Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roachly Encounters

Photo from:  http://kezj.com/magic-valley-cockroaches/

I know.

But set your shivers of revulsion aside for a moment...

It's actually quite interesting!

Shortly after moving to Georgia, I began seeing these quarter-sized flying bugs that I thought looked an awfully lot like a giant cockroach but my fianc├ęs family called a Palmetto Bug.  After putting in hours of research, I've learned that the big bugs look a whole lot worse than they really are.  And that what we have here isn't really a Palmetto Bug (aka Water Bug and officially a Florida Woods Cockroach), but rather an American Cockroach.

Yup, that great big beasty on the far left of the photo (above) showing some of the varieties of cockroaches that have found their way to the United States is what I've seen occasionally scurrying across the floor.

Interesting factoid:  Despite names that hint at locational evolution, all of these roach species seem to have originated in Africa and were transported here beginning as early as 1675.

The little (usually under 1/2-inch in length) German Cockroach shown center right is by far the most common.  They are found in all 50 states and it's the one whose preferred habitat is most identified with the public perception of cockroaches and filth.  It gravitates to unclean homes... sink full of dirty dishes, food scraps and trash lying around, pantry shelves with open containers.  You get the picture, right?  Those easy food sources and the relatively even temperature of a house are the conditions it finds hospitable once transported, most often unknowingly, inside furniture or as eggs on product packaging into a home.

In contrast, American Cockroaches are outdoor bugs who crawl in under doors and through openings (plumbing, electrical, etc.) in the foundation of a building seeking warmth and water.  Their preferred diet is rotting plant material like wood mulch or broken shrubbery branches in foundation plantings.  Water-rotted wood in homes with structural damage are also especially attractive.  In the absence of other food sources, they will munch on paper products because of the plant cellulose those items are made from but a ready source of water is by far their most critical requirement.

All roaches can cause health problems in two ways.  Most often it's an allergic reaction triggered in either pets or people as they shed their outer skin to accommodate growth and broken bits spread, for example, by forced-air heating systems are inhaled.  The reaction can range from minor sniffles to a life threatening asthma attack depending on a person's sensitivity.  Less common, but more feared, they pick up bacteria on their legs which is then deposited into foodstuffs they disturb and you then consume.  E. coli and salmonella are the prevalent bacterial infections spread by roaches.

Control seems to be pretty much the same no matter what type of cockroach it is.  First and most importantly, take preventative action and keep your house clean and bathrooms, laundry and food prep areas dry.  Boric acid kills them.  Most people simply sprinkle a bit along the threshold of outside doors, in under-sink cabinets, on pantry shelves and behind appliances.  Boric acid is generally considered non-poisonous to pets and people but loses its ability to kill ants and roaches when mixed with water.  It is an odorless white granular powder sold in most places that offer pest control products at a relatively inexpensive price.

Interesting factoid:  The borax sold on the same grocery isle as laundry soap and commonly used as an additive in the wash to whiten and brighten clothes contains boric acid.  And yes, it can be used for roach control exactly the same way.

German Cockroaches reproduce prolifically so if you're unlucky enough to find yourself inhabiting space with them, boric acid needs to be a supplemental control to professional spraying until you are free of them.  Serious infestations of American Cockroaches will also need to be dealt with professionally.  Usually an exterminator will spray the perimeter of the foundation outside and around the baseboards and cabinetry inside with a powerful insecticide not available to the general public.

So, knowing all this, I guess I can get over my freak out and stop hyperventilating to the point of nausea when I see one of these big bugs.  There's a good chance the encounters will continue to be very sporadic and control is rather simple and cheap.  Being armed with the right information is always a good thing!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

These cookies are the BOMBDIGGITY!

Derek's Dad, Dave, is home for a few days to celebrate Christmas.  He made the cookies this afternoon that Derek has been telling me about for a month... the chocolate chip ones made with instant vanilla pudding and just said 'when you taste it, you'll think it's good but not say it's the greatest cookie I've ever tasted BUT you will want another one!'

My review of the recipe: soft, gooey, crave-able and delicious!  They are exactly what he promised they would be.  The first taste is good but not over the top wow and you do find yourself reaching for a second one just as soon as the first is gone.  This could easily become one my favorite go to recipes. I'm impressed and definitely adding them to my cookie repertoire.  And not just for Christmas!!

Picture copied from Pinterest.
It's the same recipe and our cookies look identical to these.


Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies
Yields 36 smallish cookies (you'll want to double or triple this recipe!)


1 cup (2 sticks) Butter, softened
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup White Sugar
1 small pkg Instant Vanilla Pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 pkg ( 12 oz) Milk or Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (depending on which you prefer)


DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift the flour.  (I don't usually sift my flour for cookies, but it does really improve the way these cookies turn out.)  Beat the butter, both sugars, pudding mix, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat until creamy and fluffy. Then slowly mix in flour and baking soda. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by tablespoonfuls, onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake for ONLY 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes before eating.

NOTE:  They stay VERY soft!  Ours were still tender and gooey until the last one was gone a few days later.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Follow-up Post to Violence

I'd hoped to leave thoughts of violence aside and focus on the happier things of the Christmas season but my mind, along with many others' minds it seems, is stuck there.  And with trying to make some sort of sense of what happened in Newtown CT this past week.  I want to say the spark behind this post was that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is planning to visit Newtown and protest that the killings were God's righteous judgement.  But it's really more than that.  The things that are sitting heavy on my heart and blended together in my mind are widely different.  At least they are on the surface.

Part of it is about sinking their own level to exact revenge on Westboro's founders.  And some thoughts are from the words shared by a mother with a mentally challenged son and her struggles in finding ways to treat and manage his violent tendencies   And still more of me is caught up in the beautifully expressed words of a friend's blog about the so-called 'pants day' staged by women in the Mormon Church today really being about feeling marginalized.

Actually... After staring at the page for over and hour I find I can't say any of it any better than the original authors already have.  To try and regurgitate their thoughts shows both them and you disrespect so I'm just going to leave you with the links today and ask you to read for yourself and see what your own heart tells you about the problems of the world and your part in finding a solution.


Friday, December 14, 2012

It's a violent world out there...

We live in a violent world.

It's always been violent.  We just have faster and more detailed information today than ever before in the history of mankind.  When an event happens we know about it almost instantly wherever we are in the world.  Our access to information is unprecedented and that makes it easy to believe that people are more violent now than in the past.  I think that's a trick our collective mentality plays on us.

Look at nature... go all the way back to the geological formation of the planet.  How much of our landscape was formed by events like volcanic eruption, earthquakes, glaciers pushing forward and receding, floods and even meteor strikes?  Those are violently transforming events.  If you believe we are literal children of God, made in His very image, then at some level I think you have to wonder if God - the very being our minds have embodied as THE image of love and peace and light - has a violent side.  The methods He chose to create our world were violent, and if you read the Bible you'll notice that His punishments when sin has become so rampant that a population cannot be redeemed* is violent.  Could that be interpreted to say that some propensity for violence is bred into our spiritual DNA?

Could it be that violence, and the tools for bringing it about, are part of the divine creative power?  And that when we exercise our God-given gift of free agency and choose violence as a destructive force (as opposed to His creative force) we are misusing that fledgling power coded within our own spiritual being?

Today much of the world is caught up in shock and grief for the people of a small town in Connecticut where a young man with a gun walked into an elementary school and opened fire.  The last report I saw confirmed that 18 children, (27 people total including the gunman himself), were dead.  At the same time, a man in China injured 22 children with a knife at the gate to their school grounds.  To most of us both the acts and the thought processes behind them are incomprehensible.  We are struggling with sadness.  And grief.  And relief that it wasn't our family or friends.

And anger.

There's a lot of anger out there in the conversations about how awful the world's condition has become and what can be done to change the future.  Some say the answer is tighter control of whose hands can legally hold a gun.  Others say more spending on mental health and to address drug abuse is the answer.  Many look to Heaven and plead for an intervention of Biblical proportion.  A few of us say just look after the home and family better.

I live in a home with guns.  Pretty much I've always lived with one or more guns in the house and I always will.  As a child I knew where my Dad kept his guns.  They were not locked away from my inquisitive fingers.  I knew where he kept the bullets, also unlocked.  I knew most of friends' parents had guns and ammunition in their homes, too.  And yet, neither I nor anyone in my close circle of friends has ever shot another person because we were also taught respect for what a gun could do if pointed, even in play, at another person.  Guns do not kill.  A gun is merely a tool... an inanimate object to be manipulated to a person's will.

Guns do not kill - people do!  And making gun ownership illegal will not stop murders from happening.  It will not remove guns from the hands of people wishing to do harm to other people any more than making drugs like heroine and cocaine illegal has rid the world of their influence.  I oppose gun control because I believe it will only remove an honest man's defense and create even more easy victims.

The key point there was that my parents (and my friends' parents) taught me from a very young age to respect a gun for the tool that it is.  They also taught me the other important lessons that gave me my moral grounding in life.  I knew what they believed and valued because they invested their time in teaching me the difference between right and wrong.  Too often, in my self-admittedly flawed judgement, I don't see this happening as much today.  The duty of teaching children morals, values, respect, appropriate conduct and consequences gets abdicated to schools and peers with equally poor parental guidance.  Home and family life have become almost completely devalued in our society.  Without the moral compass provided by parents in a structured home environment, young people are reverting to the fear-based mindset that only the top of the food chain survives and that all means to get, and stay, there are acceptable.

What I just can't fathom is why we are all letting this continue.  We know better!  We have the power to fix the problem.  The question is... do we have the guts to step up and meet the challenge?  Or do we choose to just sit back and recoil in horror as another of our youth goes off the deep end?


- - - - - - - - - - -
*For example: the primordial casting of Satan and his group of followers from Heaven, the worldwide flood of Noah's time, the many destructions of Jerusalem, the cataclysmic events recorded in the Book of Mormon at the crucifiction and death of the Savior.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Doors

Several days ago I posed this question to my Facebook friends:  What is the difference between being used and being useful?

Just 3 answered publicly.  A few more answered privately.  And with a couple of them it opened a long discussion that revealed many of us do feel used a lot more than we feel useful even though distinguishing between them was often difficult.  It seems to be a matter of our own perception more than the task at hand.

BEING USED

The idea of being used brought up a lot of negative words and emotions:  stuck, powerless, a burden, worthlessness, a lack of opportunity or worthiness to have (or be treated) better, resentment and anger toward both the 'user' and the situation.  Those words sum up the idea of being used... at least from the perspective of the person being used.

But what about the times when we are the user?  As much as we may not want to admit it, there are times when we use others to get the things we want.  I'm not saying it's always conscious.  And it's not necessarily a ruthless act.  It's not even inherently bad.  I'm just asking everyone to take a good look at how they feel about the person they are using.  Do you see the cashier at McDonald's as worth less than Wall Street's hottest stock broker?  A look at payscale would indicate that society places more value on the broker... even though, ironically, they are providing the same core service:  facilitating the exchange of one item of value for another item of value.

BEING USEFUL

Seeing yourself as useful was positive and included words like:  priceless, vital, being a blessing, engaged in a task (or its outcome), satisfaction and being in charge of your own destiny.  These are the powerful and empowering emotions we all innately crave.  These ideas are the things that make our ego feel good.

Also interesting was the idea that the two conditions can exist simultaneously - you can see that you are being selfishly used but because you engage wholeheartedly in the activity you also feel useful.  My dear friend, Heidi, gave an example from a Church group she participated in:  Each year for Christmas, this very small Church put up an 'Angel Tree' with information about children in the community who were in need and would not otherwise have a Christmas.  All of the Ladies' Auxiliary were to participate  in gathering the clothes and food and gifts but year after year organizing everything fell to Heidi.  Some years a few of the ladies would change the ground rules part way through the season so that instead of the 50 children they'd agreed on, suddenly they were providing Christmas for 70.  Many times the needed toys and clothing for these extra 20 kids also fell to Heidi to provide because no one else in the congregation would step up to help.  Heidi was aware that she always got the task because they knew she'd follow through to complete it.  She felt the burden, both on time and finances, every year and while in the process sometimes resented it.  Isn't that the very definition of being used?  But she was fully engaged and felt like what she was doing made a difference in the world so she also felt deeply satisfied... and useful.

The trick, it seems, is to find the switch... to open the right door from all the choices that present themselves.  Used or useful?  Finding and keeping a 'useful' mindset is something I struggle with in the circumstances of my every day.

I know that my choices have closed some doors in my life.  Now I just need to figure out what new ones have been opened.  And start taking advantage of all those new opportunities to be...

Useful!


If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution. Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.    Maya Angelou

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tradition!!

Not sure why I associate Fiddler on the Roof with Christmas... but, cue Tevye.

Israeli actor Topol as Tevye in the 1971 film
release of Fiddler on the Roof.
 "A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay here if it's so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!
Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I'll tell you. I don't know. But it's a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.
Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!"
Maybe more than Christmas itself it's a manifestation of my yearning to establish some meaningful traditions to help things feel okay even in the midst of life's chaos.  And Christmas is a time when family traditions are so very evident.  Last year was pretty much devoid of all things holiday and this year I'll be observing how my family-to-be does things so it's another time when I feel like I'm kind of aimlessly drifting, un-grounded and more than a little bit shaky.  That also makes it a good time to explore the traditions of other families to see if they feel like something we might want to add when Derek and I get our own home established.  I still have to wait and see what he says, but here are three that appeal to me:

http://lillightomine.com/light-em-up-2011.php
Designed with 50 small acts to teach children the value of serving others rather than just collecting presents for themselves, Light 'Em Up is an idea I'd modify to 24 quirky and fun acts of service (including family, friends, neighbors and random strangers) that could be done as a couple and use it as an Advent, or countdown to Christmas.  Click the link under the picture for more details.  My thought is that it would be great fun for just the two of us and it satisfies my need to de-commercialize Christmas a bit.

And while others will likely host family festivities on Christmas day for the foreseeable future, I like the idea of a more low-key get together on Christmas Eve.  Maybe a potluck, a chili feed or a spaghetti dinner?

Vintage blown glass ornaments
I'd also like to collect an ornament from each place that we travel that speaks to what was special about that locale so that putting them on the tree is a reminder of wonderful vacation memories and tells our own personal family story.  I think that sounds so much nicer than just using the non-descript glass balls and tinsel from any mall in America.  And at the beginning of December, gather family and/or friends to decorate house and tree.  It's a great time to tell stories, drink hot chocolate or apple cider and make s'mores in the fireplace.

Those are a few of the ideas I have now.  What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Holidays

Sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet... I admit it.  There are times when things just bug me so much that no matter how hard I try to hold it in, my opinions come spilling out of my mouth.  Now and then I'm even surprised by what I have to say.  Today what has me all wound up is the greed and commercialism that is the modern American Christmas celebration.  I hate that Christmas decorations start showing up on store shelves well before Halloween.  It makes me want to stomp my feet and, like the cartoon pilgrims wanting time for their own holiday, threaten the big fat man in the red suit to back off!  Or else!!

Found on Facebook 12/8/12 at: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=529262913760320&set=a.429122320441047.103062.429101477109798&type=1&theater

I find it tremendously sad that a simple family observance of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has turned into an ever growing demand list of things we don't need or want, can't afford to buy for each other and are meant more to impress someone we may not even like than to add happiness and quality to our own life.  Actually sad isn't nearly strong enough a word... more like complete and utter disgust.

At the beginning of the week, this background context and question were posed in a Facebook group I participate in:
"I posted Merry Christmas on a local discussion and opinion page here in Oklahoma and they deleted the post. I posted it again and again it was deleted. I received an email telling me to stop spamming Merry Christmas on the groups page. So I rewrote the post stating: "Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays: Which do you support? I was promptly banned from the group. So Ill ask the same here; "Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Merry Christmas everyone!"
The response was overwhelmingly Merry Christmas!

My own thoughts are that Happy Holidays is equivalent to a big loud 'bah humbug' though after seeing the cartoon above, I think it is an even better description of how I perceive the term.  Even the words, Happy Holidays, destroy my happy feelings.  It's so generic... so impersonal... so devoid of any real meaning.  But I guess that's the quest of political correctness - to make things generic, impersonal and meaningless.

If you celebrate Christmas, admit it.  Say Merry Christmas!  Embrace your holiday and speak its special greeting with pride!

I'm thrilled when my Jewish friends wish me a Happy Hanukkah.  It makes me smile when those with African ancestry include me in their Kwanzaa festivities.  And the Pagan observance of Yule fascinates and inspires me partly because so many of our Christmas traditions have roots there and partly because it embraces the simplicity I so desire.  The happy wishes of another culture don't offend me.  They don't take away from my personal beliefs or minimize my value system.  Rather, when you include me in your seasonal celebrations, I feel honored.  It shows me that you care enough about me to make me a part of what is important to you.  It shows respect and trust and value.  And when I say Merry Christmas to you, those are the unspoken things I hope you hear and choose to celebrate with me.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fancy Caramel Corn

Sadly, it didn't help the Georgia Bulldogs pull off a win Saturday in the SEC Championship game... but it is a yummy treat.  And it's super simple to make!

Fancy Caramel Corn

Start by making about 12 cups of popcorn.  Place in a large bowl and remove unpopped kernels.  It's totally up to you if it's air-popped, done in an old-time popper that uses oil or from the microwave.  Choose according to the taste you want in your finished product.  This time, I used Pop Secret (TM) Movie Theater Style Extra Butter microwave popcorn.

Next, in a medium saucepan, combine 1 cube of butter, 1/2 cup light Karo (TM) syrup (a corn syrup usually found near the maple syrups in the grocery store), enough brown sugar to absorb all the liquid - about 2 well-packed cups.  Bring to rolling boil, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn, and after a few minutes when all of the sugar crystals are completely dissolved turn to med-low so it just bubbles as you stir in 1 tsp vanilla and 1 can sweetened condensed milk.  Stir until smooth and evenly mixed.

Pour appx 3/4 of the caramel over the popcorn and stir to be sure it's evenly coated.

That's the basic caramel corn...

To make it 'fancy' add 2 cups of small pretzels, 1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts and 1 cup miniature marshmallows and gently mix into the popcorn.  Turn this out onto a lightly greased jelly roll pan and spread evenly.  If you want it crispy like Cracker Jacks (TM) place in a warm oven for a bit.  If you like it a little bit soft, move forward with the next step now.

Drizzle remaining caramel over the popcorn.  Melt appx 2/3 cup milk chocolate chips and drizzle the melted chocolate over the popcorn. You want some blobs where it's thick and some where it's thin with both the caramel and chocolate.  Allow to sit in a cool place until the chocolate sets up.

Store airtight.

It makes a nice gift in a clear bag tied with pretty ribbons or to take as a sweet finger food to a party or function.

Some ideas to switch it up a bit:  Try pecans, almonds or mixed nuts.  Add a handful of M&M (TM) candies or chop up your favorite candy bar (freeze it first and it will chop better).  Add dried fruits like raisins, apples, bananas, pineapple or apricots.  Use white chocolate or dark chocolate or multiple chocolates drizzled separately.  Put colorful cake sprinkles over the top for holiday color.