Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Monday -- Mindy Smith

I really enjoy some acoustic loveliness. Mindy Smith delivers in spades. I have the album One Moment More and have enjoyed listening to it for the five years since it came out. She's technically in the Alt-Country genre, but I find that it sounds like a mix of pop-country and acoustic folk. Though, come to think of it, that's a lot of what alt-country is. I highly recommend listening to the nicely produced tracks that you can hear on iTunes or Amazon, but the video below gives you an idea of Mindy's style.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday is Sweet

While home for the Thanksgiving holiday, the SIL introduced us to a fantastic recipe from Williams-Sonoma. We had all the traditional parts of the Thanksgiving meal, but added Chocolate Pecan Pie this year. I'm not the biggest fan of regular Pecan Pie, so I wasn't sure about it, but it turned out tasting so good. I highly recommend it. And if you're not afraid of making a pie crust, it's not even that hard to make.

Chocolate-Pecan Pie
9 in pie shell
1 ½ C pecans coarsely chopped
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ C unsalted butter
½ C dark brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350, rollout pastry into 9 in pan. Trim and flute, bake partially and cool completely. Reduce oven to 325sprinkle pecans and Chocolate chips evenly, beat rest and pour over top, bake until firm, about 50 min.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

So Thankful

I've been posting on Facebook each day (or at least most days) this month about something I'm grateful for. It's been nice, but doesn't really communicate the magnitude of my gratitude for all I have.

I realize that even when there are things in my life that I don't love or that I think are going poorly, I am so much more blessed than I can even imagine. I don't even know what it means to go hungry or be without a roof over my head. I'll say that's why I don't camp. It's to show my gratitude for having a roof over my head. I also am pretty far removed from disease and other calamities in the world. My hangnail is not a problem and neither is the inconvenience of waiting in lines or being without WiFi for a few hours.

I hope all three of my readers have a wonderful holiday and spend it with people they love.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Monday -- Wailin' Jennys

Last week, when I installed Windows 7, it did a number on iTunes. I had to do quite a bit of maintenance and totally rebuild my iPod playlist. It was actually pretty cool to rediscover some music I've purchased, but not played much. One of those discoveries was the Wailin' Jennys. I have the album Firecracker and it's got amazing melodies, great playing, and tight harmonies. They fall under the roots moniker, but I thought they were folk, so what do I know? As I've been listening to the album, it makes me think I want more. Take a listen for yourself. This song is Begin. Good stuff.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food, But Not For Thought

The DH's birthday was Thursday, but we're celebrating like rock stars tonight by singing karaoke with a few friends. To go with the theme, I had to make food--specifically a cake--for the party. I'm definitely not the most creative in my family when it comes to cake decorating, but I think I can hold my own. I just go for simple designs.

Tonight's cake is a microphone. To make it, I baked a yellow cake mix in my smallest mixing bowl and a loaf pan. This gave me the basic shapes I needed to work with. You can see here how I've trimmed them to make the shape of a microphone.After getting the shape just right, I put a crumb coating on with white frosting and put them in the fridge for just a few minutes. Then I broke out the black food coloring. That's fun to work with.

It only took a tiny bit of food coloring to get the gray for the ball of the microphone. Then I put white sugar on it to make it look silvery and shiny. It took a TON more food coloring to get it to black for the handle. Then I used black licorice for the cord and the switch. This is how it turned out.
And as if the day wasn't pretty great anyway, totally unrelated to the cake and party, look what came in the mail! I have to wait until June, but it will be worth it. I've been listening to U2 for more than 20 years and wanting to see them live for just as long. Finally, I get my turn.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's Food for Thought

Do you consider yourself courageous? I don't. I seldom feel courageous and I too often feel fear. The fear is not always founded in realistic concerns either. The fear of heights, that has become more intense and even weird to me (seriously, where did it come from?!?) is based in no real event or situation that I can recall. It's just worse all the time.

I felt a little courageous when I took the job I'm in now, but it was a pretty comfortable at the same time. I was going back to something I knew well and I also felt that my previous job had done a lot to prepare me for it.

Tomorrow, I'm going to have to face my fear. I'm going to sing karaoke. Pray for me.

When do you feel courageous? Or do you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's November and I'm Feeling Crafty

Last weekend, I really got into the crafty mood. I'm thinking about all the great things I can make for people for Christmas. Honestly, I probably won't do even half of what I've thought up in my crazy brain, but it's still fun to think of all the possibilities.

The crafty mood was sparked by a church activity that included a few cute crafts. I did two things. The first was a wood block with vinyl lettering on it. It was super easy, but took forever because it needed two coats of paint and three coats of clear lacquer before putting the letters on it. I like how it turned out.
The second craft was doing etching on a glass pan. When I said I wanted to do this one, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had to use a stencil to write the words backwards on contact paper, then use an Exacto knife to cut out all the letters, then put the contact paper on the pan, put etching cream on it, wait the allotted time, and wash off the etching cream. That stenciling backwards is harder than it may sound. Or maybe it sounds really hard and that's exactly what it was. And time consuming. But it turned out just fine.And then, finally, I just had to go out and find flannel for a blanket for Patrick's niece who is pregnant with her first baby, a little boy. I'm planning to do a patchwork quilt with the rag seams on one side. This is the combo of fabric that I bought. It was so hard to find five fabrics that coordinated for a boy. There are hundreds of choices got girls, but really not so much for boys. I think I did OK. The baby is due on Christmas, so I need to get cracking on this one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music Monday -- Part Deux

Over the weekend, the DH and I went to the symphony and enjoyed Carmina Burana. It's some amazing music by Carl Orff. This includes both vocal and symphonic music. The text for the vocal music is taken from medieval texts found at a monastery. When Orff had this performed for the first time in 1937, it was like a revelation. No one had ever heard anything like it before. It's pretty powerful stuff. What we heard on Saturday did not disappoint. We had seen it before (and I have performed it before), but this was the best we've heard so far.


Music Monday -- Feist

When I was looking at Sesame Street videos and ran across Feist singing 1234 with the muppets, it reminded me how much I like her style. I have the album The Reminder. It's got intesity, but with a spark of whimsy. I can listen to a whole album from her without getting bored. The music can really stick with you too.

This clip of My Moon My Man is a great example of her style.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday's Recipe

At least this is only one day late. Still, I'm really slacking! I'll try to be better next week.

Yesterday, I did my shopping for the week and got pretty excited about doing some actual meal planning. Nice idea, huh? It's been rainy and cool and looks like we've got at least a full week of rain ahead. That always makes me think that soup would be good, so I made sure I have everything I need for Taco Soup in the pantry. It's super easy to make and takes almost no time at all to get done and taste good. Also, it's one of those recipes that you can use whatever you have around if you don't have the exact things it calls for. Any old canned thing will do (within reason). Also, I think Fritos are the only correct chip to eat with Taco Soup.

Taco Soup

1 pound hamburger
1 onion chopped
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 can whole tomatoes
1 16-ounce can corn (I use ½ cup frozen corn)
1 small can green chilies (I never use this much – put a little in and then taste it)
1 package taco seasoning
1 can small red beans
1 can chili beans
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown hamburger and pour off grease. Add rest of the ingredients and simmer. Garnish with chips, grated cheese, sour cream, and avocado.

Friday's Food for Thought

It's getting worse. Now I'm TWO days late!

Work has got me thinking about delivering and receiving feedback. I work with a few folks who get really mad when they get feedback on their work that is not what the client's want or isn't at the quality standard that we have set. I work with others who crave feedback and feel like they're not getting enough (usually because they're doing what they're supposed to and we're all too busy with the people that need corrective feedback).

I had a situation shortly after I started work at Microsoft where I did some really bad managing of a particular resource on my team. She wasn't doing her job that well, but the way I handled it was really bad. She actually complained to HR, so I had a lot of explaining to do. My manager called me into her office, outlined exactly what I had done that was a problem for HR, then talked to me about what I could do differently and what I could change about my management to completely avoid getting that far down a negative path with anyone in the first place. It was fantastic! I was so grateful that she took the time to help me instead of just telling me what a bad job I did. I learned a lot from that experience and I believe that it shaped me into a much better manager than I ever would have been without that happening. I was so grateful for the whole turn of events once I'd gotten through it.

As hard as it is to take, I'm one who really does want the corrective feedback when I do something wrong. What I wonder is, how do I help others to see that the corrective feedback might be just the thing that takes them from bad to good, or from good to great? This is my new challenge.

How do you feel about getting critical and/or constructive feedback? What makes it work for you or not? I'm really curious.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Over the last couple of weeks, the DH has really wanted to go see the movie Where the Wild Things Are. I had heard a couple of mixed reviews, but I'd also seen some footage of the filming of the movie and I was definitely intrigued. What I didn't know before we went to the movie, was that the DH had never read or seen the book. He had no idea what the story was about. He had expectations. It reminded me of the last time I went to a movie that a friend said was the BEST MOVIE EVER MADE. And yes, she said it in all caps. It was good, but not the best ever, so I came away disappointed.

We saw the movie last Saturday evening. We enjoyed Thai food before going to the show, and the show was pretty amazing from a cinematic point of view. I loved the fort that Max and the monsters built on the island. Visually, I thought it had a lot of impact. As far as the book goes, it's pretty light on plot, so Spike Jonze didn't have a lot to go on. I think he fleshed it out as much as anyone could without completely deviating from the original. Because the original story doesn't have a lot of development, I didn't expect that out of the movie either. Unfortunately, the DH thought he was going to get a full-blown plot. Not so.

Overall, I thought the movie was good. The time that Max spends on the island includes a lot more than you find in the book and it explores complex negative emotions that young people have. There's some fun in there too, but be prepared for some heavy stuff at times. The good news is that Max ends up at home eating his warm dinner in the movie just like in the book.

If you're thinking about seeing the movie, but haven't read the book, check this out. It's good to have appropriate expectations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sunny Days, Sweeping the Clouds Away...

I'm not sure which came to Boise first, PBS with or without Sesame Street, but I don't remember a time without the show. I watched it regularly as a child. It was just a staple of television and it was great. We also had a Sesame Street album that we played a lot. I'm sure my mom got tired of some of those songs, but we all knew the words and could sing along, and we loved it.

I had no idea that it might be subversive or thought of as cutting edge. It was just plain fun. It was one of the first actual children's television shows meant to be educational. It's good stuff. The best part, of course, is the series of outstanding guest appearances that they've had over the years. I'm sure there are many more clever ones, but here's some fun music by Feist. She's great.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Music Monday -- A Story

This part has nothing to do with music, but it's background and critical for your understanding of the story. I got my brand spanking new copy of Windows 7 last week. It's very shiny and pretty. I'd like to install in on my super fast computer, so I can abandon Windows Vista forever. Background complete.

This weekend, I spent quite a bit of time doing computer maintenance and organizing the files on the computer, because I have to move absolutely everything to a backup location. One of the things I noticed is that we have music in several locations on the computer, so I wanted to consolidate everything into one folder. Everything we have purchased from iTunes since obtaining the current computer was in one folder. There were over a thousand songs in there. (You can do the math, and you don't need to tell me that it's OBSCENE! I can't believe we've bought that much iTunes music either.)

I went to grab all the new iTunes music and copy it over to the other major music location on the computer and dragged it over and let it copy. Then it was gone. Completely and utterly not-to-be-found on the computer. It knocked the wind out of me and I was beside myself. The songs weren't in the trash, but no amount of using the search feature would uncover the whereabouts of said music. I spent a good part of the day yesterday fretting, searching, and swearing at the computer (but mom, it was just the tame kind of swearing -- gosh darn it and all that -- don't worry!). I walked away from the computer at intervals thinking the music would magically appear if I took some time away and then came back. It wasn't there. It was so gone.

At some point, I realized that files don't just disappear. It just doesn't happen that way. I took a deep breath and realized that I must have dropped the files in one of the folders within the huge music folder. This is where I need to explain that every artist has its own folder and every album has its own folder in the artist folder. Then all the songs from said album are in the album folder. We have HUNDREDS of albums from HUNDREDS of artists, each with their own folder. The list of folders was so long it made me tear up. I started at the top and opened every folder in there.

I finally found my lost music somewhere in the P's. It may not have taken a full hour, but it felt longer than that. The good news is that I found my obscene amount of lost music and then finished organizing all of it. The bad news is that between our photos and music, it wouldn't all fit on the external drive we have, so I have to buy more storage tonight to copy everything onto before I can install Windows 7.

Now, for your patient reading, this is your reward. I know you'll like it. It's the best song to get stuck in your head EVER! I'm sure you'll thank me later.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

I spent the day at the Mission home in Zurich, Switzerland before my parents and Granny arrived. It was the last official day of my mission. I had a short interview with a Mission President happy to see me leave. My greatest offense was my apparent allegiance to the former President he replaced the previous July. I had an amazing experience in Switzerland, but I was tired and ready to go home.

My parents had already started laughing at my unintentional mixture of English and German. I'd become quite fluent in German and all the English speakers there spoke German as well, so we had a natural mish-mash of the two languages when speaking mostly English. The quizzical looks on my parents' faces were the first inkling I had of my need to re-train my brain to English. That fluency in German is what made the events of the evening so strange and surreal.

After dinner at the Mission home, I went to a hotel with my parents and we turned on the TV. There was a German-language news show on. I was completely confused. All my life, the cold war had raged. Stories of the splitting of Germany and specifically Berlin were ingrained in my world view. What I saw on the TV, however, was a huge party near the iconic Brandenburg Gate. There were people on the Berlin Wall. I was immediately worried that there had been a mass uprising and hundreds would be reported injured or killed by the East German police. What I heard, however, was celebration and the announcement that The Wall was no more. All of the people on the TV were celebrating--not fighting or running from the law. I was astounded. It was breathtaking.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

November -- National Adoption Awareness Month

My friend Megan is passionate about adoption and she and her husband are looking to adopt a child into their beautiful family. My friend Andrea adopted two wonderful sons and I have very fond memories of the babies that stayed with our family for a few days when I was young as they waited for their new homes to be ready. I also became a little more passionate about adoption myself after teaching school at a summer school program for at risk teens. Watching them parent was very worrisome to me and I know they weren't getting all the support they needed to be successful parents.

The point of this post, however, is to drive traffic to Megan's adoption blog. She's holding a contest, but I'd be happy to post about her site even without the contest. Also, if you know of anyone who is in a situation that they may need to consider adoption, please think about directing them to Megan's site as well. You never know how you may be able to touch someone's life profoundly for good.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Comfort Food -- Beef Stew

Well, the rains have really started in the Northwest now, so I really needed some comfort food this week. On Thursday, I decided that beef stew was in order. The DH was glad I got that bee in my bonnet because he really likes the stew I make. I don't have an exact recipe, but here's the gist of it.

Beef Stew

2 lb stew meat (it's by all the other cuts of beef and says "beef for stewing" on the package)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 white onion
2-3 stalks of celery
1/4 C olive oil
2 T. butter
3 large potatoes
2-3 cups of diced carrots (I use a medium size bag of mini carrots or 3-4 large carrots)
flour, salt, and pepper
Red wine (I have no clue what I buy, but it's always cheap)
2 Quarts Beef stock
2 tsp Sage
Bay leaf
More salt and pepper

Get out a big ziplock back and put about 1/2 to 3/4 C flour, 1-2 T Salt and a few teaspoons of pepper in it. You can put some cornstarch in there with it too if you like. It makes the stew get a little thicker. Mix that all together and then throw all the meat in the bag. You may want to cut the meat into smaller pieces before dredging in the flour mixture, but that's up to you.

In a large stew pot, mix olive oil, butter, garlic, onions, and celery and cook on medium-high until onions are transparent. Pull meat pieces out of bag and put into pot and brown with the stuff that's already in there. This takes 10-15 minutes and you can chop carrots and potatoes while the meat cooks.

When the meat is brown, pour in 1-2 cups of red wine. It should boil up really quickly and you'll smell the alcohol burn off. Scrape the bottom of the pan while the wine boils to get the yummy flavorful bits from the meat off the bottom of the pan. This is critical to the tastiness of the stew.

Pour in Beef stock and add carrots, potatoes, bay leaf, and sage. This is a good time to add a bunch more salt, maybe a couple tablespoons, and some pepper. My mom always worries about putting too much salt in and it's rubbed off on my. I never put quite enough in, but everyone can add their own at the table.

Let all this simmer together for an hour or two. You can thicken it more with some corn starch if you'd like. If you do that, then put 2-3 T. cornstarch into 1/4 of COLD water. Make sure the water is cold and the cornstarch won't get lumpy. Then pour that into the stew and let it boil up again to thicken.

Eat with some crusty bread.

FFT Friday -- In Memoriam

I know -- a day late -- AGAIN!

I was so shocked by what happened at Fort Hood this week. It breaks my heart to think of it. I'm so grateful for all those brave folks who are serving in the military and my prayers are with the victims of the violence there. In my blog reading, I found this beautiful tribute to military personnel. I also pray that there are no repercussions in the Muslim community in and around Kileen, TX. Although the shooter was part of the Muslim faith, his community would not support nor condone such behavior. I'm also thinking about my good friends, the Cornwall's. Nathan is stationed at Fort Hood, and although he was not part of the situation there, it still happened near their home and in a place they thought was safe.

In a perfect world we would have no war and no need for a military. We don't live in that world, so I am very grateful to our military. What are your thoughts about the events of the week?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Big Relief Society Event

For the past two years, I've been working with the rest of our stake relief society presidency on the idea of bringing Sheri Dew to Seattle for a fireside for our stake women. Sheri Dew is an outstanding speaker and always has a strong, positive impact on her audiences. As the CEO of Deseret Book, she's also a great role model for women like me who don't find themselves staying at home with children. The logistics for getting her here were crazy and mostly out of our control, so we were thrilled when we finally had the date in place and could finalize plans.

Part of the work was in getting posters, handouts, and tickets for the event and inviting two other stakes and making sure everyone understood all of the details and where and when things were happening. It was a lot more work that I even expected it to be.

Then, just a week before the event, we found out that Sheri Dew may have had to postpone due to the sickness and imminent death of a very close friend. All we could think of was that we would have to figure out how to communicate changes out to over a thousand people and figure out how to reschedule and to what date. It was difficult not to think about the potential issues, even though there was only the slight potential rescheduling. We also kept thinking, what if no one shows up. Or, what if twice as many people show up as we can accommodate in the building? We all just kept the panic at bay and tried to go with it.

In the end, none of the "worst case" scenarios happened. We had a pretty full house, but didn't need any overflow. We also had everything fall into place just as we had planned and it turned out fantastic.

In the end, the other really great part of the event was the wonderful message that we heard from Sheri Dew. She talked to us about the importance of knowing who you are, how much influence you have over the many people you come in contact with, and how important both of these things are. Her presentation was outstanding and I really took her message to heart. She also talked some about how we spend out down time and reminded me how important it is that I spend my computer time doing things that enrich me instead of just waste my time. All good stuff!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Life of Pi

This weekend, I finally finished reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It honestly felt like one of the longest books I've ever read. The book came highly recommended by several of my friends, so I really looked forward to reading it. I have to say that it did not meet my initial expectations, but that it was well-written and I would recommend it (mostly).

I found the first section of the book to by highly entertaining and engaging. This is where Pi Patel is still living in India and his father is a zoo-keeper in Pondicherry. Martel uses the language to his advantage and he is a fantastic story teller.

The second part of the book, at the length of a few hundred pages, is the telling of Pi's adventure at sea in a lifeboat. This truly was years long in the reading. Perhaps that was part of Martel's method, since it must have felt like a lifetime to the young boy, but I got bored and lost patience. I only picked the book up to read because I was flying for several hours. I had to force myself to keep reading. The writing is still good, but the story just wasn't compelling enough to keep my interest for such a long telling.

The final section of the book is very short and happens after Pi lands on dry ground. It was interesting and tied the story together.

All in all, I thought the book was good, but I didn't find it to have the profound effect that I was given the impression it would deliver. It also says that it will make you believe in God, but I didn't think it would have that impact on anyone. In the end, it's a nice story, a little long, but pretty good.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Whip It! The Movie Review

Last week, the DH and I met up with some friends, ate some Chinese food, and then went to the movies. We decided to see Whip It! and we were not disappointed. I don't think this will be a spoiler. The DH and I both really liked the movie. It's especially nice when we both do.

Seriously, we loved watching the roller derby, because it's just really fun and dangerous looking. I'm pretty sure I never want to try it, but it's great to watch. I guess the one part where Drew Barrymore's character gets a double bloody nose wasn't that fun to watch, but most of it was.

The better part was the story of Bliss and her journey and especially her relationship with her mom. The reason it was so good, was that it was actually complicated. It wasn't bad mom with misunderstood daughter or good mom with bad daughter or anything that easy. I love that they didn't make it easy and therefore too Hollywood. In the spirit of now ruining it for anyone, I'll also just say that the movie isn't totally predictable. I'm so impressed that we got to see a movie that made us think and actually kept us talking about it a couple of days later.

And for you protective types out there, Bliss falls in love and spends a long evening at a swimming pool with her new beau, but any mischief is purely implied. You don't get to see any skin that a bathing suit covers and the worst thing in the movie is a few times that they swear. There is some underage drinking and the theme is complex, so I think the PG-13 rating is more for overall content than any specific thing. That was pretty refreshing, to be honest.

Even a couple of days later, one of us will say, "you know what else I really liked about that movie...?" Maybe that's my very favorite part.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Music Monday -- Adele

I heard Adele for the first time on the radio singing her single Right as Rain. It's a great song and it really turned me on to her music. She has a great voice that is reminiscent of the old jazz singers. Plus she has a bit of soul. I have a real soft spot for the song Make You Feel My Love and she does a great rendition of this song. I also like her song Chasing Pavements. Her album is called 19 and is pretty good stuff. Take a listen!