Monday, July 25, 2016

Beautifully Lazy Sundays

There are plenty of Sundays when family comes over or we go to my parents' house. Those are the crazy busy Sundays full of family and cooking and scrambling to make sure all the utensils are washed (and finding which kid has hoarded all the spoons in her room) and everyone is talking and giggling with everyone else and the world feels perfect. I love those days. But I also love the Sundays when, after all the church meetings and duties are finished (including the extra ones), it's just us. Things are quiet, the kids are just a little bit bored, and there is no worrying about work--nothing to do but take a nap or study the scriptures or plan a lesson.

On those evenings, we usually end up gathering in the living room while waiting for dinner to finish cooking. Maybe there's a board game going. Someone is playing the piano. The girls have their heads together and are laughing hysterically with each other.

When there's a natural lull, Husband often suggests we watch a classic movie. While this used to be a suggestion that was met with groans from the younger generation, they're now calling out requests: Some Like It Hot! Gentlemen Prefer Blondes! Anything with Carey Grant in it! Oliver! My Fair Lady!

Because of the festive feeling of it all, I'm inspired to make some sort of dessert. After I get suggestions and decide which one I'm going to make, the movie is turned on, and I watch it while whipping up a recipe. Then I snuggle up next to Husband on the couch and we hold hands.

The luxurious quality of endless time on Sunday afternoons and evenings sparks creativity such as this sarcastic rearrangement of pins on my sweet, innocent tomato pin cushion (Sophia's mischief):



Or snacking mindlessly on these ginger coconut candies we always buy from the Asian market when we're in The Big City:


Or we finish up the night with family movies and I see how much all my children have changed in just a few short years.

These are precious days.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Funniest Video Ever Recorded

This may possibly be the funniest video ever recorded.



Personally, I laughed so hard I nearly vomited.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sian Is Home!

Sian arrived safely after a very long trip from Ukraine via Paris. Our family stood in the small International Terminal at the airport, waiting anxiously for her to get through Customs and come out the doors. Only one other family was there waiting for a returned missionary, and from the sign they were holding, we knew he was coming from Russia.

We waited and waited. Airline personnel (flight attendants and pilots) would occasionally walk through the doors, see our signs, and assure us that "they're coming!" Even after the returning elder and his family left, people would come through and say, "She's coming! I saw her in there!"

Only in Utah.

Sophia had created two signs. One was a welcome. The other said "We Missed You!" in big letters. Underneath, in smaller letters, she wrote, "Kinda." Our family's brand of subtle, understated dry humor.

When Sian came through the door, I couldn't help myself: I was right there hugging her and shedding a few tears. You'd expect that, me being her mother and all.

From left to right: Gabrielle, Little Gary, me, Husband, my brother Aaron, Sophia, Sian, and Elannah. You can see the top of my mother's head behind Sophia, and Joseph must have been hiding somewhere off-camera. My dad's health prevented him coming to the airport.

Sian's been home for over a week now, and she's slowly adjusting to the time change (nine hours' difference), the altitude, the dry heat, and the lack of a structured schedule. When I got home from my mission, one of the first things I did was go to the library and catch up on all the news I missed. I enjoyed going places alone for the first time in 18 months, and I reveled in the lack of a structured schedule. Sian has been stressing a little. She's not terribly interested in music or movies she's missed. She likes going with me whenever I run errands, has been eager to go out with our local missionaries, and hates being alone in her room way down in the basement, even if it's nice and cool down there. She's also been sorting out her next steps of getting a job and preparing to go back to BYU. I did have the advantage of knowing exactly what I was going to do after I got home (get married to Husband!), so I can understand her feeling a bit at odds and ends.

Also, she still has to occasionally stop and remember the English word for some things. She'll start muttering to herself in Russian to define the concept she wants to convey and then furrow her brow while she furiously tries to remember her mother tongue.

Gabrielle drove up and stayed the night on Sian's trundle bed Saturday, so on Sunday, we had all of our kids in the van on the way to church. It's been a very long time since that happened. I think I may have mentioned it several times on the way to church while my kids rolled their eyes. What? So I'm happy to have all my kids in one place! Is that so wrong??


Monday, July 11, 2016

Major Milestones and a Bulgogi Recipe

Today is the lull between two major milestones. Yesterday was Joseph's 12th birthday, and tomorrow, my daughter, Sian, who has been in Ukraine for the last 18 months serving a mission, comes home.

On Saturday last week, I was stressing about getting Sian's bedroom ready for her. Elannah had painted three of the walls a lovely periwinkle blue but ran out of steam before she managed to clean and paint the final wall. Plus, she had taken off to an amusement park with her friends for the day. I was really excited because I had finally finished all my work assignments and had a few days' break before getting more, so now I had time to sort out the room and no reason to have to sit in front of my computer all day.

I went downstairs to the basement and had a look around the crowded little room. It was overwhelming. Gabrielle had left most of her things behind when she moved out, and the bed and the dresser had been taken apart and stacked in the middle of the room so Elannah could paint. There were boxes and bags full of things everywhere. The desk, too, was covered in the detritus of Gabrielle's high school career, along with some of Sian's old things.

My  phone rang, and it was my brother, Aaron. Could he come and spend a few nights at our house? For some reason, he hasn't been able to shake this cold/congestion thing that he's been suffering from for months, and now some of his limbs are starting to swell. The doctor told him he has allergies and prescribed him a pill for it, but it's done nothing. Maybe it's something in his house, and if he sleeps better at our house, that would be a good indicator that there's something going on.

I enthusiastically told him to come right over as soon as he liked. He's so much fun to have around, and my kids adore him. Plus, though he was perfectly willing to sleep on the couch, it gave me great motivation to get Sian's room done that day so he could sleep in it for a few nights.

It took me all day, but I got it done. All of Gabrielle's old things have been boxed so she can sort through them when she comes here to stay tonight in anticipation of the whole family picking up Sian from the airport tomorrow. The final wall has been painted, the floor is scrubbed--along with the bed frame and the dresser and the desk--and the trash bags and the old carpet remnant used as an area rug have all been hauled out to the garbage cans. Sophia spent some time helping me, as well, which was a great way for us to have a little conversation about life and whatnot. By 8pm, the room was ready: sparkling clean and freshly blue.

Aaron said he had a pretty good night after the congestion finally lifted. We'll see if he continues to improve. He took off for work before I saw him this morning, so I didn't get a chance to ask him how last night went.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had my parents, grandmother, and one of my sisters over to celebrate Joseph's 12th birthday (my in-laws are currently out of town). I was sore and exhausted after getting that room finished, but I faced a long afternoon of food prep for Joseph's birthday dinner. Joseph requested his favorite food, which is bulgogi, Korean marinated beef. I didn't know if I had the budget to make enough bulgogi to serve as a main entree for 11 people, so I decided to make bibimbap. Bibimbap is a very flavorful dish. For each serving, the base is sushi rice that has been steamed and then fried so that it has a crisp coating. Small amounts of various side dishes go on top of the rice: the bulgogi, matchstick carrots cooked in a soy glaze, glazed mushrooms, green onion slaw, flavored quick-fried mung-bean sprouts, garlicky-soy spinach, wakame (seaweed), sauteed zucchini, and a fried egg. It's delicious. Here's a bibimbap recipe. (I used a different bulgogi recipe for the meat because I like it better.)

As you can imagine, it takes hours to prep and cook all the components of bibimbap, which is why it's more of a celebration dish than everyday fare. It's great for when you have tons of people to help you out in the kitchen (and the kitchen space for those people, which is not something I have, alas). It was a huge success, and Joseph loved it. That's what counts.

You could also make bulgogi and serve it with steamed or fried rice and just one of the bibimbap side dishes, which is what I usually do. I particularly love the carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini. Any of those would be an excellent single accompaniment to the meat.

Here's the bulgogi recipe that I really like. Once you have the meat sliced (you can even ask the butcher to thinly slice a roast for you to save even more time), it's mostly just letting it marinate before broiling or grilling it right before serving. If you want to spend even less money on the meat, choose chuck roast or any other tough cut on sale and tenderize it with baking soda before marinating.

Bulgogi

4 pounds London broil (top round) roast, cut into 1/8" or 1/16" slices (to ensure that the meat will be fork-tender, lightly sprinkle both sides of the slices with baking soda, let sit for 10-15 minutes, and then rinse and pat dry before continuing)
1 large onion, skinned and cut into quarters
1 head garlic, peeled
1 cup soy sauce
1 medium green pepper, seeds removed
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/2 cup sesame oil

Put all the ingredients except the meat and the sesame seeds into a blender or food processor and puree.

Toast sesame seeds in a metal pan and mix them into the marinade.

Put the meat into the marinating dish and pour the marinade over it. Mix the meat and marinade with your hands so that all surfaces are completely covered. Cover dish with cling wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours (overnight is better).

Grill marinated meat strips on BBQ or lay them on cookie sheets before broiling them in the oven. It only needs a couple minutes per side.

Chop or mince leftover bulgogi and add it to fried rice, scrambled eggs, or soup; or mix with some cornstarch before deep frying into crispy beef. Or just eat it cold for breakfast. Yum.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Brief Review of Girls Camp

I spent most of last week camping with a large bunch of teenage girls. Why? Well, they do it every year, and this year I happened to be the ward camp director. We went up into the foothills near Evanston, Wyoming, to a Boy Scouts High Adventure camp. For four days, we worked hard, played hard, and slept in near-freezing temps while gasping for air at 8,000 feet above sea level.


On the shooting range, I proved that I need glasses. How the heck is a middle-aged woman like me supposed to spot that tiny little black dot at the center of the target from 30 feet away?? I just aimed for the white paper instead. Elannah, on the other hand, did incredibly well. I'm pleased to report that neither of us suffered PTSD after shooting rifles.


During archery, Elannah managed to get a bullseye.


I, on the other hand, was really pleased to hit the target at all. During my second round, I got four of my five arrows into some part of the target. Watch out, Katniss Everdeen!


Here are my archery injuries. Until I figured out how to slightly bend my left arm, I got thwacked by the powerful string of my compound bow once on the forearm and twice above my elbow. I did not swear, but I did make a sort of loud strangled noise through my teeth because it HURT! I put on my long-sleeved hoodie after that. Nearly a week later, I still look like I've been beaten.

I hate sleeping in tents. Hate it. I am still catching up on lost sleep.

The good part was that there was very little girl drama. It was probably the least amount of drama I've ever experienced at a Girls Camp in my life. If you've ever hung out with any number of teenage girls for days on end, you know how much of a miracle that is.

Also, no bug bites. Always a bonus.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Uff Da! I Went to Minnesota and Back, Don'tcha Know!


"Oof-da" or "uff da" is a singular expression used by Minnesotans to express surprise, amazement, genial disbelief, or true dismay. Of Norwegian origin, as the vast majority of the original white settlers in the area were Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish (thus explaining the preponderance of Sven and Ole jokes). Used in such sentences as, "Uffda! That's the 17th Lutheran church I've counted on this block alone!"

What a great trip! The whole thing went without a hitch (I did get pulled over in Montana for failing to change lanes before passing a cop car with its lights on on the side of the road; but though the officer was angry when he finally caught up to me, he kindly let me off with just a warning after I expressed deep regrets for my mistake). I enjoyed great scenery, great company, and lots of nostalgia.

Minnesota in summer is spectacular. I had forgotten how much my soul yearns for the lush and bounteous greenery of that area. I mean, the desert has its own beauty, but whenever I daydream about building my dream home, it always seems to be encircled by the kind of green you only find naturally in a place where water is abundant, where the only thing you really have to do to keep your lawn looking green and tidy is to mow it every couple weeks.

I had also forgotten just how nice people of the Northland actually are. Utahns are generally pretty pleasant to strangers, but Minnesotans take "nice" to a whole new level. I can see how Europeans or New Yorkers might think it was creepy--and possibly suspect--but once you get used to it, it's utterly charming. All kinds of strangers struck up conversations over nothing and took a genuine interest in the answers to questions they asked me. Now I remember why I'm a such an indiscriminate smiler: I learned it in Minnesota.

Yeah, I'd move back. I'd move back even though the splendor of the brief, green summer months are counterbalanced by nine months of cold and winter. I'd move to idyllic small-town Minnesota even though overnight parking lots include electric outlets so you can plug in your car's engine block heater when the temperatures drop to dozens of degrees below zero and you still have to get to work or school or the grocery store the next day, even if you could suffer frostbite on exposed skin in under three minutes.

(Wait. Maybe I'm just not strong enough to handle that kind of cold anymore. The solution is to keep a summer house in Minnesota and flee to dryer, warmer climes in winter.)

(And now I have officially become a theoretical snowbird.)

We arrived at my sister's apartment and enjoyed how happy she was to get her new, reliable car. Then she gave us a tour of the town, and we had lunch with some friends of hers at a restaurant that was crammed into the back of a tiny little Hispanic grocery store and run by a very congenial El Salvadoran woman whose chile rellenos and rice were to die for. When my mother ordered Mexican tamales, the woman insisted on also bringing us a sample of an El Salvadoran tamale, steamed to a pudding-like consistency in a banana leaf, just so we could taste the difference.

In the evening, we got to canoe on the river before dinner. The water was like glass, barely dimpled by tiny eddies in the shallows. A few men and women stood silently along the banks, fishing alone or companionably in pairs. As we pulled our paddles into the boat and just sat still for a while as the current gently moved us downstream, the only sounds we could hear were the calling of birds in the hundreds of trees around us. The sun was beginning to set, and the indirect light was golden and soft. I felt myself relax so deeply that I realized I hadn't truly felt that level of stillness and peace in myself for 20 years. It was a transcendent experience.

We wore my poor sister out despite how much we tried to alternate all our activities with down time, so it was probably a good thing we had to turn around and leave for home the next day so she could rest and regain her strength. As the three of us were now in one car, I offered to read The Fighting Littles by Booth Tarkington, one of the best books for read-alouds ever written (if you can do it without busting out laughing). Mom and my brother got so involved in the very amusing story that they insisted I start it up again after every rest stop, and I finished it entirely about eight hours later, hoarse and satisfied. I jobjam love sharing that book with others.

So now I'm home. My family survived my absence, and I'm having a very hard time wanting to return to the regular stressful routine of writing to deadlines. Such is the nature of vacations. I'm grateful I could go and satisfy some of my wanderlust. What a great way to do it.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Adding to My Road Trip Playlist

I'm going on a road trip next week with my mother and one of my brothers. We're heading to Minnesota to deliver a car my sister bought from The Big City. Long story short, she's got health problems that prevent her from coming out here and driving herself home, so, like the good family members that we are who absolutely love a long road trip, we'll head up there instead.

I won't be getting back to my old stomping grounds further north in the state. We're going to end up in a little town just across the North Dakota/Minnesota border, stay a day, and then head back home.

The week after we get back, I have to go to Girls Camp with the teen girls in our congregation. I'm still the ward camp director, so I'm kind of stuck with that--not like it's a big burden, except for the fact that I do not sleep well in the great outdoors. I have preternatural hearing, and I'm always up with the sun. Ugh. And it's been a very long time since I had to deal with the amount of girl drama that always comes up at camp. The fun part is that this is a Boy Scout high adventure camp, so we get to do the shooting range and archery and canoes and rowboats and stuff.

Husband was worried about my being gone for practically two weeks. "We'll starve!" he exclaimed. Then, after a while, he acknowledged that I probably could use a break. I'm hoping I regain some of my sense of humor during the time that I can ignore the constant stress of completing assignments from several clients while also being a full-time mom. That would be excellent.

Road trips mean you need new music. New music keeps you awake on those long stretches of highway when your driving companion(s) has fallen asleep or gone silent and the white lines on the road start to hypnotize you and tell you bizarre stories. I'm putting together a nice long playlist with some of my favorites from other playlists along with new finds.

Here's one I keep listening to:



Also this one, which is from the soundtrack to Chris Evans's movie Before You Go.



I guess I'm on a bit of an Indie Rock kick, cos there's also this one that I am always humming:



This one is pretty peppy and fun:



This guy's voice fascinates me.



What genre is this? Indie R&B? Who cares?