Friday, February 27, 2009

What to Write

I'm writing this very late or rather awfully early--whichever way you want to look at it. Let's just say the clock is well past midnight and I seem to have the rare courage that possesses only drunks and lunatics at this time of day. And since I can't distinguish between a beer or a brandy, I can only ascribe my current headspace to the particular illogic that possesses those who know, use and can explain the difference between pyschiatry and psychology and make sense of either.

In a word: I simply can't define myself to one word when more than one word is needed to explain my dilemma.

I don't know what to write.

Okay, that's not true either. I know what to write: write what is in your heart, write what is on your mind, write on a topic given to you by editors who also hand you a deadline. Just write.

What I haven't felt is a lot of focus about what to write. Especially on any topic that doesn't deal with my health, food, or my job. These topics seem to be on my mind all the time right now. 

I started this blog because I wanted a place to develop my writing, share thoughts about my life and get my design on. I'd like to believe that this is my creativity corner in blogosphere where I get artsy and craftsy and get the juices flowing. It is the place where I write about anything and everything that doesn't have to do with health. 

Why anything but health? Because health is what I think about constantly. It is my passion, my hobby, my love, my constant thought process. I'm always interested in health. 

I also have always struggled with my weight. It has been a constant challenge in my life since I was nine years old and went on my first diet. It will likely be a struggle I deal with the rest of my life. 

It is the reason I'm so interested in health too. I'm looking for answers. 

I've learned a lot in that process of searching for answers. Things that I never expected to learn, things I didn't necessarily want to learn either. But I've learned. 

And one thing that I've learned is that it is okay to be interested in health--fascinated by it, really--and struggle with my weight. That's a conundrum that will likely accompany me for a long, long time. 

Which is also why I don't like to write about it here often. It consumes so much of my life and my thoughts that it is a blog all on its own. What I want to write about here are the other things that make me laugh and make me cry and make me joyful. Because despite the fact that I'm interested in all things health, it some times turns into an obsession that really is not all that healthy. 

Not that healthy at all. Which is likely something I should write about too. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Celebrating the Love: 40 Years

We celebrated my parents' 40th anniversary last month. A few years ago they started inviting us all to spend the weekend together at a cabin in the mountains to celebrate their big day. We go skiing, sledding, snowmobiling and watch lots and lots of movies, chat as much as possible and generally just make ourselves merry. Mom plans spectacular food for us to eat all weekend, Dad usually gets us discount tickets to the ski resort and they make it a great party. Isn't that nice of them to baby all of us on their anniversary?

It really has become a favorite annual weekend. This year we tried to do a few things to commemorate the big day.

We took them breakfast in bed because we used to do this as little kids. Years ago, breakfast often arrived with charcoaled eggs, soggy toast, half-cooked bacon, and watery hot chocolate. Somehow Mom and Dad would gulp down all of it. And smile like we'd given them filet mignon and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Hopefully, breakfast this year was a little more edible.

The hardest part was keeping my mother in bed past 6AM. She tends to worry about getting food on the table instead of sleeping in--even on vacation. We had to ask her nicely to go back to bed when she tried to sneak down the stairs at 6:15AM.

To try to beat my mother out of bed, we had to start making breakfast at 5:30AM. I was so impressed that my siblings would get out of bed this early on a vacation day. Go, family!

Cassie and Meg made a big sign that said Happy Anniversary that we hung up. We also helped Dad get the 40 pink roses he wanted to give Mom for their big day.

Of course, then we spent the rest of the weekend celebrating. We had a couple of surprises up our sleeves and we wanted to spread them out over a few days--you know, not overwhelm Mom and Dad with all the love immediately.

We played in the snow on Saturday. We watched more movies. We ate lots of good food. We just enjoyed the weekend and our time together. 

A few days after the cabin, the second surprise showed up. It was a book of our trip to Denmark. This was the super-big surprise that I had been working a long time on. It was 70 pages, full color, of about 300 of our photos from the trip. I think they liked it. 

It certainly took over my life for a few days as I tried to complete it. 

Sunday we shared the first big surprise. Mom had said again this year after Christmas that just once she wanted all of her kids to play a musical number together on the instruments we had learned as children. Well, I thought "Why not for their anniversary?" We had a very nice neighbor who plays in the Temple Square orchestra and I asked her for help. She helped us arrange the music and gave us the parts for each instrument. Then we practiced. 

Sometimes, I wish we had recorded those practices because we laughed so hard during them. 

We even laughed ourselves a bit silly right before this performance. We told Mom and Dad we had a surprise for them at the house and they were supposed to arrive at a specific time after church. We got there earlier and practiced a few times and got the giggles out.

Which was good because it allowed us to focus on their faces during the performance. 

Now, you can laugh yourselves silly. Just remember that several of us have not picked up these instruments for years. So, be kind. One of the best parts for me is watching my parents be so thrilled about the whole thing. 

And thanks to Julie, we actually have a recording of the big event. She generously let me borrow this video from her blog

Hopefully, all in all, it was a weekend where we feted Mom and Dad and their commitment and love for each other. We certainly feel lucky that 40 years later we get to celebrate together the magic that started this journey. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Quiet Tuesday

I'm deep in the midst of a very big paper for school. I would like to sit and write (for my own pleasure and not for the paper) for a few hours but in the meantime, I'm enjoying reading some great writing when I have a spare moment. I only have three recommendations and it's a very eclectic mix but each of them struck me and made me grateful for the art of writing. Hope you enjoy them as well.

Finally, The Scent of the City by Molly Birnbaum in the New York Times
This piece made me ache. I love this style of writing and I love personal essays. And I would so love to be published in the New York Times.

A Plan by NieNie
The bravery of this kind of writing and sharing amazes me. Through NieNie's writing, I step into her shoes and look at the future that lays ahead of her as a burn victim. The obstacles ahead of her are enormous yet she is facing them. And she's letting us see a bit of what those obstacles look like.

Fresh Start for the New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen by Mark Bittman
All about simple changes you can make in the kitchen to make eating and cooking much more delectable. Some responses to this article called Bittman a bit of a snob, but I think he's trying to get us back to good tastes and true flavor. And while I may not incorporate every suggestion, I thorougly enjoyed deciding which ideas to keep and which to let go.

What have you read lately that you would recommend?

Friday, February 13, 2009

RECIPE: Candy Bars--A Sweet Treat for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day! 

I hope it is a great day full of love for each of us. May we all share love and joy with those close to us. 

Now to celebrate your Valentine's Day, here is a recipe that will not only hit your sweet tooth but do it without causing unnecessary damage. I made these treats this week and got rave reviews. I think what contributed to those reviews was the first time I made these a few months ago, I burned the pecans and burnt pecans lend a distinct flavor of overdone to any recipe they inhabit. So, this time I watched the pecans much more closely and the candy bars turned out much, much better. 

Again, this recipe is from Elana  over at She continues to inspire and influence my cooking. This journey has been a lot more joyful because I've had her as a mentor through it. So, I hope this recipe hits the spot for some of you who are looking for a sweet treat that is quick, easy, and without some of the normal pitfalls (white flour, sugar) of sweet treats that abound at this time of year. 

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons celtic sea salt
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 cup almond butter
½ cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups dark chocolate 73% (I cut this down to 1 1/2 cups for a little less chocolate)

  1. Preheat oven to 500°
  2. Warm grapeseed oil and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saute pan over high heat
  3. Add pecans to pan and cook for 3 minutes
  4. Remove pecans from pan and immediately transfer to a baking sheet
  5. Place pecans in 500° oven for 3 minutes, remove and cool
  6. Warm almond butter, agave, vanilla and ½ teaspoon salt in a saucepan over medium heat
  7. Remove from heat and stir pecans into almond butter mixture
  8. Spread batter into an 8 x 8 inch pyrex dish and freeze for at least 1 hour
  9. Remove from fridge, cut into 1 x 3 inch bars; place on small (parchment paper lined) baking sheet
  10. Melt chocolate in saucepan over lowest heat possible
  11. Drizzle chocolate over each bar
  12. Sprinkle bars with remaining ½ teaspoon salt
  13. Freeze and serve

Makes 18 candy bars

I love chocolate and these treats are particularly good with gooey chocolate. What I've found though is that when I consume really good dark chocolate like this recipe recommends that I don't have to eat the whole pan of candy bars. One or two hits the spot just right for me. And then there are more treats left over for the next day and the next and the next. Also, my taste testers and I decided that these treats are even better the second day because the chocolate is less intense and the almond buttery goodness of the pecan mixture is even more noticeable. 

Hope the day of love is full of lots of sweetness and light for you and your loved ones. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Denmark Day 5: Island of Mon, Hans Jorgen's Birthplace and the White Cliffs

Rainy is the best word to describe Day 5 in Denmark. It rained the entire day. It was the only day of the trip that was filled with rain and it must be this wet coolness that makes this land so beautiful and green. I think it was the coldest day on the trip too. 

Day 5 was a Monday. We stayed in a hotel situated on a big golf course, so it was a day the avid golfers in our group were looking forward to the chance to hit the links. What we didn't know was that dream would not materialize this day.


Our hotel was like a big rambling house with different wings attached haphazardly here or there and odd hallways that ended abruptly and a mysterious maze of room numbers. The dining room was in the center of the hotel and united the whole conglomeration of rooms and hallways. The dining room had one wall of windows that overlooked the golf fairway and really must have been gorgeous on a sunny day. Twelve of our group were in three rooms very near the dining room. Mom, Dad, Cassie and I were in a room on the other side of the hotel that was reached by leaving the dining room, walking through a sitting room, then a glassed-in breezeway, then down several stairs, then a jog to the left and down the hallway past the indoor pool before arriving at our door. In other words, a bit of a hike. 

All this hike did was make me hungry on the way to breakfast. I had been up at 4:00AM obsessively checking my email and the airline website. I was still living the dream at this time that our luggage would be found and arrive very soon. So, at 4:00AM when I was suddenly wide awake, I had to get online to see if any developments had occurred in the past eight hours. I think what I really wanted was just to wear some different clothes for the first time in five days.

A note on the luggage search: That entire debacle was certainly eased by two very, very valuable pieces of equipment--Rus's iPhone and Rus's laptop. Every night after we had settled into the hotel, Meg and I would end up in Rus's room for at least an hour as we checked our email, multiple airline websites and our lost luggage claims for any news on my or Spencer's carryon bags. Then every night, we would call anyone and everyone who would listen to us--Scandinavian Air, Iceland Air, Northwest Airlines, the Copenhagen Airport, the Amsterdam Airport, Bettina--the nice Mormon woman we met at Scandinavian Air our very first day--and especially the Salt Lake Airport and The-Wingnut-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named who took our carryon bags off the flight in the first place and never gave us claim tickets. 

So a very special thank you goes out to Rus for keeping us laughing each night and for letting us use the very nice technical toys that he schlepped all over Denmark and then let us monopolize for most of the trip.

So, as I made my way to breakfast that morning, I was feeling rather tired. The dining room was cold too as the rain pounded on the wall of windows. Which just made a hot breakfast all the more appealing. 

This morning I had two soft-boiled eggs in the little egg cups. I was learning to perfect my technique of cracking the egg just so and using the delicate little egg spoon to scoop out the egg. I had no idea eating an egg like this could make me feel so civilized. 

Another typical Danish food on the menu that morning was an open-faced sandwich on something akin to rye bread. On the bread, I put a slice of cheese, a slice of deli meat--like ham or turkey--then I layered sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and red pepper. I didn't expect to really enjoy these open-faced sandwiches for breakfast but I soon became a convert. There was something just so Danish about them that I couldn't resist. 

Breakfast was about 8:15AM this morning. I think our departure time was 9:00AM but somebody forgot to set the alarm in Brock and Julie and Adam and Michelle's room and they were still sawing logs as we started gathering to depart. Team players that they are, they rushed the showers, getting ready and breakfast routines and we were driving out of the hotel parking lot by 9:30AM--now that takes talent. When you travel in a group of 16 people, it takes a lot of cooperation and hard work to get everyone at the right place at the right time and I would be impressed throughout the trip with the great attitudes exhibited by the majority of the crew the majority of the time. It certainly made the trip more fun for all of us. 

Our whole goal this day on the island of Mon was to explore the birthplace of our ancestor on Dad's side named Hans Jorgen. In 1862, as a young man, he left mother, his stepfather, and his homeland to join the Saints in Utah. We wanted to see his birthplace and childhood home. 

Hans Jorgen's Hometown


So we piled in the vans and drove to Harbolle and Vindebaek. Tiny towns. They were right next to each other and I think that Hans Jorgen was born in one and lived in the other town. Really, they weren't "towns" per se but more a street of houses, a neighborhood really. And along this street some of the houses were in Vindebaek and some in Harbolle. If you blinked you would miss them.


But the scenery? Stunning. Green grass, rolling hills, and trees everywhere. The landscape spread out before us was this dewy, emerald jewel under a gray, gray sky.


Even the barns were pretty. 


And cottages with thatched roofs. 


I don't think the photos can show how picturesque this part of Denmark was to us. 


We got out of the vans and strolled down the little road that connected the two towns taking idyllic, postcard snapshots as we strolled.

Of course, some of us took photos from the comfort of the van as well.

And some of us put on noise-canceling headphones to drown out the crowd and hitched a ride on the back of a van.

The little lane to this farmhouse was so idyllic that we have about 39 photos of just this one lane.


I remember thinking that Dad was particularly easygoing about this whole meandering little jaunt through these towns. You've got to understand Dad. Between he and Mom travel is all about effectiveness, efficiency, and speed. Let's get there, get in, get out and go home. But not this trip. He seemed especially primed to just enjoy--or at least tolerate--wandering and exploring and experiencing. No agendas or strict timetables to adhere to each minute. I loved it. I loved watching him, watch us discover Denmark and all of its particular joys. Here we were this day wandering down the street of these little towns, detouring into a thousand little places and taking photo after photo after photo and he seemed to be driving along--blissfully. Bless his heart.


Everywhere we turned it was green and lush and beautiful.


Besides just enjoying the scenery, we were struggling to pronounce the names of the towns. Harbolle (sounds like har-bull-a) seemed particularly hard to remember, so Rus spouted out a mnemonic device not one of us would forget. He said "I feel harbolle" (har-bull-a) which to our American ears was just close enough to the word horrible that we spent the rest of the day proclaiming to each other "I feel harbolle" and thus memorized the name of the town and its pronunciation.

As always, thank you to Russell for making a memory out of the simplest moments. 

Harbor near Vindaebek


Next we drove just a couple of miles to the harbor in Vindebaek that was possibly the place that Hans Jorgen departed from when he left his hometown to make his way to Copenhagen and then eventually to Utah. 


The sky was overcast and the water was choppy but it was a docile, quiet little harbor. 


Until our crew showed up. 


We certainly like to keep things hopping. 


And can't stop smiling while we do it. 


Even the ones wearing headphones are smiling. (Spencer, what were you listening to that day?)


I had to keep snapping photos of Meg because she was spending so much time behind the camera, I kept wondering if she would ever be in a shot. 


See, pretty little place, isn't it? 


The scenery tended to make me want to be quiet and contemplate. 


Until someone set this guy loose. 


I believe he was treating the dock as his own personal catwalk. 


So, he put on a show. (Look at those legs!) 

Family Church


Just down the road from the harbor was the church. 

Hans Jorgen was the only son of a 29-year-old unmarried woman. She had some sort of relationship, whether coerced or mutual, with a former employer and the child she birthed was Hans Jorgen. Hans grew up with living with his mother and grandparents in this little town. When he was around 5 years old, Hans' mother married for the first time. This man was the only father that Hans ever really knew. When he emigrated to America he eventually took his stepfather's last name as his own possibly because of the the influence this stepfather had  on Hans' life. 


This was the church the family would have attended. It is where Hans Jorgen was christened and where the family would have gone each Sunday. I'm assuming this church would have been the center of the community and would have had a strong influence in the lives of everyone in these tiny towns. 


I loved learning more about Hans Jorgen and this place he was born and raised. It made him come to life. It made his sacrifice much more real too. All the good and beautiful things he left behind when he decided to go to the United States.


The architecture of the church was gorgeous. This style of church dotted the land everywhere in Denmark. For a land that is now deeply immersed in secular philosophy, it was once a place of great faith. Every time I saw a church it made me wonder what happened to that faith.  


Matt and Cissy in front of the church. 


The interior of the church was under construction so we didn't stay long inside and there were not many photos. One of the most interesting parts to me was the altar. In each of the churches we visited there was a ship near the altar. The importance of fishermen and sailors played such a prominent role in this coastal country that their safety was a constant matter of prayer. 

One shot of the rows of pews in the interior of the church. 

The grounds of each church were immaculate and pristine. Their beauty was inspiring. 


A name similar to our own Hans Jorgen. 


We stayed around chatting in the vestibule of the church and listened to Dad and Ric tell us some of the family history. 


Then it was time for the next adventure. 

Shopping in Town
It was around noon when we left the church and we made a collective decision to go into town and eat lunch and see if we could find any clothes for Spencer and me. I say collective decision because the collection of them made the decision for us. Neither Spencer or I were terribly enthusiastic about shopping for clothes on our only day in Mon. I'm not sure how Spencer feels about shopping generally but I have a hard time shopping on a good day--when I have energy, when all seems right in the world, when I feel rich and beautiful--let alone shopping on a day when I'm still jet lagged, in another country, a different size than "normal" people, and accompanied by 15 family members. This is not my idea of an ideal shopping day.

But shopping we did. Spencer and I had been wearing the same clothes for five days now and washing them out each night in the hotel sink. So, we put smiles on our faces and we went group shopping. 

Good thing too. Because if I could have weaseled my way out of it, I would have done it. I know Spencer would have backed away as fast as possible if he didn't have five brothers-in-law surrounding him and bodily forcing him to stay in the store. But when you are holed up in a dressing room with people bringing you things to try on and finding your favorite color and finding your best size and really doing everything to make shopping as easy and painless as possible, then you grit your teeth, plaster on a smile and feel grateful that you have so many people who love you just enough to spend their vacation shopping for you. 

We walked away from shopping with at least something else to clothe ourselves with and then we broke for lunch. 

Most of the group ended up at the big bakery in town. Mom and Dad and I stopped at the smorebrod shop though and I ate my first official smorebrod sandwich. Yummy. Then we joined the group in the big bakery. This is where Dad bought a chocolate milk and got distracted after taking the lid off it. This led to the Chocolate Milk Incident of Denmark '08. 

Suffice it to say that Dad shook his chocolate milk with no lid on it and it exploded all over him, his jacket, the table, the food, and his dining companions. And while they were shocked, Dad was stunned. You would have thought from the look on his face that someone else had poured chocolate milk all over him. Now, instead of just soaked from the rain, Dad was soaked in chocolate milk rain. 

Wouldn't chocolate milk rain taste really good? And would it turn the whole country brown instead of green? Outside, we had the normal everyday rain just pouring down. 

We wrapped up shopping and lunch and headed out. After a brief stop at the little boutique store next to the hotel (found lovely Danish Christmas candles here) we stopped at the hotel for a brief rest and chance to clean up. 

White Cliffs of Mon


Then off to the White Cliffs of Mon. The cliffs were gorgeous. 



The staircase down to the water was not. It was very, very steep and rather long. It would take about 20 minutes or so to hike down to the water. 


Most of the crew elected to undertake the adventure. The rest of us took the small staircase up to the top of the cliffs. 


And remember how it was raining? Well, by now it was POURING. 


And we were wet. 


But we had our cameras and we were taking lots of photos. 


This is one of my favorite. One step more and all three of them would be in the water. 


Some of the gorgeous sisters-in-law.


One of my favorite photos of Rus and Jenny from this entire trip. 


And Brock sharing the excitement. 


What I remember the most at this point is that I missed my jacket. The brand-new jacket I bought right before we left. The one that was in my luggage that was somewhere in the middle of Amsterdam--or so, I would find out later. I was dripping, soaking wet. As was everyone in the group. 


We were exhausted too (some of us even experienced mild meltdowns--mild AWKWARD meltdowns--on the staircase down to the water).


But we were back at the van and everyone had survived the hike up and down that very steep staircase. 

It was time for dinner and bed after our lovely, eventful, happy day. 

Cafe Laika


Dinner occurred at a little yellow seaside cafe. 


We kind of took over the place. I think once we descended on the place the one other party there cleared out and we had the place to ourselves. 


We were very, very good customers. 


We talked, we laughed and we ordered lots of food. 


The staff was so nice to us they even brought blankets out for each of us so that we didn't shiver too much in the cold. 


Our group was divided at two different tables. Rus was entertaining the group at his table and Julie grew a bit concerned that our table was not experiencing as much "joie de vivre" as his table. 

So, she made everyone at our table huddle in and she whispered "I want you all to roar with the laughter when I say." This command was met by the real thing: laughter. 

We couldn't contain ourselves. Who commands others to laugh just because she's jealous we weren't laughing enough? 

Just our Julie. 


Thanks, Julie. You gave us one of the best memories of the day. 

The Great Tub Washing Event
We went back to the hotel and most of the crew headed for bed. But there was one little task left to do. This night is what I call the Great Tub Washing Event of Denmark 2008. With Spencer and I clothed in newly-purchased threads, Mom wanted to wash our other clothes with great care. (Translation: at least better than in the hotel sink.) With no laundromats close by she proceeded to spend at least an hour helping Megan and I hand wash and hand wring out the five-day-old clothes we had been wearing. Then she found some boiler room in the basement and she hung the clothes up to dry there overnight. What would we all do without our mothers? 

And we said goodnight to Day 5. 

I won't even give you a smidgen of Day 6. It starts early and its filled with classic Denmark. 

And you'll just have to wait and see what that means. Hopefully, it won't take months and months for you to see that. 

Just keep hoping, people. Keep hoping. 

Read the rest of the journey:


Related Posts with Thumbnails