Thursday, July 5, 2007

Cool drinks for a hot summer

Here it is July already, and it's been a hot one. I can't blame the heat for my lack of blogging, but I can credit it for a spurt of inspiration I had in the kitchen. While searching for a nice cool drink to serve, I came up with the following, which was adapted from an Orange Julius recipe.

Pina Colada (my version)
6 oz frozen pineapple juice concentrate
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp rum exract
1 tray of ice cubes

Combine all the above ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Orange Julius
6 oz frozen orange juice concentrate
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tray of ice cubes

Combine all the above ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Old Dog, New Trick

I'm not that old, really, but I feel like an old dog who's learned a new trick.
When I was young, a traditional part of Christmas was the puzzle. It was placed on a card table, near the piano, and anyone who came in was invited to sit down and put in a piece. Some years there would even be two puzzles, one at our house and one at my aunt's. I liked the idea of it. I liked the thought of gathering around the table, chatting, sifting through pieces, working together to create order from chaos. However, no matter how long I sat and stared, I never, well, almost never, found a piece that fit. I just didn't have the knack for it. Eventually, I gave up even trying, but I still liked the idea of it.
I guess it was that idea that spurred me into buying a puzzle for our family this Christmas. It was a "mystery" puzzle, one that had a story with it, and putting together the puzzle was supposed to help solve the mystery. I figured that since this would be the kids' first experience of putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, the mystery part of it would entice them to stick with it.
The mystery part of that puzzle turned out to be a bust. It was so badly written that putting the puzzle together didn't help one bit. However, the bigger mystery turned out to be how puzzle-challenged me had turned into someone who could actually put together multiple pieces. And, even more amazing, it was fun. So much fun that I got another puzzle for Easter.
This puzzle was also a mystery, "Da Vinci Code Quest," it was called and when I bought it I had the feeling it was of better quality than the last. When we opened it, we found out that not only was it better written, it really was a mystery. There was no picture to show us what the puzzle should look like when completed. Just a few hints in the story. EEEK!. Was I ready for that?
I guess I was, because we completed the puzzle. We solved the mystery. And I'm looking for an excuse to go out and buy a new one. Not only has this old dog learned a new trick, she's hooked.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One Thing I Don't Regret

I sat down to write today and ended up spending an hour reading reports on the Virginia Tech shooting. The headline that struck me the most was, "He was a loner." That was exactly how the gunman who killed 5 people at the Trolley Square mall was described. And that got me thinking about loners I have known.
In High School I knew a few, but there was one in particular who comes to mind. He drove a truck with a shot gun in the back window. And looking back it scares me to think how easy it would have been for him to bring that shot gun into the school and take out a few people. In his mind, he probably would have had reason to. He was unpopular in his class, teased and ridiculed by many.
However, I wouldn't have called him friendless. I was his friend. And so was my cousin. 
A couple of weeks ago I went to a forum at UVSC. There was an author there who writes about troubled youth, and he talked about a novel he wrote, one about a school shooting. He had been inspired to write it, he said, after a school shooting near his home in Washington. In the aftermath, people were trying to make some sense out of it and one man told his story. He said he understood how the gunman felt, because he'd felt that way himself. One day he reached the point where he was ready to go home and come back the next day with a gun. But on his way out of the school, one of the popular jocks put a hand on his shoulder and said something as simple as, "Hey, how ya doin'." And that did it. Just being achknowledged diffused his anger. He didn't do the terrible thing he had been contemplating.
I thought about that story today. And I thought about my friend in high school. I'm not sure where he is or what his life is like, but I do know we all made it through High School without suffering from his wrath. I don't credit my friendship for that. But I do know that of all the things I regret in High School, and there are a few of them, I don't regret being friends with a loner.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fruit Dip

This is so simple, but I get lots of requests for the recipe.

8 oz pkg. cream cheese
7 oz container marshmallow cream
juice from one lemon or one lime

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Serve with any kind of fruit.
Note: I just tasted someone else's version of this recipe. She used orange juice and some grated orange rind. It was tasty. I still think lime is my favorite, though.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Neighborhood Tragedy

It's been a week since it happened. I think I can write about it now.
Last Tuesday, my daughter had a dentist appointment. On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store to get some tylenol for her and I heard sirens when I got out of the car. I didn't think much about it because there are always accidents on the busy road there. But when I was in the store, I got a phone call from my son. 
"Mom," he said. "Something happened. There was an explosion and a house in our neighborhood is on fire." He sounded upset, so I quickly finished my checkout and ran out to the car. I could see the plume of smoke from there. On the drive home I kept thinking, please let it be one of the houses under construction. The closer I got, the more traffic and emergency vehicles I saw. My son was outside when we drove up and we walked over to my neighbor's yard where several people were gathered. We had a clear view from there, about 6 lots to the west, of the house burning---what was left of it, anyway. The whole backside of the house had just disappeared. We could see the rooms inside and a couch had been blown onto the roof of the house next door.
"It's the Roper's house," one of my neighbors said. "And April's still inside."
I'm not sure how long we stood there, watching. News trickled in from various neighbors. A gas man had also been inside with April. Her little girl, Olivia, was safe. Her husband was safe also, but completely distraught.
Life Flight came and landed. At first, we were hopeful. But it didn't take off. Another life Flight landed. It eventually took off, and we heard it had taken little Olivia to the hospital---just a precaution, we heard, she only had minor scrapes.
The evening wore on. The fire was under control, then it started up again. Smoke filled the neighborhood and we all smelled of smoke, too. Still no word on April.
News helicopters circled overhead. I wandered up to the police line and saw reporters gathered there, interviewing eyewitnesses. Was I an eyewitness? No, I told them.
The longer I watched the more I felt like I needed to do something. I saw a Red Cross truck drive by, so I went and offered my assistance. They had it under control, they said. The Relief Society President was there, too. She gave me a couple of jobs to do. One was taking a meal to a neighbor who had been outside the house with April's little girl. I heated up some frozen soup, but she wasn't home when I got there. I was able to help round up a propane heater for the families who were gathered outside, waiting for news. It was something.
News finally came around 10:00 pm. They found the bodies in the basement.
Tractors worked all night and by the next morning the house had been razed to the ground. But I still saw it all in front of me, the fire, water arching onto it, the smoke, helicopters and sirens. All day long snatches of conversation rolled around in my head, people telling where they'd been, what the blast had felt like. My neighbor's voice, "April's still inside."
I didn't know her well at all. They were new to the neighborhood. We'd paused in the hall on Sunday to repeat each other's names. And now, I would never have the chance to get to know her.
In the week since it happened, the images have faded a bit. After the first two days, I was able to go longer and longer without thinking about it. We've heard stories of the Lord preparing and protecting that little family, which have brought comfort. I'm sure that April is in a good place. I'm sure she'll do a good work where she is. But still, I feel for her husband. He must miss her so. And I feel sad for her 18 month old daughter, who probably won't remember her mother. I feel sad for the the rest of us, too, who will never have the chance to get to know and love April.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Good Mystery

I like a good mystery, especially a historical one. My favorites are the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters and the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Cadfael is a monk in the middle ages, Amelia an Egyptologist in the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries.
I've recently discovered a new mystery series that I'm excited about. This one, too, is historical, and is called "The Lady Grace Mysteries". It's written as the daybooke ( a kind of journal, I guess) of Lady Grace, a young maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth 1. Lady Grace uses the vocabulary of the time period and has a spunky, funny personality, which I find a plus in any book, even a mystery. Though geared toward middle-grade readers, teens and adults would enjoy it too--at least, I did. As far as the mystery goes, it didn't take me long to figure out what was going to happen, but the solution of the puzzle was only half the fun.
The series follows the alphabet. So far I've read Assasin and Betrayal. The author isn't credited on the cover of the book, but it's Patricia Finney.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Doughnut Fry

We had a doughnut fry yesterday. But before I write about that, I have to mention this. I seem to have an unusually strong connection with the past. I'm sure that many of the things that I like to make or do seem old-fashioned. And that is exactly why I do them.
For instance, I like to knit. And one of the reasons I knit is because it reminds me of my grandma. When I sit and make that soft tic-tic sound with my needles, it's as if grandma is right there beside me, her hands busy as they always were. If ever a turkey dressing is required, I can only make her recipe. It doesn't matter that I've seen hundreds of different recipes, and some of them actually sound good. If I'm going to make it, it has to be hers. The same thing goes for pie. Perish the thought of making anything other than my mother's pie crust recipe.
And so, back to doughnuts.
Making doughnuts requires a wintry day. It's best if you've been out sledding or tubing and come in to warm up and find hot, crispy doughnuts waiting. At least, that's the way it was for me and my cousins when I was growing up. In fact, the only time we had homemade doughnuts was after a full day in the snow. We'd come home to hot chili, cocoa, and Aunt Ann's steaming, crispy doughnuts, fresh from the fryer.
That's the ideal, anyway. And I've attempted to recreate that mood a couple of times in the past. But it didn't happen yesterday. It was wintry, but we didn't play in the snow. I made up a batch of dough, then we sat down and settled into an involved game of Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights. We fried the doughnuts later, after Jeff had proved himself, once again, the master of games in our family. The girls helped cut them, I did the frying, and Tamsyn dunked them in glaze. Megyn ended up with a splash of hot oil on her finger, but it wasn't bad enough to spoil the fun. We enjoyed them with hot cocoa and sticky fingers.
Would it have been easier to run to the grocery store and buy some? Sure, but who said passing along tradition was easy?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Seeking the Balance

I've never been good at a journal. And that's ironic, because one thing I feel strongly is that we need stories, we need to hear them and we need to share them. And so, here is my attempt to share some stories of my life---and maybe a few other things along the way.
But first, here is my pledge for this blog: I will try to strike a balance.
Let me explain. Way back when, when I was called to be a missionary, I determined that all of my letters home would be positive. And I was pretty successful at that goal. There were days when it was hard to find anything positive to write about. But I'd begin anyway, forcing myself to find the good in the week. Usually, by the end of the letter, something interesting had happened. Not only had I found something good, but I felt better, too. It was a good exercise in the power of positive thinking.
However, there was a downside to my approach. When I read those letters now, I don't see a true vision of my mission. Yes, it was a great time, and those letters show that, but that's almost all they show. Some of them are almost obnoxious in their up-ness. I can think of two letters in the whole 18 months worth, where I took off my happy face and wrote about a difficulty I was having.
And so, I'm seeking the balance, not only in this blog, but in my life. There has to be one there somewhere, that tricky line between focusing on the positive, and acknowledging the negative. If anyone has been successful in finding it, I'd love to hear how they did it.