Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grandma's Duncan Heinz Coffee Cake

This is one of my favorite recipes! I don't think this was an original recipe but my Grandma passed it down to my mom who passed it down to me. Grandma almost always had this delicious coffee cake on hand.  It was a staple that everyone loves, which made it a perfect gift when someone was sick or grieving. 

I think of Grandma every time I make it.  Though we often cooked together, I can't remember if we ever made the coffee cake together.  Either way, the recipe is indelibly associated with her.  

Every Christmas I make a bunch of mini coffee cakes for my boss and other helpful administrative staff. Then I make a regular size coffee cake for my coworkers, which I bring to our afternoon meeting. Grandma was still living the first year I did this and got such a kick out of me carrying on a tradition.  The next Christmas, she had passed and my hospice coworkers had known her and cared for her at the end.  The coffee cake became a way of honoring her memory.

It helps that this coffee cake is a definite crowd pleaser. People actually cheer when they see me breaking it out every year! Also, your home will smell amazing while it's baking. The marbling of the filling is a nice touch- it's pretty to look at!

Grandma's Duncan Heinz Coffee Cake

1 pkg. Yellow Cake (Duncan Heinz is the best for flavor but another mix will do)
1 sm. pkg. Vanilla Instant Pudding
3/4 c. oil
3/4 c. water
1 t. vanilla
1 t. butter flavoring
4 eggs

Beat above ingredients together. Separately mix the filling in a bowl. If you want to have a really pronounced cinnamon/sugar flavor, you can make more filling and layer it thickly.

1/2 c. sugar
4 t. cinnamon
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Grease bread pan- either regular or you can use 4 small bread pans. Alternate layers, starting with cinnamon mix on the bottom, then cake, then filling, cake, etc. I usually end up with 3 layers. End with filling on the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


OK, I admit it. One Tree Hill is a guilty pleasure. In my defense, I never consistently watched the show until this year (and not since the first couple of seasons). I'm not admitting this so you can make fun of me but to let you know of a band featured on the show. (Lead singer Mike Grubbs appeared as a bartender who later sneaks into the recording studio and goes to town on the piano. Only on this show!) Wakey! Wakey!. Strange name, I know, but I am in love with the song "Brooklyn."

I hope I see you soon

Cause you’re fond of me and I am fond of you

These days I guess that’s all it takes

That and just a few mistakes

and I have made mistakes

Yes I have made mistakes today…

So tonight I’ll be your Brooklyn

So cool and yet so far away

Just tell me what you want for me to say

And if it brings you home…

I guess it’s safe to say

We both could use this fire escape

Cause I’ve been breathin’ ashes in

And I’ve been waiting for somethin’ to carry you away

Cause i have made mistakes today…

So I hope you travel safe

I hope you’re cool, I hope you find your way

It’s sad, but it is safe to say

We disagree on one to many things

And I have made mistakes today…

Paperdoll ponderings part 2

I'm reading Paperdoll in bits and pieces, letting it settle, allowing myself to ponder each section. Some parts are more applicable than others. Chapter 6 seems especially timely.

Lloyd writes:
"But there's another kind of paperdoll I'm guilty of becoming- a whole other kind of fake I slip on and off as easily as a cheap Halloween costume- and that's pretending I'm "fine" when my heart feels ripped into pieces. I convince myself that God doesn't care about my deepest places of hurt. I'm afraid to tell anybody how I feel, because 1) they won't get it, and 2) they'll just think I'm complaining. A paperdoll isn't just a metaphor for an infatuation with externals; its a tragic metaphor for a girl who looks fine but who is going to pieces deep down in her heart. Even churches have a way of becoming veritable theaters where we hide our true heart, or deep pain, behind a bright mask of "fine." Sometimes there is a tremendous amount of turmoil churning behind that paper smile. Like when we lose the people we love. Grief feels like an anchor pulling our hearts further down in our chest. It becomes hard for us to get up in the morning or go outside or think even weeks (or hours) ahead. I don't think it is ever fully possible to prepare for the emotional and physical response that grief can bring into a life."
She goes on to list other sources of turmoil, such as being diagnosed with a terminal disease, financial difficulties, moving to a new town, the effects of divorce, addiction, and abuse.
"We become beautiful paperdolls with frayed hearts, masking our pain from the world with another smile. In those moments, I even decide that if I pretend long enough, I'll start to find some semblance of inner peace. But that peace never comes from pretending. It only comes from the One who waited by the well. We get to bring the whole entire mess of our heart to Jesus, just as it is. We get to sort out the pieces there in His presence. We get to take comfort in His love. His offer to use is the same as His offer to Sam: living water. The kind that loves us unconditionally and covers every need." (p. 119-120)

That was a lot to read but take a moment go over the words again. Chances are they will resonate with you in one way or another.

I am often guilty of pretending that everything is fine. I am so used to being the one that everyone turns to for advise and comfort that I am at a loss when the shoe is on the other foot. I still feel the need to be "strong" when I am weak and vulnerable. My closest friends, including my mom, know that this is a weakness of mine and understand how to push through the wall I have erected. Other friends, acquaintances, even family at times, seem to not even notice anything is amiss- they're just glad that they can keep opening up to me in spite of my circumstances. This hit home especially shortly after my great-aunt had died and my grandma had been diagnosed with cancer. A coworker told me "you still look so sad." I was shocked because I felt I had good reason to look sad but I realized that she didn't want to acknowledge what I was going through, she just needed me to be there for her. I am better about knowing who to turn to in my times of need. When I do open up to my closest friends, I often feel I am just complaining about the same things. In fact in the last year I have been more intentional about dissecting whether I am complaining or processing. If I can take action, then I'm not complaining. If I'm rehashing the same sorry situation but am unwilling to make any change or my hands are tied, then I need to take a new look at my attitude.

Right now I'm processing a few things. We're nearing the 3rd Christmas without Aunt Teresa and Grandma. I feel Grandma's loss especially keenly right now as a close friend just loss her grandmother last week. She mentioned a few days before her grandma died how she was grieving that her grandma would not someday be at her wedding. How I related to this! Future wedding aside, life still feels so strange without my grandma. I probably think about her more now in my day to day life than I did while she was alive, in the way that we take our grandparents for granted. The very nature of my job probably leads to increased thoughts of Grandma, especially as I offer prebereavement and aftercare to children and teens losing parents or grandparents. It's hard to be in my line of work and not reflect on the similarities and differences with patients and families. And yet, this is not something I can share with many people. I dread telling people what I do for a living because the response is invariably how I'm a special person and they could never do that because they would cry all day. I end up feeling like I need to defend hospice (quality of life, people!) or undercut myself. I definitely put a mask on when talking about my job with strangers.

Job and grief aside, I am probably most concerned about my upcoming 30th birthday in less than a month. The past year I've been telling everyone that I'm choosing to embrace turning 30. That it's just a number. That I'll never look my age anyway. But as it draws nearer, I'm having a harder time sticking to my mantra. 30 seems so put together. If I'm lucky, that'll be a third of my life. Yes, I've done a lot in my 30 years that other people haven't. I recently found a "top 5 goals" list that I believe I put together during my senior year of college. I realized I have accomplished 4 out of the 5 goals in the past 7 years (Go to Ireland, become a healthcare social worker, get into a good grad school, become financially independent.) For some reason though, I hold on to the one goal that has not been realized- getting married. Why does one dream deferred carry more weight than all else that God has allowed me to do? I may look like my life is together but God and I both know that I am a mess in great need of His grace and strength. I know this next year will include a big test for me and I am excited and terrified at the same time. My prayer is that God would become bigger in my life, that I would become more like Christ each day, and that my heart would be burdened by the people and things on God's heart. Part of that is lifting the mask up and letting people in. And the other part is continual surrender to God and His perfect plan. Romans 8:28 has meant so much to me the past few years: "And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." It's enough to know the big picture and let God work out the details.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas albums

Last weekend was filled with wonderful Christmas music, both traditional and original. I've been a fan of Sleeping At Last from the beginning (a perk of being friends with the bass player) but it's been a few years since I've caught a show. I was very pleased when they announced a Christmas show in Naperville. My friends and I braved the cold and it was so worth it! Ben Thomas, of So Elated, was the opening act. Anyone who can turn Radiohead's "Creep" in to a Christmas song is worth paying attention to. I was captivated by the song "Zechariah and the Least Expected Places," which you can listen to on MySpace. Thomas played many songs from their Christmas album "The Bewildering Light" and of course I bought it after the show. But you, lucky reader, can download it for free by forwarding it to 5 friends. Completely worth it!

Sleeping At Last is also kindly offering their Christmas CD as a free download. Click here to listen and upload. "O Holy Night" has always been my favorite Christmas song. I was blown away by Ryan's rendition- his voice is perfect for this!

Over the Rhine is celebrating 20 years of making music together. They put on a regular Christmas show but last Saturday was the first one I've been to. Their Christmas music is amazing! (Of course, if you know anything about OTR, this is not surprising.) Linford and Karen's lyrics pierce my heart every time. The show flew by and before I knew it, they were back for an encore. I highly recommend "Snow Angels" or their other Christmas album. Sample lyrics: "Strings of lights above the bed, Curtains drawn and a glass of red, All I ever get for Christmas is blue." OTR helpfully post a record player on their website so you can listen for yourself. The video quality below is terrible but you must listen to "Snow Angels." Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poor Bears

Joe Schmitt was so disturbed by the Bears' abysmal playing that he tweaked the familiar fight song.

"Lie down, Chicago Bears,

snatch defeat from the jaws of victory;
Lie down, Chicago Bears,
let them score and you've lost your dignity.
We'll never forget the way you bored the nation
with your punt formation.
Lie down, Chicago Bears,
you've failed again to convert on third down.
Haven't had a man since Jim McMahon,
Chicago Bears, lie down."

If only it wasn't true.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bow-tique Gift Idea

Last time my best friend came to visit we headed to a posh kids boutique in a nearby town. She and our other friend/new mom pored over the headbands, tutus, and baby high many options, so little time before they'll outgrow it all. One thing that caught Tracy's eye especially was a plaque that allowed you to clip hairbows to the ribbons hanging from it. It was out of her price range but, as I looked at it, I thought "I could do that!" And so this year's Christmas gift for Anna and Katelyn was born.

It helps to have a dad as a carpenter. I found a decent piece of wood in his work shop, which he cut to my specification and then drilled holes for the hanger. He then coated it with a sealant so I could paint on top. (I would have done this myself but I was still in work clothes and he's just a great dad.) I let it dry overnight. Then I mixed acrylic paint to come up with a soft yellow for the base. Once that was dry, I painted "Anna's/Katelyn's Bow-tique" and then added filigree and flowers along the edges. I asked both mom's ahead of time for the room colors or what colors they preferred for their daughters to guide my flower and ribbon color choices. It didn't turn out quite as envisioned but I still like the final result.
After the paint was dry, I threaded ribbon through the top holes to form a hanger and triple knotted it. I then used wood glue to attach 15" ribbons. And voila...both of my favorite girls have a place to hang their hair bows. I also included 2 wave clips that they can use to hold headbands.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ode to Friendship Collection 2009

Here's the line up for the annual mix CD I make for my nearest and dearest.

1. The Farewell Drifters- Sweet Summer Breeze

This Nashville-based bluegrass band was recommended by a friend.

2. Blitzen Trapper- Sleepy Time in the Western World

One of my favorite bands from this year's Pitchfork Music Festival.

3&4. Brendan Benson- A Whole Lot Better, Garbage Day

I happened upon Benson, of Jack White's The Raconteurs, during an interview on 93XRT. I was obsessed with this CD and couldn't pick just one song.

5. Brett Dennen- Follow Your Heart

Dennen was a rare blind buy after reading a recommendation in the Chicago Tribune. I liked that his CD was titled “Hope for the Hopeless.”

6. Owl City- On the Wing

Recommended by an old high school friend, Owl City is reminiscent of Postal Service and Mae. You may have heard “Fireflies” on the radio.

7. Alexa Woodward- Spoon

My old roommate learned that her old friend Alexa had put out a CD- good stuff.

8&9. Oren Lavie- The Opposite Side of the Sea, A Short Goodbye

I loved a song in the movie “Prince Caspian” so much that I watched the credits to learn who it belonged to: an Israeli-born musician. That song is only on the PC soundtrack but his first CD is just as mesmerizing.

10. Missy Higgins- The Wrong Girl

I couldn't get her radio hit “Where I Stood” out of my head and was pleasantly surprised by the depth found in her CD

11. The Antlers- Epilogue

The Antlers' dark but beautiful CD is appropriately named Hospice, leading to a profile on, a palliative care website I follow.

12. Craig Cardiff- Heaven

Cardiff's song “Smallest Wingless” was playing on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep website, an organization that provides photography services to families whose baby has died. I was so taken with the song that I explored the rest of his repertoire and was blown away. How have I not heard of him sooner?

13. Ben Arthur- Exit Wound

Another case of waiting to ID a song through the movie credits.

14. Rich Price- Empty Glass

Discovered in the indie film “I'm Reed Fish.”

15. Willow Fair- Last Dance

A Christmas gift last year, this CD is the gift that keeps giving. I'm lucky to have met half of the duo through a small group Bible study this past year.

16. August Rush soundtrack- August's Rhapsody

I adored the movie “August Rush” and found this original composition by Mark Mancina to be very moving.

Christmas Bonus:

17. Relient K- In Like a Lion (Always Winter)

I can't resist a song inspired by “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

18. Bebo Norman- The Rebel Jesus

Last year I found this to be the most worshipful Christmas CD I've ever experienced. This Jackson Browne cover cuts to the core of why we celebrate this season and lends much needed perspective.

Sunday Morning Sticky Rolls

This recipe comes courtesy of Jodi Picoult's latest book Handle With Care. I loved how recipes were woven in to the story and thought Sticky Rolls sounded too good to pass up. This is something you need to start Saturday night as it needs to proof for 12 hours before baking. Enjoy!
Sunday Morning Sticky Rolls
  • 3 ¾ cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 c heated milk
  • 1/3 c butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ c dark brown sugar
  • ½ c unsalted butter
  • ¼ c light corn syrup
  • ¾ c pecan halves
  • ½ c pecans, chopped
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • Separately: 2 T butter, softened

To make the dough, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the heated milk, the egg, and 1/3 cup butter, and beat at low speed for a minute, pausing frequently to scrape the bowl. Add flour if necessary, to make the dough easier to shape.

On lightly floured surface, turn dough out and knead five minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. When finished, put into greased bowl and turn over once, so greased side faces up. Cover and let proof until double in size, about 1 ½ hours. It’s ready if you poke it and the mark of your finger is left behind.

Caramel comes next: Stirring constantly, heat 3/4 cup brown sugar and ½ cup butter to boiling. Remove from heat and add corn syrup. Pour the mixture into a 13x9x2 inch ungreased pan. Sprinkle with pecan halves.

For the filling, mix together the chopped pecans, the 2 T of sugar and 2 T of brown sugar, and the cinnamon, set aside. (Next time, I will try doubling the amount of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon so the filling is more noticeable.)

Take your fist and punch down the dough. Then, on a lightly floured surface, flatten it into a rectangle, about 15x10 inches. Spread with 2 T of butter and then dust evenly with the chopped pecan mixture. Beginning at the 10 inch side of the rectangle, roll the dough up tightly and pinch the edge to seal.

Roll it, stretch it, mold it until it is even, a cylinder.

Cut the roll into eight slices, and place in pan, not quite touching. (I ended up with 9 pieces, which worked out fine.) Wrap pan tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least 12 hours, overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Immediately invert on a platter (This is a little tricky- just have your platter ready and hope for the best!) and serve warm. The caramel hardens fast so if you don't eat the whole batch at once, you'll want to reheat the Sticky Rolls.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Paperdoll ponderings

I recently learned of the book Paperdoll by Natalie Lloyd from another blogger I follow. In response to the book, she wrote: "If I'm really honest, I don't know that there's ever been a time, even in my most confident and contented moments, that the question of "am I beautiful?" has not been lingering quietly somewhere deep down. It's difficult to not feel the pressure from the media, magazines and even just interacting with society. Will I ever be thin enough, pretty enough, funny enough, smart enough...or just enough? Ahh, see, the problem is not the question, but where we look for the answer. If I seek the world to know my definition of beauty, I will most certainly always fall short. If I seek the true Artist, the Creator of beauty, the one who knows my inmost being and every flaw and shortcoming, and yet STILL calls me beautiful...that, my friends, is where the answers to all my questions lie."

Her words struck a chord with me. In my head I know that only God's opinion matters and that he created me to be exactly who I am and for an exact purpose. In my heart it can be a constant battle to remind myself of those truths and not let the world (or a magical "if I just had this in my life" wish) define who I am. The book is geared toward young adults but sometimes it reads a bit younger- it would certainly be appropriate for high school and college girls to read. There's also an option to go through this book with a friend or as a small group- there's a pretty in depth study guide in the back complete with song recommendations. The song recommendations of course include the requisite Christian music bigwigs but there's some gems on there too- how many people have even heard of Rosie Thomas or Laura Story?

The premise of the book is "what happens when an ordinary girl meets an extraordinary God." Lloyd unpacks the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, how she must have felt as she walked to get water, unaware she had a divine appointment waiting for her. The back cover reads "True love- the kind that makes you healthy and whole, as you are meant to be- is waiting at the well. If you feel like your life is flat and two-dimensional, it's time to let God fill you up with the kind of love that makes extraordinary things possible. You'll never be ordinary again." Lately I've been feeling stuck. I want God to use my life for his glory and I don't want my baggage to get in the way of it. In the middle of all of this, I've been praying about a big life change and trying to figure out all the ramifications if I move forward. At the same time, I want the Holy Spirit to be leading me now during this in between time. I want to trust that just because my dreams aren't being realized now, doesn't mean they never will or that God won't do immeasurably more than I ask or imagine. Sometimes I feel like I've been dealing with the same issues for far too long but when I look back at my life, I do see the progress and I know God has been helping me tackle these issues one step at a time. The process of sanctification is never as fast as we'd like it.

I read the first chapter last night and it resonated with me in several parts. I think this book might be one to savor, to allow the truth settle in every part of me. If I manage my time properly, I'll try to write about my thoughts as I process the book. For now, I'll leave you with two parts I've been mulling over.
-"There's something about feeling two-dimensional that makes sense to me; a certain make-believe element that I still bring to the world. My doll-playing days are over, but I still tend to dwell in "maybes" and "what ifs." I still think my life begins later, in some dreamy far-off someday I imagine but never seem to find. I think God can't use me right now while I'm still waiting, wondering, and becoming."
-"There is something different about the Man by the well. He sees the real truth behind our smile. He knows when our smile is fake. He sees the motive behind our actions. He sees where we've been hurt in the past, and He wants to make us whole again. And He wants all of us- the brave part and the insecure, the bright and the brooding. We get to bring the mess of who are to Him and sort it out there in His presence. Just like the story of the woman at the well in John, he offers us His time."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcoming the Stranger review

I'm looking forward to discussing Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang) at Book Club tomorrow night. While I believe it to be an important issue, I've never looked in depth at the issue of immigration before, much less discerned what a biblical response might be. The book has a great many insights and the authors are skillful in examining all sides of the controversial matter. If only this could be required reading for anyone involved in (or wants to have an opinion about) immigration reform! Click here for a brochure of the most commonly asked questions about immigration.

Here are a few points/passages to ponder:
-"The present immigration dilemma, however, presents a special challenge, as Scripture's many references to immigrants never mention or consider their legal status- a concept which may not have applied during the biblical era, just as it did not apply during the early history of the United States, when there were practically no limits on immigration and when all immigrants were, as far the governing authority was concerned, legal. Indeed, many Christians would recognize that they should care for immigrants and refugees in a general sense, but they are troubled by the legal status issue and are not sure that they want to or should assist individuals whose presence in the United States is unlawful." (p. 107-8)
-Current laws make it very difficult to people to immigrate to the US, even as the economic and/or political situation makes life in their home country difficult, or in some cases, impossible to survive. Most undocumented immigrants are not eligible to enter the US legally because of their poverty; they often enter illegally so they can work and provide for their family. It is a catch-22.
-It's important to note that most immigrants work and pay taxes. However, most of them are ineligible for public benefits. However, their children may attend public primary and secondary school, they can be treated in an emergency at the hospital even if they can't pay, and they can use police, fire, and municipal services. Stephen Moore, an economist, did a study and found that the average immigrant (legal immigrant, refugee, and undocumented immigrant) pays about $80,000 more in taxes than he/she will receive in benefits over a lifetime. That's a nice benefit to the government, isn't it?
-Comprehensive Immigration Reform, as proposed by Congress in 2005 was defined by 4 principles: 1) Border protection policies consistent with humanitarian values, 2) Reforms in family-based immigration to reduce backlogs, 3) Creation of legal avenues for workers and their families, and 4) Earned legalization of undocumented immigrants (this would appear to appeal to those who are opposed to amnesty.)

I hope that you are sufficiently interested to read this book yourself. While Soerens and Hwang certainly advocate certain beliefs, they also allow room for those who would disagree. However, by examining the Bible and remembering God's mandate that we care for the widow, the poor, and the alien (multiple references), we may find our direction as the immigration debate continues.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Crunch

15 oz. can solid pack pumpkin
12 oz. evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t. salt
1 pkg. Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 c. butter, melted
1 c. chopped pecans (I've used walnuts or you can skip this step)

1. Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Pour mixture into 13 x 9 baking pan.
3. Sprinkle cake mix evenly on top.
4. Top with pecans or walnuts, if desired.
5. Drizzle with melted butter.
6. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until golden.

Fresh from the oven

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An amazing lunch at Pockets

RN Beth and I ended up at a visit together this morning and decided we would need to stop for lunch before we could even think about seeing another patient. We both had to head in the same direction so we thought we'd eat at the Panera on Orchard Road in Aurora. The parking lot was packed when we got there, leading us to park on the opposite side. And that is when fate intervened. This particular Panera is located in a strip mall where another eating establishment happens to be: Pockets. The manager was sitting outside of Pockets as we passed and offered us copies of their Delivery Menu. Then he asked if we'd ever eaten there before. When he heard we hadn't, he gave us three reasons why we should stop by: 1) it's closer to our parked cars so we would have less of a walk back 2) the food is better than the place where we were headed and 3) he would give us a discount. Needless to say, his sales pitch was successful, for which I'm glad.

The moment I saw the menu, I knew I had metaphorically come home. My eyes beelined toward the Greek Calzone with feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and black olives, served with ranch dressing. Sold! The Pockets were also tempting. A Pocket is a freshly-baked multigrain bread pulled fresh from the oven, stuffed with your choice of vegetables, meats, and cheeses, and then served with dressing on the side. There are so many great options! The ingredients are all fresh and everything is baked once you order it. The calzones take about 15 minutes, I'm not sure about the Pockets. Still, I went with the Greek Calzone and Beth ordered the BBQ Chicken Calzone. While we were waiting, they brought some complimentary Dip Sticks (their delicious version of bread sticks with ranch dressing and pizza sauce.) Just when I couldn't be any happier, my calzone arrived and I knew I was in food heaven. The portion is huge so I just ate half and am looking forward to the leftovers for dinner.

You don't have to go all the way to Aurora to experience Pockets (although I was blown away by the customer service at this particular location.) They have Pockets in Naperville, Lombard, and quite a few throughout Chicago. Don't want to leave home? Call in your order or send it in on-line and they'll deliver it to you. Happy eating!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Angel Fall

I recently received a copy of Angel Fall, a Christian fantasy/allegory/science fiction book from Zondervan. The novel was written by Coleman Luck, a Hollywood screenwriter and general jack of all trades. Amazon description: "Three angry and heartbroken siblings are traveling between their divorced parents when their plane crashes over the ocean. The children awake to find themselves adrift in Boreth, another world of ancient devastation and evil. The siblings will face frightening challenges, terrifying choices, and great temptations before reaching their final destination."

"Angel Fall" comes off as a cross between several Christian fantasy classics. At times it reminded me of the Narnia books, Madeline L'engle, and Pilgrim's Progress. I would hazard a guess that a reference to Lord of the Rings would not be out of place but I (gasp) have not it made it through that particular trilogy. The difference between these classics and this work by Coleman Luck is that Luck ups the ante when it comes to the reality today's children and teens face. The main characters are a product of divorce and this unresolved pain colors their journey in a strange world. There are heavy themes and a fair amount of violence here making this inappropriate for young children. It's unfortunate that this is the case because I find children to be the best audience when it comes to the fantasy/allegory genre. I guess they'll have to grow up a little bit first! The characters' backgrounds made this story for me. At times I found Alex, Amanda, and Tori to be on the whiny/complaining side but then I had to wonder how I would react to their circumstances, given their ages and backgrounds. No character is perfect and each reacts to their quest in a different way. And in this, readers can relate to the difficulty in making decisions, discerning truth, and sticking to what is right. I am typically not a big reader of science fiction or fantasy books but I was pleasantly surprised by my curiosity of just how the plot would unfold. The lines between good and evil are not always clear. I liked that Luck doesn't point everything out to his reader, that at times we are forced to discern just who is helping our heroes and who is drawing them deeper into destruction. Life is gritty and we don't always get a happy ending, even in netherworlds. Thankfully God's redemptive power transcends our journey. The allegory richly illustrates this point throughout in surprising ways. This book could be the jump-off point for fascinating discussion about the spiritual themes found within if book club members are willing to engage in the story with open minds and open hearts. Pick up a copy when you get a chance!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spring Fever Salsa Soup

Delicious and easy to make!

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes

1 T vegetable oil
16 oz. jar salsa
32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained
1 1/2 c. frozen corn kernels
Optional toppings: 1/2 c. chopped cilantro, 1/2 c. Mexican blend cheese, small avocado cubed, crumbled tortilla chips

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the salsa; cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the broth; heat to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low; add the chicken, beans, and corn. Cook until chicken cooks through, 5-7 minutes. Turn off heat; stir in cilantro (optional).
2. Add cheese, avocado, and tortilla chips, if desired.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Come on! Baby, don't you want to go?

There is nothing like the feeling after the White Sox have won and everyone begins to files out of The Cell. As we gather our belongings, smiles extending from ear to ear, the Blues Brothers begin that old familiar song, Sweet Home Chicago. There is a sense that all is right with the world. I love that feeling.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

I spent time with some of my favorite cousins on Sunday. Jon made me Beer Can Chicken (also known as Beer Butt Chicken in some circles) and it was phenomenal!

As you can see, there is a technique to removing the beer can without scalding yourself.

Here's the recipe for your own summer grilling experience:

Beer Can Chicken:
1 cup butter
2 tablespoons garlic salt
2 tablespoons paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 (12 fluid ounce) can beer
1 (4 pound) whole chicken

Preheat an outdoor grill for low heat.
In a small skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter. Mix in 1 tablespoon garlic salt, 1 tablespoon paprika, salt, and pepper. Baste chicken with the melted, seasoned butter.
Discard 1/2 the beer, leaving the remainder in the can. Add remaining butter, garlic salt, paprika, and desired amount of salt and pepper to beer can. Place can on a disposable baking sheet. Set chicken on can, inserting can into the cavity of the chicken.
Place baking sheet with beer and chicken on the prepared grill. Cook over low heat for about 3 hours, or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 180 degrees F (80 degrees C).
(Note: Jon's cooking time was about an hour and a half but I would guess it was a higher temperature.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Colorado Sights

Lunch at Ling and Louie's in Denver with Shana
The view from Echo Mountain
Echo Mountain Lake
Featuring Bryson as Buffalo Bill and me as Annie Oakley

Monday, May 18, 2009

Best Entertainment Unit Ever

I designed it, Dad built it, together we stained and varnished it. Amazing, isn't it?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Top 29 Books of 2008

[Ed. note: this was originally posted on my professional blog, before it was solely a professional blog.  All comments were lost in the transfer- sorry!]

I couldn't celebrate my 29th birthday properly without compiling a new list of favorites. Last year was top 28 CD obsessions, the year before: 27 top books. Nerd that I am, I keep a list of the books that I read each year. I am a voracious reader and it's nice to see what I've accomplished. This year I read 77 books- go me! Granted there was a bit of fluff in that list but sometimes mindless brain candy is just what you need after a long day of work. I'm sparing you the pain of a bad book (although you might not agree with all my favorites) and letting you in on my favorite reads of this past year, presented in order read. Enjoy!

1. The Divide- Nicholas Evans (1/4/08)
Haunting tale as a family pieces together their estranged daughter's life when she is found dead.

2. Splitting Harriet- Tamara Leigh (1/14/08)
I like Leigh's version of Christian chick lit. They're easy, engaging reads that keep me laughing and commiserating.

3. The School of Dying Graces- Dr. Richard Felix (1/27/08)
I read a few books after Grandma died but none spoke to me as much as Felix's experience through his wife's battle with cancer. His examination of the gifts we gain from persevering through suffering was both inspirational and encouraging.

4. The Princes of Ireland- Edward Rutherford (1/30/08)
Interesting blend of fact and fiction tracing Ireland's origins.

5. Dumping Billy- Olivia Goldsmith (1/31/08)
Dump Billy and you get married...but what happens if you don't want to dump Billy? Funny chick lit.

6. Immediate Family- Eileen Goudge (2/1/08)
Friends reconnect at their 15-year college reunion; the choices and decisions they face lead them to see what friendship is really made of and, inevitably, how they define family.

7. Fifth Seal- Bodie and Brock Thoene (2/6/08)
Vivid picture of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus. The Thoene's bring familiar Bible stories alive.

8. The Story We Find Ourselves In- Brian McLaren (2/6/08)
A continuation of A New Kind of Christian, McLaren delves more fully into the creation vs. evolution debate. I didn't agree with everything but he definitely gave me some things to ponder.

9. Silence- Shusaku Endo (2/11/08)
We read this for Book Club and had a very thought-provoking discussion about apostasy and what might cause us to deny our faith.

10. The Boy Next Door- Meg Cabot (2/12/08)
Cabot's novels are light, frothy reads about the trials and triumphs of our every-day heroine. However, this particular tale is told through a series of emails, journal entries, etc.

11. Now and Not Yet- Jennifer Marshall (2/14/08)

One of the best books written for Christian single women written by...a Christian single woman. Marshall looks at singleness with a fresh, more sociological perspective.

12. Ireland- Frank Delaney (2/22/08)
Delaney focuses on Ireland's fading oral tradition, "telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy." A beautiful tale.

13. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World- Bill Clinton (3/13/08)
I was heartened to learn more about Clinton's philanthropic endeavors and his efforts to mobilize each of us to do our part and celebrate those who already are.

14. East of Eden- John Steinbeck (3/29/08)
Another Book Club read. The first 100 pages were torturously slow but my perseverance paid off.

15. The Wheel of Life- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (4/18/08)
Many people are familiar with Kubler-Ross's work in the field of loss and bereavement but know litle about her life. Her biography and her life choices are intriguing, as well as perplexing at times. I scratched my head in confusion a couple of times but was still left grateful for her contributions to my field.

16. Persuasion- Jane Austen (5/1/08)
This was the only Austen novel I hadn't read and it turned out to be my favorite! I loved seeing the characters' lives intersect and how a misplaced or purposeful word here and there could alter the course of their lives.

17. The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield (7/28/08)
Simply fascinating from start to finish! The mystery kept me guessing the whole way through and when I finished I felt the need to go back through and figure out what clues I'd missed the first time around.

18. Chasing Harry Winston- Lauren Weisberger (8/16/08)
Not quite as good as The Devil Wears Prada but one of the main characters is named Leigh.

19. The Song Reader- Lisa Tucker (8/21/08)
A woman uses music as therapy- by reading a person's favorite song, she unlocks the key to their happiness. Inevitably, her gift fails her and everyone is affected. An interesting premise and believable outcome.

20. Mercy- Jodi Picoult (9/11/08)
You might be firmly against euthanasia but, as always, Picoult turns the issue on its head.

21. How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls- Zoey Dean (9/20/08)
Imagine my delight when Privileged (WB) debuted this fall a week after I'd finished the book it was based on! I had no idea a series was in the works and, true, they changed some important details but the show is entertaining. Of course, the book is better!

22. Special Topics in Calamity Physics- Marisha Pessl (10/11/08)
You will need to talk to someone when you finish, so call me! Very unusual writing style and unique main character. Add a huge plot twist and you'll see why discussion is a must.

23. Stuff White People Like- Christian Lander (11/4/08)
The best of Lander's entertaining blog in book form. See how many categories you fall into, whether you're white or not.

24. Many Waters- Madeline L'Engle (11/16/08)
If you loved A Wrinkle in Time, you'll love this continuation in the series.

25-28. Twilight series- Stephenie Meyer (11/20/08-11/28/08)
Clearly I sped through this series that I resisted reading in spite of a year of recommendations. I'm obsessed and wish there would be more! I never thought I'd like a book about vampires but it truly is so much more than that. I could identify with some of Bella's hopes and fears and fell in love with Edward along the way.

29. The Historian- Elizabeth Kostova (12/26/08)
I didn't intend to read another book about vampires (I've certainly never read books about them in the past!) but I was mesmerized by this fictional account that traces the history of Dracula, leading our heroine to believe that he lives even today. The sociologist in me appreciates a good research project and what we can dig up when we search our past.