"Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind... We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith." -- Margaret D. Nadauld

Friday, December 31, 2010

It's a Peanut Butter Sandwich... Cookie!

I think I should end 2010's blog postings with a cookie recipe, don't you? After all, tomorrow -- January 1, 2011 -- is the day we eschew all things sugary and decadent, throwing away all the left over treats and candies left over from the holidays. January 1st is the day that we look at our personal food pyramid and realize that the bottom, most important level, isn't fruits and vegetables the way the government says it's supposed to be. Unfortunately it has been changed to chocolate, caramel and cookies. This is the day we resolve to change it back to leafy greens, apples and crunchy carrots, washed down with big glasses of ice cold water on our way to the gym.

Before all that happens I'd like to share this sugary, decadent recipe with you! My sister, Red, made these cookies for us when we stayed at her house last month. They were SO GOOD!!! And they are absolutely PERFECT because they mix my two favorite flavors. (I seriously hope I can meet H.B. Reese in Heaven so I can personally thank him for realizing that peanut butter and chocolate CAN be mixed together!)

Red found this recipe here, on the Pioneer Woman's website.

It's another fast, easy recipe that uses a chocolate cake mix. Seriously, I had the cookie part mixed up in 3 minutes.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
•2 whole Large Eggs
•½ cups Vegetable Oil
•¼ cups All-purpose Flour
•1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix, 18.25 Oz

•4 ounces, weight Cream Cheese, softened
•¾ cups Smooth Peanut Butter
•1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
•2-½ cups Powdered Sugar
•3 Tablespoons Milk

For the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly whisk eggs and oil in a medium bowl. Mix in flour and cake mix until well blended. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake for 8-10 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the frosting:

In a medium bowl cream together cream cheese, peanut butter and vanilla. Add in powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add in milk a little at a time until you get the desired consistency.

Spread about 2 Tablespoons of frosting onto the bottom of one cookie and then place another cookie on top, bottom sides facing in. Repeat with remaining cookies and frosting.

Note: Don't be stingy with the frosting! There is plenty!! I feel like I put tons between each cookie and I still have a lot left over. If you don't like "Double Stuff" Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, then feel free to make 1/2 the frosting recipe.

If you don't make these cookies right away, I understand. The recipe will be here, with the link on the side bar, waiting for you.... maybe by the middle of February when your food pyramid starts shifting again!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Changes Are A-Foot

I have been dreading the end of 2010. The beginning of 2011 is looming closer and closer and I wish it would just STAY AWAY!!!

Do you remember.... way back in September... when I wrote this post about faith and knowing what's coming up around the corner? Well, I can be less vague about that now.

Max has made a job change. We knew it was coming. For his employment, he owns a business that does consulting in health care, focusing on hospitals. He either

a) goes into a hospital that is in financial crisis and in need of leadership and helps them through the rough time, offering leadership and the ability to make difficult choices.
b) offers his accounting services as CFO for small rural hospitals. He does this off-site and personally visits the facility once a month.

It's not an easy job. It has involved a lot of traveling, being away from home and family. But he has done well and while we didn't get rich, we've survived and been able to meet our financial obligations.

The contract with Max's current client has come to an end -we knew it was going to end -and we had to make a decision: does he hit the road and try to find more clients (which are few and far between) or do we search for more permanent employment... meaning we close our business and probably move from Florin?

After much prayer, personal reflection and a serious look at our financial position, we decided on the latter. We are very lucky --no, BLESSED -- that hospitals all over the country are looking for qualified CFO's. There were dozens of jobs to apply for.

Sadly, even with the plethora of jobs nationwide, no hospitals in our area are hiring for this position, so Max focused his job search in our geographical region... which would keep us closer to family and friends; to the mountains we love; and our National Park. There were 4 hospitals in neighboring states that offered interviews. We chose to interview at 3.

One hospital, which is run by a corporate office, finally made an offer. The position was ACFO (Assistant CFO) and was temporary. He would be in training for 3 months...6 months... or a year and they would ship him out to another facility... anywhere from Texas to Alaska... where he would be CFO. That position wasn't ideal. We would like to be more in control of our destination. And we have heard that this company can be difficult to work for. Burn-out rates are high.

Finally, another offer came in. This is at a small, rural hospital in Max's home state. It's a county owned hospital that doesn't answer to a corporate office. Again, after much prayer, pondering, visiting the town and looking at our options, we decided to accept this offer.

He begins his new job on January 3, 2011.

The hardest part about this new job is that we have decided that Inigo and I will remain behind in Florin for a while. Buttercup has just finished her first quarter of Cosmetology School and will finish the program later in 2011. We are not prepared to sell the house... we don't even know if we will try. Buttercup needs to live here while she's working on her certificate and after looking at different options, we decided it would be better if we sent Max off on his own while I stayed here to help her through.

So it looks like we're back to the "weekend dad" thing. We've done it before. We know we can do it. But we don't like it.

Max has updated his pilot's license and has found a reasonably priced airplane to rent for those weekends he doesn't have time to drive home. We will also visit him at his new home. And when Buttercup is finished, Inigo and I (and possibly Buttercup) will pack up and join him.

Ultimately, it's our desire and our goal to return to Florin (HOME) to work on a different aspect of his health care business as well as start our retail business. I hate to put a time line on when this will all happen. I know when I HOPE it will happen, but HOPE and REALITY may not mesh.

So, you can see why I'm dreading the start of 2011. In my mind, this is the LAST WEEK that our family will live together -- the 4 of us -- the way we have always lived together. We are going to miss Max so very much, and that's bad enough, but when Inigo and I join him in a few months, Buttercup probably won't be coming with us. And I hate that.

I just wish time would stand still. I'm enjoying this last week we have together!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Put You In The Mood (Christmas Mood, That Is)

The schools in Florin have an amazing art/music program. We are very blessed that in these days of school funding cuts that our programs haven't been hit too hard. But, we are also blessed in the fact that our community fully backs each program.

Sure, they love a good ball game. The same people that that are screaming in a stadium to destroy the opposing team, are the same people who put on nice clothes and will sit quietly in an auditorium to hear the school choirs sing or listen to the various bands and orchestras. Arts/photographs/poetry are frequently published in the local newspaper.

I also have to mention the instruction each program has. Our orchestra teacher may be a bit grumpy (some would say) but the music he coaxes out of each student as they play violins, violas, cellos and basses is on a professional level. And the high school choir program cannot be beat. They compete in state competitions and win. They auditioned to have the opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall and was one of five choirs chosen out of the country to perform there. It is NOT a burden to go to an orchestra or choir concert. For a community as small as ours, it certainly qualifies as a cultural event.

Enter my neighbor and friend, Jillwanna. She is AMAZING!! She has the volunteer spirit and is an educator. She is currently serving as the President of our Education Foundation. She is kind and generous and won't let anyone tell her how great she is, even though we all know it and love her for it! She knew that our wonderful music programs needed a wonderful new piano for our new high school, so with her determination, she decided to get it done.

She spearheaded a gazillion fund raising concerts, barbecues, hot dog and soda sales as well as stood at doors with a tin can begging for money. All in the name of education. All for the betterment of our community.

Her determination (with the help of her board and foundation) paid off. In one year's time, our community raised $65,000 to purchase a brand new (and beautiful) recording studio quality grand piano and electronic marquee. Yes, this happened in this economy. Yes, times are tough -- even here. And yes, people pinched and saved and made these purchases possible!

Jillwanna and the foundation were very touched by our community's outpouring of support and they wanted to say thank you. What better way than to call her brother, who is a prominent musician from Utah, and asked him to come perform a concert for us? She called some community sponsors, who paid his fees, and offered to give the town of Florin a free concert. Yes, I said FREE!!! This is a very busy time of year for him... Christmas is his busiest season... and he graciously accepted the offer.

Last night was the concert. It was fabulous. We got there a bit early and scored some front row seats. Inigo, whom you know is a budding pianist, was excited to see a professional play. (I was anxious for some incentive to keep him practicing.) Buttercup loves the arts. She was lucky enough participate in both the orchestra program (middle school and Jr. High) and choir programs.

We weren't disappointed! Brother is a wonderful, engaging performer and has a musical gift that is obvious. (Yes, I'm totally jealous!) He showed great joy in every song he played! We could have sat there all night listening to him.

Thanks Jillwanna and Brother!! Thanks for a wonderful evening!!

(This is bumpy because Inigo was getting comfortable in his seat and kept bumping me. Sorry.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Santa Has Time To Read Blogs!?!?!

Well, this is a first!!

Apparently, Santa reads my blog!

Imagine our surprise when tonight at about 7:30 we heard a thump thump thump on the door. Usually we don't get night time visitors, but it's the Christmas season, when neighbors bring treats or college students come carolling, so I didn't worry about opening the door. Also, we were chit-chatting with Max on the phone, so if anything untoward was on the other side of the door, he could alert authorities.

So who or what was on the other side of the door?!?

Well it was a little Christmas miracle!! Santa, himself, left the North Pole and came to visit Inigo. He was feeling concerned that Inigo hadn't been to visit him at the mall, or a Ward Christmas party, or school function, or anywhere... and he wanted to have an opportunity to talk to him. So, naturally, we invited him in. (My normally docile and un-watchdog like dog decided to turn killer at the first "Ho!" I have never seen her go so crazy at a visitor at the door!)

Wouldn't you know it? The minute Santa crossed the threshold, with the dog barking loud enough to wake the dead, Inigo turned mute. With eyes as big as saucers he just stood there staring, mouth hanging open. Santa, jolly as ever, sat down on the couch, invited him over and tried to engage him in conversation.

I will admit I got a little teary eyed. It was such a kind thing for Santa to do!
And I will be forever grateful that Santa put the kibosh on Inigo's desire to have a real penguin named Carson... And his own country. (That little item was on a wish list that he brought home from school. And listed underneath "country" was "Palace". Do you think my boy is displaying a desire to be a great leader? Because he also wished for his own school...)

Santa does know everything, because in his bag he had an orange for my boy! And he actually had an orange on his wish list (the new list from school). Oh, happy day!!

Thanks, Santa, for making Inigo's Christmas bright!!!

(The dog barked FRANTICALLY for 1/2 hour after he left. I was ready to feed her to the reindeer!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

His Tastes Are Simple... He Only Likes The Best

Christmas is almost upon us and Inigo still hasn't had an opportunity to sit on Santa's lap. (Yes, in our family we still Believe.) Last night I suggested to him that he hurry and write a letter so we can get it sent to the big jolly elf. Personally, I was hoping for a long sappy letter filled with good cheer and charity... I envisioned things like "I wish that Daddy could find a job closer to home so he wouldn't be gone so much." -or- "Please bring my best friend Bullseye the perfect gift he wanted." -or- even better, "I wish that all the orphan children will find a family that will love them forever this year." Maybe this, "Santa, I have everything I ever wanted and needed, so please take my gifts to the poor and help them have a Merry Christmas."

Can you tell I just watched It's a Wonderful Life for the second time ever (the first time was in college I think)? Apparently, I have a skewed perception of reality.

Inigo's letter didn't even come close to my imagination:

Dear Santa Claus

This Christmas I want a Bey Blade Stadium * Phone * Palace * Real penguin
named Carson * Flame Libra Bey Blade * Car * T.V. * and that's all I want.
Thank you for coming.


What the.....?

A palace? As if our 4 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom split level built in 1973 isn't enough? A phone? And just who, exactly, are you planning on calling? The car.... now that is just silly. Dude, you're growing like a weed, but I'm pretty sure you can't reach the pedals and see over the dashboard at the same time.

But the item that made me laugh the most: A real penguin named Carson.

I can't even explain that one away....

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Messenger

It's December and there are always certain things that happen in December...
  • Christmas (DUH!)

  • Baking

  • Snow Fall

  • Craziness

  • Parties

  • Stake Conference

It's Stake Conference that I want to focus on today.

First of all... I wish we could sing Christmas hymns at Stake Conference. Is there a mandate out there that says you can't?

Just wondering.

Second of all... we were blessed to be able to have an apostle come to our Stake Conference today. Russell M. Nelson came, along with an area authority, the president of our local mission and the president of our temple.

It's not every day an apostle comes to Stake Conference, you know.

I was excited for Inigo because 2 years ago, Elder Nelson came with President Monson and Elder Bednar to the dedication of our Temple. He was there when Inigo got to help President Monson put the mortar on the cornerstone. He was there when President Monson talked directly to Inigo and told him stories about red headed missionaries. (Elder Nelson helped Inigo's friend put the mortar on the cornerstone.)

I am always looking for ways to remind Inigo of this special day in his life, so when Elder Nelson stood up to speak, I quietly reminded him of this.

Before he came, each child in our stake wrote him a letter and the ward primary leaders took a group picture of their kids to give to him. He graciously thanked them, then asked each primary child to stand up on his/her seat and sing I Am a Child of God.

Then he mentioned President Monson and spoke of how he loves children. He said that President Monson is always on the look-out for "red-headed children" and reminded us that at our Temple dedication there happened to be a red-headed boy that got to help out with the Cornerstone Ceremony.

We were excited about that because that meant that Elder Nelson remembered Inigo!

After the meeting ended I determined to see if I could get Inigo up close, to shake Elder Nelson's hand and to reintroduce the two of them. So I hustled my boy out the door and into the foyer where a small crowd had gathered. We waited anxiously for about 10-15 minutes. There were a lot of people lingering in the chapel waiting to shake hands...

Finally, the time came. Elder Nelson approached. He extended his hand and I said, "I'd like to introduce you to my son, who just happens to be the red-headed boy from the Temple Dedication."

Elder Nelson's eyes lit up and that great man bent down to Inigo's eye level and shook his hand. He asked him his name and said, "Do you have a message for me to give to President Monson? I am going to see him this week and I would love to pass it on for you!"

Of course, Inigo stood there with his eyes wide and his mouth wider. "Um, um, um...."

Elder Nelson said, "Should I tell him you said hello?"

Inigo just nodded his head.

I jumped in at that point and said, "Do you want to tell him that you just got baptized?"

Inigo just nodded his head.

Then I said, "Will you tell President Monson that Inigo is already planning to serve his mission in Nepal?" (My boy is still consumed with everything that has to do with Mt. Everest.)

Elder Nelson laughed and looked down at Inigo and said, "I know we'll need good missionaries there!"

Our time with him was short because the crowds were large and he had to move on, but what a great moment we had!! Inigo came home renewed and ready to work hard on being the "pace setter" that President Monson asked him to be.

I will forever be grateful for the continued blessings that have come to my son because of the wonderful experience he had that wintry day in 2008... That day when a small boy cried because he wasn't old enough to go to the Dedication and prayed with a pure heart to be able to see the prophet.

Those prayers were answered in so many wonderful ways!!

**All photos were taken by our good friends who took Inigo to the Temple that day. I was not physically present at the Cornerstone Ceremony. I was watching it back at the Stake Center.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fa La La Festive

Christmas, Christmas time is here. Time to laugh and time for cheer.

Also, it's time to bake.

And bake.

And bake...

Oh, I love to bake!

I have certain traditional yummies that I make each and every December. If you're a family member, my neighbor, live in my ward, or live west of the Mississippi, you have probably tasted one of my treats. I love to share!!

The first -- and easiest -- cookie that I always bake is called Festive Christmas Cookie. Gah! I love them! This is another old family recipe that has been handed down from one of my Grandma's. (Was it Grandma Millie....?)

A lot of you have seen cookies that are similar to this particular cookie. I think they are called Russian Tea Cookies. They are close in texture and taste, but there are subtle differences between the two cookies. I have never made the Russian cookies, so I haven't been able to compare the recipes. I think they have chopped nuts in them though....I love nuts... I married one... live in a family of them...

The Festive Cookie also holds a special place in my heart for getting me through a tough time. I know... who knew a cookie could get someone through a tough time? Well, this one did!

I won't go into the long details of it, but back when Buttercup was a newborn and we had just moved to Portland, we were dirt poor. Buying all the ingredients needed to bake a batch of cookies seemed like a frivolous indulgence, but I still needed to bake. Baking is a cheap form of therapy for me and necessary for my mental well-being.

Enter Festive Christmas cookies. There are only 5 ingredients in them. No eggs. I used margarine instead of butter. They were affordable and I made them A LOT!! (I wonder if Max remembers this?)

Eventually we were able to afford eggs and chocolate chips and I could expand my repertoire of cookie treats. But each and every time I make these, I hearken back to those days and I'm glad that I had this recipe.

Festive Christmas Cookies
3/4 c shortening
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
2 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 c flour

Blend shortening, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flour. Mix well.
Chill before rolling into balls. Place on cookie sheet and Bake 325* for 25 minutes.
Cool completely. Roll cookies in powdered sugar. Store in air tight container until Santa comes to eat them!!

(Not the best photo... sorry!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mo Tab

It's the Christmas season which -- for revellers that live within driving distance to Salt Lake City -- means it's time to make the annual pilgrimage to Temple Square to see the wonderful display of Christmas lights. Most of my readers... all two of you... know what I'm talking about.

It's been a tradition of ours for the past several years. We freeze, but we love it!

This year, our usual excuse for going -- to listen to Buttercup's choir sing in the Assembly Hall and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building -- wasn't there. Darn it. The girl thought she had to graduate from high school, which means we couldn't listen to her sing in the choir... blah blah blah. Sheesh. Personally, I think it's selfish of her. After all, we enjoyed going and listening to her choir. Shouldn't be all about us and what we want to do... ? SHOULDN'T IT?!?!

Just kidding.

Kind of.


Buttercup's graduation aside, this year we found an excuse to go. We are looking into starting a business in Florin or Guilder and we needed to do some research on comparable businesses. (I'm not quite ready to disclose what the business is... sorry.) This was the best weekend to go.

We spent an enjoyable two evenings with Red who, incidentally, offers THE BEST lodgings this side of the Snake River. Seriously. I haven't had chocolates put on my pillow in a hotel in YEARS, but Red always delivers. And... can we talk about the absolutely delectable cookies she baked for us? No. I won't talk about them. You'll just feel jealous. And I don't want anyone to feel bad when they read my blog.

Thanks, Red, for putting up with us!

This year, however, we didn't stand in the cold looking at twinkling lights. And that's okay. It's okay to change things up every now and again. Right? This year we did something BETTER! Early Sunday morning we got up early (I was out of the house before 8 a.m.!!!) and headed to Salt Lake and the Conference Center (we call it the Supernacle). We decided to take Inigo to his first live performance of Music And The Spoken Word, which was also his first live performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Let me tell you about Inigo and Mo Tab. He might be getting too old to admit it, but he has always loved listening to them. When he was a baby, while our family watched General Conference, he would crawl all around the room, getting into EVERYTHING. But when the Choir would start singing, he would stop what he was doing, sit up and watch and listen intently until the song was finished, then he would go back to the mess he was making. He loved the choir!!

So this year, we decided that instead of looking at the lights, we'd let him listen to the second best choir in the world sing Christmas songs! It was a great decision! He LOVED it!!! We loved it too! Yeah, sure, we would have preferred to have Buttercup with us (she had school so couldn't come along) and we would have preferred to listen to HER sing, but Mo Tab is a close second and did a fantastic job!

As always, the music was stirring and inspiring. I found my eyes welling with tears several times throughout the program... as usual. And what's even better, Inigo's heart was touched too. The minute the program finished, when I asked him what he thought, he said, "Mom, that was AMAZING!! Can we come back? I don't think I can ever listen to them on TV anymore. It's so much better IN PERSON!" He actually made the request to go back next weekend so we can listen to them again!

Or new family tradition now is: the first weekend in December we will travel to Salt Lake so we can attend a taping of Music And The Spoken Word.

Yeah, we'll probably look at the Twinkling lights too!

God Be With You Til We Meet Again from Witch Valerie on Vimeo.

What the...?!? Me?!?!

My stress level just jumped about 250%. No, make that 2500%!!

About 5 minutes ago I got off the phone with Buttercup's oldest and bestest friend, Leo, who is getting married on January 8, 2011 in Arizona. She is the daughter of one of my oldest and bestest friends, Lavender, who recently got married as well.

Apparently I forgot to blog about that event: it was a surprise wedding. Yes, a SURPRISE WEDDING. Lavender's fiance, Mack, planned everything, invited everyone but didn't tell Lavender what he was doing. (He notified me on Facebook three days before the wedding.) Mack told Lavender he was taking her to a ward party so she wasn't suspicious. When they got to his sister's house, where all the wedding guests were waiting, he dropped to one knee and proposed. When she said yes, he said, "How about right now?"

Thank heavens Lavender is a spontaneous kind of gal. She was thrilled. So she said yes to that as well. She knew they would be getting married at some point in the future, so she already had the outfit. He took care of the rest.

Admittedly, a surprise wedding isn't for everyone, but for my fun loving friend, it was PERFECT! It was so much fun for us to be a part of it.

But I'm digressing. As I said before, Lavender's daughter, Leo is getting married in January. AND SHE WANTS ME TO TAKE HER WEDDING PICTURES!!!

Oh my Hellen Keller. I tried to say no. I told her the truth -- that I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER and that I don't even resemble one. I told her I would help out and be in charge of fun snapshots, but as for actual PORTRAITS of the wedding she needed and deserved to have nice beautiful PROFESSIONAL Photos.

She wouldn't take no for an answer.


Leo is like my daughter. I would do anything for her. But I almost wish she would have asked me to make her wedding cake.... or her wedding dress...

Anything but this....

(If anyone has any hints, tips, cute poses, etc., I'm all ears!)


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let The Holidays Begin

In honor of the official start of the Christmas holiday season, Inigo presents his version of
We Wish You A Merry Christmas

(He didn't know I was videoing. Otherwise I doubt you would have seen the little shoulder dance in the middle of the song.)

We Wish You A Merry Christmas from Witch Valerie on Vimeo.