Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whatcha Reading Wednesday

(The title is lame, I know. I'm working on it.)

With the way the schedule at school has gone the last couple of months, I've had quite a bit of time to do some reading. There's just not much else to do when you're proctoring the STAR test or giving finals. Furthermore, my students this year have been more into reading than many of my other classes, so it's an enjoyable thing to give them reading time, opposed to what it has been in the past: "Juan, read." "Joe, stop drawing on the desk." "Mark, you owe me time after class." "Marie, you either read now or you read with me at lunch." Not fun.

1. The Host, by Stephenie Meyer - The author of the beloved Twilight saga created a science fiction story that has quite a clever plot: a human woman (Melanie Snyder) is taken over by an alien soul (Wanderer), as most of the humans have been. It is not your normal body-snatcher plot, however, because the soul is actually good, much more so than a human. Melanie, instead of disappearing like she is supposed to, holds on and continues to exist, which makes for quite a conflict.

Although this did not have nearly the effect that Twilight had on me (no Edward Cullen...what did I expect?), there are some good qualities. The plot, as I said, is clever, and the characters, though not as complex as I would like, embody truly good traits. Wanderer is purely good, and Melanie is a fighter who stands for what she believes.

2. Sunny: Ward of the State, by Sonja Heinze Coryat - This is the true story of Sunny and her family's struggle during the Great Depression. Sunny's mother contracts tuberculosis and is placed in an asylum. With their father scrounging for work and unable to care for them, Sunny (the youngest) and her older siblings must fend for themselves, and they don't do this well. Soon, they begin to be transported all over the state. All along, Sunny longs for stability, her mother, and home.

I can't say it was my favorite writing style, but it did make me understand ever so slightly the struggle that many went through during the Great Depression. It also explores the strong bond of family, as well as the mother's role in a family. And the ending is a pleasant surprise.

3. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton - The story is the king of ironies. Ethan Frome is unhappily married to Zeena, his chronically ill (and chronically annoying) wife. When Zeena's cousin Mattie Silver comes to stay, it is no surprise that Ethan falls for her. As I read this, I was struck by how an author can make her readers sympathize with the people involved in an immoral situation. It is hard not to feel bad for Ethan, even though he is entertaining feelings for Mattie, because his situation seems so unfortunate. Although Ethan and Mattie become desperate, things don't work out as anyone would have planned. Ethan is taking care of Zeena at the beginning, and by the end, Zeena is...well, I don't want to give too much away, but the irony makes the story.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl - I read this along with my students this year. I believe I read it during high school, but I don't remember much. I was absolutely amazed by the strength and wit of Anne Frank. Although it breaks my heart knowing what the fate of Anne and her family was, it is incredible how strong they all were and how impactful their story has been in our history. Out of everything we studied in class this year, this struck the students the most.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Panera Bread at Home

I was so excited when I found that Panera Bread has recipes on its website! If you are a Panera Bread fan, this is worth your time. I'll be trying out their chicken salad sandwich recipe (called Lucky New Year's sandwiches) at the baby shower I'm hosting this weekend. Yum! http://www.panerabread.com/recipes/

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Updated Countdowns

1. 12 School Days - Last Day of School!
2. 26 Days - We leave for New York!
3. 31 Days - Robby and I celebrate five years married!!!
4. 43 Days - Eclipse!! Woo-hoo!

(All of the exclamation points are necessary and loosely rank the items by importance. Notice I still keep some of my priorities straight.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

DIY Heaven

I love doing DIY projects, but because they are usually time consuming, I don't often get to jump into these. However, whenever I have some time to kill, I absolutely love looking at the DIY ideas on Design Sponge at designspongeonline.com. And with summer just around the corner, and a little bit of time coming my way, I plan on conquering some of these fantastic ideas, such as the adorable tea shelf, the pretty paper coat rack, and the sweet candy box (which I want to attempt earlier, so I can include this as a baby shower favor). Whether you have time on your hands or not, it's worth a visit to this site. And please, if you try anything, let me know!

Trip to the Getty

This past Wednesday, I, along with four other teachers, took 45 middle school students to the Getty for a field trip. Sounds like a nightmare, but actually we had a great time. Here are my five favorite things about the Getty:

1. Leonardo da Vinci's sketches - This is the special exhibit going on at the Getty right now. It was incredible seeing a glimpse into da Vinci's mind through his sketches. They ranged from sketches of sculptures he had planned to face muscles to children to construction plans.

2. Rembrandt's paintings - I know very little about art, so I was excited to see that one particular artist stood out to me out of hundreds. Rembrandt's paintings were remarkable and the colors looked unreal.

3. The Getty's Central Garden - The Getty is known for its gardents, but the Central Garden was spectacular. We couldn't have come at a more appropriate time since the weather was perfect and nearly all of the flowers were in full bloom. The designer attempted to create a garden that reflected California's plants, as well as other Mediterranean plants.
4. The bouganvillas - These are one of Rob's favorite flowers he's planted for us, so it was incredible to see a humongous tree-shaped trellis filled and overflowing with this vine. 5. The spectacular views and perfect weather

If you get a chance, go before the flowers fade and da Vinci is gone!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Boston Way

Last Saturday, I had the great debate I always have: lounge around and enjoy the morning, or get busy and accomplish things. I actually was able to do both and spent a leisurely morning reading, writing, and drinking coffee. As soon as my morning was over, though, I managed to keep myself very busy the rest of the day, although I didn't mean to do this. It started by a desire to bake something. Being as Mother's Day was the next day, I thought I could have a dessert to share. I had remembered that there was a beautiful Boston Cream Pie on the Williams-Sonoma website I shared in a previous post. I took out my computer, pulled up the recipe, was struck again by the lovely photo, and thought, Why not?

Now, I'm not a particular fan of Boston Cream Pie, but honestly, what's not to love? Delicious cake, tasty custard filling, and smooth chocolate. Sounds good to me. I didn't read the recipe at all, but scanned the list of ingredients. I had them all! Wonderful! Off to work I went.

I began by making the cake part, first. Already I could tell that this recipe required extra love that I usually don't give to my cakes. It asked that I sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. So I sifted. It asked that I line the baking pans with parchment paper, so I lined. It asked that I mix things together in a particular way, so I mixed particularly. Goodness gracious this recipe was demanding! Little did I know this was only the beginning. In went the cakes into the oven, and then I began the next step: custard.

The pastry cream (custard) was even more demanding. Nine egg yolks were required! A milk and vanilla mixture had to be heated on the stove, added to the egg mixture, and then returned to the stove where the stirring could not stop. It said to stir for about 7 minutes, and then the mixture should begin to firm up like mayonaisse. Seven minutes went by, and it was still a runny mess. Ten minutes went by. Fifteen minutes. Finally, I went back to check the recipe for a 10th time only to realize I left out a key ingredient. Cornstarch. A trip to the grocery store by my husband and nine additional egg yolks later, I had pastry cream attempt #2, and this time it worked. I strained it into a bowl and let it cool.

The final component of the dessert was the chocolate sauce on top. This required very quick movements, as the sauce could not sit on the stove for very long without being whisked. After about fifteen minutes of whisking, the sauce was finally thick enough to "coat the back of a spoon." I poured it into a bowl and set it aside. Here came the step I had to read numerous times: "Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir the gelatin into the 1 Tbs. water and let stand for 2 minutes. Place the bowl of gelatin over a small saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until it is liquid and translucent. Whisk the gelatin into the glaze." Uh...what?? How do you place and stir a bowl of gelatin over a saucepan of hot water? I decided to use a metal sieve for the job as that was the only thing that had a handle and a place to put a bowl. By this time, though, the gelatin was hard and gummy. You would think the gelatin would become "liquid and translucent" quickly, but it did not. Finally, the gelatin softened enough for me to add it to the chocolate sauce, stir, and put it in the fridge. Done!

After the cakes, custard, and chocolate sauce cooled, and after I cleaned up the horendous mess in my kitchen, I assembled my Boston Cream Pie. I was able to share it with many people over the weekend (including mom, mom-in-law, and gma-in-law) and I am thrilled to say that all the hard work was not in vain. It was quite the hit! Hooray!

Click here for the recipe if you need a way to spend five hours this afternoon. And use all your eggs.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Crazy Love

We are reading the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan in our small group. We actually studied it with our youth group this past year and felt it was so life-changing that we needed to read it again with people our age. In the book, Chan asks his readers to evaluate their hearts and their love for God. The basic premise would be, I suppose, that God's love for us is crazy, insane, against all logic because that is the way God loves. Shouldn't our response, then, be a love that is just as crazy for him?

It's a book worth reading...twice. Here are some things Chan has said that have stood out to me so far:
  • Because we don't often think about the reality of who God is, we quickly forget that He is worthy to be worshipped and loved. We are to fear Him. (30)
  • The irony is that while God doesn't need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don't really want Him most of the time. He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him--and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by. (61)
  • God is the only true Giver, and He needs nothing from us. But still he wants us. He gave us life so that we might seek and know Him. (109)
  • The greatest good on this earth is God. Period. (62)
  • My conclusion? Jesus' call to commitment is clear. He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a "Christian" without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd. (85)
  • Personal experience has taught me that actions driven by fear and guilt are not an antidote to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living. I hope you realize instead that the answer is love...When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear. As long as you are running, you are safe. (101, 104)
He also quotes John Piper, who says: "The critical question for our generation--and for every generation--is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Great Dilemma

Hands down, my favorite time of the day is morning. I am what some people would classify a morning person, although I do enjoy sleeping in a bit. I am usually at my best in the morning. I feel energetic, excited, and grateful for the day. I actually look forward to sitting and having my coffee in the morning, the time when I also pray and read.

The problem is, this poses a dilemma for me every Saturday. Do I enjoy my morning drinking coffee, reading, posting, thinking, etc. for hours on end? (All things that can be done from the comfort of my couch or a sunny spot in the backyard.) Or do I take advantage of my general energetic and motivated manner and get some things done? (Which I enjoy to a certain extent, as well, being that I feel good when I accomplish things.)

You see my dilemma. Today, so far, option #1 has prevailed. We'll see how the rest of the day goes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Faves

I like the idea of having certain themes to write about on certain days, like "Thankful Thursdays" (How Sweet It Is) and "Sunday Sweets" (Cake Wrecks) and "Tackle-it Tuesdays" (Potpourri of Life). Although alliteration is not necessary for these themes, it is much welcomed. I attempted to try this with Friday Faves, but I found that I always drew a blank once Friday rolled around. The problem was, I couldn't think of a good category. Today, then, instead of writing a Friday Faves, I am going to take the time I would usually sit here and generate a list.

foods, desserts, restaurants, make-up products, hair products, places to visit, decorating sites, kitchen utensils, flowers, actors, short stories, books (done that, but could always do it again), poems, movies, places in Visalia, clothes, splurges...

I've already run out, and it's time to wrap this up. If you have categories, please help me!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hand-picked

One of the more exciting things about being a homeowner is getting to grow plants and flowers. (We haven't yet ventured to try growing our own vegetables.) Usually, whenever I wanted flowers in my house, they either needed to be dry (which smell badly), fake (which gather dust), or bought (which costs money). Now that we have flowers growing in our yard, we can cut them and bring them inside to enjoy!

I was thrilled then this week when I came home to a lovely hand-picked bouquet of roses neatly arranged in a vase, roses that Robby had grown himself. Very sweet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reunited...

A picture from the recent reunion we attended:
I didn't even take a picture with my husband while we were there, but we did get one before we left. The reunion was nice, a pleasant time to catch up with old friends. (It was more pleasant once I got over my feelings of insecurity that crept up!) Many are still around the area, but we've mostly gone our separate ways, so it was great to find out what everyone was up to. It was also funny to see how most people who went away for awhile (including us) have returned for one reason or another. Visalia just calls you back, no matter how hard you want to leave.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

Last week, we invited our neighbors over for dinner. I wanted to make a tasty dessert, so I went with the staple of strawberry shortcake. The strawberry shortcake at Cheesecake Factory is probably the best I've ever had, so I tried to find a knock-off recipe. It seems whoever created that shortcake has sealed his lips, though; however, I did find a great recipe by Williams-Sonoma, my new at-home favorite! This led me to browse other recipes from W-S, which impressed me even further. This site is definitely worth checking out!

Here's the strawberry shortcake recipe, in case you want to try this. Wish I had taken a picture (they were so pretty!), but we gobbled them up too fast. I guess that's the sign of a good dessert.

Williams-Sonoma’s Strawberry Shortcake
www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe

Ingredients
2 cups cake flour
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream and more for brushing
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar(which I replaced with brown sugar)
4 cups strawberries, hulled and slice
1 can of whipped cream

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Mix together the flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix only until the mixture forms tiny, coarse crumbs. In a bowl, whisk together the egg and the heavy cream. Pour over dry ingredients and mix until the mixture is moistened. Spoon out the dough onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or foil. The mounds should be 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch high. Brush the top of the shortcakes with heavy cream and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake until the shortcakes are a light gold brown. While the shortcakes are baking, brush 1 cup of strawberres with a fork in a bowl. Add the remaining 3 cups of berries and 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Mix well and refrigerate. When the shortcakes have baked, transfer them to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully slice the shortcakes horizontally in half and spoon berries onto the bottom half. Top with whipped cream and cover with the shortcake tops.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Just thinking

It is May 1st. It is not only the first of the month, but it is also the day of Robby's 10 year and my 9 year high school reunion. As I was thinking about that, the fact that it's been nearly a decade since we graduated from high school, I was thinking about how amazing it is that Robby and I are together. We did, afterall, go to high school together, but I didn't even think twice about him then, nor him me, either. (I personally think our story would have been so much better if he had been in love with me since high school, but he wasn't. Too bad.) We knew of each other because both of us were friends with Stephanie and Chelsea, but that was it. I have no concrete memories of him from high school. I wonder how often we passed each other in the halls at school, or how many basketball or baseball games I watched of his, or whether we danced right by each other at prom. Just four years after high school, he and I were married.

My dad always says that he paid all that money for me to go to Biola University, to have me end up meeting and marrying a boy who lived 10 minutes from my house all along.