the next available test. The next test for me is manager, and for a long time now, that’s what I’ve desired.

You know, that’s not what I desired when I started in public service. Clearly my goals have changed along the way, but is that because I truly desire a position in management, or simply because that’s the path I’ve found myself on, and management is the next step in that path? Will I enjoy it? Will I be good at it? Am I thinking about no longer following this path to management because I’m scared, or because I know it’s not what I really want?

I had lunch this weekend with a friend. She’s a single mom, and she seems to do pretty well for herself. She has a nice home full of nice things, and she makes time to spend with family and friends. She is always positive, and seems to know exactly what she’s doing in life.

I was discussing my recent unhappiness with her, and my desire to simply stay at home and cook, clean, and fold the laundry. She said to me, “April, work isn’t what I’m meant to do. I was meant to make cookies with my boys, and watch them be the Three Little Pigs in their school play, and spend time with the rest of my family. Work is just what I do so that I have the means to do those other things.”

Work is just what I do so that I have the means to do those other things.

Wow. That hit home.

So, I don’t have to love my job, or have a job that gives me this amazing sense of purpose…I just have to find something that I enjoy enough to not hate it, so I can earn money to do things with my family. Not to earn money to buy things, or to earn prestige and power, or even to look forward to going to work everyday…but to realize that getting up and going to work means I’ll have the time, and the money, to drive into the city for shopping with friends on the weekend, or to buy food to make seven-layer dip for my friend’s birthday party, or to buy my husband something that I know he’ll enjoy.

Hm. I wonder if I’ll look forward to going to work in 30 hours. I’ll settle for just not dreading it.

Addition to the Best Roast Ever

Today I made roast again, but I added to the sauce. I sprinkled some thyme, rosemary, and fresh minced garlic into the sauce. Then, I added some red wine. Finally, a bit of Williams-Sonoma Veal Demi-Glace (which totally isn't necessary)...and it was SO FREAKING AMAZING.

So. Freaking. Good.