Thursday, July 31, 2014

Looking for 48 Acts of Kindness for My 48th Birthday?

On Sunday, July 13th, an article about my 48 acts of kindness for my 48th birthday was featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

To read about each of the acts of kindness and see pictures of what I did, please visit my blog post about it HERE.

To read the article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, please visit HERE.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ice Cream Floats for Seniors

For one of Sophia's 4-H projects this year, she made a variety of ice cream floats for seniors at a nursing home where we volunteer. The seniors enjoyed the variety of flavors of floats since they normally only offer root beer floats at activities there.

The first one that she made came from this pin on Pinterest which led to this site:

Creamsicle Float

2-4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 can (12 ounces) orange soda

In a tall glass, put as much ice cream as you want. Tilt the glass to the side and pour in the soda to reduce the foam and bubbles.

She also made a Cupid Float that was on Eclectically Vintage and this pin:

Cupid Float

2-3 scoops French vanilla ice cream
Cherry 7-Up
Whipped cream
Maraschino cherry

Scoop ice cream into a tall glass. Slowly pour 7-Up over ice cream. Swirl whipped cream on top. Top with a maraschino cherry. (For the floats that Sophia made, she didn't include the whipped cream or cherry since it is easier for the seniors to eat without them plus doesn't pose a choking hazard.)

A float that uses sherbet instead of ice cream provided a different taste. The pin led to Home Cooking Memories:

Lime Sherbet Float

2-3 scoops lime sherbet
1 can of lemon-lime soda

Use a clear glass and fill it with scoops of lime sherbet. If you don’t have clear glasses, you can use any cup or glass you might have, but having clear is nice so you can actually see all the green. You could use a pint-sized canning jar if you don’t have a clear glass.

Pour the lemon-lime soda over the sherbet you just placed in your glass.

A classic float, called the Purple Cow, was the first choice of several seniors. The pin for the recipe led to Simply Kierste:

Purple Cow (Grape Float)

2-4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 can (12 ounces) grape soda

In a tall glass, put as much ice cream as you want. Slowly pour the soda into the glass until you reach the top.

And, of course, we can't forget the standard root beer float as seen on this pin that led to Town and Country Magazine:

Root Beer Float

1 pint vanilla ice cream
2 bottles very cold old-fashioned root beer
Freshly whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

Spoon a few scoops of vanilla ice cream into 2 tall float glasses. Pour the root beer slowly over the ice cream and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

0ne Amazing Thing - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 30

For the 30th week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni.

The premise of the book is that nine people, who are in the passport office in the basement of the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, are yoked together by fate when an earthquakes hits. After stabilizing everyone and the situation as much as possible, one of the people who is trapped suggests that they share stories about themselves. The storytelling is done not only to pass the time, but to distract themselves from the desperateness of their situation.

The purpose of the storytelling was to share "one amazing thing" from one's life. For that reason, I was anticipating a moving and inspiration novel. On the contrary, the stories were not that unique, uplifting, or amazing. In fact, most the stories are just experiences that happened to the characters...they weren't anything that were so moving that I felt changed by reading this book.

Perhaps the author had a reason for choosing ordinary stories for each of the "amazing" things. Maybe the point was that the stories didn't have to be amazing to others. Rather, they were amazing...important...significant in some way to the teller of the story.

And, essentially, that's what any story is in concept. It has meaning for the storyteller, but not necessarily for the listener. The listener may be moved - or not - by the story s/he hears, but it is often times more important for the person telling the story to be able to share it with others.

In the case of One Amazing Thing, as the small group of people trapped in the building comes to realize they may never be rescued, they become almost desperate to tell their stories, to reveal themselves. With some stories, it almost felt like listening to a confessional.

Each of the the stories shared in the book show us that the people were vulnerable and have suffered loss and regret; and they have loved and have hurt. In sharing themselves they could better accept themselves and each other. An angry young man perhaps said it best:

"...having put my story up against others I can see this much: everyone suffers in different ways. Now I don,t feel so alone."

One thing I did enjoy about One Amazing Thing was the rich vocabulary that the author used. There were many words used that are not commonly part of everyday conversation.

Overall, I was intrigued by and attracted to One Amazing Thing by the blurb on the back cover and inner cover. I wanted to enjoy it, but I wasn't that impressed. There have been many other books that I have read this year that have been much more enjoyable and inspiring to read.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

0pen Heart - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 29

Elie Wiesel’s Open Heart was the book I selected for the 29th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I read one of his other books, Night, after he appeared on Oprah; and found it to be a moving, insightful, and reflective book. So, with Night in mind, I was looking forward to reading Open Heart.

This book, however, left me feeling both surprised and a bit disappointed. It did not have the depth that I was expecting considering the topic as well as what Mr. Wiesel is capable of writing.
Open Heart centers on Mr. Wiesel’s open heart surgery at 82 years old. Prior to and following the surgery, he reflects back on his life. He thinks about people, situations he’s been in, books he’s written, and his time at concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

It is clear that he feels an immense sense of gratitude and love towards his life, children, and grandchildren. He conveys these eloquently not only for the benefit of the reader, but more so for his family who will read and treasure his words.

He wonders if he has done enough for those who survived as well as those who perished during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. He wrote about his family who also were sent to the concentration camps. Although he spent time with his father at one, his family died before they could be liberated. Yet, as Mr. Wiesel points out, “In truth, my father never leaves me. Nor do my mother and little sister. They have stayed with me, appearing in every one of my tales, in every one of my dreams. In everything I teach.”

Mr. Wiesel’s faith is woven throughout the book. He questions God; reflects upon mankind and decisions people make and their impact; and wonders about justice and tolerance.

I found parts of the book interesting – particularly because they struck a personal chord with me or reminded me of situations that I’ve encountered in my life. The first one was as Mr. Wiesel was nearing the time of the surgery and seeing his family before the nurses were going to bring him to the operating room. He thinks, “Through the tears that darken the future, a thought awakens a deeper concern, a deeper sorrow: Shall I see them again?”

It reminded me of when my dad was going to have two different surgical procedures done at one time many years ago. Before he was going into surgery, he handed me his small leather-bound notebook that had some information in it. I was to hold onto it while he was in surgery and give it back to him when he left the hospital.

When he was in surgery, I opened the notebook. There was a note that my dad wrote that said something to the effect of how – if he didn’t make it out of surgery – that he wanted us to know how much he loved my mom, his kids, and grandkids. Like Mr. Wiesel, my dad wondered if he was going to make it out of surgery and wanted his family to know how much he loved them. As a side note, I re-read what my dad wrote many times while he was in surgery. It meant to me to know that his family was on the top of his mind at such a critical time.

Something I learned was written in the sixth chapter. Mr. Wiesel was asked to count to ten as the anesthesiologist began his work. He asked for a minute before he began counting because as “a practicing Jew, before giving up his soul, if he lacks the time to properly prepare himself, [he] must at least recite a short prayer – a kind of act of faith – a prayer he has known since childhood.”

I liked the advice he shared that was from a Talmudic sage: “It is incumbent on you to live as if you were to die the next day.” That’s such good advice, and worth hearing multiple times. How many times do we waste parts of our day, only to regret it later? It is much better to live intentionally and try to make the most out of each day rather than letting time slip away.

The author shared a bit about his novel The Forgotten which deals with Alzheimer’s Disease and the fear of forgetting. He wrote, “I compare the patient to a book whose pages are torn out day after day, one by one, until all that remains is the cover. I wonder whether this disease could strike an entire community. Or an entire era.”

I have never heart of the analogy of Alzheimer’s Disease to a book, but it is a quite fitting description. I always described the process of Alzheimer’s Disease that I was seeing in my father as one of a beautiful oak tree.

In its glory, the oak tree is strong, large, and has deep and wide-spread roots. It is anchored in the ground and its branches are so beautifully and widely outstretched. Gradually, a leaf falls off here and there. Before long, an entire branch may be revealed…its leaves having fallen gently to the ground – at times, imperceptible to those around it.

As time passes, more branches are revealed. Before long, the entire tree no longer has leaves. It is only a complicated framework…a tangle…of branches, large and small.

Eventually, branches begin to fall. Some small. Some large. And then only the trunk – the core of the tree – remains. It is still anchored into the ground – its foundation. Yet, it is only a shell…a fragment… of what was once there. That – to me – describes Alzheimer’s Disease and what I witnessed.

At any rate, Mr. Wiedel’s analogy to a book reminded me of the oak tree. Of my father. Of loss and grief. Of reflection. And, perhaps, that’s the point of this book. It is to make one reflect on one’s life – just like the author reflected on his life.

If that’s the goal, then Open Heart succeeded in doing that. For that, I am thankful that I read this book.

BILL HATFIELD – guy who helped us on Gunflint Lake.

Friday, July 11, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #7

This week was definitely the highlight of our summer so far. We took a trip to the North Shore - including Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais. We still have Silver Bay and Two Harbors that we will be exploring over the upcoming weekend.

Saturday, July 5 - In preparation for the trip, Sophia and Olivia focused on finishing their 4-H projects. It was a rather intense day with getting photos and information on poster boards and in binders. With each project they completed, they felt a sense of relief.

Sunday, July 6 - We're still preparing for the 4-H county fair, but managed to take some breaks in between working on projects.

Sophia took Bailey on a walk in the backyard. She enjoyed eating the grass and weeds.

The dogs maintained a safe distance from the horse, but Bailey didn't seem to mind her "backyard pasture" companions.

Monday, July 7 - Olivia made delicious molasses cookies that had caramel sauce drizzled on them. They are for a 4-H project under the "Candyland" theme (a special theme chosen by the ambassadors).

The cookies are very soft and definitely a recipe that we will be making again.

Tuesday, July 8 - We drove to Gunflint Lodge for the start of our trip. After we ate dinner and settled in a bit, we noticed a yearling black bear walking outside our window.

Of course, we all had to go outside for a closer look and better photos than the one above. Unfortunately, the bear was faster than we were and escaped into the woods before we could get better pictures.

Wednesday, July 9 - Today we went horseback riding for about an hour. It was a nice - yet challenging - ride on rocky paths, up and down steep hills, through mud, and through little creeks across the trails.

It was much different than riding on level ground, and we were all challenged (in a good way) with learning to ride through obstacles in our paths.

We weren't allowed to take pictures on the trail. Noise from cameras - or if a camera dropped - could startle the horses and cause problems for all the horses and riders.

So, we settled for pictures of us before we left on the ride.

We each enjoyed the horses we were assigned to, and had a great time.

After the ride, we went to Gunflint Lake and spent time along the shoreline to watch the ducks.

Sophia spotted a butterfly.

Then we took a ride on a fishing boat on Gunflint Lake. It was a bit more choppy than last year when we went. After getting out a bit on the lake, we went faster. Then something happened and the next thing I knew we abruptly went in an almost full circle at top speed, knocking me off the bench and the girls holding onto their chairs. Needless to say, it was one of those times we were very happy to be wearing a life jacket.

Shortly after that, I stopped  to take a picture and to rest my hand from operating the power/steering. I moved my hand too much and the safety bracelet came off of the boat and cut off the motor. We were drifting on the lake.

All of us tried to figure out where the hook attached. We thought we had it figured out, but the boat didn't start.

At this point, as we drifted closer to the rocky shoreline, we decided to start paddling towards the nearest dock. We tied the boat and anchor to the dock and then Olivia and I went ashore while Sophia stayed with the boat.

Thankfully, there was a year-round resident at home who came down to help us. He tried to figure out what was wrong. After some time he noticed that the boat was still in gear. After moving the level to neutral, he got the  boat to start. We learned something new on that boating excursion.

We explored the lake a bit more, and then came back to the lodge. We relaxed a bit and then Olivia and I went to a presentation about snakes.

The naturalist, John, showed us a corn snake while talking about snakes. We learned a lot of facts about snakes.

Olivia had a chance to touch the snake after the presentation.

Thursday, July 10 - I went on a morning birding hike while the girls rested. Saw a lot of interesting things along the mile or so long hike. One thing that John, the naturalist, pointed out was the orderly holes in pine trees.

The holes are made by the yellow-bellied sapsucker. According to All About Birds,

"The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. 

"Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker licks the sap from these holes, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old."

After I came back, we put our garbage out in the can by the door of our cabin so that it could be picked up while we were on a trail ride. In less than an hour, we came out to find that the bear cub had returned and explored our garbage.

There were holes in the lid left by the bear's claws and/or teeth.

Around 11:25 we left for the trail ride that included lunch. There was a family of five (two adults and three children) and us - so eight riders plus the two guides.

Sophia and I had the same horses as we did the previous day, so we were used to them. Olivia was given a new horse.

We rode for about 1 1/2 hours, and then stopped for lunch. The chef from the lodge and the naturalist were there with food that we each had ordered the day before. We all had something different, and the chef had everyone's food ready to go when we arrived.

After we ate, we rode for another 1 1/2 hours and then came back to the lodge. The girls went to the beach for about an hour to play with the two other girls on the trail ride.

Then Olivia went with the girls to their cabin for a time and then to ours while Sophia and I went zip lining.

There was quite a bit of equipment to put on for zip lining.

After we were geared up and did some basic training at "ground school," we went on an ATV ride to the first platform.

There were a variety of platforms above tree-top level that we stood on while we waited. There were 5 people in our group plus the two guides, so we didn't have to wait very long between rides.

The longest section was 800 feet. You pick up quite a bit of speed by the middle of the run.

We got to Lookout Point and had great views of Gunflint Lake, Magnetic Lake, and Canada in the distance.

After that view, our next part of the zip line course was "The Plank." You had to walk off the plank (essentially the side of the cliff) and then go on the line. Looking at the picture below, you can't even see the next platform it's that far away.

When we returned, Sophia and Olivia spent some time with the girls they met on the horseback ride. They walked on the beach and talked.

They did some exploring in the water and on shore.

That night, Ava and Olivia R. came over to our cabin and the girls played games, talked, and had snacks until a bit after 10 p.m. Judging from all the laughter, they had a great time together.

Friday, July 11 - Today we awoke to fog. Throughout the morning, there was drizzle, rain, and a downpour. Because we enjoyed the horseback riding so much, we decided to stick with going on the ride despite the fog and drizzle/light rain.

We ended up being the only three riders that morning along with the two guides which was nice. The guides knew us by that time, so that was good. They knew the types of horses each of us was capable of handling, and we were given new ones which provided a completely different experience than the rides we had previously.

We checked out of Gunflint Lodge and then headed down to Grand Marais. We had hoped to go on sailing trip at North House Folk School, but everything was fogged in. The captain wouldn't cancel the trip until 1/2 hour before the departure time, so we had 1 1/2 hours to spend in town.

We ate lunch and then went to the trading post and Ben Franklin store. The girls liked both stores, especially the Ben Franklin one. There were a lot of different things to see, and it felt like walking into lots of stores - Michaels, Joanns, Fleet Farm, Target, etc.

We returned to North House at 2:30, and - sure enough - the sailing trip was cancelled. We asked if we could go out on the dock and take a look at the boat at least. They said we could, so we took a closer look.

Then Mary, from North House, came out and said that she would take us on the sailboat and show us around it. She explained different parts of it - including how the compass worked.

She took us below deck and the girls got to see where people could sleep, eat, sit, and relax.

We are looking forward to returning in the future to go on the sailboat. 

We continued onto Silver Bay where we stayed overnight. The girls swam and went down the big water slide. Sophia relaxed in the hot tub for a bit. Then we enjoyed pizza, breadsticks, and cinnamon bread that was from a local pizza place. 

It was a fun week filled with lots of great memories and experiences!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Number the Stars - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 28

Number the Stars has been on my list of books I've wanted to read for many years now. I finally got around to reading it during the 28th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

My anticipation of reading this book was well-matched with the content and suspense that Number the Stars provided. I began reading it one morning and couldn’t put the book down until I finished it.

Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction by American author Lois Lowry. Although it was a book written for a much younger audience (upper elementary school/low junior high school), it still provided an interesting perspective about WWII, the occupation of Denmark, and how an entire country managed to save almost its Jewish population.

When I was in school, I don't ever recall learning about how Denmark was occupied by the Germans during the second World War. According to Wikipedia:

The rescue of the Danish Jews occurred during Nazi Germany's occupation of Denmark during World War II. On October 1, 1943 Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and deported. 

Despite great personal risk, the Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many ordinary Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark's 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden.

The rescue allowed the vast majority of Denmark's Jewish population to avoid capture by the Nazis and is considered to be one of the largest actions of collective resistance to repression in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany. 

As a result of the rescue, and the following Danish intercession on behalf of the 464 Danish Jews who were captured and deported to Theresienstadt transit camp in Bohemia, over 99% of Denmark's Jewish population survived the Holocaust.

So, Number the Stars, provides a fictional account about the escape of a Jewish family from Copenhagen during the occupation of Denmark in WWII in order to evade the Holocaust.

The story centers around ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her family in Copenhagen in 1943. Germany has already occupied the country, and seeing soldiers on street corners and controlling so many aspects of the everyday life of the citizens is commonplace.

Annemarie becomes a part of the events related to the rescue of the Danish Jews. Annemarie risks her life to help her best friend, Ellen Rosen, by pretending that Ellen is Annemarie's late older sister Lise, who had died earlier in the war. (Lise, who was involved with the Danish Resistance, was killed because of her work.)

Number the Stars shows the impact of the Jewish “relocation” program had on two families – Annmarie’s family (who is not Jewish) and Ellen’s family (who is Jewish). Both families were equally affected, but in very different ways.

Ellen’s family was notified of the relocation program by their rabbit who had called a meeting at the synagogue the night before the Nazis were going to go to homes where Jewish people lived and take them away. In the author’s Afterword, she said that the rabbi knew that the Germans were going to relocate the Jewish people because “a high German official told the Danish government, which passed the information along to the leaders of the Jewish community. The name of that German was G.F. Duckwitz…a man of compassion and courage.

The book described how Annmarie’s family took in Ellen while her parents were helped by non-Jewish families to hide and stay safe. The agony and uncertainty of being separated – child from parents – was traumatizing for both parents and children. They could only hope that they would see each other once again.

Number of Stars described the secret operations of the Danish Resistance which was mostly composed of very young and brave individuals. Many of the young people in the Danish Resistance died. This is how Annmarie’s family was involved with and negatively affected by the war.

Initially it was Annmarie’s sister, Lise, who was run over by the Germans as she was trying to escape after a Danish Resistance meeting was discovered by the Germans and they tried to arrest those involved. Later, another family member – Lise’s fiancĂ© – was executed when it was found out that he was helping the Jewish people escape.

This story was a captivating depiction of what life must have been like for the Jewish people who wanted and needed to escape Denmark for the freedom of Sweden. Likewise, it shows the determination, compassion, and selfless actions of the Danish people in helping those who were just like them…except a different religion…safely hide and escape the country in order to live.

The author found a quote from a young man who was executed in the 1940s after providing assistance to Jewish people. He wrote on the night preceding his execution: “…and I want you all to remember – that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.”

Number the Stars was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990 as the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I would highly recommend this historical fiction book to both youth and adults as a way to learn more about Denmark's role in helping its Jewish population survive the Holocaust.

Friday, July 4, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #6

Here it is the sixth week of the 101 Days of Summer Fun. Although I had a plan at the beginning of the summer, it seems like most of the days I'm not following it. Real life and obligations come up, and those take priority over what I had hoped to do. 

At any rate, it seems like June just sped by. Here's what we did each day:

Saturday, June 28 - We celebrated my birthday one day earlier since Sophia and Olivia have equine vaulting tomorrow afternoon.  My family wanted to make dinner for me which I thought was really nice. Here's my birthday dinner:

It was such a thoughtful and delicious meal. I enjoyed having dinner at home, made from scratch from those I love.

Sunday, June 29 - After a morning at-home spa treatment for my birthday, I had some time to relax. Sophia and Olivia were busy making lunch and bringing out blankets, food, and games for a picnic lunch.

We ate under the arbor that Jim built for us many years ago. After lunch, we played a game of Skip-Bo. Sophia won...again. Then Olivia finished next, followed by me.

The girls had equine vaulting in the afternoon.

Monday, June 30 - Today was Sophia's 13 1/2 birthday. She received three gifts: dinner at a restaurant (which she requested), a gift certificate to Target to purchase an iPod screen protector, and a movie out later in the week.

The main focus today was eating dinner at the Chinese buffet which has a wonderful variety of food.

This is the restaurant that we often eat at for birthdays, New Year's Day, and adoption days.

Sophia made blueberry ice cream today. It is a much more complicated recipe than what she has made in the past, so she enjoyed making it and challenging herself to do something more difficult.

Tuesday, July 1 - Today felt like a busy - but fun - day. We started the day with agility training with Cooper.

He enjoyed being the center of attention on the car ride, during class, and on the ride home.

He was very tired after class. It takes a lot of work and concentration to do agility training.

When we came home, Sophia and Olivia worked on 4-H projects. Olivia decorated a set of pens with lace and feathers.

She also worked on a painting project which she enjoyed.

Sophia concentrated on her embroidered dish towel. She is almost done with it. It's taken a long time because her stitches are so tiny and even.

In the afternoon, we helped at the nursing home with a pre-4th of July food and craft.

Half of the seniors helped prepare a fruit salad with blueberries, strawberries, and melon. We had plenty left over, so Tia and I went room-to-room to deliver bowls of fresh fruit. The seniors were delighted to have a special treat brought right to their room.

The other half of the group did some coloring and decorating of 4th of July themed coloring sheets. A daughter of one resident and husband of another resident joined us which was nice.

Wednesday, July 2 - Sophia and Olivia worked on their mixes in a jar for the county fair.

This is the first time that they have ever made the layered mixes. Olivia made a soup mix and dessert mix that will have a mermaid/sea theme.

Sophia did two different chocolate mixes: one for hot chocolate and one for a dessert.

These will be nice to have on hand when we need to make something quick and don't want to scramble to find all the ingredients.

Sophia also learned how to make two different types of goat cheese.

Although she likes goat milk and goat cheese (the hard type), she did not care for the soft goat cheese. At least she learned the process for making soft cheese.

Thursday, July 3 - This morning was puppy obedience class. Aspen is doing well, though she is still afraid of others taking her leash and being separated from us.

Sophia spent the late afternoon and night at a friend's home so they could watch the fireworks at Marine on St. Croix together.

While she was gone, Olivia and I focused on making some items for camping. We created a portable grill made from a coffee can, dirt, tinfoil, charcoal, and a grill cover.

Friday, July 4 - We had a low-key holiday. Sophia, Olivia, and Paige went to the 4th of July parade at Marine on St. Croix. I stayed home and made lunch for everyone when they came back home.

We enjoyed the strawberry cheesecake ice cream and blueberry ice cream (red, white, and blue) for dessert.

Hopefully next year I'll be more prepared for the holiday. It seems like it was here before we knew it. Where is the summer going?