Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Making Cake

We just celebrated Kate's 1st birthday! 

She is quite the interesting personality...very stoic and hard to impress. She likes to hang out and do her own thing, and is not nearly as clingy as some of the girls have been. Her current favorite activity is to drop things into my boots when I'm not watching. (Thus causing me to shriek in alarm when I put them on and touch a small object with my foot that might be a snake or a scorpion, but in reality is merely a crayon.)

My big project for her birthday was making a cake for it. I want to volunteer to make my cousin's wedding cake in a couple months, because I like that sort of thing, but I've never made a three-tier cake before. I wanted to see if I could actually make one that looked good, and also how far in advance I could make it, what flavors of cake and icing to use, if I could freeze cake in entire tiers, etc. Logistics, basically.

I'm calling this my prototype--it turned out structurally sound, level, and tasting great, but there are a few things I would do differently next time for the decorating. I would stick with store-brand shortening for the icing--the texture was a lot better before I ran out and switched to Crisco brand. I would decorate the cake only one day in advance rather than two. The cake kind of settled and got some weird lines in the icing the longer it sat. I would also use a smaller decorating tip--I didn't get the precision I wanted for my mendhi-inspired designs. Overall I was pleased though.

Next up, trying my hand at this "refreshing jeweled flan" I found in a cake magazine from 1987. I plan to be crowned the queen of the Utah potluck,

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Joys of Reading and the Pains of Writing

I have two things I wanted to write about today. First, the books I ended up reading on our vacation to Kauai. 

Terry Pratchett Discworld books: I'm a very orderly person, so I started with Book 1. The prologue (not a huge fan of prologues) really seemed like a mess to me, and after reading a few pages I just couldn't get into it. SciFi can be a difficult genre. But then I decided to try book #2, which was a huge improvement. Then I got hooked, and have been gobbling up these very entertaining books. (Even went back to book #1! If he would just stop beginning his books with that darn turtle...) Great vacation reads. It helps to know that Pratchett is British--just in terms of getting the humor. 
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty-by Dan Ariely. Thought it was great, of course. It had some fascinating insights into religion and it's effects on honesty. 
Alexander McCall Smith: I took one of his books about a WWII orchestra. I like his books; however, I always feel like I'm reading something insightful, but by the end I can't remember exactly what insights I actually got. 
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: -by Rachel Joyce. This book made me cry a few times. It was somehow not satisfying though. I can't quite put my finger on it. 
Come, Tell Me How You Live. -Agatha Christie. I really like Agatha Christie's novels-- they are great vacation reads--so it was fun to get to know her better through these humorous autobiographical sketches. It was also an interesting look at the Arab culture from the white British perspective. (Actually turned out not quite as racist as I was expecting.)    
Midnight Riot -by Ben Aaronovitch. This guy used to write for "Doctor Who," so expect something along those lines. I liked it, not as much as The Rook though, which has a similar setting.  
Cinder -by Marissa Meyer. This one disappointed. It was an okay vacation read, but not as awesome and original as I was hoping it would be. 

Which brings me to my next point: The Pains of Writing! I finally came up with a book idea which I like, so my strategy of starting to write even though I didn't have a great idea off the bat turned out to be a good one. Now that I have started writing this book, I feel very disinclined to criticize any book. I felt guilty just writing the criticism above about the books I read on vacation. Because you know what? At least these people wrote a book, and that deserves our admiration. I can't even write one book, (working on it though) so who am I to criticize? 

Anyway, I'm unsure as to if I should keep writing in my travel blog. I'd rather use that time for working on this book, and on this last trip it was kind of annoying having to remember to take pictures of things rather than just enjoy them. I'll think about it.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

By Popular Request

The Hat

A sure-fire way to seal the deal when selling cookies. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


The champion!

It's been a long time since I've had to do something I really, really didn't want to do. Therefore I was less than thrilled when I was told at troop meeting that it was time for the annual fundraiser: selling Girl Scout cookies. Before the troop does booth sales, they start with door-to-door sales. In this day and age, the girls have to have an adult go with them, which means that I got the dubious honor of participating with Sammy. Sammy: excited. (See above). Mom: nervous. (No picture).

Door-to-door sales falls slightly below telemarketing on my list of "Jobs I Would Least Like to Do." Multiple social interactions and lots of rejection? No thank you. And yet, I wanted Sam to build character and earn her own money for camp, so off we went.

Of course, as with all things that make me nervous, I prepped a ton beforehand. I worked with Sammy on her sales pitch, had her watch videos on the different types of cookies, taught her how to answer a variety of questions, from "What's your favorite cookie?" to "Where does the money go from sales?", bought her the optional Brownie acorn hat to increase her cuteness appeal, got a clipboard set up, and planned our route. The dreaded day came, and we set off onto the cold streets with one excited Brownie and one apprehensive parent.

Sammy sold cookies with rousing success. I don't think it could have possibly gone better. She did so well pitching to people, answering questions, and doing math, and in just two outings totaling 3 hours, surpassed her goal of 100 boxes sold. Her rejection rate was incredibly low, (1 in 20 houses) but she handled it gracefully. (We ignored a bunch of "No Soliciting" signs, not sure whether that was good or not, but they all bought lots of cookies). I was impressed with how many people like Girl Scout cookies--it was nice for Sammy to be selling something people actually wanted. I don't think I'll ever stop dreading cookie sales each year, but I overcame my fears this year and built lots of character. Sammy too, of course.

My little Brownie! 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Aftermath: Part 2

Kate's new trick--kneeling up!

Well, the Christmas decorations are down. The nissemen, the nativity, the garlands, the baubles, the Christmas books...all packed away. It's like the Grinch was here. I like lots and lots of lights on my Christmas tree. I think I put on about 10 strands this year. Taking them off, not so enjoyable. The tree kept attacking me, I wanted a nap, and the kids kept being needy as I was bear-hugging the tree trying to unravel the maze of lights. I finally got so frustrated that I started snapping off the weak little dried up Christmas tree branches just to get the lights off faster. It really looks like someone murdered a tree in my front room. We're going to need some serious vacuum power here.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Aftermath

January is a slow month. The excitement of Christmas over, the gloom of winter stretching before me with no end in sight. I've just been hanging out with kids and trying to muster up the energy to take down Christmas decorations, trying to decide if I have SAD or if everyone just gets a little stuck in the winter.  

 One thing I've been trying to do is experiment with what my optimal amount of sleep is. I think I've actually been getting a little too much sleep--as in, I've been waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle so I feel tired. After trial and error, my optimal amount is about 7 hours. This means I can stay up until 11! Whoo-hoo! I did this for 4 or 5 days with great results--I didn't even need to take my precious afternoon nap. Unfortunately, my sleep schedule has been foiled by Kate the Cute. With a new tooth coming in, she's been waking up at odd hours. Aargh. This has turned me back into an unmotivated blob these past few days. Good thing she's so cute.

I do have some fun things coming up. I'll be teaching a 6 week homeschool writing class to a group of my teenage relatives starting February. We're going to Hawaii over Valentines Day. Also I started a new writing project while I'm waiting for inspiration to strike for a book. We travel a lot, and I end up blogging a lot about travel because I like to write about it, so I thought, why not start a new blog devoted to travel? I want to have Austin guest blog about how we use points and miles to get places, and I'll pull in some past stories from this blog as needed. I'll blog twice a week, and my intended readership (once I build up the posts a bit) will be much broader than a blog like this, where I share more personal stuff. (So I'm using my first name on the other blog, because my middle name is just so...searchable). It's still kind of in development stage, so feel free to give me feedback, but you can go take a look: travelspouse.blogspot.com. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The First Annual New Year's Writing Retreat

Hello! I'm just finishing up the First Annual New Year's Writing Retreat, attendance of 1. As it so happens, we needed a one-night stay at a Holiday Inn Express in order to earn enough points for three nights worth of stays, and I bravely volunteered for the job.

As part of the retreat experience, I went to Barnes and Noble and found a book I've been wanting, (fighting through hordes of people who got gift cards for Christmas and wanted to use them) wandered around a few stores I've been wanting to check out and almost bought this:

Superior Owl: He thinks he's better than everyone else.

Ate not one, but two hamburgers at In-n-Out, read the book I bought, watched some HGTV while reading my book, used not one, but two towels after showering, and ate a nice breakfast I didn't have to fix.

Austin sent me this cute picture:

And I almost went home because I wanted to see my cute kids and it was too quiet in a hotel room by myself. I thought I might get made fun of though, as I frequently whine about needing a break.

The best part of my whole experience was lining up my writing project for the year, which I shall reveal to you shortly. My New Year's goal this year is to write at least one hour a day, so I'll let you know how that goes too. (Research shows that you're more likely to keep resolutions if you share them with others)!

Was my retreat a success? Yes! Admittedly, there was more "retreat"ing than writing, but I don't really see that as a negative. I got a clear handle on my goals for the upcoming year and I'm excited to see how it progresses. Here's to 2016!