Friday, April 27, 2012

People in the Public Eye

I don't consider myself to be star-struck by any means...  I'm not one to "ooh and ah" over anyone's every breath but rather, I look at people with some sort of celebrity status (whether they are a movie star,  politician or a Church authority) as a normal person who's job puts their every move under the microscope of public scrutiny.

Still there are some people who I find very interesting.

Bristol Palin is one of those interesting people.  She has a blog that I follow, Bristol's Blog.  Is it a campaign trick for her mother's political ambitions?  Or a publicity stunt to boost sales of her book?  Perhaps.  But now and then it's fun to take a glimpse into the life of a well-known and sometimes controversial family.  A family, who celebrity status notwithstanding, looks an awfully lot like most families I know with their own struggles and moments of joy.

Awhile back, Bristol put up this post about why she is (now) choosing abstinence before marriage.  While I agree with her that it is best to put solid commitment before a sexual relationship, not everyone sees it that way.  And that's ok... we all have the agency to choose for ourselves in this life.  What I think surprised me is the attack mentality of those who disagree.  It is Bristol's blog... her forum to share her ideas and beliefs.

Just like this blog is my forum to put my thoughts into words.  It's my space to share the things that are important to me.  Your approval, while appreciated, isn't necessary.  I'm going to keep telling my story in my voice.

I hope Bristol Palin keeps her voice as well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lilacs Are In Bloom!

I love lilacs!  Especially these big, substantial looking, darker purple ones.   Wish I could capture their intoxicating fragrance for a wonderful potpourri.

My childhood home in Shelley had 2 very old 'lilac trees' or bushes that had been pruned over many decades so that there were huge twisted trunks with peeling bark.  Many dolly tea parties were held in the shade below...  I love that my home in Salt Lake has the same sort of lilac tree, though not nearly as big and old and gnarled, over the back of the garage with a juniper towering above and purple grapes on the fence below

With storms moving in for tonight and tomorrow they'll probably be thrashed so I took this opportunity to capture a few photos.

Can't you almost imagine the luscious heady scent wafting through the air from these beautiful blooms?

Lilacs are one of the flowers that remind me of happy childhood memories and the start of a carefree summer.  In Idaho, where the season is a bit later, lilacs were among the flowers we picked fresh in the yard to decorate family graves for Memorial Day. After a visit to the cemetery we often had a picnic and, if we were really lucky, a swim in the warm mineral pools at Heise Hot Springs.

I truly love the lilac time of year!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Clean Up Day

I'm sure there is an annual clean up day in many communities around the world.  But for those of you who, like I did, find this a  strange new idea... clean up day is a designated day where you can haul junk to the curb that doesn't fit your every week trash can and the municipality comes around with a big truck to gather it up and haul it away.

We have such a thing in Salt Lake City!

Each year, a few weeks ahead of time, the City mails an over-sized postcard telling us the date of pickup, when it's acceptable to start moving trash to the curb and a reminder of the rules for what can be in our junk piles.  The dates rotate through all of the neighborhoods so everyone has a chance sometime during every year between March and October (I think).  We never know until the postcard arrives if our clean up day will be early in the spring or late in the fall.

When I moved here from rural Southeast Idaho, it was my first experience with a clean up day and over the years I've observed this ritual with many different emotions.  First was curiosity; almost overwhelming curiosity.  Then came a sort of disgust that the same people could accumulate so much junk year after year.  Later, I felt a bit of satisfaction as I joined the many roving 'curb shoppers' and scored some lawn furniture, planters, canning bottles and an antique dining table.  Some years I've felt relief as I had an abundance of trash that needed to be hauled away.  Other times I've sat inside and watched in utter amusement as car after car stops out front to rifle through my trash in search of their treasures.  In fact I'm watching someone out there right now!

This is my contribution for Salt Lake's Spring Clean Up 2012.  There's some rubble from tearing down the old patio structure in the back, a few odd pieces of dry wall from some minor remodeling in the basement, carpet scraps from the downstairs bedroom and a broken picnic table.  Long gone are the old metal electrical box and a couple of lengths of pipe... those are the prizes for the curb shoppers as they can be scrapped for cash.

Today is the day the truck begins in my neighborhood.  Most years, my pile gets picked up on the first day.  I'm kind of hoping to be a little farther into the cycle this round because there's still junk I'd like to add to the pile.

And I will keeping adding to it until I see the City's trucks headed down my street!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Trial Run

Off and on for a long time I've talked about a dream I have to adopt some kids.  In my mind I've always had a preference for a 2-3 child sibling group.  I've read (and re-read many times) all the information on adoption websites and felt the heart-tugs during Wednesday's Child presentations both on TV and on the web.  But I've always held back from making that first phone call to start the process because of doubts about if I could make a great parent and if I even qualified under the State of Utah's rules.   But it's time to either move forward or give up the dream and right now I have the opportunity to test my commitment, patience, sanity, endurance and probably lots of other skills I can only hope I possess while stretching my suffering finances a little farther.  I have a roommate moving in for a few months with 5 kids - 4 teen girls and a 5-year old boy.

One day soon I'll ask Tami (the mom) to share her story of just how much can go wrong in life and where she finds her resilience as she works to right their situation and create happy and meaningful memories for her kids... but for now I'd like you to meet the Nelson family:  Tami, Morgan, Rachel, Nikki, and Sarah (to the left) and the handsome little man, Jake (with mom, below).

So... if you see my focus drifting to more family-oriented topics and activities and "we" taking the place of "I" in these posts, you know why.  I'm going to be learning what life looks like with children in the home 24/7 and how to organize, prioritize and keep boundaries with them in mind.  It's going to be quite the experience!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

A few weeks ago a friend asked to store some things in my garage while she moved.  Moving got a bit of a wrinkle in it so her things have been there somewhat longer than anticipated but she has been organizing (I needed my lawn mower and garden tools to be accessible) and getting things sorted out after her helpers just kind of stuffed it in any which way.  In doing that she's unearthed several boxes of food and gave them to me.  In many cases much more than I will ever use, so I'm going to be looking to re-gift many items.

This morning, since it's too cold and rainy for me to want to be out in the garden so far, I've been looking through a collection of fancy oils, vinegars and other seasonings. With labels lacking storage instructions for after the bottle was opened, and because my mom put opened vinegar bottles in the fridge, I always had done that too.  But you don't need to... I learned a cool dark cupboard is ideal.  And even a bit of exposure to heat and light isn't going to destroy the quality of the vinegar.

I found the historic lore of balsamic vinegar, or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, on the website of The Napolean Co. quite interesting.

Vinegar is one of the oldest fermented products known to man.  The word vinegar comes from the French words for wine, “vin”, and “aigre”, meaning sour, which in turn came from the Latin “vinum acer”.  Vinegar in Italy is named “aceto” for the aerobic bacteria that produces vinegar rather for the wine from which it is made.  The Babylonians were making vinegar as early as 5000 B.C.  Hippocrates recommended vinegar for its medicinal benefits as early as the 5th Century, B.C.  “Balsamico” derives its name from the word “balm” (rooted in the Latin balsalum), which refers to an aromatic odor/resin, a healing or soothing medicine or aromatic, a medicinal substance possessing a spicy fragrance as well as stimulant qualities.  (It has nothing to do with balsa wood).  It is also reported to have been used as an aphrodisiac, a gargle, and tonic, in addition to its use as an air purifier against the Black Plague.  Written records mentioning special vinegars made in the town of Modena (a historic town west of Bologna) and long aging in wood barrels date to the 11th century.  It appears, however, that the first Balsamic was preserved/barreled by the Este Family in the Hodgna region around 1300.  The earliest written recordings of Balsamic date back to 1747, where it is mentioned in the vintage books and sale records of the Este Family.  By the 19th century, heads of state knew Archduke Francesco Tu for his “aceto del duca”, which he gave as a symbol of friendship.
If you decide to give balsamic as a gift, you’re in royal company - Count Boniface of Modena presented a barrel as a gift to Emperor Henry III of the Holy Roman Empire.   In those days, balsamic was consumed primarily as a drink or a digestif…it was kept in the family, passed from generation to generation, as it aged.  New barrels were started at birth, and given away at weddings.
 A little farther into their webpage, there are a number of ways to use balsamic vinegar beyond the expected oil and vinegar salad dressings.  Thinking on which to try first:

  • to give flavor depth to soups and stews
  • drizzled over meats and vegetables
  • splash over fresh berries
  • pour over Brie
  • as a marinade for chicken or duck
  • drizzled over vanilla ice cream
  • blended into pasta

I first started using balsamic vinegar 7-8 years ago after visiting Portland OR for work and having a tomato salad at the Portland Chop House (seemingly now closed) at Embassy Suites.  It was simply sliced heirloom tomatoes with a bit of freshly cracked black pepper and parmesan shavings drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction.   And it was so wonderful that I started trying to recreate it with my own garden tomatoes.  Even after all these years, I've not quite got the reduction perfected but the experiments have been so very enjoyable!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Patio Lanterns & Pesto

Last summer my dearest friend, Heidi, shared a recipe for a Green Bean Pesto Salad that is both heavenly and healthy.  You'll find the recipe at the end of this post and I hope you'll try it because it is delish!  Making it (and just using the pesto on pasta) a "few" times left me with a whole bunch of cute little jars.  Even though they are imprinted Atlas Mason in the glass, and  look to be about the same size as a jelly jar, the top is smaller than any canning sealers and rings I've found.  So... they are becoming a craft/garden art project and finding new life, with the help of a roll of concrete tie wire, as hanging patio lanterns for some soft candle light on summer evenings.

I probably should have used gloves when cutting and bending the wire but you know I didn't bother with safety precautions.  And even with my reckless behavior no fingers were bloodied or permanently maimed in the process.  You can find the tie wire in a roll with the concrete and related supplies at any home improvement store.  I got mine at Lowes for less than $5.  You'll also need wire cutters, needle nose pliers and an abundance of patience.

Here's the steps:

Cut a length of wire big enough to wrap around the neck of the jar plus enough to twist the ends together to secure in place.  Don't twist it down yet, however.  Cut 2 pieces of wire about 1 inch long and form each into a small ring.  Place them on each side of the jar - this is how the handle/hanger will be secured.  Slip them onto the wire you wrapped on the jar neck and twist it down securely.  Next, form the handle/hanger.  Cut a length of wire approximately 9 inches long and using the pliers form a curly-q at each end then bend the wire up just above each curly-q and into an arch that will span the top of the jar.  It took some work and frustration and even some not-so-nice words to get the curly-qs even but with time and patience it can be done.  You can get a better look at this piece viewing the finished lantern above.

Then I decided that I wanted a bit more length in my handle/hanger and made 3 of these S shaped pieces using about 5 inches of wire for each.  They slip apart easily so if 2 ends up making the length I want it to hang that's easily accomplished.

I also made a hook for hanging it using an approximate 6-inch length of wire.

And a little dangly with some flower shaped beads to add a spot of color, movement and visual interest.

So what do you think of my first attempt at a wire project?

I'm pretty happy with it in all its quaint, rustic and imperfectedness.  Maybe by the time I finish a dozen of them I'll have it mastered!

And now, the recipe that got this whole project started:

Heidi's Green Bean Pesto Salad

1 Cup Fresh Cut Green Beans
1 tsp Sea Salt
3 Cups Cooked Salad Macaroni
1 Cup Diced Mozzarella
6-7 oz Pesto with Basil

Cover green beans with water, add sea salt, and cook until water is gone. Let beans cool then mix all ingredients together. Serve.

My Notes: I like green beans to still be a little crispy so I picked fresh from the garden and just tossed them in with the pasta the last few minutes of cooking and then drained and cooled all in a big colander with ice cold water. The crispiness added a nice texture. I also added a bit of parmesan to the mix and used half again more mozzarella. It's a family size recipe, more than I could eat in one day, and it dried out a little storing overnight in the fridge so I tossed with a tiny drizzle of olive oil the second (and again the 3rd) day.  Perfecto!

I've shared this post at FarmGirl Friday Blog Hop! #53 on White Wolf Summit Farmgirl.

Facebook Funnies

It's time for a new edition of The Facebook Funnies...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Cleaning

As the weather has fluctuated the past few weeks trying to decide if it wants to be sunny and beautiful or slam us back into the cold gray days of winter, I've alternately worked in the yard on nice days and in the house on icky days with the idea that it's time to clear out the old so that the new can be welcomed in.

So far I've cleared out 5 bags of clothes and shoes from my closet.  Half of the closet is empty, and even a drawer or two!  The lack of fullness feels good.  Now to purge out the rest of the house...

Today looks to be one of the nice days so I'll probably be venturing out soon.  In the meantime, I've been sitting at the kitchen table watching the Starlings in the old and badly weather-worn birdhouse as they flutter around bringing in new bits of grass, straw and long pine needles for their nest.  And as they work inside pulling soiled material out and dropping it from the openings to make their home all fresh and new.  I attempted to get a picture of their workings from my kitchen window.  This shot of one hopping from the birdhouse to another limb is the best I could do.

Generally, I'm not a big fan of Starlings.  In my part of the world they are a non-native trash bird introduced by a (maybe) well-meaning literary buff.  The story is, and I've not really checked the source, that someone fascinated by the writings of William Shakespeare thought that America needed to have all of the animals he wrote about and brought at least one mating pair to Central Park in New York City from England.  Starlings were one of those animals.  Now we have them everywhere and with no natural predators to keep the population in check they move in massive flocks destroying farm crops and habitat for native bird species.

I've seen them moving like a great black cloud across the sky.  I watched in combination of awe for the orchestrated movement of the entire flock and dismay that so many had amassed in one place. It is a beautiful sight to watch thousands of them swoop and move as one.  But it's also something that leaves a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because of the devastation they leave behind. It's an odd combination of emotion to feel sadness and relief that the State Wildlife Department will soon be putting out poison grain to bring the population back under some level of control.

I guess it's the same dichotomy that makes me dislike the bird but still leave the birdhouse where they live pretty much year round in place.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Crockpot Lasagna

Technically, what I have (pictured above) is called a slow cooker but it works pretty much the same way as a crockpot... there's a pot to put the food in and a heat source to cook it at a steady temperature.  As long as you have that, you can make this incredible and super simple lasagna.

First, assemble your ingredients:
Lasagna noodles or bow tie pasta
Your favorite spaghetti sauce  (I like Prego)
Cooked and crumbled hamburger or sausage or a mixture
Fresh or frozen diced tomatoes (or canned works too)
Cottage cheese
Grated mozzarella cheese
Grated cheddar cheese
Parmesan cheese
Any minced garlic or herbs you wish to add

Sauce and first layer of noodles.
Start by evenly spreading a bit of sauce in the bottom of your crock pot.  If cheesey dishes tend to stick, you'll want to lightly grease it first.  Then add a single layer of uncooked dry noodles.

Next add a layer of hamburger, more sauce, then half of the tomatoes, and cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan cheeses, your garlic and herbs.  Repeat those layers:  noodles, hamburger, sauce, tomatoes, cheeses and herbs.  Use about 1/2 cup water to rinse your sauce jar or can and pour this over the top of the lasagna.

All layers have been added to the pot and it's
ready to cook.
I set my slow cooker to 3, which is the medium setting, and walk away for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  It's an awesome way to let dinner basically cook itself while you go off and enjoy life or attend to other tasks.  And the house smells so good if you make this for Sunday dinner and it cooks while you are at Church.

Just a couple of quick notes:

Why didn't I know that you could use uncooked pasta in dishes like this?  This is the kind of secret you just don't keep from your girlfriends!!  Shame on you ladies... shame on you for keeping me in the dark!

Also, I like to use bow tie pasta because it's easier to get a consistent layer in my slow cooker and when the lasagna is all done you really can't tell the difference since both have ruffled edges.

You might need a little more or less time depending on the size, style and temperatures for your crockpot or slow cooker.

Mmmmm.... lasagna!

I've shared this post at the The Country Homemaker Hop- Week 15 on White Wolf Summit Farmgirl.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dearly, Dearly Has He Loved...

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains He had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price for sin;
He, only, could unlock the gate
Of Heaven and let us in.

Oh dearly, dearly has He loved
And we must love Him, too
And trust in His redeeming love,
And try His works to do.

Cecil Frances Alexander

He is Risen by Del Parson

The Bartered Life

One of my favorite bloggers, Northwest Edible Life, posted a link from one of her favorite bloggers, Dog Island Farm, about the comeback of bartering.  I find the idea of bartering, or trading something I have that you want for something you have that I want without it being a cash transaction, very intriguing.  Especially notable is the Food Barter described in a NY Times article from March 2011 linked both in the picture below and in the post from Dog Island farm.
“We came to the conclusion that it would be really fun to get all of our food-centric friends together and do a swap on a larger scale,” Ms. Paska recalled. “When you make a batch of pickles, jam or the like, you often end up with excess that you’d feel comfortable letting go of for the sake of keeping your pantry interesting. For a few of those excess jars, you end up getting fresh, handcrafted foods for virtually no cost.”  (Kate Payne)

Would you be interested in joining me in this kind of swap?

I think it sounds like a tremendously fun evening and a chance to taste something new.  If I can get a few affirmative comments from local friends, I'll host a swap in May.

Facebook Funnies

As one protest of being forcibly and unwillingly "Timelined" on Facebook, I will no longer be posting there but sharing things I find funny or useful or just plain interesting in extra posts here.  Links will provided if you want to share on your own Facebook page.  With that said... here's the first edition of the Facebook Funnies!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Yay!! Spring!

Been spending a little time in the yard every day...  And it's starting to show.  The jungle will be tamed into submission yet!!

This area on the northeast side of my house used to be covered in Balloon Flower vines.   They were 2-3 feet deep and wide along both the foundation and the fence line. The nasty things were even crawling up under the siding!  Still have a few more to pull out from around the heat exchanger unit and the front of that little shed, but this section is pretty darned close to ready to have the newspaper, mulch and compost laid down to make nice planting beds.  It may just sit like that for a year since I'm not sure what I'm going to be planting in this mostly shady piece of yard.

And in this section leading from the patio back to the northwest corner of the house, I've started putting down the cinder block edging.  Those things are heavy! I'm glad I'm only having to carry them a few yards at a time.  My plan is to plant strawberries in the holes.  A few more weeds to pull (I ran out of oomph before I finished that today) and this section will also be ready for its layers of newspaper, mulch and compost and a few other flowers and herbs that I want to transplant here from other places in the yard.

Here's a few more pix from around the yard today.

The now lopsided Ornamental Plum in the front.  A couple of encounters with limbs from a dying Maple in the parking strip followed by snow and wind did that.  I love the tree (except for the couple of weeks in July when it's dropping fruit) and how it keeps that corner of the house shaded.  I'm hoping I can get it trimmed back and balanced out again...    The flowers are just starting to decline now so very soon it will be covered in dark red foliage and plums.  The fruit is edible.  Well, maybe I should say it isn't poisonous because the skin and just around the pit are sour enough to pucker your bottom lip right up over the top of your head!

This little bed is in the strip between my driveways.  Thought all those daffodils were pretty even though showing you this picture does highlight the need for me to get back out and remove Star of Bethlehem and out of control Trumpet Vine that just started popping up out of nowhere a couple of summers ago.  My neighbor has a Trumpet Vine that's been trained over maybe 40 years to stand like a tree.  I had visions of doing that but I think I failed in the attempt and now I'm ready to yank them out and try something else with the bed.  I haven't absolutely decided but the Trumpet Vine may find a new home crawling over the pergola type patio structure in back.  It's that or climbing roses.  Hmmm... buy rose bushes or move the trumpet vine for free.

And just because they are so cheerful, these daffodils got a closeup!  That's the last of the red Tulips and some Columbine tucked in there, too.

I really enjoy this time of year.  Yay!! Spring!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?

The 182nd Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held this past weekend.  For anyone not familiar with this event, it is an opportunity for members to gather and hear counsel from leaders for the next 6 months.  Many of our Sunday lessons in the coming weeks will be drawn from their talks as we seek to bring gospel principles more fully and consciously into our lives.  As often happens, there was one specific talk, of the many presented, that captured my attention, engaged my mind, and fed my spirit.  And that's what I want to tell you about today.

On Saturday afternoon, after the business of the Church had been conducted, Jeffrey R. Holland was the opening speaker.  He drew from the parable of the householder who went out early in the morning to hire workers and then returned a few hours later to hire more, and later still more to meet the urgency of need in completing the harvest.  At the end of the day, all of the workers received the same wage.  You'll find the scripture recorded in Matthew chapter 20 and a summary of his talk here or you can watch it in its entirety here.

He spent a few moments explaining that no unfairness occurred... that the first workers chosen were the most fortunate that day.  They agreed to a wage for the work they were to perform and that gave them the ability to meet the needs of their family.  And that as more workers were chosen each time the householder returned, how discouraging it must have been for those who waited still until at last they were chosen, not knowing the wage they'd receive but that anything was better than nothing.  How surprised they must have been at their good fortune and the householder's kindness at the end of the day!  The parable also tells that the reaction of the first chosen was anger and of the householder's response to their questions and criticism.

Elder Holland continued with 3 points to consider as lessons for us from this parable.  First he acknowledged that good and bad happens to everyone.  Consider that the householder is God and that the day's wage is the eternal salvation He has offered to each of us... and then imagine that He is asking us "Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?"  Is His kindness to those of us who've known His love for all our life any less than to someone who finds and embraces the gospel in old age?   Continuing on, he pointed out that while misfortune causes us to suffer for a bit, envy (the emotion of the workers hired first in the parable) requires that we suffer for the good fortune that befalls everyone around us.  It's like celebrating the good things that happen to friends, family and other associates with a big swig of pickle juice.

Isn't that an interesting way to view this parable?  Over the past couple of days I've pondered the thought of what would happen if this is the final test at the gates of Heaven.  Can we be happy for someone else's good fortune or are we all puckered up from the vinegar in that pickle juice?

His second point was that the formula of faith is to work on and let the distress fall away in the abundance of the reward.  In other words, to keep focused on our own eternal reward and not worry so much about the reward those around us are working toward.  And his third point was that this parable is a story about God's goodness, generosity, compassion and grace.  I agree with his statement that one of the things Heavenly Father must enjoy most about being God is the thrill of extending mercy to those who don't expect or deserve it.  There is no problem that can't be overcome.  It's not possible to sink lower than the light offered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ can reach and illuminate our life.

I've found myself thinking through this talk a lot and examining my actions from that perspective.  That's good introspection from time to time...