Friday, February 27, 2009

plus one

{to the summit of self-improvement!}

there has been a lot of facebook status updating of the "so and so is giving up such and such for lent" variety over the past week or so, which is all very admirable and fine and good, but i have to say that i am not totally sold on this "give up something (usually trivial) for lent" idea.

of course, as with every religious observance, there are people who take lent adequately seriously and, no doubt, use it as a starting point for lasting and positive reflection and change. and, more power to them. but i feel like a lot of lent "sacrifices," while certainly good-intentioned, boil down to pretty trivial goals based in nothing more noble than self-inflicted deprivation. and i am just not on board for that. i could, for example, make the goal to give up diet coke for lent but a) i probably wouldn't actually do it and b) even if i did give it up for 40 days i would start drinking it again as soon as those 40 days were up and then what would i have accomplished? not much.

personally, i am always much more successful when i add things instead of taking things away. and, if i am adding good and worthwhile things, they slowly push out the bad things i shouldn't be doing anyway. so, instead of saying "no more TV online," i can say, "read a book for half an hour a day" and suddenly there isn't as much time for TV online as there was before (sorry jim halpert. but, call me!). or, instead of "no more negative thoughts" (is that even possible?) i can say, "give five compliments a day" and at least some of my negative thoughts will be replaced with something better.

isn't this fun?

(also, i should probably say that i am under no illusions that no one has ever thought of this idea in the history of the world before me, and there are probably plenty of people using it this very lent. but, it's what i am thinking about and, hence, what you are reading about. so there.)

after this little soap-box moment it's probably no big surprise that i have never given up anything for lent, but this year i decided to take the opportunity to put my "add something good" idea into official, lent-ish practice.

my inspiration came in our book club discussion about "gilead" (are you reading it yet?), about a passage where the narrator, an aged preacher, writes to his young son about the ten commandments. of all the commandments, he says, "thou shalt not covet" is the hardest to keep. and then he says, "i have always found it easier to mourn with those who mourn than to rejoice with those who rejoice."

i could not agree more, and i have thought about this idea a lot (and i mean, a lot) over the past couple of years. it can be really hard to feel happy for other people all the time, especially when they are being blessed with things for which you are still waiting. it is not, of course, that i feel sad when other people have cause to rejoice, but there can come a pang of disappointment, envy or even resentment that it was not me instead. to truly rejoice with others, with no thought at all for what we want and may not have, is a task more difficult than we give credit.

one thing that has helped me is to remember that life and blessings are not a sum zero game. just because someone else gets a particular blessing doesn't mean there is any less of that blessing left over for me, whatever that blessing might be. just because someone else gets it first doesn't mean i can't just get it later.

and now, the lesson has expanded. i was really struck by the idea of tying the ability to rejoice with others to avoiding covetousness, and it fits in perfectly with the idea of adding good instead of just subtracting bad. instead of just saying, "i am not going to covet any more," (again, is that even possible?), if i can learn to truly rejoice when others rejoice, to be happy for someone else with no thought to myself or my have-nots, there will be less and less room in my heart for disappointment or anger or sadness or jealousy or coveting, because my heart will be so filled up with real, true, pure joy.

doesn't that sound nice?

i think i'll call it the "plus one experiment," and lent seems as good a time as any to start (you have to start somewhere, right?), though i am quite sure it will take me more than 40 days to master this one. luckily, i'll have all that diet coke to help see me through.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

frances cake, take 16: the mission, impossible edition

heidi is a baker of style and class. clearly.

she has a passion and keen taste for all things delicious and good, so when she told me about "impossible cake," i knew the frances cake challenge was on. (impossible cake also goes by the much less thrilling, though more descriptive, name chocoflan.)

here is the sitch. impossible cake has three layers: dulce de leche (also known as cajeta), chocolate cake and flan. each layer is poured into the pan in that order. but, through impossible magic, the chocolate cake layer and the flan layer trade places while the cake is baking (what the what?), so when the cake comes out it goes dulce de leche, then flan and then chocolate cake on the bottom. impossible!

but really, not impossible. because heidi and i just did it.

the recipe might seem a little daunting...

...but don't be dismayed. you can take your time and prepare the layers one by one. your counter will look like this.

{dulce de leche for the top layer, ready and waiting}

{flan in the blender, light, foamy and delicious}

(a small piece of advice, if i may: check to make sure you have enough eggs before you start. or pray that you have really kind neighbors with adorable red-headed twins and spare eggs. either one works.)

heidi also showed me this little trick, because she is in-the-know like that. when pouring one layer of something onto another (like when pouring flan on top of cake batter), pour over a ladle to distribute evenly and avoid making a sink-hole in the layer beneath.

who knew? (heidi did.)

since we had already attempted one impossible task (the cake itself), we decided to try more impossible things while it baked. these included tracking down a totally obscure clip of an episode of "this american life" (success!), as well as finding a video that appeared to have been removed from youtube (success again!).

the final impossible step of impossible cake is getting the cake out of the pan. but, even that turned out to be no match for us!

one suggestion, though, should you decide to attempt the impossible yourself. the recipe says to use a springform pan, which we did, but i don't think you need to. when we flipped the pan upside-down the cake came out so easily i didn't even open the springform at all. and the downside to the springform is that some of the flan leaked out. this is more of an annoyance than a major problem because the springform pan is sitting in another, slightly larger, pan of water. that pan caught the leaky flan and we just ate it out of the bottom, so all was well (and delicious).

but, i say you can use a regular cake pan and leave all that flan inside the cake instead.

leaks and all, the final product was absolutely beautiful and, i'm not going to lie, possibly the most delicious frances cake yet.

and, there you have it. impossible my eye.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

coming around banff mountain

i haven't formed many traditions in my (albeit brief) adulthood, but one thing i have done without fail, every year since moving to salt lake, is attend the banff mountain film festival world tour, which was back in town tonight and in top form.

it was an evening of amateur adventure films took us all over the world, and inside passions and experiences we (or at least, i) will probably never have. (i might be underestimating myself here, but i don't think extreme ice climbing is in my near, if ever, future.) i do have to say there seems to be an increasing number of heavy-handed eco-conscious films in the festival, which is sort of obnoxious (sorry greenland, but there's a time and a place. you know?), but this year's festival still had some egdy adventure gems.

free solo rock climbing in the czech republic with no chalk, hardware or shoes? check.

a first time ascent up a gnarly jagged mountain in patagonia in the winter? check.

back country skiing down sheer rock faces? in the dark? check. check.

and, i am pleased to report, i also have a new lady-crush: bettina, who traversed the arctic ocean from russia to canada via the north pole. that's right. though, i am sorry to report her trip was cut short by that pesky global warming. or, "global melting," as her pony-tailed husband called it. they were stuck in the middle of melting and shifting ice floes for days before finally finding a place where a plane could land and take them to safety.

"we are alive," the husband concluded, "but the arctic is dying."

not to worry, though, al and leo are on the case. or so i hear.

Monday, February 23, 2009

judy and the dream of horses

e-mail forwards do not last very long in my inbox (especially not ones peddling some misguided and ultimately nonsensical message about morality. you know just what i'm talking about. like that one where you have a bunch of random facts about several different people and based on those facts you have to decide who lives and who dies, or some equally absurd scenario, and it turns out you saved hitler and killed ghandi, or some such ridiculous thing. i mean, really, what is the lesson i am supposed to take away from that?) but, back to the point, my friends have really been bringing the funny with e-mail forwards lately. here is another one (thanks, travis!) that was too good not to share.

and, scene.

ashes to ashes

way back last year, i ran into my friend emily(moonsoul) after not having seen her for what was decidedly too long a time. and so it was, as we were reviewing the recent comings and goings of our lives, that emily(moonsoul) told me about what she described as her "phoenix experience."

it was, she said, as if she was engulfed in the flames of hard experiences and hard choices, of difficult change, of leaving behind the old and moving forward. and it was painful and sometimes she couldn't eat and sometimes she couldn't sleep and sometimes it seemed as if it would never end. but she believed that she would be reborn, triumphant and new, from the ashes.

i couldn't stop thinking about our conversation for weeks.

the principle of change, and more to the point, a belief that we can change, a belief in the real power of the phoenix experience, has always been one of my favorite parts of the gospel. this is not to say that change is not scary and hard, because sometimes (oftentimes) it is. and there is always the fear, in the back of my mind, at least, that i will emerge from the fire, not triumphant and new at all, but discouraged and broken and charred. and i would be flat-out lying if i said there wasn't change i have avoided in the face of that very fear.

and yet.

there is something eternally encouraging about the idea that, however miserable the process may be, we are not doomed forever to the things that trip us up right now. sometimes the fire comes in a burst, all at once, and sometimes it is a slower, more steady refinement, but either way we get to burn off the insecurities, doubts and shortcomings that hold us back. i can trade in my weaknesses for strengths. i do not have to fly forever with my old, imperfect wings. 

if that is not a cause for optimism, i don't know what is. 

and, even better, i am learning these days that change doesn't necessarily have to be miserable at all. while it is never easy to give up people or places or habits, whether they are good for us or not and it is never easy to leave something safe and familiar, no matter how trivial, for something unknown, no matter how small, i am learning that if i can put myself in a place where my heart and mind are open to change, any change, i am much, much happier than when i am trying to outrun the flames.

bottom line: change looks and feels pretty good to me these days. i am on board with change. though maybe not as much as some people.

Friday, February 20, 2009


since we are all friends here, i am just going to come clean and tell you that i am exhausted and can't really think of anything new to tell you.

other than that if you go to mazza at ninth and ninth, the eggplant sandwich will not taste as good as it sounds, and you should probably just stick with the chicken and potatoes muttabak, like you always do.

and also, that i have started contributing to a new blog. the idea belongs to the always fun and funny reno, and i think it's a pretty good one. it's still a babyblog, but you should probably check it out.

it might also be worth mentioning that i started a pretty intense craft project at emily's last night. it's not quite finished but when it is, you'll be the first to know. i just have to do some grouting. that's right, grouting. like i said, intense.

in other news, i am reading a really and truly fantastic book called "gilead" by marilynne robinson, which i highly recommend to each and every one of you. it was recommended to me by adam, and i feel like i should send him a basket of mini-muffins or something to say thanks. (you are also welcome to send me muffins, mini or otherwise, once you, too, are transfixed by this book.) i like it so much that i am going to drive all the way down to provo to discuss it in book club. plus, since i am the one who suggested we read it for book club, it would be pretty lame of me not to show up.

and, you should probably know that i giggle every time i read the title of this post because it makes me think of underwears. and i think underwears are pretty much always funny.

but, then again, who doesn't?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ahead of the line

it probably comes as no surprise that hilarious headlines are something of a passion of mine, my all-time favorite being "prostitutes appeal to pope." (think about it.) i have yet to make a massive headline blunder myself, though i am sure it will happen sooner or later, at which point hilarious headlines might not seem so hilarious anymore. the moral of the story being, i am determined to enjoy other people's mistakes while i can! so thanks to amy p. (and unwittingly funny copy editors everywhere) for these...

{the subhead reads, "we had no idea anyone was buried there." seriously? seriously.}

i would add some hilarious post-script of my own here but, frankly, there are no words.

mocktacular, mocktacular!

the only thing better than a cocktail party is a mocktail party, because you still get to wear a little black dress (and maybe a feather in your hair) and lean languidly against the wall, playing the part of a disenchanted 1950s housewife, but you can also take as many ginger whiskey shots as you want and not pass out, throw up or have to find a designated driver.

though, i will warn you, after knocking back several glasses of "abstinence on the beach," things can get a little wild.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

happy hearts (day)

my next door neighbor shoveled my driveway on valentine's day. it might be the best valentine's day gift i have ever received. definitely better than the dead rose a college boyfriend who will not be named so graciously bestowed on me one year. potential suitors take note: the way to my heart is paved with manual labor, not deceased plants.

then today a little valentine's package came from my mom, by way of the popcorn factory, and it gave the driveway shoveling a run for its money. potential suitors take note: lots and lots of sugar will also do.

and so it was that sallee and i spent a delightful no-work-monday afternoon taking popcorn hearts that looked like this...

and turning them into edible works of art that look like this...

and this...

and this...

and also this...

and this...

and this...

they were so darned cute i almost couldn't bring myself to eat them.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

i want to go to there

i just booked a plane ticket to here...

and here...

and here...

how does that saying go? it's nobody's business but the turks'? well, now it's my business, too.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

first comes love

tonight we went out to celebrate the rapidly impending nuptials of jen and one mr. tippetts, a modern-day miracle, as true love always is. it is also enough to convince even my most cynical, pessimistic, despairing self that with faith and patience (and usually a lot of them), sometimes you get just exactly what you always wanted. and praise and hallelujah for that.

(also tonight i figured out how to change the font size in my posts. see? so, it was a pretty big day all around. but, back to eternal marriage.)

another great thing about jen's upcoming wedded bliss is that it gave me a chance to give her this book.

i found it a few months ago at d.i., for which jen and i have a mutual and fervent love and, even though i didn't have anyone to give it to at the time, i think it's a pretty good rule of thumb that you should never pass up books for $1.50. especially not ones from the 1970s, complete with an inscription from the author (best wishes from rex a. skidmore!) and pages of priceless marital advice.

a small sampling.

"husband and wife should face the fact that an automobile costs much more than most people realize. this means that a couple may want to get along without a car for awhile. it has been estimated that it costs a minimum of $500 to $600 a year to own and operate a low-priced car, driving no more than 10,000 miles per year." (anyone out there good at adjusting things for inflation?)

"learning to adjust physically takes time just as adjustment in other areas takes time... many couples take months, even years, to adjust adequately to each other. others never get along very well in this regard..." (that's what she said?)

"it is important, then, for couples to recognize that getting married does not automatically eliminate all relatives and in-laws." (hard to argue with that.)

and i could go on. but i shan't. instead i shall just say mon congrats to the happy couple. rex a. skidmore and i wish you all the best.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


i have a theory that my family didn't start doing cool things until after i left home. this isn't actually true, but it is true that they continue to do cool things without me, which always makes me sort of mad. not that they can help it, of course, but it doesn't seem fair that they get to meet al gore, or take an alien tour in roswell, or go to a rolling stones concert without me. because, you know, i wanna go, too.

i feel like things have evened out a little bit though, thanks to my recent viewing of "shine a light," a really fantastic documentary about the stones (or, as they say in spain, los rolling). watching the movie is basically like being in the front row of a stones concert, so nana-nana-boo-boo there, plus the movie also features martin scorsese engaging totally awesome conversations like this:

assistant: mick can only be under the lights for like 18 seconds before he burns.
marty: burns? what do you mean, burns? like flames?
assistant: yes, burning flames.
marty: well, that won't work. we can't burn mick jagger.

true fact.

there's also tons of really great (and hilarious) archival footage of old stones shows and interviews. plus, it's educational. i mean, mick jagger and his skeletal frame are basically a walking PSA about the dangers of eating disorders/lifetime heroin use.

and, as if it could get any better, my bag of rock n' roll swag from the salt lake film center included this.

yes, it is exactly what you think it is.

take home message? even rockers put safety first.

Monday, February 9, 2009

frances cake, take 15: the it's a reunion! (and a baby!) edition

{frances and kate, together again!}

i would not use the word "dear" to describe very many things about high school (the pain! the horror!) but i would use it to describe kaiti, as she was one of my dearest friends then, and remains one to this day. (also, now she goes by the more grown-up kate, but old habits die hard.)

kaiti and i met in seventh grade through the magic of alphabetized lockers. we were pretty mad when b.j. johnson and eli jones separated us in eighth grade, but by then we were already more or less permanently bonded, thanks to big gulps and "reality bites." looking back, it might have seemed like sort of an odd pairing. kaiti was a cool, mellow artist who listened to nirvana and decorated her room in earth tones, and i was a slightly spastic journalism and choir nerd prone to absurd crushes and fits of uncontrollable giggles. but, it was easy to be myself around kaiti and feel ok about it because it seemed like kaiti was always herself and felt ok about it, and that sort of things catches.

back in the day, kaiti and i would often entertain the idea of moving to seattle and opening a bookstore/coffee shop where we would sell her art and my writing and talk philosophically all day long. and then, as the plan went, i would get married and have lots of babies, and kaiti would be the quirky single friend who would be my kids' "auntie" and come stay in our attic during the summer.

well, that is obviously not how things went down. actually, basically the opposite happened. kaiti got married and had adorable baby harry, and i am now his gift-bestowing, eccentric aunt, though i have managed to avoid attic-dwelling. so far. i have loved keeping in touch with kaiti through moves and missions (mine) and marriages and babies (hers) and seeing how life worked out so much differently, and, so far, so much better than we had ever planned. the only downside being that, with her back in michigan, and me in the wild, wild west, getting together has posed something of a challenge.


a small miracle unfolded and kaiti and her little family came out this way for some skiing. except that instead of skiing, kaiti and i went out to lunch and caught up on people from high school (she remembers everyone's names. i am not so good) and made a delicious lemon and blueberry bundt cake.

plus i got to meet baby harry for the first time, and spoil him with a monster t-shirt and lots of hugs and kisses.

harry was pretty upset that he didn't get any cake, though.

and i am pretty upset that these favorite people are so far away. as soon as the attic is ready, i am totally there.

{and, check it. this is the 200th post on this blog! holy hannah. i feel like i need a celebrity guest or something. john krasinski, are you there?}

Thursday, February 5, 2009

anything you can do, i can do, too

my new bike trainer came in the mail on saturday.

i was really excited about it, even though it probably didn't seem like i was excited about it because it sat in the box until tonight. partly because i didn't have time to put it all together, but mostly because i wasn't sure if i could do it by myself, and i didn't want to ask for help. not that there is anything wrong with asking for help, but i didn't want to. i wanted to tackle it and i wanted to succeed.

what's the big deal? you might be thinking. so what if you have to ask for help?

well, i'll tell you what the big deal is.

a little while ago i was struggling to open a particularly stubborn jar of newman's own roasted garlic marinara sauce and i found myself suddenly depressed about the idea of spending the rest of my life alone and having to do everything by myself. "this is why people get married," i thought, fruitlessly twisting the cap. "if i was married, i would never have to open a jar by myself again."

of course, i know that's not really true. married or not, there are probably a lot more jars in my future. but, in that moment, that unopened jar made me feel pretty pathetic and alone.

i was almost ready to just give up (and starve. to death. alone!) when i remembered we have these nifty little kitchen contraptions, sort of like sticky pot holders, that are designed for this very purpose. the purpose being the opening of stubborn jars, not a borderline emotional breakdown.

i found said contraption in the drawer, opened the jar, enjoyed a nice bowl of pasta (with sauce!) and, by the time i was done, i was thinking to myself, "i can do this. and i could do it forever if i had to." (or at least until my dream of living on a massive commune with all my favorite friends becomes a reality.)

sure, i want a partner in life (and in crime) who shares the work and, more importantly, the fun. and the thinking, and the laughing, and the learning. and the loving. but, in the meantime, i don't feel like i'm living a back-up plan while i wait for my real life to begin. i don't feel like i am missing out on something so much better than what i have.

and i feel like, if i have to, i can probably find a way to do everything i need to do myself. including shoveling driveways and improvising a broiler pan and changing the time on my car clock and planning vacations and choosing a retirement plan and weatherproofing windows and killing bugs.

and putting together indoor bike trainers.


granted, it turned out not to be that complicated, but it still felt pretty good to do it on my own.

plus, now i can watch "battlestar galactica" and ride my bike at the same time. and i can't imagine anything could make me feel better than that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

which came first?

the subaru or the bumper stickers?

as i am not much in the action photography department, allow me to describe all the bumper stickers adorning the back of this wagon.

1. barack obama, emblazoned with the word "hope," natch.
2. "save wild utah"
3. "peace is patriotic"
4. a sticker from alta ski resort
5. "buy local first"
6. "freedom is choice"
7. an indigo girls bumper sticker
8. also one that said, "i'm straight, not narrow"


i'd say that about sums it up.