Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We're home.

There is so much to learn. So much work to do. I wake up and tell myself I should water the plants before work, because I have a yard now, with hanging flowers and raspberry bushes and leaves climbing up the lattice next to the patio. I go to my new job at my new office and learn names, programs, routines that are completely unfamiliar. I come home and unpack boxes, look for sales on furniture, have conversations with Murdo that start off with "We should ..." followed by a task like "paint the walls gray" or "string twinkle lights in the backyard" or "buy a runner for the entryway." 


I've been thinking a lot about work lately, and the amount of work that goes into anything in order to make the final product something to be proud of. A clean, comfortable home requires the know-how and tools for constant upkeep; a stunning photograph comes from years of practice, trial and error, learning how to properly compose and expose a shot; a meal worth writing home about often involves careful ingredient selection, chopping, peeling, boiling, sauteeing. 


Nothing of value is simply conjured from thin air. Those images posted on Pinterest of perfect homes, perfect weddings, perfect plates of food -- they work just fine for inspiration's sake, but they don't tell the story of the work that took place behind the scenes in order to make the dream a reality.

It's one thing to look at an image and sigh and wish that you had that life. It's something else entirely to tackle a project, get messy and sweaty and frustrated and determined, to complete it with your own two hands and look at the finished product and sigh and know that your hard work paid off. 

We're not there yet. We won't be for a while. But I'm ready to learn. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New light, and chicken with scallion dumplings.


On Friday, Murdo and I officially became homeowners. We celebrated with gyros. After lunch, I quit my job.

My last day of work was on Monday. Since then, I've been getting up early, packing boxes, working out and watching episodes of "Parenthood" -- all before lunch each day. It's been years since I've had time during the week to myself. Time to sit down to breakfast, to play with the cats, to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. To notice the way the light filters into the apartment at nine in the morning, and to stand still to enjoy it.

I start work at my new job the Monday after next, on Murdo's 30th birthday. We'll have moved into our new home by then. It's strange to think that the next time I go into an office for work, we'll be living somewhere else. I've been thinking about "the next time" a lot lately. Tonight, while I made dinner: "The next time I make this chicken dish, we'll be at our new house." As I fed the cats: "The next time we buy a bag of cat food, we'll be at our new house." As I packed boxes: "The next time I use my slow cooker, we'll be at our new house."

I've been thinking about saying goodbye. I'll miss the runs through our wooded neighborhood, the way our walkway smells of lush greenery right after a rainfall, the tree-lined path along the lake that transforms with each season. This little apartment is where we lived when I started my last job. It's our first home as a married couple. Tim died here. The kittens grew up here.

And I cooked many, many meals here -- some just once or twice, while others made the menu week after week. I'll bring those recipes to our new home, and learn a new rhythm in a new kitchen, and fill our new home with familiar smells, and discover new light filtering through the windows.

Chicken with Scallion Dumplings (slightly adapted from Canal House Cooking Vol. 3)

For the chicken:
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 large onion, chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
handful parsley leaves, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 cup chicken broth

For the scallion dumplings:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup half-and-half or milk
3 to 4 scallions, chopped

Start with the chicken. Melt the butter in a heavy pot with a lid over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, parsley and garlic. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Place the chicken on top of the veggies and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken broth. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, prepare the dumplings. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Stir the egg and half-and-half into the flour mixture. Add the scallions and combine, but don't over mix. The dumpling dough should be like very wet biscuit dough.

After the chicken has simmered for 30 minutes, drop 2-tablespoon mounds of dumpling dough on top of the chicken. You should have 8 dumplings. Cover and simmer until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

He did it.

I'll just go right out and say it: Murdo got a job!

I’ve been waiting to be able to say that for a long time. I’ve thought about this post, about the day when I would finally get to write it and tell everyone about how hard he’s worked, how proud I am of him, how we now get to say that he is a second grade teacher. 

I’ve daydreamed about the moment we would find out. I joked with him, saying that I would either cry or puke or both. When I heard him take the phone call yesterday morning, heard him clear his throat and say hello, heard him say, “Yes, I would absolutely love to,” my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. For days, my stomach had been in knots just thinking about that phone call. When he hung up, I didn’t cry or puke. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I ran to the bed where he sat and tackled him. I gave him a hug. Later he told me that my reaction was the best part.

He got the job. 

About five years ago, Murdo left his job as a manager at a heating and cooling company. He was making good money, but he was doing something that he wasn’t meant to do with his life. Instead, he went back to school to get a masters in education. To teach kids. He is so, so good at it. And I admire him every day for taking that risk, and for following his heart and his dreams.

It’s something we’re told from a very young age -- to follow our dreams. He did it. During a time when school districts are making cuts and teachers are having a hard time even keeping their jobs while others just simply won’t let go and there are thousands and thousands of people just like Murdo, fighting to get in the door. 

During the three years since he graduated with his education degree and teaching certificate, he has been fighting. Subbing, tutoring, teaching summer classes. Applying for jobs, networking, updating his resume. For three years, we have been waiting. And I started struggling with the idea of following one’s dreams, and wondering if it really does work out for everyone. Because what they don’t tell you is what to do when your dreams just seem out of reach. When you’re grasping for them, and coming back with nothing but disappointment. Frustration. A loss of hope. I was afraid that it wouldn’t happen for him, for us. What do you do when you follow your dreams and nothing happens? How do you recover from that?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But even with those doubts in the back of my mind, I knew that the only thing he could do was to just keep going. “Just stick with me,” he always tells me. “Everything works out in the end.” The last few years have been rough, and we’ve been holding our breaths for a long time. Finally, a sigh of relief. A weight lifted off our shoulders.

Everything worked out, Murdo. And I know this is far from the end. This is the beginning. We have made it to the beginning, and there will be more struggles ahead, but for now, there is nothing to do except to say that you did it.

You did it.

Root Beer Floats
There is a lot to celebrate around these parts lately -- a new house (thank you all for the kind comments on the last post!), a new job, a new beginning. Last night, we celebrated at Bob Chinn's with a feast of steak and crab legs. Tonight, with one of Murdo's favorite pizzas. And here, with root bear floats. 

I know you probably don't need a recipe for root beer floats, but I thought I needed to give you something of a treat for celebration's sake. Murdo made me my first root beer float just two months ago. Can you believe that? There is a moment during the perfect root beer float when vanilla meets fizz, and something really delicious happens, and you know it's something special. Something worth celebrating.

1 big scoop vanilla ice cream
1 bottle root beer (any root beer will do, but Murdo suggests A&W or Dog 'n Suds for their strong vanilla flavors that pair well with the ice cream)
1 large glass

Scoop the ice cream into the glass. Fill the rest of the glass with root beer. Insert spoon and straw, and toast to following your dreams.