Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Ago...

Eleven years ago, the world as we knew it was shattered.  The fanatical hatred of a few took the lives of many and altered reality for all.  This is my generation's event akin to President Kennedy's assassination or Pearl Harbor.  Those of us who were old enough to be conscious of what was happening will never forget where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, or what we thought.

For some reason, though, this anniversary brought it back stronger than even last year's 10th anniversary hullabaloo.  Maybe it's because we'd passed a significant number and I felt more complacent.  Maybe it's because it was another Tuesday morning, just like it was in 2001.  Whatever the reason, I had a terribly nervous feeling this morning as I was driving to class.  I am so glad that it was all for naught and that there was no huge re-enactment of the atrocities, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this year was different somehow.  I don't think I'm the only one because I seem to be reading more Facebook posts and news stories this year about where people were and what ceremonies are taking place.  Maybe I just couldn't handle it last year and tuned it out.

My story isn't anything special or riveting or poignant.  I was 19 and working as a bank teller in 2001, and I was blissfully unaware that morning as I watched Disney cartoons before work and listened to -- and sang passionately along with -- a Disney CD in my car. I got to work around 7:15 a.m. (I was usually a few minutes late) and waited for my coworker to arrive so we could open the bank vault and open the drive-up. I saw my coworker outside talking to the ATM maintenance lady and wondered, a little irritated, why she didn't just come inside already -- it wasn't like her to be late or to slack off. When she came inside she told me what little she knew about what was happening in New York City. The entire day we were all watching the news online between customers and the bosses dug up a tiny black-and-white TV to set up behind the teller line. When my shift ended at 12:15 I headed home and watched the news for the rest of the day, surely crying (though I don't really remember) and masochistically thirsting for information -- searching for some sign that it was all some cruel hoax or a nightmare. My sister was in high school and I went to pick her up around 3. We were both dumbstruck.  I think I was supposed to work at the Disney Store in the mall that evening -- or maybe I just talked to my boss on the phone -- but they closed the mall, I remember that much.  There was nothing to do but watch and listen and cry.

I don't personally know anybody who was killed in the attacks, but with such a long list of names representing people who remain unaccounted for I still find this postcard chilling and a bit reassuring.  Maybe that's just me, but this secret has had a strong effect on everyone who's seen it.  I feel compelled to share it here.  I hope it comforts those who may need it and does not upset anyone unduly.

Originally from PostSecret.com, found archived here.

Okay, that's all I can handle.  I need to go do some homework, cry a little bit, and go to bed.  For those of you waiting for an update on how classes are going, I promise I'll update again soon.  This week.  Promise.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

One Small Step...

It's funny...I seem to be thinking about the moon a lot lately.  For no good reason, last night while driving home I had this quote spring to mind:  "O, swear not by the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable."  (I'm not withholding juicy information here, I really don't know why I thought of this quote.)  Perhaps I was having some sort of psychic episode, because...

Neil Armstrong on the moon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

Yes, this is me standing in front of piles of
stuff in my living room.  It's a work in
progress...Forgive the mess.
For the past month or so, I've been cleaning the house -- and, because I can't help it, rearranging furniture and artwork as well.

We had a small pile of artwork that didn't have a place on the walls and in my cleaning process found homes for a couple of these pieces, including an old mirror.  There was a bare patch of wall above the stairwell and I thought it would be as good a place as any for this nice mirror -- however it felt a little rattly in the frame so I made my dad help me with it as I cleaned it before hanging it up.

This is a family mirror that my mom got through her mother's family.  Mom was out of town when we hung it up and when she walked in she said, "oh, you hung up the Babbitt mirror!"  That's more or less my knowledge of this piece -- I don't know how old the mirror is, or the frame.  They both appear to be somewhat handmade.  The metal pieces that hold the mirror glass in place are not this nice, squared or rounded pieces you find on modern, store-bought frames, and the glass itself is hand cut.

When we took the backing paper off we found a piece of poster behind the mirror glass.  It had apparently been there so long that there's a sort of watermark from the poster on the back side of the mirror.  As you can see, it's some sort of advertisement.  As one who possesses an academic mind and was raised to be curious, I was intrigued -- hence the picture, so I could look it up later.  Well, later happened today.

First of all, I deduced that the lecture advertised was to happen in 1944 -- based on the fact that lecture was an apparent benefit for the American Legion Christmas Basket Fund -- since that's the only year during war time that December 5th fell on a Tuesday.  Then I went to my good friend Google.  May I just say how much I love Google?  It's awesome (and sometimes a little bit scary) how much you can find there!  However, this time it didn't turn up what I'd hoped for:  a complete poster or reference to this specific event.  I'd first thought it was a concert benefit -- she just looks like a singer, doesn't she? -- and once I figured out that the partial line below said "lecture here" I was curious what she was lecturing about.  Oh well...what I did find was possibly more fascinating.

Apparently Edith Rogers Dahl was a singer and violin player who, during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, made a personal appeal for the release of her mercenary airman husband's release when he was captured by the Nationalists and sentenced to death by firing squad.  Whitey Dahl's release was credited to his wife's efforts.  Later, scandal erupted around the pair.  Their apparent marriage was either a hoax or a legal flub, which was later revealed when he married another woman in a Catholic church without having to bother with a divorce or annulment.  This came to light in 1941, however, so either I have the year wrong or she made her rounds on the lecture circuit still using his name.  [Actually, going to back to check on other possible dates, it appears that a more likely date would have been 1939, when December 5th was also a Tuesday, but would have been less than a year before Whitey's release.]  Whitey Dahl was followed by controversial accusations that resulted in courts-marshal years later.

I won't go into the entire story here, but it's an interesting link to something you randomly find behind a mirror.  Just goes to show you what interesting stories your home and possessions can tell you if you're willing to pay attention (and do a little research), so stay curious!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How I've Spent My Summer Vacation...So far

My very white feet and Lake Michigan.
Holy wow, it's almost the end of July and I've missed almost two months of posting!  I'm assuming that someone has noticed this...


So where have I been?  Well, this summer has been...shall we say "eventful?"  I guess it's not over yet, but I'm going to go ahead and log my 3rd-grade-ish back-to-school essay early.  So, read on if you've wondered where I disappeared to -- or if you just want to hear about my crazy summer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Working On It...

I have no idea what happened to the photos that disappeared from those couple posts, but I'm working on getting them back up.  Bear with me...If anybody even reads this anyway.

Because Every Day Should Be Mother's Day

Since I'm such a slacker, this post has been forming in my head for almost two weeks now.  I'd thought of it, but put it off to post on Mother's Day, then when Mother's Day came and went I didn't have the focus to sit down and do an actual post.  Sorry -- I got distracted by the impromptu redesign...Don't feel too sorry for my mother, though.  She did get her Mother's Day recognition.  I made waffles, as requested, for brunch and she got a nightgown and a potted Columbine plant from me and my sister, respectively.

My Mama Martha
Like any mother and daughter, my mom and I have our issues.  Most probably stem from the fact that I'm 30 years old and living with my parents because I'm too underemployed and broke to pay rent.  I do help out with some of the bills and chores around the house, so I'm not a complete parasite.  But having two stubborn women living in the same house creates a bit of an alpha-female problem.  Now, I'm not here to blame her for anything (I know we're both at fault, and we have both made efforts to adjust) and it is not my intention to air dirty laundry.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to put into words that I know I wouldn't be where or who I am without my mother.  With all the ups and downs I am happy with who I am and where I'm going in life -- even if I'm going slower than I'd like to be.  I am curious, hungry for knowledge, eager to help others, and I always try to be kind to everyone -- all of which are a direct result of her influence and example.

Mom, I know I don't say it often but I hope you know that I love you.

Now, because I'm a Disney/Pixar junkie, here's a lovely (and very appropriate) Mother's Day short/trailer for Brave.  Enjoy!


Let's face it, mothers are what makes the world go round.  They are pure love and determination personified, each and every one of them.  So happy (belated/ongoing) Mother's Day to my own mother, and all of the many wonderful mothers I am privileged to have in my life.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

More Pretties

I love playing with cameras and taking pictures of all the beauty I am blessed to witness everyday.  Seriously, although it's a bit of a drive to get anywhere, I love where I live because I get to see these views nearly every single day -- usually twice:  once on my way into town and again on my way back home.

My proper digital camera, a Kodak EasyShare P850, is now several years old and has 5.1 megapixels, but it makes up for it with a 12X optical zoom.  It was top of the line when I got it.  But now my iPhone 4S has a camera that is roughly even with my digital camera -- it has more megapixels but no zoom -- and it's a lot more portable.  So, as usual, these were taken with my iPhone 4S and the only alterations made with Photoshop were to add the watermark and resize for web publication.

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm slow about actually posting things.  If you didn't know this about me already, you should make a note of it now.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago I asked my neighbor (who happens to be an accountant) for some help sorting out my taxes.  The Turbo Tax program was telling me I owed money but I was pretty sure that wasn't right.  Sure enough, my neighbor got me sorted out and told me what form I needed to fill out and submit for everything to work out properly.  She, being the very sweet lady that she is, didn't charge me anything.  So I decided to bake her some cookies.  I figured she could use a sugar rush to get through crunch time anyway.  This was just before Easter weekend.  I'm not sure why, but I had a craving for peanut butter cookies, it just seemed like Easter cookies to me for whatever reason, but not the typical ones -- I wanted something new.  I don't know how or why, but I though of white chocolate chips.  I don't know how my brain works most of the time either, don't worry.  But out of nowhere, my new favorite cookie was born!

I ended up making the first batch just a bit more crumbly than I wanted, but I couldn't resist making another batch -- seriously, they were yummy! -- so I tweaked them then.

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from the Joy Of Cooking's peanut butter cookie recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup, packed, brown sugar
  • 1 cup peanut butter (I used creamy because that's what I had, but use what you like)
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375, or 350 if using convection.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars.
  4. Add eggs, peanut butter, and vanilla.
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients, so you don't end up with flour all over you.
  6. Add milk.  Mix until well blended.
  7. Add chips.
  8. Scoop onto cookie sheet -- I used a cookie scoop but rounded tablespoonfuls would probably be about the same.  No need to flatten, as with traditional peanut butter cookies.
  9. Bake 10-12 minutes.
  10. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.
  11. Enjoy!

Cakes!

There's a wedding on the horizon.  Not mine.  Not even that of a close friend.  A friendly acquaintance is getting married tomorrow evening (Sunday).  Very casual and sudden -- although they've been together for six years, they started planning the wedding maybe a month ago.  I got my invitation via my friend (the bride's coworker) leaving a voicemail for me last weekend.  Reminds me of what my parents' wedding must have been like more than 30 years ago.

Last night was the joint bachelor/bachelorette party.  My friend was organizing it as the sort of honorary Maid of Honor (the bride's sister decided she wasn't going to make it), and I offered to make the cakes  -- both to help my friend and as a gift to the bride and groom.  I'd never met the groom (before last night) but nevertheless I wanted to make some delicious cakes for the two of them.  Vanilla for her and chocolate with some strawberries for him.

Wednesday I had lunch with my friend Jesse and decided to stop at Michael's for some cake boxes on the way back to the school to drop him off.  Big mistake, taking Jesse into Michael's...although it worked out fairly well, I must admit.  While I was looking for the right box size (unsuccessfully) Jesse was looking at the shiny, giant "diamonds" and called my attention to a pink one.  I was already planning on dying the bride's vanilla cake pink since she's a girly girl but didn't have any embellishments for the outside.  I decided that would be the perfect topper.  Then, Jesse decided we needed to find something for the top of the groom's cake.  Naturally, this was not easy to do, but after bouncing ideas back and forth with a sales associate for a bit we ended up looking at action figure toys for a dragon.  I guess they are the only "manly" things Michael's carries.  We settled on two dragons that looked like they were battling.  Boys.  Okay, the toppers kind of made the cakes awesome in addition to delicious, so maybe next time I'll bring him in as a design consultant or something...maybe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Success!


I've done it!  I've reached my goal!  Okay, one of them -- there are several more, of course -- but I still reached it!

I've never been able to run.  I mean never.  In school we'd always have to run the mile for P.E. twice a year (at the beginning and the end of the semester as a measure for how much we'd improved) and I was always at the back of the pack.  Had to walk at least half of it because I couldn't breathe.  My asthma was diagnosed, finally, in high school so I at least had an excuse and an inhaler to try to help, but it didn't change the fact that I could never run the full mile.

...Until yesterday!  I've been slowly building up to jogging a full mile, but in separate halves.  I'd walk a bit to warm up, then jog for 6 minutes, then walk a faster pace for 10, then jog another 6 minutes, then cool down.  Yesterday I decided I wasn't going to stop at 6 minutes -- I wanted to see how long I could go.  I figured I'd get to about 8 minutes before I had to stop.  I made it the full 12 minutes, which at 5 mph is a mile is a full mile, without stopping!  First time in my life I've run a full mile without a break.  I am so unbelievably proud of myself!

Of course, I may have jumped the gun a little bit, because my ankle was already feeling a bit bruised and yesterday it was a little swollen.  I was hobbling around like a big baby yesterday at work.  Today I'm armed with Icy Hot Cream and an ACE bandage, but I'm not sure I'll be able to properly work out.  I did some yoga and stretches this morning without dying, but walking on it still hurts.  I think I'll take it easy today and see if I can make my ankle happy again.

Tomorrow, though, back on track!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Homemade Creamy Macaroni And Cheese

This is long overdue.  I'd actually intended to post this back in February, but I got distracted -- probably by something shiny or a squirrel or something.

Anyway, I'd found this recipe through Pinterest and, being a lifelong mac-n-cheese-aholic, simply had to try it out!  And I must say, Maggie over at Smashed Peas And Carrots nailed it!  I've adjusted the serving slightly since I pretty much only ever cook for myself -- and a child-sized serving rarely satisfies my craving for macaroni and cheese.  But overall, this is still her recipe.

 Homemade Creamy Macaroni And Cheese


Ingredients

4-5 ounces uncooked pasta, your choice (I like shells)

1/2 cup milk (I haven't had any significant problems using skim milk, so use whatever you like)

1/2 cup shredded cheese, your choice (I've been playing with different combinations and really like the Kraft Four Cheese blend, especially when I add some Swiss or Parmesan as well)

1 tablespoon cornstarch (I mix in just enough cold water to make a paste -- but no thinner than the milk -- just to take the edge off the floury flavor)

 Directions


1.  Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

2.  Warm the milk in the microwave for 30-60 seconds, then combine in a sauce pan with the cornstarch mixture.  Stirring often (if not constantly), warm over medium-ish heat until thickened.

3.  Add the cheese, stirring until melted and blended.

4.  Before adding to the pasta, I'll add in any extra spices here.  I know that most homemade macaroni recipes include mustard powder -- not my cup of tea.  Personally, I usually just add some pepper.

5.  Pour sauce over pasta and stir until pasta is completely covered.

6.  And voila!  If you're like me and occasionally like to add something to your macaroni and cheese, this is the time to do it.  Otherwise, it's dinnertime!

Okay, I know it doesn't look especially pretty here,
but trust me, it 's delicious!

Just Because!

Here, in Northern Colorado, we've had a very mild winter and a lovely spring already.  Because of the beautiful weather I thought I'd share a few of the better pictures I've taken capturing it.

These have all been taken with my iPhone 4S and the only alterations have been to put my watermark on them and re-size them for web publication.

Lake Loveland at twilight.

Horsetooth Reservoir at sunset.

Horsetooth Reservoir at sunset.

Monday, April 9, 2012

So That Happened...

I'm terrible at updating on a regular basis, apparently.  The iPhone app hasn't changed that, I guess...Oh well.  Things in Liberty Corner have been good, but nothing specific has happened that was fantastic or interesting enough to warrant a post about it unto itself -- or maybe I'm just lazy -- but either way, here's the great big update blob!

I have been officially accepted at UNC and plan to start taking classes in the fall.  I have only today filed my taxes so that I could finish my FAFSA, so both are going through the bureaucracy now -- or will be soon, I guess, since it's still Sunday.

The Hunger Games has become my new obsession.  Literally, I have read, watched, or listened to something pertaining to the Hunger Games every day since I started the book just before spring break.  I finished the trilogy in less than a week and saw the movie opening weekend -- and I have tentative plans to see it again when one of my friends finishes the book.  And in all my down time, or when I'm cleaning or driving, I have been listening to the audio books on repeat.  Admittedly, I'm nursing a major crush on Peeta despite the fact that he is a fictional, teenage character.  Okay, also Cinna...And Finnick...I may need help.  Fortunately, I have a few friends who have recently gotten sucked into the world of Panem as well so I can geek out with them about it.  Good thing, too, because Catching Fire was my favorite and I don't know how I'll survive the 18 months till the movie's slated release!

It almost seems like the universe knew I needed something to distract me from this latest obsession, because last night I went with my friend, Nedah, to see Christopher Moore speak in Denver and get his autograph.  The man is a very sick sort of genius -- complex yet simple, irreverent, hilarious (seriously, I've literally laughed out loud while reading every single book), and actually intelligent.  I've read all of his books, and owned all but one before the new release last Tuesday.  I ordered Sacre Bleu:  A Comedy D'Art online because it was significantly cheaper and I didn't really have time to read it during the week anyway, so when it arrived yesterday I was on my way to the signing.  I am still working on it, but it starts off with Vincent van Gogh so it's already off to a brilliant start!  And even in just the first couple chapters, reading his distinct writing style is like visiting an old friend.  Okay, maybe I need some more actual friends...

Me with Christopher Moore, Author Guy.


Me with my awesome birthday present...
even if it was almost three months late!
Thank you, Nedah!
But the friends I do have are awesome, I must admit that!  Nedah felt guilty that she hadn't gotten me a birthday present for my 30th in January.  Honestly, I hadn't even thought about it till she mentioned it.  But while we were waiting to be allowed to line up for Christopher Moore's autograph we wandered around the bookstore that was hosting the event.  I was looking for the one book missing from my collection.  The only reason I didn't own all of his previous works was because I couldn't find The Stupidest Angel on any bookstore shelves and I hadn't gotten around to ordering it online yet.  I'd read it only by checking it out from the library.  Didn't see it on the regular shelves, but once we were in line we saw one more display about 25 feet away from the signing table.  There was one copy of the book left.  Nedah, who hadn't read the book but who's a lot more assertive than I am, ran up and grabbed it before we got there in line and brought it back.  I joked that she should have him personalize it to me and give it to me as her birthday/Christmas present to me.  Totally kidding, though, because I figured I'd lost.  Then she went and found one of the people with sticky notes to get the personalization information ready.  She tried to trick me by getting her name on a sticky on top of it, but she actually did have him sign it to me for my birthday.  It was awesome!

I've been working out fairly regularly and eating well, most of the time.  Of course, there are days when I choose sleeping over hopping onto the treadmill or when I go out with friends and roughly double my caloric intake, but oh well!  I've lost 10 pounds now since my birthday almost three months ago with little yo-yo-ing and I'm excited.  I feel stronger, healthier, and more confident (though my confidence level really had nowhere to go but up) and I can tell that my clothes are fitting me differently, if they fit at all.  My favorite pair of jeans are now loose right out of the drier, but no loose enough to need the next size down...not just yet.  A random girl who works in the cafeteria at my school (work) told me I look like I've been losing weight, though, so with that sort of positive reinforcement I may be able to keep up the momentum!

Lastly, I've been reading the blog 1000 Awesome Things for a little while -- and went back to look through the archive to catch up as much as I could when I found it last year.  The author, Neil Pasricha, started it by counting down from 1000 naming many of the innumerable awesome things about life, relationships, the world, and the small things.  There are many that have been funny, as well as several that are touching and poignant.  Others are so obvious, the title is all that's needed.  The glass-is-half-full sort of perspective has even spawned two books.  Now, however, is the home stretch.  Tomorrow's post, already up now, is #9.  I am sad that something so uplifting will be ending.  I really loved the post I saw this morning on Post Secret and encourage anyone who hasn't already seen it to read it.  And for those of you who need a pick-me-up, I encourage you to read both blogs.  They're both AWESOME!

I promise I'll try to be better about posting shorter updates more often...but I can't promise it'll work!  Anyway, I'm off to read!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hoppy Easter!


Easter has never really been a big deal at my house.  We're not particularly religious and we don't have any little ones around for the Easter Bunny to make a special trip to visit.  Still, apparently the wascally wabbit decided to drop by early this morning to ruin my diet.  Darn bunny.


Still, he was very creative about where to "hide" his gifts.  My favorite, though, I didn't notice till after breakfast -- on the very clever little dinner table piece my dad made.  I wonder if that was his whole intention for the table all along.

We also have a stack of styrofoam egg cartons for recycling (we have friends who have chickens), so naturally, there was a cute, pastel dozen there as well.  I made sure to eat them all today so I didn't have any temptation tomorrow or later in the week.


So for all of you who celebrate Passover and/or Easter in the religious and/or secular traditions, I hope you had a very happy holiday.  For anyone else, I hope you had a lovely spring day!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Can't Get Enough!

Since I've been feeling so good lately, I've been finding extra joy in just about everything!  And to quote Mark Twain, "To acquire the true value of happiness you must have someone to share that happiness."  So since I don't have a special "someone" at the moment, I'll share them with you!

The first thing I can't get enough of is looking at pictures of my new niece!  My best friend, Lorajean, and her husband had baby #4 early morning March 1.  She's precious, just like my first niece and two nephews who preceded her!  Mom and baby are healthy and the family is adjusting well to the new arrival and her schedule.  I love them all and miss them terribly, as they live in Utah and I live in Colorado.  I've considered going to visit over spring break (which, for me, is next week!) but don't trust my car for the 8-hour drive each way.  Also, I could only afford the gas for said 8-hour drive if I didn't pay my bills.  No good.  Sadly, I'll have to wait to meet this precious new addition to the world, but when I do she'll know she's loved by her Aunt Liberty!

The next thing I can't get enough of is Jason Mraz's latest single, "I Won't Give Up."  It's hauntingly beautiful and sweet.  I've played this video countless times (seriously, I've lost count) and downloaded the song which has also been played repeatedly; and now it's getting some air play on my favorite local radio station.  Whenever it comes on the radio I crank up the volume as high as I can handle without going deaf.  Absolutely love Jason Mraz and everything he's ever done.  He's brilliant!

The latest thing I can't get enough of, though, is The Hunger Games!  I resisted, especially when I learned they were making a movie of it.  But really, I didn't know much about it except it was the latest book craze.  I (incorrectly) thought it was going to be another Twilight fiasco.  I should explain...My best friend -- yup, Lorajean again! -- and her family have been recommending books to me for years!  I always resist at first, I think it's just a fad or that it couldn't possibly live up to the hype.  Silly Liberty!  First she recommended Harry Potter, long before the movies were out and just at the beginning of Potter Fever so I only had the vaguest idea of what the books were.  Mostly I just knew that they were kids' books.  Cut to 12 years later when I'm still a fervent Potterhead, after all the books have been released (so far! -- I'll never give up hope for more stories of the wizarding world) and the movies have been released.  The stories and characters are a part of me in a way I never could have foreseen.  Then we started reading Eragon, which was okay.  I read the first two books of what was, at the time, to be the Inheritence Trilogy but by the time it was announced that there would be a fourth book, I'd lost momentum.  I may read the rest of the series someday, but it's not high on my reading priority list just now.  Next the entire family became engrossed in the Twilight series.  I tried to read it after it was recommended very highly by both Lorajean and her sisters, but couldn't finish even the first chapter of the first book.  Oh well, can't win them all.  This past New Year I spent time playing games and having generally too much fun with Lorajean's family (sadly Lorajean wasn't in town for the festivities) and her youngest sister was buried in a book pretty much the whole time!  I'm not sure now whether it was the first one or another in the series, but it was a Hunger Games book.  When I asked about it, another sister filled me in while the youngest continued to read.  It was interesting, but I wasn't convinced.  But slowly I've been exposed to more and more about the story and characters over the past couple months and recently acquired a digital copy to read on my iPhone -- only because there are a billion holds on both the printed and audiobook versions from the local library.  I started two days ago and am already about halfway through.  I can't put it down!  Even when I'm exhausted and my eyes don't want to stay open, I can't stop reading.  I can hardly wait to see the movie now and read the other two books -- not necessarily in that order.

I hope that this brings a smile to your face and if this is your first exposure to Jason Mraz or his latest single, The Hunger Games, or babies (just kidding!) I hope that you're not disappointed.  Let me know what you think!

How you doin'?

I had intended to post more quickly after my last post, but got swept up in things that didn't involve sitting in front of my computer.  Shocking, I know.  But here I am, back in front of my computer like the good nerd girl I sometimes pretend to be.

I've been feeling pretty good lately!  On Monday I got to work and had a student tell me I looked "springy," to which I quickly replied "I feel springy" with a big smile.  I have been a little bit tired when I stay up too late reading, yes.  A little sneezy now that my allergies are kicking in again, yes.  But overall, I've been feeling more capable, more accomplished, and more upbeat than I remember feeling so constantly in a very, very long time.  Yes, it could be partly attributed to the lovely spring weather Northern Colorado has enjoyed over the past week, but I think it's more due to my continued efforts to be healthier.

I've been walking for at least 20 minutes on the treadmill nearly every day.  I've started stretching and doing a small amount of yoga and meditation in the mornings, right after getting up. And I've been keeping track of my food intake more carefully using the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone (that's not to say that I always stay below my target caloric intake) and keeping well hydrated.  And, about two weeks ago I hit a new (recent) low for my weight.  Since then I've bounced up a bit but I'm getting back into the groove of healthy habits and the scale is reflecting that.  Since I've gotten better about recording and tracking everything over the past 6 weeks, I've lost about 6 pounds.  Over the past year, since I started paying attention and recording, I've lost 20 pounds.  Probably closer to 25, though, from my all-time high weight.  I didn't have the heart to step on a scale till after I noticed that my clothes were getting -- not loose, exactly, but less tight.

I've started feeling not only healthier and more vibrant, but actually proud of myself and my hard work and my accomplishments.  This is something new for me -- I'm rarely proud of myself outside of the classroom.  But it's true!  I've gotten so confident that I've started to venture out of my well-worn rut by actually applying to the University of Northern Colorado to begin in the fall.  I've even nearly finished my taxes and FAFSA!  And, to top it all off, I've even been flirting a little bit with a couple of the attractive men I see at work on a regular basis.  So unlike me!

This has all gotten me wondering about everybody else -- about you!  Wondering what your New Year resolutions were and whether you're still working toward them or not.  Most of us in the Western world resolve to lose weight or work out or just get healthier.  However, according to this infographic (I have no idea how accurate it is, really) by this time of year nearly half have given up!  Usually, I'm one of them,  but last year was sort of the end of my road.  I could see the health effects already beginning and didn't have any confidence to go out and meet people -- dooming myself to the depressing cycle of loneliness and emotional eating.  No more of that for me, at least not in the long term!  Sure, I know that I'll have weak times because, frankly, sometimes life sucks and gets the better of you.  But I know that I can do better and that's always good motivation.

So let me know how you're doing!  I want to know about your resolutions and whether you're still working toward them.  Be honest, too -- I'm not here to judge you, I'm just curious.  Consider this an informal poll to  verify or debunk the statistics suggested by the creator of this infographic.  Please feel free to share your experiences, advice, and stories of success and/or failure.  It's all valuable!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Caramel Corn

My mouth starts to drool a little bit every time I look at this stuff.
I've developed a bit of a caramel corn obsession.  I've really never not liked it, but lately my sweet tooth has gone absolutely crazy for the stuff!  Unfortunately, it's so not healthy.  When I do allow myself to make it it's usually gone within a day or two -- and I wish I could say that that was because I shared most of it.  Still, it's delicious and I've found a fabulous (and easy) recipe over at Our Best Bites.  However, I haven't had much luck using the microwave method Sara describes without the caramel ending up all over the place.  And for those of you who want a one-stop shop, I'll post the recipe as I have followed it.  It mostly follows what has been laid out at Our Best Bites, but with my notes and tweaks.

Easy Homemade Caramel Corn

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups air-popped popcorn -- about 1/2 cup unpopped kernels
  • 1/2 cup white Karo syrup
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup salted butter -- 1 stick 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions:

First, pop the popcorn and set it aside.  I sort the unpopped kernels out as I transfer to a humongous bowl while the caramel is cooking, but you can also do this beforehand.  Definitely remove and hard or unpopped pieces before adding the caramel, though!

Next, mix the Karo syrup, brown sugar, salt, and butter in a sauce pan and set on low to medium -- enough to melt the butter and get it bubbling a bit.  Keep an eye on this, though.  I used a non-stick pan so it wouldn't burn to the bottom, but if you choose not to use non-stick you'll probably want to keep stirring it fairly often.  I leave it bubbling on the stove, stirring every few minutes or so, for about five minutes on a medium heat so if you opt for the lower setting leave it on a bit longer.  Then, mix in the baking soda and vanilla.  It'll bubble a bit from the vanilla and it'll smell amazing!

With the popcorn in a very large bowl -- you don't want to lose any as you mix it all together because (1) it's delicious and (2) it's hot -- pour the caramel over and mix with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula.  Spread onto a cookie sheet or onto aluminum foil for it to cool before eating -- I promise it's worth the wait!

Now this last step is optional, but I like my caramel corn just a tiny bit crunchy so I baked it for 20 minutes at 300 degrees (convection), turning the caramel corn over and mixing a bit halfway through.

Perfection!  I may have to start making smaller batches so I can't pig out on it so much...but where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Holy crap, is it February 14th already?!  Dang.

To be perfectly honest, Valentine's Day has never been my favorite holiday.  I've just had too many without a sweetheart to truly appreciate it.  In fact, I have been known to call it "Singles' Awareness Day."  But, since the rest of the world is overtaken with hearts, cupids, doves, ribbons, red, pink, and sweets I thought I might as well join in on that last one.

I had a terrible craving for something sweet last week and decided to try making Caramel Corn.  It was amazing and, aside from the caramel overflowing in the microwave (even after upgrading it to a larger measuring cup), a complete success.  So when I realized I didn't have what I needed to make the valentines I originally had in mind, I decided to do a popcorn treat.  So I searched Pinterest, I Googled, and eventually I decided on two treats.

For the first, I decided to take a cue from Sara at OurBestBites.com and cheat a little bit with the caramel corn recipe, using white sugar instead of brown and adding red gel food coloring.  Worked rather well, until I baked it, when it turned more orangey-brown.  Still, it tastes delicious and it's not too off color because I shortened the baking time when I noticed the change.

For the second, I followed the recipe as instructed for Fruity Candy Popcorn, using Strawberry Jell-O.  Loved it -- it made my whole kitchen smell good!  However, I'd popped a full 1/2 cup of kernels, too much popcorn for one batch to coat it to my satisfaction so I had to hurry and make a second batch.  I recommend either making sure you measure your popped popcorn or making a double batch to begin with.

After letting them cool, I broke the popcorn up into pieces and placed them in sandwich baggies.  Then, I made tags for them.  Nothing fancy, just used Microsoft Word and I "borrowed" some past xkcd comics to decorate them.  Since it is Valentine's Day, I must declare my love for xkcd.  It's snarky and smart and silly and just plain awesome.  Okay, I'm done gushing now.

The right half is the red-ish-colored caramel, the left half is the Strawberry.  There were 19 baggies-worth (very unscientifically eyeballed instead of measured or weighed) after I'd finished taste testing.

The comic on the strawberry bags (left) is here.  The comic on the caramel bags (right) is here.  And the bottom one is in reference to this year's Valentine's comic, here.  One particular friend and I were giggling over it yesterday so I wanted to include that, since she didn't think she'd get any valentines today.

So there you have it, my Valentine's Day plans.  Tonight I'll be watching Glee, The New Girl, and Raising Hope and probably munching on any leftover popcorn (or maybe I'll make yet another batch if there are no leftovers) and going to bed earlier than I did last night.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Daddy's Birthday

Happy birthday, Daddy!

In the past year or two I've been discovering baking and cooking.  And since I became a Pinterest addict last summer, seeing all of those incredible ideas and recipes has inspired me to expand my repertoire.  However, since I've also been trying to lose weight, as has my entire household, I needed actual reasons to make some of the more decadent and delicious desserts.


Well yesterday was my dad's birthday.  I asked him last week what kind of cake he wanted for the occasion -- fully expecting him to reply with his favorite "Sunshine Cake."As cakes go, Sunshine Cake isn't bad -- really, is there such a thing as a bad cake? -- but it's fairly basic:  some sort of yellow butter or buttermilk cake and chocolate frosting.  However, Daddy is full of surprises and wanted to ponder it for a while.  No problem!


Now, my dad loves peanut butter.  Not really to the obsessive, everything-must-be-peanut-butter-flavored level, but he does love the stuff.  I had recently stumbled across a random pin on Pinterest for a peanut butter cake.  I'd never though of such a thing so the idea stuck with me although it didn't particularly interest me, aside from the immediate thought, "I'll bet Daddy would love that!"

So, being the patient woman that I am, I asked him every day for the next few days if he'd decided on a cake yet.  After a couple days he was still pondering and I made the suggestion.  He thought about it for about a second before deciding that was exactly what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday.  I asked him what kind of frosting he wanted and he said peanut butter.  Of course!



So I spend the next couple days searching online for good recipes for peanut butter cake and frosting.  I finally decided on this one from AllRecipes.com but I couldn't just leave well enough alone; I had to tweak it as I went.  Partly because, living in Colorado, I have to adjust nearly every recipe for high altitude.  And partly because, well...it's fun!  So here's my recipe as it developed:


Cream 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup softened butter, and 3/4 cup sugar in a mixer.  Add 2 eggs, one at a time, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and mix well.  Sift or whisk 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder together.  Add to creamed mixture in 3 parts, alternating with 1 cup milk in 2 parts.


Here, I discovered that this recipe was not intended for multi-layer cakes.  But I persevered and divided the batter between two 9" round pans I had coated with Wilton's Cake Release.  If you follow this recipe, be sure to level the cakes as well as you can before baking them.  This batter doesn't level itself out much, and I could still see some of the spreading pattern from my spatula.  They will dome a bit, though.  In an attempt to prevent doming, since I didn't have much cake to begin with I lowered the temperature and extended the time.  They baked at 300 (convection) for 30 minutes at first, then I added more time.  I think I ended up baking them for around 40-50 minutes, but since they were thin layers that helped speed things up.  Still, in the end I think I may have slightly over-baked them because it came out a bit dry.  Not horrible, just not moist.  Oh well.


For the frosting, cream 1/3 cup peanut butter1/4 cup softened butter, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract in a mixer.  Sift together 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and 3 cups confectioners' sugar.  Add to creamed mixture in 3 parts, alternating with 1/3 cup milk in 2 parts.  Mix until smooth.


This was when I discovered that I'd have to double the frosting recipe because I was doing the layers.  I did end up having a bit left over at the end, but I figure it's almost like Nutella so it'll get eaten up.












Completely frosted.  Yum...!
I used some peanut butter chips that were in the cupboard to pretty it up a bit. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Perspective

Earth And Moon From Mercury, MESSENGER, acquired May 6, 2010  Credit: NASA/JHU APL/CIW

I've had a stressful couple of days.  I've had a couple consecutive late nights and (probably due to lack of sleep) started feeling pretty ill Friday night.  Bills are coming in daily -- the collection calls seem to be coming in hourly -- and I still have no money with which to pay them.  And now I've been told by someone I care a great deal about that my friendship is "just stress that [I'd] rather avoid"...Ouch.  Admittedly, I spent yesterday either on the couch or my bed watching TV, replaying every aspect of our relationship, and feeling sorry for myself.  I know, not very productive.

Then, this morning I saw this photograph posted by Earth on Google+ and it sort of comforted me.  Not sure why this image in particular did the job -- maybe it was just the timing and the fact that I hadn't seen it before.  I knew already that my problems, overwhelming as they may seem on a daily basis, aren't even a blip on the radar, but something about seeing the proof of it is nice.

And yes, I have looked at job listings on Craigslist and I plan to apply and distribute resumes tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thinking Dragons

Chinese New Year 2012, Year of the Dragon

Happy Chinese New Year.  Yes, I may be a couple days late but according to ChinaFlowers.net the festival lasts for 15 days.  So there.  Anyway, happy Year of the Dragon to everyone.


I've been feeling a little off the past couple days...Not actually sick, per se, but tired and for no real reason.  Maybe it's the weather or maybe it's a tiny touch of my sister's cold from last weekend.  Either way, I've been feeling more like hibernating than doing just about anything else.


When I'm tired I tend to start living in my head -- more than usual.  I've thought about how to find a second job so that I can pay the bills that keep coming even when the paychecks don't.  I've been thinking a lot about getting more information about starting school again and doing the paperwork for my Associate of Science Degree, which is the only thing standing in my way -- I have all of the credits.


And I've thought about designing again.  Still don't have ideas solid enough that, when I sit down with pencil and paper I know how to begin, but it seems like I'm always thinking about it.  When I drive, I look around me at buildings, landscapes, and just the general layout of cities and I can't help but want to improve upon it.  Maybe it's my obsessive-compulsive tendencies to want to tweak and perfect everything.  Maybe it's just what I'm supposed to do with my life.


Still, I can't afford the move to Boston and the architecture school I really want to attend so I need to start smaller.  I'm planning to look more closely at programs through the University of Northern Colorado and hopefully get back on track.  And, since I do love my job as a tutor, I think the next logical step along that road is teaching.  Math teachers seem to always be in demand so I'm confident that I could get a job, despite the dreary job market and slashed educational budgets everywhere.  Still, if nothing else, it would allow me to charge more for tutoring and would help me get through graduate school at Boston Architectural College, if I ever get there and am accepted.


How pathetic am I that I'm tired and ready for bed before 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night?  The answer is "very."  But oh well, I am what I am.  Goodnight!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hello, Germany!

Germany Travel Guide - with Wired Destinations

I've been doing a lot of housekeeping and tweaking on my blog, as one is wont to do at the beginning of a new venture, and while doing so have been checking the viewership statistics.  While I'm sure many of the hits are me (despite telling Blogger not to count my visits) there is one location that I am quite positive is not me.  I am not the one visiting from Germany.  But, to whoever is coming to see what's going on in Liberty Corner all the way from Germany I say, "Guten tag," and "dankeshon!"


I know one person who lives in Germany, a friend I met in 7th grade who was born there and moved back for graduate school.  I know the odds of my German visitor being Pinky are not great but just in case -- are you thinking what I'm thinking?  If you're not Pinky, please feel free to ignore that question.


I regret that I know little about Germany, really.  I know, of course, of it's involvement in both World Wars and the Berlin Wall.  I also know, vaguely, that it is the land that has given the world incredible minds, music, architecture, cars, and (of course) Bavarian chocolate.  I also know that many of the truly breathtaking castles of the world are in Germany.  I could rattle off a few names or specific events, but that would mean little and could just as easily have come from Wikipedia.  But now your visit has whet my curiosity and I will see what else I can add to this pathetically short list of German culture.


I hope you enjoy your visit and please come back regularly!

I had a dream...

Image Credit & Copyright: Claudio Santana


A couple nights ago I had a dream that has sort of haunted me.  I don't often remember my dreams, but this one I can't seem to forget.  In my dream I was with a group escaping a sudden eruption of a previously unknown volcano just outside Loveland, a bit south of where I live.  It wasn't a graphic explosion, but I remember wondering if people were alright and where everyone I cared about was.  I was escaping with a sort of random group of people I didn't know and my friend Stacie, though I don't remember any interaction -- I just remember seeing her red car behind me as we fled.  I remember seeing beautiful vistas from the mountain we were driving/climbing up to get away from everything, across a nonexistent valley from the volcano with Loveland at the bottom, and taking pictures and trying to post them to Facebook.  Yeah, no idea what that's supposed to mean...So I looked it up.

I've found a couple interpretations; here's the first:
Volcano
To see a volcano in your dream indicates that you are unable to control your emotions, particularly if the volcano is erupting. You are ready to burst. The outcome may be damaging and hurtful, especially to those around you.
But I think I like this one better:
Divine Power

Volcanoes are often associated with gods and goddesses. In fact, the very name "volcano" comes from the Roman god Vulcan, a smith-worker who perfected his craft via the fire from the bowels of the earth, the place he called home. Even today, volcanoes are associated with the power of divinity. Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, volcanoes and lightning, is a prime example of the association between divine power and volcanoes. 

Dreams of volcanoes can, in fact, symbolize the divine, or an encounter with an awesome force. It can indicate a profound change that is taking place within the psyche, a radical shift in awareness, or an outpouring or eruption of the contents of the unconscious. 

Encounters with the divine can be awesome, and shifts in the psyche can result in powerful, positive life changes. However, exercise caution when doing spiritual work or when attempting to make contact with the divine. Volcanoes are awesome displays and miraculous to witness when erupting--but one can only take in the beauty and fully comprehend the miracle from a distance. Be an active avenue in which the Divine can flow, but don't expect to swim in lava and emerge unscathed.
Now, I'm not convinced that either of these explain my dream.  It very well could have been something completely random.  Still, it's kind of fun to think about the possibilities of seeing something truly profound and prophetic while we sleep.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

New!

PostSecret
New year, new blog, new perspective...new me?  Maybe.

So now I'm 30 years old...now what?  I still live with my parents because I can't afford to live on my own with my very part-time job as a tutor, which I love.  I am still overweight and out of shape even after losing 15-20 lbs. since this time last year.  I have a lot of stuff (junk) that I do not need or particularly want, but have or had a peculiar urge to acquire or keep for that one "what if" scenario in which it would be helpful.

This year is going to be bringing some changes for me because I can't stand the thought of things staying the same.  I am going to get healthy; I am going to get financially stable; I am going to get organized and pare down my possessions to only those I need or love.  And along the way, I will get back on the path to my degree and, simply by virtue of accomplishing all of this, become a stronger, braver, more capable and confident, complete person.

So maybe I am still just the same old me, after all.