September 27, 2009

Us v. the House

In the last two weeks, we've had the heating element in the oven go out, and the kitchen sink outflow plumbing completely fail (read: no dishwasher, no rinsing of anything, basically, instantaneous kitchen shut-down). Combine this with a moderately busy lawyer schedule, E's start-up, a brother in the hospital, and general life stuff... and well, we've been eating out a bit.

I suspect the house may have harbored some reservations about the modifications we have been discussing. There will be some major changes in the near future. Some of them, like the hardwood floors, were already in the works (in fact, brother was supposed to install the floors the week after the accident...).

But others, like wall removal, doorway widening, and ramps instead of level changes -- I can see why the house was probably a little bit scared and chose to hit us where it could hurt us the most: The Kitchen.

Thankfully, E fixed the oven after diagnosing the heating element problem. The failed element makes a very nice conversation starter.

And then, brother's friend T and his family came to visit brother and stayed with us this weekend (seriously, T&H's 2 children have to be the most well-behaved children I've ever encountered!).

While here, T rebuilt the plumbing for our kitchen sink (primarily from spare parts he just had lying around), explaining along the way exactly how messed-up it had been in the first place. Then, he helped us assess the future construction project.

Finally, while at the hospital visiting brother, T loaned us his truck to go pick up the flooring. In case you were wondering -- it is best not to wear a skirt while borrowing T's truck -- I had to back my back to the seat, grab the oh-shit handle, and hoist myself up with my biceps until my butt hit the seat because to step up to the floorboards would have required my foot to be above my waist...

Anyways, it was a very productive weekend. Several big items with the house were crossed off, and I for one, feel much less overwhelmed now that the kitchen has been fully re-righted. I can only hope that the house agrees.

September 21, 2009

Mas Porno Del Jardin

So... I can't help but wonder what the title above is going to do to my web analytics... (yes, I'm a data nerd.)

Anyways, here are the baked dinner and slow-roasted tomatoes we made in the gas BBQ ('cause the oven is still broken) from last week's harvest (in case you were wondering -- pepperoni, bacon, okra, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and garlic are a fabulous combination!):


This weekend's harvest was nothing to sneeze at:


So, we decided to make tomato sauce to freeze:


You know, all the tomatoes that will fit, plus garlic, some basil, some olive oil. Boiled down for a while:


And eventually put into containers for the freezer:


Delicious (if a wee bit too acidic, if we are honest -- we will have to bear that in mind and use with carmelized onions, or some other form of sugar to cut it).

In other news, the world's slowest growing plants, the hot peppers, have finally begun to put out a decent harvest (just in time for the cold fall... we shall start earlier next year):


The top one? That's a squash pepper -- it looks like a habanero for a reason. Amazing flavor, but *very* hot. Supposedly we're supposed to leave it 'til it turns red, but even green they have great flavor and almost too much heat, so it's hard to be patient.

The long slightly wrinkled peppers? Yeah, Pimiento D'espelette -- we haven't had the patience to let a single one turn red. They are flavorful, but not very hot at all. More smokey. Complex. I like 'em. E thinks they are useful for fiber.

The jalapenos? Well, if you grow 'em in your garden, they will be hotter than the ones you buy in the store. But effort to reward ratio? It's likely that next year we'll add some other wacky peppers like the squash peppers instead of the jalapenos.

And, I think that's a wrap.

September 20, 2009

Problem Solving

As brother recuperates in the hospital, we've been working on putting together his discharge plan. In doing so, I've found myself in several conversations with mid-level medical professionals who insist that things have to go exactly according to their prescribed plan.

They have no concept of deviation from their plan that would attain the same goals as the plan but would work better for the family.

They are very good at what they do. But they are used to being omnipotent. They control the drugs, the procedures, and the resources that the patients need. When they say no, the patient has no choice. They are not encouraged to think creatively, or to seek alternate solutions, and so their world is composed of many statements that sound like "either you do this, or there is failure."

Except, a family putting together a plan to take care of a quadriplegic may not have the exact resources and situation that their discharge plan considers must be in place. We are very committed to getting his needs met, but we cannot make it work according to their standard model. Getting them to understand this has been extremely frustrating. They consider our "that's not going to work for us" statements as "we want to fail" rather than "how can we find an alternate solution?"

Before going this process, I never appreciated just how creative being a lawyer is. Every day I work, I get to listen to people who can't agree, I try to understand the end goals, the real concerns, and then I get to think and to try to help them find solutions that address each of their needs in a way that everyone can live with.

This problem solving process is very similar to how engineers solve problems. Engineers go back to the basic principles of what they are trying to achieve and then think of the myriad ways they *might* be able to achieve it. I think, prior to this hospital experience, I assumed that the problem solving skills I regularly see deployed in the business world were similar to how medical professionals solved problems as well. It appears, from observation, that doctors still follow a process that is somewhat similar to the one I use every day. But, the majority of the folks you interact with during a typical day at the hospital are not doctors. And many of them are not empowered to seek solutions that have not been pre-approved, so those folks appear to be very uncomfortable brainstorming or exploring alternate options.

In fact, many of them are actually unable to accept that something on their checklist is completely unfeasible. It is fascinating to watch. When the checklist is cut off, so is their ability to do their job. They must seek senior approval for everything, so the process grinds to a halt.

In short, this hospital experience has made me very grateful for the creative aspects of my job.

September 17, 2009

Gigantic Summer Squash Lasagna-esque Casserole

So, after discussing it with R, I found a delicious use for the huge cocozelle squash from the belated harvest (picture in the post below).

-Huge summer squash, washed and sliced into 1/2 cm strips with the skin on until the center is reached (throw out the center of seeds and dry material).
-5 large tomatoes from the garden, washed and chopped
-1 lb white mushrooms, washed and sliced
-1 lb lean ground beef (we used 90% lean)
-5 pieces of bacon, chopped
-1 white onion, chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 C basil
-3 sprigs marjoram
-3 sprigs oregano
-1 T salt
-1 huge brick of mozzarella, sliced
-1/2 C parmigiano, grated

1. Layer the squash slices in the pan, skin side down, creating a full layer
2. Brown bacon, sautee onions and garlic, brown beef
3. Add mushrooms to meat and cook for 2 minutes
4. Add tomatoes and salt and cook down until the meat sauce is a pastey consistency
5. Layer meat sauce over the squash
6. Layer mozarella slices over the meat sauce
7. Chop herbs with parmigiano in the cuisinart and sprinkle over the top of the mozzarella layer
8. Bake at 375/400 for approximately an hour until the cheese layer has melted and browned to golden brown in places.
9. Allow to cool and serve immediately.


September 13, 2009

Belated Harvest

With everything that has been going on in our lives, E and I have not been paying too much attention to the garden.

But, this year, we were much more professional than in years past, so we have an irrigation system (plus it's *raining* right now, weird!).

Turns out, that even as your life is spiraling into its own random course, the garden, if properly planted, fertilized and watered, will continue to grow in your absence.

This morning, I finally had time to harvest after about 3 weeks of neglect (this was the haul minus the bag I packed up for E2, and without any okra, radishes, or cucumbers, all of which are also ripe):


Yes, I will be giving away some serious gift tomatoes at work tomorrow...

This awesome harvest is very unfortunately timed, as the heating element in our oven took the liberty of entertaining us with a very spectacular failure yesterday evening. I wish, in hindsight, that we had taken pictures, but at the time, we were watching the arc travel the filament despite the oven being turned off with E at the ready with a fire extinguisher, so the camera was nowhere near the top of our list. Bummer -- this would have been a good week to return to the slow-roasted tomatoes... And, of course, while I'd scheduled a weekend to can at the G's as they recovered from burning man, somehow that didn't make the cut due to our other obligations (duh!). So, we're stuck with entirely too many tomatoes. I suspect I'll find a way to turn this problem into a blessing. Perhaps I'll have to make and freeze sauce...

Anyways, in case you couldn't tell from the larger picture, one of the hilarious things about the garden is what happens to small-to-medium sized summer squash when left on the vine entirely too long:


Yes. That is my arm for scale.

So, the moral of the story is that a well-tended garden will just keep growing and producing in September even if you completely neglect it. No matter what else is going on in your life, the garden will grow.

I find this very comforting.

September 12, 2009

A Moment-to-Moment Existence

In times of trauma, I'm always surprised that I do not lose my ability to laugh. Instead, my sense of beauty and thrill at the good things is heightened.

Fun, and love, and happiness exist in the midst of sadness, heartbreak, and frustration. Rather than being a betrayal of life and the strength of our connections to others to recognize them, celebrating these momentary flashes of brightness and light in the midst of the darkness is, to me, the best example of the gorgeous complexity of the human existence.

The gift of difficult situations is that they give you an opportunity, if you are willing to take it, to strengthen your ability to enjoy life.
Modern Conveniences

My Brother is now at his second hospital -- in the trauma rehabilitation facility where they are working to get him in good enough shape to go to the spinal cord rehabilitation ward.

They have wireless at this hospital, too.

I must say, while being at the hospital to support loved ones is never easy, it is, actually, a bit easier to manage with access to the Internet.

I'm very thankful to the various powers that manage hospitals for implementing this convenience -- it means I can be more supportive and more physically present than I otherwise would be able to be.

September 10, 2009

An Insightful Perspective

So, for at least ten years now, I've spent some of my waking hours of each day trying to be more buddhist in my approach to life. Which, of course, is hilarious, because much of the *trying* is antithetical to the buddhist approach to life.

But, the nice thing is, over the years, through the effort of trying to be more mindful, accepting, understanding, patient, and fully alive in the moment, I've actually made some progress in these areas. And I am a bit more balanced, relaxed, and mellow.

Within the last year, however, I realized that some of these efforts had caged me in and put me in situations that were not good for me. So, I've been trying to learn how to draw boundaries in a zen-like manner, which is, for me, very, very, difficult. I'm very good at drawing boundaries in a confrontational, non-compassionate way. But compassionate boundaries? Yeah, those are hard to define.

So, I very much appreciated and agreed with Havi's latest post.

In particular, I thought this was a good explanation for the concept I've been working through:

Arriving at the point where someone’s hurtful behavior doesn’t hurt you doesn’t mean that you just let people throw shoes.

You’re totally allowed to stand up for yourself and explain to people why shoe-throwing is not cool. In fact, because you know it doesn’t have anything to do with you, you feel safe and comfortable saying, “Hey, we don’t throw shoes here.”

It’s just that at the same time, you remember that this is about their stuff, that people are allowed to think what they think, and that you don’t have to interact with the ones who are into tossing shoes around.

For a long time, I thought I had to accept the hurtful behavior and work through my issues, because obviously, if I let it hurt me, I needed to continue to work on my stuff. Which is true. But I didn't realize that true acceptance of others for who they are (without judgment or any negative feelings towards them) doesn't necessarily mean that I have to seek them out.

It's a very freeing realization and I look forward to where it leads me in my life.

September 9, 2009

Summer Remnant Bulgur

Last night, I stayed the night with my sister. I composed the leftovers (from her garden's harvests and a BBQ we'd had on Sunday) into dinner and we were both pleased with how delicious it was:

-2 large heirloom tomatoes (from her garden, getting soft, chopped)
-1/8 of the world's largest zucchini (from her garden, also starting to wilt just a wee bit, chopped)
-1/2 lb. BBQ tri-tip, chopped
-2 cubes beef boullion
-2.5 cups bulgur
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-2 T dijon mustard
-olive oil

1. Heat olive oil in a sautee pan and sautee garlic and mustard for 1 minute.
2. Add bulgur and stir until coated.
3. Add tomatoes, stir and boil off a bit of the liquid.
4. Add boullion cubes, zucchini, and 2-3 cups water, bring to a simmer
5. Cook and stir until the water is almost evaporated. Add the tri-tip, stir, turn off heat and cover for 5 minutes.
6. Fluff bulgur and serve immediately.


September 5, 2009

Editing Legal Contracts in Word

I'm chilling in the ICU watching brother sleep peacefully and doing some work (because the hospital has free wireless!).

Currently, I'm spending hours going through a 48 page contract that has 12 versions of edits in track changes. No one wanted to man-up and do the work to accept or reject the trail to create a clean version.

Technically, with our last call and responding document, we all agreed that it was the other side's responsibility to respond to our draft with a clean version.

Instead, their in-house counsel populated the document with oh-so-helpful comments attached to every change, like, "We accept this edit," or "We reject this edit."



Why, if you were in-house counsel, would you not just click accept or reject? Why create a comment and type it in? It was more work for them and now it's more work for me because I have to both accept or reject, AND delete the comments.

My client is not going to like the billable hours total on this project...