Monday, January 28, 2008

Godspeed, Presidente

As many of you already know, President Hinckley passed away this evening. The hours since I received the news have been solemn, but not sad. President Hinckley was an incredible leader and a good man whom I love dearly, but I was actually glad to hear he has gone home to the God he loves. He has seemed so tired lately, and I know he missed his wife so much. I can only imagine their joyful reunion when he reached the other side.

I also don’t feel this is an end to an era. President Hinckley’s tenure has been an exciting time for the Church. We have seen amazing growth, the proliferation of temples, major changes to the way missionaries teach, and the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund. Yet, the vision was not his but the Lord’s, and it will be carried on unchanged by the next prophet. I am grateful to have known this magnificent man and witnessed this chapter of the Church’s history, but I also know the best days are still ahead of us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Meet Carl and Andre

We decided to attend a concert for Phillip’s birthday, and when we reviewed our options in the area, he was thrilled to learn that Andre Watts would be performing with the USC orchestra this week. Phillip reserved us seats on the front row, and he made sure they were on the side that would allow us to see Watts’s hands as he played.

The music tonight was glorious, but I confess my favorite part of the performance was watching Watts and the conductor, Carl St. Clair. Both men demonstrated that you can be serious about music without taking yourself too seriously in the process.


The orchestra began the concert with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival before being joined by Watts for Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto. St. Clair conducted both pieces with gusto. Every emotion he wanted the music to convey radiated tenfold from his face. He spent most of the rollicking Roman Carnival grinning like a Cheshire cat, and I couldn’t help grinning, too, as I watched him. It was as if Robin Williams had lost 50 pounds, donned a grey Bon Jovi wig, and decided to conduct an orchestra.


Watts played with incredible energy, too, but he made it look so easy. He sat astride the piano bench as if he was sitting on his back porch sipping lemonade, and he often tapped out the beat with his foot, occasionally stomping it loudly for emphasis. His hands bounced wildly across the keyboard like they were made of rubber, and when he finished playing a sequence he would fling them up in the air, like a flourish at the end of a signature. He played intensely, yet you never got the feeling that he was doing anything difficult. He just enjoyed the music, and put his whole heart into playing it. It was a thrill to be along for the ride.

I also love the fact that when Watts bowed to the audience at the end of his performance, he noticed a ten-year-old girl in the front row and waved at her with a smile. “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” eh?

Incidentally, I’m glad we heard Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto for Phillip’s birthday. When we compiled a photo DVD to show at our wedding reception, he had a cheerful section of that concerto playing in the background of his half. For the rest of my life, whenever I hear that music I will think of those pictures of my sweetheart as a little boy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Search for Happiness

Today I had a free moment, and I spent it reading a blog called The Happiness Project. The author decided to spend a year trying every single self-help technique out there to improve happiness, then report what works for her and what doesn’t. One of her rules that I like is the principle of “acting the way you want to feel.” If you want to feel generous, friendly, or strong, you act that way and eventually become that way.

She recently posed the question whether most people would like to try a similar project, or whether they find it too daunting. For my part, I would like to try one, but I haven’t researched the various options enough to decide which ones might work for me. Perhaps I should look into that (or at least read more of her blog). Goodness knows I could use less stress and more happiness in my life. I think we all could.

Incidentally, today is my blog’s first birthday. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the way it has evolved. It’s been a helpful outlet, and I’ve gotten to know some people, near and far, who I might not have become acquainted with otherwise.

One year ago . . . So, What's a Bluestocking?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Recipe - Sweet Cornbread

I'm kind of picky about cornbread. I grew up eating muffins made from a Marie Callender's mix,* so I always assumed cornbread was sweet--almost cake-like. Years later, I was bewildered the first few times I tried baking cornbread from scratch. The recipes I used produced grainy stuff that tasted a lot like cornmeal, and nothing like the cakey muffins I was used to. Perhaps those recipes were more traditional than Marie's ambrosia, but they certainly weren't anything I was eager to eat on a regular basis.

For a while I tried to satisfy my cornbread craving with the just-add-water mixes at the grocery store. They'll do in a pinch, but deep in my soul I knew there must be a simple recipe out there for the type of sweet cornbread I'd grown up with. At last I could stand it no longer, and I logged onto I've had good luck with them in the past, and after sifting through their cornbread recipes I found a simple one that looked promising.

The recipe's title was "Buttery Corn Bread," and it sure lived up to its name. The flavor was pretty good, but I wasn't sure how I felt about bread that leaves a grease spot on my plate. I tried making it a second time, decreasing the butter and tweaking a few other things, and viola! perfect cornbread (as far as this household is concerned, anyway). It may not be exactly what the pioneers would have baked, but they didn't have indoor plumbing, either, and I'm certainly not forgoing THAT for the sake of tradition.

If you'd like to try Sweet Cornbread for yourself, I just added the recipe to our website. It calls for just a few basic ingredients you're likely to have on hand, and it's a breeze to make. And in my humble opinion, it would go very nicely with Rainbow Chicken Chili.


*Note: The Marie mix my mom used to use called for a few additional ingredients, like eggs. These days I can only find the just-add-water Marie mix, and it just ain't the same. I know - life's so tough . . . :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Joyous Return to the Kitchen

Phillip and I have been trying to tighten up our budget lately, and we decided our grocery bill was a good place to start (Does any other couple with one toddler spend $400+ each month on groceries? Are we hopelessly extravagant, or is everyone else in the same boat?). Usually I do the shopping and cooking, and Phillip handles the dishes. Last week we decided to conduct an experiment: I would take over the dishes, and Phillip would try spending the least money possible to put nutritious food on our family's table.

Phillip did manage to spend significantly less than usual on groceries (I plan to try a similar experiment myself later this month), but neither of us is tempted to make the chore-swap permanent. Phillip is a decent cook, but he doesn't enjoy doing it (you can read his thoughts on that subject on his blog). For my part, I became even more grateful for a husband who is willing to wash the dishes so I don't have to.

On top of that, I found that giving up cooking was a sacrifice for me. It has become my creative outlet (in addition to blogging) - a chance to try new things and produce something that (hopefully) is a delight to the senses. What's more, much as I love Joy, after a full day of tending her I look forward to a change of pace in the kitchen while Phillip takes over watching her for a little while. When our jobs were reversed, it was pretty deflating to see him disappear into the kitchen when he got home, while I tried to think of activities Joy and I hadn't already done twenty times that afternoon. I love spending time with Baby, but even your favorite treat gets old if you eat it all day.

In short, I'm very happy to be back on kitchen duty, even if I did unwittingly substitute jalepenos for green chilies last night and make that casserole WAY too spicy. Joy is usually pretty keen on sharing dinner with us, but one bite of that entree was more than enough for her. I'll leave her reaction to your imagination.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review - "A Little Princess"

I finished A Little Princess this week, and though it wasn't quite as enchanting as that author's The Secret Garden, I must say I enjoyed reading it and I look forward to sharing it with my daughter someday. There are principles in this story that I hope we'll both incorporate into our lives.

The main premise of the story is that Sara, a girl with an enormous fortune and a vivid imagination, likes to pretend she is a princess so she’ll remember to act like one. That resolve is put to the test when she is suddenly left orphaned and penniless, and the mistress of her boarding school keeps her as an ill-treated, over-worked little maid.

When Sara is abused and insulted by the same people who used to be at her beck and call, she draws strength from the idea that she is still a princess inside. She carries herself with dignity and strives to treat everyone with respect and kindness, regardless of how they themselves act. When people insult her she responds not with hurt or anger, but pity that her assailants are degrading themselves so much. Moreover, when she sees someone in need she does her best to help them, if only by using her imagination to help them look on the bright side (a drafty attic bedroom is almost romantic if you imagine you're a prisoner in the Bastille). In her mind that's just what a good princess does, especially when times are tough.

I like the concept of remembering who you are, no matter what life throws at you. Though I will never be a princess, I am a daughter of God with potential to become like Him. As I read how Sara’s princess idea helped her rise above her circumstances, I better understood why Church leaders so often encourage us to remember our divine nature. I doubt I will ever forget the image of Sara Crewe calmly enduring a barrage of insults with the thought, "If only you knew who I really am."

The other thing that struck me about this story is that the "princess's" best friends, both before and after her reversal of fortune, are not the best and brightest of the school. Her three closest companions are the dunce of the class, the most tantrum-prone of the younger girls, and the scullery maid who everyone else overlooks. Just as Sara's concept of her own worth has nothing to do with position or appearance, those factors play absolutely no role in her appraisal of others. She sees only a person's heart, and whether they have a need she can fill. If their hands hang down, she lifts them; if their eyes are wet, she dries them; if their hearts are gentle, she loves them. May I learn to see people so clearly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Weekly Recipe - Rainbow Chicken Chili

Since last week's recipe was Chewy Noels (one of my favorite, super-easy holiday goodies), I decided to add something more substantial to our website this week. Rainbow Chicken Chili gets its name from the varied colors of its ingredients: red and green bell peppers, white chicken, black beans, yellow corn.

I make the chili for dinner often because it fits my three criteria for a good dinner recipe: it's tasty, it's healthy, and it's easy. I also like that it's a complete meal (veggies, protein, and even carbs if you count the corn), so I don't have to bother with a side dish or salad. The list of ingredients is a bit long, but don't let that stop you. Once you've chopped the chicken, bell peppers, and onion, it's just a matter of tossing things in the skillet at the right time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Quote of the Day - "Success"

"If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut." (Albert Einstein)

[Snicker!] Al hits the nail on the head yet again.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I Hear You, Iowa

Interesting that the Iowa voters seem to feel the same way about presidential candidates that I do. On the Democrat side I like Obama, I can handle Edwards, I can't handle Clinton. On the Republican side Huckabee is my current favorite with Romney in second, but honestly the jury is still out for me.

Of one thing I am certain: Give me any of them except Hillary. Genetic makeup is about the only thing we have in common.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Projects and the Princess

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t write an entry for New Year’s Day, I spent that evening reviewing my goals and planning what I want to do differently in the coming year. Most of my goals are fairly straightforward: Arrive at meetings/appointments five minutes early if appropriate; Ponder and study a different temple covenant each month on Sundays; Post a new recipe on our website each Wednesday. I’m confident that I can meet those goals, but I set another one that has me worried.

I have so many projects that I am anxious to get to, so I decided it was time to make a plan for dealing with them. I rearranged my chore schedule so I can devote Joy’s afternoon naps to projects on Thursday and Friday. I’m excited about the prospect of tackling so many things that I want to do, but my enthusiasm is dampened a little when I remember that all my past efforts to set aside leisure time have failed. It’s tempting to think that this attempt will fare no better, but I think my plan is workable and I’m determined to try it.

I also want to find time to read more books, but so far I have no specific time set aside (my only stipulation is "Not when I'm supposed to be taking care of Baby"). My goal is to read at least one book a month, and my first selection is something light and fun that I've been meaning to read for a while: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (who also wrote The Secret Garden). I'll probably post a review of it later this month, so if you want to read along and share your thoughts, you're more than welcome. No pressure, though.