Sunday, December 14, 2014

Variations Not Scheduled into my Bar Prep, and Christmas Fudge

First, a story, to be tied back in at the end of this post:

I continue the tradition my mother began in our family of making fudge at Christmas, both to give away and for our own enjoyment. I had often helped my mother make the fudge when I was at home, mostly in helping her pour the heavy batches quickly into pans before they set and maybe some stirring--the sugar, condensed milk, and butter must be constantly stirred while it reaches a boil and then during the five-minute boil so that it does not scorch. It is a lot of stirring.

My first batches of fudge made on my own failed. I could not understand it. I had helped my mom make the fudge every year. I knew how to make fudge. Not only was it disappointing, it was also expensive. I was making the double-batch version since we always give some away.

I called my mom. It turned out to be a long, energetic phone call, full of laughter, as we tried to decipher where I went wrong. At first we were comparing measurements of ingredients, just to make sure that was not the problem. Everything was fine until we hit the marshmallow creme--and then there was a sudden disconnect.

Our recipes did not match. I was holding my recipe card written in my high-school handwriting (my! how that has changed over the years!). I had copied it, while I was in high school living at home, from her card, but the two cards did not match. So then we tried to figure out why I was using exactly half of the marshmallow creme she was using.

It took up the majority of the conversation, but it turns out that my recipe is the original. My mom had mentally changed it over the years. I mention that we always make double batches. Those of you around my age may remember that Kraft marshmallow creme used to only be sold in glass jars that were the tall ones--not the half-size ones that are most often seen on stores shelves now. That may even have had something to do with why my mother originally started making double batches, with the doubling of ingredients handwritten in on her card--one tall jar makes a double batch. A single small jar (or half of a tall jar) makes a single batch. If you are going to make two batches anyway, might as well double the rest of the ingredients and use all of the tall jar you have open and not worry about dividing it (such a sticky, messy endeavor!).

Since we only make it once a year, it appears that my mom eventually morphed the recipe into two tall jars (instead of two small jars) per double batch (sometimes, you can find both sizes of jars) and then continued making it that way ever since--but she did not realize she had done that. Her fudge is very creamy and delicious. But, it was a crazy phone call figuring all that out.

So, what was the problem with my fudge? The marshmallow creme amounts were different, but we knew that was not what was wrong. After much more talking, we figured out that I was so concerned about keeping the mixture from scorching that not only did I stir constantly as directed to in the recipe, but also very rapidly. I stirred so rapidly, in fact, that I stirred down the boil and could not tell when to start timing for five minutes of boiling. I overcooked the fudge.

* * * * *

My last post was about eking out the most bar prep time possible by making a schedule and whittling away absolutely everything extraneous. I knew that is not how life operates, but I  was hoping that life would be nice and give me a pass on anything extra until after February. I thought, surely, life would understand.

By Tuesday morning, I was a nervous wreck.

I studied three hours Monday, as planned, but learned I did not actually have time to make even Ramen noodles for dinner. Then, I drove Rosebud to her dog sitting job because it was dark and rainy and out in a very isolated area with no cell phone reception and the streets are not lit, and she asked me to. I took that out of my sleep time.

Tuesday morning, I had to cordon off the animals and clear out the laundry area since our complex was coming to install water meters while I would be away at work. That was not in my schedule. I was starting to have major anxiety about this whole bar prep chance of success, and my carpooling coworker (who was waiting at my car by the time I came flying out of the apartment) just laughed it off that I would "be fine." I knew she was trying to be reassuring--but I could not see how this was going "to be fine."

At work, that day, I got a text from Rosebud that she had called 911 and was waiting at the same isolated house for the deputy to arrive because, during a relatively small window of time that day, the front door had been kicked in, the X-box stolen, and the door left standing wide open. At least the (large) dog was waiting patiently in the living room for her. She brought the dog back to our house, who had a slumber party with our dog that night. Suddenly, I was so grateful that I had not hesitated at all to go with her the night before to that house and that she had not been there when the masked men (on video surveillance) kicked in the door that day. All so unsettling. Of course, now we had two dogs to walk. At least they got along. And, Olive now eats out of her food bowl again.

Wednesday, a good friend whom I find to be a source of inspiration and profound thought, was preaching. Sadly, I knew that I could not even entertain the thought of going to hear her.

We ran out of dog food Thursday. Rosebud went to the store for me. I almost cried from relief that I could keep studying.

Making the Christmas fudge was scheduled for Saturday, yesterday. But, Rosebud wanted to give some to one of her babysitting clients Saturday night and the fudge needs time to set up. That is one of the reasons we make the fudge, to give away--so that meant I had to do a load of dishes (remember? no chores at all for me Monday through Friday), buy the ingredients, move the car after unloading the groceries and walk back home since we were not allowed to park in our parking lot for tree trimming (cutting back branches, not Christmas "trimming") starting early the next morning, and make the fudge, Friday night, after work--and hope to make up the study time on Saturday.

I had set out five 1/2-cup sticks of butter on the counter when I got home from the grocery store. When I got ready to make the fudge, at 11:00 pm, I kept thinking it looked like a lot of butter sitting there. So, I would look at the recipe--1 1/2 cups of butter, and look at the counter--
two sticks, = 1 cup,
another two sticks = okay, that's good, two sticks makes a cup
one stick, = 1/2 cup
yep = 1 1/2 cups.

I measured the sugar out, again thought that looked unfamiliarly like a lot of butter and repeated the routine--"yep, that is 1 1/2 cups of butter, I must be tired." Finally, when I got ready to unwrap the sticks of butter, I counted again.

How was I counting and adding like that? This was a very basic, very elementary concept!

Exasperated but glad I caught the completely illogical mistake, I put two sticks, an entire extra cup, of butter back in the fridge and continued making the fudge.

Then, in stirring the boiling butter, condensed milk, and sugar mixture, a particularly large bubble splattered the sticky concoction up onto my hand.

I couldn't stop stirring. It would scorch (we all know how I am about letting it scorch!), I was in the middle of timing the five minutes, and it was a double batch/we wanted to give it away the next day/it was late at night. It would have been kind of awkward to switch stirrers smoothly, too. So, I call to Rosebud to bring me ice water, quick, as I kept stirring. I plunged my right (dominant) hand into the water while I stirred with my left (less coordinated) hand. Although, the cold water started equalizing the heat differential, this was sugar--it did not unstick itself or dissolve quickly through passive submersion alone. So, it was still actively burning, just more slowly.

Just keep stirring, just keep stirring . . .

Thankfully, the blisters on my hand are relatively small, today. A bubble splatter has never happened to me before.

Rosebud dumped in the chocolate chips and I got them incorporated. Next, we started pulling the marshmallow cream out of the four open and waiting small jars. As we were quickly working (fudge starts setting fast), Rosebud said twice, "That looks like a lot of marshmallow creme. Are you sure that is right?" I finally took a microsecond to look at the recipe card and realized that I had doubled the amount of marshmallow creme without realizing it, just like my mother before me! Luckily, until the marshmallow creme is vigorously stirred into the fudge mixture, it just sits on top. I quickly started taking excess marshmallow creme off and putting it into a nearby bowl. Rosebud was concerned about not knowing if we were removing enough, but I knew from my mother's continued-experience-turned-her-new-traditional-recipe-now-known-only-from-a-crazy-phone-conversation-years-ago-because-I-stirred-down-the-boil-of-my-first-fudge, excess marshmallow creme just makes it creamier fudge, and it still tastes wonderfully. Guessing the amount of marshmallow creme was just fine. The only reason I even removed the extra marshmallow creme is because we prefer extra chocolate flavor to extra creaminess.

I quickly stirred in the marshmallow creme and poured the fudge out into the two pans.

I turned around to set the pot back on an unused burner of the stove . . .


my eye fell on the shot glass of two teaspoons of vanilla.

I picked it up and showed Rosebud.

"You should not have made fudge, tonight."

"No, I should not have made fudge, tonight."

Why was the vanilla measured out in a shot glass? Because, I know that when I am working so quickly and energetically (stirring chocolate chips and marshmallow cream into a double batch of fudge is hard work), I tend to forget to measure out the vanilla. So, I have a new habit of having it ready to go, and usually have it in my line of sight. Luckily, because I have learned of this tendency of mine from experience, I also know that fudge without vanilla is still excellent, it is just not as over-the-top amazing as it could be. But, if you don't tell anyone, it is not missed.

The fudge is just fine.

I, however, am clearly losing my mind.

* * * * *

I do love fudge, especially at Christmas.

As far as extra events that are not part of my study schedule, I don't know. I would like them to wait until March, and I still believe that is a reasonable request when I am trying to do the impossible.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bar Prep: Planning to Keep it Mechanical

So, I have been doing Early Start bar prep.

Sort of.

On occasion, I have included how much time I have spent on bar prep at the end of posts. It has been pathetic. Typing and looking at those time entries, I have experienced an odd mix of simultaneous guilt/frustration and pride/accomplishment. Although my studying has been so little, I have been proud of every little bit I have done. Honestly, I have found that emotional response baffling.

Last night, I decided I was going to have to do what I have been resisting--make a schedule, a regimented, locked-in schedule. First, I listed the few things that I felt were uncompromisingly necessities and gave them what I felt was their minimum required time for the Monday-through-Friday slots of my life. I totaled the time increments and was only somewhat chagrinned to find that it left me with less than an hour of flexibility and buffer. Not ideal, but, hey, at least I had some time to not be on some mandated task.

Then, I realized I had not put in the study time, yet! I was going to do that after I saw the amount of time I had to work with.

I suddenly understood my previous odd composition of simultaneous embarrassment and satisfaction--that little bit of studying I had been doing really was laudable.

That was probably the best lesson I learned from Early Start. Glad I learned it at this point and not when it was too late.

So, I looked at the piece of paper in front of me and starting slashing, totaling time, and then slashing some more and totaling again. Finally, I looked at Rosebud and said, "Effective immediately, I will be doing no chores or any type of housework Monday through Friday, until after February." She smiled and said, "OK."

I looked at her sadly and said, "Monday through Friday, I will talk to you . . . "
I suddenly could not remember when I had allotted time to interact with her, and so I consulted my paper again.
I looked back at her and said, "I will talk to you on Saturday and Sunday."
She laughed and said, "OK."

So, there it is. My life on bar prep. It had better be worth it.

I will blog on Sundays only.

Monday, I will see if we can start taking our one-day-a-week-work-from-home day yet. It can't hurt to ask.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Good Calls and Background Stress

So, the flood of work for which 40+ of us were hired on a time-limited contract basis has officially arrived. As I noted earlier, even though the flood was late, the (external) deadline remains the same.

At one point, we were told the expectation was that we would complete two to three cases a day. Okay.

Then, because of the uneven distribution of cases over the time continuum, we were offered an optional work-from-home day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We were told we were expected to complete three cases and also reminded we were to work no overtime under any circumstances. The three cases were to be turned in on Monday morning for inspection.

I did not like the conflicting criteria, but I needed the money. I volunteered.

I already had work backed up from before. The first case I screened on Friday had to be rejected, and then I completed another two and a half cases. That was it. I had worked nonstop and intensely, but that was it. I had not completed the three expected (which expectation was in writing several times).

It was tempting to work some extra over the weekend, off the clock, thinking it would feel great to start out Monday "caught up" instead of falling ever further behind. (I had brought home the backlog of work in case there were problems with the cases I was newly assigned.) But, I knew that is against all kinds of contract-employee regulations, I did not really relish the idea of working for free (it would be somewhat different if I was salaried and had benefits and that was the expectation of the agreement), and I knew that doing so would actually probably just skew things wrong in the long run. Besides, this was the expected flood--I was just going to be drowning again.

In addition, I am supposed to be studying for the bar when I am not dealing with cars, a computer virus, a suddenly and seriously anemic dog going to the vet who (Olive-the-Dog) now only eats out of our hands, and Thanksgiving. I saw this post, and all I could think of was, "What if I am too tired to hang on?"

So, I did not work off the clock, even though I wondered what would happen Monday when I turned in two and a half cases instead of three and how I would ever catch up on the all the other ones.

It turns out, that was my good call--for all the reasons.

When we arrived to work on Monday, we had all already been assigned six more cases each.

When we were trained, we were told the strict time frames for our company's service level agreement (SLA) on cases. According to the SLA, we have 24 hours to do a particular part, and then there are time intervals marked out after that. Stress levels all around me were rising.

I told my senior that he would just have to tell the supervisor's supervisor that two and a half plus the screening of a fourth rejected case was the best I could do on the Friday-After-Thanksgiving-Day. But, afterwards, in the back of mind, I kept wondering if I was going to be called to task for it by the higher-ups. I wasn't, but it often crossed my mind during that day and the next.

I started telling myself I did not care, that I knew I was doing everything I could do in my eight hours, that the quality of my work was excellent, and I was just going to keep plugging along and let the chips fall where they may. I thought I was shrugging it off and actually letting it go. Besides, I knew I still liked the type of work and the people I was working with--and, of course, having a job.

But, I guess the fact that I kept telling myself that I did not care about the mounting pile of undone work and subsequent-to-24-hour-SLAs (both out loud in commiserating with others and mentally to myself) should have been an indication that I had not completely freed myself of the burden.

Plus, I heard rumors from my co-contract-workers, things like someone had stopped running in the evenings now . . .  One person suggested I had it lucky because I could work some extra while my coworker drove during our carpooling commute, if I wanted (it is her turn to drive this week) . . .

Keep in mind, when we were hired, we were told that a very few of us might be kept on permanently after this particular assignment ends.

Tuesday, I kept chugging along and telling myself that my eight-hour-best was just going to have to be good enough.

Then, another coworker worked a few extra hours one evening at home and was being required to leave early so as to not go over 40 hours for the week, and,

today, we were called to a meeting. There, it was clarified that the service level agreement on turn-around times was only for the regular cases that we had been working on while waiting for the flood of our special type of cases and that we were only expected to turn in a minimum of two cases per day. That only-two-case minimum was reiterated three times.

The stunned silence was almost deafening, and then there was (mixed) relief. Our contract manager was kind enough to voice that she did not believe that differentiation had been made clear to us in training.

At first, I was just relieved that I did not have to justify my work flow to myself anymore or defend myself to superiors. Then, I was momentarily very irritated about the stress I suffered over Thanksgiving weekend, Monday, Tuesday, and this morning about all this.

But, then I did not have time to be irritated (still a lot of work to do), and relief was the predominant emotion, anyway.

It was a good call that they called the meeting and decided to make that clarification.

But, here is the biggest lesson: I thought I had decided not to worry about it, but apparently, the irritation of having to decide not to worry about it and still apparently stressing about it to some subconscious extent consumes a bit of energy because

I had a lot more energy when I got home
today and was much happier.

I like the people, I like the job, and now this is good--so I will just go with that and be glad for it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mothers in the Legal Profession Roundup No. 370

Week of November 24 - 30, 2014

This is a fill-in-the-word Roundup.

Here is your word list:

fart, threatening, love, laugh, first, Daddy, honor, Colorado, nurse, China, Mommy, Oyster Bay

Answers below.

1.  According to Daisy's Gracie, the remote belongs to _________ and the MacBook belongs to __________.

2.  Full of the Dickens' Jonathan: "I knew that old __________ trick would work. Disaster averted." [Photo illustration included.]

3.  Mommy and the Sin City's Mom few in from __________. Happy thoughts for her in the days ahead.

4.  Lag Liv took a Thanksgiving vacation in __________, and there is a photo of JP holding almost all of his favorite things.

5.  Dr. Mama Esq. brought back an earlier post, a letter to her children, telling them (and the world) that "being black does not equal being __________."

6.  Mommy Madness ran the __________ Turkey Trot, her __________ 5K.

7.  Perspectives from a Hard Boiled Egg also did a Turkey Trot and was inspirational, probably most especially when she stopped half way through to __________.

8.  Chaton encourages us to __________ the chance we have been given to __________ our families. [Also with photo illustrations!]

9.  The Queen of Hats' kH has learned to __________ again.

By the way, I did not do a Turkey Trot. I am so impressed by our Mothers in the Legal Profession who did!

1.  Daddy, Mommy.
2.  fart
3.  China
4.  Colorado
5.  threatening
6.  Oyster Bay, first! (with all the hiking, I would have thought she had done one before)
7.  nurse
8.  honor, love
9.  laugh

The (mostly) weekly Mothers In the Legal Profession Roundup is hosted on a rotating basis at the ButterflyfishGraceBJJ, Law, and Living, Mommy and the Sin CityMagic CookieThe Reluctant Grownup, and Perspectives From a Hard Boiled Egg blogs.

You can keep up with our Roundup posts easily on our Facebook page and through Twitter @Legal_Moms.

Would you like your blog to be considered in the weekly Mothers in the Legal Profession Roundup? Leave a comment or send an e-mail to any of the hostesses listed above.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vegetarian Thanksgiving the Second with Roman-Style Seating

So, this year we made this

Some notes: Mashed potatoes are in the bowl to the viewer left of the juice--Rosebud patted them down smooth, and they seem to be the same color as the bowl. Also, I did not realize the Rosebud-heartier-version of green bean casserole is hiding in front of the pumpkin. See two photos below.

out of this.

I really liked the stuffed pumpkin (our new recipe this year).

But, we could probably use a smaller pumpkin next time (the recipe made a lot of stuffing).

See? Green bean casserole peeking out from behind the stuffed pumpkin!

When we thought I was moving across the country, we sold all four of our broken down kitchen chairs at our garage sale. Then, I stayed put. And, we haven't replaced the chairs yet. We did not actually recline while we ate. I don't think we know how. Plus, our table does not go any lower than an already somewhat awkward height for couch sitting.

We also ate the latest in the day/evening/night we have ever eaten a Thanksgiving meal because I woke up feeling pretty miserable. I was delighted to be feeling better later in the day and started cooking around 3:00 pm. Luckily, I had made the chocolate pie (not pictured) Wednesday night and, when I was feeling at my worst, agreed that Rosebud could partake of it early. At that point, I was afraid Thanksgiving was going to have to wait until Saturday (I worked today/Friday), so it seemed like the appropriate way to salvage the day.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and, now, let the season of further merriment begin!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mothers in the Legal Profession Roundup No. 369

Week of November 17 - 23, 2014

Made by Rosebud.

Mommy and the Sin City reminds herself that this prebirth time is good for her baby . . .
But I Do Have A Law Degree watches the babiness fade and the personality emerge in her youngest.
Full of the Dickens scares her husband into a vasectomy-scheduling panic.
Alice in Wonderland mourns a happy milestone that has come sooner than expected.
Lag Liv posts the best photo of sibling cooperation and love I have ever seen.
Dr. Mama Esq. lets us hear a personal plea. {Hoping the burden has been lightened.}
Perspectives from a Hard Boiled Egg was on the receiving end of random kindess--and cookies!

The (mostly) weekly Mothers In the Legal Profession Roundup is hosted on a rotating basis at the ButterflyfishGraceBJJ, Law, and Living, Mommy and the Sin CityMagic CookieThe Reluctant Grownup, and Perspectives From a Hard Boiled Egg blogs.

You can keep up with our Roundup posts easily on our Facebook page and through Twitter @Legal_Moms.

Would you like your blog to be considered in the weekly Mothers in the Legal Profession Roundup? Leave a comment or send an e-mail to any of the hostesses listed above.


Last year, I was still wrapping my mind around a turkey-less Thanksgiving. I was enjoying our new lifestyle, but turkey-and-gravy and leftover turkey sandwiches were traditions. Tasty traditions. I don't mess with tradition lightly.

Therefore, it was not until the night before Thanksgiving that I had a menu that I could get excited about--and went to the grocery store. Crazy.

So, I was thrilled to finish the menu plan yesterday afternoon and to finish the shopping last night. Given that accomplishment was an entire four days earlier than last year, I was a little shocked that I had to make some size and brand substitutions (mini marshmallows instead of large, regular and mini pie shells instead of extra large, more expensive brand of a spice than I would have normally bought). But, regardless--I went to one grocery store (well, and one I was going to anyway), and I am done! I am ready to start cooking Wednesday night and finish up Thursday mid-morning. I am so excited.

We are having some of our traditional items, one new item from last year, and one new item for this year. We have not yet settled into a new hard-and-fast menu as our new tradition. Looking over the post from last year, I notice that the menu is a little simpler this year. I am okay with that.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, a co-worker put up a piece of paper on the outside of her cubicle that asked, "What are you thankful for?" with a hanging pen handy. It has been fun to see additions go up on the list. Some items are particularly telling. We are all grateful for many things, but with sickness going around, someone put "My health," I suspect that the co-worker who has to work a little harder at warming her house than just moving the lever on the thermostat is the one who wrote "Heat," and, of course, I wrote "My car!"

As this coming week approaches Thanksgiving, I hope your plans are going smoothly, that there is happiness and joy in your days, and that you are blessed!

An early

Happy Thanksgiving

to you!