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I’m about to turn 27, and so I’ve been reflecting on things I learned this year:

-You teach people how you want to be treated.

-Being pregnant is not as magical as it looks.

-If you hesitate while you wonder whether you will regret not speaking up, you will regret not speaking up.  Say something.

-Be kind to yourself.  If you would cut someone else slack for the same issue, why not show that same kindness to yourself?

-Dream bigger.  Ask for more.  Don’t settle.

It’s comforting to think that nothing is a surprise to God.  This year sure shocked the hell out of me.

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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 sold a car on Craigslist this week and wanted to pass along what I learned.  Here are 10 tips for how to sell your car quickly and efficiently:

(1) The easiest way to put together the text for your Craigslist add is to search for the specs for your car model on a site like Edmunds.  You can wrack your brain trying to remember what features your car has that you take for granted (anti-lock brakes?  a 6 CD changer? automatic windows?), or you can use the Google.

(2) Craigslist allows you to post up to 4 photos.  I suggest a side view, front view, view of the dashboard, and then view of the backseat.  I would post them in that order since the side view is probably the most instructive.  You’ll want to save 2 versions of your photos: high resolution and low resolution.  The low resolution photos are faster to load on Craigslist and will load more quickly for most viewers.  However, some potential buyers will request the higher resolution photos, so you’ll want to keep those on hand.

(3) You can put something like “serious offers only” in your ad to try to weed out people who are just  bored.  It probably won’t help.

(4) Collect some of the basic information that people will ask you about the car and save it in an email draft.  Then you don’t have to take much time when you respond to their emails.  People will ask about the VIN so they can check carfax.  They’ll ask about your mileage on the highway and in the city and whether your car has ever been in an accident.  The more intrepid and curious may even ask how long you’ve had your tires and how many more miles they should be good for.

(5) When you set the price, ask for about $1000 more than you actually want.  This gives you some room to lower the price if the person wants to negotiate, and who knows?  Maybe some poor schmuck will actually pay you that much.  If people email you asking for your absolute bottom-line price (and they will), you can say, “We’re asking for $price-on-Craiglist, but we’re open to serious offers.”  This doesn’t really mean anything, but puts the ball back in their court to tell you how much they want to offer.  You should not be the first to drop the price – they need to tell you how much they want to pay.

(6) When people ask to see the car, if you live in an apartment complex, you don’t need to give them your apartment number.  We have this invention called the telephone, so there is no need for people to know which apartment is actually yours. They can just meet you outside your building.  (I automatically sent 2 people my specific apartment number before it occurred to me that I don’t need to give strangers that information.  Sad, but true.)

(7) If they want to test drive the car, and you are female, I recommend having a guy around.  Some people on Craigslist are crazy.  If you are a WASPy American, I recommend having someone who comes from a culture that negotiates prices around.  You’ll need the back-up.  In fact, maybe you just shouldn’t talk and you should let your non-WASPy friend take the lead.

(8) About 10 people will ask to see your car, get your address, and find out what time you will be available, for every 1 person who actually comes.  Don’t plan your schedule around selling the car.  Just tell people times you will naturally be home or you’ll make yourself nuts over the no-shows.

(9) When someone decides to buy the car, ask for cash or a cashier’s check.  If they are going to give you a cashier’s check, go to the bank with them to watch them get the check.  Alternatively, call the bank that issued the check and verify that it’s a valid check before you hand over the keys.  Cashier’s checks can be faked.

(10) You’ll need to remove the license plates from the car.  If you really like the person, you can leave the plates on and have the person go to the DMV and transfer the plates to their name.  If you go this route, you should call the DMV and verify that it’s been done.  Don’t forget to take the car off of your car insurance!

 

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I have been worried lately about a medical diagnosis that looms over my head.  I’ve been tired for years without an explanation, and the doctors I’m seeing are slowly crossing out the (treatable) diseases I would rather have had.  I have never drowned before, but I feel the way I think it would imagine to be in a sinking ship with the water rising above your head.  I’m gasping for air, and sometimes I get a lungful of stinging salt water instead, and sometimes a bit of precious oxygen.

I see the dreams that I had slipping away and I’m only 25.  My hopes for finding a fulfilling job and being a mom and traveling the world.  I feel frustrated with myself that I can’t even work full-time and keep up with the basics in my life, liking making dinner, cleaning a small apartment, going to church, seeing my friends, buying groceries.

I feel angry that I have been given so many gifts, and then this major limitation.  I am so focused and motivated and when I decide that I am going to do something, I have an amazing ability to make that goal happen.  I’m smart and I want to help people, and yet some days I cry when I wake up in the morning because I am so tired.  Why would God give someone intelligence and ambition, and then make them weak?  Doesn’t God know that if he gave me energy, I would accomplish so much?  That if I can make myself get into a good college and finish my master’s degree early and get a job immediately and pay off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and fight the biggest battle of my life to get my husband permanent residency – if I can do all of these things with crippling exhaustion, what things could I do if I felt strong?

I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why I pray each morning, why I have prayed each morning for so long, to be healed, and I am not.   I think of Paul and the thorn in his flesh that he prayed that God would remove.  I think of God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Really, God?

The only thing I know today is how grateful I am for my friends and family.  For people who went out immediately and bought me panda snow hats with ears, because I’ve always wanted one of those.  For people who left the library to talk me through those first hours of despair.  For my husband, who told me that no, he was not about to accept my offer of a divorce and find someone healthier.  For my friend, who told me that I am not a statistic, that I am not my genetics.  For the people who didn’t even know, and yet showed their love anyway.  “The world moves for love.  It kneels before it in awe.”  I am loved and upheld by so many people.  In their hands, I see God reaching out to me.

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