Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The End of an Era...

...and the beginning of a new one!

My followers know that I'm in pursuit of a balanced life. Hence the name of my blog, Level & Plumb...

After being laid off unexpectedly from my corporate sales position in September, I started spinning. I'd just returned from two amazing weeks in Italy, went in for a "mid year review" at work and instead was told that my business unit was being eliminated. HR slid the dreaded black folder across the table. The words "severance, grace period..." were coming at me and I just kept thinking, "I'm my only breadwinner. No one's got my back, except me."  I was thrown for a loop, but in my "Type A" fashion, I was on task: attending 'outplacement' seminars, updating my resume, making calls, networking, setting appointments, going on informational, informal and formal interviews, slogging around NYC in a suit in the summer heat. The subway platforms smelled like boiling urine. I've just gotten used to that over time...but it seemed particularly pungent and poignant this past summer.

Heaped on top of that, my debit card was compromised--thousands were siphoned out of my checking account. Got it back from the bank within 2 weeks, phew. Within days of my dental benefits ending, three molar$ cracked in a $hort amount of time--granola, a peanut in a thai sauce, and I'm not sure what cracked the 3rd one. I needed gum $urgery to fit one of the three porcelain crown$. My rotors rusted because I don't drive enough (?) and that cost me $800. A nor'easter blew through and there was a leak in my roof. I also had a medical scare that kept me worried for about 2 months.

Why me? Why not me?

Was I on Candid Camera? Nope. I kept thinking, other people are worse off, I can get to the other side of this. I became a Recessionista...pulling back, eating eggs for dinner, rationing savings.

It might have been overwhelming, but instead it became underwhelming. I was on a treadmill, but not at the gym. It felt more like a hamster wheel.

Then, I stopped.

Stopped the white noise and took a hard look at my little world. My work, my impact, my footprint, my challenges, failures and triumphs. I just didn't want to return to the "cubicle farm" in NYC. Not that I'd had any compelling interviews. There are 800,000 others who've been laid off in NYC. I'd hit a wall. Stopped growing. Where do I fit, who am I, what am I as I hurtle toward 49, divorced with no children? I was just going with the flow. A bit unfulfilled, but relatively happy, great family and friends, interesting sidelines, nice vacations. I'm not altogether lost. But, there's a lot more to life and I'm going after it. I decided it's time for a BIG CHANGE.

I'm selling my gem of a home, the one chronicled in these posts, and heading to North Carolina. Slower pace, lower cost of living, 90+ golf courses, it's palpably friendlier than NYC. I want to do work that's more meaningful, maybe work for myself! Though closing sales, sealing the deal and managing projects has had high points, what does it really add up to? I've spent years making cold calls (and in one job, knocking on doors) and mostly being told "no." Whether its biz to biz or directly to consumers, I'm weary of trying to convince people to buy something. I want a more positive experience.

I've worked hard on my home lo these past 20 years, inside and out. Though there is "always more that could be done" (not including the Lotto wishlist) my project to-do's were winnowing. The list became a call to action, a burst of renewed energy. I purged, painted, primped, listed the house and I'm now showing to potential buyers. As I pack, I'll find someone to adopt my hammer drill, sawz all, bolt cutters, chain saw, etc...I will no longer need to be the girl with the biggest tool box.

More posts to come as I get to the other side of this process.

I'm finally throwing away my painting duds circa 1989. Ya think?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blog Follower Becomes a Customer!

One of my loyal followers has become a customer! I consulted with her and we ID'd about 10 projects that would be within my scope. It's stuff that just never got done, work was work-y, life was being lived, and the jobs are too random or too small for a handyman you'd hire.

It's the perfect array of 'punch list' projects for Level & Plumb. A fair price was agreed upon for labor, and we both picked up various supplies.

I have confidence in some areas, and big limitations in others---I'm a weekend DIY'er who wings it with a bunch of tools, not a skilled carpenter or electrician. I cut time off my bill if I was stuck on a certain task, ie: I did not charge for the time that I learned on the fly. I'd never last in a union!

I'm making my way through the list. As you'll see it's not rocket surgery. But it still takes time and some know-how!

So far:
  • I've re-caulked the tub, and learned that caulk does expire--so I had to do one wall three times before using new caulk that cured properly.
  • I fixed a shelf inside of an old marble topped chest, and applied shelf paper to the drawers, shelves, and bottom.
  • I installed a battery operated doorbell, and counseled my client re: keeping the "Winchester chime" factory setting, or whether she'd prefer a more dulcet "ding dong" tone. We went with the ding dong. 
  • A radiator had been moved by a plumber a few years ago, and I re-cut and replaced the moulding on either side, caulked and repainted the wall and radiator.
  • I replaced a junky 'brass' doorknob with a brushed silver lever doorhandle. It looks great, but it's vexing me because it's a tad loose. I have to get some advice and tackle that one again to get it right.
  • I sanded and painted 2 chairs and recovered the chair cushions.
Here's that project, step by step:

Iron fabric first!

Have a seat!!

I've had friends compliment what I've done at my own home and who've asked me to consult. We'll see what the future holds--if Level & Plumb morphs into something more. Not sure yet of the balance. Consulting only? Becoming a referral resource? The tricky bit is putting faith in others to complete the work. I don't see myself doing the work!

If I could only figure out how to tighten that doorknob...I'd have some street cred.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lite Bite on a Warm Nite

March is goin' along all lamb-y...it's the 19th and it's 20 degrees warmer than normal! 3 more days of above average temps expected, then it'll get chillier and rainier as April approaches. I'm ready to shake off Winter.

I threw together a super simple dinner tonight, and it was nice to use the grill for the first time since November.

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, drizzled with olive oil
1 cup of last night's leftover Jasmine rice
1 small bunch of broccoli
2 pats of butter
S&P to taste

While the chicken's grilling, steam the broccoli.
Drain the broccoli, dice it finely.
Add it to the rice, along with the butter and S&P to taste.
Heat til warmed through.
Slice 1/2 the chicken breast and fan it over the rice/broccoli mixture.
Top with a few crumbles of goat cheese, if you like a little tang.
I do, so I did.
There will be enough for leftovers.
Pour your desired bevvie. A cold beer's nice on a warm night!

And I'll be looking forward to tomorrow's lunch!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Comfort Food

Comfort takes many forms..too many to list or to ruminate upon in one short blog posting. Tonight I gathered for a New York City-to-Houston sendoff for a friend who is paring down, and giving up the lower Manhattan apartment that she's maintained as a pied a terre, for years.

Of the six women, four of us find ourselves in a state of flux...not of our doing, but from a corporate layoff. 4 out of 6. That's a bad ratio, a big dose of ugly reality. Oh, and one friend was laid off after her husband was, so there is double pressure there. We're all past 40 and not ready to retire.

Over comfort food and wine, we commiserated, blew off some steam, might have shed a tear but mostly told crazy stories and jokes and laughed our butts off. We are all strong and resiliant and we know others close to us who recently faced really horrendous obstacles...2 who've had double mastectomies, the sudden death of a parent, a double lung transplant at age 39. We are keeping our trials in perspective. Someone's always gonna have it better or have it worse. That's why I'm trying to maintain...and keep my life Level & Plumb.

Comfort food is so damn yummy. There was a 7 layer dip to start, mac 'n cheese, a potato/apple/onion/cheese gratin and a crazy-fab chocolate ice cream cake from good ole Baskin Robbins. Oh and a lot of red wine.

Here's the recipe I followed for Potato Cake with Tart Apples and Jarlsberg. I maintain that it is more of a pie, or a gratin, than a cake...and I'd add another apple and a bit more cheese next time...but do with it what you wish!  From Country Living magazine, March 2010, in the section devoted to cast-iron pan recipes. I used a deep pie dish (earthenware), and it came out just fine!

Makes 8 servings
Working Time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour

You'll need:
Cast iron skillet or a deep pie or gratin dish
Vegetable peeler
Large Bowl
Mandoline for slicing veggies and fruit wafer thin (Oxo makes a handheld version for $19.99  http://www.oxo.com/)

1/4 cup olive oil
7-8 medium russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I'd use 3 apples--2 Grannies + 1 Fuji or Gala!)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped plus a bit more for garnish
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3/4 - 1 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
Butter, for greasing foil

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F
2. Coat the pan with olive oil
3. In a large bowl, using your hands, toss together and separate the thinly sliced potatoes, apples and onion with the parsley, salt and pepper. Spread half the mixture in the skillet or dish, scatter with cheese, and top with the remaining potato mixture.
4. Cover with a piece of buttered tin foil, and bake for 40 mins.
5. Remove foil and continue to bake for 20 mins or so.
6. Increase oven temp to Broil, and cook until the top begins to crisp, about 2 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley.

Approx 235 calories per slice, but who's counting?  Serve with a green salad, some vino, good humor and great friends.

You can't miss.