Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Just One Little Light

I can't believe it has been almost a year since I last posted on this blog. 2016 was a rough year. Two of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my 40 years happened. I sent my oldest son off to college and we found out that my mom has stage III ovarian cancer (she only has a few weeks left of chemo and seems to be doing really well. The prognosis is good). Both of those things happening at the same time sent me into a serious funk.

Every time something big or exciting would happen--my 40th birthday, prom, a graduation party, drives across the country, among other--I would think, "I should blog about this". But I didn't. I struggled in 2016--especially the second half of the year. And strangely, even though my kids are all in school and growing up, somehow my days seem busier than ever. When I wasn't running my kids around to their various activities I spent a lot of time feeling sad and retreating to my room to hide under my blankets.

The new year felt like a fresh start to me. More so than any new year before that I can remember. After thinking long and hard about my word for the year, I finally found one that I was really excited about. My word for 2017 is "light".

So all of this is pretty much just to say that I started a new blog focused on light (because I am a blog addict and I always feel compelled to create a new space on the web that is just for whatever my current passion may be. I can't help myself). I am not abandoning this blog. I still have plans to post awesome things on it in the near future. I have actually really missed blogging. I'm going to use the new blog as a spot to share ways to spread light, experience light, embrace light, and be a light. I have some ideas I want to share regarding some opportunities for service that I am excited about. I also just want to share the little day to day things that are making my life more bright. I hope you will check it out: Just One Little Light.

See you soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

15 Minute Meal: Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia with Avocado Cream

Weeknight dinners are tough sometimes. With four boys in after school activities, sports, music and scouting I often just need to have something quick to make for dinner without buying Little Caesar's Hot N' Ready--again. I love it when I find a delicious dinner I can make in around 15 minutes. I love it even more if it's inexpensive.

Martha Stewart's cornmeal crusted tilapia has been a favorite around here for several years. We usually eat it plain with some sides or maybe a little salsa, but recently I discovered the perfect accompaniment to it: avocado cream. Avocado. Cream. Even the name sounds delicious and full of promise. Most of my family loved it, except for my son who doesn't like avocados and my husband who doesn't like sour cream (heretics!). Fair warning: if you don't like avocados or sour cream you're probably going to want to find a different recipe because you won't like this.

Avocado Cream* (adapted from Clean and Delicious)
Two ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup full fat sour cream (you can use 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt if you want to watch your fat and calories)
1 tablespoon lime juice (or 1/2 of a fresh lime, squeezed--I usually just use Nellie and Joe's Key West Lime juice which I always keep in my fridge)
1/2 teaspoon salt, give or take a little, to taste

Mash up the avocado until creamy and mostly smooth (a few lumps are fine) with a fork and stir in the sour cream, lime juice and salt until well blended and creamy.

Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia* (adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food)
2 pounds tilapia, fresh or thawed from frozen (I buy mine at Aldi and it is very economical)
2/3 cups cornmeal
2 tablespoons paprika
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of pepper because my family aren't huge pepper fans)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided.

Using a large frying pan or electric skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. In a shallow dish, combine cornmeal, paprika, salt and pepper with a fork or whisk until blended. Coat each side of the fish fillet in the cornmeal and place in the hot frying pan. (I fit five fillets in my electric skillet at once without crowding). Cook for three minutes. Flip. Cook for three minutes more or until golden brown and crispy. The texture should be firm and will flake a little when you cut into it. Remove to a warm plate. Repeat with second batch of fish.
This made 10 fish fillets. It served my family of six (four growing boys) with seconds for those who wanted them and no left-overs.

Quick Black Beans
1 can black beans rinse and drained
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
generous dash of cumin (to taste)
red pepper flakes (optional)

Place the beans in a small bowl. Microwave on high for one to two minutes or until heated through (microwave times vary). Stir in the garlic salt, olive oil and cumin. Serve with red pepper flakes on the side for those who like some heat. I made one can initially but these were received better than I thought they would be so I ended up making another batch. Why not? They only took a total of three minutes to make and were so, so easy.

Serve the tilapia, with a dollop of avocado cream and a side of the beans. You can serve it with a salad, or steamed vegetable, or you can add a side of rice to the meal too if you'd like. Even with all that you can still have a delicious, healthy and well-balanced dinner on the table in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Happy eating!

*You could easily halve both the avocado cream and tilapia recipes for a smaller family.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Old Irish Blessing for St. Patrick's Day

Glengesh Pass, County Donegal, Ireland. I drove on that little winding road. Amazing!

Here's a free 8x10 print of an old Irish blessing as a St. Patrick's Day present from me to you. Check out my other free stuff here.
Happy St. Patrick's Day. Erin Go Bragh.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

St. Patrick's Day

A little bouquet of shamrocks that Joel brought me on St. Patrick's Day a few years ago.
St. Patrick's day is just a couple of days away. I love St. Patrick's Day--it's my Irish roots, I think. Our tradition is to have a corned beef, cabbage and boiled potato dinner (and in more recent history colcannon) with Irish soda bread and to watch "Waking Ned Devine" (a perennial family favorite ever since we first saw it back in 1999 or 2000).

I wish I could be back in County Donegal this St. Patrick's Day.
Or Dublin. I'd be happy to be in Dublin too.

A few years ago I made the best soda bread (even if the recipe isn't the most authentic one out there). It reminded me of traditional English scones. I heard somewhere that this sweeter version of soda bread is considered a tea bread and maybe wouldn't normally be eaten with a meat and potatoes supper, but we often make our own rules around here.

I looked at the soda bread at the local grocery store bakery out of curiosity. It was over $4.00 a loaf and it didn't look very good either. This recipe is easy to make, has a nice texture, isn't dry at all and has a great flavor.

I keep thinking I need to not wait a whole year before we have it again. Would you like some? Here's the recipe:

Irish Soda Bread

3 1/4 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 cup cold butter, cut up

1 1/3 cups buttermilk

1/2 to 1 cup currants (my store didn't have them so I used dried cranberries but you could use raisins too)

1 Tbsp. sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix first five ingredients (sift or stir together with a fork). Using a pastry blender, mix in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in buttermilk just until moistened. Stir in currants.

Turn dough out onto a well floured board and knead ten times. Shape into a round loaf about 2 1/2" thick and cut a deep cross in the top with a sharp knife. Sprinkle loaf with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake on a greased cookie sheet or on a baking stone for one hour or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack before cutting into wedges and serving with real butter if desired. Yum.

Yeah, that's me and James Joyce in Dublin. 
Now if only I had a peat fire, I could curl up with James Joyce and be completely happy. Erin go bragh.

A little Irish wisdom for you in parting.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Five Things I'm Loving This Friday (Episode 2)

I had a little down time today and decided to share some more Friday favorites.

My friend Danielle sent me a link to "Stressed Out" by TWENTY ØNE PILØTS a few weeks ago and I have listened to a bunch of their stuff since then. I'm digging the pop-punk vibe of this band. It doesn't hurt that they hail from my high school home state of Ohio. Also check out their songs, "House of Gold" and "Tear in my Heart".  Disclaimer: the latter two music videos are a little weird but the music is definitely catchy.


2. Men's Fashion. 
In the last year or so I have discovered that I love men's fashion. Is this weird? Maybe, but as ZZ Top wisely observed, "every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man." I guess I can't speak for every girl, but I love seeing my husband and sons dressed up. When we went to the UK I noticed that European men are really well dressed as a general rule. I started a Pinterest board several months ago for fashion advice and ideas to share with my husband and just recently I started following a couple of men's fashion Instagrammers (@chrismehan; @jtjaarda; @callmemistersteven). Did you know "#chestie" is a thing? I was slightly hesitant to check out that hashtag (as you might imagine), but I was pleasantly surprised to see the whole feed was lots of headless torso shots of men wearing dapper bow ties, crisp button down shirts, pocket squares, cuff links, stick pins and nicely tailored jackets. Like these:

Also we randomly started getting a Charles Tyrwhitt catalog in the mail and I'm in love.

3. Podcasts.
Okay. So, I love these every day. This is no secret. I've shared some of my podcast love before but here are a few more that I've discovered and am enjoying:
99% Invisible
The Memory Palace
The LifeBeats Project
I like podcasts because I can put them on while I'm dong otherwise mundane work like cleaning my room or folding laundry and I feel like I'm learning something.

4. Vintage Photography.
This appeals to my love of history and my love of photography so I've enjoyed perusing a few vintage photo sites in my spare time lately. I love it when I come across gems like these. . .

Targa the elephant disembarks from the circus train in the Bronx as most of her young visitors watch (1963). |Photographer Paul Rice. Source. 
The pet fawn of Brad Curry of Galesburg, MI watches him depart from home every morning on his school bus (1960) | Photographer: UPI Telephoto. Source

and this:
Dapper skater in 1937. Source. 
5. Easter Candy.
Easter candy > all other candy. This is truth. Don't try to dispute me on it. I pretty much love it all--Cadbury Creme Eggs (don't hate. I've found that a lot of people think these are gross, but I LOVE them), jelly beans (I'm partial to the Jelly Belly variety), malted Robin's Eggs, Reese's Eggs, Peeps, marshmallow eggs, those carrot shaped packages of orange Reese's Pieces. . .

I even tried the weird carrot cake flavored Hershey's Kisses and they aren't half bad. Confession: yesterday I ate a good quarter of a bag of SweetTart jelly beans and found myself feeling ill and craving broccoli afterwards, but Easter comes but once a year so I have to get my fix while I can.

Other Stuff I'm Loving:
Laughing at this guy
Loving this spiritual enlightenment
Giggling over this Etsy store
Re-watching this on Netflix. Again.
Imagining I'm real life friends with the writer of this blog.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

New Beginnings: Adventures in Young Women

New Beginnings is an annual event at our church for all young women (ages 12 to 18) and their parents (and any girls who will be turning 12 in the coming calendar year) to help them learn about the Young Women program. We don't have any new young women joining us this year so we decided to keep our New Beginnings program simple. 

Our young women are all very young, so rather than placing the responsibility of carrying out the event solely on them, we gave them half a dozen themes to choose from. We all shared ideas for decorations, food and what the program should entail and how we could relate it all to the chosen theme

The Invitations: The theme the girls decided on was "Adventure". They helped with planning, decorating, and refreshments. I made invitations and decided to look at the Indiana Jones Trilogy (I say trilogy because The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't count--Aliens, Steven Spielberg? Really? Aliens?) for inspiration. 

The Young Women with some of the props from the skit. The Young Womanhood Medallion in the purple velvet box accidentally got obscured by one the crepe paper vines. Oops.
I couldn't resist sneaking this cute picture of my son into this post.
The Program: We began the program with an opening hymn and prayer. I gave a brief introduction and then we jumped right into the skit. Afterwards we asked the bishop to say a few encouraging words to the Young Women and then we had a closing prayer and refreshments.

The Skit: During one of our Wednesday night activities, the young women and leaders collaborated on a fun skit to tell about the different classes in the Young Women program, and to explain a little about Personal Progress. We tried to incorporate some of the Young Women values and address some of the issues young women encounter with Personal Progress as well. My first counselor, Hannah, took on the job of coming up with a cohesive way to put it all together. She did most of the writing (with a few edits from me) which was a big undertaking and I think she did a fantastic job. You can read it below:

Adventures in Young Women

--Narrator: A Leader
--Nevada Miller: A Young Woman
--Alaska Smith: A Young Woman
--Wyoming Johnson: A Young Woman
--Utah White: A Young Woman
--Discouragement (Enemy of Personal Progress #1): A Young Man
--Laziness (Enemy of Personal Progress #2): Another Young Man
--Young Women President

--The Young Women Torch
--A pedestal (we used a wooden carved plant stand)
--The Young Womanhood Medallion
--A canvas satchel containing: a map labeled “Patriarchal Blessing”, a compass labeled “Scriptures”, a walkie talkie labeled “Prayer”, and a miniature temple or representation of one such as a photo
--A Sword and Shield labeled “Testimony” and “Virtue”
--Signs for Enemies of Personal Progress to wear: “Discouragement” and “Laziness”
--Several different necklaces (at least a dozen or so)
--Plastic skull
--Scene Change Cards (optional)

Episode One: The Beehives and the Raiders of the Lost Medallion

Narrator: We join our heroes, the Beehives: Nevada Miller, Alaska Smith, Wyoming Johnson and Utah White, on their Personal Progress quest. As these Beehives enter the Young Women program they begin to learn how to work together in harmony as they strengthen their faith and stand for truth and righteousness. This is a time to arise and shine forth (Utah White grabs the YW torch and holds it for the rest of the skit). They see the end of the journey in the young womanhood recognition medallion. 

Young women enter, and pause about halfway to the front of the room. They see the pedestal with the medallion.
 Alaska: So what was it we were looking for again?

Wyoming: The Young Womanhood Recognition Medallion? Or something. It's said that we can only get it when we finish our Personal Progress, but I heard our leaders saying that they keep it in here to keep the young men away from it. 

Nevada: Yeah, I heard a couple of years ago they tried to make off with it and that's why they have their own program now, instead of just scouts.

Alaska: So where it is supposed to be?

Utah: I heard the leaders talking about how they keep it in a cave (holds the torch aloft looking around).

Alaska: A cave?

Wyoming: (In passing, matter-of-factly) Yeah, our leaders are really weird.

The young women walk further into the room.

Nevada: Is it that? (points at the pedestal with the medallion in the center of the room).

Utah: Must be. There isn't anything else in here. 

Utah dramatically tries to take the medallion; all get chased out of the room by a boulder (exercise ball rolled by one of the leaders).

Episode 2: The Mia Maids and the Temple of God (before reentering the room, the Young Women arm themselves with the sword and shield located in the hallway)

Narrator: Mia Maids learn about love, faith, and purity as they strengthen their testimony and accept and act on the young women values. 

Girls rush in through other door as if still running from the boulder. 
Utah: That was close. 

Wyoming: Almost too close. I didn't realize there was this much work involved to get the medallion. Good thing we found this cool stuff (motions to sword of testimony and shield of virtue). I have a feeling it might come in handy on this journey.

Nevada: For sure. Let's just rest for a bit and try again. 

The young women begin chatting quietly. The Enemies of Personal Progress, Discouragement and Laziness, slink into the room unnoticed by the girls. 

My two oldest sons played the Enemies of Personal Progress in our skit. They were good sports. Also, I bribed them with food.

Alaska: Is this all really worth it? I look at my book and the experiences left to do I get so overwhelmed that I still have so much left to accomplish. 

Discouragement: So why don't you just quit? It's not like it's all that important...

Laziness joins in and both ad lib, continuing to try to convince the young women to quit working on Personal Progress. Nevada takes out the sword of testimony and battles Discouragement and Laziness and wins, chasing them out of the room. She rejoins the group, exhausted but triumphant.

Utah: Wow. That was another close one. This isn’t easy, but like our scripture theme for this year says, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men" if we want eternal life and that young womanhood medallion.

Wyoming: Look. I’ve got some tools here to help us on our adventure (she reaches into the satchel and hands each of the young women and object: a map--patriarchal blessing, a compass--scriptures and a walkie talkie--prayer).

Alaska: These are just what we need! I also think we should make time for a temple trip before we continue on our journey.

Wyoming: Great idea! I always feel better after I go there (she pulls out miniature temple or picture of the temple and holds it up for all to see).

All agree and exit together.

Episode 3: The Laurels and the Last Crusade

Narrator: The journey nears its end as the young women finish their preparations to make and keep sacred covenants in the temple. In this Last Crusade through all their hard work, the young women will receive that holy grail of the program, The Young Womanhood Recognition Medallion. They have found that to reach this ultimate goal they must follow in the footsteps of Jehovah, be penitent and take giant leaps of faith along the way.

Girls enter through back door and walk to the front. They find their Young Women President standing by a table full of necklaces and different medallions (a quick scene change occurs when the young women exit at the end of scene two). 

Young Women President: One of the Young Women values is Choice and Accountability. You must choose, but beware-- (holds up plastic skull) the last young woman that was here, chose poorly.

The young women come forward to look at the choices and ad lib debating which is the correct necklace. After a little discussion, they notice the Young Womanhood medallion and remark on the picture of the temple on it. They decide that must be the correct choice. They present their choice to the Young Women president.

Young Women President: You chose wisely.

Cheering. The young women hug each other and give high fives before galloping off into the sunset.

Narrator: The Young Women program is an adventure. It can be a challenge at times, but young women can experience true joy as they stand as witnesses of God, strive to live the young women values, prepare to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple and enjoy the blessings of exaltation. What an incredibly happy ending!


On they go to vanquish the foe!

The Decorations: I brought some junk artifacts that one might see in Professor Jones's office or on one of his adventures from my house and we used them as simple decorations to set the stage: a lantern, topiary, plastic skull, vintage camera, a couple of souvenirs my husband brought home with him after living in Chile for two years, a rock with a face that my little boys had in their rock collection, and a couple of fossils. We covered the table with simple brown paper and we snagged the old bedraggled world map from the church library and hung it above the refreshment table as a nod to Indiana's world travels. The young women were excited to make paper gems a few weeks earlier. They put them all over the room and hung crepe paper vines. 

The Food: I love having fun with the food when we're doing themed events. The young women and leaders had lots of great ideas and my second counselor, Liz, did a large part of the food preparation and even made cute little signs labeling things so people could see how different things on the menu tied into our theme. Liz is an excellent cook and has even done catering before so all her food was deliciously on point. The young women and leaders made some contributions to the refreshments as well, but Liz gets major props for all her hard work.

Our Menu:
  • Quicksand (Vanilla Pudding with Vanilla Wafer crumbs) and Whipped Cream--"Don't SINK Below Your Potential" and "WHIP Your Testimony into Shape"
  • Black Forest Cake--"Beware the PITfalls of Satan"
  • Shrimp Dip with Crackers--"Don't SHRIMP on Personal Progress"
  • Hot Ham and Cheese Sliders--"Don't Let Your Scripture Study Slide"
  • Ants on a Log--Remember all those bugs in The Temple of Doom? Ew. Also there are the killer ants in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but we're not counting that movie, remember? ;)
  • Warheads--"Be a SOURvivor"
  • Gummy Worms--a reference to the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana's fear of snakes (because gummy worms are more readily available than gummy snakes).
  • Ring Pops and Chocolate Gold Coins--because every adventure needs treasure!
  • Kool-aid--"Cultivate a Thirst for Knowledge"

These paper straws I had in my stash looked like mini dart blowers. 

The event was a lot of fun and a great success.  I so appreciated both of my counselors really stepping up for this event. The young women loved it because they got to play such a big role in the planning and execution of it. It really gave them ownership and pride in how well everything turned out. We decided to share it all--skit, menu, decorations, everything--with the hopes that someone else out there can benefit from our ideas and hard work. Hooray for Adventures in Young Women!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mormon Prom

The last weekend in February was the Mormon Prom. It was big dance for all the youth ages 14 to 18 from our church all across upstate New York from the Buffalo Stake on the west to Albany Stake on the east. There were a lot of kids (I heard estimates of upwards of  350) there and it made me happy to see them all together having a great time, in a safe and uplifting environment.

There was dancing, food, a games room, a photographer, and a service project for people to participate in when they needed a rest from dancing. One of the kids from our congregation invited a couple of friends from the school football team so Joel hung out with his football squad for the evening. I asked Seth if he wanted to invite some school friends, but most of them were on their senior trip to Florida (which we passed on because it cost almost as much as a semester of college at Seth's first choice school) but he found some very cool kids to hang out with and I think it took his mind off  missing all the fun with his school friends.

I tagged along as a chaperone and was lucky to get to spend most of the evening visiting with one of my best friends from when we lived in Rochester.

Football squad.
Several of the boys were a little shy about dancing at first but after awhile they loosened up and had a great time.
These kids were best friends when we lived in Rochester. My friend Danielle, reminded me that they were 6 months, 18 months and 3 years old when our families first met and now they are in high school. It was so fun to see them all together again.
It was soul renewing to get to visit with one of my dearest friends, Danielle. We missed our friend, Amy. The three of us together are an unbeatable trifecta.
The youth could take a break from dancing and tie fleece blankets for the elderly and sick children.
I loved this picture. I borrowed it from some kid that I don't even know. I really hope he doesn't mind.
I'm trying to soak in every moment I have with my boys. Seeing how fast the years have flown by has made me realized that all the cliches about kids growing up too fast are absolutely true. Seth will be going off to college this fall and even though that's the goal and what you want for your kids--for them to grow up and be independent adults--it is still heart-breaking in a very real way. But let's not think about that because I don't feel like bawling right now. Let's think about how handsome my boys are and how grateful I am for the good friends and this fun experience they were able to have.