Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Travel Bug

 
Quote of the Day:  Taking a page from my own photo album (circa 1988).
 
Here I am having a snack at the airport/train connection in Frankfurt, Germany, during my study abroad experience. I wrote: The starting point of a one month tour of Europe.
(My early days of "blogging!")


Top picture: Me at the Frankfurt station.
Bottom picture: Me and Ric at the Munich train station, heading to Italy.
 
Last year, I posted this picture of my First Born, graduating high school, here in Minnesota, and heading to Texas Tech University for school.
 
Bobby who says, "Texas or Bust."
 
This year's cake (if we'd gotten one) would say, "Spain or Bust!"
Yep, he's taking the summer semester in Spain. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Again, I can only blame myself. I spent a full semester in Germany, January-May 1988, and added one more month of travel before I came home. It's an experience of a life time.
 
Bobby, ready to board the airport shuttle to start his European Adventure!
 
I sent a text message to his dad after I wiped a tear from my eye: He's off on the Lakes Express.
Reply from his dad: I am a combination of nervous and excited for him.
Me too, I wrote back.
 
What an exciting time of life, to be 19 and have the world at your feet. I feel so many emotions. I wish I could be there with him to make sure he gets safely to his destination and connects with the group. I'm proud of him for braving it on his own. I want to experience it with him, but know that it's his journey to take. So, with a tight squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, I sent him off by saying, "I love you. Have fun, and be safe."
 
Go. Create. Inspire!
 
Journaling Prompt:  Write about your own grand adventures, or sending off a loved one. (I don't know how the military moms survive it. It's tough enough sending them off for an education.)

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Memorial Day at the American Legion


Memorial Day brought a welcome break from the norm of chasing kids out the door on time with lunches, permission slips, and...on a good day...matching socks. 

I stayed in bed long after waking up, wasting a little time on Facebook, even more on Pinterest, and then delving into the book stash beside my bed. After more time than I care to admit, I headed downstairs, crunched my way across the kitchen floor, found an entire box of cereal dumped out on the table, and put the questionably tepid milk back in the refrigerator. Such is the trade-off for temporarily ignoring reality.

At noon we headed off to what has become a more meaningful Memorial Day tradition for our family- the flag ceremony and luncheon at our local American Legion.

The truth is that we were a little late this year, so we missed the flag ceremony entirely. But I'm certain it was just as moving as the year before. I've come to expect the tiny lump that never fails to form in my throat as the names of the fallen are called out to a modest crowd.

After the ceremony, everyone formed a line for the food. Veterans and volunteers came through, shaking willing hands and telling us "thank you so much for coming today." 

I eavesdropped on the conversations around me. There's just something about hearing old men in uniform swapping stories.


It was while waiting in line that Wes leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I have an old war movie for you and me tonight." He knows this scores more imaginary points with me than washing dishes and putting the kids to bed combined. Well, maybe that's stretching it. But to me a good old war movie- and I mean old as in Thirty Seconds Over Toyko (1944), PT-109 (1963), and Midway (1976)- tops any chick-flick. Especially on Memorial Day.

The food is just what you would expect. Hot dogs, baked beans, and a variety of salads. My own green salad teetered on the edge of the crowded buffet.

We finished our food and made our way toward the door. 

I was so pleased to see my older children approach some of the veterans with a handshake and thank them for their service, because for better or for worse, we just don't have a whole lot of personal connections with the sacrifices made by so many military families.

Somehow Halle's emotion chip got shoved in sideways that morning. 
Before cramming back into the car, we stopped for one more...ahem...respectful photo in front of the memorial.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Limoncello (Organic, Italian Lemon Liquor)



Step 1
8-10 Organic Lemons.   Organic lemons tend to have thick skin with lots of oils.  Clean and dry your lemons.  In a bowl peel the skins away. Save your lemons for juice for another recipe.  You can extract the juice and freeze. You will not need any juice for this recipe. All the flavor comes from the peels.    Set aside your bowl of peelings.
1 large clean and sanitized mason jar (one liter size)
1 liter of Everclear or 100 proof vodka.  Everclear works best.  However due to laws in various states, the product isn't always available.  Do not be afraid of alcohol content as your end result will be diluted and your proof will drop considerably.
Place your lemon peels in a mason jar. Pour you everclear into your jar and close the lid tightly so no air can get in.
Place your jar in a cool/ dry place for approx 7 days.  By the end of your 7 days your jar may look a bit cloudy.  Your peels will look almost freeze dried.. Do not worry as this is a normal process of the oils being extracted from your peels.
Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 liter of spring water
On your stovetop prepare your sugar syrup.  Whisking gently combine until your sugar is dissolved and your water is clear.  Set aside to cool for one hour.
Step 3
 Add your sugar syrup to your mason jar with your peels.   Let sit 5 more days.
 Step 4
One large bowl covered with a strainer
For this process, you wlil need to strain your lemon liquid into your bowl.     This will ensure any debris that has been extracted from your lemon peels doesn't end up in your limoncello.
 Carefully pour your Limoncello into your bottle with tight  fitting lid.  At this point if you have used 100 proof vodka, you must refrigerate.  The product can no be kept in the freezer.  Your addition of sugar syrup will reduce your alcohol content.
If you have used Everclear, you may place in the freezer since your end result is above 85 proof.   Which ever way, keep cool before serving.
Pour into  chilled shot glasses~ garnish with lemon mint.
Enjoy~

Monday, May 27, 2013

Children of Haiti

Quote of the Day:  There are those who have little and give it all.  These are the believers in life and the bounty of life and their coffers are never empty. Kahlil Gibran

I had the privilege of interviewing Jean Kruger for an article for Her Voice magazine, a local publication that has global appeal. Her Voice recently celebrated 10 years of publishing success. I am so grateful to be part of this inspiring magazine. Jean started going on mission trips to Haiti in January 2008. There she met and fell in love with a little girl named Naomie, whom she sponsors. Jean was there when the earthquake hit, and has returned many times since. To read her story go to Her Voice on the Brainerd Dispatch website. The story starts on p. 18.

Thanks, Jean, for all you do for the children of Haiti and to make the world a better place.

Thanks to all those who have served in the military and to their families who waited and worried. And, most of all remember why we have a Memorial Day. My Boy Scouts are helping the VFW hang flags at the cemetery this morning.

This photo appeared in the Brainerd Dispatch, May 2010.
Me with my Boy/Cub Scouts

Go. Create. Inspire!
And, remember to spend time with those you love.

Journaling Prompt:  Write about someone you know who helps to make the world a better place.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Secret Recipe Club

It is time for another round of Secret Recipe Club recipes.  I love doing this every month, because it introduces me to blogs that I wouldn't otherwise see.  This month I was lucky enough to be assigned to Fantastical Sharing of Recipes written by Sarah.  What I love about this blog is that Sarah has a similar take on food as me.  She tries to cook at home and not from packaged meals, but she also cooks what her family loves.  Not everything is the healthiest but she is always trying new recipes and sharing them with her family.



As I started going through her recipes, I found many that I wanted to make.  Her one pot spaghetti looks awesome, and has been pinned for future reference.  I almost went for the cheddar baked potato soup, but the weather here is just too warm for that.  So, finally, I settled on this chocolate chip coffee cake.  I love coffee cakes, and Sarah says "adores," it and it is super easy to make.  I didn't feel the need to make any changes to this recipe.  I left it just as Sarah did.  It was light, with just the right amount of chocolate and cinnamon in every bite.  ENJOY!



Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powders
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

Cinnamon Sugar Filling/Topping:
Combine in a small bowl and set aside

1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon


Greas an 8 inch square pan and preheat your oven to 350 F

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In your stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing until the mixture is smooth.  Add the sour cream, and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. 

Spoon half the batter into your prepared pan.  Sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar mixture and half the chocolate chips.  Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan and top it with the remainder of chocolate chips and cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 40 minutes and cool to room temperature.


Just Listen


We came home late last night from a friend's house. Halle had a tough time keeping it together as she got ready for bed. There were tears, dramatic scowls, and some very unkind words to her mother. I was just grateful that I kept it together. With my own eyelids heavy, it wasn't easy.

By the time she crawled into bed, her sobs were deep and overwhelming her attempts to catch her breath. Her eyes were puffy and the messy strands of hair framing her face were damp with tears.

She had been downright mean to me in the last twenty minutes. I took a deep breath and told her I would sit down on the end of her bed while she calmed down. She begged me to curl up beside her instead, so I did, wrapping my arm around her trembling frame. I could tell she was hurting. As she struggled to overcome her sobs, a list of grievances exploded from every pressure-packed inch of her kindergarten mind. There was no holding them back now.  

Almost imperceptably the Spirit counseled me to just listen.

So I listened.

"I DON'T LIKE CHANGE! I don't want my best friend to move away! I don't want my big sister to move out of my room! I want my little sister to move back to HER room! I don't want to meet new friends! I want MY friends!  
My heart is breaking!"

(Just listening to her, so was mine.)

"I want Sophia to move back in my room! 
 I promise I'll keep my room clean. My heart is cracked and it all just doesn't make sense!"

Her rant included a few other heartbreaks, but I could tell she was most upset about change. And really, this is not breaking news. I've always known Halle to have difficulties with even the slightest hint of change. But last night she let me know that she knew it, too.

I'm so often amazed at how well all of my children evaluate their personal thought processes.  In fact, at nearly six-years-old, I think Halle displays greater frontal lobe development than I reached by age thirty. Ridiculously sad on my part. I know.  

But that's not the point. The point is as subtle as the Holy Spirit's prompting was to just listen. Halle's Heavenly Father loves her. He knew exactly what she needed last night and exactly how to give it to her. He prompted her mother to overlook the offense she might have taken and to just listen.

I stroked her hair as she fell asleep. Wow. She had been really disrespectful. And that's putting it nicely. I could have thrown my arms up and walked out. I could have "taught her a lesson" about respect. But that's not the lesson the Lord knew she needed to learn last night. He wanted her to learn that she was not alone. That she was loved.

And I think she felt loved. She may have only recognized her mother's love, but someday I hope she will recognize her Heavenly Father's love as well. And that with His love, she can handle ANY change.



Cinnamon Baked French Toast


A while ago, my friend Ellie sent me this recipe to try. We used to work together in the same office before I left my job at that company.  At work we always talked food and shared recipes that we had tried.  When I started this blog she gave me ideas and was one of my first blog followers.  She was a huge supporter of me as I chased after my dreams of becoming a teacher.  I knew that when she sent me this recipe it had to be good, because her recipes always are.

I tried it soon after she sent it to me.  I have made it many times since.  But, I never took the time to take pictures and type a post about it.  I knew that it had to be shared because it is the best baked french toast I have ever had.  Finally here I am sharing it with all of you.

This recipe originates from the Pioneer Woman's website.  Now, there is another clue it's good. If the Pioneer Woman makes it, it is good!  The first time I made it, I followed the recipe exactly.  But, then decided to make some changes.  First up, I decided to use my own cinnamon swirl bread to add some more cinnamon swirl flavor.  Second, I used regular milk instead of heavy cream.  I don't usually have heavy cream on hand, and regular milk worked just fine for me.  Finally, I cut the bread portion of the recipe in half, but kept the cinnamon topping recipe intact because my family really, REALLY loved the cinnamon topping.  If you want to see the original recipe it is on Ree Drummond's site.  ENJOY!

Cinnamon Baked French Toast
Recipe Source: shared by Ellie from The Pioneer Woman

1/2 loaf of cinnamon swirl bread or regular french bread, torn into pieces
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Cinnamon topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter


Grease a 9x9 pan.  Place bread in the pan evenly.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla.  Pour the egg mixture over the bread.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Next, combine the cinnamon topping ingredients until crumbly.  Place in a baggie and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, pre-heat your oven to 350 F.  Remove the foil from the bread and egg mixture. Spread the cinnamon topping mixture over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes to achieve a custard like texture or 1 hour for a firmer texture.  (The top and sides will be golden brown)


 **If desired, you can sprinkle fresh fruit on top of the bread before the cinnamon topping goes on.

Serve with butter, syrup and powdered sugar.  




White beans and tomatoes Side dish (Contorni)



Everyone who knows me, knows I am full of beans.  Did I get your attention? They are literally, falling out of my freezer, all the time.   It's not unusual in my house to slide open the freezer door and see bags and bags of frozen beans.   Whenever I am home for the day, I take advantage by putting on some beans to cook.   A pot of  cold water is all you need.   After they're cooked,  cool and drain into freezer bags and they are ready to go at any time.  
They are the perfect, healthy, side dish for steaks, chicken, even fish.  Buon Appetito!
Serves 6 people
Ingredients:
2 cups Cannellini or White beans (cooked and reserved in their water)
3 large cloves of garlic, mashed or cut in half (you can discard them after)
2 teaspoons of salt (plus more if you like)
One  pint of grape tomatoes (split)
3 tablespoons of good olive oil
teaspoon of pepper (optional)
optional 1/2 cup of white wine
Method:
Heat your olive oil in a skillet.  I used cast iron but any flat skillet will do.  Saute your garlic until fragrant.  Add you tomatoes to the pan.  With the back of a wooden spoon, smash your tomatoes some right into the pan.  This should take about 3-5 minutes.   I like to keep my garlic in the pan,  as it is large enough pieces,  to discard onto the side of your plate.   Add your salt and mix.  Slowly add your beans.   Remember, your beans are precooked, so you are just adding flavor.   At this point, they are done.   I do like to Add 1/2 cup white wine and simmer away.  Dry, white wine, brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes.   Add a handful of parsley, mix and serve warm in a large bowl. They also travel well and are perfect for an outdoor picnic.
 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Greetings...

Hello everyone!

I realized this morning that not only have I not been blogging much lately, but I have not blogged in a MONTH!  I "think" that life will be settling down now and I am excited.  Part of my New Year resolutions was to not forget about my little spot in blog land, and I just haven't done a very good job of that.

Since graduating from EOU in December, I have been focused on family and substituting.  I was fortunate enough to do two long term sub jobs, one of which ended yesterday with the last day of school, and to be called in frequently when I wasn't long term subbing.  Two weeks ago I signed a contract for my own classroom, so I will be teaching 3rd grade next year!  It is satisfying to know that the risk of leaving a stable job in a completely different industry to finish my degree has now paid off.  I am blessed beyond belief and thankful to be offered a job when so many others are struggling to find one.

With all that, I am getting back on track with my recipes and cooking.  I will be sharing a fabulous breakfast casserole my friend Ellie sent to me tomorrow, but first I have to make a loaf of cinnamon bread :)

Thank you all for sticking with me!

Jenn

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Denver

It was a crowded 737 that brought us home from Denver last Friday; I was seated next to a man I'll call Trench Mouth.
Why? Because trench mouth, or Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis, is a condition far worse than the halitosis that people lightly joke about. The smell emanating from a person with ANUG sets up a perimeter around its host that is several feet thick. And I mean THICK in more than one sense of the word. You've seen cartoons where something like stinky feet or dirty diapers are represented with a wavy cloud of puke-green gas? THICK, I tell you.

I wanted to turn to 10D, to face my husband, but he wasn't there. He was seated in 6E, the only other seat available. Seated next to me in 10D was the woman, who despite my sweetest pleading, had understandably refused to trade places with Wes. She was now asleep, head tilted uncomfortably toward the luggage bins above our heads and her mouth gaping wide open. Her breath was not so pleasant either. Halitosis.

So I defended my innocent olfactory nerve by pulling my long hair forward and discreetly wrapping it in front of my nose.  Leaning closer into my book so that the letters slightly blurred, I knew the resulting headache would be entirely worth it.

It was only 36 hours since Wes and I had arrived in Denver for a quick business trip. By the time we had stepped off the plane on Wednesday night and made our way to our hotel it was 11:30 pm. Too late to call home to say goodnight to the kids and knowing we needed to be up in time for a morning meeting, we went right to bed.

Our kids were all safe at home with a more-than-capable babysitter. I knew my little girls would be spoiled with two full days of tea parties, nail polish, and cupcakes. I had even left a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator- something sure to be appreciated by my oldest three children. Yep. They were all set.

After our Thursday morning meeting, we had only a few hours to skip around Denver.

We walked the 16th Street mall.
View of the capital from 16th Street Mall.
Then we stopped in at the Federal Reserve Bank. Not that it made the top of my list of things to see in Denver, but it was right there on 16th Street. And the coolest part was that each visitor could leave with one bag of approximately $165 of shredded currency. One for Beau. One for Tyjah.


Unfortunately, we didn't find the Molly Brown house on Pennsylvania Avenue until two minutes AFTER closing.


I'm such a sucker for historic landmarks, so I was super sad we didn't get to go inside.

The babysitter texted photos of my little girls having all kinds of fun. A little tug in my heart questioned if my kids even missed me.

That answer came in the form of several texts from my oldest son, Beau.


The answer also came when I called to say goodnight on Thursday. The phone was passed around and when it came to Lyla, there were lots of tears.

"Oh no! What's wrong, Lita Loo?" I asked. "Why are you crying?"

Words spilled out through heart-wrenching sobs. I didn't understand any of them except the last three, which I heard with absolute clarity-

"I want Mama!"

There. She said it. Of course I never wanted my children to be miserable while I was away. I had, after all, hired the best babysitter around. But how nice it was to know I was missed!

The next morning, my kids called me as they were getting ready for school. Five-year-old Halle was the most persistent-

"But are you coming home NOW? After breakfast? Will you be here when I come home from school? WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?!"

Sniff. Sniff. My kids did miss me.
And oh how I missed them!

So on Friday morning, I found myself seated several rows back from my husband, sandwiched between Trench Mouth and Halitosis. Two-and-a-half hours of total dependence on my well-shampooed hair, a good book, good memories, and the anticipation of curling up with all my kids to watch The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

This Washington mama is glad to be home!





Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring into New Adventures!

Quote of the Day:  Be brave enough to live creatively. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can only get there by hard work, by risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.
Alan Alda (1936 - )
Quoted in The Educators Book of Quotes, ed John Blaydes, Corwin Press, 2003, p208 found on The Adventure of Life blog.

Millie and Willie Cottonpoly sharing an anniversary muffin and chocolates
 
Millie and Willie Cottonpoly, my sock puppet creations, did so well inspiring and sharing their story through the April Blogging From A to Z Challenge, 2013, that I felt it was time for them to celebrate their anniversary.  The Cottonpoly's became a pair May 20, 1968, a little less than a year after they met in July 1967. They have become tightly woven into the fabric of each other's lives ever since.
 
Willie:  July 5, 1967, was the best day of my life.
 
Millie:  (smiling) I didn't know what to make of you.
 
Willie:  I got so nervous, I could barely remember my own name.
 
Millie:  You did seem like a man with two left feet.
 
Willie:  All I could think about is how much I wanted to do the two-step with you, Millie.
 
Millie:  Oh, Willie. You add a spark to my life, that's for sure.
 
Willie:  Let's dive into this muffin while it's still hot.
 
Millie:  (blushes) It's still hot with you, Willie.
 
 
(Willie kisses Millie's head and wishes her a Happy Anniversary.)
 
**************
Much is happening in the creative world of the Cottonpoly's and their creator. Spring is finally here in Minnesota. Another school year is ending. Summer beckons with many new adventures. I finally got out on the bike with the Biker Chef, read about it at Ride off the Page!
 
Go. Create. Inspire!
 
Journaling Prompt:  What's happening in your creative life? Any anniversaries or milestones that you're celebrating?
 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Good Manners and Sharing Shirts

Eight-year-olds have pretty entertaining outlooks on manners.



"Okay," Tyjah began his FHE lesson on Monday, "I want you to stand if the story I tell is an example of good manners and sit down if it shows bad manners."

After reading the first scenario, his brothers and sisters were all in.

"Tommy was curled up on the couch watching his favorite movie.  He had his favorite blanket and was picking his nose, " he read.

At least he didn't ask us to act it out.  Acting came later.

After the lesson, Lyla chose a general conference story scroll.  I have to say that I'm loving these things!  We've acted out stories from conference in years passed, but I've never prepared them all in advance.  I'm definitely doing this again after the next general conference.

The story came from Elder Bruce D. Porter's talk, "Beautiful Mornings".  He relates a short story illustrating his roommate's perpetual optimism:

When I was a student at Brigham Young University, I lived in a house with several young men. My roommate, Bruce, was the most optimistic person I have ever known. We never once heard him say anything negative about any person or any circumstance, and it was impossible not to feel buoyed up in his presence. His good cheer flowed from an abiding trust in the Savior and in His gospel.
One cold, wintry day, another friend of mine, Tom, was walking across the university campus. It was only 7:00 in the morning, and the campus was deserted and dark. Heavy snow was falling, with a brisk wind. “What miserable weather,” Tom thought. He walked farther, and out in the darkness and snow, he heard someone singing.
Sure enough, through the driving snow came our ever-optimistic friend, Bruce. With his arms outstretched to the sky, he was singing a number from the Broadway musical Oklahoma: “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day! I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way” (see Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” [1943]).
When it came time for the skit, Beau and Tyjah fought over who would get to play Bruce.  So they decided they could both play Bruce...at the same time.  Sophia buttoned them together into one of their dad's old shirts.  By their faces, you can tell what a miserable experience this was...


So miserable, that Halle and Sophia decided they needed to play Bruce at the same time, too.


After topping it all off with some of Sophia's chocolate chip cookies, everyone headed upstairs, where I spent the next two hours trying to calm the little girls down for bed.

Weekly family home evening with five children.  Easy?  No way.  Worth it?  You bet.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mother's Day Morning

The first course of my Mother's Day breakfast in bed was leftover Asian Noodle Salad brought to me by my well-meaning and oh-so-proud five-year-old Halle.


It was delicious...three days ago...for dinner.  Did I mention the dressing was made with lots of fresh garlic? 

When Lyla woke up I scooped her up in her favorite blanket and brought her to our bed.  She grinned, held her arms out wide and declared, "Happy Halloween!"  


She curled up beside me for the next twenty minutes, periodically asking when it was time for candy.

After the others woke up, I was showered with homemade gifts, bagels and cream cheese, and a mostly raw orange roll.  Yummmmmmm.

There were two hours left before we needed to head out the door to church so I dove back under the covers and into my three new books.  Wes had let me pick them out the day before as my Mother's Day gift.  Truth be told, he asked me to pick out one book.  But as I sat there in that leather chair at the front of Deseret Book, my brow wrinkled, trying to choose which two books to leave behind, Wes snatched up all three and met me at the counter. I am spoiled.

Nestled in my bed, deeply engaged in the first of the three books, I heard water running in the kitchen, plates clanging as they were being stacked on top of each other, and the sound of the dishwasher door closing.  Wes cleaned the kitchen.

Happy Mother's Day to me!




Monday, May 13, 2013

Review of The Primrose Path at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day:  It is the character who is willing to bare it all, to risk going against the norms of society, who has the best chance of a happy ending. Summary of what I observed from watching The Primrose Path at The Guthrie Theater, and from the discussion with the actors after the show.

Image from The Guthrie Theater, photo by T. Charles Erickson. Jim Stanek as Mikhalevich, Christian Bardin as A Maid from Mtsensk

Music is a central theme of The Primrose Path, a new play by Crispin Whittell. The composer, Wayne Barker, wrote the music for this show, which is moving and captivating, with sad undertones, and at times, humorous. Tom Bloom, who portrays the private music instructor Christoph Lemm, plays much of the music live on stage, giving us (the audience) a feeling of being in the parlor with the family and their guests. Music is an emotional creative outlet, a vehicle for finding one's voice, literally and figuratively, as some of the characters in this play are trying to do.

The Primrose Path is a play based on the Russian novel Home of the Gentry by Ivan Turgenev, published in 1859. The playwright, Crispin Whittell, is British and wrote this play for The Guthrie Theater, an American stage with national standing. Does this play have an identity crisis? Maybe. Some of the language and much of the setting give you the feeling of a distant time and place. The costumes are incredible, very much period dressings.

Sally Wingert as Maria, Suzy Kohane as Elizaveta in
The Primrose Path, photo by T. Charles Erickson

"It's a poofy dress kind of play," I told my sister as we were driving into the city. "I love poofy dress plays," she responded. 

It's also a play that digs into what is truly important in life, a timeless theme. Some of the language and actions seem very modern. What was Maria doing with a plastic bubble blower in 1845 Russia? And, what of the music that had a classic feel although it was written specifically for this play here in the year 2013? Maybe what Whittell and the director Roger Rees are trying to do is show us (the audience) that we are connected to the past. While fashions change, the need to control our environments (and sometimes each other) doesn't. From the time the first humans were born on this earth, they have been searching for the best way to live out this, relatively, short life, to love freely, to pursue one's deepest desires, and to make a splash that gets people's attention.

Or, maybe, it's just fun to spend Mother's Day with my sister watching a "poofy dress" show, listening to new music that feels familiar, and dream of what could happen if we dared.

The Primrose Path is playing on The Guthrie's Wurtele Thrust Stage through June 15. Go to The Guthrie for show times and tickets!

(Here's what I really wanted to write for my review.) It's pretty good. I think you should go, and see for yourself what works, what doesn't, and what you'd dare to do given the right circumstances. Anyway, that's what Millie and Willie Cottonpoly (sock puppets) would say. I heard Millie sigh when it was over. That's always a sign of a good play.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What would make you bare it all and jump into life with arms wide open?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Love Hurts


Wednesday was one of those days when there was not enough of me to go around.  One of those days when by 10:30 pm I had not had dinner yet.  I was famished but too drained to do anything about it.  So I made my way upstairs and switched around one last load of laundry, knowing the dryer would be about done by the time I crawled into bed.  

As I stood brushing my teeth, I thought about how intense the day had been and the unfortunate moments when some of the intensity came from my own voice.  I wished I had been better for my children that day.  Gentler. Sweeter.

I grabbed a new bar of soap and wrote on the mirror of the kids' bathroom:

"How this mother LOVES her children!"

My heart ached as I wrote it.  Not because I was down or sad, but because my heart was so full of love for each of my five children and nothing I could do or say would help them fully understand that.  I wanted them to know, TO FEEL the magnitude of my affection for them.  That despite my imperfections as a mother-

when I respond with a voice that is less than sweet,  
when I choose the clean floor over letting a little one "help" in the kitchen,
or when I just don't get around to helping with that homework assignment

-I LOVE them immeasurably.  

When I finally climbed into bed, I was still overwhelmed by the complicated collage of emotions daring me to do something more useful than compose mirror messages in soap.

But as I closed my eyes I knew the feeling would temper.  It always does.  It comes on strong but only intermittently, sparsely punctuating the normal ebb-and-flow of motherhood and activities of family life.

Their reply two days later on the bathroom mirror



made me think my children love me so much their hearts hurt sometimes, too.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review of Anything Goes at The Ordway in St. Paul, MN

Quote of the Day:  from the musical and title song by Cole Porter, Anything Goes

In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, God knows, Anything Goes.

Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose...Anything Goes.

 Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES Pictured: Ryan Steer, Bobby Pestka, Rachel York, Jeremy Benton, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

 Rachel York and Company
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
 
The pure theatrical delight of Anything Goes, particularly it's title number, are the talk of the town (state, and every stop along the tour). Imagine, the gorgeous actors singing and tap-dancing to this classic song to a packed house night after night and receiving thunderous applause. They are stunning, the acting superb, every detail glimmers of classic musical theatre. What a treat to see this show. You are transported back in time by the graceful movements of the dancers, the flowing costumes for the ladies, and the dapper looks for the men. And, what lady can take her eyes off a handsome man in a sailor suit?
 
Alex Finke (as Hope Harcourt) and Erich Bergen (as Billy Crocker)
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
 
Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES.
Pictured: Alex Finke, Erich Bergen and Company
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
 
Scenes like this make you believe that falling in love, and being swept off your feet, is still possible.
 
Some shows give you meat and potatoes, food for thought. Some can leave you feeling a little uncomfortable in the way they bring dark reality to light. Others reflect modern cynicism. Anything Goes offers a sweet escape. You are drawn into the beauty of the show and your troubles drift off for a couple hours. You might even find yourself tapping your own feet and wondering if it's not too late to learn how to tap dance, or wear gorgeous gowns, dance your way into a woman's heart, or fall in love.
 
 Erich Bergen (Billy Crocker) and Rachel York (as the amazing Reno Sweeney)
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
 
Some songs, like You're the Top, help you realize that a relationship is more friendship than romance as you highlight the best in each other. (I loved this number.)
 
Roundabout Theatre Company’s ANYTHING GOES. Pictured: Rachel York and Company
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
 
The Roundabout Theatre Company is touring the revival of Anything Goes, music by Cole Porter. It's not the same show you might have done in high school or watched at your local community theatre. There are some changes and additions. Joy, my sister, attended this performance with me. She was in a community theatre production of Anything Goes in the Portland, OR area a few years ago, and she quickly noted some differences. Some of the staging and songs are different. There is definitely great energy and spirit to this show. The costumes are probably a bit more risqué than what audiences saw back in the 1940's, or at their small town theatres, and the movements kept mostly to the style of the times with a hint of modern influence.
 
One scene that made me cringe was when Erma and Moonface Martin (Public Enemy number 13) are in his cabin, hiding out. She dresses up to get out and meet the sailors. He doesn't want her to leave, so he takes out his gun to prove how serious he is about keeping her there. In our world where violence against women is still a terrible problem, you cannot make light of it. In every other way, this show is fun, delightful, and lifts your spirits. That one action changed the mood for that scene.
 
Anything Goes is playing at The Ordway in St. Paul, MN, May 7-12, 2013. The Roundabout Theatre Company is on tour and nearing the end of its run. Next stop, Grand Rapids, MI. Check their site to see if they're coming to your town, or click over there to view their promo video. You'll get a glimpse of this stunning show.
 
Go. Create. Inspire!
 
Journaling Prompt:  Do you know how to tap dance? What new artistic skill would you like to learn?
 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reflections on A to Z Challenge, 2013

Quote of the Day:  I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

The Blogging from A to Z challenge in April is a marathon. I proudly display the Survivor's Badge on the right. Congrats to any other bloggers out there, reading this, who have also completed the race. You are a rock star. You have what it takes to be a successful artist. You have the ability to Go, Create, and Inspire!

I loved the challenge this year. I looked forward to writing each post, and it's all because of Millie and Willie Cottonpoly, my sock puppet creation!

Millie and Willie celebrated completing the challenge with a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir  
from A to Z Wineworks in Oregon.
 
We had a little chat after the April Challenge.
 
Mary:  I'd like to thank both of you for coming alive for this blogging challenge. I couldn't have done it without you.
 
Millie:  Stop it. It was our pleasure.
 
Willie:  Pfft. It was nothing. A piece of cake after working on the railroad all those years (singing it).
 
Millie:  Willie, for Heaven's sake, talk now, sing later.
 
Willie:  Wait a minute. Did someone mention cake?
 
Mary:  You did, Willie. Maybe you're remembering the fabulous cake that Joy made for the twins' birthday.
 
Cake by Joy Ciaffoni
 

Willie:  (stares longingly at the cake pictures, starting to hum I've been working on the railroad.)

Millie:  (nudges Willie in the heel) It was kind of you to let us share our stories on your blog, Mary.

Mary:  I loved every word. A couple favorites are A, the story of how you met, and L, for the Love Letter that you wrote to Millie, and of course, when Willie encouraged you to write your memoirs, Millie. I think they'd be so fascinating to read.

Millie:  (making flustered noises) Oh, I don't know.

Willie:  Millie, your story is inspirational. You can't hide it under a bushel. What if your story helped someone else, or helped out a dog who just needs some understanding and a good dog whisperer?

Millie:  Well, when you put it that way.

Mary:  You need to set aside time every day to write.

(Millie and Willie look pointedly at Mary.)
Um, yay, I need to follow my own advice there, don't I?

Millie:  We know you have a great creative spirit, Mary. You made us!

Mary:  (nodding as she wipes away a tear) I think we'll have a long relationship.

(hugs all around)

Willie:  Now, where's that cake?

**********************
 
The creativity doesn't end with the challenge, and neither should the self-discipline. I learned that when I'm determined to do something, I will make the time to do it, even if I'm taking photos of sock puppets at 10:00 at night, or introducing them to famous poets like Naomi Shihab Nye. That was a hoot. I also learned that Millie and Willie Cottonpoly are very social. When they make an entrance, they always bring out smiles and conversation. They also love the theater and will accompany me to many more shows when I'm invited to write reviews. Don't worry, they're not about to shut themselves up in the sock drawer any time soon. Now, that they've seen the light, they're ready to create more drama!
 
Thanks, Alex J. Cavanaugh for introducing me to the Challenge. Thanks, Arlee Bird for launching it in 2010. It's a wild and wonderful race!
 
Go. Create. Inspire!
 
Journaling Prompt:  What kind of race have you finished, only to be inspired by another challenge?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review of Alice in Wonderland at CTC in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day:  from Lewis Carroll's book Alice in Wonderland
"Do you think I've gone round the bend?"
"I'm afraid so. You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are."

Alice played by Anna Evans, photo by Dan Norman (Children's Theatre Company)
 
White Rabbit played by Brandon Brooks, photo by Dan Norman (CTC)
 
Queen of Hearts played by Autumn Ness
 
As you can see by these amazing photos, The Children's Theater Company production of Alice in Wonderland is as colorful and full of animation as anything you've ever seen. This is a high energy show that carries you away into a fantastic dreamland where grinning cats are larger than life and royal croquet games are played with flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as the ball. Alice attends the most unusual tea party, and she matches wits with a deck of cards. You wouldn't want to close your eyes for more than a blink or you might miss all the wild sight gags, physical humor, and visual brilliance of this show.
 
The key to any great performance is a creative team. The list of cast and crew for this production is long and the applause goes to all of them. I was especially impressed with the musician Victor Zupanc (composer, sound designer, and Foley artist), a stunning one-man band.
 
Millie and Willie Cottonpoly (sock puppets) and the girls loved the show!
 
 

Alice in Wonderland is playing through June 15, 2013, at The Children's Theatre. Go there for show times and ticket information. Remember, that if you stop in or call the box office on Sundays, starting at noon, there are a limited number of seats for the following week's performances for $10. This is your chance to slip into Wonderland and see where dreams can take you!
 
Go. Create. Inspire!
 
Journaling Prompt:  Write about your dreams, the ones you have at night, or the ones that you imagine in the daytime.
 
 

Fagiolini Saltati in Padella (String beans,tossed, skillet style)

I love creating a stir on my Facebook page.  Who knew string beans would create such excitement?  I am always exciting about String beans in my house.

This is what happens when you find a bag of blanched string beans in your freezer.   Don't worry, in my freezer, they haven't been there long.  I had a few grape tomato's in my basket to use up and there is always garlic around en.this kitchen.    This dish is also called.   "Saltati in padella" or tossed in the skillet, referring to a quick toss or two and they are ready.  Who could ask for anything more, when you are grilling meats?  You want to keep things as simple as possible, a philosophy I live by in my kitchen on a daily basis and you should too.
Ingredients: 
3 tablespoons of good olive oil
large skillet to accommodate your beans
One pound Blanched string Beans (If they are coming out of your freezer, give them a quick rinse under cold running water, to restore them to room temperature.
One teaspoon or so of salt  (to taste)
3 or four cloves of smashed garlic (Use the end of spoon to smash it if you don't want to use the palm of your hand).
10 grape tomato's rinsed and split.  
1/2 cup  white wine (Pinot Grigio)
pepper (black and a pinch of red) Optional
Method:
Heat your oil in your skillet to medium heat.  Add your smashed garlic cloves and with a wooden spoon, move them about the pan.
When your garlic is fragrant, add your tomato's.  Smash them some with the back of your spoon.   After about a minute or so, add your beans, salt and cook for about 5 minutes or so.  Add your wine and keep cooking 5 minutes more or until your liquid has evaporated.   This may take a little longer depending on your experience.  

Place in a bowl  with some fresh Basil and serve.   Look for your green beans to lose some of their bright color and they will soften.  and indication that they are cooked.  The addition of basil and white wine in this turns a bland bean into a sweet dish.  Enjoy and as always,   Buon Appetito!