Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Can You Do With Leftover Cranberry Jelly?

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My cousin, Lanae, asked this question of her Facebook friends today:  "What can you do with over half a can of left-over cranberry jelly?"

Another of her friends and I started bouncing ideas off each other like we were contestants on a Food Network show and this was our mystery ingredient.  I'd normally never buy this stuff, preferring Grandma Burton's fresh cranberry relish instead but we came up with such yummy sounding stuff, I might just change my mind and pick up a can or two on the next grocery shopping trip!

To get them into a place that's easier to find, here's a compilation:

  •  Mix it with cream cheese for a sandwich spread... would be good with turkey cold cuts and something green with a little peppery bite like water cress or arugula, I think.
  • Thin it down with some water, olive oil and red wine vinegar to marinate pork chops. Would give them a kind of tangy, BBQ-ish taste if grilled or fried.
  • Use it in a smoothie.
  • Use in thumb print cookies.
  • Mix with softened butter for a spread on toast or bagels.  (This will freeze for future use.)
  • Mix with mayonnaise, and maybe a little milk if it's too thick, to make a dip for chicken nuggets. Maybe a bit of a coarse ground spicy brown mustard in that mix, too.
  • Cut up polish sausage (or use meat balls - your own or from the grocer's freezer) and heat up with the jelly.
  • To make a great snack for kids, mix with dried cranberries and cream cheese to spread on celery.
  • Mix with mayonnaise and milk to get the right texture for salad dressing.  Flavor with sage, parsley, cracked black pepper and super fine chopped red onion.  Could also whisk in olive oil and red wine vinegar in place of the mayo if you don't want a creamy dressing.
  • Whip with  cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, a splash of almond extract to make frosting for a white cake. Sprinkle the top with sliced almonds, dried cranberries and shaved chocolate.
  • Put a pork roast, or butt, in the crockpot with jellied cranberries and a little bit of brown sugar.  Slice and serve as a roast (using the juices to glaze sauteed carrots) or shred for pulled pork sandwiches or Cafe Rio-like burritos.  Top the sandwich with a bit of creamy cole-slaw.  Use lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, grated cheese etc. inside the burrito.
  • Mix with dried cranberries and use as the filling for turnovers using either your own or an off-the-shelf pie crust.
  •  Mix with CoolWhip to dress a fruit salad or use as a dip with fruit pieces, graham crackers, pretzels, etc.
  • Use with a bit of juice concentrate (cranberry or apple or maybe white grape), some finely chopped pecans, vanilla wafter crumbs. Roll into balls then roll balls in shredded coconut for some festive no bake cookies.
  • Stir into apple jelly with some finely chopped jalapeno and then warm as a dip for coconut shrimp or crab rangoons.
  • Mix into applesauce and eat warm. Maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream?
  • Wine and cranberry sauce served over fish.
  • Mix into applesauce then spread over parchment on a jelly roll pan to make fruit leather.
  • Pour over Brie with pecans and heat in oven.  Serve with fancy crackers.
  •  Flavor and color lemonade. Or limeade.  With, or without, vodka depending on your lifestyle choices.
  • Make dough for sweet rolls, cut into rounds and spread with the jelly.  Top with walnut pieces and bake.
  • Use as part of the crumb topping for a coffee cake.
  • Mix with maple syrup and heat.  Pour over pancakes. Maybe pancakes made with dried cranberry and almonds in them?  Or stuffed french toast with cream cheese and nuts inside?
  • Mix into melted butter and coat frozen dinner rolls. Put a pkg of vanilla cook pudding in the bottom of a bundt pan then the rolls and more melted butter. Turn out for pull aparts when baked.
  • Mix with dried cranberries and pistachios. Make chocolate cupcakes and when baked and cooled hollow out a space in the center for the cranberry mixture. Top with chocolate whipped cream.
  • Cook down in simple syrup to hard crack stage and pour out for stained glass style hard candy. Could add fruit and/or nuts for a brittle which would be yummy broken over hot fudge on ice cream. Or use it to make candied apples.
  • Add to the ingredients for homemade vanilla ice cream for something that's a pretty pink for Valentines Day! There's a version that you can make in a couple of ziplock bags if you don't have, or don't want to use, an ice cream freezer.
  • Mix with juice (cranberry, apple, white grape) and freeze for a sorbet.  Again, with or without added alcohol.
  • Meatloaf, swiss cheese and a slice of cranberry jelly on a grilled panini.
  • Put a few tablespoons and some chopped nuts into cooked oatmeal.
  • Add the jelly and some dried cranberries to your apple pie filling.  I think I'd skip the cinnamon... and do a crumb (like Dutch Apple Pie) topping instead of a top crust.
  • Mix with CoolWhip and freeze until it can be scooped out with an ice cream scoop. Use like ice cream in Cherry 7-Up for a fun float.
  • Stuff peppers with sausage, rice, half can of cranberry, dried cranberries, sage and goat cheese. Or use that mixture in cabbage leaves or grape leaves.  Use cranberry jelly and port wine to make the cooking sauce.
  • Fry hamburger. Then add the cranberry jelly and deglaze the pan with Dr. Pepper. Might need a bit of ketchup to adjust the acid, too. Use for sloppy joes with a bit of shredded sharp cheddar on top.
  • Mix the jelly, chopped apples, chopped bananas, nuts, broken vanilla cookies, and mini marshmallows into whipped cream or CoolWhip for a fruity cookie salad.
  • Make a salsa with fresh pineapple, mangos, sweet red onion, roasted red peppers. Mix the cranberry jelly with lime juice to season. Marinate chicken in the pineapple juice and then grill. Plate by spooning salsa over chicken and serve with rice.
  • Mix into brownie mix. You might be able to cut back on any eggs or oil it calls for... stir dried cranberries, your favorite nuts and chocolate chips into the batter before baking.
  • I also think you could use it interchangeably with the pie filling all those Pinterest posts show with Angel Food Cake mix. That would come out a pretty pink!
  • Cranberry cream cheese baked french toast... cut bread into strips and place in baking pan. Cut jelly into smallish pieces and scatter among the bread pieces. Same with cream cheese. Mix eggs and milk with a little maple syrup and pour over. Refrigerate overnight and bake at 350 for about an hour.
  • Make a syrup by mixing some of the cranberry jelly with water, sugar and corn starch. Cook until smooth and thickened slightly. Use with baked french toast or pancakes, grilled french toast, ice cream, cake, bread pudding, etc.
  •  Layer slices of the jelly with apple and/or orange slices (rind removed), cheese (brie, or maybe muenster or a really fresh mozzarella) and rosemary springs in a sweet pastry dough and bake like a rustic tart.
  • Thin a bit with some karo or simple syrup and marble into yellow cake.
  • Open slits in pieces of chicken breast and stuff with cream cheese, chopped spinach, dried cranberries. Wrap in bacon. Slightly thin the jelly by warming or adding a tiny bit of water and baste the bacon several times while broiling.
  •  Mix with heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff enough to be handled. Roll into small balls. Dip into melted milk chocolate for fancy candies.
  • Or... make it almost but not quite as thick and use for the pink layer in Neapolitan brownies. White chocolate fudge being the white layer.
  • Toss with pieces of baked sweet potato then sprinkle with a crumb or streudel topping before serving. Would also work with carrots or winter squash...
  • Mix into ground turkey with panko, lots of fresh herbs, finely chopped carrot, onion and celery. Maybe an egg to bind it together.  Form into a meatloaf and bake.
  • Fill a cupcake pan/liner about half full of cake or muffin batter. Cut out shapes from slices of the jelly and place one in the center of the cupcake then finish filling and bake. Either frost, use whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar on top of your jelly filled cupcake or muffin.
  • Make cherry or raspberry jello and let set. Cut into small cubes. Cut jelly into same size cubes. Carefully toss both with whipped cream or CoolWhip. Or... leave some of the jello cubes and layer into a tall glass for serving. Jello, jelly/jello/whipped cream mixture, whipped cream. Dress with chocolate shavings.
  • Thin to a pourable stage and use to flavor champagne, if you imbibe, or sparkling cider, if you don't. Garnish with a little paper umbrella. Thinking... a Cranberry Mimosa.
  • Cut into small pieces, toss with cooked and cooled country sausage, swiss cheese cubes, fresh herbs, mushroom stems and a bit of bread crumbs. Use to stuff mushroom caps. Broil until bubbly and slightly browned.
  •  Use your vegetable peeler to cut wide flat 'noodles' from a zucchini. Then using that same mixture, with or without the mushroom pieces, and maybe some chopped onion roll inside zucchini noodles. Hold together with a toothpick and bake.
Ok... this is kind of an exhaustive list.  If we come up with more I'll add a Part 2 tomorrow.

Edit:  We did come up with more!  You can view them here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Acts of Eco-Terrorism

I guess it's fair to start off with an admission... I am a tree lover.

My heart makes a little lurch from sadness when wind blows a tree over or someone does something stupid and hits one with their car.  I can't help but think those shattered branches must be painful.  And it makes me unhappy when they get torn up for urban development.

Ok.  There are exceptions.  Notably these 3 trash trees that were so prolific in my yard and neighborhood back in Utah (and I'm sure other places, too, but I'm hoping not in Georgia!).  Most people called one of them either a Chinese Elm or a Siberian Elm.  I was told once that neither of those is correct but my hatred for that kind of tree is so strong I almost immediately forgot its right name.  This is the trash tree that drops those zillions of seeds in late spring that look like over-sized oatmeal.  And every blasted one of them that touches ground sprouts.  They can grow as much as 10 feet a year so within a single growing season you're dealing with a good sized tree.  Another one that was found very frequently in that area was called the Tree of Paradise.  It had big yellow cones of flowers in the spring that produced copious amounts of pollen that for many people that brought on allergies of a crippling scale.  And it smelled bad... not like something died bad, but very unpleasant.  It also dropped seeds that sprouted with extreme ease and grew quickly.  These sappling trees, when you tried to pull them, slipped their bark off all wet and slippery and they emitted that same foul odor.   The  other tree to garner my ire is a Box Elder more for the nasty, cannibalistic, red and black colored bugs it attracts en masse than for anything else.  These trees are some I'd be happy to live without in my world and I've happily hacked many of them down.

Does that make me an eco-terrorist?

I guess it's possible the answer to that question depends on your point of view.  The trees probably felt terrorized.  But I wasn't protesting anything... just getting rid of trash from the yard.

Eco-terrorism is not new.  For my whole life I've heard of rogue environmentalists turning animals in fur farms loose and driving huge metal spikes in pine trees to damage logging equipment.  It's dangerous and I don't advocate doing it any more than I like to see the devastation of clear cut deforestation following a logging operation.  But it's a fact of life that both have happened and in some places continue to happen to this day.  Man is hard on his environment.  Oftentimes much harder on it than is needful for the continued existence of humankind.

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I do have to admit, though, this is the first time I've seen this form of eco-terrorism:  illegally ripping up a piece of developed land to plant a tree.  And I don't support it either.  In all likelihood, that tree will be removed and destroyed and the road will be patched and life will go on.  All this activist will have accomplished is to waste the money to buy the tree, the time and effort to get it planted, the time, effort and wages of the city workers to remove it and patch the road.  And in the end, the tree is dead.

It's sad.  No one wins in this situation.  Or maybe that's the point... no one wins but it does get attention.

I think this is the most dangerous kind of eco-terrorism because it tugs so hard at the heart.  Part of me wants to applaud and hope the tree will stand as a monument of protest to urban sprawl but I just can't bring myself to encourage all the other idiots out there.

So I'm showing you and rambling on trying to say don't do stupid stuff.  There are better ways to make the world a better place and get your point across.   Get more creative and stay legal.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Cured the Common Cold

In a new locale or home or business setting, I've come to expect to be sick more often during the first year.  It's an adjustment period for my body to get acquainted with, and build up an immunity to, a whole new set of germs and viruses in the air.  And so I ceremoniously announce my first cold in Georgia!

Ding ding ding... round 1 begins!

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The battles lines are drawn.  On one side it's me and on the other we have the usual sinus pressure, runny nose, sneezing and mildly productive cough.  (Productive, as used here, is just the more polite and doctorly term for spitting up globs of mucus - a.k.a. icky colored snot and infection.)  And since I'm jobless, it seemed like a good time to test the myriad of cold remedies suggested by well-meaning friends.  So here we go:  Kathy vs. the Cold Remedy.

While I was still in that pre-sick fighting hard not to come down with the gunk time, I started on the Zicam.  Well, actually, since I'm cheap I started on the store brand with the same active ingredient and dosing.  In the future, I'll be saving my money.  Even though it has a delightful orange creamsicle flavor (at least until you get down to the bitter medicine-y center!) it did nothing.

Kathy - 1 Cold Remedy - 0

So I switched to complaining about it and trying to manage symptoms and just let the beast run its course.  First up was hot steaming tea with honey and fresh lemon.  Yum!  The steam felt good on my angry inflamed sinuses and the liquid was soothing to my throat ravaged by the violence of hard coughing.  After a cup of tea, I felt pretty decent for 15 minutes.  Then the snot started flowing and the cough kicked back in.

Spicy food was the next suggestion so in between, I ate salsa.  Like drank it by the bottle...  I figured the vitamin C and lycopene in the tomatoes would be good for me while onions have a mild antibiotic/anti-fungal/antivirus quality and the capsaicin in hot peppers works to detoxify and raise body temperature to make it even harder for the unwelcome virus to survive.  Again, I felt pretty good for about 15 minutes after a big glug of salsa and then all the symptoms came right back.

A friend insisted that hot black coffee was the cure-all.  Black - no cream or sugar or any other taste enhancement.  Oh man... nasty, nasty, nasty!!  Not sure what's worse:  that evil brew or the stuffed up head.  But I do have to admit, for about 15 minutes I felt really good.

Settling in for the long haul...

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I'm calling the food and drink cold remedies fails since the relief was so short.  It's an awful lot of work to piece together enough 'feel good for 15 minutes' to have much of a productive day.  (Here productive means get something done.)  So... it's Kathy - 4 Cold Remedy - 0

Another friend, a nurse, strongly suggested seeing a doctor to get a prescription for some codeine-laced cough syrup.  Would LOVE the codeine-laced cough syrup... I don't abuse it, but I know from past experience codeine does wonders for me against both cough and pain.  However, even if I could afford it, there's no way I'm giving up one red cent to hear the infamous words "It's a virus and it'll just have to run it's course."  Remedy rejected.

Next up, hot shower and go to bed early (for a change!).  The hot steamy shower was so relaxing!  I got out and headed to bed feeling hopeful.  And when I got myself settled into a comfortable spot with the blanket and pillows just so, I had to pee.  And getting up for that got the cough and sniffles going again.  But then around 3:00 a.m. something happened - I could breathe and the cough all but stopped.  It was as suddenly and notably different as when you step into a dark room and switch the lights on.  I've never felt such a distinct end to the bad part of a cold before.

Time to pack it up and move on!

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Which of my fails was really a success?  Or was it the combination of things I tried?  Maybe just a fluke?  I wish I knew...


Hours later and I'm barely bothered with any symptoms.  I'm willing to call it cured.  If I knew how that happened, I could make a fortune!!

But I don't.

Just my luck...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Robins, Robins Everywhere

A little before noon today, I stepped outside trying to get the dogs to go potty.  It's raining here in the Atlanta area today and they object strenuously to going out when it's wet so it's quite an endeavor.  As I was wasting my time and breath coaxing the furry beasts, the vibration and sound coming from one of the larger red-berried bushes near the fence caught my attention and I had to stand there mesmerized for awhile.

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Every branch was lined with robins!  I'd have to guess there were at least 100 just in the one bush and even more in pine trees behind.

They were chirping and fluttering about and when the whole flock took flight at the same moment... wow!  Many times I've watched for their return in more northern lands as the first harbinger that spring might just come again but I've never seen so many of them in one place at the same time before.  And the sound of their song was so amazing in such a large chorus.

Check out these interesting robin facts from  (The facts are quoted directly, but there's a lot more information about their migration patterns on the web page if you are interested.)
  • All robins are not the same: The vast majority of robins do move south in the winter. However, some stick around — and move around — in northern locations.
  • Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature. Fruit is the robin's winter food source. As the ground thaws in the spring, they switch to earthworms and insects. While the robins may arrive when temperatures reach 37 degrees, this is because their food becomes available not because the robins themselves need warm temperatures.
  • Robins wander in the winter: Temperatures get colder as winter progresses. Robins need more food when it's cold and more and more of the fruit gets eaten. Robins move here and there in response to diminishing food supplies and harsh weather. If all robins wintered at their breeding latitude, there wouldn't be enough fruit for them all. So robins tend to spread out in the winter in search of fruit. Most hang out where fruit is abundant, but some take the risk of staying farther north where smaller amounts of fruit remain.
  • Robins sing when they arrive on territory: Robins sing when they arrive on their breeding territories. Sometimes robins even sing in winter flocks, due to surging hormones as the breeding season approaches. However, in the majority of cases, robins really do wait to sing until they have reached their territory.
The American Robin, scientifically known as Turdus migratorius (Turdus meaning thrush and migratorius, to go), is a member of the thrush family of birds.  First described in 1766 by Carl Linnaeus, it was named after the European Robin because of it's red breast.  The two species are not closely related as the European variety is from the flycatcher family.

Robins are one of the most populous birds in North America with ranges that are mainly seasonal from northern Canada to central Mexico.  It is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In the food chain, robins eat small invertebrates like earthworms and beetle grubs along with fruits and berries and they are prey for hawks, larger-sized snakes and cats.

However, I have seen a robin successfully take on a cat!  Hatchlings were just beginning to leave the nest as they learned to fly.  Not all the baby birds took flight on their first try... and the cat perceived some easy pickings as one hopped around in the grass below.  Mama robin saw Lizzie (my old gray cat now 5 years in kitty heaven) coming and commenced a dive bombing mission!!  She flew straight down faster and faster, pulling out of the dive just inches from ducking Lizzie's head, with a loud squawking scream that brought us all running to see what was going on in the back yard.  After the first dive, Lizzie was retreating but the bird kept bombing... getting so close to my head even that I could feel her wings brush against my hair as the scared cat huddled by my feet.  Needless to say, that baby was safe for the next day or so until it got the flight thing figured out.

Robins may be common birds but I enjoy watching them.  They make me happy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Whatever Happened to Little Dresses?

Photo credit goes to
though I didn't find the exact post in the vast collection of
patterns and catalogs of all kinds of vintage clothing.
 Today is my birthday.  And I'm feeling a little bit sentimental and looking back at my personal history...

This picture popped up in my perusal of Pinterest today and reminded me that when I started first grade at Dean Goodsell Elementary School in 1969, all of us little girls were required to wear a dress every day.  Me and my fellow female classmates brought our bright, shiny, smiling faces to the classroom in little dresses like these each day.  I remember all of us having some variation of this very dress.

Even in Idaho's cold winters we had to wear dresses.  Shelley, ID is one of those places that usually has an abundance of snow.  It's cold and slippery on those tiny Mary Janes and when it melts, the playground becomes a field of squishy mud that sucks on the soles of your shoes with every step.  There's usually a flash of warmer weather about this time of year called "the January thaw."  And then it freezes.  Hard.  As in days and days of sub-zero temperatures.  And that waterlogged field behind the school becomes a sheet of pure ice.  (I remember in Jr. High once when it froze the doors to the bus barn closed for a couple of unanticipated 'snow days' off from school.)

When I was little, we girls were permitted to wear pants on those horrifically cold days, but only under our dresses.  The dress was an ever present demand.

Even as a six-year-old, I hated dresses.  Play was limited because you didn't want everyone, especially the little boys, to see your underwear if you fell.  Or the wind, another ever present fact of life in Idaho, blew your skirt up.  So while the boys got to play kick ball and could jump from the playground's swings, girls were relegated to the more delicate activities like hopscotch and four-square.  I don't remember exactly why it was done, but I was one pretty darned happy kid when the school district changed the dress code to allow girls to wear pants outfits any day not long after my school career began.

I was so happy about it that I once went an entire school year without wearing a dress once.  Even those fashion nightmares of double-knit polyester and plaid wool for pants beat the heck out of dresses in my young mind!

But now I am wondering if easing the dress code was the beginning of the demise of the very idea that you should dress appropriately to be seen in public.  I'm thinking of the skimpy belly baring strappy tops and sagging over-size jeans that hug the bottoms of butt cheeks we see today's youth wearing.  You know... the fashions we 30-40-50-60-plus-year-old people deride and make fun of as hideous atrocities that violate humanity's sense of decency.

Did opening that door of choice more than 30 years ago lead to today's anything goes fashion mentality?  Is it why we all think it's ok to wear pajamas to Walmart?

And where are our fashion sensibilities today going to lead for the future?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Losing Faith

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Sometimes life is a puzzle.

And like many puzzles that have been well played with, sometimes it's missing that one piece to bring the whole picture together.  And when you can't find that one little piece, no matter where or how hard you search, all progress putting the puzzle together comes to a dead standstill.  Getting the rest of the puzzle to fit together without that one piece is... hopeless.

That's how I'm feeling today.

My missing piece is a job... a way to produce a regular income and make the rest of life, and living it with some measure of comfort and security, possible.  So much, everything in my future really, hinges on a job.  The pressure I feel is tremendous.  A job is crucial to meet ongoing financial obligations like rent, food, the credit card bill I've racked up with this move... and those are highly important things but even more pressing on my emotions is that it's my ticket out of the living situation I reluctantly agreed to when moving and want out of at the first attainable moment. Without one, I'm stuck right where I am.  And that leaves me on the edge of a complete meltdown on a daily basis.  Being jobless has no redeeming quality at this point and time.

I look at online job postings every single day.  I apply for anything and everything that looks remotely likely.  Or even just endurable.  What happens?  Nothing.  Not even one stinking, lousy rejection letter/email.

I've asked my friends who live or have connections in this part of the country to keep their eyes open, pass my resume along, and, hoping to expand my network a bit, introduce me to anyone they know who might be able to help in my quest.  What's happened?  Nothing.

I've initiated contact with the people in my church who are designated to help members find employment.  What's happened?  So far, nothing.

I've prayed every day for months for God's help in bringing an employment opportunity my way.  Some sort of Divine intervention if you will.  What's happened?  You guessed it...  Either He's not listening or just screaming back NO! at me.  (And the two things I despise most in life are being ignored when I have something to say and hearing an incessant 'no' for an answer.)

Believing that if I did my part God would bless me and make things work out positively, I've made certain conscious choices about life and my behavior in the past.  And for the most part, life was pretty good.  But that formula isn't working this time.  I feel like I'm doing my part and not getting a result that looks remotely desirable and the frustration of it has me unhappy and losing faith that there's any point in living this particular moral code.  All the encouragement in the world to just keep trying and that God must have something really great in store... it doesn't make me feel better.  Sentiments are nice, but it's action that is needed.

Quick action.

My future sanity, security, happiness and very faith are on the line here.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Own Personal World

I finally made it to church for the first time since I moved away from Utah.

I know.  It was long postponed and way over due.

But I did get myself there.

That is the important thing right?

And yes, it was comforting to walk in and know exactly what to expect.  Familiar music, meetings formatted the same way, and lesson material that's consistent all over the world.  Yet there were some subtle differences in how this ward accomplishes things.  Some I felt an immediate appreciation for and others will need to grow on me.  But most importantly I made a new friend, met the next door neighbor and got my spirit refreshed.  I think I'm going to fit right in and be very happy here.

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Material for the Relief Society lesson was drawn from Jeffrey R. Holland's talk at October 2012 General Conference.  One of the key points the teacher made was that during Conference, or even other times when you see or hear a General Authority speak, you never hear them pronouncing doom and gloom and wringing their hands over the state of the world.  No matter what terrible things are going on, the message is positive and encouraging.


We live in the last great dispensation, the fullness of times, and (I'm not sure I'd ever realized this or at least I never consciously thought about it this way before) it's the time when victory is assured.  All previous dispensations have ended in apostasy... this final one will not.  Good will finally triumph and mankind will be saved.

When that knowledge is an absolute, it allows one the peace of mind to take the focus off of very troubling world events and put the attention on making our own little world the best it can be.  It gives us the chance to fill our personal space and thoughts and very character with all that is good and beautiful.  We can simply tune out all the negative messages and live positive, productive, happy lives.

And that's just what I'm off to do!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why I Talk To Strangers

Probably more than 20 years ago I dated a man named Larry for a short while who, in retrospect, was the most unlikely of matches. He was, and I assume still is, very nice, kind, serious, committed to his beliefs and a professional musician who'd been raised in New York City.  Some of the differences in our outlooks on life,Larry attributed to his big city sensibilities.  The one that bothered me to the point of seeing it as near insurmountable problem is that I talk to everyone and he felt no trust for, or desire to converse with, unknown people who walked by on the street. One time we drove from Salt Lake City down to Arches National Park in south central Utah and, of course... got a little off course somewhere along the road.  A little off I-15 we found a small town, probably Price, and as he parked to study the map (no GPS back in the old days!) I rolled down the window and asked the man walking by for directions.

Oh. My. Goodness!!  I got an earful about that!  Larry told me not to talk to people I don't know because you never knew which one was going to be a rapist or murderer.  He was sincerely concerned that my actions were going to get us mugged.  As a small town native, I was perfectly comfortable and felt safe striking up a conversation in this environment.  It was surely a lesson in perspective.  For the rest of the time we saw each other I tried to be respectful of his wishes but... well, lets just say I wasn't always successful in keeping my mouth shut.  And I still talk to strangers everywhere I go to this day.

Just today I had the most wonderful conversation at Hobby Lobby with a woman named Randy.

If you had any idea how many needles and crochet hooks I have... you'd understand my amusement at the irony of finding myself on that isle.  But the ones I've had forever are packed away and I don't know which box.  It seemed so much easier and sensible to just spend the $3.50-ish so I could make a birthday present for my sister-in-law-to-be than to spend hours, maybe days, dragging boxes out of the storage room and sorting through them.  So... that's why I was at Hobby Lobby this beautiful Saturday morning.  Randy was already on the same isle looking at yarn needles when I walked up and she seemed to be having a really rough time deciding what size she needed.  I was standing back patiently waiting my turn to pick up the package I'd decided on.

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After a few minutes, she turned to me and asked "Do you know anything about quilting?"

Quilting is not really my crafting forte but I do know the basics.  My mom, aunts, both grandmas and I'd guess all the great-grandmas quilted so I've been around quilts up on the frames since I was a small child.  I've even helped with a few of those quilts.  Figuring I could possibly say something semi-intelligent about the subject, I asked her what she was making.  And Randy went on to describe the most amazing project the ladies' auxiliary at her church does on (I think) a regular ongoing basis.

They make prayer quilts for a local hospital.  Each quilt is personalized with the recipient's name.  That's done with a fusible pellon type product and then embroidery thread or worsted weight yarn is pulled through on a grid.  If you're a quilt person, you probably recognize this is how you "tie a quilt" to attach the back and batting to the top.  But the neat thing they were doing was just putting the threads in place at this stage.  Then the quilts were placed over the banister in their church's sanctuary and as people pass by they say a prayer for that person to be healed or comforted or whatever and knot one of the ties.  I LOVE the idea of making a personal investment like that!

Randy went on to tell me a little bit about her church and to invite me to their quilting activity held the 2nd Saturday morning and every Wednesday evening of the month.  She also shared a bit of her personal conversion and walk with Jesus.  I walked away with a new friend and her phone number and... I might just go quilting one of these Saturdays.  After I figure out where Buford is and how to get there.

Now Randy practices a different faith than I do...  but I was so impressed with her courage to express her faith and invite others to participate in such a simple and everyday situation.  So many times I've been in church meetings listening to everyone say how uncomfortable they were with sharing the gospel.  And feeling that sick gnawing in the pit of my own stomach.  The fear that someone won't like us is almost overwhelming.  Today's encounter showed me just how easy, and fun, it could be to put  "every member a missionary' into practice.  Now if you are a Mormon it's likely you've also had that phrase strike the same terror in your heart.  But see just how easy and natural it can be?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Love Binds; Respect Unites

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So many issues in America today bring passionate responses from both sides.  Bring them up on Facebook, or even in family conversation, and watch the range of reactions.

Speak of guns, for example.  You'll have those saying 'you'll get my gun when you pry it from my rigid, icy, dead fingers' (myself included) and who are stockpiling additional weapons and ammunition just in case the 'liberal crazies' get their ban passed to those who want to tie all of us 'gun loving perpetrators of violence' to the back of a pickup and drag us through the desert until we come to our senses.  (I've lost the reference, but yes, that dragging through the desert idea was actually part of an Op/Ed newspaper article I read in the past few days.) Different thoughts about whether or not it's ethical and should be legal to own and use a gun isn't what bothers me.

We just had a very negatively fought and divisive national election where extremes ranged from comments stating President Obama is the 2nd coming of Christ personified to those calling him the cause for America's end and the Biblically prophesied anti-Christ of the last days to pretty much everything in between.  My personal opinion falls somewhere into the in between... though I've never made it secret that I don't support where I see him leading us.  But here again, it's not that a difference of opinion about the intent and leadership abilities of our current President exists that's giving me pause.

Say the words 'organic produce.'  You'll get a few plain vanilla complaints about the price but a lot of heated comments about taste, quality, nutrient density, poisoning the earth with chemicals, GMO corn as the root of most modern illness, cloned animals, research geared to show that organic is actually dangerous to consume because it contains bacterial contaminations and a whole slew of sub-issues relating to work conditions in third world countries, holistic medicine, medical malpractice, genetic modification of plants and animals being precursor steps to genetically modifying humans, etc.  Again, being a more middle of the road kind of person, I'm not upset that there are differing opinions about whether organic or modern factory farming is better.

And admit that you are thinking about getting a Pit Bull puppy and watch the battle rage.  You'll have people insist that they are nothing more than conniving canine assassins lying in wait for the opportunity to clamp their massive and very strong jaws around your neck to those (including me) who  say it's all about how the dog is treated and trained.  Though there are exceptions, just like humans defying their upbringing, generally if you treat an animal with kindness and love he'll be a gentle pet; beat him and train him to fight and he'll be a vicious killer.  If you disagree, I respect your right to your own opinion and suggest you get a different breed of puppy when you choose a pet for your home.

I could go on...  Immigration.  Capital punishment.  Welfare fraud.  Marijuana legalization.  Motor cycle helmets.  Speed limits.  Salaries for professional athletes.  Salaries for school teachers.  Salaries (and other perks) for Congress.

Or I can just get around to making my point...

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What if this contention is being purposefully created?

I'm really not a big conspiracy theorist, but I did find the suggestion intriguing that keeping us so passionately divided on individual issues is an intentional thing... a way to keep us from noticing the more nefarious things national and international governments are doing to bring about the so-called New World Order.  I remember in school being taught that we live in the United States of America.  The UNITED States and that the only way our country will fail is if we become divided.  A house divided cannot stand...  Sound familiar to anyone else?  From that perspective I find things like Texas threatening to secede troubling.  And I find equally troubling that some people are suggesting that they do it.  Quickly.  Because 'we' don't want 'them' in America anymore.

But honestly what struck the chord for me wasn't the whole government involvement angle so much as the idea that creating this divisiveness is intentional.  Where I differ with the the conspirator folks is on where the intent originates.

You see, at my core, I am a religious person.  I am a Christian.  I believe that the people who wrote Scripture were inspired with thoughts that are just as, if not more, relevant to life today than in the time when they were written.  When the Bible tells me to love my neighbor, (Matthew 22:39) I trust that there is a Divine reason.  When it tells me that God is Love (1 John 4:8) and that His love for each of us, His children, is unconditional (Acts 10:34) I believe it.  When it says I need to overcome the 'natural man' (1 Corinthians 2: 14) and become more like my Savior (Matthew 5:48) I see the need to do a better job loving people.

In every culture, love is the glue that binds people to each other.  It's the connection that holds a family together stronger than bloodlines.  It's what makes us friends.  In the same way, contention and discord are what pull people apart ruining relationships, destroying families, causing entire civilizations to fall.  The same Scriptures speak of Satan being the 'Father of all lies' (John 8:44); the very source of contention.  They tell us that his goal is make us as miserable as he is being separated from the love and light of God.

And the same Scriptures invite us to make a decision:  "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." (Joshua 24:15)

While my practice is imperfect, I know my choice.  We are all flawed people and it's impossible to live up to a perfect standard.  Sometimes we act in ways, and we all do it, where actively loving is hard.  I know that there have been times I've looked at another person and thought to myself, 'I love you.  But right now I really don't like you.'  What holds us together in those moments is respect... respect for every person's right to opinion, to choose their own actions and words.  We don't have to agree but we do need to respect.

Love binds us.  Respect unites us.  And humanity needs a big dose of both right about now.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: Full Of Promise

2012 was quite an adventure!

I laughed.  I cried.  I laughed so hard that I cried sometimes.  I did good things and treated people well.  I also did unkind things and treated people less than respectfully.  Sometimes I expressed gratitude when I was treated well and sometimes I didn't.  I apologized when my behavior called for it... except for the times when I didn't.  I prayed for things that did not come to pass and received more blessings than I could ever hope to deserve.  New beginnings found me and paths that I can no longer follow came to an end.  I learned more than I would have ever imagined and I’m sure I forgot a lot too.  Friendships ended and that love was lost.  Friendships were formed and new love was found.  When my family and friends lost family and friends I wept with them.  When my family and friends found more family and friends I rejoiced with them.  I've been allowed to live to see another day with the people and things that I love most.  I traveled.  I climbed a mountain.  I walked in the desert.  I swam in the sea.  I hiked through a pine forest.  I gazed into a tropical (and surprisingly cold) pool.  I came to call a new place home.  The college football team I root for has changed from the Utes to the Bulldogs.  I've endured sleepless nights filled with doubt and worry.  I've slept like a baby feeling secure and loved.  I failed often but I accomplished so much more than in any previous year.

All in all, it's going to be a hard year to top!  But I have high hopes for 2013!!

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I was thinking about how I'd sum up my past year and what I want the new one to look like a couple of days ago when I read this blog post, Drops of Awesome from Daring Young Mom.  She really got me thinking about how we humans discount the good and focus on beating ourselves up over the screw ups.  Even those of us who think we are optimists, the cup is half full team, spend a lot of time plotting and planning how to fix our flaws and do better.  Why is it so hard to celebrate when and what we do right and say 'in this moment I am a good _______ (fill in the blank:  parent, friend, spouse, etc.)?'  Why is it easier to hear the negative voice inside our own head and believe the bad stuff it says?  And maybe more importantly, what do we need to do differently to hear the good stuff?

To quote Kathryn Thompson, author of the Daring Young Mom blog:

As I said goodbye to Magoo and started to walk back home, my mind started to shift.
Drops of Awesome! I thought. Every time you do something good, something kind, something productive, it’s a drop in your Bucket of Awesome. You don’t lose drops for every misstep. You can only build. You can only fill.
I walked Magoo to the bus. Drop of Awesome!
I fed him fruit with breakfast. Drop of Awesome!
I told him I loved him. Drop of Awesome!
I wore a bra and brushed my teeth before schlepping it up that hill. Two Fat Drops of Awesome!
All day long I chanted these words in my head. I picked up that tootsie roll wrapper off the front porch instead of stepping over it for the eleventy hundredth time. Drop of Awesome! I unloaded one dish from the dishwasher when I walked through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. Drop of Awesome! I texted my sad neighbor to say I was thinking about her. Drop of Awesome! I had a critical thought about one of my kids and I brushed it away and replaced it with love. Drop of Awesome!
When I started thinking about my life in terms of adding these little Drops of Awesome for every tiny act of good, I found that I was doing more and more of them because it’s a lot more fun to do good when you’re rewarded with joy, rather than being guilted about every failure in your past.

Drops of Awesome is going to be my personal theme for 2013.  I have some huge goals to achieve and exciting adventures planned and I'm going to enjoy them!  I'm going to enjoy the journey getting there, too!!

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this life and another new year to explore it!