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Archive for April, 2012

Normally I post on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays as sort of a writing exercise because my hobby is books, and someday I’d like to do creative writing.  Also, it’s a good outlet for things that I can’t talk about IRL.  However, I’ve switched focus to preparing for a translator’s exam, so I’m going to be posting less often for a while.

Also, I’m just kind of a downer in general at the moment, which makes it hard to write.  Normally I lean hard into religion to get me through times of madness, but I’m dealing with a lot of doubts right now, so that makes most of my normal coping mechanisms less accessible.  I’ll try to check in periodically and keep you posted on things that are pissing me off (like what the Supreme Court justices have been saying about Arizon’s immigration laws) or things that interest me (like the way watching TV works in a bilingual household).

 

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I made a fantastic peanut butter cake this weekend for my friend’s birthday.  The recipe is one that my family has made for years from a xerox of a military family cookbook – it is credited to “Jean Spietsm, USMC Faculty/Staff.”  I tried out making frosting for the first time using Tracy Larsen’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting recipe; it had 4.5 stars after 733 reviews, so I figured it was worth a shot.

I’ve reproduced the recipe and some photos below, along with some hard-earned advice after about 3 hours of baking and my own tweaks to these recipes (in italics).

Jean Sprietsma’s “Peanut Butter Chip Cake”

  • 1 Betty Crock Supermoist yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 c. chopped peanuts (optional)
  • 1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chops (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 13 X 9″ pan or 2 (8″) square pans.  (I heated mine to 325 because my oven burns everything, and I still burnt the top.)
  2. Beat cake mix (dry), brown sugar, and peanut butter in a large bowl on low speed until evenly crumbly.  Reserve 2/3 cup of this mixture.  (I wanted to make frosting to go with this, but I ended up putting this reserved peanut butter deliciousness on top of my frosting.  I also chopped up a bowl full of reese’s peanut butter cups to put both in the cake and on the cake.)
  3. Beat remaining mixture, water, oil, and eggs on low speed; scraping bowl edges often.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. (My husband did this step after I accidentally dropped a whole egg shell in the cake batter and had to painstakingly fish it out.  No harm done.)
  4.  Pour batter in pan.  Sprinkle crumbly mixture on top (also chopped peanuts), and chocolate chops.  (I added chopped up reese’s peanut butter cups, and I did not put the crumbly mixture or the peanuts on anything.  Keep those suckers in reserve.)
  5. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  (As I said, my oven cooks hot, so the top was burnt and the middle was squishy.   I used a knife to cut off the top of both round cakes and put them back in the oven to cook some more.  The crumbled cake tops are pictured below.)

Broken cake tops

After the cakes were in the oven for the second time, I started making the frosting.

Tracy Larsen’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting:

  • 2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter until smooth, then gradually beat in sugar mixture alternately with evaporated milk. Blend in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. If necessary, adjust consistency with more milk or sugar.

Chocolate frosting

I was really surprised by how thick the frosting ended up being.  Normally you don’t frost cakes when they’re hot because the frosting melts, but I actually did frost these hot since the frosting was so thick.  It was delicious, but it didn’t taste that different from store bought frosting to me, so I don’t think I would go to so much trouble again.
After preparing the frosting, I got the cakes out of the oven again.
Then I put the reserved peanut butter crumbly mix on a cookie sheet along with some chopped peanuts and roasted that in the oven until golden brown.
Peanut butter crumbly mix with peanuts

I frosted the bottom layer, and put crumbly mix and reese’s peanut butter cups across the top.  Then I added the next layer of the cake and sprinkled the crumbly mix  and reese’s peanut butter cups on top of that, and had a pretty respectable cake (and a lot of crumbs on the floor) at the end:

I learned several things in this process:

(1) Don’t sweep the floor until you’re completely finished.  Sweeping half way through is just kidding yourself – those crumblies go everywhere.

(2) When you think it might be fun to make your own frosting, just be thankful that Betty Crocker did it first.

(3) If you ask your husband to help you make cake and he is a contractor, he may tell you that hecould have made $500 by now and that this is now the world’s most expensive cake.

And last but not least,

(4) Don’t overfill the round cake pans.  It’s much easier to just have smaller cake than it is to painstakingly remove the burnt top and re-bake to get it cooked through.

 

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I moved a lot as a kid.  In fact, I moved 24 times in 20 years.  (I’m 25 years old.  In a post earlier this week I said I was 26 – my birthday is coming up in about 6 weeks, but apparently I am so old that I’ve forgotten how old I am.  Seriously.)

However, since I was 15 years old I’ve lived in the same tri-state area/metropolitan region.  At what point do I become “from” here?  Will I magically wake up one day and feel like this region is home?

My husband built his business here, and his work relies heavily on referrals.  He’s very successful, and I’m grateful for those business contacts.  My husband’s little brother lives here, and I can’t imagine missing out on watching him grow up these past 6 years.  I can’t believe he’s about to turn 8.  My parents live here.  That’s a mixed bag, but there are definitely positives to being able to drop by and see them.  It was great to have them so close by when my husband was in the hospital.

All of these positives aside, when I was in high school I never thought I would settle here.  It was just the last place that my parents moved after a long military career that involved leading a nomadic life.  I didn’t like the culture of this region of the country, and always planned to relocate somewhere closer to the coast.  Then I met my husband, and now it seems like I’ll be here my whole life.  When is it going to be home?

(PS–I went to add tags to this post and saw these suggestions: Tri-state area, User interface, Hurricane Irene, Death Race.  Umm, okay…)

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I was thinking about how much “screen time” my brother-in-law has each day.  He is seven years old and I think he needs to get outside and play more, or read a book, or make up a game like school or house (which I played a lot as a kid).  He spends a lot of time playing on the computer (club penguin, anyone?) as well as video games (Mario, and Halo when he’s at his friend’s house, which is an entirely different post) and sometimes Wii.

I wasn’t allowed to have video games as a kid, and when I was very little I could only watch a half hour to an hour of TV a day. There were times in my life when I wasn’t very supervised, like when my parents were separated, and I spent hours each day watching TV.  I can remember feeling like the day had been wasted, even as a kid.

However, I think there’s a real argument to be made that using computers and video games prepares kids for life in a world that is more technologically advanced and fundamentally different than the world our parents grew up in, or even the world that our generation grew up in.  (I am 26.)  Maybe I have antiquated notions that he should be reading books more or playing flashlight tag, when really the skills he needs to succeed are more common in Club Penguin and Mario.

Are you going to (do you) limit your kids’ “screen time?”

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This weekend I heard a sermon about mercy.  Apparently, Pope JP II was almost fatally shot, and ended up visiting the perpetrator in prison and forgiving him.  My immediate and uncharitable thought was, the people that I am not showing mercy to did much worse things than almost killing me.  It’s probably easier to forgive someone for shooting you – that’s only physical pain.

I usually pray in the morning that God would give me the energy to do what I need to do today, but that more than that I would be his hands and his feet and the words that he speaks today.  I’m trying to say, “Please help me with my to-do list.  But if I’ve only got time for a few things today, I’d rather help with your to-do list.”  When people come to my office and they need to cry about relationship drama or the dog dying, I make time for that even if something on my agenda doesn’t get done, or if I have to stay late, because I think I’m being given a chance to help comfort someone today and that’s a privilege.

I’m all about helping by listening, or smiling at someone and complimenting them, or noticing when someone needs a boost.  I’m happy to show God’s comfort here on earth, but not on board for showing his mercy and grace to other people.  That’s a lot hard for me, and I feel like I should be doing something about it, but how do you forgive someone when you just don’t feel like it?  That’s an honest question.

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I started taking jazzercise classes last week because I’m really old.  Just kidding – I’m actually taking jazzercise because there’s a class right next to my building and I never exercise because when I get home I’m too lazy to go anywhere.  I figured I could head this problem off at the pass if I just work out before I even go home, hence this excursion into 1980’s fitness fads.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever done jazzercise before, but it involves a lot of bouncing up and down from mats on the floor to skipping around upright like some crazed squirrel on meth.  Sometimes you switch between the two poses rapidly, until just hoisting the weight of your own body on and off of the floor is exhausting after so many reps.  Needless to say my legs are killing me.

I went to jazzercise last Thursday night, and then on Friday I went to mass to commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion.  It seemed like a good idea at the time….I’m not Catholic, so I haven’t been to all of the Catholic services yet.  I had done Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) at a Catholic church, but I had always done Good Friday at Protestant churches.  If you’re a Catholic you already know the punchline to this story.

Apparently, good Friday is a penitential aerobic work-out.  It involves about 30 minutes of reading from the gospel story of Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, the last supper, his arrest and trial, and the crucifixion, and all of this is done standing (since you always stand out of respect during the gospel readings).  Then you kneel for about an hour while lots of esoteric ritual goes on, which mostly involves venerating the cross and being grateful to Jesus for suffering so we could have grace.

At this point if you’ve been to jazzercise, your legs are probably in agony, but the best part is at the end of the service, when the whole church prays for 10 specific intentions like world peace, wisdom for world leaders, and people in crisis to have comfort.  This involves the priest saying a prayer and then chanting, “All kneel.”  Everyone drops to their knees for one minute and prays silently, and then bounces back up to their feet.  The priest prays for the next intention and then chants, “All kneel,” and everyone goes down again.  This goes on and on and on until you’ve done it 10 times just like a rep in jazzercise and you want to cry.  But then you feel bad because Jesus died on the cross for your sins, damnit, and he suffered a lot more on this day than you did and the least you can do is kneel and pray for the people who need comfort, you selfish wretch.

There is some kind of unholy alliance between the people who choreograph jazzercise classes and the Catholic Church.  Just saying.

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I am not trying to convert you.  I’ve never asked you if you’ve found Jesus or feel his love in your heart.  I won’t give you a pamphlet, or try to legislate what’s taught in schools to indoctrinate your children while they’re still young and vulnerable.  I understand that there are religious people (of many types of religions) who do this, but I am not one of those people.

I have peace in my life from my walk with God, and if you’re curious, I will tell you about it.  However, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on the truth.  Many practitioners of other religions, and lots of agnostics and atheists, lead lives that are good and I think God recognizes that.  Many Christians lead lives that are bad, and I think God recognizes that, too.

I’m not a Christian because I woke up this morning and felt like it would be fun.  It’s hard for me.  The bible is full of contradictions and I read it every day and I studied theology and I can probably tell you more about how the bible doesn’t make sense than most people who are vehemently opposed to Christianity.  I don’t feel accepted in any particular church.  I struggle with who is going to hell and who is going to heaven.  I have doubts.  There are people I can’t forgive and forgiveness is not negotiable in Christianity.  I’m not happy about being different from the rest of my family and most of my friends.  I feel on the outside a lot – like the black sheep.  Being Christian is a knock-down drag-out fight for me, and I make a choice to be Christian every single day because I feel like I was called to do it – even when it would be easier not to.

I wanted to tell you this because there is someone I can’t tell.   Someone who matters to me seems inexplicably angry at me for being Christian and who acts like I’m attacking them and part of an insidious institution, even when I’ve never tried to convert them.  This person thinks I’m presumptuous and arrogant.  I wish I could tell that person that I am not trying to make them unhappy by practicing this religion and  I am not trying to change them.   In fact, I don’t see how it has anything to do with them at all.  My belief in Christianity is central to who I am.  It informs all of the choices that I make in my life, and I don’t need this person to be Christian, but I need them to leave me the hell alone about my choice to be Christian.

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There is something about me that talks too fast and thinks too fast.  I rush to fill silences.  I leap ahead and people aren’t ready.  I say startling things.

Today we argued.  I washed the dishes.  I came back and said, “Do you regret the way this visit is turning out?”  In those moments of solitude, I had decided to give you a chance.  I thought maybe you wanted to turn back the clock to when this visit had still seemed promising, but you don’t know how.  It turns out you weren’t ready for this peace offering.  You were probably still planning your rebuttal.  You stared at the floor and said nothing.  I felt like my gesture had been rejected and I put on my shoes slowly, waiting for you to say something.  You didn’t, and I left.

I gave you a chance and you blew it.  Loving people is giving these chances again and again.  It’s being vulnerable after you’ve been hurt.  It’s trying to get in sync with someone when their pace is all wrong for you.

Why can’t you be ready for peace?  Why are you still planning what to say next?  Why can’t you be quick on the up-take, and recognize the opening I gave you, and pause a moment and say, “Yes, I regret the way tonight turned out.  Let’s start again.”  Why don’t you see the chance I gave you?

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I went to mass on Saturday night for Palm Sunday vigil.  I like to go to mass on Saturday nights because then I can be lazy on Sundays and sleep late.  My husband didn’t want to go, and asked me to stay since we were at the Pollada, but we had missed mass the previous weekend so I told him I would go by myself and come back.

I don’t go to mass by myself very much.  It’s awkward somehow since I’m Protestant.  When my husband is there, I feel like he’s my excuse.  “Well, I married into this Catholic family, and this is their family church, so here I am.”  When he’s not with me, it just seems somehow obvious that I am a poser, or out of place.

I don’t know why I go to mass instead of to a Protestant church.  I cannot take communion – I only get blessed by the priest.   The priest that married us recognizes me and knows why I’m there, but when it’s a different priest I wonder if they are speculating as to why I am there each week in the communion line, silently shaking my head with my arms crossed when they go to give me the eucharist.  They don’t give me a hard time – they just make the sign of the cross over me and say a blessing, but still I wonder how they interpret my presence each week.  Are they thinking, “Who is this girl who will never let me give her communion?”  Or have they caught on that I’m a Protestant and don’t belong?

I like the way there are rules for mass.  I like the formulas and the ritual and the beauty of the little church where I was married.  I like having a time to kneel down and pray silently.  Usually when I arrive, genuflect, and kneel at my pew I feel this sense of entering God’s presence.  I literally think something along the lines of, “Hey, God.  It’s good to see you again this week.”  When I walk into other churches, like the Protestant megachurch that I went to before I started going to mass each week, I just don’t feel that same sense of recognition, like God lives there.

This is holy week, so basically you’re supposed to be at church on Palm Sunday, Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter.  This is the week that the adult catechumens will be welcomed into communion with the church.  They have been preparing since September.  The next set of classes starts in September, and I’ve been debating if I should go.  I’d like to actually take communion, but then I wonder if I could truly believe that it is the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.  I don’t like the church’s stance on gay marriage.  As a Protestant, I can just believe in the bible and not make any formal confession of faith that aligns me with people who oppose gay marriage.  Somehow studying to become a Catholic would feel like a betrayal of certain social issues that I support.  I don’t know what I will do in September, but I was sad to be sitting alone at mass this week and unsure of what I was doing there.

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I went for a walk in the woods today with my husband as part of my zombie apocalypse preparedness plan.  We had driven to IHOP for breakfast and then had a few hours to kill before my husband was supposed to play soccer.  I decided that instead of going to see a movie or taking a nap at the soccer park, we should go for a walk.  It occurred to me that maybe getting fit isn’t some momentous choice like taking part in a marathon, as much as it is small choices to walk instead of nap.

While we were in the woods, I asked my husband what he would do if there were a zombie apocalypse and we had to bring supplies from our apartment and go somewhere to hide.  He thought we should go to cave, but I pointed out that most caves don’t have a food supply and they only have one entrance, which would make you vulnerable to being trapped and starving, or being overrun by a zombie horde.  I thought it would be smarter to hide somewhere like a mall.  Most malls don’t have a lot of windows, and they have clothes and a food court, so at least as a start you’d be able to fortify a certain section and make small excursions when you need more food.  Eventually most of the food would probably go bad, but I thought it would be a good place to start.

We don’t have much in the way of emergency preparedness supplies.  We’re not the type of people who stocked up for Y2K or keep earthquake kits hanging around.  However, just about everyone should be able to grab these things from where they live:

-a big kitchen knife

-matches

-a first aid kit

-a blanket

-some cans and water bottles

-batteries

-a flashlight

It would be nice if you had  a radio, a machete, maps, or water purifying tablets, but these are just not things I keep on hand.  Frankly if the zombie apocalypse does come I just won’t have those materials.  Also it would probably be very important to learn how to siphone gas off of other vehicles for when the gas stations run out, but eventually even the gas in stranded cars will be used up.

What troubles me most is the notion that in the unlikely event of some terrible dystopian catastrophe, there won’t be any way to take books with me.  I read a few books a week, so there’s just no way there would be enough new reading material to sustain me unless I hole up in library.  Maybe when it’s clear that disaster is imminent I could buy a kindle and download massive amounts of books since credit card debt wouldn’t matter, and then get some kind of generator.

What would you take if you could only bring items you already have that would fit in your car?

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