Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Sentinels of Spring

They come in many shapes and colors,
yet all are beautiful.



They arrive in a rush and some only last a few days,
while others linger for a while.


They push up through the ground
or
unfurl from the trees.



They follow no time but their own...




They are the Sentinels of Spring and their job is to let you know that a new cycle of growth is here,


and if you have time and take a closer look...


You won't be disappointed....

Admiring the change of season,
Melissa

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Literary Discussion, Part One...

As I approached my book challenge this year and chose the classics, I knew that I would be reading some pretty heavy books, however, the benefit of doing this for fun is that I don't have to analyze the books to death, unless I want to, and can just read and enjoy or survive the books.   This year I thought I would also include in these posts books that are not on the list that I read for my book club or just for fun.....

Here we go again!

--Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I am not going to lie, the first 200 hundred pages were so slow and hard to read that I really did not think I would finish my book club's selection, and then something happened that I can't really explain and  I inhaled the remaining 600 pages, yes it's a long one.  A story based in history with magic woven in as if it was real.  Two magicians battle egos, misconceptions and politics in this engaging book.  Characters grow, plotlines are taken to completion and the footnotes are just really fun.

#12 . One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What a crazy, wonderful book!!  It mixes magic and tradition with tragedy and change.  What happens if generation after generation keeps making the same mistake?  If we never learn from the mistakes of the past?   I am surprised how much I ended up enjoying this book and when I have time will read others by this author.

--The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read this book and now I can't say that I'm happy that I did.  The paradox of it is this, by page 20 I knew I would dislike and loathe most if not all of the characters by the end and I KEPT READING.  It is well written, for the style, but I am going to be very happy when the 'Gone Girl' replicas and homages are done.....

#24.  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

After I finished this novella of about 120 pages, I did something I normally do not do and searched the internet for information about it.  I understood the allegory of it, but I wanted to see why critics loved it so much when I couldn't wait for it to be over......and then I found the piece of information that made me go 'aha!'and it was this, one of the more famous adaptations based on it is the movie 'Apocalypse Now' that I have suffered through as a part of my top 100 movie bucket list adventure. I can now say I read it and never have to again.

#3.  Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Have you ever lost yourself in a book?  I do, all the time.  I lose time and I leave my reality and live in the characters' world, but what happens if when you emerge back into your life, your sense of reality is changed?  For Don Quixote, the allure of romantic knight tales becomes real and he begins his quest of becoming a Knight and to be honest it doesn't really go that well.   His vision that allows him to see the best in things, like a castle instead of a ramshackle old inn, also causes grief when he sees dangers in things that are innocent.  The other characters also cause troubles by playing jokes on Don Quixote and Sancho, and for that reason the following line from the book sums it up the best.... 'For jests that cause pain are not jests, and entertainments are not worthwhile if they injure another.'

A fool can be wise; a wise man can be a fool; a simpleton can have the best answer for a complex problem; and an expert can cause all sorts of trouble, so go deeper and find out the truth of what is being presented...

--H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Three books in one?  How in the world will this ever work?  Just trust me when I say that just does.  Part book about grief, part hawk training adventure, and part biography of author T.H. White rolled into one.   I know nothing about hawks, but was thoroughly intrigued about the goshawk that Helen trains.  I knew little about T.H. White, but was immediately drawn in to his life.  I've been through grief and know that it's a deeply personal process and was surprised how deep she was willing to share.  I inhaled this book and can not recommend it enough..

#14.  The Iliad by Homer

Throw in a family that does not put the fun in 'dysfunctional' (Zeus and Hera, euwwww) with
men at war who trash talk and sulk like moody teenagers (with Achilles leading that list) and add a dash of blood and gore (splattering brains and pierced organs with spears)

and you have the Iliad....

A classic poem that may or may not of been written by Homer that may or may not of been based on actual events.

It was more interesting to read than I had thought it would be and I found that it ended up mocking the glory of war it set out to portray.  The Gods, Kings, and Commanders of the rank and file come of as petulant, whiny, and stubborn when innocent lives are on the line....  The rank and file as they are listed off are honest men who were called to arms by their leaders.

#8.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This book starts out as fluff....the roaring twenties, youth, and parties, but by the end it turns into a deep and thoughtful examination of the way we treat others and judge their actions and what is acceptable within society.  Extraordinary writing!!!

#7.  The Odyssey by Homer

aka  The Iliad, the attempt to return home.....  Every time Odysseus is mentioned in the Iliad, the phrase 'A Brilliant Tactician' or the like is used, but on the way home from war, the phrase did not apply.  Follow him into war, yes....  Go on a road trip, can't recommend as he is the only one to make it home, everyone that left with him from the war, DIED...

Characters from the Iliad pop up through out this tale of woe and struggle.  My personal favorites, Helen's 'my Bad for starting a war' dialogue and the I don't want to be dead group in the underworld.   We are also introduced to Odysseus's long suffering wife, Penelope, who has a group of suitors to deal with, and his son who just can't wait to be king (sorry couldn't help myself) but really just needs some answers about his Dad...

I didn't love this, but I didn't hate it either....  I won't be reading it again, but I will recommend it to read as an experience...


#17 . Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This is not a read in one evening book....  It forced me to slow down my reading by A LOT, by that I mean I read a chapter a night if that.  It is a book that makes you think and ponder and challenges your perceptions.  It was definitely not an easy read, but by the end I came to appreciate it.

#44.  Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

I read about a poem a night over the span of a couple of months.  Some resonated, others not so much, and some I could see where the controversy came from back in the day....

#37.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did, but this is once again why I do these types of challenges, to discover books that I may not of read otherwise.  A cautionary tale of being careful of what you wish for and what you turn your back on, but what stuck with me the most is that your experience can harmfully impact another if you choose to believe that is the only possibility...

As this first quarter comes to a close, I have to admit that reading all of these heavy, dense, thinking novels is a little taxing at times and I have taken breaks and read 'fluff' books just to not have to think or pay attention to the plot.....

Still with my nose in a book,
Melissa




Thursday, March 17, 2016

The State I'm in....


A couple of weeks ago, I took a 24 hour pause from my life.....
I prepared and took care of my responsibilities before I left, but in essence, I ran away from home.

I knew that I wouldn't be gone long, so I did not want to spend my entire time driving to and from wherever I chose, so I decided to head north from Salt Lake City and ended up in Box Elder County.

The drive up took less than an hour!  Wahoo, so now it was time to play...

First, a visit to the Golden Spike National Monument.  

It was interesting, but since I was visiting in the off season, the trains were not out.  :(  I was very surprised that the Golden Spike was only in the ground for 15 minutes before they took it out.  There is, however, a plaque at the location.   I learned a lot about the building of the railroads and how hard it was to do.

The Plaque on the tracks...

the way of the tracks...


On the drive to Golden Spike, I saw a sign for the Spiral Jetty, so I asked the Park Ranger if my little car could make the trip on the dirt roads and he said yes, so off I went.  It's about a 12 mile drive on grated roads through open range land, with some opinionated cows....I got glared at when I took their pictures..


See the attitude...

The Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture at the edge of the Great Salt Lake that was constructed in April of 1970.  I alway thought it was on the West side of the lake, but it's not....it's on the northeastern side, the things you learn when you travel.  I expected it to be a nice drive out and 'Ya' I finally saw it, but it turned into one of the highlights of my adventure.  For one thing, it is just really pretty and it doesn't smell.... (if you live in SLC or the Wasatch front, you know all about lake stink). I walked out to the edge of the Great Salt Lake, which was at least 1/2 mile out on the salt.  It was that kind of silent you can only get in nature.  Bliss...

The Spiral Jetty

a little spiral in the big one...

The Great Salt Lake with ripples in the water

a really cool formation in the salt on the shore


My next stop was the Bear River Bird Refuge.  I heard a lot of birds, but didn't see any, but that was ok, I was all about taking pictures of the sunset and the reflections in the water.....
It was a little overcast, so it was a little dreary

and subdued for a sunset

but still stunning and peaceful

Now it was time for the reason I chose this area, Crystal Hot Springs in Honeyville...  Soaking in the hot springs while it is cold outside, can it get any better?  As I checked in, I learned that Crystal Hot Springs has the highest mineral concentration of any hot spring in the world.  Way to go Utah!

I slept in a bit the next morning and as I drove home I realized a couple of things....

I live in an amazing state for scenery and diversity of the scenery.
I am lucky enough to be able to visit these areas without a long drive.
24 hours away can do wonders for your state of mind...

Utah,
the state I'm in...
Melissa



Friday, March 4, 2016

Pantry Challenge...

During the month of February I completed a  pantry challenge...
in a world of buy, buy, buy, I took a break.

The goal:

To see what I really use and what is just wasting my money and space by sitting in the cabinets and in the fridge.

The Rules:

The only purchases allowed are fresh produce and dairy products.

The plan:

To clean out and use things in my pantry and freezer.  I had a menu plan that didn't assign days, but listed recipes to make during the month.  I made favorites and new recipes and even made snacks and desserts.

The most surprising thing was this...

my cooking habits have changed, a lot.  I don't eat a lot of meat now, so even after not buying any meat for a month, I still have quite a bit in my freezer.  I use black beans at almost a 3 to 1 ratio to  kidney beans, who knew?  Condensed soups have now been banned since I have found a healthier, less processed, version that I can make from scratch with ease.   I love popcorn as a snack or dessert, coconut oil and dill.

I learned the following....

I would rather spend a bit of time to make something from scratch and know all of the ingredients instead of buying a pre-packaged options.  The breakfast and lunch burritos that routinely fill my freezer are cases in point.

I love to cook.

I love being creative to vary a menu and in finding new recipes to try.

I even had food to eat when I went down with a flu for almost a week....

The Results....

There was a little cheating when my favorite brand of herbs and spices went on sale at 50% off and when I ran out of yeast and couldn't make bread.


In terms of saving money, I did, but I used it to get ahead and do some extra things this month, which was very nice!

I am very glad I did this and will do it again in the future!

Off to plan my next meal...
Melissa




Monday, February 22, 2016

A change in behavior....

If you recall, one of my New Year's Resolutions was to break a bad habit or two...

This is about breaking one of them.

Carbonation in the form of Diet Cokes or Cokes....

I have stopped before

and





then







started back up....when I got stressed or to be honest,  just forgot that I had stopped.

I want to end this habit for GOOD!

So, I've been working on a new approach and plan.

Instead of quitting, I have been working on replacing it with a better option.

Why is this different, you ask?

Well, in my past attempts, I quit and then tried to fill the void.  A situation that set up for a sense of deprivation and loss.

My new approach is to not quit, but have other things in my life that replace it.  Basically, let it go out of love and not needing it anymore.

I have set goals for myself to increase my water intake, drink more tea and find options and by doing this I have already made progress.

I am in for the marathon, not the sprint, of this endeavor, so I am not there yet, but I am loving the direction I am going..

Being kinder to myself,
Melissa

Friday, February 5, 2016

365 days.....

I'm not really sure how it has happened, but it has been a year since my Dad died.

How is that even possible?
Time, this year, has passed with light speed and dragged like it was going through cold molasses,
and yet here I am a year later..

Grief has been an interesting journey as I dealt with, survived and slogged through this year of firsts.  I have found that on the major days, birthdays, holidays and this anniversary, I go quiet.  I start avoiding looking at the pictures of him I have in my room and on my phone and I avoid Facebook and other social sites for the same reason.  In fact, I'm writing this in advance, because I know I need to express this, but as the actual date approaches (February 5), I will retreat into quiet.

The quiet is what is right for me....
at first, I tried to fight it, but I learned that if I just accept and flow through the quiet, I come out on the other side with new insights and peace that I didn't have before and if I don't fight it, it only lasts a day or so..

For the rest of the time, your help, advice and support has been right.  It's a mix and a balance and I'm sure that he would of been proud of me for finding this balance and making it through.

In the past year, I have found photos I had forgotten about of the two of us and have framed a couple of them and have them on my dresser where I see them daily.  My one true regret is that I was often behind the camera or avoided having my picture taken with my Dad because I didn't like my hair or I thought I looked fat or some other reason...  WHY?  Why did I let my insecurities get in the way of a memory?  It is a mistake that I am fixing with those still in my life...

One of the weirder thing that caused me grief until I had to let it go was his number in my phone and on my favorites list.  I can not tell you how many times that I had a question for him and dialed his number and it wasn't until I hit dial that I would remember and then get clobbered by grief....  Ironically, once I took his number off his phone, it didn't hurt as much and I started a new ritual.  I asked him anyway.  Quietly, in my head, and then I listen....  I generally get an answer pretty quick and I hear his voice in my head as I do, and you know what, the answer has been right and exactly what I needed.

And that is when I realized the most important thing of this year of grief....
he is still with me
and I am still his daughter.

Love your daughter....
Melissa




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February 1st....

Did you know that February 1st is Baked Alaska Day?

It is and since I'm celebrating weird/unknown holidays this year, I decided to celebrate it!  :)  As an added bonus, it fulfills a Food Challenge item as well as I have never made a meringue before.

The first documented Baked Alaska was made in 1876, to honor the recently acquired territory of Alaska, by chef-de-cuisine Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico's Restaurant.  It consists of a sponge cake topped with ice cream and coated with meringue and then baked at a high temperature to firm and lightly brown the meringue.  Yum......

Before I continue any further about my adventures in making this dessert, I first need to say that I now have mad respect for food bloggers and those who style and take pictures of food.  WOW, it is difficult to do the work and take pictures!  One armed photography is an adventure, or maybe I need a staff to help me out...  Also, combating the lighting in my kitchen was not fun.

To get started, it's time to gather our ingredients....

Remember the first time you were home alone as a kid and found this and dug in and well, let's just say it wasn't good

ok, now we're getting to the good stuff!

You Scream!  I Scream!  It's Ice Cream!

You also need eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, unsweetened cocoa powder, and butter, but they are not as fun and I also forgot to take their pictures.  :(

First off, let's melt the chocolate with the butter.

oh, my....

Now it's time to mix up the eggs with the sugar...



 Then add the melted chocolate mixture in... I tempered it a bit just to be on the safe side..



 So, I forgot to take photos of the next couple of steps, remember how I said I needed help and that food bloggers are talented?  This is why!!!  Remembering to show all steps, etc....

The cake is made by adding the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa then baked  cooled and cut into circles.
The ice cream is put on the top and frozen.
A meringue is whipped up and put on top and then frozen.

light and fluffy meringue on top!  Thanks Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!

The long slow slide of non fluffy meringue mixed with a hand mixer.
 This is where having the right equipment can make a HUGE difference!  I made two batches of meringue and in the first one I use a hand mixer and mixed and mixed and mixed and mixed and got a somewhat fluffy concoction.  I applied it to the brownie/ice cream and then put it in the freezer and then the long slow slide began....

Batch two, I used my Kitchen Aid Stand mixer with the whisk attachment... two minutes later, fluffy and light and no sliding occurred...

Lesson learned.  :)
Right out of the oven!  YUMMM....

Needless to say, the picture above is of the second batch!  You bake the frozen dessert in a preheated 500F oven, then turned on broil right before you put them in for a couple of minutes, and then you devour the yumminess!

It was fun to try a new technique and a new to me dessert!
Here's to fun New Year's Resolutions!!!

Melissa