Posted by: Michelle | September 24, 2010

Culinarying Along

I just finished the fifth week of my first semester in CLC’s Hospitality and Culinary Management program. I’m getting used to the routine, and instead of feeling like a middle-aged grandmother in a classroom full of kids (some of whom are 12 years younger than my oldest daughter!), I’m feeling more like one of the gang.

I started out with 13 semester hours, which comprised two five credit hour culinary courses, and a nutrition class. After the first week, and after looking over the syllabi for all the courses, I knew if I wasn’t in over my head immediately, I would be by mid-semester. So I promptly dropped the nutrition class, and I’m so glad I did. I’ll pick it up again probably next summer as my only class, because I can tell from the sheer amount of information that course contains that it’s a class I’ll want to give my full attention to.

My Culinary I and Patisserie I classes are fun, but the homework is way more than I would have expected with a culinary course. And as always, there’s math involved. Geez. You just can’t escape math. So between the homework, the reading, and the practical applications of the above, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

My lovely new “food service shoes” gave me some very nasty heel blisters the first week I wore them, and they’re just now healing. Between those and the toenail I tore off over the weekend running into a fan in Sean’s room, I’m sure my feet are hating me right now.  I actually missed my Culinary I class and lab on Monday because it was excrutiating to even try and put on a shoe. But today my tootsies are feeling much better, thanks, and I”m sure now that the shoes are broken in and the toenail is growing back, my feet will no longer feel I’m trying to destroy them.

I’m enjoying both of my Chef instructors. One is much tougher than the other as far as what she expects from us, but that’s okay. I’d much rather have a class that challenges me than one that bores me to tears and doesn’t teach me anything new.

My only complaint is the fact that on Tuesdays, there are three lab sections in the kitchen. And although it’s a pretty amazing commercial-type space, three classes all cooking at the same time, trying to jockey for burners or ovens, is just too much. It may sound silly, but it emotionally exhausts me to have to do it. I’ve talked to a few classmates and they feel the same way — it’s a mentally taxing exercise.

But overall, I do have to say I’m loving it even more than I thought I would.  Even more surprising is the fact that, while I’m enjoying both classes, I think I’m liking the pastry class a bit more than the culinary one. Which is pretty amazing considering I’ve never been a fan of baking. We spent the last two days making danish, and I found that I felt really good about turning out some not half-bad rosettes, pockets, and twists. The whole process of turning the dough and creating the layers was really satisfying to me. 

And I must say that having a series of 18-year-old lab partners who accept me for who I am, and who I find a really cool and mature bunch, is a pretty neat perk.

Posted by: Michelle | August 20, 2010

Three Days and Counting

The new semester starts on Monday, and I can’t wait! My financial aid did come through, with just enough to pay my tuition. And the Returning to Education award I received from the college’s educational foundation was a Godsend, because it covered my books and supplies.

Luckily, two of my classes use the same textbook, so I was able to get it from Chegg as a rental for $54, rather than buying it new for $144 at the college bookstore. Yes, I love books and sometimes even become attached to them, but I don’t think I’ll get all that attached to $150 textbooks. I’m sure by the end of the semester, I’ll be more than glad to send them back.

Today I went to the bookstore and got the required uniform for students in the culinary program — chef’s coat, baker’s pants, hat, apron, and kerchief. I also got the required knife kit, which I wasn’t happy to hear cost $150, but after seeing it, totally think it was worth it. I’ll have it long after I graduate from the program, and it’s a very nice set of knives and kitchen gadgets, along with a very handy carrying case.

In other endeavors, I’ve been working with my daughter Alexi in helping her launch her new business. In fact, we’re holding an official launch event on Saturday, and have 75 people attending the garden party-themed event. We’re so excited! Should be a great time.

I also managed to complete the application (including a video) for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry “Month at the Museum” competition. Semi-finalists will be notified by August 25th, so I’m anxiously awaiting that news, too. There were over 1,000 applications, so my chances are slim, but then again — so are everybody else’s.

It’s amazing how full my life is now compared to where it was a year ago, unemployed and feeling everything had become stagnant. Yes, I’m still unemployed, but I’ve filled my life with so many passions and things I’ve wanted to pursue for a long time…it’s hard to remember the person who, just a year ago, was wondering where her life was going.

Posted by: Michelle | July 31, 2010

Anxiously Waiting…

First of all, I should tell you that, for the most part, I’m not a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of person. I do not enjoy getting things done at the last minute. That adrealine rush that happens when you barely make a deadline or get something done with just moments to spare or run down a passagway with a giant boulder rolling behind you and manage to jump out of the way in the nick of time?

Not for me. Not most of the time, anyway.

Sure, I have my Mom merit badge in Last Minute Endeavors. But just because one has to do it that way doesn’t mean one likes to do it that way.  Really, I prefer to plan ahead.

So here I sit, waiting to get an e-mail from the college letting me know that yes, financial aid has come through and, yes, I will be able to attend college for the fall semester. I’m supposed to be notified today, according to an e-mail I received a few weeks ago.

Today is July 31st. Tution and fees are due August 2nd. This is just a little too close for comfort for me. Because if I don’t get finanicial aid, there will be no school for me. I attended one class this summer, which I paid for myself, and that was a huge struggle for us financially. So forget 13 credit hours and $500 for books and supplies.

As for my transfer credit, one class transferred — a Children’s Lit class that they’ll accept as a Fine Arts credit. What — so this means I’ll have to take English Comp again? Really? I CLEP’d out of English Comp 30 years ago and am a published writer. They’re going to make me spend $300 and sit for 16 weeks in a 100-level class to prove I can write? Argh!

I’ll do it if I have to. In fact, I’ll probably have to. I sent an e-mail to the person who evaluates transfer credit and asked her the above questions (in a much nicer way, of course) and have yet to receive a response. My guess is I won’t get one. I have discovered very quickly that if they don’t have a positive answer for you, they just ignore you. As someone who has a background in customer service and is plunging into the world of the hospitality industry where guest relations are paramount…well, let’s just say I’m not impressed. 

In a more exciting realm of my life, I have applied for an awesome opportunity. Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is hosting an ingenious competition — Month at the Museum. They’re seeking a “roommate” to spend 30 days 24/7 living at the museum, learning about science and sharing it with the world.

The application process includes filling out a detailed application, writing a 500-word essay, and creating a 60-second video. Oldest daughter Alexi came out and shot my video on Wednesday, and did a fantastic job. My application and essay are complete, and I’m just waiting for the headshot that Alexi took to arrive on Monday, and then she’ll send the whole thing in. Semi-finalists are being chosen by August 25th.

I think I might have a good shot at it. We’ll just have to wait and see. I found three other application videos posted at YouTube — I only posted mine to my Facebook page — and of those three, two of them were over the one-minute limit. I mean…Hello? What part of “60 seconds” is difficult to understand? 

The winner of the competition will get to keep all the tech gadgets they use during their stay (camera, laptop, etc.) and will take home a $10,000 paycheck. Not too shabby! But the best part to me is what a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it will be. I just re-watched “Night at the Museum” the other day and got all giddy and excited thinking about the possibilities.

I’ll keep you posted!

Paying for school without borrowing money is not for the faint-hearted. It’s one of the reasons I chose to begin my career changing education at a community college — the commute is short, the tuition is reasonable, the programs have good reputations for the most part and, while it’s still a major pain in the ass to get the school to do things like evaluate a transcript for transfer credit (I submitted mine in April, and despite several phone calls and even a visit to the Office of Admissions, it’s still not done), the pros tend to outweigh the cons.

So, I’ve dutifully sought out every possible scholarship opportunity I can find, even going so far as to enter the random sweepstakes ones that are listed by the dozens on FastWeb. I applied for one of the many scholarships awarded by The James Beard Foundation, and should hear something this month about the status of my application — or so their website says. Nothing will teach you more about about not trusting what anybody says than navigating the ins and outs of trying to pay for college with scholarships and financial aid, that’s for sure.

But I digress.

Yesterday I came home from class to find three letters in the mail from the College of Lake County.

First, the bad news:

“Thank you for your application for the 2010-2011 College of Lake County Foundation Scholarship. While your application was impressive, we regret to inform you that you were not eligible to receive the…AAWCC (CLC Chapter)…scholarship.”

Now, I’m not sure exactly why I’m not eligible for this particular scholarship. I could only apply for three of the dozens of awards they give out each year, so I was very careful about making sure I chose three I’d be eligible for. However, I’m not going to bother finding out why because…well, see above regarding trying to get my transcript evaluated. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

The ambiguous not bad news, not good news yet:

“Thank you for applying for a 2010/2011 College of Lake County Foundation Lake County Women’s Coalition Scholarship. Your application has been forwarded to the scholarship’s sponsor for evaluation.”

Okay…so that sounds promising, right?

And finally:

“We are pleased to announce that you have been chosen to receive a 2010/2011 College of Lake County Foundation Returning to Education Scholarship.”

Woo hoo! Okay…so it only covers about 1/3 of my tuition and fees, and we haven’t even talked books, supplies, transportation, etc., yet, but it’s a good start. And it’s nice when all that hard work of filling out an application, writing a personal statement, and gathering myriad papers like tax returns and official transcripts, actually pays off.

So now…maybe I’ll give trying to get my transript evaluated another shot.

I agree — I think it’s a brilliant idea! As someone whose children are grown and on their own, and who is currently unemployed, I’m taking the opportunity to apply. I already have my application half completed. What an amazing opportunity!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Posted by: Michelle | June 11, 2010

One Week Down, Seven to Go

My first official week of school has ended.

I’m only taking one class this summer. Since it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been in a classroom, I thought it best to not bite off more than I could chew.  The class I’m taking, Intro to Hospitality and Culinary Management, is strictly a lecture class. I thought I’d find it dry and boring, but a necessary evil as a prerequisite to other classes in the program. Much to my surprise, I’ve found it every entertaining and interesting.

So….one week down, seven to go. First test on Tuesday. I’m feeling confident that I know the material pretty well, so we’ll see if I can ace my first test in two decades next week.

We took a road trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota last week, where Mark bowled a regional tournament and we spent time with Mark’s sister and her family.

On Friday, we visited downtown Sioux Falls and enjoyed lunch at the Phillips Avenue Diner. Along Phillips Avenue, and at other venues in the city, is the Sioux Falls SculptureWalk, a collection of over 70 sculptures, most created by local artists.


"Watch Dog" -- Louise Peterson

"Lazy Days" -- Kate Denton

These were a few of my favorites. I wish we’d had more time to look at all of the sculptures and take more photos. From what I understand, this is an ongoing project and the sculptures are changed annually.  What a great program for local artists, and a wonderful treat for visitors to Sioux Falls!

On Saturday, we were all spectators as Mark bowled in the Empire Bowl Midwest Regional Tournament. He didn’t do as well as he would’ve liked (9th), but we’re very proud of him and he came home with a check, which I always like.

Saturday night, I treated everybody to a home-cooked meal to thank Mark’s family for hosting us during our stay. As much as I like my little cottage kitchen, it was really nice to cook in a gourmet space.

Pasta with sausage, peas, ricotta and romano cheeses, and fresh basil

Spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing

Key Lime Mousse Pie

On Sunday, we visited Devil’s Gulch and Palisades State Park in Garretson,  just outside Sioux Falls. Who knew such beauty existed in South Dakota? I sure didn’t!

Devil's Gulch Falls

Rock Formation, Palisades State Park

Sean enjoyed the climbing opportunities

Palisades State Park

We arrived home late Monday afternoon. As much as we enjoyed our time in Sioux Falls, it was great to get home.

Our neighbors, Brad and Jill, were kind enough to keep an eye on our house while we were gone. I wanted to thank them, so I made some fresh salsas (tomato and mango) and tortilla chips, surrounded them with salsa bowls, a colorful striped kitchen towel, and a couple of limes, layered it all on a bright red platter, and took it over yesterday afternoon.

Fresh Fiesta Platter

Jill was blown away. I love being creative with food and creating unique gift baskets for all kinds of occasions.

So, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Mark has a full weekend off (a rare thing), so we’re planning on perhaps taking in a movie (Sean wants to see “The Karate Kid”) and enjoying a simple meal out.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by: Michelle | May 30, 2010

More Backyard Inspiration

There is a show on HGTV called “Creative Juice”. I don’t believe they’re making new episodes anymore, so the show is all repeats, and on at some ungodly hour like 5:30 am, but thanks to modern technology, I just DVR it and watch it at my leisure.

I’ve tried several of the projects presented on the 30-minute show — they’re fun, easy, and functional. And while I wait to indulge my creative juices in the culinary realm when school starts in a few weeks, it’s been one way for me to satisfy those artistic cravings.

My latest project is a bird bath. The show presented it in a different way, using stencils and that kind of thing. I modified the instructions a bit by using some fun pastel spray paint.

The base of the bird bath is simply three terra cotta pots (turned upside down, of course) in 14″, 12″, and 10″ sizes. The water container is a 16″ terra cotta saucer.  The containers are held together with acrylic based silicone caulk. I also used the silicone to adhere the saucer to the top of the base.

I further modified the project by adding a 6″ saucer to hold bird seed.

The only change I made from the photo is to move the small seed tray into the center of the bird bath and adhere it there. After letting it all dry for 24 hours, I found that the silicone didn’t provide a stable glue to hold the saucer on the edge.

I’ve been wanting a bird bath for my backyard for some time, but the price tag for most of the ones I liked were upwards of $150. In less than two hours, with about $65 worth of materials, I made this one-of-a-kind creation that reflects my taste and style.

Much more fun and satisfying than bringing an expensive one home from the garden center!

Posted by: Michelle | May 25, 2010

Wild Rumpus Redux

Last fall, I was all excited (and just a bit terrified as well) about starting down a new path in my life attending culinary school. I thought I would be attending Robert Morris University (a school with a well-respected culinary program in downtown Chicago). I applied, got accepted, filled out all the paperwork, met with an admissions counselor, filled out my FAFSA, tried to reach my admissions counselor to make an appointment with a financial aid counselor…tried again…tried again…and tried yet again…and finally gave up.

I continued to receive mailings from RMU asking me to fill out my FAFSA (I already had), to have the results sent to them (I already had), and to make an appointment with a financial aid counselor (believe me, I tried).

I don’t know what happened and I don’t know where or how the ball got dropped, but it did. As it turns out, God really does know what he’s doing, even if we’re often frustrated by the process.

So I spent the better part of the winter once again feeling like I was back at the drawing board, trying to figure out where my life was headed and how to start heading there.

Enter spring. As often happens to me (and many others, I’m sure) when the weather takes a turn for the better after the gray days of a Chicago winter, I suddenly felt energetic again, itching to get out and be productive about something…about anything!

Still a bit bummed about my less than stellar experience with RMU, I planned a container garden (my first garden ever) for the little cottage where we live. I began to fill my time buying plants, seeds, potting soil, garden tools, and the like. I waited for the last frost to pass (geesh…it was a long wait this year) and began potting and planting.

I was amazed at how much I enjoyed everything about it. Digging my hands into the dirt, designing the containers with plants that created a pleasing look, watching the seeds germinate…all of it.

And I liked the result!

So I began looking for another project that would satisfy my very right-brained self.

When we moved into our house a year ago, there were six outdoor chairs that, I’m sure, were quite nice when they were new. But years of sitting in the elements had rendered the cushions and the chairs themselves pretty useless, not to mention pretty gross.

Why we hadn’t tossed them the day we moved into the house, I don’t know. But there they were, just begging for something to be done to them that might keep them out of the landfill.

A trip to Home Depot and Ikea netted me a few cans of spray paint and some snazzy, albeit inexpensive, cushions. A few days later, the result was these pretty cool looking chairs.

Ok…so now I’m thinking I’m not exactly the next Martha Stewart, but I’m definitely so right-brained that if I were forced to sit in a cubicle ever again, I’d probably die of boredom and depression. I realized I needed to find a way to channel my creativity in some way.

Just about the time I’m thinking this, I read an article in the Chicago Trib about the jump in enrollment for culinary programs at local community colleges. Back in the fall, I had dismissed the program at College of Lake County, the school closest to my house, because it seemed to place an emphasis on food service management as opposed to actual culinary skills. But I decided to give it another look. I discovered the program has seen a 70% increase in enrollment in the past 18 months and, probably due to that interest, it was retooling it’s Food Service Management degree — renaming it Hospitality and Culinary Management and placing more of an emphasis on actual hands-on culinary arts.

Woo hoo! I think God has opened a window.

I filled out an application, sent in my FAFSA, made an appointment with an academic advisor, had my previous college credits transferred and, unlike my experience at “that other school”, I’m now enrolled and scheduled to begin classes the week of June 7th! Financial aid will be enormously helpful and, because of the affordability of the school, I won’t have to borrow any money. I’ve applied for scholarship money through a few other sources as well, so we’ll see how that pans out.

I’m only taking one class this summer, as I’m also currently taking a pottery class through a local gallery and just didn’t want to put too much on my plate at one time, especially considering the fact that it’s been 20 years since I’ve taken a college class. But I am registered for 15 credit hours in the fall and, with some hard work and good luck, I can have my degree in about 18 months or so (I hope).

So hey…the wild rumpus is beginning again, and I think I’ve begun my journey down the right path this time.

Posted by: Michelle | October 12, 2009

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

I am about to embark on the most exciting, terrifying, exhilirating, scary journey of my life. And if that sounds contradictory, it’s meant to. Because it’s very much how I feel about it all.

In September of 2008, I lost a job I’d had for 17 months. It was a job I loved (event planning) and it was a job I thought I’d have for a very long time. Boy, was I wrong.

Fast forward 13 months. Over 1,200 resumes later (which resulted in only two face-to-face interviews), my unemployment benefts have run out and I’m still unemployed. Granted, my job history has not been stellar. I spent a lot of years raising my family, sometimes working, sometimes staying at home. The result has been that I have some great administrative skills, but none of it has been acquired in any one field.

A few months ago, I began to feel a sense of desperation, not just for our financial situation, but for my emotional well being. Insomnia, signs of depression, and even a touch of agoraphobia began to creep into my day-to-day life. Agoraphobia? Well, yeah…when you can’t even get your foot in the door anywhere, it’s exhausting to even think about leaving the house where your totally trashed self-esteem is seemingly on display for everyone to see.

I knew I had to do something. Here I was in my late 40s, edging ever more closely (much too quickly for my taste) to 50, and I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I know my strengths are not necessarily in areas that require sitting in a cubicle all day. Or dressing to the Nines (I don’t even own a pair of panty hose anymore) to greet visitors at some fancy-schmancy office. Yes, I can type 85 wpm and I know Microsoft Office like the back of my hand, but I don’t want to type or create spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations for eight hours a day.

So what gets my fires burning? I wasn’t even really sure about that until I started paying attention to the feelings I had during my regular daily tasks.  And I found that there were a lot of things that really made me feel good, for lack of a better word. I’m sure experts could talk about endorphins and right-brained vs. left-brained, and all that jazz, but all I know is that reading a book, learning a new recipe and fixing it for my husband, hanging out in my warm, bright cottage kitchen, learning about something new to me  (like the history of salt, which I find fascinating) or handcrafting something out of a simple object that would normally get thrown away really gets my juices flowing. Filling out paperwork, adding up a bunch of numbers, fixing the car, creating a database…not so much.

After a lot of soul-searching and research and numbers crunching (I hated that part), I decided I’d go back to school full-time and study culinary arts. A totally new career. And one that most of my family hasn’t shown a great deal of enthusiasm about. Well, I can’t really blame them because, after all, my dad did always tell me I couldn’t even boil water.

I’m sure it will be a wild ride. An adventure. A life-changing journey, if you will.

I’m ready.