Liquid Gold

Okay, guys. I know I’ve already posted about sampling sipping vinegar in my snuffbox,

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but when my husband brought home this multipack of flavored cider vinegar, I decided to try drinking it every day.

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The internet is full of articles about the magical curative powers of cider vinegar.

WEIGHT LOSS!!!

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ARTHRITIS!!!

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Fatigue! Gout! Asthma! Warts! Skin Tags! It’s pretty much a miracle, according to Pinterest. I felt silly for only using cider vinegar for cooking when I could have been removing my makeup, softening my hair, and whitening my teeth with it. What was I thinking?

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So I spent a few weeks sipping my vinegar dutifully and WOW! Let me tell you…

Nothing happened. I liked the taste, especially the pineapple flavor. I didn’t have to force it down or anything, but instead of it making me feel too full to eat (as advertised), it made me feel like I needed to eat more just to get rid of the queasiness.

I still plan on adding a dash of vinegar to flavor to my drinks occasionally, and I’ll continue to use it in salad dressings, but I’m afraid I can’t put my faith in liquid gold to cure all that ails me. 

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2017 Reading List

I set a goal for 2017 to not only read more, but to focus what little reading time I have on books that I had heard glowing recommendations of from people whose opinions I respect. With the exception of a few book club selections, I stuck with my goal. As a result, I read far fewer terrible books!

I had hoped to read forty books, but as life got crazy this fall, my book count dropped to 26. I noticed that many of the books I chose to read were very serious, bordering on depressing, but that’s what I was drawn to this year. Many of the books I read were about those in power abusing that power. I somehow read a lot about war and oppressive regimes, with graphic (but not gratuitous) descriptions of violence. Although usually I skip right past that sort of thing, I felt like I needed to read those descriptions because they happened to real people. Especially in King Leopold’s Ghost, The Good Soldiers, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I felt like my small moments of discomfort were nothing compared to their pain, and that by reading about it, I was coming to understand them better and to show my respect for what they went through. 

At the risk of being judged for reading books that are not scholarly enough, or too scholarly, or too religious, or with too many swear words, here are the books I read this year, listed by genre. I’ll include links for all of them and I’ll indicate my top five with an asterisk. Since I still have a long list of recommended books, I think I’ll stick with this method for 2018. I read many great books I never would have found otherwise.

FICTION

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Anne of the Island – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

The Chemist – Stephanie Meyer

*The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand

Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl

*An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine

The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter

The Lotus Eaters – Tatjana Soli

RELIGIOUS

Future Mormon – Adam Miller

*One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly – Ashley Mae Hoiland

Christ in Every Hour – Anthony Sweat

Grace (Eventually) – Anne Lamott

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture – ed. Julie Smith

HUMOR

Bossypants – Tina Fey

*A Field Guide to Awkward Silences – Alexandra Petri

Assassination Vacation – Sarah Vowell

NON-FICTION

*King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild

That’s Not What They Meant About Guns – Michael Austin

Robert E. Lee: A Life – Roy Blount Jr.

The Good Soldiers – David Finkel

Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions – Valeria Luiselli

One For the Books – Joe Queenan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Finding George Orwell in Burma – Emma Larkin

Self on the Shelf

Four years ago, my husband decided that instead of giving in to the whole Elf on the Shelf craze, he would take it to the level of performance art. He called his project “Self on the Shelf”, and the plan was to hide himself somewhere to scare his children by whispering “Merry Christmas” in a hissing, evil way. For his first attempt, he hid himself on a dark stairwell, and just as our son Big O turned the corner, my husband whispered “Merry Christmas!!!” O was so scared, he fell to the ground. It was obviously a success. And so began our family tradition of concocting ridiculous ways to creep each other out in the name of Holiday Cheer.

As with most good ideas, my boys sometimes took Self on the Shelf a bit too far (sometimes bordering on torture), but it was entertaining to watch them hiding under furniture waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom or crouching in the pantry on the faint hope that someone might open the door eventually. Well, entertaining for the first few days, anyway.

Luckily, I was able to film O’s first triumph. As soon as he heard his dad pull into the garage, he was ready. So what if he got himself stuck in the dryer? It was worth it because of the scream.

Each year I hope they’ll forget about Self on the Shelf but it always comes back. It’s as annoying as April Fool’s Day except it lasts a whole month.

This year, O decided to kick off the season with an epic Self on the Shelf. It was a little bit dangerous with plenty of chances of him getting caught. Or, more likely, that he would fall asleep and miss his chance forever.

I had to pick my husband up from his sister’s house at 12:45 a.m. because they were getting back late from a concert. O hid himself under a blanket on the floor behind the passenger seat just as we turned the corner and approached the house. I parked strategically to avoid street lamps, and I insisted on driving even though he offered. Safety first.

Since we wanted to catch the moment on film, we decided the safest way to do it without us crashing the car would be to have my husband hold the camera. O and I came up with a backstory about our 3rd grader needing to turn in a video the next day with one of his parents sharing a memory from 3rd grade. I told my husband I couldn’t remember anything from that long ago and asked if he could do it. Easy, right?

But then he went into a long story about his only memory from 3rd grade  – when he called someone a swear word and got in trouble for it. He couldn’t use that story for the video, so I tried to steer him back to the task at hand. As is often the case when I try to get him to wrap up a long story, he was undeterred, so we kept driving as he elaborated on his scandalous experimentation with swear words.

I was getting nervous (and annoyed) because I needed to put gas in the car and gas stations are well-lit. I was sure that the jig would be up once he got out to pump the gas. O is around six feet tall, so crouching in a small space without attracting attention wasn’t easy. His giant head lump was pretty obvious. As we pulled in the gas station, I panicked and even said something dumb like, “Why don’t you hurry and film it before you pump gas?” and he asked why I was such a weirdo.

As he pumped gas, I watched him nervously in the side mirror while talking ventriloquist-style with O. Luckily, that gas station had one of those annoying “news programs” playing at each pump so my husband was distracted and couldn’t hear us talking. O tends to fall asleep very easily in very strange places all the time. It’s his superpower. Knowing this about him, I kept saying, “Are you awake?….How about now? Don’t fall asleep!” His only complaint was that it was a very uncomfortable position to be stuck in for fifteen minutes.

After filling the car, my husband said he needed a snack from inside the gas station (another five minutes’ wait…another “you still awake?”), and then when he got back in the car, we had to wait some more because he needed to eat the snack. At this point, I was driving on the freeway. With each crunch of each potato chip, I was getting more agitated. Was O falling asleep? How could I drive on the freeway with my precious child in the back without a seatbelt? Would it be worth losing a life just for a stupid prank? And why was he eating so many chips? Does he always crunch his chips this loudly, or was this a special extra crunchy variety? Finally, out of frustration, I said, “I don’t want my phone battery to die. Let’s hurry and get this done.”

Did we pull it off without O falling asleep? Would it actually scare my husband? Watch for yourself. (Please excuse my maniacal laugh. Somehow, even though I knew it was coming at that exact moment, his “Merry Christmas” still made me jump. And that made me laugh like a madwoman.)

Even though it took so much longer than we anticipated, we pulled it off! I think it was so successful, we don’t even have to try to top it. At all. Ever.

Home Feely Humnifub

I just have to share this lesson we had for tonight’s Family Home Evening, or as my mother-in-law calls it, Home Feely Humnifub. Since we’ve been going through some sudden, unexpected home renovations lately, our humnifubs have involved lots of power tools. Tonight, we were able to return to our old routine, and I was pretty pleased with how it all turned out.

We took our lesson from Robert D. Hales’ talk Becoming a Disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and from 2 Peter 1:5-7. We had one of our teenagers read the scripture listing Christlike attributes while our youngest put wordstrips with each attribute in the correct order. We then discussed what each attribute meant, and how they related to each other.

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Then we read and discussed the following quotes from Elder Hales’ talk:

Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only “follower.” But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry.”

As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us. There will be no disparity between the kindness we show our enemies and the kindness we bestow on our friends. We will be as honest when no one is looking as when others are watching. We will be as devoted to God in the public square as we are in our private closet.”

And then came the really fun part. We rolled out eight strands of dough (one for each of the attributes we discussed).

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Using the recipe and braiding instructions here, we wove together each of the eight attributes into one lovely loaf of bread.

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And it looked even better after baking.

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No Tomato Left Behind

I love our garden this year, especially all the tomatoes and peppers. I’ve been canning salsa (and pickles and jam) like crazy the past month and I’ve only injured myself twice  – one cut finger, one burned thumb. Just look at all the beautiful colors. It almost seems a shame to eat.

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My go-to salsa recipe comes from my mother, but every year I manage to lose it and every year I have to ask her to send it to me again (and each time she sends it, it’s a little bit different). This year, I’m going to post the recipe here so I’ll always know where to find it. Just be sure to remind me if I forget again next year.

Since I don’t always follow the recipe exactly, I’ll include any changes I’ve made in parentheses. Although my mom will be disappointed, I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever followed the recipe exactly. It always tastes great though, so feel free to adjust as necessary. For cutting the veggies, I like the Vidalia Onion Chopper – it’s fast, cuts into neat little bites, and I’m less likely to cut my finger (usually). My mom insists that the tomatoes need to be cut by hand but I respectfully disagree.

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J’s Canned Salsa

  • 4 quarts chopped Roma tomatoes (Although Romas are better because they’re less juicy, I always use other tomatoes as well – anything I can get my hands on to fill my 4 quarts.) When my 8 quart bowl is full of whole tomatoes, I know I have enough for 4 quarts chopped.
  • 3-4 onions
  • 3 green peppers (or red or yellow, or really whatever will save me another trip to the grocery store)
  • 4 jalapenos (only leave seeds in if you really like it spicy)
  • 2 Anaheim chili peppers (or any other kind of chili peppers, or more jalapenos, or more green peppers)
  • 1 clove garlic (I just use a big old spoonful of the pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 T. Accent
  • 1 small can tomato paste (I leave this out quite often – it just depends on how thick you like your salsa)
  • 1/4 c. vinegar
  • 1/4 c. cornstarch (I also leave this out most of the time, but if you want to thicken it up, go for it)
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 t. pepper
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • Cilantro (I usually forget this, but it’s good with or without)

Chop tomatoes, onions and peppers and put in a large pot. Add garlic, Accent, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Combine vinegar and cornstarch and add to salsa. Add salt, pepper, and sugar. Simmer on low 2+ hours. Add cilantro just before canning. Process 25 minutes. Makes anywhere from 3.5 to 6 quarts.

Butter Fingers

I have a special guest blogger today: Fritz is a 3rd grader who loves to cook. He’s very excited to write about how we celebrated Pioneer Day this year. (Actually, he was very excited about writing his very own blog post until it came to actually writing it. I know the feeling.)


When it was pioneer day I wanted to make some pioneer recipes. We made corn bread and butter from scratch. To make the butter you just put cream in a jar and shake it.

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It felt like a long time to shake the cream but it was only half an hour.

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It started out fun but I got tired.

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Really really really tired.

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It didn’t look very yellow but it was still good.

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We made some cornbread that was really good especially with the butter I made.

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and the neighbors LOVED IT.

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If you want to make the cornbread here’s a link.

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Pioneers had to work hard.

 

Break’s Over

I took a break from this blog for a while, trying to decide if I really had it in me to keep going or if I should just call it quits. The whole reason I started it in the first place was for my own enrichment. I figured no one would want to read it anyway, so I should just do it for myself. After a while, when it turned out some people actually did read it, I found myself caring about what they thought, or how they would react. This is probably an appropriate response to putting something in writing out in public, but when I shifted my focus, I started to enjoy it less.

I started to worry that the new experiences I was looking for were too shallow or trivial. I wondered if it was too selfish of me to focus on my own thing when there are so many things to freak out about in the world. Shouldn’t I drop this silly blog and focus on more meaningful things?

I had a lovely summer, with lots of free time to read by the pool, work in the garden, and bake yummy treats. I didn’t accomplish a whole lot, but I had time to unwind and hang out with my family. After a while, though, I realized that all this unstructured leisure isn’t good for me in the long run, so I bought myself a new planner.

The jury’s out on whether it was the right choice for me – I’ll need to see how it serves during the school year when I have actual things to schedule. It involves a lot of goal setting and follow-up questions for accountability which I think will help me when we’re back to real life and regular bedtimes. We’ll see.

The thing about this planner is that each morning, I’m supposed to list three things I’m grateful for and three things I’m excited about. It’s a nice idea, but I noticed this summer I could rarely think of even one thing to be excited about, let alone three. I couldn’t bring myself to put in writing that the only exciting things I could think of were the treats I would bake that day.

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That’s the thing about not doing much – there’s just not that much to be excited about. So, selfish or not, even if it’s not always deep or interesting to anyone besides myself or my mother, I’m getting back into it. Forcing myself to write once a week has been good for me, and I’ve missed having a weekly goal, even a silly one.

It’s kind of a shame I wasn’t writing over the summer, because I did get to knock a few items off my List of things to try. I visited Oregon and Washington, two states I’ve never been, and spent a lovely day in Seattle.

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I went on a cruise for the first time, thanks to my mother-in-law’s generosity, and visited Alaska (also a first) and British Columbia (my first time on the west side of Canada).

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We went whale watching and felt like storm chasers, we visited glaciers, and we ate a lot of food.

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Fritz fulfilled his dream of deep-sea fishing, and at one point, as he was reeling in a salmon, a bald eagle swooped down and tried to snatch Fritz’s fish off the line. How’s that for exciting?

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It was an amazing summer (according to Fritz, the best he’s ever had), but the break’s over. It’s time to get back to work – real work and blog “work”. On a related note, does anyone know where I can get my hands on a Segway?