Monday, November 23, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I basically took shortcuts wherever possible when making the costume, so I didn't make a lining for the hood (good thing, since it barely fit as it was) and instead of making a tail I used the tail from our monkey leash and just clipped it to the belt loop on his pants. That turned out to be very useful for steering him around the neighborhood.
Overall, it was a fun weekend. Ryan and I made honey popcorn earlier in the day:
I meant to separate all of the unpopped kernels before putting the sticky stuff on, but totally forgot, so later Ryan tried to remove as many as he could find:
This stuff is awesomely delicious. And addicting. It's already gone. Gareth really enjoyed the little bits I gave him on Saturday, but on Sunday he decided it was too sticky or something and refused to eat anymore. Ryan and I certainly didn't mind that!
We went trick-or-treating with our neighbor and her little girl. Unfortunately, the best picture I got of her was from behind - my front one turned out blurry.
She's a bug, as you can probably tell, though it might be hard without seeing her other extra leg I suppose. She and Gareth got "oohed" over an awful lot - I think because there weren't too many other really little kids out. We saw a fair amount of 8-10 year olds and some middle and high schoolers, but not many others as small as our kids.
Gareth, of course, didn't remember anything about Halloween, but it only took him 4 or 5 houses to figure out that he needed to open his bag and the person would put candy in it. He did a pretty good job of saying "trick-or-treat" as well when we prompted him to, though he says it "critch-or-treat". It was slightly disappointing how few houses were participating. If there were eight houses in a cul-de-sac we were lucky if two were passing out candy. It's not like Gareth cared though. He got plenty of candy and had fun - maybe next year he'll remember what Halloween's all about.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Ryan's fine with it, but I think I like it a bit longer. So maybe, since Gareth was so patient and good for this cut, next time I'll try to do it with scissors. If it turns out horribly he'll end up with this cut again.
Our neighbor was awesome and took some pictures of our family this past weekend. We got some really good shots, but then Gareth decided he's rather run around, so that brought the photo shoot to an abrupt end. I'll post a few once I get some time on the other computer, which is where they are.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I'm looking forward to getting to know more women in Relief Society. The hard part is that, over a year after moving in, my energy and excitement for being super sociable and reaching out to others has definitely waned. Perhaps the coming weeks will revitalize that. I felt bad about not trying harder yesterday, but between the strangeness of being there at all and combating my body's dislike for fasting I wasn't able to expend any energies in that arena.
Overall, I'm excited for this change. I got the Bishop to promise that whatever they give me to do next I'll be able to attend Sunday school and Relief Society. And while I may not always enjoy the lessons in those two hours (though yesterday's were pretty good), they should at least give me some food for thought and a much-needed break from Gareth. Besides, it felt awesome to go pick up Gareth yesterday and have him so ecstatic to see me - and for me to feel happy to see him as well.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Now that we've got a nice quality point-and-shoot, we've decided we need to start saving up for a good SLR. Taking pictures of a constantly moving child is practically impossible with a point-and-shoot, unless you like your pictures really blurry.
My neighbor owns a mat cutter and we were able to get some linen tape from a local framing store, so I was able to mat a couple of my pictures myself (the clarinet keys and the water spigot). I was going to frame them myself as well, but when I took them to the frame store to verify I was about to do it correctly the nice man there framed them for me for free (but now I know how to do it myself in the future). My class is over now - our last couple of sessions were about matting and framing and then we held an "art show" at the church with finished products from both photography classes and a quilting class. It was a fun class, though a bit stressful at times, and I think I've learned a lot from it. Hopefully what I've learned will help my future picture-taking improve.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Last week we discussed texture, which is basically what you'd think (the picture above would be an example of both line and texture). The idea behind texture in photography being that you want your viewer to get a sensory reaction to the picture. I had a much more difficult time finding texture pictures, but had more of them turn out decently. Here are some of those:
This week we're working on portraiture, which I'm afraid I'm no good at. In case you haven't noticed the trend, I seem to tend toward abstract pictures rather than representational. I feel that I never quite get everything working together right in the representational world. And it doesn't help that Gareth always, always, always notices when I'm taking pictures. Or that for some reason he's decided that having his feet/toes photographed is the best thing in the world. After this week we learn about matting/framing and then we get ready for our art show (held at the church) on August 4.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
"It is no secret that Cafe Rio is one of the more popular restaurants among BYU students. It is for this reason I felt compelled to write this letter to expose something I found both shocking and saddening. I noticed Cafe Rio uses real Coca-Cola in its recipe for pork barbacoa. That means many of us have disobeyed the commandments of our prophets without even knowing it!
"I am appalled Cafe Rio would perpetuate this subterfuge in Provo. Surely the owners must realize how many of us are striving to uphold the Word of Wisdom. How can we do that when they are secretly giving us real Coke? Now that this despicable deception has been brought to light, I think the only solution that we, as students of the Lord's university, can embrace is to immediately stop patronizing Cafe Rio until it uses caffeine-free Coke in its pork barbacoa recipe.
"Until then, let us eat on campus -- BYU Dining would never serve real Coke. Further, I call on the Honor Code Office to consider whether students who continue to order pork barbacoa should have a place at this university. Surely we cannot have students attending BYU who don't think it's important to follow the prophets. If students insist on eating pork barbacoa at Cafe Rio, they should cede their spot at this university to someone who is willing to be obedient, even when it doesn't suit their carnal tastes."
This was a letter to the editor in the Daily Universe. I laughed my head off. Hope to hear what you have to say!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—After reading that, the inevitable Sunday school question ensues: "What are some examples of these evils and designs that we have seen in these latter-days?" Now the faithful members of the Sunday school class will reveal our main enemies, the dangerous, conspiring evils that constantly threaten to undermine our health: the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, and the illegal drug underworld.
Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.Luckily we have a more modern interpretation of this scripture: "sparingly" and "only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine" actually means "every day".
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated linguine
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
3 cups chopped zucchini (about 1 pound)
3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add 2 teaspoons oil, tossing to coat.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add zucchini; sauté 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta and 1 1/2 tablespoons mint; toss well. Remove from heat; stir in tomato mixture. Place 1 1/2 cups pasta mixture in each of 4 bowls; top evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons mint. Sprinkle each serving with 4 teaspoons cheese and 2 teaspoons almonds.
I was getting a little nervous about this one the past couple of weeks since as the reviews were coming in online there were an awful lot of "eh" or "blech" reviews. I did change a few things. I used grape tomatoes rather than cherry, mainly because they were more cost-effective and vidalia onion since I couldn't see any shallots. I left out the mint, but used a bit of basil instead, used parmesan cheese since it's what we have, and used more almonds than called for. I also used penne pasta rather than linguine, knowing from experience that an independent-minded but less than perfectly coordinated 2-year-old and spaghetti or linguine are a great recipe for frustration all around at the dinner table. I'd say I used about 12 ounces of penne - it seemed perfectly balanced even with more pasta than called for. One big complaint in the reviews was the impossibility of stirring everything together in the frying pan. I just mixed it all together in a serving bowl, almonds included, and grated the cheese over the top of that. This was a delicious and easy summertime meal that we all loved.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Next we tried the YNAB approach without buying the YNAB product. Ryan coded up a complete clone of the YNAB spreadsheet where we could enter our purchases into a register, dole money out to specific categories, and it would record how much was spent, budgeted, and remaining in each category. If we went over in a category it would subtract that amount from our available amount to budget in the next month. This worked pretty well except that there was no way to account for different bank accounts. And then Ryan was going to need to roll it over for the new year (I didn't have the time or inclination to learn how to do it myself), but he was too busy with school so it never happened. A scary 5 months of not keeping track of our purchases ensued.
Now we've successfully transitioned over to BucketWise (thanks to Ryan allowing me free reign at the Mac for one weekend so I could enter everything from the past 5 months and figure out how the program works). The program allows you to set up multiple bank or credit card accounts and then you can create "buckets" within each acount. For us, I have all deposits go into a "general" bucket and then I can dole it out from there. With this program I can tell exactly what we can afford to pay for from our main account and what we'll need to pay for from our secondary account (where my paychecks go). I'm hoping this will gradually end the worries about if we've got any money left in our primary account. We're being better about making sure we have the money for a purchase before we make it - even the little ones, which was usually what caught us before. And we're using it to help us save for items we want to get in the future; we already have a "bucket" for Ryan's drumset! We'll see how it works over time, but so far I'm excited.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I'd always wrinkled up my nose at the thought of playing in a community band or orchestra. I felt that it would just be disappointing after the other ensemble experiences I've had. But Citizen's Band is unique amongst community bands. It's been around for over 160 years and the performers range from talented high school students to people in their 80's. Some of the older members have been playing in the band for 50 or 60 years. Several members of the band are war veterans, one of whom hang-glided in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most of the local band directors, studio teachers, and orchestra members participate in the band, which definitely helps the quality of the playing. The band is primarily a sight-reading band. For most concerts we only have one rehearsal the evening before. We don't get the music until that rehearsal, so we sight-read it and perform it the next night. And the band is very skilled at pulling it off. Apparently they're hoping to start having the band tour occasionally - performing at a conference in the next couple of years and then a trip to Europe after that.
The music isn't middle-school level either. Well, occasionally they'll throw one of the better of those in there, but for the most part it's good music. At our concert last night we played the to-be-expected patriotic pieces such as Armed Forces Salute and Stars and Stripes (as a side note, does anyone else get sick of Sousa marches?). But we also threw in there the ever-favorite Beguine for Band (remember that one Susan?), which isn't nearly as annoying when not paired with 15 other schmaltzy pieces, and even a great transcription of Shostakovich's Festive Overture. Definitely sight-readable material (though I did have to practice a few licks in the Shostakovich), but it seems they stick to good quality sight-readable material.
It was awesome to be able to play at the Memorial Day concert. We let Gareth stay up late so that he and Ryan could come. The audience consisted of mostly elderly people (I'm curious to see if that's always the case or if it's just due to the holiday) which meant there were actually several veterans in the audience. Playing that concert was a great way to feel a part of the community and feel that we'd done something to celebrate the holiday.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I never thought we'd go this far with the whole fresh food thing, but we're actually contemplating trying out the local pasture-raised meats as well. I was surprised to see that the ground beef isn't all that much more than in the store: $4.25 - $5.25/lb. Just to get 85% lean has been costing us $2.99 at the store lately, with more lean options costing almost $4. Unfortunately the ground beef is the least expensive of the local meats. I'm not sure that the market prices can compete with the store prices where chicken and pork products are concerned, but I've still got some checking to do. If we weren't a poor grad. student family I'd maybe do it anyway.
We did get a couple of tomato plants - an Early Girl and some variety of grape that I can't remember the name of. We've had plenty of rain and sun since planting them and it looks like they're shooting up quite nicely. I'm so excited to (hopefully, if all goes well) have our own tomatoes this summer!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
My parents came out for Easter and we had a great time having them here. Gareth learned to say "Pops" and "Gram" while they were here, and he seems to be remembering that that's who they are! Dad tried to teach him some French as well (things like "tu es bete"), but the only thing that stuck was saying "Salut!" whenever my dad put his hands on his head. Gareth would only do that for Pops though.
Our weather that weekend wasn't the greatest, but my dad braved the wind to spend lots of time outside with Gareth. I even let Gareth play outside on Easter because it was actually sunny and almost warm out:
Gareth loves this rusty, mildewy swing set. He'll start on the double swing (on the "floor" of it), move up to the double swing seats, then on to the yellow swing, the white swing, then the slide. Pops taught him how to go down head first. Thanks, Pops.
I decided to splurge and get Gareth an actual Sunday outfit for Easter. His Sunday clothes have consisted of jeans with a button-down or polo shirt for the past several months. I'm hoping this set will last him through the rest of the year:
And possibly the best part of Easter was our fattening meal:
Ham (unglazed - I really think this is my favorite way)
Sweet Potato Rolls
Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Classic Scalloped Parmesan Potatoes
So, most of those recipes are from Southern Living, which should tell you everything right there. But, man, were they delicious. We had to do two desserts because there were too many delicious recipes to choose from. It was difficult to narrow it down to those two even. Do yourself a favor and print out the cake recipe. The cake itself is just a regular yellow cake, and it has become one of my favorites. I think it's the moistest cake I've ever had - better than store-bought. Ryan wasn't a huge fan of the lemon filling, so we'll experiment with different fillings (but if you like lemon fillings, this one was good). And the icing is just a basic cream cheese icing with coconut sprinkled on at the end.
An uneventful, but very enjoyable Easter.
Monday, April 20, 2009
In the meantime, I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If it weren't for the amazing book group I attend, I would never have read this book. I've got to have it finished by Thursday, and for the first time ever I'm having difficulty with that. Not that the book isn't good. It is. But there are recurring portions of it in which the author rants about conventional farming methods and how they're horrible in various ways. Some of these are more interesting than others. Some I know have factual basis, but others seem exaggerated. They also start feeling repetitive. These portions of the book leave me desiring footnotes or parenthetical documentation, not only to back up her claims but also because they start to sound like a research paper. So, while I enjoy reading about her family's experience growing food and turkeys and hens and buying locally whatever they don't grow, I keep having to slog through the rant portions and it's slowing me down.
I'm having difficulty relating to some of her assertions, even when she gives anecdotes from her or her husband's own experience. Do the vast majority of kids these days, and even from my generation really have issues thinking of food and dirt together? Do they truly not understand that those peas and melons start as seeds or that a carrot grows underneath the ground? Really?? As far as I know I don't think I've come across anyone like this. And for me personally, I grew up helping plant all those fruits and vegetables in our small garden. I loved planting time. And I loved perusing the seed catalogs, choosing flowers and vegetables. When I moved away to college I actually missed weeding (the lack of landscaping at my parents' new home left very little weeding to do when I got home for summers). I certainly don't claim to be all-knowing about when to put various seeds in the ground or how to care for them, but I (and I like to think the majority of those around me) know that fruits and vegetables start as seeds!
What I'm enjoying most about the book is that it's giving me the gardening bug. I'm suddenly eager to grow tomatoes in a pot and some herbs and possibly, as the likelihood of our staying here for the summer increases, some chard, peppers and other vegetables. Even if all of those don't happen this year, I'm excited for the farmer's market to open again in a few weeks so that we can return to buying fresh produce from the local farmers. Because it really does taste better. Perhaps one day I'll even start canning a little here and there so that we can have some good fruit to use during the winter months when little of that is to be found at the store.
Now, I'm not going to order my own turkeys and raise and kill them (let alone try to get them to mate), but I am interested in one day trying out cheese making. The chance of that happening before all our kids are in middle or high school is very slight. But it sounds like it'd be fun (and is supposedly easy). I can picture me and my sisters and Kate (our honorary sister) pulling mozzarella (apparently you have to pull it like taffy). And I wonder how much better it'd taste than what I get at the store. Maybe I'd decide it's not worth the effort, but I still want to try it someday, just because. Until then, I'll plan for the day when we own a house with a large yard with plenty of room for tomatoes, peas, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, and whatever else suits our mood. We'd better end up in a place that's good for gardening!
Monday, April 6, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
My mom's been having fun knitting things for Gareth (and even for Ryan!). We've appreciated them a lot since we've had such a cold winter and had to keep our house on the chilly side to keep the electric bill reasonable. We've even been able to use the sweaters in the cold mornings of the past few days. Thanks, Mom!
And now on to the second part. Ryan really likes German Chocolate Cake. A lot. I made one several weeks ago, but he wanted more last week. I was busy cleaning up the kitchen from dinner, so he went ahead and baked the cake himself! (We make it from scratch, so it really is an accomplishment.) All I did was take the cakes out of the oven and put it together (which I messed up by not putting enough frosting between the first two layers - oops). He made the cake and the frosting all by himself! I was very impressed and, aside from my mistakes, it turned out perfectly.
The unfortunate thing about this cake is that it never lasts as long as it seems like it should...
To complete our role reversal, I'm letting Ryan try to teach me how to program. I'm having him teach me Java, figuring I'd rather learn that first and Ruby or Python later rather than the other way around. After hearing him talk about the students in his classes at school, I'm hoping my ability to grasp the subject doesn't disappoint him. It'll probably be a long process since we're both quite busy, but I'm enjoying learning so far - it's good to be cleaning some of the rust out of my brain!
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Among those who do believe in varying levels of appropriateness of content online, there is disagreement about how this problem should be solved. Let me venture to say first that forced Internet filtering is not the correct answer.
What I mean by forced Internet filtering is something akin to what you would see in the HBLL library at BYU. Internet filtering software is installed on a separate computer, called a proxy, and every other computer has to connect to the Internet through that proxy. The filtering software restricts access to a list of sites, called a blacklist, that are suspected to contain objectionable content. The software also analyzes the content of each website that is requested by every computer and determines automatically whether that site is appropriate or not. If you try to navigate to a website that is deemed inappropriate, you instead get a webpage that effectually says, "Shame on you. Your attempt to look at pornography has been logged and reported."
Why doesn't forced Internet filtering work?
Forced Internet filtering, in its present form, does not work for the following reasons:
Too ambitious for a packaged software solution
Automatically categorizing all web sites as appropriate or inappropriate is a lofty goal - a worthy goal, even - but there are so many different types and degrees of inappropriateness on the Web in so many formats that a single packaged piece of software cannot provide a satisfactory filter without a great deal of human oversight.
Technical solutions give non-technical parents a false sense of security
The technical boundaries that most parents place on their children are easily overcome. I speak from close personal experience. My parents thankfully did not attempt to use an installed Internet filter, but I'm sure it wouldn't have mattered much. Instead, there was an Internet password. You might be surprised to hear this, Mom, but learning that password was easier than taking candy from a baby, and I never had to watch you type it in. The BYU Internet filter is trivially easy to circumvent. It's useful too, as I'll explain in the next section, because BYU blocks practically half of the Internet.
Not only can geeks like me get past a typical filter, but so can inappropriate content. It's not very much trouble at all for the content to evolve into a format that makes it past a filter. If you filter out all swear words, people will come up with new ways to spell or abbreviate them that are easily readable and understood. Media can be encoded, encrypted, and compacted in all kinds of different formats. Websites can be accessed through other websites. It's almost like the illegal drug trade. If you outlaw it, it will move underground.
Sometimes there is no easy way to get around the filter. This can be the case if you work in a large corporation containing an entire IT division with the primary mission of locking down and restricting everything you do and touch while on the job. Even if you do break through the Iron Wall somehow, you might later get sacked like the little expendable peon that you are. I don't recommend working in such places for various reasons, but this is not really the environment I'm talking about anyway.
Unacceptable amount of false positives
False positives are incidents when the filtering software falsely classifies a website as containing inappropriate content. While working at BYU as a web developer and as a research assistant, I constantly ran up against the "shame on you" page when trying to access legitimate websites. Colleagues of mine all had the same experience. Since I don't access pornographic websites (not even accidentally - imagine that!), from my point of view this filter did nothing other than prevent me from getting information I needed at inopportune times. There is no explanation for this sort of thing other than an inhuman automated declaration that you have accessed a site that you shouldn't have. You might as well be talking to a phone rep at an electric company.
If you think it's bad at BYU, try going to someone's house where they've installed some shrink wrap web filtering software - the kind that's marketed to the same kind of suckers who will install "anti-virus software" from a pop-up window. If you try to browse the web, you'll soon find that, little did you know, up to this date you've been swimming in the eternal lake of fire and iniquity and your all-but-lost spirit is shrouded in a ponderous chain that you have labored on every time you logged onto your computer! Never again shall you roam the wicked shores of the Island of Phelps. Let the heavens have mercy upon your soul.
When I talk about granularity, I'm talking about the smallest unit of information that can reliably be blocked by an Internet filter. Up to this point that unit has been entire domains. A domain is the first part of the URL for a website, like www.google.com. BYU blocks YouTube (at least they did when I was there). Every single thing on YouTube, no matter how vile, or how enlightening, is blocked. That rules out a gigantic chunk of useful information on the Web as we know it today. It just so happens that it rules out a lot of cat videos and completely inappropriate videos too. I suppose the existence of the latter category and the collective IQ score of the associated comments for every video (-493e233) was the reasoning behind blocking it. It sounds like there's a good case to be made to someone high up at BYU for blocking the entire Internet. Some Internet filters block entire blogging domains like blogspot.com and wordpress.com.
All complaining aside, the fact is that the terrible filtering software can do absolutely nothing about separating the good videos from the bad because they're all technically on the same website: YouTube. With such a great software tool like that, your choices are: ban everything or allow everything. Dealing with the comments is a trivial matter: they're all stupid, so just delete them from the page. Yet the web filtering software can't even do something as simple as that! Why not? Well frankly it's too much work for the developers of a packaged piece of software to put in special features for blocking specific parts of a lot of different domains. The software would have to detect the stupidity of the comments and delete them automatically, and while there's work being done in that direction (stupidfilter.org), there is still a long way to go.
Finally the most important reason why forced Internet filtering does not work is simply because it's forced. The CS department at BYU used the Blue Coat web filtering software. We made up a slogan for it that we should have put on a T-shirt or something:
Blue Coat: Satan's plan for web filtering
When you forcefully take away the choice of what you can and cannot access online, you create a sort of prisoner culture. Within such a system, it is easy to feel that you are justified in getting away with whatever you can within the constraints of the system. Not only have the parents left the policing up to the Internet filtering software, but so have the kids. Getting to a website without being blocked by the filter must mean it's okay. Everyone is absolved of responsibility. It becomes a game almost: my parents installed a forced filter; therefore they don't trust me; therefore I feel no obligation to keep their trust; therefore it's simply their will against mine. Pretty soon I'll have found a way to get the content I want and I think, "Hah! I win this round! Bring it on Mom and Dad!"
Now obviously there are varying levels at which you can trust a child with the responsibility of browsing the Web depending on the child's personality and age, but strict, parent-controlled Internet filtering is not going to grow or adjust well for teaching different levels of accountability, and I've explained why a typical Internet filtering solution does not work even if it isn't parent-controlled.
Now that I've talked about what doesn't work, maybe we can start thinking about what might work...
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Ryan and I tend to make the same few treats over and over again, only trying new things around the holidays. But the other day Ryan decided he wanted something new so I delved into the cookbooks to see what might catch my eye. This is the recipe I decided on, from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup flaked coconut
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla
20 vanilla caramels, unwrapped
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup milk or semisweet chocolate pieces
1. For crust, in a medium bowl stir together the flour and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9 baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle pecans and coconut over hot crust.
2. For filling, combine sweetened condensed milk and vanilla; pour over pecans and coconut. Bake for 25-30 minutes more or until the filling is set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine caramels and milk. Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until caramels melt. Drizzle caramel mixture over filling. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces. Cool completely. Cut into bars.
I'm pretty certain this was the first time I've ever used sweetened condensed milk. I remember it being on the shelves at home growing up, but I can't ever recall using it for anything. What did you use it for, Mom?? These are delicious, but you definitely don't need more than one after a meal! The nuts, coconut, caramel, and chocolate make for one rich treat.
Another good snack to try is this one that we've been using in Nursery the past few weeks:
Just mix it all together in whatever quantities you desire. It's marvelous - I have a hard time not snitching some myself!
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Over the past several years I've spent a fair amount of time considering my chosen degree/career and whether it was a good choice or not. I decided to major in music in 7th grade. Thankfully I was intelligent enough to re-evaluate this decision towards the end of high school. And, despite liking some other things as well, I didn't like them enough to want a career in them. I loved performing, so I continued on in music.
But after I got married and had graduated I sometimes felt badly that I hadn't majored in something where I could graduate and get a typical full-time job and make lots of money while Ryan finished up. Even the FAFSA forms seemed to assume that this was what I should have done, so Ryan didn't get a Pell grant that last year. During the same time I was teaching private lessons, which I liked decently enough, but didn't feel like I wanted to do forever. After all, my dream had been performing, not teaching. So it was easy to feel, despite knowing since 7th grade that I'd wanted to do music, that I'd made a poor decision. (Of course, if I considered my other interests, none of those were particularly lucrative either, so I'd probably not have been any better off.)
Then I had Gareth and we moved. And we knew we'd only be in VA for a year, so it didn't make sense to teach there. And Gareth hated me practicing. And I almost went crazy. Sometimes I really did wish I'd done something where I could go get a 9-5 job so that I could choose to go back to work.
The year ended and we moved here. I've been surprised by all of the musical opportunities in the community, especially considering that the music program at the university is non-existent. I've realized how much I loved and missed teaching. Private lessons are still preferred, but my sectional teaching is (usually) enjoyable for me as well. I've discovered that everyone needs an outlet to re-energize them. For me, I've got to get out of the house without Gareth and teach and play and bring in some income. The everyday grind is more easily faced as long as I have this outlet. (Thankfully Ryan is incredibly supportive of this. I don't think he enjoyed the almost-crazy me.) And now I'm so grateful I chose the career I did. Because I don't really want to be working a 9-5 drone job. With my degree I have so much flexibility. I can choose to be involved in as much or as little of the music community as I would like. I've spent most of the school year working 3.5 hours per week. I can't think of many other jobs where I could do that. In whatever community we end up in I can find local performance opportunities. I can go back to school and get a MM or a DMA if I want or ever need to. Wherever we go I can teach. And I can teach from my home if I choose to (right now I teach at the high school). It is so easy for me to have a career and a family life with my degree. I feel like, if I needed to, I could do a decent job of supporting a family with my career. And the best part: I love what I do!
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
But while I appreciate the dishwasher, I feel a little bit conflicted about having one while our children are young. You see, I didn't grow up with a dishwasher. I know my mom really, really would have liked one for many years (especially once all us kids somehow turned the dish washing back over to her), but we didn't get one until we moved into a new house towards the end of my senior year in high school. And, no, I don't want my children to have to go through hand-washing dishes simply because I had to. It's that as I've gotten older I've realized how grateful I am that I had to hand-wash for all those years.
Having several roommates during college helped me to see how growing up with a dishwasher can leave one lacking a few necessary skills. Many (probably most) of the roommates I had were, quite frankly, pathetic when it came to hand-washing dishes. If they used something of mine and washed it by hand, I usually had to rewash it myself because it was so obviously still dirty it made me sick to think of using it again. It was amazing to me to see how low their standards were for clean dishes. Several roommates seemed to not realize that hot water was necessary to the process. And it definitely didn't help that usually all they used was one of those soap-dispensing sponge things. I noticed that those wasted lots of soap, got ridiculously disgusting after a few months (remember, this is a college apartment, so the sponge part definitely never got replaced), and were horrible at scrubbing. Most of these roommates had no idea what "elbow grease" was or how to apply it. The worst part of that was that this lack of knowledge usually carried over to other things, such as cleaning the tub or stove, as well.
So, though I'd always hated doing the dishes as a young child, I suddenly found myself glad that Mom had insisted dishes be completely clean, that I'd learned how to use elbow grease on a particularly stubborn pan and that my hands had, over time, become conditioned to being in very hot water.
Ryan and I spent our first two married years hand-washing dishes. Initially we alternated who washed and who dried each night. We owned one of those soap-dispensing sponge things since that was the only way Ryan would wash the dishes. I kept a washcloth on hand for anything that needed real scrubbing when I washed. But, eventually, we mutually agreed that it was best if I wash and he dry. I didn't really mind washing anymore, since Ryan wasn't a sibling who would purposely drop the silverware into the rinse water like bombs and splash water all over me. In reality, it was probably more that it wasn't keeping me from anything I'd rather be doing and I hated having the little counter space we had be covered in dishes. Ryan was good at getting the dishes clean, but I could wash a lot faster than he could. I'm not sure if that was due to all my years of practice or to his getting lost in our conversations and forgetting that he was supposed to be washing dishes as well as talking! On top of that, he never could get his hands to stand my almost-as-hot-as-it-can-go water temperatures. So, when we moved after those couple of years we threw away the soap-dispensing sponge thing and haven't ever bought another one (which probably distresses Ryan on the rare occasion that he washes dishes).
I worry that our children, if we have a dishwasher in our home, will grow up to be hand-washing pansies like so many of my roommates. My only hope lies in the fact that we still have several dishes, including our pots and pans, that are not allowed in the dishwasher. I'll just have to purposely make them difficult to clean once in a while, just so the kids get lots of elbow grease practice.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
I'm finally getting him to do some of the hand actions for songs at home, but he still never does them in Nursery. His favorite songs are Eensy, Weensy Spider, Ring around the Rosies (which he calls ashes), and the monkey song. Gareth seems to not like structured activities too well. By the time the lesson in Nursery rolls around he doesn't ever want to participate in what everyone else is doing. Usually a couple other kids will see what he's doing and decide it'd be more fun and join him. The other kids are more easily guided back to the activity. I've given up trying to force Gareth back. As long as he's being quiet and not injuring anything I figure I'd rather have him do his own thing than have to be taken out screaming. He's also taken a dislike to holding my hand if I let him down to walk. Someday I'm sure we'll think it's wonderful for him to be so independent.
You know how some kids really like dogs or cats? Well, Gareth is obsessed with horses. Every time we read Rumpelstiltskin we start out "Once there was a poor miller who had a beautiful daughter... and a horse." Every book that has pictures of horses, Gareth is sure to stop and point them out. I hope this isn't an indication of the type of animal he'll want some day.
Gareth's also learned how to jump without holding onto anything and to do a somersault. It's fun to watch him get so excited about such things. Speaking of him getting excited, he still loves the outdoors. We had a nice (albeit cloudy and windy) day yesterday so we took him out to a trail in the area for a walk. After being cooped up for the past couple of months he thoroughly enjoyed wandering free. He threw a great tantrum when it was time to get back in the car. We happily realize that that's his way of saying, "That was lots of fun. Thanks you guys!"
And, finally, here are some pictures of Gareth downing some strawberry smoothie (after eating a bowl of oatmeal and a whole banana - he eats more than I do half the time!) This was a very happy morning for Gareth.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I grew up in New Jersey. It can be quite humid in the summer (August is the worst), and the humidity can make the cold of winter cut through many layers of clothing. The fall is gorgeous; I always loved driving along the tree-lined streets and highways in fall. There are lots of trees and there are hills and even a few mountains (that I know are not as big as the ones in Utah or Albuquerque). Thankfully the mountains are smaller so you don't feel like they're going to squash you flat. Other New Jersey pluses: lots of history, beautiful old houses and small towns, and, most of all, you don't have to pump your own gas! I've had many uncomfortable experiences trying to pump gas and wish that every state would outlaw it. NJ does have one big downside: cost of living. Sure, there's no sales tax on food and clothes, but that gets more than made up for elsewhere. Natural disaster-wise, not much. You get the occasional hurricane, but it's not usually as bad in NJ as places like Florida or North Carolina.
Virginia had a nice mild winter, with only a couple of snowfalls while we were there. It does get cold and they can get more snow than that, I'm sure, but from what I know of it, winter seemed great. Summer, though, gets quite hot and humid. There are lots of beautiful parks and country areas (we didn't find Manassas itself to be wonderfully beautiful, but if you got out of Manassas a little ways it got much better). Again, a big downer is the cost of living. More than 25% of our income here was spent on rent. And that was just to get a place that didn't have what looked like 50-year-old appliances, the water heater inside the master bedroom closet, or garbage dumped out in the front lawns.
Provo is better cost-of-living-wise. Of course, I think if I were to end up living in Utah I'd try not to be in Provo/Orem, just because I'd like to not be in the midst of all the BYU students. But while you're a student it's a great area. Spring and fall are nice, but they don't last long (I always wish they lasted longer everywhere), summer can be on the hot side but, as some would again contend, it's a dry heat. My main complaint against Utah is that winter lasts from September until June. Yes, I have seen snow fall in Provo over Memorial Day weekend. It didn't last long, but the fact remains that it fell. If I were into skiing, the mountains and snow would be advantageous, but since I'm not into skiing, I'm not such a fan. The Utah mountains are right on top of you and do want to squash you flat.
And now here we are in Indiana. Summers get humid, I'm sure, though I've yet to experience that. And the winters I've already talked about. And we can get tornadoes here, though apparently in our specific area they rarely touch down. Cost of living is awesome, especially for poor students. There are wonderful farmer's markets through the summer and fall. There are small towns with old Victorian houses that I love (and that you can buy for a lot less money than in NJ). And it's very, very green with lots of trees. Even the houses start to turn green! (I think I'd invest in a power-washer if I had a house with siding and lived here.) I would recommend it as a great place to retire, except that I can't imagine that I would want to suffer the winters here as a retiree. Other places get cold and snowy, but here you have a flat terrain and high winds. The wind makes all the difference in the world when winter comes.
So, when it comes right down to it, where would I choose to be? My ideal place would be somewhere with very little chance of natural disaster, mild winters and summers (though still having them, since I am a fan of seasons after all), low cost of living, lots of trees and hills, small towns with beautiful old houses, and with a law against pumping your own gas! Yeah, I don't think that place exists. But if I had to choose between here and Utah, which has been what I've mainly considered for some reason (cost, perhaps?), I think I'd still choose here. I'm not sure Ryan would agree with me, but the greenness trumps the winters for me. At least for right now. As I said, I don't think I could handle the winters as a retiree. Maybe by then my ideal place will exist.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I've been reading a Young Women's oriented blog for the past several months, which I usually find to have interesting and worthwhile insights, even though I do not have a calling in young women. I particularly enjoyed one of today's posts, on what I assume is an upcoming lesson. The topic (as you can see if you followed the link) is "Finding Joy in Our Divine Potential". (Don't you just love all the cliche terms and phrases we have in the church that we hear all the time but don't ever stop to think about what they actually mean? Or if they even have a meaning? I think "divine potential" falls in the first category. The best I've recently heard is "faith is real".) I've been drawn to the subject of divine/eternal potential ever since teaching this visiting teaching message, trying to get my companion and visiting teachees to actually (heaven forbid!) think about the topic and what our various roles as women (and men) are, and having the idea that women have roles other than motherhood be completely dismissed. Oh, and I'm pretty sure after those visits my companion was convinced I'm apostate. I think I've managed to dispel that notion over the past few months.
Back to the topic at hand, I like the attitude of the writer of the above-linked post. She isn't saying marriage and family aren't important. She's careful to say that they are, and that she loves being a wife and mother, and that those roles are fulfilling parts of womanhood. But she recognizes that they are not a complete picture of womanhood, that that's not all women were created for, and that many women can and will fulfill their potential without being a wife or mother. She mentions President Uchtdorf's talk from the Relief Society broadcast, which I agree is a perfect fit for this topic. I loved that talk! Basically, the writer has expressed my thoughts on the topic of divine potential perfectly (I think, as they currently stand).
And, even more than that, she's helped me realize that I'm very happy I've yet to recieve a calling in young women's. When I read about having a panel discussion on what about their womanhood brings them joy, my heart froze and my thoughts were "Um...um...crap! I haven't the foggiest idea! I need more time!" So, yeah, I'm glad I'm not having to teach these lessons yet. I'm suddenly very happy to be keeping 2 year olds fed and happy in nursery. I know how to help them get where they need to be. I'd like to serve in YW some day, but for now I think I'd like a while longer to figure myself out before I'm thrust into a position to help guide young women into womanhood.